04.02.14

Yesterday’s Reviews

Posted in Event at 3:09 pm by Amber

I apologize if your RSS feeds were inundated with my book reviews yesterday. I’ve had some sitting around (and there are still more) in my drafts for a year or longer and thought the best day to publish them so many of them was April Fool’s Day. I may turn it into an annual way of trying to clear out my drafts queue.

04.01.14

Lowcountry Bribe by C. Hope Clark

Posted in Review at 9:02 pm by Amber

Title: Lowcountry Bribe
Author: C. Hope Clark
Publisher: Bell Bridge Books
Source: Personal Library

Book cover of Lowcountry Bribe

A killer wants to make certain she buys the farm.

Threats, a missing boss, a very dead co-worker, a high-level investigation and a sinister hog farmer: Lowcountry Ag Department manager Carolina Slade is a bean-counting civil servant in hot water.

Carolina Slade is a by-the-book county manager for the Department of Agriculture—a civil servant who coordinates federal loans for farmers in the coastal Lowcountry of South Carolina. When one of her clients, a hog farmer named Jessie Rawlings, offers her a bribe, Slade reports Jessie to her superiors. The next thing she knows, she’s besieged by Resident Agent-In-Charge, now a Contract Investigator, Wayne Largo from the Feds’ IG Office in Atlanta. He and his partner have come to investigate Slade’s accusations, and if possible catch Jessie in the act of handing over money.

However, the IG isn’t telling Slade everything. The agents are also investigating the disappearance of Slade’s boss the year before in connection to possible land fraud. And when the sting on Jessie goes bad, the case is put on hold and Wayne is called back to Atlanta, leaving Slade to fear not only for her life and job, but for her children’s safety.

I’ve received Hope Clark’s email newsletters over the years which have provided progress updates on her debut novel so I was eager to read Lowcountry Bribe when it became available. Clark knows Slade intimately. Clark worked in the US Department of Agriculture and is married to a former federal officer. They met during a bribery investigation. Sound familiar? :)

Everything Bell Bridge Books has published, that I’ve read, I’ve enjoyed. Lowcountry Bribe is no exception. The opening scene reels the reader in. The book is well-paced and Slade is relatable. Slade is put into some dangerous situations and it’s only the first novel! This is a good novel to read while cozying up to the fireplace or sitting on the porch with a cold lemonade.

The Borgia Betrayal by Sara Poole

Posted in Review at 3:05 pm by Amber

Title: The Borgia Betrayal
Author: Sara Poole
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Source: St. Martin’s Press in exchange for a review

Book Cover of The Borgia Betrayal

In the summer of 1493, Rodrigo Borgia, Alexander VI, has been pope for almost a year. Having played a crucial role in helping him ascend the chair of Saint Peter, Francesca, haunted by the shadows of her own past, is now charged with keeping him there. As court poisoner to the most notorious and dangerous family in Italy, this mistress of death faces a web of peril, intrigue, and deceit that threatens to extinguish the light of the Renaissance.

As dangers close in from every direction, Francesca conceives a desperate plan that puts her own life at risk and hurls her into a nightmare confrontation with a madman intent on destroying all she is pledged to protect. From the hidden crypts of fifteenth-century Rome to its teeming streets alive with sensuality, obsession, and treachery, Francesca must battle the demons of her own dark nature to unravel a plot to destroy the Borgias, seize control of Christendom, and plunge the world into eternal darkness.

This book came out after the first season of The Borgias began to air. I began watching the tv series but I don’t recall if I finished the first season or not. The premise behind this book, about a court poisoner was most interesting. This is the second book in the Poisoners Mystery series. I did not read the first book, Poison. According to the Reading Group Gold interview with Poole, each was written as a stand alone book. Poole felt there could be as many as a dozen books in the series but to date only three have been written. In fact, the Sara Poole site is no longer in existence and Goodreads indicates Sara Poole is a pseudonym for a New York Times bestselling author who wanted to write historical fiction. As the Twitter and Facebook accounts haven’t been updated in a few years, I think it’s unlikely there will be more than the three books.

I’m disappointed as I fell a little bit in love with Sara Poole’s Francesca. Francesca could easily have an ordinary life with a husband and child and she sometimes thinks about it. She learned poisons from her father and her profession puts anyone who cares about her in danger. She wishes to avenge the death of her father and the life of an ordinary woman would not allow that. Francesca’s intelligence and the trust Borgia places in her provides her with opportunities she otherwise might not have. Francesca’s complexity is why I liked her so much.

Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes by Betsy Woodman

Posted in Review at 12:00 pm by Amber

Title: Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes
Author: Betsy Woodman
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Source: ARC from Henry Holt and Company

From Henry Holt’s site:

Meet Jana Bibi, a Scottish woman helping to save the small town in India she has grown to call home and the oddball characters she considers family

Janet Laird’s life changed the day she inherited her grandfather’s house in a faraway Indian hill station. Ignoring her son’s arguments to come grow old in their family castle in Scotland, she moves with her chatty parrot, Mr. Ganguly and her loyal housekeeper, Mary, to Hamara Nagar, where local merchants are philosophers, the chief of police is a tyrant, and a bagpipe-playing Gurkha keeps the wild monkeys at bay. Settling in, Jana Bibi (as she comes to be known) meets her colorful local neighbors—Feroze Ali Khan of Royal Tailors, who struggles with his business and family, V.K. Ramachandran, whose Treasure Emporium is bursting at the seams with objects of unknown provenance, and Rambir, editor of the local newspaper, who burns the midnight oil at his printing press. When word gets out that the town is in danger of being drowned by a government dam, Jana is enlisted to help put it on the map. Hoping to attract tourists with promises of good things to come, she stacks her deck of cards, readies her fine-feathered assistant—and Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes is born.

Are you looking for an escape from the winter weather in your area? Or are you already planning your summer beach reads? Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes will transport you to a small Indian town in 1960. Like any small place, Hamara Nagar is full of characters who aren’t likely to be found anywhere else.

Jana Bibi is lonely and doesn’t feel as if her son understands her. Mary, who has been with her for years, understands Jana Bibi’s kind nature and anticipates her employer’s house won’t hold just the two of them for long. Mary’s correct.

Woodman perfectly captures how one woman can win over a town by engaging people in conversation and listening to their concerns. The secondary characters, while interesting on their own, really reveal the kindness and determination of Jana Bibi.

I’m sure more adventures for Jana Bibi and her neighbors is just around the corner.

L.A. Noire: The Collected Stories

Posted in Review at 6:30 am by Amber

Title: L.A. Noir: The Collected Stories
Author: Rockstar Games (Edited by Jonathan Santlofer)
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Source: Bought it!

Rockstar Games has partnered with Mulholland Books to publish a collection of short fiction expanding the world of the newest groundbreaking achievement in storytelling: the interactive crime thriller L.A. Noire.

1940s Hollywood, murder, deception and mystery take center stage as readers reintroduce themselves to characters seen in L.A. Noire. Explore the lives of actresses desperate for the Hollywood spotlight; heroes turned defeated men; and classic Noir villains. Readers will come across not only familiar faces, but familiar cases from the game that take on a new spin to tell the tales of emotionally torn protagonists, depraved schemers and their ill-fated victims.

With original short fiction by Megan Abbott, Lawrence Block, Joe Lansdale, Joyce Carol Oates, Francine Prose, Jonathan Santlofer, Duane Swierczynski and Andrew Vachss, L.A. Noire: The Collected Stories breathes new life into a time-honored American tradition, in an exciting anthology that will appeal to fans of suspense and gamers everywhere.

L.A. Noire

The month before we turned 40, my husband and I spent a week in New York city to celebrate our upcoming milestone. We dined at fancy (and not so fancy) restaurants, sampled goodies from The Magnolia Bakery and Donut Plant, visited several art galleries and museums, and saw some unforgettable stage performances. I recall the sidewalk advertisements for the video game and short story collection. Upon learning of the various authors in this collection, I purchased it. Don’t we have to hear or read about an item eight times before we’re moved to purchase it?

Fortunately, none of the stories in the collection are repetitive. Each story has its own cover and covers different themes and characters from the genre. It’s a nice survey of Hollywood in the 1940s. I read some of the characters are also in the video game but I can’t say if it’s accurate or not. I’ve never played the game.

Several of the authors were known to me through previous work and I’m sure this was a fun exercise for them. Some of the stories are quite dark in tone so you probably don’t want to read them while eating in a diner or waiting at the bus stop. They may hit a little too close for comfort.

The Shimmer by David Morrell

Posted in Review at 3:01 am by Amber

Title: The Shimmer
Author: David Morrell
Publisher: Vanguard Press
Source: FSB Associates in exchange for a review

Book Cover of The Shimmer

Creator of Rambo and the co-founder of the International Thriller Writers organization, David Morrell has been called “the father of the modern action novel.” Now this award-winning, New York Times bestselling author delivers The Shimmer, a novel of chilling impact.

When police officer Dan Page’s wife disappears, her trail leads to Rostov, a remote Texas town where unexplained phenomena attract hundreds of spectators each night. Not merely curious, these onlookers are compelled to reach this tiny community and gaze at the mysterious Rostov Lights.

But more than the faithful are drawn there. A gunman begins shooting at the lights, screaming “Go back to hell where you came from!” then turns his rifle on the innocent bystanders. As more and more people are drawn to the scene of the massacre, the stage is set for even greater bloodshed.

To save his wife, Page must solve the mystery of the Rostov Lights. In the process, he uncovers a deadly government secret dating back to the First World War. The lights are more dangerous than anyone ever imagined, but even more deadly are those who try to exploit forces beyond their control.

With The Shimmer, David Morrell takes readers on a brilliant, terrifying journey. Suspenseful, yet thought-provoking, it is the master at his very best.

Before reading The Shimmer I’d never heard of David Morrell although he’s most famous for creating the character, John Rambo. I suppose this is one case where the author has been eclipsed by the creation.

The lights in Rostov, Texas are based on similar lights in Marfa, Texas (someplace I’d like to visit). I liked how he took a remote, yet known place, as the setting for the book and turned it into somewhere else. The story is well plotted. It’s difficult to pin it down as a political thriller or science fiction so it’s best not to even try. Overall I found it solidly written and a worthwhile vacation read.

03.25.14

The Doll by Taylor Stevens

Posted in Review at 4:02 am by Amber

Title: The Doll
Author: Taylor Stevens
Publisher: Broadway Books
Source: Publisher for Review

The Doll by Taylor Stevens

Haunted by a life of violence and as proficient with languages as she is with knives, Vanessa Michael Munroe, chameleon and hunter, has built her life on a reputation for getting things done—dangerous and often not-quite-legal things. The ability to survive, fight, adapt, and blend has since taken her across the globe on behalf of corporations, heads of state, and the few private clients who can afford her unique brand of expertise, and these abilities have made her enemies.

On a busy Dallas street, Munroe is kidnapped by an unseen opponent and thrust into an underground world where women and girls are merchandise and a shadowy figure known as The Doll Maker controls her every move. While trusted friends race to find her, everything pivots on one simple choice: Munroe must use her unique set of skills to deliver a high-profile young woman into the same nightmare that she once endured, or condemn to torture and certain death the one person she loves above all else.

In this high-octane thriller Munroe will have to fight fast, smart, and furious to overcome a dangerous nemesis and deliver her trademark brand of justice.

Released in paperback earlier this month, The Doll is the third book in the Stevens series featuring heroine Vanessa Michael Munroe. It includes an excerpt of the fourth book, The Catch.

This is the first book I’ve read in the series. Munroe has been likened to Lisbeth Salander of Stieg Larsson’s Millenium series which is why I decided to read it. Who doesn’t need another action heroine?

While Stevens does a good job catching the reader up on Munroe’s past, I rarely felt a connection with Munroe so it may have been worth it for me to read the first book in the series to get to know Munroe better.

The action and story didn’t suffer at all from this lack of connection. There were certainly surprises in the plot and I wanted to know what was going to happen next.

About Taylor Stevens

TAYLOR STEVENS is the award-winning New York Times bestselling author of The Informationist, The Innocent and The Doll. Featuring Vanessa Michael Munroe, the series has received critical acclaim and the books are published in twenty languages. The Informationist has been optioned for film by James Cameron’s production company, Lightstorm Entertainment. Born in New York State, and into the Children of God, raised in communes across the globe and denied an education beyond sixth grade, Stevens was in her twenties when she broke free to follow hope and a vague idea of what possibilities lay beyond. She now lives in Texas, and is at work on the next Munroe novel.

03.24.14

2014 Niteblade Fundraiser

Posted in Event at 8:54 am by Amber

It’s time for the annual Niteblade fundraiser! This year’s perks include original art, Niteblade submission feedback, books, subscriptions and story critiques.

03.17.14

Don’t Even Think About It by Sarah Mlynowski

Posted in Review at 3:12 am by Amber

Title: Don’t Even Think About It
Author: Sarah Mylnowski
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Don't Even Think About It

Contemporary teen fiction with romance, secrets, scandals, and ESP from the author of Ten Things We Did (And Probably Shouldn’t Have).

We weren’t always like this. We used to be average New York City high school sophomores. Until our homeroom went for flu shots. We were prepared for some side effects. Maybe a headache. Maybe a sore arm. We definitely didn’t expect to get telepathic powers. But suddenly we could hear what everyone was thinking. Our friends. Our parents. Our crushes. Now we all know that Tess is in love with her best friend, Teddy. That Mackenzie cheated on Cooper. That, um, Nurse Carmichael used to be a stripper.

Since we’ve kept our freakish skill a secret, we can sit next to the class brainiac and ace our tests. We can dump our boyfriends right before they dump us. We know what our friends really think of our jeans, our breath, our new bangs. We always know what’s coming. Some of us will thrive. Some of us will crack. None of us will ever be the same. So stop obsessing about your ex. We’re always listening.

The ARC I received suggested this book for ages 12 and up. I think my 12-year-old self would’ve loved it. My 42-year-old self found the writing and the story interesting. Overall it was a nice light read. Mylnowski empowers the telepathic teens to take control of situations when they would’ve floundered otherwise.

With over a dozen characters in the homeroom class getting the telepathic flu shot, Mylnowski was smart to focus on a handful of characters and situations. Pi, the smart girl, who has to decide if she’s going to use these new powers to augment her studying; Brian Joseph, aka BJ, the class pervert who can overhear his classmates romantic worries and  offers himself as a boy toy; Tess, the slightly overweight best friend of Mackenzie who is constantly criticized by her mom about her size.

I don’t know if Mylnowski has any small children in her life but one of the teens, Cooper, has a 3-year-old sister. I’d just heard an NPR interview with Jennifer Senior who points out young children can’t be reasoned with because they live in the present. The prefrontal cortex is not developed enough for logic. Ashley’s thoughts, when Cooper is able to hear them, is a perfect example. I found the relationship between Ashley and Cooper adorable. It was nice to read about a male teen character who was caring, not cruel, towards a young child.

The book released last week so Mylnowski is doing several readings and signings specifically related to the book. Check out her website for her schedule.

03.11.14

The Widow’s Guide to Sex & Dating by Carole Radziwill

Posted in Review at 11:25 am by Amber

Title: The Widow’s Guide to Sex & Dating
Author: Carole Radziwill
Publisher: Henry Holt And Co.
Source: Emily K. from Henry Holt in exchange for a review

Book cover of The Widow's Guide to Sex & Dating

Claire Byrne is a quirky and glamorous 34-year-old Manhattanite and the wife of a famous, slightly older man. Her husband, Charlie, is a renowned sexologist and writer. Equal parts Alfred Kinsey and Warren Beatty, Charlie is pompous yet charming, supportive yet unfaithful; he’s a firm believer that sex and love can’t coexist for long, and he does little to hide his affairs. Claire’s life with Charlie is an always interesting if not deeply devoted one, until Charlie is struck dead one day on the sidewalk by a falling sculpture … a Giacometti, no less!

Once a promising young writer, Claire had buried her ambitions to make room for Charlie’s. After his death, she must reinvent herself. Over the course of a year, she sees a shrink (or two), visits an oracle, hires a “botanomanist,” enjoys an erotic interlude (or ten), eats too little, drinks too much, dates a hockey player, dates a billionaire, dates an actor (not any actor either, but the handsome movie star every woman in the world fantasizes about dating). As she grieves for Charlie and searches for herself, she comes to realize that she has an opportunity to find something bigger than she had before—maybe even, possibly, love.

The first time I was approached about reading and reviewing this book, it was noted it was written by a Real Housewives of New York City cast member based on some of her own experiences as a young widow. I had other stuff going on so I passed. Then I saw it on a display table at Barnes and Noble and thought, “Oh, yeah. I remember that book.” And a few days later I was going through my emails and found a second request to read and review the book. So I went to Radziwill’s site, read the first chapter and said I’d like to read and review it.

Radziwill’s book is an amusing tale about a woman who arrives in Texas to conduct an interview as a married woman and flies back to New York a widow. Obviously, Claire’s new status is a lot to process. Ethan (Charlie’s assistant and Claire’s college friend) and Sasha (Claire’s best friend) offer Claire guidance and shoulders to cry on. Some of their advice is spot on such as: This is your time to be alone and figure out who you are. And some is not so spot on such as: You need to start dating again – I have a rolodex of men for you.

While Claire’s lifestyle is different from my own, I could identify with the knowledge that in your 30s you still have an entire lifetime ahead of you. This is one of those books that lets you escape the winter doldrums. The situations Claire finds herself in are often of her own making (or her friends well-meaning advice) but that’s just like life. Sometimes you have to stumble around a little bit before you find the right path.

About Carole Radziwill

Carole Radziwill grew up in upstate New York and earned a BA at Hunter College and an MBA at New York University. She spent more than a decade at ABC News, reporting from around the world, and earned three Emmys. Her first book, What Remains, a memoir, spent over twenty weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. She has written for many magazines, including Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour, Town & Country and Porter. She currently is a star of and “the voice of reason” on Bravo’s The Real Housewives of New York City. – See more at: http://thewidowsguidetosexanddating.com/

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