Saturday, July 7, 2018

Review: Hope Never Dies

This book is the Magnum, P.I. remake we all deserved. Andrew Shaffer has taken the Obama/Biden bromance meme and turned it into a fast-paced mystery with humor and heart in Hope Never Dies.

After the 2016 election, Joe Biden feels that the world has forgotten him and moved on. That includes his BFF Barack Obama, who has been whooping it up with celebrities around the globe and not even kicking an occasional text to his former VP. But when Obama slips back into his life bringing news of a friend’s death, and the puzzling document found near his body that includes Biden’s address, Delaware’s favorite son has to know if this truly was an accident, or if it was something far more sinister. It’s time for mirrored shades, muscle cars, and getting down and dirty with the law.

Joe Biden goes full-on Jim Rockford complete with bang-ups, bruises, tight scrapes and near-misses to find out what happened to his friend. Obama, along with Secret Service Steve, provides backup when Biden needs it most, but even in the midst of barfights, greasy spoon meals and a trip through the underbelly of the East Coast’s opioid drug trade, Smilin’ Joe can’t seem to crack a grin with his former Commander in Chief. Can this relationship be saved? You won’t know until the very end, and there’s plenty of twists and turns along the way.  One thing is for sure: if you’re musclebound and into clean eating, don’t take an old man’s loaded hash browns. It doesn’t end well for you.

I’ve been a fan of Andrew Shaffer’s work for years, but this book is some of his best work yet in terms of voice and tone. The language in every chapter is a spot-on homage to old school pulp detective novels and TV shows, and Shaffer has captured the public image of Biden so well, my inner narrator read the whole thing in his voice.

If you’re looking for a fun, offbeat summer read, pick up Hope Never Dies.  It’s  a great escape revved up with weird like a Dodge Challenger. Hop in and go for a ride.

A free ARC was provided to this reviewer.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Review: My Lady's Choosing

If you’ve ever read a romance novel and suddenly screamed “Why would she DO that?” you need My Lady’s Choosing by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris.  This interactive Regency romance is a wonderful Valentine to the genre, paired with a wicked wink and a throaty chuckle. You are the main character, a penniless lady’s companion to the cantankerous old Lady Craven, and you decide which major decision to make throughout the book in true ‘choose your adventure’ style. 

 Along the way you meet several potential paramours, including the smart, sarcastic Sir Benedict Granville, the mad, bad Lord Garraway Craven, the poor but unbelievably well-built Captain Angus MacTaggart, and the adventurous Lady Evangeline Youngblood. The drama starts, as all good Regency books do, at the ball, and from there you can launch yourself in a multitude of directions. Do you follow hunky war veteran MacTaggart to help the children, or match wits with Sir Benedict? Don't worry, you can do almost all the men in the book, looping your steamy adventures into one wild experience. Of course, you can’t forget Lady Evangeline, either, if you take the right path through Egypt.  The variety of outcomes is truly impressive, including several Happily Ever Afters where you’re the main character, and a few where you’re the sidekick with a boring but sweet life. You can explore gothic or adventure timelines with vampires, werewolves, ghosts and macho desert ruffians or run away with the bad boys. You can even end up unattached with a successful career if you like. And then there’s lovely, awkward Nigel. Hot damn, Nigel!

As you may guess, there are sex scenes here. Some are simple, others are amazing, and many of them made me laugh because of terms like moonlight bouncing off your “womanly orbs” or “being able to make love as tender as it is violent while balancing on one leg and using a bust of John Donne for support.” There’s also a whole paragraph-long sex scene with postal puns, but you should find that one for yourself.  The sex scenes are done with over-the-top descriptive but not vulgar language, and if you’ve read a lot of romances (especially older ones) then these in-jokes are for you.

This is a joyful blast of a book you can read over and over again, never ending up at the same place twice unless you choose to do so. It’s the perfect remedy for any of those maddening books you throw against the wall.

My Lady's Choosing: An Interactive Romance Novel will be available from Quirk Books on April 3.

A free ARC was provided to this reviewer.

Monday, February 19, 2018

#DollarReads Review: Farewell, Dorothy Parker

It’s rare to find a signed book for a dollar in a discount book bin, but even more so when that book turns out to be a great read. Author Ellen Meister had me at the title, and she continued her hold with a literary ride that was sweet, saucy and so much fun.

Violet Epps is a movie critic terrified of confrontation, so she’s saddled with a boyfriend she can’t dump, and may never get custody of the orphaned niece who needs a better life. The only place she feels confident is on the page, where her sarcasm reaches to the lofty heights of her hero, Dorothy Parker. When she and her boyfriend meet at the Algonquin Hotel and the manager presents the storied guest book for her signature, she receives a sharp-tongued, spine transplant in the form of Parker’s ghost. After a quick possession by Parker, she grabs the guest book and flees the scene once she tells off her worthless beau, and her life begins to veer far from the predictable, meek paths she usually follows.

Meister makes Violet a nicely rounded character with depth, showing how Violet’s present fears are rooted in her childhood relationship with her sister, Ivy. It turns out young Violet’s wicked wit was nipped in the bud by a sibling who had her own cruel ways of getting even, something Violet couldn’t heal from even when she and her sister grew close as adults. After the accident that takes her sister and brother-in-law’s lives, Violet tries to gain custody of her young niece Delaney, but her fear makes her have a meltdown at the custody hearing. Piled onto that is the new editor’s assistant at work who thinks she can re-write Violet’s columns without retribution. 

Good thing Violet has the ghost of Dorothy Parker now, and this is where Meister shines: she brings the daunting legend to full life, giving her great dialogue and showing that behind many sarcastic souls lie the tender wounds of childhood. Whenever the guest book is open, Parker is free to drink, smoke and throw shade at every oppressive corner of Violet’s life, sending her into new adventures with television appearances, blackmail opportunities, work smackdowns and even a hot tryst with her martial arts instructor. The entire plot moves as fast as Parker’s savage literary takedowns, and in the end, Violet learns how to stand up for herself and the ones she loves. She also helps Parker learn a thing or two, so the ghost can finally look straight into that bright light which beckons to her whenever she materializes. 

This book is smart, heartfelt and the perfect fantasy for any Dorothy Parker fan who always thinks of the perfect comeback after the argument is done.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Review: Short Bus Hero

If this year has you stressed out and you want to escape into a novel where redemption and love triumph, set aside a few hours and sit down with ‘Short Bus Hero’ by Shannon Giglio. It’s a heartfelt yet unflinching story about Ally Forman, a young adult with Down Syndrome, and how she affects the world of those she loves with an out-of-the-blue lottery win.

Twenty-four-year-old Ally lives with her father, mother and brother. She has a job, a boyfriend, a circle of friends called the Cool People, and a guardian angel, who narrates the story. She also has an obsession with pro wrestler Stryker Nash, whose career has seen better days. But the literal luck of the draw—the ticket was a holiday gift from a relative—turns all their lives upside down. Ally’s mother, Lois, wants those millions to be set aside for Ally’s future, so she won’t have to worry about Ally’s care after she’s gone. But Ally has her own ideas, and they all revolve around getting Stryker Nash back into the ring. After Stryker is dumped by the wrestling circuit, the chance to grab some free cash and run feels like a perfect opportunity. He doesn’t know nothing gets past a sharp-eyed angel with a bag of tricks.

Sound a little crazy? Maybe. But Giglio grounds her fantastic story with realistic care: Ally isn’t an airbrushed personality. She has meltdowns, forgets about her own hygiene, and gets bullied at the grocery store where she works. Lois loves her daughter, but her own inner struggles manifest in hoarding. And Stryker? He has his own dark secret buried so deep, even an angel has to work hard to reveal it.

This review originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

KFC's Regency romance is gloriously cheesy

Kentucky Fried Chicken has released their own Regency romance novella for Mother’s Day, because it’s 2017 and nothing makes sense anymore.

Tender Wings of Desire centers on young Lady Madeline Parker, who chickens out of her betrothal to the hunky yet boring Duke of Sainsbury. She has many reasons for doing this, from the fact that he resembles a “vanilla biscuit,” to girl power and wanting to travel somewhere she doesn’t have to embroider babies or pump out useless tapestries for the rest of her days. Something like that, anyway.

Of course she runs away, ending up in The Admiral’s Arms, a tavern that caters to amazingly well-behaved sailors, and meets the mysterious Harland Sanders. In a small show of compassion, Harland isn’t portrayed as an elderly Southern spokeshead in the book; a girl wondering if she’s old enough to marry and her romance with an old Colonel Sanders would be too creepy for everyone involved. Madeline meets him when he’s young, seeing the world, and still yet to inherit the massive American restaurant empire that illogically exists in the Victorian era. Once our headstrong heroine meets Harland, he sticks in the back of her mind like a piece of gristle wedged between her teeth. Eventually feathers fly, drama hatches, and everyone receives a Happily Ever After, even the Vanilla Biscuit Duke.

The plot is painted with large, wide brushstrokes, a winking parody of all those tumultuous romances I read in the 1970s. It’s fun and overblown, never taking itself seriously. My favorite line was “Madeline herself did not mind balls,” which made me snort before I finished the sentence about dancing and all the beautiful gowns. Follow that up with “You are too much. Our Madeline is going to have her hands full with you,” and I was cry-laughing through the rest of the book. Aside from the wicked humor sprinkled throughout, there’s only one sex scene, and it was so subtle I had to read the page three times to make sure they HAD done it, and not just participated in a stellar make-out session. Some news outlets have labeled this a “steamy” read, but they don’t read the same books I do.

While the novella itself may be a light-hearted PR move, KFC’s intentions are not. They know that the romance novel industry is worth $1 billion every year. They also know that Mother’s Day is their busiest day of the year. It’s nice to see them recognize that romance sells, and everyone needs an escape now and then, even if it’s with a bucket of chicken and a free cheeseball read for dessert. Maybe for Halloween, Yum! Brands will give us star-crossed lovers and a werewolf romance in Taco Bell.

**This piece also appeared on The Huffington Post**

Friday, March 31, 2017

4 Books to Wrap Up Women's History Month

You’re a busy person and March is almost over. How many books about women did you squeeze in? If the answer distresses your inner book nerd, don’t worry. Here are four great books packed with history, stories and projects that will inspire you long after the official holiday has passed.

Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History by Sam Maggs

I’ve researched a lot of remarkable women for my own blogs, but Maggs surprised me with a few I hadn’t heard of before. These are 25 profiles of accomplished women who faced tremendous odds, from rocket scientist Mary Sherman Morgan to author and World War II spy Noor Inayat Khan. The selection of women is diverse, and it covers fascinating topics like female spies and thrillseekers in addition to science, invention and medicine. Want to know about female ninjas? She has you covered. Maggs’ writing style is relatable and fun, which keeps the history popping.

Bad Girls of Fashion: Style Rebels from Cleopatra to Lady Gaga by Jennifer Croll

These days, the push for change in women’s careers is through STEM, but Jennifer Croll takes another path, reminding everyone that women have used whatever tools were at their disposal to change the world. This book is fun and fascinating, covering icons from Marie Antoinette to Rihanna and Madonna. For as long as male-dominated society has dictated what women should wear, ladies have rebelled and done their own thing. Amelia Bloomer advocated the right to wear pants in the 1850s, Josephine Baker shed her clothes and became the toast of Europe, and Rose Bertin broke the law by simply owning and operating a women’s clothing shop in 1770s Paris. The book also covers women’s fashion as political statements and shock value; a bright, colorful and inspiring read.

America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates and Heroines by Gail Collins

If you’ve ever doubted that women played a major role in establishing the United States, doubt no more. Rich with detail and mesmerizing stories of strong women, this book is a must-read for every girl and young woman who thinks they can’t accomplish something. Also, feel free after reading this to roll your eyes every time someone mentions “The Scarlet Letter,” because women weren’t demure, delicate little things; they had their own opinions, desires, and work; they ran the household and created everything, including fabric, from scratch. Puritan men often complained that the women in their lives had bad attitudes, while the younger set caroused with the opposite sex and had frequent girls’ nights out. They also ran family businesses, chased tax collectors with boiling water, became preachers and more. The author digs through tons of research and makes each woman and her story come alive.

Crafting With Feminism: 25 Girl-Powered Projects to Smash the Patriarchy by Bonnie Burton

Burton’s book isn’t about history, but it gives you something to do after you finish the first three. The craft projects vary from beginner-level to advanced, so there’s something for everyone to do. Burton also recognizes that feminists come in varying levels of volume and taste, so you can make Peace and Equali-tea Aromatherapy Candles or realistic Vagina Tree Ornaments. The Strong Female Character Prayer Candle is definitely a fun one, even for my own legendary craft klutziness, and one day I will finish my “Emma Watson as She-Ra” candle. It’s a great way to show off your dedication to equal rights and have some fun at the same time.

*This piece also appeared on The Huffington Post*

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Literary Masters Write Complaint Letters

Let’s face it: life can be irritating, even if you’re deep, thoughtful and just finished writing a masterpiece in spite of your downstairs neighbor’s stereo.  In this golden age of complaining, what would classic authors tackle next after “The End?”

Jane Austen:

“Facebook, I have not the pleasure of understanding you. There is no sense or sensibility to my newsfeed. How can I match my friends to suitable hook-ups when they keep appearing and disappearing on my Wall? Also, someone named Darcy keeps poking me. “

Herman Melville:

“Call me pissed. Some days ago, although it feels like years, I emptied the little money in my purse to your representative in the assurance I would have cable TV. I am growing grim about the mouth because it’s nearly time for Shark Week and I have no cable TV! I would have more luck launching a TV antenna toward a whale than actually seeing one of your technicians pull up the driveway.”

 Dorothy Parker:

@GenericSubShop Your subs are aptly named; I wouldn’t eat one again but I wouldn’t mind it going down.

 Ayn Rand:

“Who is Draconian Airlines? My recent flight was way too generous in terms of space. Why, the person next to me had nearly six square inches to himself and still managed to complain. You can’t possibly be making a profit on this, you should consider squeezing the seats together so more can fit on the plane, and quit offering such luxuries as food or entertainment. If I may be constructively critical, however, I would request you not fly during the twilight hours. I hate the twilight.”

 Edgar Allan Poe:

“To the cur who lives beneath me: turn down your stereo, especially in the evening hours. The bass pounds my living quarters so loudly, it’s as if I harbor a giant, beating heart under the floorboards every night. Do this, and I will instruct my raven to stop stealing your mail, although I must say he now has a fondness for your Victoria’s Secret catalogues.

 Nathaniel Hawthorne:

“Dear Contractor: I must insist you return to fix this abode immediately! Houses should have seven gables, not sixteen. Currently my residence looks like a gathering of tall men in amusing hats, not the serious and sober place it should be. Knock off some of these gables or I shall make you wear a large, red letter “A,” arseface.”

 Washington Irving:

“Your inattentive employee mistakenly presented me with decaf coffee this morning, making this a very sleepy hollow indeed! When I ride my horse through your drive-thru, I expect to receive a fully caffeinated beverage. Why, I’d lose my head without my morning java.”

 Agatha Christie:

“Attention, postmaster: Where did my package go? It is a mystery. I ordered three items to be delivered, and then there were none. Orient yourself to the Express service!”

 John Steinbeck:

“I am highly disappointed with your wine, which I paired with a roguish dish of flat tortillas. The merlot was not robust or powerful! These are not the grapes of wrath, they were grapes that were only mildly inconvenienced.”