Blog Tour: Fractured by Catherine McKenzie

Hello, and welcome to the blog tour for Fractured by Catherine McKenzie! Before I tell you about all the reasons I thoroughly enjoyed this book, check out the synopsis below:


Fractured by Catherine McKenzie. Lake Union Publishing. 362 pp. 

Welcome, neighbor!

Julie Prentice and her family move across the country to the idyllic Mount Adams district of Cincinnati, hoping to evade the stalker who’s been terrorizing them ever since the publication of her bestselling novel, The Murder Game. Since Julie doesn’t know anyone in her new town, when she meets her neighbor John Dunbar, their instant connection brings measured hope for a new beginning. But she never imagines that a simple, benign conversation with him could set her life spinning so far off course.

We know where you live…

After a series of misunderstandings, Julie and her family become the target of increasingly unsettling harassment. Has Julie’s stalker found her, or are her neighbors out to get her, too? As tension in the neighborhood rises, new friends turn into enemies, and the results are deadly.


As I’ve mentioned a few times, TLC is great for my reading habits because it’s a great opportunity for me to branch out. My husband reads far more suspense novels than I do. I enjoy them, but I often don’t know where to start when choosing one. And TLC’s authors rarely disappoint. I was very pleased to be introduced to Catherine McKenzie’s words this month. This book is a smooth blend of voice, mood, clues, intrigue, and (huzzah!) clean writing.

Maybe it’s because I don’t know the bad from the good, but I’ve grabbed a thriller here and there and been shocked by how weak the writing was. The sentences were sloppy, the dialogue was unbelievable, and I had a tough time slogging through. (These were bestsellers, too.) Over time, though, I’ve been fortunate enough to encounter authors like Catherine McKenzie, ones who’ve shown me that perhaps I just picked up the wrong authors when I was getting started in this genre. She writes like a dream. I mean, I don’t think there was a moment in this book where she didn’t have me exactly where she wanted me, and it was an absolute pleasure to be manipulated by her words.

I loved that Julie’s and John’s chapters sounded different, that the weather could do so much to affect the mood of a scene, and that the author just nailed the minutiae (and mundanity) of suburban life.

I appreciated not knowing who was involved in the accident until the last possible moment; I didn’t figure anything out ahead of time, and believe me, I tried. My brain felt itchy and alive, working overtime as it assimilated new clues. I also loved how the characters began to question reality. It made it even more difficult to guess where things were headed. The plot started to feel hazy, like jogging through fog or slipping vodka into my morning orange juice.

I go to the bookstore often just to browse. Sometimes I buy a book or two; sometimes I don’t. But it’s a great way to see what’s been published recently. Also, it’s like Penny Lane says in Almost Famous: I’m visiting my friends. I look at cover art, I read synopses, I feel how velvety the covers are, and I enjoy myself immensely. To me, one of the signs of a good book is that it makes me want to pick up another book by the same author the next time I’m browsing. I may buy it that day or I may not, but it’s piqued my interest. (I may turn it to face forward on the shelf, even if I don’t buy it, in the hopes that it catches someone else’s eye. I know you’re probably not supposed to do that but I do it sometimes anyway and I’m sure I’m not the only one.) Catherine McKenzie has joined the ever-growing list of authors who I’ll be visiting the next time I browse. She’s gifted, and I look forward to reading more books by her.



Catherine McKenzie, a graduate of McGill University, practices law in Montreal, where she was born and raised. An avid skier and runner, Catherine’s novels SpinArrangedForgotten, and Hidden are all international bestsellers and have been translated into numerous languages. Hidden was an Amazon #1 bestseller and a Digital Book World bestseller. Her fifth novel, Smoke, was an Amazon bestseller, a Goodreads Best Book for October 2015, and an Amazon Top 100 Book of 2015.

Connect with Catherine

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram


Tuesday, October 4th: Chick Lit Central

Wednesday, October 5th: Open Book Society

Thursday, October 6th: Musings of a Bookish Kitty

Friday, October 7th: Palmer’s Page Turners

Monday, October 10th: Write Read Life

Tuesday, October 11th: From the TBR Pile

Wednesday, October 12th: Caryn, The Book Whisperer

Thursday, October 13th: Reading is my Superpower

Thursday, October 13th: Stranded in Chaos

Friday, October 14th: A Book Geek

Monday, October 17th: Luxury Reading

Tuesday, October 18th: Booked on a Feeling

Wednesday, October 19th: Kritter’s Ramblings

Thursday, October 20th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Friday, October 21st: Not in Jersey

Monday, October 24th: 5 Minutes for Books

Monday, October 24th: A Bookish Way of Life

Tuesday, October 25th: Bewitched Bookworms

Wednesday, October 26th: Wall to Wall Books

Thursday, October 27th: Thoughts on This ‘n That

Friday, October 28th: Book Chatter


Blog Tour: The Ex by Alafair Burke

The Ex cover

The Ex by Alafair Burke. Harper. 304 pp.

Twenty years ago she ruined his life.

Now she has the chance to save it.

Olivia Randall is one of New York City’s best criminal defense lawyers. When she hears that her former fiancé, Jack Harris, has been arrested for a triple homicide—and that one of the victims was connected to his wife’s murder three years earlier—there is no doubt in her mind as to his innocence. The only question is, who would go to such great lengths to frame him—and why?

For Olivia, representing Jack is a way to make up for past regrets and absolve herself of guilt from a tragic decision, a secret she has held for twenty years. But as the evidence against him mounts, she is forced to confront her doubts. The man she knew could not have done this. But what if she never really knew him?

Hi, all! Welcome to my stop on TLC’s blog tour for The Ex. Quick note before discussing the novel: I recently became an Amazon affiliate, which means that I’ll get a small kickback from any book (or other product, but let’s face it, they’ll mostly be books) that you purchase using my provided link. It’s not going to change the honesty with which I review books, but I think I might have to disclose the fact that I’m part of the program. Not sure, since I haven’t read all the fine print yet, but better safe than sorry, right?

Aaaaanyway. My husband loves audiobooks and listens to primarily action, suspense, and crime novels. As much as I love reading (and discussing books with others), this is a genre I’ve moved away from over the years. It’s a matter of time more than anything: I’ve got significantly less free time now that I have two kids, and I tend to stick to my favorite genres instead of reading a little bit of everything. Being a tour host for TLC has been wonderful for me, because their lists contain a little bit of everything, and I try to pick a suspense novel a couple of times a year because it’s good for me to read outside of my preferred genres — and also because I enjoy the hell out of myself every time. They promote some great books!

The description of The Ex grabbed my attention because of the idea that someone could hide a murderous streak for so many years. I was intrigued by the manipulation that would be involved in Jack’s use of an ex-fiance to defend him because she “owes” him something as well as the cunning required to pull something like this off. Of course, as I read the book, I realized there was a possibility that Jack hadn’t committed the crime, and I thoroughly enjoyed treating every character as a potential suspect.

At first, I wasn’t a big fan of the writing. I tend to favor more emotional or literary writing styles. But as the plot progressed, I realized that Burke’s style is just right for her story: there are so many details, and so much information, that a straightforward manner of storytelling is needed. Too much description would be distracting and unnecessary.

I enjoyed the pacing and that introductions of new characters were spread out. When I meet too many new people at once, I tend to confuse them. Burke allows time to get to know (and suspect!) each character, which makes the mystery both easier to follow and more fun to try to solve.

It’s difficult to say much more without giving things away, but I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s got a great whodunnit feel and incorporates some pretty violent crimes and deep psychological troubles without becoming too shocking or gratuitous. A good book will make you want to read more works by the same author, and even though this isn’t my number-one genre of choice, I can say that if I was looking for another crime novel, I’d lean toward one by Alafair Burke because I enjoyed her storytelling so much.

All in all: This book was just what I was hoping for. It had lots of twists and turns and kept me guessing all the way to the end. Check it out if you typically enjoy this genre, or even if you don’t. It’s a solid entry point into a new category!

Click the image below to purchase this book from Amazon:

Thanks to the author and TLC for the chance to be involved in this tour!


Alafair Burke AP

Alafair Burke is the New York Times bestselling author of ten previous novels, including the standalone thrillers Long Goneand If You Were Here, and the Ellie Hatcher series: All Day and a NightNever Tell212Angel’s Tip, and Dead Connection. She is also the coauthor of the Under Suspicion series with Mary Higgins Clark. A former prosecutor, she is now a professor of criminal law and lives in Manhattan.

Find out more about Alafair at her website, connect with her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

OtherTourStopsTuesday, January 26th: Sara’s Organized Chaos

Wednesday, January 27th: A Bookish Way of Life

Thursday, January 28th: Curling Up by the Fire

Monday, February 1st: My Book Retreat

Tuesday, February 2nd: Luxury Reading

Thursday, February 4th: A Bookworm’s World

Friday, February 5th: Peeking Between the Pages

Tuesday, February 9th: Kritters Ramblings

Wednesday, February 10th: Dreams, Etc.

Thursday, February 11th: Jenn’s Bookshelves

Friday, February 12th: From the TBR Pile

Tuesday, February 16th: Lessa’s Book Critiques

Wednesday, February 17th: Book Hooked Blog

Thursday, February 18th: JulzReads

Friday, February 19th: FictionZeal



Blog Tour & Giveaway: Apothecary Rose (Owen Archer series) by Candace Robb

ArcherBook9 ArcherBook10

Good morning! I’m thrilled to be the opening stop on the blog tour for Candace Robb’s Owen Archer series. The tour is celebrating the release of Books Nine and Ten in the series, but I’ll be reviewing the first installation, Apothecary Rose. I like to start at the beginning when reading a series, and I’m grateful to the author (and TLC Book Tours) for allowing me to do so. If the latest installments are anything like the first, they’ll be twisty, complicated mysteries that keep you guessing the entire time. Here’s a great quote from The Guardian about the ninth book, The Guilt of Innocents:

It’s…the Machiavellian intrigue that makes this such an enjoyable read. When the iron curtain came down people said the spy-thriller genre was dead. They were wrong. This is as full of intrigue as a Deighton or a Le Carré.


The Apothecary Rose by Candace Robb. Diversion Books. 313 pp.

The Apothecary Rose by Candace Robb. Diversion Books. 313 pp.

In the year of our Lord 1363, two suspicious deaths in the infirmary of St. Mary’s Abbey catch the attention of the powerful John Thoresby, Lord Chancellor of England and Archbishop of York. One victim is a pilgrim, while the second is Thoresby’s ne’er-do-well ward, both apparently poisoned by a physic supplied by Master Apothecary Nicholas Wilton. In the wake of these deaths, the archbishop dispatches one-eyed spy Owen Archer to York to find the murderer.

Under the guise of a disillusioned soldier keen to make a fresh start, Owen insinuates himself into Wilton’s apothecary as an apprentice. But he finds Wilton bedridden, with the shop being run by his lovely, enigmatic young wife, Lucie. As Owen unravels a tangled history of scandal and tragedy, he discovers at its center a desperate, forbidden love twisted over time into obsession. And the woman he has come to love is his prime suspect.

Lovingly detailed, beautifully written, THE APOTHECARY ROSE is a captivating and suspenseful tale of life, love, and death in medieval England.

First things first: if you read Candace Robb’s bio below, you’ll learn that she is a scholar of medieval history and literature, and this is evident in her writing. The day-to-day lives, responsibilities, and mores of her characters are evident throughout the book, but reading about Owen Archer’s world never feels like a history lesson. It’s sort of like stepping off the TARDIS into fourteenth-century life and learning about it by watching things unfold around you. There’s a brief glossary at the opening of the book, which is helpful for a few terms that aren’t directly explained in the story. Many of the terms’ meanings can be gleaned through context, but I still think the glossary is a nice touch so that first-time medieval readers aren’t alienated or overwhelmed at the start. [Note: Lest you think that such explanation is unnecessary, a tale from one of my former tenth-grade students. They were learning about polio, and the history teacher said that when he was a child his parents were so concerned about the virus that they wouldn’t let him drink water from the backyard hose. She asked, “If everyone was so worried about getting polio, why didn’t they all just drink bottled water?” There are people in today’s society who have no idea how people lived in the past, not even within the last century.]

The accessibility of the book is one of my favorite things. Too much period language or action can push away readers that are new to the genre; too little will make the story unrealistic for seasoned readers. Owen Archer’s world is a great in-between, one that I could recommend to virtually anyone without them getting in over their heads or becoming bored. These characters are very modern in their desires and motives; there are topics such as women’s rights, marital jealousy, homosexuality, wealth and class, and education, but the societal constraints of the time greatly affect how free (or not) the characters can be. It’s a great way to look at issues that still exist today, seeing how far society has come and how, in some cases, very little has changed.

The plot kept me wondering the entire time. I guessed who the culprit was about halfway through, but the motive (and accomplices) surprised me entirely. I love the moment when you start to see how all the pieces fit together; it makes you appreciate just how much work and skill go into crafting a mystery, laying clues without giving too much away in advance. Robb is a gifted storyteller, and her pacing keeps the book interesting without ever lulling the reader into a sense of security or “I-saw-that-coming.”

I’m currently reading the second book in the series, The Lady Chapel, and so far it’s shaping up to be just as good as the first installation. I’ve already seen some familiar faces, and a few new characters have been introduced as well, which is always nice. I’m curious to see if Owen’s demeanor changes over the course of the series, because his lot in life has changed so much, and I hope that the mystery is just as interesting and surprising as it was in the first book.

There’s a tour-wide giveaway running, in case you’re interested (and you should be). Three winners will each win electronic copies of the first three books in the Owen Archer series. Since my WordPress site isn’t self-hosted, I can’t post the Rafflecopter widget here, but you can click on the image below to enter the giveaway. And if you don’t win, each book in the series is currently $2.99 for Kindle, so…y’know…you could buy them and read them anyway!




Growing up, Candace Robb wanted to be a ballerina, tap dancer, folk singer, journalist—but on the day that she walked into Liz Armstrong’s undergraduate class on Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, that all changed. A gifted teacher, lively, witty, always laughing even when cringing at a lazy response, Dr. Armstrong launched into the opening stanzas, and within a few lines Candace’s ears adjusted to the middle English—and she was hooked. Chaucer’s psychological study of the two lovers was a revelation to her. The next quarter was The Canterbury Tales. That clinched it. Candace went on to graduate work in medieval history and literature, and ever since she’s been engaged in bringing to life the rich culture of the period, from the arts to the politics. She is the internationally acclaimed author of thirteen crime novels featuring the sexy, brooding, clever Owen Archer, who solves crimes for John Thoresby, Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor of England, and the young Margaret Kerr, searching for her missing husband and establishing her own role in a Scotland overrun by English soldiers. Candace is currently under contract with Pegasus Books for a new crime series set in 15th century York, the Kate Clifford mysteries, which will debut in 2016.
Writing as Emma Campion, Candace has published two historical novels about the women of the English court in the 14th century, A Triple Knot and The King’s Mistress.
Born in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, Candace grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and has lived most of her adult life in Seattle, Washington, which she loves for its combination of culture, natural beauty, and brooding weather so like Yorkshire, Wales, and Scotland, which she visits as often as possible. She has taught the art of writing the crime novel in the University of Washington’s certificate program, and offers workshops in writing the historical novel and in creating and plotting the crime series. Candace (and Emma) blog about writing and medieval topics at A Writer’s Retreat.

Connect with Candace
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads


Wednesday, October 7th: No More Grumpy Bookseller – The Apothecary Rose
Wednesday, October 7th – Raven Haired Girl – The Apothecary Rose
Thursday, October 8th: It’s a Mad Mad World – The Apothecary Rose
Friday, October 9th: Birdhouse Books –  The Apothecary Rose
Monday, October 12th: Reading Reality – Vigil of Spies
Tuesday, October 13th: Let Them Read Books – author guest post
Wednesday, October 14th: No More Grumpy Bookseller – The Nun’s Tale
Thursday, October 15th – Raven Haired Girl – The Nun’s Tale
Friday, October 16th: Broken Teepee – The Apothecary Rose
Monday, October 19th: No More Grumpy Bookseller – The Riddle of Saint Leonard’s
Monday, October 19th: Broken Teepee – The Lady Chapel
Tuesday, October 20th: Thoughts from an Evil Overlord – The Apothecary Rose
Wednesday, October 21st – Raven Haired Girl – The Riddle of Saint Leonard’s
Friday, October 23rd: Broken Teepee – The Nun’s Tale
Monday, October 26th: Luxury Reading – The Apothecary Rose
Wednesday, October 28th – Raven Haired Girl – A Spy for the Redeemer
Thursday, October 29th: Broken Teepee – The King’s Bishop
Monday, November 2nd: Broken Teepee – The Riddle of Saint Leonard’s
Friday, November 6th: Broken Teepee – A Gift of Sanctuary
Wednesday, November 11th: Broken Teepee – A Spy for the Redeemer
Monday, November 16th: Broken Teepee – The Guilt of Innocents
Friday, November 20th: Broken Teepee – A Vigil of Spies

Blog Tour & Giveaway: Ruthless by John Rector

Ruthless by John Rector. 280 pp. Thomas & Mercer.

Ruthless by John Rector. 280 pp. Thomas & Mercer.

Hello, and welcome! I’m thrilled to be today’s stop on the blog tour for John Rector’s Ruthless. (Get it? Thrilled? ‘Cause the book’s a thriller? …at least I make myself laugh.)


Here’s the synopsis:

Nick White is the only person who can save Abigail Pierce. After uncovering a plot to have her killed, he attempts to warn her but instead puts himself squarely in the crosshairs. They know who he is, they know where he lives, they know how to get at his family.

Drawn into the conspiracy surrounding Abigail, Nick soon discovers the danger is bigger than he ever believed. Now he must uncover the truth to save her and himself. Gripping and intense, this novel is a twisted thrill ride from bestselling author John Rector.


I thought the description sounded all right, but after reading the first chapter or two, I realized that the summary doesn’t begin to do this book justice. The opening scene is excellent; I want to tell you about it but don’t want you to see it coming because it’s a great setup. I know that I’m excited about a book when I can’t stop talking about it. When I saw where this book was going, I immediately told my husband about the premise. I love talking to him about the books that I’m reading because it’s a great test of cross-demographic appeal; he and I don’t often like the same kinds of stories, but every now and then I find one that I’m liking that he will also enjoy. This was one of them. As soon as I started talking about it, he asked, “What happens next? What does he do?” I excitedly answered, “I don’t know! I’m not done yet!” and dove back in. (Yes, I’m a bit of a book tease. But I want to share the anticipation!)

I found the rest of the book to be enjoyable as well. Of course, there are slow moments mixed in amongst all the action, but they’re necessary to fill in the gaps of the reader’s knowledge. It’s refreshing when Nick has a chance to take a breath; it gives the reader time to breathe as well before being thrown into the next stage of his adventures.

I couldn’t relate to Nick in any way, but I enjoyed him as a narrator. He told his story cleanly — without too many extra details — allowing the plot to occur mostly through dialogue and action rather than inner monologues. I’m a huge fan of inner monologues, but not in thrillers; they make things too choppy for my liking. This book keeps things moving without turning cheesy (unlike the last David Baldacci I read, The Forgotten, which was just awful).

I can’t say much about the ending because I don’t want to give too much away; one of the best things about this book is the number of surprises it holds. But let’s just say that it’s right for this character. It felt like the right choice instead of the easy choice, and I appreciated that.

All in all: Not my usual genre, but I enjoyed it. Entertaining and worth reading.

Also: The author was kind enough to provide a copy of the book for a giveaway! Since I don’t self-host on wordpress, I can’t post the Rafflecopter widget here. Click the link below to be redirected. Thanks for stopping by, and thanks to TLC and the author for the chance to be involved!




JOHN RECTOR is the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of THE GROVE, THE COLD KISS, ALREADY GONE and OUT OF THE BLACK. His short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and won several awards including the International Thriller Award for his novella LOST THINGS, many of his other stories can be found in his collection THE WALLS AROUND US.

He lives in Omaha, Nebraska.


Monday, June 1st: From the TBR Pile

Tuesday, June 2nd: She Treads Softly

Wednesday, June 3rd: 5 Minutes for Books

Thursday, June 4th: A Reader’s Oasis

Friday, June 5th: Vic’s Media Room 

Tuesday, June 9th: The Bookish Universe

Wednesday, June 10th: Built By Story

Thursday, June 11th: A Chick Who Reads

Friday, June 12th: Books a la Mode – guest post

Monday, June 15th: Bell, Book & Candle

Wednesday, June 17th: Life is Story

Thursday, June 18th: Staircase Wit

Monday, June 22nd: Mockingbird Hill Cottage

Tuesday, June 23rd: Reading Reality

Wednesday, June 24th: Fictionophile

Thursday, June 25th: Mom in Love with Fiction


Blog Tour & Giveaway: Shady Cross by James Hankins

Shady Cross by James Hankins. Thomas & Mercer. 308 pp.

Shady Cross by James Hankins. Thomas & Mercer. 308 pp.

In one hand, small-time crook Stokes holds a backpack stuffed with someone else’s money—three hundred and fifty thousand dollars of it.

In the other hand, Stokes has a cell phone, which he found with the money. On the line, a little girl he doesn’t know asks, “Daddy? Are you coming to get me? They say if you give them the money they’ll let you take me home.”

From bestselling author James Hankins comes a wrenching story of an unscrupulous man torn between his survival instincts and the plight of a true innocent. Faced with the choice, Stokes discovers his conscience might not be as corroded as he thought.

I’m always nervous when I agree to be part of a blog tour. I mean, what if I don’t like the book?! It’s difficult to post a negative review as part of a tour, and yet I still want to be honest, so there’s always a bit of anxiety when I start reading a book I’ll be featuring. I needn’t have worried in this case, though, because the only problem I had with Shady Cross is that I enjoyed it so much that I want to read more of James Hankins’s books! (And no, I’m not just saying that to be nice. That’s not what I do.)

Let me start by saying that I don’t read many suspense books. It’s not that I dislike them, but since suspense isn’t one of my top genres, I often feel overwhelmed by the number of options. Rather than figuring out where to start, I just stick to my usual fare. But when Lisa from TLC sent me the synopsis for this one, I was hooked. I was dying to read it and was thrilled to have the chance to do so. (I recently mentioned this book to my mom, which I do whenever I’m really enjoying a book. When I told her what it was about, she literally gasped. It’s that great of a concept.)

Shady Cross lived up to my expectations and then some. I had a difficult time putting it down…and that’s saying something, considering how little sleep I’ve been getting lately. There have been times when I view dilemmas in a suspense novel as cheap ploys to keep the reader invested in the story. Maybe I’ve been reading the wrong books, though, because in this case, all Stokes’s troubles made me want to do is get into the next chapter as quickly as possible.

The characters in this book were different for me, too: I didn’t actually like (m)any of them, but that didn’t stop me from flying through the pages to see how their situations turned out. Stokes is a brilliantly-executed protagonist. He’s done more bad than good in his life, but that doesn’t stop you from rooting for him as he makes an honest effort to save a little girl. Although he’s more sinner than savior, he goes much further than you could expect for a stranger’s daughter. Reading this book made me wonder how many people I know — myself included — would be willing to do the same.

All in all: A story of struggle and redemption that’s an absolute pleasure to read. A piece of genre fiction with wide-ranging appeal; I can’t imagine anyone that wouldn’t like this.

If this sounds like a book you might enjoy, then I’ve got great news: I have a copy to give away! I’m unable to post the Rafflecopter widget directly on my blog, so click below if you’d like to enter.




Bestselling author James Hankins pursued writing at an early age. While attending NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, he received the Chris Columbus Screenwriting Award. After career detours into screenwriting, health administration, and the law, Hankins recommitted himself to writing fiction. Since then, he has written three popular thrillers, each of which spent time in the Kindle Top 100. Additionally, Brothers and Bones received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews and was named to their list of Best Books of 2013, while both Jack of Spades and Drawn were Amazon #1 bestsellers. He lives with his wife and twin sons just north of Boston.


Tuesday, February 24th: Vic’s Media Room 

Wednesday, February 25th:  Book Dilettante

Thursday, February 26th: Bell, Book & Candle

Friday, February 27th: 5 Minutes for Books

Wednesday, March 4th: Life is Story

Thursday, March 5th: Musings of a Bookish Kitty

Monday, March 9th: Daily Mayo

Tuesday, March 10th: A Chick Who Reads

Thursday, March 12th: Kissin Blue Karen

Monday, March 16th: FictionZeal

Wednesday, March 18th: Mary’s Cup of Tea

Thursday, March 19th: Patricia’s Wisdom

Thursday, March 19th: Building Bookshelves

Monday, March 23rd: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Wednesday, March 25th: Booksie’s Blog

Monday, March 30th: Brooke Blogs


(Im)Partial Reviews: Second Installment

It’s that time again: time for me to tell you a bit about the books that I just couldn’t slog through. I tried, I really did, but I love reading and refuse to ruin my favorite pastime with books that just aren’t doing it for me. Here goes!

High Crime Area by Joyce Carol Oates. Mysterious Press. 224 pp.

High Crime Area by Joyce Carol Oates. Mysterious Press. 224 pp.

Let me start by saying that I usually enjoy Joyce Carol Oates. I haven’t read a ton of her work, but I’ve enjoyed the stuff of hers that I’ve read…until now. My first exposure to Oates was as a college freshman; we were assigned “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” I found it chilling then, and thinking back on it still terrifies me. The other work of hers that stands out in my mind is “ID,” featured in The Best American Short Stories 2011, which I also enjoyed.  When I saw High Crime Area was an offering on Edelweiss, I thought I’d finally pick up a collection of short work solely by Oates. And I just…couldn’t stay interested. I got about halfway, and although a couple of the stories were somewhat chilling, none of them grabbed me or made a lasting impression. I still think Joyce Carol Oates is a talented writer, but the stories in this collection just weren’t for me. I can’t read well-crafted sentences if they don’t say anything interesting.

Carniepunk. Gallery Books. 433 pp.

Carniepunk. Gallery Books. 433 pp.

This was billed as an “urban fantasy anthology” in which every story took place at a circus. I think there’s a lot that can be done with a circus setting (if you read my review of The Night Circus, you know I’m dying to visit that fictional venue), but these stories fell flat for me. Many of them were based on characters from series that I hadn’t read, but none of them interested me enough to make me want to check out the related novels. After a few attempts, I let this one fall by the wayside.

Betrayed by Lisa Scottoline. St. Martin's Press. 352 pp.

Betrayed by Lisa Scottoline. St. Martin’s Press. 352 pp.

Okay. Last one (for now). I got a review copy of this one at BookCon, read the first fifty pages, and jumped ship. The writing is overly simplistic and inconsistent; the main character sounds like a lawyer at times (which she is) but at other times her thoughts and words are those of a precocious middle schooler. The “mystery” was just getting started when I gave up, and I considered sticking around to give the plot a chance, but I hated the writing too much to continue.

Aaand that’s my latest list of books you should probably leave unopened. Until next time!

Summer Reading List: Miscellaneous, Part Two

Wrapping up my Summer Reading List catch-ups today (phew!). Here goes.

Greenglass House by Kate Milford. Clarion Books. 384 pp.

Greenglass House by Kate Milford. Clarion Books. 384 pp.

This was a Goodreads win that I was more than happy to receive. It has a sort of Westing Game feel, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It’s smart and engrossing, with a fun mystery to solve, a colorful cast of characters, and a bit of holiday charm. I can’t wait to read it to my son when he gets a little older. (There’s no inappropriate subject matter; it’s just that he’s two, and this is middle grade. He’s bright, but not that bright.) The only thing I found disappointing was the weird, all-too-convenient ending. Overall, though, a great book, one that kids and parents can enjoy together.

Black Crow White Lie by Candi Sary. Casperian Books. 160 pp.

Black Crow White Lie by Candi Sary. Casperian Books. 160 pp.

Another Goodreads win, one that sat on my shelf for months before I finally got around to picking it up. It was…so-so. The writing was okay, the plot was okay, and the character development was — you guessed it! — okay. I was tempted to stop reading this one, but I plowed through…and I wouldn’t recommend it.

Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix. Quirk Books. 243 pp.

Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix. Quirk Books. 243 pp.

This one was being given away at BookCon. I love the cover, the way the ghost in the picture frames doesn’t pop out at you immediately but has a sort of time-release fright effect. The story is clever, a sort of ghost-possessed Ikea (except it’s Orsk, not Ikea, because…you know…lawsuit potential!). It’s a quick, easy read with fun-and-eerie product descriptions at the beginning of each chapter. I don’t read much horror, but I found this one to be creepy enough. It’d make a good scary movie.

Rumpelstiltskin, retold by Edith H. Tarcov, illustrated by Edward Gorey. Scholastic. 48 pp.

Rumpelstiltskin, retold by Edith H. Tarcov, illustrated by Edward Gorey. Scholastic. 48 pp.

I grabbed this one at a book sale; I’m a sucker for fairy tales and picked this one up even though it’s yellowed and crumbling. It’s a simple, straightforward retelling, which I enjoyed (although I’m partial to the version in which Rumpelstiltskin splits himself in half at the end of the story…). The illustrations are what you’d expect from Edward Gorey (I mean that in a good way, because I enjoy his style), but I’d prefer them to have been either entirely black and white or to incorporate more colors. (The cover is colorful, but the interior illustrations are black and white with bits of yellow — and only yellow. It seemed like a budget-friendly way to incorporate color, but I didn’t love it.) I try not to keep every book I buy, especially if I think I’ll never read it again, but I’m holding on to this one. I’ll give it a good tape job and read it with my son!

Keeping It Brief!

I’m reading more than I’m writing lately, and as a result my pile of read-and-waiting-to-be-reviewed books is getting a little overwhelming. When things get overwhelming, I procrastinate even more than usual, so this has become a bit of a no-win situation for me. Rather than putting it off any longer, I decided to write a handful of short-and-sweet reviews in order to cut down on my workload a bit. Here we go!

The Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes. Plume. 400 pp.

The Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes. Plume. 400 pp.

I entered to win The Mystery of Mercy Close from Goodreads’s First Reads program because every time I read a mystery I thoroughly enjoy myself and wonder why I don’t read mysteries more often…and then I don’t pick one up for another year or so. I was happy to win this one because it gave me a reason to dip my toes back into a genre I’d been away from for a while.

Helen Walsh is a main character unlike any other: she’s misanthropic and cynical, yet she loves and values the people closest to her. She fights tooth and nail against her depression while trying to keep it under wraps. Her rants made me laugh out loud, while her inner turmoil broke my heart a little bit.

The mystery itself is a slow burner; there are more interrogation scenes than action, and there wasn’t much (if any) suspense. Some mysteries keep me on the edge of my seat, and this one really didn’t. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy it, because I did. But reading this book was more like untying a knot: it took time, but the details were interesting.

All in all: Not the best mystery I’ve ever read, but still not bad.

17 First Kisses by Rachael Allen. HarperTeen. 319 pp.

17 First Kisses by Rachael Allen. HarperTeen. 319 pp.

This was a terribly generic YA novel. There was a little bit of everything: drinking, hooking up, boy drama, damaged reputations, family trauma, and feeling like nobody sees “the real you.” I don’t mean to trivialize any of those elements, because (as you know if you’ve ever read my reviews before) I really do enjoy the YA genre…*if* it’s done well. This book, however, felt kind of like a connect-the-dots instead of an actual painting. It was a quick, easy read, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone looking for a great YA work.

All in all: Might be enjoyable for teens, but I don’t think it has staying power.

The Here and Now by Ann Brashares. Delacorte. 288 pp.

The Here and Now by Ann Brashares. Delacorte. 288 pp.

I read Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants in high school and don’t really remember much about it except for the fact that it was a quick, fairly-light read. Oh! And the fact that four girls with significantly different body types all rocked the same pair of jeans. Seriously?! As someone who has to try on thirty pairs of jeans before finding one that fits (and that’s on a good day), I call shenanigans.

But back to Ann Brashares. I was intrigued by the idea that the author of such a girlie-girl classic was trying her hand at science fiction and was curious to see how it would go. And I was pleasantly surprised. I found Prenna’s personality to be lacking in the first half of the book, but I’m not sure if that was intentional or not. As she deviates from her “orders,” her personal desires emerge and she becomes much more interesting.

The time travel aspect was handled well, and I found the not-so-happy ending a refreshing change of pace. It was believable and yet it didn’t make me want to throw my book across the room. It made sense.

All in all: A solid effort and enjoyable read. Not the best YA I’ve read this year, but certainly not the worst, either.

Review: A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cossé

A Novel Bookstore by Laurence . Europa Editions. 416 pp.

A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cossé. Europa Editions. 416 pp.

Ivan, a one-time world traveler, and Francesca, a ravishing Italian heiress, are the owners of a bookstore that is anything but ordinary. Rebelling against the business of bestsellers and in search of an ideal place where their literary dreams can come true, Ivan and Francesca open a store where the passion for literature is given free reign. Tucked away in a corner of Paris, the store offers its clientele a selection of literary masterpieces chosen by a top-secret committee of likeminded literary connoisseurs. To their amazement, after only a few months, the little dream store proves a success. And that is precisely when their troubles begin. At first, both owners shrug off the anonymous threats that come their way and the venomous comments concerning their store circulating on the Internet, but when three members of the supposedly secret committee are attacked, they decide to call the police. One by one, the pieces of this puzzle fall ominously into place, as it becomes increasingly evident that Ivan and Francesca’s dreams will be answered with pettiness, envy and violence.

I think the first (and only) time I saw this book in person was on a table display at Borders. (Oh, Borders, how I miss you!) I bought something else that day, but this book’s beautiful cover — and the fact that it’s about a bookstore — earned it a spot on my TBR list. It took me years to order it, though when I finally did I flew through it in a matter of days.

I’m going to start with the negative aspects of this book, because I have less to say about them: the love story fell flat and the mystery’s solution was disappointing at best. At times it read stiffly — in other words, I could tell that it was a translated work. (More ideas on translated works here, in case you’re interested.)

Predictably, my favorite parts were the ones dealing with literature: the founding of the bookstore, the system of selection for The Good Novel’s stock, and the fact that the characters always seemed to find time to read. I appreciated the fact that, although The Good Novel only stocked…well…”good” novels, the author’s attitude toward more mainstream bestsellers didn’t seem too much like an attack. Let’s be honest: some books are better than others. But a lot of the time, this preference is heavily subjective. It’s interesting to consider where the line between objective and subjective literary merit lies.

There are lots of favorable blurbs on the back of this book, but my favorite is from The Huffington Post:

A deeply satisfying manifesto of book love and a sharp indictment of those who would use such love for their own evil purposes.

More than being a mystery, or a love story, this is a book about pure, unyielding love for the well-written word.

As elitist as it might seem, I love the idea of The Good Novel. I’ve been known to pick up a Dan Brown book from time to time, sure, but I like the idea of walking into a shop where every item for sale has been selected with the utmost care. In a neighborhood where I used to live, there was a store called Second Story High End Thrift. The owner shopped other secondhand stores and came away with what she considered to be the best of the best: no tears or stains, of course, but the items also fit her style preferences. I shopped there frequently because I loved the stuff she found, and I never left empty-handed, even though I never went with a particular item in mind. Why? I trusted her taste preferences. Was her selection more limited? Of course. But if you want a little bit of everything, there’s still The Salvation Army (where I also go to browse). The point is, there’s room for both. And there’s no love lost on either side. Why can’t literature be like that? If I’m not missing the point entirely, that seems to be what Cossé is suggesting.

All in all: Would A Novel Bookstore be found on the shelves of The Good Novel? Probably not. It’s too uneven. But I’d say it’s still worth checking out.

Review: The Never List by Koethi Zan


The Never List by Koethi Zan. Pamela Dorman Books. 320 pp.

When people ask what I “do,” I tell them I’m a stay at home mom. Which is true. I’m many other things as well, of course, but the few people closest to me know me for what I truly am: a professional worrier. I’m a worst-case-scenario kind of girl, not a fan of uncertainty or unpredictability, and prone to overplanning to avoid any potentially unpleasant outcomes. So I probably shouldn’t have picked up a book about a group of girls who were abducted and tortured by a psychopathic college professor. As if I wasn’t looking over my shoulder enough already, right?

The Never List is a story of two young girls who survive a terrible car accident and make a list of overcautious “nevers” to protect themselves from future evils, both accidental and intentional. After years of safety, they make a minor lapse in judgment one night and become captives, held in their abductor’s basement with two other girls for over three years. The novel follows Sarah, one of the four girls, as she struggles to maintain a sense of security ten years later. However, her world is upended when she learns that her abductor has an upcoming parole hearing and may soon be back in the world, again a real and terrible threat to her safety. She gets in touch with her fellow victims, attempting to decipher clues he has sprinkled throughout his letters to the girls, in an effort to find evidence that will keep their captor imprisoned for the rest of his life.

I love books, I really do. But I’ve found that not many authors can capture that breath-stuck-in-your-throat, strings-in-high-register feeling that films give me. There’s something about having the experience handed to me, visually and auditorily, when watching a movie that makes it easier to sit back and let the suspense wash over me. When I’m more invested and envisioning a scene in my head, sometimes there’s too much description, too many words, for me to feel that same level of emotion. A recent exception for me was George Saunders’s short story “Tenth of December.” It blew me away. I was taking a hot bath, and I sat up, rapt, holding my breath, letting the water cool around me as I turned page after page, characters’ lives hanging on the line.

The Never List was a book that I could hardly put down because I needed to know what happened, especially in its final scenes. It’s worth reading if you don’t mind thinking about the terrible things that can happen to women in our society, even the careful ones. This was a great book with an ending that took me completely by surprise, but in the best way possible. I totally didn’t see it coming, but once it had happened, I realized that it was the only sensible way for the story to end. I hope this one becomes a film.