Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

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I wrote yesterday’s post awhile ago, and it’s funny that it’s running this week, the week after McCarthy’s second book in the series, Dream Maker, was released. Let me tell you, after reading Dream Maker, I gotta go find that first book.

Here’s the review I wrote before I realized we had two days of Erin McCarthy. Think it’s enough to convince her to come hang out here a bit and talk about this Nashville Nights series of hers?

Can I gush about how much fun this book was? It’s such a simple, familiar setup, one I’ve been seeing a lot lately.
Avery’s lost on a street corner – the why is important, so I won’t spoil it, even though if you’ve read the first chapter, you know – and gets picked up by Shane Hart, music producer extraordinare and brother to Jolene Hart, country music darling.

Throwing caution to the wind and needing to be wild for just one night, Avery takes Shane to a hotel room and screws him silly. It, of course, is wonderful, but Avery promised herself it would be one time, one night, and she leaves a note and sneaks out while Shane snores on. If romance heroes snore.

Fast forward three months. Avery’s found herself a new footing and a job as a songwriter. She’s messing around with a new tune and freezes. That’s Shane in the hallway, loving her song. Or is it her?

It doesn’t really matter. It takes her co-workers about zero time to figure out that there’s some unresolved heat between Shane and Avery, and that’s pretty much it. That’s the plot. Oh, there’s a subplot about Avery’s father, too, and it’s resolved super fast and with zero angst. I wish there’d been more angst about this part of the book.

But the romance is a fun read. It’s charming, it’s cute, it’s heartwarming. And yes, it’s hot, so don’t think that words like cute and charming and heartwarming don’t mean there’s not some explicit loving happening.

And yes, it’s Rock Fiction. I mean, hello? He’s a music producer. She’s a songwriter. And there’s Jolene running around, too, since she and Shane are some of romance’s almost typical brother-sister loving duos.

This is part of a series, the second book. The first featured Jolene and her love, and we get to see them in this book. I’m not sure where McCarthy’s going to head next, but it’s listed as upcoming and man, I hope I get to read it. I also need to read Jolene’s story. This is some good stuff. Fun, frothy, and… just perfect.

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Maybe part of me was looking for heebie-jeebies when I said I’d read Tess Gerritsen’s Playing with Fire. And maybe part of me is disappointed at what I got.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This starts off creepy. Julia finds this music and every time she plays it, weird things start happening. Things that she blames on her daughter. And yeah, maybe this could be happening. It makes sense.
It’s not as creepy as I’d hoped. Or maybe wanted.

In fact, it’s kind of disappointingly familiar. We have the set-up in the present, then the flashbacks to the past, so we the reader get the full story behind this piece of music although the characters never do. And like a lot of books that follow this structure, the part set in the past is the stronger part.

The present-day story ought to be creepy. It ought to make us question what’s real, what’s possible. But it doesn’t make sense. Mom blames the kid for doing things. Mom and Dad subject the kid to a battery of tests even though no one believes the mom. And then, next thing, Mom is off, obsessed with finding the origins of the music while everyone around her decides she needs to be locked up in a mental facility because, hey, we put the kid through all these tests and she’s fine so Mom is clearly crazy. So Mom runs away with her friend, who winds up betraying her because hey, the whole world is stacked against our Julia. And things get violent, as they do when you’re trying to get someone to involuntarily commit herself, or maybe it’s as they do when you’re digging up a past no one wants you to remember. And then we find out what’s up with the music. Only it’s not the music at all.

Remember those tests they ran on the kid? Why the hell didn’t they run them on the mom and save us all the hassle?
So that brings us to the story of the past. This turns out to be a Holocaust story, with the main character, Lorenzo, a promising violinist whose career and life are cut short by the horrors that wind up unfolding. Pity, too, because he and cellist Laura had a real thing going.

As I said, that was the more interesting part of the book, but in the end, this one was a bit of a disappointment. Predictable. Kinda stupid, actually. And most upsetting, the promise of the premise, of this haunting piece of music with demonic abilities, never came to be.

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So this was billed as a serial about the events leading up to a fatal shooting at a rock (pop) concert. But the bigger tease in all this is the mystery: five people are killed, but only four “go on record.” (Quotes because I’m not 100% certain what that means. Public record? Official record of the event? Or are they recording this for a live album?)

THAT is the story I want to read. Why’s one person’s death covered up? What’s going on here? Who died? Which of the five is it, and why?

And that’s my question. If the author’s going to tease us with this, he’s got to produce something more that leads up to it. He’s got to tie the mystery into what he gives us. But other than the opening, which is pretty cool and – again – sets us up for a story about the shooting and the mystery of what’s happened, that’s not what we get. We don’t even get that rich atmosphere full of the expectation and anticipation that we’re building up to something.

What we get is a short bit about a bunch of different people, few who come alive on the page and rise above stereotypes.

And ten percent at the beginning is the author’s… it feels like a defense. Telling us how long the whole thing is when put together. And other babble that, frankly, I don’t care about. I don’t care about how he struggled to write this, or get it published, or any of that. Save it for the blog tour, man. Don’t put it in your book, and most certainly, don’t start with it.

So that’s the first ten percent. And then the installment ends at 88%, so that we can be teased for the second one. Which we gotta download and pay for. Seven installments at roughly two or three bucks a pop… well, that’s a pretty slick marketing trick.

Except that this one, doesn’t really earn its $1.99 price tag. After all I’ve just pointed out that 22% of the whole thing has nothing to do with the actual story at hand. It’s fluff. And while the opening scene focuses on the mystery, that’s all that does. Which means something like five or ten percent is the story we’ve been promised – the mystery of the shootings and which dead body doesn’t go “on the record.” (Again, still not sure what that means.)

And there’s not a mosh pit in sight. In fact, there’s almost zero Rock Fiction in here. These are ordinary people, doing ordinary things. Which is fine, but what’s it got to do with the mystery? And how about the title? What’s a mosh pit got to do with anything? Melting pot might be a better term to use here ’cause I don’t see any moshing going on, either.

Just… I gotta throw my hands up on this one. We don’t see a lot of Rock Fiction written by men, so I’d had high hopes. And the whole idea of a mystery dead person is really appealing, especially when you factor in the setting. Five people turn up dead at a concert, but who’s that fifth person… what’s their story? Their mystery?

I don’t know. Maybe this just wasn’t told the right way. Maybe it unfolds all wrong. I don’t know. All I know is that it’s not something I’m going to follow up on.

Review copy provided by NetGalley. Thanks for the chance to explore something new.

Edited: Jett had the price wrong, which Michael himself kindly pointed out. I’ve fixed it. –Susan

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Okay, let’s be up front about this. It’s not Rock Fiction, for all that Grace’s father is a rocker. In fact, the few times we see Jer, as Grace calls him, he’s not much more than a name on a page, a vague character of a person. Neither is Grace’s mother, the typical model/actress/ambitious snob who can’t put her own control issues aside and see her daughter for who she is.

But if Grace’s parents are vague or stereotypic, Grace herself is the absolute opposite. Sure, it’s probably a huge stereotype that she’s the bohemian child who opposes her mother at almost every value. The biggest surprise about her is when she puts on the Reality Star Wardrobe and remarks how familiar and comfortable it is, even though she knows that the role she had been playing was nothing more than that – a role. This is an insight that transcends these stereotypes. It’s a welcome one.

On the flip side is Marc, Marcus, our buttoned-up, staid businessman type who has probably forgotten how to smile, if he even ever knew. He’s almost the third side of this trinity of who are you – the extravagant showman, the hippie chick devoted to her causes, the buttoned-up dude who’s buttoned down his personality and his life so that people like Grace and her family can’t disrupt the boat.

Enter one dog. One Great Dane, to be specific. Dogs in general aren’t going to work in Marc’s life. But a big Dane that needs room to run and is pretty much Grace’s totem animal?

Now, we all know where this is headed: Grace has to make peace with her family and their reality show life. They need to accept her and actually see that her painting talent goes beyond a hobby. She needs to accept that using the resources offered by their reality show isn’t selling out; it’s smart. Marcus needs to learn how to joke and laugh, how to unbutton not only his suits but himself, as well.

And of course they all do these things. This is a romance, after all, and there’s never any doubt what’s going to happen in it. It’s the getting there that is all the fun, and believe me, this is fun. Over the top fun. Crazy fun. Larger than life, if-this-happened-in-reality-no-one-would-believe-it fun.

Pineapple lamps and fires and activists and birds and dogs and Grace’s odd naïve trust in people despite the reality show and lens of fame she’s grown up in. It all figures in. There are assumptions and people who get too angry with each other to speak and work it out like adults. And there are unravelings of the assumptions and happy endings and love and respect. And big dogs.

I wish more books were this much fun.

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Holy typos, you guys. I’ve heard Susan complain all the time that authors complain she’s too expensive, but you gotta hire someone or else be ready for me to make fun of you for thinking JACKAL AND HYDE is a thing. Like… wow.

And that’s not the sort of intro you want for a review, is it? But there it is. Just… wow.

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This sucks because Melody of Truth gets off to a fantastic start (one that’s light on the typos, which actually get worse as the book goes along). I was totally into it.

Melody’s a documentary filmmaker, a famous one. Think Bruce Sinofsky famous. More famous than Penelope what’s-her-name, who did the Decline of Western Civilization movies.

And Melody gets hired to make a documentary about… a band? A solo artist? This winds up being the first of a lot of details that are either confusing or make no sense. But Melody’s there to make a film and she’s got this insta-lust with the drummer, Sean.

Brownie points for giving the rocker a normal name. Although is it normal, or is it abnormal, since what’s normal has turned into the bizarre names?

Anyway, Sean’s there. And so are other guys in the band. And then the focus is on him and Melody and their relationship and sometimes, I’m not sure if there’s a band happening and a movie getting made, or if it’s all just a convenient backdrop for this romance.

Now, if you’ve got issues about cheating, this book isn’t for you. Melody, it turns out, is engaged to this guy and from the get-go, it’s clear she’s not in love with him. She’s settling. And that’s okay at first. People settle.

But people also meet the partner who sets them on fire, and Melody finds that in Sean, and she’s got a dilemma, but not really because she wants Sean and she admits that nope, Marco doesn’t do a damn thing for her. And then, long after things start to smell, we learn that Marco’s pretty much a cliché and so we don’t really feel bad that Melody essentially cheated on him by sleeping with Sean when she was engaged to Marco.

Like I said, if you have issues, this isn’t the book for you.

I like the concept of finding a love who you just can’t stay away from, everything practical be damned. I love the opening. I just wish it had been more: more Rock Fiction, more documentary, more explanation about the band, more detail, even more originality where Marco was concerned. I mean, a poet? With no day job? Really?

I don’t know if I’m getting picky lately, or if there’s just been a streak of stuff that’s not doing it for me. Either way, I’m still hunting for more authors like Cecilia Tan for me and Jessica Topper for Susan. You know: the authors we rave about to anyone who’ll listen. Not that I corner people on airplanes when I see them with a book. Nope. Not me.

Grab yourself a copy. Got a different opinion of this book? Send your review and Susan will get it posted for you.
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Susan dropped me a note that she’d gotten approval for the new Stina Lindenblatt novel. You know: the follow-up to This One Moment, which was a book I’d really liked. I was pretty darn excited to get my hands on My Song For You. Which band member was this going to be about?

Turns out it’s Jared’s story. He runs into the little sister of an old flame, and she’s got a kid.

Now, he looks at this kid and there’s not a flash of recognition, even though the kid apparently looks exactly like him. Not even when he grabs a picture of himself at age four, which is Logan’s age, does he get it. He keeps telling himself he never slept with Callie, so there’s no way. But he never stops to think beyond that.

Our Jared’s a little slow. Or maybe he’s distracted by Callie, who’s always had a thing for him but he never knew it. And maybe he liked Callie better than he let on, but he was busy with Callie’s older sister—and man, was he crushed when she told him she’d aborted their kid.

You guessed it, huh? Big sister Alexis lied. She had the kid and swore her family to secrecy. Not long after, Alexis and her parents died in a car accident, leaving Callie to raise her nephew, realigning her life plans and struggling to get by.

It’s a good setup, but it’s not enough. Callie and Jared don’t talk about the situation. Jared goes running to a lawyer behind everyone’s back and this lawyer dude ain’t real smart ’cause he doesn’t focus one whit on what’s best for this kid, who has no reason to think the only mother he can remember is really his aunt. And Jared? Doesn’t stop to consider Callie. He’s too busy being… well, not quite angry because he’s not passionate enough, but he’s being an idiot, that’s for sure. He wants to man up to his responsibility and that’s admirable, but he seems short on people around him who he’ll talk to, and who will widen his too-narrow viewpoint. And this includes his parents.

As for Callie, she gets scared and shuts down. And that’s how these two deal with this pretty big problem they’ve got. They don’t.

There’s not a lot of music in this book, to be honest. Jared isn’t the most dynamic character; he’s not got that charisma that Tyler/Nolan had in the first book of the series. He’s one of those guys who could be an everyman. It’s disappointing.

And so are the music details that do appear. You don’t meet with a music video director one day and begin recording the next. There’s no way this band would defy the micromanaging head of the label and change up the songs they had committed to play on a TV showcase special.

This doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good read. And okay, maybe it wasn’t good in the same way the first was. Too many chapters end the same way: with Jared telling us he’s an idiot. After the first couple, it’s a yawner. The potential for a really rich, rewarding story is there, but because Callie and Jared don’t talk through the big issues, this really readable book loses a lot of the high marks it could have otherwise had.

Let’s write this one off to a sophomore slump and hope the next in the series is about Mason, the foul-mouthed dude. Right now, he’s the guy I’m most interested in.

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Okay, so Susan’s sitting in a tent on a mountain in West Virginia and I’m sending her all these texts about how amazing Cecilia Tan’s newest release, Wild Licks, is. And she’s thinking I’m totally nuts because, hey, this is pretty much her vacation although I can’t figure out who can vacation in a tent or why they’d want to when there’s NEW CECILIA TAN TO READ.

Wild Licks is the next in the Secrets of a Rock Star series. Maybe you remember when I read the first book, Taking the Lead, and went bonkers over it.

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Guys. This one is BETTER.

I kid you not.

Gwen and Mal are one hot couple. Where Ricki and Axel had inhibitions to overcome and heads to get out of, Gwen and Mal know they like it hot and they need it kinky. And man oh man, do they go for it. These two are maybe the perfect couple.

There’s more a sense in this book that Mal’s a rocker. He’s got something that Axel lacked, and that’s sad not because Mal has it but because Axel didn’t. And Gwen, too, is more real. Maybe it’s that she’s not as repressed as her sister. This isn’t a woman who’s afraid of things.

In fact, Gwen doesn’t have a lot of issues. This isn’t usual in today’s fiction, but I was digging it.

It’s Mal who’s all angst-laden, poor guy. And he’s the reason things are a bit of a let-down at the end. His moment where he comes around is just too easy and too fast.

But come ON. We’re not here for Mal to fix himself. We’re here for the dynamic with him and Gwen, and we get that. And we’re here for the sex, and we get THAT, too. We get some of the most inventive, no-holds-barred, lack of inhibition sex I’ve seen… ever.

Don’t miss this one.

I hear the next in the series, Hard Rhythm, will be out next January. Is it too early to sign up for a review copy? I am SO there.

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I’d heard a lot of great things about Melissa Foster’s books, so when she wrote a potential Rock Fiction entry into one of her series, I was all over it.

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I’m not sure what the fuss is.

Now, if you like those books where things don’t ever really go wrong, where people communicate and work through small problems super easy, where it’s a love fest from the second new people meet and families come together, this is totally your thing.

And I’m not one of those people who wallows in angst, but I’d like a little bit of tension and darkness in my books, you know? But when even the truffles are described as delicious after we’ve watched more than one character talk about how good they are, you know this isn’t the world’s most realistic version of reality.

By the end, it totally grated on my nerves. And I couldn’t tell anyone apart in the huge families of Trish and Boone.
So here’s the deal: Trish is an actress who expects this version of Sid and Nancy to get her an Oscar. And she fully expects this despite the fact that she’s going to be starring opposite Boone, who’s never acted and comes off as more than a boor. We’re told he’s a rock star, but there’s nothing rock star about him, despite the fact that he plays guitar a few times. It takes more than that. More than never-voiced worries about how a rocker and an actress can make it work.

So it’s got no real conflict and it’s not Rock Fiction. We’re striking out here.

Except it’s readable and until the end, when it goes over the top in family insta-love for each other, it’s a fun and good read. Perfect for the beach or for a day in a hammock in the backyard (thanks for buying that, Dad) when you don’t want to think or do anything but go along for the ride.

Bring your own delicious truffles, though.

Pick up your copy, and as always, thanks to Rock Star Lit for the review copy. If you’ve read it and want to share your own views, drop Susan a line!

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This book is chick lit with a big sense of humor and 1989 hairsprayed bangs.

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I spotted Start with the Backbeat by Garine Isassi on a Coveting post on this blog, and was intrigued by the setting—1989, a girl attempting to discover Gangsta rap bands—and the fact that it billed itself as “A Musical Novel” not a romance. I love a rock star romance, but I’ve seen the gritty gangster beginnings of the rap industry in Straight Outta Compton, and I thought this had potential to be a nuanced discussion of a cool epoch in musical history, which it turned out it kinda was.

It was also chick lit, which I didn’t expect. The genre’s a bit out of vogue these days, so that’s probably why it isn’t labeled as such, but it has all the hallmarks: the romance is a subplot rather than a main plot to make room for more challenges with the MC’s career and friends and family. There are lots of disasters, lots of comedy, and a would-be young professional girl sort of thrashing her way to where she wants to be. I loved all these features of chick lit, and it occurs to me in a lot of ways, it was the precursor of New Adult.

I came for the 80s setting and I wasn’t disappointed. Cassette tapes, a music industry in an entirely different time. Plus, it was just painful to watch Jill and her other white middle-class co-workers tiptoe into some rough NYC neighborhoods, looking for “gangstas” to sign, while trying not to get mugged and trying to judge what might be “authentic.” The class and racial lines here are shows with a wince-worthy comedy of errors rather than a preachy tone, which makes for the kind of read that makes you cringe and nod as you recognize real life.

The supporting characters are fun, from the sprawling Armenian family to the sleazy company vice president, and all the very different officemates who end up very loyal to each other. I will say LaKeisha seemed a touch stereotypical to me, but other than that, I enjoyed the variety of personalities all whirled together.

The romance was fun too—Jill ends up going after a computer geek named Alejandro, whose name no one ever gets right, and whom she wasn’t attracted to at all at first (I blame the khaki office pants. I mean, whose ass DOESN’T look saggy in those things?). Seems like everybody starts romances these days with OOH-he’s-so-hot and I have a great time when it starts a little rougher. Alejandro was truly a gentleman, and it showed despite their many missteps.

Where this book really shines (other than the 1980s details and band references, which I LOVED) is in all the moments where you can’t help but recognize real life. The suburban mom crying off her eyeliner because she wants her husband to help more around the house, but he doesn’t do the dishes quite right, so she can’t let him do that, and she can’t leave for the night because of course he couldn’t take care of their baby the way she can and…yeah. So familiar. And Jill’s boyfriend at the beginning of the book, the sound guy that can get them in the backdoor of every club, but who disappears when he’s on the road with a band, even though he SWEARS he’s being faithful.

This has a fun, romantic comedy feel with an 80s twist and a gangsta rap punchline, with amazing lyrics and characters throughout. Four stars.

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This isn’t the sort of book I’d have picked up, except Susan said there was a record producer character, and that means the possibility of Rock Fiction. So… here I am. Reading Susan Mallery, who is a best-selling romance author. And… I’m not sure why.

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Let’s start with Quinn, the record producer, since he’s the reason we picked this up. Like a lot of so-called music people, he could be anyone. He has a charisma, sure, but he’s sickly perfect. There are no rough edges to this guy, nothing that suggests he knows how to handle the egos who cross his path—even when a few do cross his path in the pages. He’s more like a shrink, able to read people and understand who they are and what they need. But as for him, his wants, his desires, his needs? We know very little except he’s got an insta-crush on Courtney, one of the three daughters of the bride.

So there’s a major disappointment, right off the bat. This ain’t Rock Fiction, despite the guy’s career. And, of course, there’s this magic timeline where Quinn comes to town, finds a property, buys it, outfits it, and has it up and running in the span of the days and weeks leading up to the wedding that’s in the title. Somehow, I don’t think it’s that easy.

Now, I read more than Rock Fiction, believe it or not. And I like a lot of books. But this one? Didn’t do it for me in the least. The first third was full of the story screeching to a stop so the author could inform us of stuff. Backstory, Susan calls it. Boring, I call it. And this isn’t the first big-name author I’ve seen doing this, either. I want to yell at these people to stop it. It’s boring as anything.

There are three sisters in this story, and for too long, it’s hard to keep them straight and tell them apart. But then the cliches begin. Sienna, who has a string of broken engagements, finds herself engaged to a buffoon who she has no feelings for. Good thing, too, because he’s teetering on abusive, making all sorts of assumptions about how she’s going to live once they are married, telling her she has cold feet and not real concerns about their relationship, and devaluing her work. Oh, and he picks a horribly inappropriate time and place for the proposal, effectively trapping her into saying yes so she doesn’t rain on her mother’s engagement party or have to turn him down in a public forum. Manipulative much? Like I said: bordering on abusive.

So is Rachel’s ex-husband, who decides he’s going to win her back by showing up unannounced, doing things without her asking him to, and then telling her exactly what’s wrong with her and how she contributed to their divorce. If he talks about the affair he had – other than protesting that it only happened once! – it’s certainly not to work through the issues they had that tore them apart in the first place. Nope, it’s all on Rachel to change. Rachel, who so easily starts walking and gets her great shape back, which she let go in the aftermath of the divorce. Like it’s that easy? I had the easiest divorce in the world. We both agreed we’d been wrong to get married. We had nothing to split apart, just a bed and a TV, really, and I still put on twenty pounds that it took forever to get off. It’s just not that easy.

I guess this is why I like to stick to Rock Fiction. That’s not to say that these other issues wouldn’t have bothered me if Quinn had lived up to his rocker promise. But it’s to say that I see a lot of Rock Fiction authors working really hard at what they do and this one, with its long explanations in the beginning and the bland characters and problematic men and easy solutions just seemed kinda phoned in.

Still, Susan says I’m one of almost 60 reviewers on this tour, and I bet I’m the minority. That’s fine. Someone’s gotta be.

If I haven’t totally turned you off, here are the buy links — and if you read it and disagree with me, send Susan your review! She keeps saying she’d be glad to post reviews that show another opinion, so make her put up or shut up.

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Thanks to Rock Star PR for this one. I’d really wanted to like it. I really had.