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Book Review: The Blue-Ribbon Jalapeño Society Jubilee by Carolyn Brown

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From Goodreads:
Everything is calm in Cadillac, Texas until Aunt Agnes declares war on Violet Prescott, the president of the Blue-Ribbon Jalapeno Society, just in time for the annual jubilee. But after the festivities—and the hostilities—are over, it’s four friends who are left standing, proving once again that friendship is forever.

This book drew me in right away with its whimsical cover and southern flair title. The Texas locale was just right for these sassy ladies.

The story centers around Marty and her sister Cathy who are both part of The Blue-Ribbon Jalapeño Society along with a hilarious cast of characters. At first the book was a little overwhelming. We enter the story during a Society meeting and I really had to pay attention to who’s who and what the relationships are, which was more like work than fun. But, once I got the gist of how the characters relate, the story was enjoyable. What really stands out in this novel is not the main characters but the minor ones who add spice and laughter to the story. Aunt Agnes is priceless!

This book is chock full of scrapbooking, good southern food and a huge helping of southern sass. Of course, all is not well in this little Texas town where everybody knows your name and friendship and family ties run deep. Cat fights abound, there’s some spicy sex with exes and all shenanigans are done with the politeness only well-bred southern families can conjure.

A fun book that really takes friendships to heart.

This book was provided for review by Netgalley.

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Book Review: Rise of Chaos by Griffin Smith

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More 3.5 stars, this season starts out in what appears to be a typical story line for a zombie novel but quickly turns into a unique story of survival.

If I could sum this season up in one word it would be “exciting”. It’s action packed from beginning to end and has all the elements that make a zombie story so much fun. The protagonists are going from one disaster to the next with barely any down time which made this book a breeze to get through.

The unique storyline, pitting world powers against each other, made for an entertaining and well thought out novel. The introduction of “super” zombies was a great addition.

What would have made this story even better for me would have been more character development. I didn’t have any feelings one way or the other for any of the group characters. Their interactions seemed forced and they often said things that seemed off base, especially the main female character. She wasn’t relatable at all. However, the military interaction and dialog was dead on. I actually liked those parts a lot more than I thought I would.

If you’re a zombie fan, this is one worth adding to your TBR list.

I want to thank Griffin Smith for providing me a copy of this book for review – I’m looking forward to what you have in store next!

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Book Review: The Specimen by Martha Lea

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From Goodreads:
The year is 1866. Edward Scales is a businessman, a butterfly collector, a respectable man. He is the man Gwen Carrick fell in love with seven years before. Now he is dead and Gwen is on trial for his murder.

From country house drawing rooms to the rainforests of Brazil, The Specimen explores the price one independent young woman might pay for wanting an unorthodox life.

Set in a Victorian world battling between the forces of spiritualism and Darwinism, polite society and the call of clandestine love, Gwen and Edward’s tale is a gripping melodrama, a romance and a murder mystery that will compel readers to its final thrilling page.

A sweeping drama with a Victorian backdrop, The Specimen is a book worth examining.

The Specimen has so many interesting characters. Gwen and Effie, two sister who are the complete opposite of one another become the bane of each others existence. Mr. Scales, the womanizing doctor, betrays his wife with various affairs that help to weave a web of deceit. All three are tangled together into a drama that ultimately leads to murder.

The chapters alternate between the present year, 1866, which finds Gwen on trial for the murder of Mr. Scales, and the past, the years leading up to the murder itself.

Gwen and Effie have inherited their father’s estate in Cornwall. Being polar opposites, their relationship is anything but smooth. Gwen seizes the opportunity for escape when she falls in love with Edward Scales and is invited along to Brazil as an assistant helping Edward collect and catalog specimens.

Gwen soon finds that the man she fell in love with during those fleeting moments of lust repulses her in the light of day. She endures the journey, through all sorts of conditions, only to find that she has been betrayed beyond anything she could ever have imagined.

There are many twists and turns in this murder mystery. The author allows the reader to come to some their own conclusions and doesn’t feel the need to bog us down with details but allows our imagination to fill in some of the plot. I really liked this style of writing. Some pieces of the puzzle were given out of order, which at first made me feel like I must have missed something. But, smartly, the answer becomes known later in the story.

Martha Lea has created such a wonderful Victorian setting for this book, making a unique reading experience. The changes in locale made the story interesting and reflected what was transpiring among the characters. I was surprised to find a little humor and had to laugh at some of the quips made by some of the minor characters.

If you enjoy unconventional murder mystery that makes you think outside the box like The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax or Mistress of the Art of Death, you’ll enjoy this book.

This book was provided for review by Netgally.

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Book Review: Gone Missing by Linda Castillo

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From Goodreads:
Rumspringa is the time when Amish teens are allowed to experience life without the rules. It’s an exciting time of personal discovery and growth before committing to the church. But when a young teen disappears without a trace, the carefree fun comes to an abrupt and sinister end, and fear spreads through the community like a contagion.

A missing child is a nightmare to all parents, and never more so than in the Amish community, where family ties run deep. When the search for the presumed runaway turns up a dead body, the case quickly becomes a murder investigation. And chief of Police Kate Burkholder knows that in order to solve this case she will have to call upon everything she has to give not only as a cop, but as a woman whose own Amish roots run deep.

Kate and state agent, John Tomasetti, delve into the lives of the missing teen and discover links to cold cases that may go back years. But will Kate piece together all the parts of this sinister puzzle in time to save the missing teen and the Amish community from a devastating fate? Or will she find herself locked in a fight to the death with a merciless killer?

This is another great installment to Linda Castillo’s Kate Burkholder series. As with the other books in the series, this was really hard to put down.

Kate is an ex-amish Ohio police chief who’s had to solve quite a few Amish related murder mysteries since taking her post in the small community of Painter’s Mill. Make no mistake, these aren’t the sentimental Amish books reserved for the Christian lit genre. The murder’s are brutal, the mysteries and character’s more complex and the action doesn’t stop.

Kate is one of my all time favorite book characters. She’s strong, smart and doesn’t try to be something she’s not. Once she’s on the case, there’s no stopping her (sleeping, eating, living be damned) until she solved the mystery and the killer has been found. Her relationship with John Tomasetti is a big draw to this series as well. Both flawed with wounds from the past still fresh, they find solace in each other to get though past and present situations.

In this book, Amish teens are going missing creating a widespread puzzle to solve. As always, Kate has to face her own fears to save others and it makes for a nonstop action packed story. There’s no lull, no rest for Kate and John and no rest for the reader because you won’t be able to put it down. This one offer’s a surprise ending too! Icing on the cake!

You don’t have to read these in order either. Each makes a great stand alone story. I actually read #2 first than #1 before returning to #3.

If you’re a murder mystery and suspense fan and like authors such as Tami Hoag, I urge you to give this one a try. You won’t regret it!

On a side note, I tried to watch the made for TV movie modeled after book 1, but quickly lost interest. It just didn’t do the book justice.

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Book Review: Undead and Unreturnable by MaryJanice Davidson

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From Goodreads:
MaryJanice Davidson gives vampire queen Betsy Taylor a Christmas to remember in this fourth funny outing in her bestselling Undead series. This time, Betsy’s holiday cup runneth over. For starters, Betsy’s mother has finally erected Betsy’s tombstone in the local cemetery. A psycho nut job serial killer is targeting tall, thin blondes in the Twin Cities: women who look like Betsy. Her vampire mate, Eric Sinclair, is balking at wedding planning and at the modern notion of communication, while her hateful stepmother has just had a baby. Of course, it’s time for the irrepressible Betsy to launch an advice column for vampires trying to cope and to team up with a freshly killed ghost to track down her murderer. But why does her sister, Laura, keep taking out that sword? As usual, Betsy floats triumphantly in a sea of chaos, helped and hindered by the usual madcap cast of vampires and humans.

I read the first book of this series, Undead and Unwed, back in 2009 and have been reading my way through the series off and on. Starting off fun and unique, the series is a cross between Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic series and Molly Harper’s Naked Werewolf series, with a vampire twist. I really enjoyed reading 1-3 but this one just didn’t live up to my expectations.

The story does not advance at all with this installment. It’s more of a review of the first 3 books and should have been more appropriately numbered 3.5. There’s no plot whatsoever and no growth to the characters at all and, although Betsy is still the humorous self-absorbed character I know and love from the previous installments, her plight was considerably too blah to make this one worth reading.

I’m not sure why some authors feel they need to constantly reintroduce their characters in every series installment. By book 4 I feel like I have invested enough in this series not to be dumbed down by repetition. If great authors of intricate stories like George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series don’t see a reason to repeat everything that has happened in past installments, certainly a light series like this doesn’t have to.

Unfortunately, I think I’ve already read the best this series has to offer and don’t intend to continue.

I encourage reading books 1-3 though. This really started out as a fun series with a unique take on vampires, a steamy love interest and some mystery solving on the side.

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Book Review: Kiss River by Diane Chamberlain

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From Goodreads:
In the anticipated sequel to KEEPER OF THE LIGHT, award-winning author Diane Chamberlain takes fans back to the sea-swept place called KISS RIVER. Ten years ago, a hurricane caused the upper half of the Kiss River lighthouse to crumble into the sea. Deemed beyond repair, the remaining 100-foot brick shell of the lighthouse and its spiral staircase have been cordoned off and left for nature to finish the demolition job. Sister and brother Lacey and Clay O’Neill live in the keeper’s house next to the Kiss River lighthouse. When stranger Gina Higgins arrives in the area, she joins them in their bid to restore the decrepit beacon. But all three are hiding secrets from their past, and Gina’s arrival puts in motion a chain of events sure to change their lives forever.

This title is the second in Diane Chamberlain’s Kiss River trilogy. I had not read the previous title, Keeper of the Light, but when I saw Kiss River at the used bookstore, being a big fan of Diane Chamberlain, I decided to pick it up.

I had no trouble diving right in and, although this is part of a trilogy, it made a great stand alone story. Ms. Chamberlain’s books always get me hooked. She creates great drama with a hint of mystery and her characters are always down to earth and realistic. They’re characters you can invest in. Kiss River has a great cast of characters.

The main drama of the story comes from Gina Higgins, a teacher on summer break, who has headed east for the sole purpose of getting an up-close look at the Kiss River lighthouse. She soon befriends a brother and sister duo, Lacey and Clay, who live and are currently restoring the keeper’s house. Gina hides her true purpose under the pretense of being a lighthouse fanatic who is intent on preserving the Kiss River lighthouse beacon. What Lacey and Clay don’t know are that Gina has more than one motive and the lighthouse mean more to Gina than they could ever have imagined.

The best parts of this book lies with a more subtle drama brought to light through diary entries made by the daughter of the lighthouse Keeper during WWII. I loved these parts of the book! The two stories, past and present, come together in a surprising way.

Parts mystery, drama, romance and historical fiction, this book offers something for everyone.

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Book Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

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From Goodreads:
And while he’s not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his year yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it.

Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mix tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But he can’t stay on the sidelines forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.

Being a teenager myself in the early 90’s, the movie based off this book caught my attention and, since I try to read the book before I see the movie, I picked this one up. It’s really short and written in the form of letters which makes it a breeze to read. I was able to finish it in just a few hours.

The book takes the form of letters written by Charlie to his “dear friend” and follows his freshman year of high school and what a year it was. I loved the 90’s references to television, movies and lots of music. What teenager in 91′ wasn’t in the process of making a mix tape in the hopes of pouring out our soul to anyone who would listen? I think the references are what made this book worth reading.

What kept this at 3 stars is that Charlie’s POV left me slightly confused. He’s 15, a freshman in high school and a bit of a misfit, which makes him a typical teen of this era. The problem is his voice isn’t consistent. I felt like I was reading the narrative of an 8-year-old who is living the experiences of a 20-year-old. He cry’s A LOT! And not just in private. It makes him seem much more immature than the actions he participates in.

What’s good about Charlie? He’s extremely perceptible to the emotions of the people around him. He’s sensitive, respectful and kind. He has thought’s that are beyond his years yet is so awkward. He tries so hard to please everybody and has to learn to live for himself and not others. Charlie is endearing but wholly frustrating.

Charlie’s friends are diverse and wonderfully unique. A hodgepodge of raging hormones and teen angst, they give Charlie and the story purpose and direction.

In my opinion, the author puts Charlie in way to many unlikely situations. The situations themselves aren’t unlikely, but the sheer number of them are. Here’s a rundown: smoking, drugs, alcohol abuse, sexual abuse, virginity, sexuality, abortion, mental breakdown, etc. How many 15 year olds experience all of these themselves or by association in one years time? In 4 years of high school, maybe, but just 1? Could happen, yes, but unlikely.

I think this would make a much better movie and I look forward to watching it soon.

If you enjoy atypical coming of age stories or dated references, this is a good fast read. Be prepared to be pummeled with life experiences, some of which are not “perks”.

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Attention Historical Fiction Lovers: Today’s Kindle Deal 1/20/13 – Wilderness by Lance Weller

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Today’s Kindle Deal is Wilderness: A Novel by Lance Weller. You can pick this wonderful book up for just $1.99!

Wilderness was my favorite book of 2012. I reviewed the book back in August. It’s a heartbreaking, deeply affecting civil war story like no other. Grab it at this great deal while you can!

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City of Thieves by David Benioff

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A moving tale of two boys who are brought together by circumstance and end up bound by so much more, City of Thieves is a journey well worth taking.

From Goodreads:
As wise and funny as it is thrilling and original – the story of two young men on an impossible adventure. A writer visits his retired grandparents in Florida to document their experience during the infamous siege of Leningrad. His grandmother won’t talk about it, but his grandfather reluctantly consents. The result is the captivating odyssey of two young men trying to survive against desperate odds. Lev Beniov considers himself built for deprivation. He’s small, smart, and insecure, a Jewish virgin too young for the army, who spends his nights working as a volunteer firefighter with friends from his building. When a dead German paratrooper lands in his street, Lev is caught looting the body and dragged to jail, fearing for his life. He shares his cell with the charismatic and grandiose Kolya, a handsome young soldier arrested on desertion charges. Instead of the standard bullet in the back of the head, Lev and Kolya are given a shot at saving their own lives by complying with an outrageous directive: secure a dozen eggs for a powerful colonel to use in his daughter’s wedding cake. In a city cut off from all supplies and suffering unbelievable deprivation, Lev and Kolya embark on a hunt to find the impossible. A search that takes them through the dire lawlessness of Leningrad and the devastated surrounding countryside creates an unlikely bond between this earnest, lust-filled teenager and an endearing lothario with the gifts of a conman. Set within the monumental events of history, City of Thieves is an intimate coming-of-age tale with an utterly contemporary feel for how boys become men.

This was such a moving story. Lev and Kolya are opposites in so many ways. Lev is the serious one, the poet’s son. A good heart, a sense of right and wrong, he’s a gentle soul at heart. Kolya, the ladies man, the sweet talker, is the negotiator. He’s the boy soldier with the big talk but a soft heart. Circumstance brings them together for a quest that sends them on an adventure like no other. The two work in tandem, each playing off the other and before they realize it, they become friends capable of loving each other like brothers.

Their adventures lead them to the brink of what will be their defining moments, the moments they find out what they are truly capable of and they are transformed into men right before our eyes. It’s such a compelling story. It felt like I was sitting at the table with a cup of coffee listening to Lev tell the story in his grandfatherly voice. After reading it, I can tell you with certainty that: I have never known real cold. I have never known real hunger or fear or loneliness. I really only have a semblance of what it would be like. A book like this puts all those things into perspective.

One of the things I loved was the humor that shined through the darkness of this harrowing story. It endeared Kolya to me and leant authenticity to the story. Even in the worst of predicaments, humans are still human. We need laughter to help quell our fears.

I’ve passed this one along to my teenage sons. I’m hoping it will leave as positive an impression on them as it has left with me. This one is going on my list of all time favorites.

If you enjoy historical fiction, WWII history, life changing adventures or love the inspiration that stories of friendship can give, you will LOVE this book.

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Siege of Leningrad – Wikipedia


The Next Always by Nora Roberts

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From Goodreads:
The historic hotel in BoonsBoro, Maryland, has endured war and peace, changing hands, even rumored hauntings. Now it’s getting a major facelift from the Montgomery brothers and their eccentric mother. As the architect of the family, Beckett’s social life consists mostly of talking shop over pizza and beer. But there’s another project he’s got his eye on: the girl he’s been waiting to kiss since he was fifteen…

First things first; I am not a regular romance kind of girl. I must have something else in order to digest it. It could be something paranormal or a murder mystery but the story simply has to have something else going on. The Next Always just didn’t have that extra something.

I live very, very close to the real inn this book is based on so when it became this Month’s book club pick I was happy to give it a try. Ms. Roberts actually owns the Inn Boonsboro in Boonsboro, MD, which she and her husband restored. It serves as the backdrop for this book and the catalyst for the story’s budding romance. You can tell that the Inn was a true labor of love just by the descriptions. They are so detailed; you instantly fall in love with the idea of staying there. I’ve never had the privilege, but it sounds wonderfully tranquil. The book is like a vacation brochure.

The book is undeniably well written by a seasoned author. The descriptions and detail that went into recreating the small town feel is well done. The characters banter and play off each other, which make them seem real and more like someone you know. The kids in the book add a little fun and spontaneity. No need to eat that candy bar, this book is super sweet with enough sugar to cover you for a couple of days.

But….

The characters are likable, but regular. These are just regular people doing their regular thing. I’m a regular person (my kids may disagree) who does regular things. It’s boring. I read to escape my boring life, not relive it. Halfway through it got to be a little tedious. It just wasn’t much fun reading about someone’s monotonous days, even with a little romance thrown in. Go to work, do laundry, cook, clean, run errands, help with homework, go to bed, wake up and do it all over again. I don’t need to read it, I live it and it’s exhausting.

If you enjoy romance as the main event in a story and don’t need anything extra, you’ll probably enjoy this one. It’s sweet and pleasant. It’s well written and the Inn will put you in the mood to decorate. But, if you’re like me and prefer your romance as a perk instead of the main event, this one may not be the best fit.

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