Monthly Archives

July 2013

Book Review: CLOSE MY EYES by Sophie McKenzie

close my eyesSophie McKenzie’s first thriller for adults, Close My Eyes, begins eight years after the protagonist Geniver gave birth to her stillborn baby, Beth, whom Gen is still mourning. She has undergone in vitro fertilization multiple times since then without success.

Then one day, a stranger shows up on her doorstep and gives her shocking news, making her question everything that happened eight years ago, and doubt everyone close to her, including her husband.

I usually don’t include spoilers in reviews, but can’t make my major point about this book without revealing a few, so this is a SPOILER ALERT!



I knew nothing about this book when I picked up it, but when I started reading, I noticed the unusual spelling of Geniver’s name and thought, “That’s like Guinevere.” And then her sister-in-law (her husband’s half-sister) is named Morgan, which made me think of Morgan le Fay, and her husband’s former friend, a very attractive man, is called Lorcan. OK, that’s not too similar a name to Lancelot, but Lorcan does swoop in and seduce Geniver while her husband isn’t paying attention to her.

Oh, and Geniver’s husband is named…Art. In case you haven’t guessed where I’m going, I think this is a modern retelling of the Arthurian legend. There’s even a sword-wielding child named Ed, who’s like Mordred without the first five letters. I wondered if a man named Merle would show up.

McKenzie’s storytelling is engrossing, and I certainly kept turning the pages, but knowing the Arthurian legend well, I wasn’t surprised by much, including Art and Morgan’s relationship and the supposedly shocking epilogue. Again, see: Mordred. The most startling thing for me was how much this story borrows from the famous myth.

If Close My Eyes were more original, I’d probably recommend it because it’s a fast-paced thriller. But if you’re well-versed in tales about King Arthur and his twisted relations, you may find this story too familiar and lacking in bombshells.

Nerd verdict: Too Close to famous legend


Book Review: THE LAST WORD by Lisa Lutz

This originally appeared as a starred review in Shelf Awareness for Readers, and is reprinted here with permission.

last word coverAfter her hostile takeover of the family detective agency in 2012’s Trail of the Spellmans, Izzy Spellman is now the boss in Lisa Lutz’s The Last Word, dealing with all the responsibilities and frustration that come with the position. She’s also working with Edward Slayter (introduced in the last “document”), to uncover who’s trying to force him out of his own company before he’s ready to retire. He may not be able to fight back, however, because he’s trying to keep a secret that has the potential to destroy his professional reputation.

Meanwhile, Izzy’s ex-boyfriend, Henry Stone, has distressing news for her, and Izzy fears her parents’ marriage might be in trouble. She starts questioning whether it was a wise move to take over the agency, or if she even wants to stay in the PI business at all.

Lutz’s Spellman novels contain mysteries, but they’re more character studies of the eccentric clan. Through the six books in the series, the Spellmans have evolved and grown up—well, some of them have. In The Last Word, more than ever, Izzy struggles with the idea of being a “normal” adult, why the things most people do—getting married, having kids, owning a home—seem so hard for her. It’s an affecting conundrum, because Izzy is aware her behavior has cost her dearly. Along with its humor, this novel has its share of melancholy, with a surprising and bittersweet ending that nevertheless feels right. Izzy may find it hard to grow up, but Lutz’s writing is maturing just fine.

Buy it now from Amazon | IndieBound


Giveaway: The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

I really enjoyed Liane Moriarty’s What Alice Forgot two years ago, so when Lydia at Putnam Books offered me the chance to host this giveaway of the author’s new novel, The Husband’s Secret (July 30), I thought it’d be a good way to introduce you to Liane’s work.

Here’s the description from her website:

At the heart of The Husband’s Secret is a letter that’s not meant to be read…

My Darling Cecilia, if you’re reading this, then I’ve died…

Imagine your husband wrote you a letter, to be opened after his death. Imagine, too, that the letter contains his deepest, darkest secret—something with the potential to destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others, too. Imagine, then, that you stumble across that letter while your husband is still very much alive . . .

Cecilia Fitzpatrick has achieved it all—she’s an incredibly successful businesswoman, a pillar of her small community, and a devoted wife and mother. Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home. But that letter is about to change everything, and not just for her. Rachel and Tess barely know Cecilia—or each other—but they too are about to feel the earth-shattering repercussions of her husband’s secret.

To enter, leave a comment telling me what would be earth shattering for you to discover about someone you know. You can make it up; this is just for fun and to make the entries interesting.

Giveaway ends next Tuesday, July 30, 9 p.m. PST. One winner will be randomly selected and have 48 hours after notification to claim the prize, which will come in a Tupperware container (it’s related to Cecilia’s job; wish I could show you the picture of the packaging but for some reason it won’t upload). US/Canada addresses only.


Book Review: LOYALTY by Ingrid Thoft

This originally appeared as a starred review in Shelf Awareness for Readers, and is reprinted here with permission. 

Fina Ludlow is a private investigator for her family’s law firm, but the case she gets assigned in Ingrid Thoft’s debut novel, Loyalty, is personal. Her sister-in-law Melanie is missing, and the police are looking at the obvious suspect—her husband, Rand, Fina’s brother and a partner at the firm. Carl, the steely patriarch, wants Fina to find Melanie and make the bad publicity go away.

Fina has help from two hot guys: Milloy, her friend with benefits, and detective Cristian Menendez, with whom she exchanges sexy sparks. Neither can protect her from dangerous situations, however, as Fina’s investigation leads her to money launderers, porn mongers, and someone with a vendetta against the Ludlows. How far will Fina go to uncover the truth? Will it destroy her loyalty to her family?

The setup of a female private investigator working for the family business calls to mind Lisa Lutz’s Spellman series, and Fina’s vacillation between two attractive men echoes Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum, but Loyalty is much darker than either series and Fina is way deadlier. She doesn’t hesitate to use her gun and gets scrappy in bloody fights. She’s no fancy martial artist, just a resourceful, impatient woman who refuses to be a victim.

Thoft is adept at showing the Ludlows’ dysfunction, and the impossible mother is someone readers might love to hate. Thoft also has a good ear for dialogue, a nice eye for character-revealing details and a firm handle on a PI’s shoe-leather process. If she keeps it up, she’ll gain the loyalty of fans as this series continues.

 Buy it now from Amazon | IndieBound


Review of THE CUCKOO’S CALLING by “Robert Galbraith”

Since the news broke over the weekend that J. K. Rowling published a crime novel this past April called The Cuckoo’s Calling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, I’ve seen lots of people on social media and blogs asking, “Anyone read this thing?” or “I want to read it but I’m hold #273 at the library!”

I’ve also seen people on Amazon and Barnes & Noble leave five-star reviews, clearly without having read it, saying, “I just found out J. K. Rowling wrote it so it must be fab!” More baffling are the one-star reviews saying, “Not gonna read this, psuedonyms [sic] are stupid.”

I read Cuckoo’s Calling in March when I got an ARC, so I thought I’d share some thoughts about it in case you’re considering reading it. I didn’t post a review at the time because I found it neither amazing nor terrible, and that type of book is hardest for me to write about. It’s difficult sometimes to expound on “meh.”

The two lead characters, a British war veteran named Cormoran Strike who lost his leg in Afghanistan, and his temp assistant, Robin, are likable characters. Strike is trying to make ends meet as a private investigator, and after breaking up with his girlfriend, he’s living in his office. Robin, newly engaged, is only supposed to work for Strike for two weeks, but she quickly establishes herself as an indispensable assistant. Strike tries to hide his homelessness from her, and she has the class and good manners to pretend she doesn’t know the truth.

Strike is hired by a man to look into the death of his supermodel sister, Lula, under mysterious circumstances—she either fell or was pushed over the railing of the balcony at her home. The mystery and the suspects were the weak points for me.

I didn’t like Lula’s brother, John, or anyone in the awfully cold and selfish family. It’s obvious all they care about is money, not Lula. And I didn’t have strong feelings for Lula, the club-going, rich, beautiful girl who wasn’t completely vapid but not that interesting, either. I wasn’t deeply invested in finding out what happened to her, because she didn’t seem to leave a huge emotional void with her death.

Adding to the detachment I felt was the omniscient narrative voice, not my favorite device because I find it too impersonal. Only Tom Perrotta’s Little Children comes to mind right now as an example of where it’s used to great effect. Feeling disconnected from most of the characters, I almost stopped reading several times (the narrative could’ve been tightened, too), but what got me through it was wanting to see if Robin manages to find a way to stay at the agency. She doesn’t want to leave, you see, but Strike can’t afford an assistant.

This isn’t to say sexual tension exists between the two because, refreshingly, it doesn’t. Their relationship is more akin to the one between Della Street and Perry Mason in the Erle Stanley Gardner novels, in which the extremely efficient assistant is just as sharp, if not sometimes sharper, than her boss. If this example seems dated, that’s because there’s something sweetly chaste and retro about the dynamic between Robin and Strike.

The conclusion I arrived at the end—which was predictable, since I’d guessed the villain’s identity before then—was that I’d probably read more books in the series (Little, Brown has confirmed the next installment drops next summer) for Strike and Robin, but they wouldn’t be top of my TBR list.

The writing style is very different from the Harry Potter books, so don’t expect anything like that. I love the HP books and have read some of them more than once, but did not have any inkling Rowling wrote Cuckoo’s Calling. I find it admirable that she’s such a versatile writer, even if this style was less engaging for me. Some authors use the same techniques over and over, to the point their books become formulaic.

I’ll leave you with the rating I gave it on Goodreads (the 4.19 is the average rating from other readers). You can read an excerpt on the Mulholland Books website.


Guest Book Review: FIEND by Peter Stenson

When I received Peter Stenson’s debut novel, Fiend, in the mail, I thought the description sounded twisted good, but I was too scared to read it. It has zombies and is described as ultra violent. 

So I did the natural thing and asked Mr. PCN to read it, because he can watch The Walking Dead while eating dinner without getting sick. He was kind enough to be my guinea pig, and then write the following review.—PCN


Peter Stenson has written an edgy, violent, sick-as-hell novel about drug addicts, zombies, and love.

Chase Daniels and Typewriter John are best friends addicted to crystal meth. During one of their usual three-day benders, Chase looks out the window and sees a cute, little girl playing with a dog. A Rottweiler. It’s kind of sweet, but something isn’t right. The dog looks scared. Before Chase can do anything, the little girl rips out the dog’s throat and starts eating it.

From then on, Chase and Type are on the run, as they see how much the world has changed during the 72 hours they spent in their apartment getting high. Before long, they connect with KK, Jared, and The Albino to fight for their lives.

Yes, the story is about the walking dead and surviving against all odds, but the plot has unique twists that are very twisted. It made my skin crawl, had me scratching at things that don’t itch, but the love Chase has for KK keeps this from being anything but the usual apocalyptic fare. Such is the power of exceptionally lean, always tense prose.

Stenson’s pacing is fast; the events all take place during one week. Chapter titles are the days of the week, subchapters are times of the day, and there are no quotation marks to set off dialogue. There’s no time; the characters are running for their lives and their next fix, which serves as a strong device to ratchet up the tension and adds to the bleakness of their existence. Some passages made me want to throw the book down in disgust, but I kept reading to see what would happen next. And then I cried when it was over.

Like an addict, I want more: more of this story, and more from this writer.

Buy it now from Amazon | IndieBound


Giveaway: Luanne Rice’s THE LEMON ORCHARD Book + Tote Bag

I’m excited to announce this giveaway, thanks to Pamela Dorman Books, of Luanne Rice‘s latest novel, plus a tote bag featuring the cover art. The description from the author’s website:

In the five years since Julia last visited her aunt and uncle’s home in Malibu, her life has been turned upside down by her daughter’s death. She expects to find nothing more than peace and solitude as she house-sits with only her dog, Bonnie, for company. But she finds herself drawn to the handsome man who oversees the lemon orchard. Roberto expertly tends the trees, using the money to support his extended Mexican family. What connection could these two people share? The answer comes as Roberto reveals the heartbreaking story of his own loss—a pain Julia knows all too well, but for one striking difference: Roberto’s daughter was lost but never found. And despite the odds, he cannot bear to give up hope.

Set in the sea and citrus-scented air of the breathtaking Santa Monica Mountains, The Lemon Orchard is an affirming story about the redemptive power of compassion and the kind of love that seems to find us when we need it most.

Mr. PCN used the tote at the grocery store, and received admiring comments from the ladies he encountered. I haven’t finished the book so a review will have to come at a later time, but you can enter now for a chance to win this. Just leave a comment about something you believe in against all odds. Santa Claus? The Force? Why not?

I’ll take entries until next Tuesday July 16, 9 p.m. PST. One winner will be randomly selected and have 48 hours after notification to claim prizes. US/Canada addresses only.

Good luck!


Nerdy Special List July 2013

Happy short week and holiday weekend! While you’re enjoying your days off to celebrate our nation’s birthday, you’ll need good books to read, right?

Here’s what my blogger pals and I recommend among the new releases this month (some are available today).


From Jen at Jen’s Book Thoughts, who has two suggestions:

Shadow of the Corps by James Dupont (Pegasus, July 1)

James Dupont’s debut is part legal thriller, part military thriller, and all fun. The protagonist, Dale Riley, is an out-of-work attorney and former JAG officer who left the military under mysterious circumstances. The full story is doled out bit by bit as it alternates between past and present tense, and as Riley deals with a series of murders he’s certain are tied to him. Meanwhile, his best friend, Eric Scholl, is a young FBI agent investigating cross-country serial murders. The two subplots weave together to form the DNA of a suspensefully exciting debut.

Seasoned crime readers will likely guess how the plots will tie together, but Dupont still manages to throw some curve balls. His character development is strong, and the dialogue is natural, often witty and authentic. My only beef was that the plot could’ve been tightened, but it’s still going to be among my favorite debuts of 2013.

Amazon | IndieBound

Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall (Gallery Books, July 2)

Susan Crandall introduces us to her young narrator, Starla Claudelle, who is trying so hard to be good, but somehow finds herself in hot water on a regular basis. When she witnesses a bully picking on someone, Starla can’t help but punch him in the nose. That punch starts her down the journey of a lifetime. Fearing she’ll be sent away to reform school, she runs away. She leaves Mississippi for Nashville to search for her mother, who left Starla when she was three to pursue stardom.

Starla is a narrator to challenge the likes of Huck Finn or Scout Finch. She’s smart, feisty, and yet still a bit naive. Her voice is distinctive but also reflective of the 1960s time period she’s growing up in. Whistling Past the Graveyard is at turns hopeful and heartbreaking. It will encourage you to look inside yourself and others to find everyone’s “special gifts.”

Amazon | IndieBound

From Julie at Girls Just Reading:

The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian (Doubleday, July 9)

A historical mystery set in the final days of the Nazi occupation of Italy, this is a slow-building but engaging novel. It starts by introducing someone who is determined to kill the remaining members of the Rosati family. You’re instantly pulled in and want to know what the family did to make someone hunt them down and murder them in cold blood. I enjoyed how the author brought in the psyche of the different sides of war, and how things are perceived even if the intent behind them are different.

The novel is a mix of family drama, love story, mystery, and history lesson. It’s interesting to see how the story comes together, and The Light in the Ruins doesn’t disappoint.

Amazon | IndieBound

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

Love All by Callie Wright (Henry Holt, July 9)

In the wake of the sudden death of family matriarch Joanie, three generations of the Cole/Obermeyer family find themselves under the same roof. Bob Cole, grandfather, can’t get past a scandal that happened 30 years ago. His daughter, Anne, is suspicious of her husband while hiding a secret of her own. Fifteen-year-old Julia is stuck in the middle of two boys, and 18-year-old Teddy is starting to fear what comes next.

If you love the small-town aspect of a Richard Russo novel (I mention him often because he’s one of my favorite authors), and the baseball aspect and finely wrought characters of Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding, then Love All is for you. The novel effortlessly weaves small-town life, sports, love, infidelity, and coming of age—at any age—together in this remarkable dramatic comedy. (Read Rory’s full review at her blog.)

Amazon | IndieBound

From PCN:

The Fire Witness by Lars Kepler, trans. by Laura A. Wideburg (Sarah Crichton Books, July 2)

This starts out creepy and just gets crazier from there. One night at a home for troubled girls, one of the residents and a staff member are found with their skulls bashed in. Vicky, another resident at the home, is suspected of both killings when police find the bloody murder weapon in her room, but she is missing. Reports then surface that she has stolen a car nearby with a toddler inside, and a manhunt is on to apprehend Vicky and recover the boy.

That short synopsis doesn’t begin to capture what a wild, unpredictable trip this Swedish thriller is. The story has several subplots shooting off in different directions, each more outrageous than the next, but they all come together to form a tragic tale of family dysfunction and the damage it wreaks.

Amazon | IndieBound

What are you looking forward to reading in July?

(Click here for past lists.)