Review: Janet Evanovich – Stephanie Plum series

Stephanie Plum series
Janet Evanovich

Stephanie Plum is a terrible daughter, neighbour and employee. Most of these qualities are due to the fact that she’s employed as a bounty hunter for bail jumpers – but leaves her cell phone flat and her gun in the cookie jar. This lovable/hateable unlikely heroine regularly finds herself being shot at but with the help of her love interests Morelli the cop and Ranger the sexy beast, and her ex-ho friend Lula she’ll live to fight another day.

You don’t need to have read the first novel in the series. You don’t need to have read any of the series in the middle to the novel you’ve gotten your hands on! Evanovich sets the scene of Stephanie very simply at the beginning of every novel. In the past, I read Turbo Twenty-Three without having touched the novels before! I read 5 or so of these in a row before I couldn’t take anymore.

Steph is so clueless, and the jokes so stupid and the badguys so unbelievable it just makes you laugh the whole way through. The novels are set up in such a way that the reader can predict the ending but Steph is left wandering around in the dark (literally, half the time). When she got the dog, Bob, the funniest moments were when he ate too much and she took him to poop on her arch-nemesis’ front lawn. So I’m not immune to toilet humour, sue me. I can’t believe they made this into a movie! I fear for my eyeballs.

This is just like the Mercedes Thompson novels I just read! A cruisy light read that encourages your brain to switch off for vacation time. However, the plot and execution of the Mercedes Thompson series is more my style in the end (also, there is 25+ novels in that series!).

I’ll be giving three stars to this harmless crime-romance series. Just don’t read too many in a row or your brain may fall out from Steph’s sheer stupidity.

Review: Amy E Reichert – The Coincidence of Coconut Cake

The Coincidence of Coconut Cake
Amy E Reichert

Chef Lou Johnson loves her restaurant, is relatively happy with her fiance and is lined up for a comfortable holding pattern for the rest of her life. When she bakes a Coconut Cake for her fiance but instead finds him naked with an intern. That night, a anonymous food writer comes to review her restaurant – where Lou is burning and destroying dishes left right and centre. His resulting review starts a breakup in Lou’s life – but the new man she’s met could be a catalyst for positive change.

This is the second novel in a row that I have read about food. Clearly I was feeling hungry when I went to the GoodWill to pick out some new holiday reading. The feel of this novel was quite different to the last one though, because here there are more secrets being hidden. Also the life of a small business owner chef is very different to that of a personal chef. When I go out to a meal, I want to order something I couldn’t make for myself – and the things described in these delectable pages were certainly of that nature.

I love the way that the secondary characters got some proper airtime and were fleshed out as characters. I could almost see the burly Harley in the kitchen delicately sculpting impeccable fragile desserts, and see John’s beard oer the writers’ cubicles! I could have had more airtime of them, and I wouldn’t even mind another novel focusing on John now that he is going to Paris. He’s a secondary character who deserves a life.

I appreciated the ending of this novel, and the nice little twist. I like it when things don’t work out neatly. It wasn’t too cloying, as long as you are ok with some fate and ending up with “the One” no matter what! I almost cried because I was so attached to the older couple in the novel.

3 stars from me. I have no strong urge to read it again, but it was an excellent escapism read that prompted me to keep reading it because of the suspense Devlin brought to the restaurant’s survival.

Review: Elizabeth Kerner – Song in the Silence

Song in the Silence
Elizabeth Kerner

Lanen Kaelar has longed to explore the world since she was a small girl because she was abandoned by her travelling mother. When her father dies, she is determined to go to the Dragon Isles where no ship has returned from in the last 20 years. Not to be daunted, she goes anyway.

Apparently (according to the blurb) she has been exposed to the most horrible family life ever growing up. I was expecting her to be beaten every night and have to sleep on the hearth rug. Instead she just seemed not to fit in. Um, ok, getting married is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea and your father not loving you much is painful, but you have a loving farm hand to help you out! When she sets out on her trip, it’s not like she’s being held back.

There is a lot of talking and not much action. Sure, they take out a too-friendly stableman which prompts a long story assisted by plenty of ale. But no action! No forward motion! Sigh. Nothing enough here to keep my attention.

This was a too-fluffy novel with an unconvincing story-line. For something that I was promised to have dragons in, the first third of the novel had no dragons. No plot progression much either. So I abandoned this novel in the interest of reading something else with a bit more pizzaz. I could afford to be picky, there was a whole bookshelf there for the reading!

Review: Patricia Briggs – Mercedes Thompson series

Mercedes Thompson series
Patricia Briggs

Mercedes Thompson, or Mercy to her friends, is a VW mechanic who just happens to have a werewolf for a roommate and a pack of werewolves for back neighbours. She also happens to be able to turn into a Coyote. Somehow she manages to get herself into multiple scrapes with vampires, the Government and the Fae despite wanting a quiet life.

I gobbled up 4-5 of these novels without taking notes on each one, so this is a group novel review. The picture to the left is actually the first novel in the series that I didn’t actually read (I just grabbed one off the shelf in a hurry and didn’t even realise it was part of a series). No matter, the novel stood well alone.

This is a fun set of novels because I wasn’t ever really sure what would happen next, and Mercy was a funny and engaging protagonist that resonated with me. Nothing like having a no-nonsense mechanic as a heroine. It reminds me of Mercedes Lackey’s Elves on the Road universe but seems to be a lot funnier with a better focus on the semi-human protagonist (but let’s admit that there is less substance to Briggs’ work).

I’ll give these novels a rousing 3 stars. If I owned them, I’d probably keep them on the shelf as light reading when I couldn’t be bothered with something that needed a brain and offered simple entertainment.

Review: Christopher Clearfield & Andras Tilcsi – Meltdown

Meltdown
Christopher Clearfield & Andras Tilcsi

Why do failures happen in huge industrial and nuclear plants? How do we avoid aeroplane crashes with thousands of planes landing in LAX each day? These ideas are extensively explored in this non-fiction novel that provides a base for you to apply these principles to your own business.

I freely admit that business management and so forth is not usually in my personal interest area. However this book caught my fancy because I knew the stories would interest me. I’ve always enjoyed the Hudson River plane landing, and I knew this book would explore why that actually happened and how it coud be prevented. Some of the case studies here are actually talking about how large businesses can hide ilegal practices under legal looking paperwork.

My partner (who does have the business management background and a piece of paper to prove it) hasn’t read this book yet but is planning on doing so. I was going to wait to review until she had read it… but it’s been a month. Let’s just say I think it’s appropriate for a range of experience levels. The authors don’t dumb it down, but they do explain the terms that they use so even a novice like me can understand. It’s sensibly laid out with helpful chapter headings that aren’t obtuse.

I’d recommend this novel for anyone who runs a business or has an interest in how big ones work. I enjoyed it and would read it again, which is high praise from me for a non-fiction. It’s traveled with me overseas and it is going to travel back home with me.

Allen & Unwin | 23rd May 2018 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Mindy Klasky – The Glasswrights’ Apprentice

The Glasswrights’ Apprentice
Mindy Klasky

Rani’s artistic skills mean that her Merchant parents have sacrificed their life savings to transfer her to the Glasswrights for training and a better place in life. Rani is the bottom of the apprentices but she follows her tasks diligently enough. When she tries to prevent the Prince’s assassination she unwittingly allows for his murder – on the run she has to solve problems so that she can be free once again.

Oh dear. The protagonist Rani was a bit of an ignorant idiot. There were so many clues there that she didn’t pick up. And also her determination to get to her brother got a bit old after a while. She knows what life is like out there now, and yet she continues along stupidly. I rather liked it when she returned to her Merchant roots! Also, surely she’s young enough to disguise herself as a boy. It’s not like they have photographs of her!

I’m not sure why I enjoyed this novel, because I agree with other reviewers that Rani was a total idiot. But perhaps that’s her grab. For once we don’t have a brilliant protagonist who foils attempts and saves the day. Instead, we have some other smart and wily characters who are perfectly capable of getting themselves into (and out of) trouble. Rani must have the touch of the Gods on her as well, because she’s just so stupid and can’t wriggle out of things by herself – other people have to make sacrifices for me.

This is a nifty novel I picked up at my sister-in-law’s house (right after reorganising her whole bookshelf). Unfortunately, she didn’t have the second novel in this series! The novel is from the 2000s, so I don’t like my chances of finding the second novel. 3 stars from me.

Review: Steve Sem-Sandberg – The Chosen Ones

The Chosen Ones
Steve Sem-Sandberg

The Nazi-run “Spiegelgrund clinic was apparently well-intentioned: both a reform school for lost, wayward boys and girls, and a clinic for chronically ill or malformed children.” Instead, this novel exposes the truth of what happened behind those walls – children tortured and left to cry before being allowed to get sick and medicated to death.

I picked up this novel several times. I really wanted to love it, I thought that the content was fascinating when I read the blurb. However, the execution completely floored me.  rare sporadic speech was interspersed throughout text with little to no paragraphing.

One of the things that seriously confused me was the constant transitions between different forms of names. I could cope with the Viennese names, but I couldn’t cope with the crazy swapping between nicknames, last names and first names. Or no name at all, and just a description of their physical or mental state at the time (which was unreliable anyway).

This novel had so much potential because I was very interested in the subject matter. I wanted to love it, which is why I let it percolate on its shelf for 2 years and why it survived two novel cleanouts. I’m now going to release it on Book Crossing, even my mom wasn’t attracted to reading it.

This novel had the positive potential of Max but instead ended up in my could-not-complete pile with I am Sasha. 1 star from me. I couldn’t finish it. Occasionally I can tolerate this kind of abstract writing but I just couldn’t.

Allen & Unwin | May 2016 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Beth Harbison – When in Doubt, Add Butter

When in Doubt, Add Butter
Beth Harbinson

Gemma Craig (no relative of Jenny Craig) is a private chef to a different household each night of the week. She’s sick of romance and has been warned off getting married by a teacher fortune teller in her childhood. When her jobs suddenly start falling out from under her and a one-night-stand has unexpected complications, Gemma is going to have to grow up.

This was a lighthearted romance that didn’t even vaguely begin to address the deep-seated problems that Gemma professed not to have. But! If you are just looking for a casual read that will carry your tired brain through two spare hours this novel is going to tick boxes for you. It didn’t ask me to think and it didn’t teach me anything either – sometimes that’s just what you need.

What upset/irritated me about this novel was the inclusion of the fortune teller. Honestly I wasn’t sure why the element was there, and it didn’t add any depth to the novel. I have not read any of the other novels by this author and perhaps the use of a mystic is a common theme. For me though, I would have rather heard more about the ingredients going into cooking.

I did enjoy the way that Gemma talked about her cooking. Who knew that you could have a egg/bee/”moo”-free Parmesan substitute? I could have heard more about the steps and how it would take a whole afternoon to cook in Mr. Tuesday’s apartment. Also, I’d love to know what she was spending her profits on since she didn’t have any money in the bank but it seemed like she had no time to do anything outside her cooking!

This blurb wasn’t accurate! When the weekday members are introduced in the text of the novel, I kept flipping to the back cover to see which one was Willa. But none of them were – the blurb actually depicted the action half-way through the novel. Never mind. Pick up this novel for a lighthearted read that actually reminded me of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake or Caramel Hearts just for the title, not the actual storyline!

I picked up this cheeky cheapie from GoodWill while on vacation for the princely sum of 50c. It was well worth it, even if it’s not going to follow me home. 3 stars from me for giving me a pleasant way to pass time sitting in a lovely park outside. I will now release it on Book Crossing.

Interview with Derek & Dave Philpott

An Interview with the enigmatic Derek & Dave Philpott, authors of Dear Mr Pop Star

Everyone has a ‘first novel’, even if many of them are a rough draft relegated to the bottom and back of your desk drawer (or your external harddrive!). Have you been able to reshape yours, or have you abandoned it for good?

This isn’t a novel; it’s a second instalment of deliberately deranged and very funny letters to iconic rock and pop stars concerning the lyrics to their most popular songs, with equally witty in-on-the joke replies from the artists themselves. We did self publish the first installment many moons ago, but Dear Mr Pop Star is actually our first proper literary endeavour.

(Editor’s note: I think this still counts as a novel, even if it can’t be classified – or perhaps because it can’t be easily classified)

Some authors are able to pump out a novel a year and still be filled with inspiration. Is this the case for you, or do you like to let an idea percolate for a couple of years in order to get a beautiful novel?

Actually, in our case, this really doesn’t apply. We write letters and then send them off to the pop stars concerned never really knowing how long it will take them to respond, if they ever do. We don’t just fire these letters off; we do so with prior consent from the artists after they’ve informed us that they would like to be involved in the project. Then it’s a case of waiting and hoping that they’re kind and inspired enough to respond.

I have heard of writers that could only write in one place – then that cafe closed down and they could no longer write! Where do you find yourself writing most often, and on what medium (pen/paper or digital)? 

We get our ideas on the fly – we could be in the car listening to the radio, or listening to the in-store radio station in Superdrug, or watching a repeat of TOTP on the telly and a lyric will strike us as ridiculous, or something we can easily misinterpret. Then it’s a case of jotting the idea down as soon we can before it escapes, so we find ourselves with scribbled notes or something hurriedly typed into a document on the laptop. The seed of the letter is then worked up into a more elaborate correspondence, generally just sat in the living room. It’s not a terribly formal process and honestly, because each letter is standalone and there’s no over arching theme to tie in, we’re able just to do it in a more casual manner.

When you write, do you have any sense of other people reading your words?

I have to fight the realisation of that inevitability or else I wouldn’t write a word!

Before going on to hire an editor, most authors use beta-readers. How do you recruit your beta-readers, and choose an editor? Are you lucky enough to have loving family members who can read and comment on your novel? 

We self-published our first volume of these letters and so we recruited a small but dedicated army of family, friends and fans of our work to do all the proof reading and editing and to make sure it all made some kind of sense! We were very lucky that so many people were kind enough to give us their time. We even did all the distribution ourselves and hand-wrote address labels.  Looking back it was a mammoth undertaking. We’re relieved to say that this time Unbound, our publisher, is taking this work off of our hands.

I walk past bookshops and am drawn in by the smell of the books – ebooks simply don’t have the same attraction for me. Does this happen to you, and do you have a favourite bookshop? Or perhaps you are an e-reader fan… where do you source most of your material from? 

There is definitely something quite special about a physical printed book, the weight of it and the feel of it makes it a bit more of ‘a thing’. We’re incredibly excited to get hold of a copy of the hardback edition of Dear Mr Pop Star, because so much work has gone into the cover design and the typesetting and it promises to be a magnificent thing of beauty. That said, having e-books makes life a lot more convenient and perhaps, for some, not having to carry a paper book around, it might encourage them to be more prolific readers and anything that encourages folk to read more and use their imaginations is smashing.As for where we source our material, we don’t! What we’ve put together is entirely unique; no one has ever done this before and so we’ve just had to play it all by ear.

I used to find myself buying books in only one genre (fantasy) before I started writing this blog. What is your favourite genre, and have your tastes changed over time?

I’ve always been fascinated by mystery and mythology. When I was younger I read a lot of books about the folklore surrounding the Loch Ness ‘Monster’ and similar cryptids, I still have a deep interested in such things,  I am captivated by the rich ancient history of this country, such as Stonehenge and Avebury stone circles. I also love a good music biography, which I guess is no surprise considering the book we’ve just written.

Social media is a big thing, much to my disgust! I never have enough time myself to do what I feel is a good job. What do you do?

Oh, Social Media is one of the most important parts of what we do! The wonderful little community of Facebook friends we’ve built up have provided us with invaluable input and insights. Also it’s amazing how many links to pop stars we’ve found just through FB; there’s always a friend of a roadie, a cousin of a drummer, or even a musician themselves who are hiding on there. When we first started writing we made a profile and we were shocked when we reached 100 friends. Then it grew organically via word of mouth as others caught on to what we do. Suddenly we hit a thousand, then two thousand and now we’ve got in excess of 4.5k. friends.  We manage the page ourselves,  because knowing your audience is essential and if they like what you do then they share your work with others. For us authors who rely on crowdfunding to make their work a reality social media is something to embrace.

Answering interview questions can often take a long time! Tell me, are you ever tempted to recycle your answers from one to the next? 

It’s incredibly tempting, especially when you are doing a whole slew of interviews, as we’re doing now being so close to publication, but no! Everyone is entitled to equal time and consideration because every interview goes out to a whole new set of people and we believe in staying enthusiastic and energetic about what we do. We really believe that what we have in our book is pure gold and we’re so very keen to spread the word to everyone.

And finally… If one famous person who you admire were to read this book, who would you like it to be?

Keith Richards.. I think that anyone who laughs that much in interviews realises the absurdity and surreality of the industry he is ‘working’ in.

Interview with Philippa Stasiuk

An interview with Philippa Stasiuk, author of The Wonderful Whippet of Winifred Weatherwax

Writer, rover, animal and plant lover, Philippa has lived in Zimbabwe, where she’s from, South Korea, Mexico, New York, and Copenhagen. She grew up with Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Bichon Frises, Dachshunds and mutts. She now lives in Lincoln, Nebraska with her husband, two daughters and three cats, who have banded together and forbidden the acquisition of dogs. The Wonderful Whippet of Winifred Weatherwax is her first novel.

Everyone has a ‘first novel’, even if many of them are a rough draft relegated to the bottom and back of your desk drawer (or your external hard drive!). Have you been able to reshape yours, or have you abandoned it for good?

Winifred Weatherwax is my first novel, but it has many abandoned drafts, mostly those experimenting with different perspectives. I started my story by telling it from the perspective of the dog –both first and close third-person. Eventually, I realized the dog perspective could (and does) work for novels, but not for a mystery – at least not mine.

Some authors are able to pump out a novel a year and still be filled with inspiration. Is this the case for you, or do you like to let an idea percolate for a couple of years in order to get a beautiful novel?

When crafting a story, I refuse to be rushed. This book took me about seven years to write. Maybe with the next one, I can cut that time in half?

I have heard of writers that could only write in one place – then that cafe closed down and they could no longer write! Where do you find yourself writing most often, and on what medium (pen/paper or digital)?

Right now, I seem to only be able to write on my bed, or at a coffee shop with noise-silencing headphones on. My desk, for some reason, isn’t working. I generally sketch ideas (and plenty of doodles) in a notebook first before braving the blank page of the laptop.

Before going on to hire an editor, most authors use beta-readers. How do you recruit your beta-readers, and choose an editor? Are you lucky enough to have loving family members who can read and comment on your novel?

My story has to do with conformation dog shows. I found some extremely kind dog handlers through the American Whippet Club who gave me feedback on the rules and regulations of the shows. I still missed things though. I’ve already gotten one irate letter from an offended reader stating that even though they could, dachshunds never go first in the group hound judging. My husband has provided invaluable feedback too. He’s an architect now, but he was a lit major and did his thesis on Herman Melville.

I walk past bookshops and am drawn in by the smell of the books – ebooks simply don’t have the same attraction for me. Does this happen to you, and do you have a favourite bookshop? Or perhaps you are an e-reader fan… where do you source most of your material from?

I love bookshops, and was lucky enough to hold a book launch party at Francie & Finch, this magical little bookstore in Lincoln, Nebraska. I struggle with e-books as well. I want to fold down corners and underline and stuff old photos and lists between the pages of my books.

I used to find myself buying books in only one genre (fantasy) before I started writing this blog. What is your favourite genre, and have your tastes changed over time?

I’ve always loved gothic mysteries – good mysteries of any kind really. “Rebecca” by Daphne Du Maurier and “The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman were revelations to me. And I love beautiful writing. “Persuasion” by Jane Austen is a favorite, “Day” by A.L. Kennedy and “Holes” by Louis Sachar. I just read “Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders, which is like absolutely nothing I’ve ever read.

Social media is a big thing, much to my disgust! I never have enough time myself to do what I feel is a good job. What do you do?

My day job is managing social media accounts so I feel pretty comfortable in that universe. I am, however, almost entirely focused on Facebook. I just don’t have time to do more. Twitter has never appealed to me as a medium so I’ve given up. I also created my own website for the book: //www.winifredweatherwax.com/ because I like the idea of telling my own story.

Why did you choose Young Adult as your genre, and what makes it, as a genre, so special?

For young teens, discovering that they love being transported to another universe through words is so magical – at least it was for me. And I love the pride children take in telling you what their favorite books are. Because they’re realizing that their tastes are forming their own unique identity.

Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?

Writing, in any form, will always lead to better writing. I’ve freelanced articles, written for newspapers, and been a copy editor and content writer. In every one of those spaces, there’s an opportunity to learn. Generally, dialogue comes much easier for me than exposition.

Blurb

Sometimes, bad things happen to good dogs. Winifred Weatherwax begins summer with a pedigreed puppy – a Whippet named Shumba with Best in Show written in his stars. But when Shumba starts winning, other hounds start disappearing. As more dogs vanish, Freddy and her new friend Eli team up to investigate a mystery that includes dishonest dog breeding, the colorful world of dog shows, a first crush, a nefarious villain, and chicanery more sinister than common dog theft. On her way, Winifred discovers the magical bond between humans and dogs.

Shipping info: The book ships in the US via Amazon, and anywhere in the world via the website.