Saturday, June 18, 2011

Talk of the Town

Talk of the Town by Lisa Wingate

Can anything go right in this tumbleweed town?

Her show, American Megastar, is TV’s hottest program, but life couldn’t be worse for associate producer Mandalay Florentino. She’s just arrived in the hayseed town of Daily, Texas, to arrange a surprise “reunion concert” for hometown finalist Amber Anderson—only everyone seems to know the secret already.

Plus she keeps crossing paths with a gorgeous cowboy with blue eyes who may not be the country boy he appears to be.

And the paparazzi are swarming.

And her boss is demanding perfection…or else.

With the faith and future of a young singer on the line, Mandalay and the town of Daily must find the courage—and the creativity—to make sure the reunion concert is unforgettable!

--Talk of the Town by Lisa Wingate, Copyright ©2008 by Wingate Media LLC, published by Bethany House Publishers

My Review

Mandalay Florentino is an associate producer of the hit TV series American Megastar. She’s a typical twenty-something mid-level executive. Her life is good, but not perfect. Her job on television is not what she set out to do, but she likes it and she’s good at it—at least, she thinks she is. She has a fiancée, but he has yet to buy her a ring. Her boss is a dragon lady, but Manda seems to be handling her well. All in all, everything is okay.

Except…her up-and-coming startlet, Amber Anderson, keeps landing into trouble. She doesn’t mean to—she’s an innocent Gospel singer from a small town in Texas. How was she supposed to know what “going clubbing” meant? And the brat-pack bad-boy the tabloids have her hooked up with—he’s just so sweet with her, she can’t understand how he got that reputation. It all adds up to headaches for Manda. Especially when she finds out a Christian music recording executive may be trying to set up a private meet with Amber, a strict no-no in Amber’s American Megastar contract.

Manda arrives in Daily, Texas, to prepare for a special “reunion” segment of the show. It’s a regular feature of the show, visiting the hometowns of the five finalists to show America where their next megastar grew up. The town of Daily is preparing for its Reunion Days, so what better time than that to bring Daily’s megastar home for a special concert? Problem is, the hometown specials were supposed to be kept secret, and in a small town like Daily, there are no secrets.

She hasn’t told anyone who she is or why she’s in Daily, but the locals aren’t idiots. They figured out pretty quickly that something big was about to happen in their little town and since their girl Amber was on the show, it had to be connected to her. Manda desperately tries to keep the reunion concert secret while at the same time tries to learn everything she can about Amber for the hometown special.

Having everyone in town know about Amber making it to the final five is a small hiccup in her plans, but Manda can work around it. What she can’t work around is her growing feelings for a certain other stranger in town. Carter Woods was in Daily on business though he never specified what that business was. Circumstances throw the two together and Manda’s starting to fall for the Austin cowboy in the Hawaiian shirt. But she has a fiancée…doesn’t she? If so, why did she find his active profile on an on-line dating site?

When she finds out exactly what Carter’s business is, and the plans her own boss has in store for her and for Amber, Manda has a decision to make. Go along with her boss, save her career and watch a potential megastar crumble, or do what’s right and pray that God will help her land on her feet.

I had a little trouble with the format of this story. It’s told in first person, with every odd-numbered chapter from Mandalay’s point-of-view and every even-numbered chapter from Imagene Doll’s (an elderly, colorful resident of Daily) point-of-view. After a while, though, I got used to it and found it was a rather interesting way to tell the story. Not only does the reader get Manda’s view, but the town’s as well through Imagene.

This is a contemporary Christian story, but it’s very light with its Christianity. Most of the characters are Christian and their faith comes through in the way they live and the things they say. It’s not preachy in the slightest, so if those types of stories turn you off, you won’t be turned off by this story. Talk of the Town is a fun, lighthearted romance well worth a read.

I give this story THREE STARS.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Gone Tomorrow

Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child

New York City. Two in the morning. A subway car heading uptown. Jack Reacher, plus five other passengers. Four are okay. The fifth isn’t. And if you think Reacher isn’t going to get involved…then you don’t know Jack.

Susan Mark was the fifth passenger. She had a lonely heart, an estranged son, and a big secret. Reacher, working with a woman cop and a host of shadowy feds, wants to know just how big a hole Susan Mark was in, how many lives had already been twisted before hers, and what danger is looming around him now.

Because a race has begun through the streets of Manhattan in a maze crowded with violent, skilled soldiers on all sides of a shadow war. Susan Mark’s plain little life was critical to dozens of others in Washington, California, Afghanistan . . . from a former Delta Force operator now running for the U.S. Senate, to a beautiful young woman with a fantastic story to tell–and to a host of others who have just one thing in common: They’re all lying to Reacher. A little. A lot. Or maybe just enough to get him killed.

--Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child, Copyright ©2009 by Lee Child, published by Jove Books

My Review

Gone Tomorrow is the 13th book in Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series.
Jack Reacher is back in New York City, riding the subway in the early hours of the morning. Being a former Military Police officer, he can’t help but study the five other passengers in his car. Four of them seem perfectly normal. The fifth, a woman, exhibits all the signs of a suicide bomber.

Reacher figures he has two choices. One, leave the train at the next stop, saving himself and leaving whomever might get caught in the blast to their fate, or two, try and stop her.

He tries to stop her.

Only the large object in her bag isn’t a bomb mechanism, but a gun. And though she initially points it at Reacher, she turns it on herself and pulls the trigger.

When the police arrive, they question everyone. The others on the train, of course, knew nothing, saw nothing. But the police believe the woman, identified as Susan Mark, passed something to Reacher just before she ended her life. She didn’t, but he can’t convince the NYPD of that. Nor can he convince the three Feds or the four shadowy “protection service” gentlemen that she didn’t. Everyone is convinced she gave him something and he can’t convince them that she didn’t. When he’s contacted by a woman named Lila Hoth (the employer of the “protection service”), he finds out that Susan Mark and she had become friends and Susan was coming to New York to deliver some information to Lila regarding a man her mother, Svetlana, met during a trip to Berlin in the early 1980’s.

She told a good story, but Reacher doesn’t quite believe her. For one thing, why would Susan drive all the way from Virginia to New York just to deliver information that could have been sent in an e-mail or relayed over the telephone. Second, Lila says she invited Susan to stay a day or two, maybe take in a show. But Susan had no overnight luggage with her. Third, Lila’s story just doesn’t add up to Reacher. But he received nothing from Susan Mark and therefore, doesn’t want to be involved.

He tries to stay out of it. Really, he does try, but everyone involved in the mysterious “it” keeps dragging him in until Reacher has no choice but to dig in and investigate. And when Jack Reacher investigates, he doesn’t stop until he gets his answers.

I give this story FOUR STARS.

And with this, believe it or not, I’m going to take a little break from my buddy Jack. I've been reading a lot of heavy stuff lately and I need some light, summer fun. Also, I have a lot of books I want to read/listen to and I need to give the others their chance to make it here on A(nother) Year in Reviews. Besides, I have only two books left in the Jack Reacher series, so I want to stretch them out a little. I figure I’ll listen to 61 Hours in late July and then Worth Dying For in September. That’ll set me up nicely for The Affair which will be released in mid-October. Can’t wait!

Savage Nature

Savage Nature by Christine Feehan

Danger lurks in the shadows and desire shimmers in the sultry heat as leopard shifter Drake Donovan is sent to a Louisiana bayou to investigate a murder. He's ready for anything except the insatiable hunger that rocks him when he meets Saria Boudreaux, a woman with a compelling motive-and ability-to distract him from the task at hand...

--Savage Nature by Christine Feehan, Copyright ©2011 by Christine Feehan, published by Jove Books

My Review

Saria Boudreaux grew up in the Louisiana swamps and there’s nowhere on earth she’d rather be. She was at peace among the reeds, trees, alligators and birds. She knew every breed of every animal and knew how to handle each and every one of them.

However, it was the two-legged animal that worried her. Specifically, the dead ones she was finding in the swamp. She knew she should have told her older brother Remy about them—after all, he is a New Orleans homicide detective, but given the claw marks she found on the bodies, she was afraid he, or one of her other shape-shifter brothers, might be the guilty party.

Instead, she sends a message to Jake Bannaconni, the owner of the land, and tells him what’s going on. He sends one of his men, Drake Donovan, to check it out. Prior to his arrival, he “officially” hires Saria to be his guide through the swamps.

When Drake arrives, he’s immediately drawn to the feisty, independent woman. She brings out the beast in him, literally, and Saria begins to feel something within her that reacts to his beast. He’s a shape-shifter, just like her brothers, just like her, though she’s never known herself to be one. The leopard-people mate for life, Drake informs her, and Drake and Saria have just discovered each other to be their true mate.

It should be easy…Drake claims his mate and they live happily ever after. But the important things in life are never easy. With a series of murders and a drug-running operation to resolve, a leopard lair that’s spiraling out of control and in desperate need of strong leadership, and a mate that’s going into heat—drawing men to her like flies to honey—Drake’s life has suddenly become extremely complicated.

He wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s hard for me to put my finger on exactly what it is that I don’t like about this story. The beginning chapter gives background and history on Saria Boudreaux and it felt a bit like an “info dump,” where the author goes “here’s-important-information-you-need-to-know-to-set-up-the-location-and-background-of-the-main-character-okay?-now-we’ll-get-to-the-good-stuff.” The dialogue between Saria and her brothers in this section is very telling of her relationship with them, but I think the rest of it could have been dispersed better through the story.

There were a few gaps in the story. When we meet Drake, we learn pretty quickly that he’s had a recent injury and is for the most part healed, but he hasn’t been able to shift since his surgery. He never tells Saria (and us) how he was injured. Did this happen in a previous novel? If so, I don’t remember what it was and don’t want to re-read another book to find out. Saria’s brothers have all been away, pursuing careers, but now they’re all back—all at the same time—and no real explanation as to why. Charisse, Saria’s friend, always dresses elegantly but given the fact that she’s pretty isolated from the community and hardly ever goes anywhere, there’s no real reason for it. So why does she do it?

Also, I really didn’t like the scene where Saria is leading Drake and his men through the swamp—it’s a long, drawn-out narrative where the tension builds, and then abruptly ends with a summary of what they find at the end of their trek. The only purpose that scene seemed to serve was to have everyone out all night long so they’d return to the inn exhausted, setting them up for the next dastardly deed of the antagonist.

I enjoy Christine Feehan and this is a good story with a very intriguing mystery twisting away at its center. If you’ve read her books or enjoy shape-shifter stories, you’ll enjoy this one as well. Others might want to take a pass.

I give this story THREE and a HALF STARS.

I think I have a case of becoming too familiar with an author’s style and finding they have become predictable. I’ve noticed this with several of my long-time favorite authors. I used to scour web sites for news of when my favorite authors’ next books were about to be released and though I never went so far as to mark my calendar, I did keep a close eye on the dates. Now, while I’ll note that their new book has been released, I’m not so anxious to rush out and get it. Feehan’s Dark Peril came out last year and I bought it, but I have yet to read it and the next in the “Dark” series, Dark Predator, comes out in September. Will I buy it? Sure. Will I read it? Eventually. Same with Nora Roberts--The Search came out July 2010 and I’ve listened to about half the audio book and will try to listen to the rest sometime this summer. The story is a bit predictable, but she’s created two great characters and they are the reason I want to finish it, not the plot itself. Her latest, Chasing Fire came out in April and I have yet to read it (but I do have it on hold at the library and I’m second in line for it, so look for its review sometime soon).

Do you find the same thing happening to you with your favorite authors? I lost interest in Laurell K. Hamilton a long time ago, but a good friend of mine is waiting breathlessly for her next release. If Stephenie Meyers strung out the Twilight saga for 10 or 15 novels, would you still be reading her? What about Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series? John Connelly’s Charlie Parker novels? Will—gasp!—Lee Child’s Jack Reacher still interest me in his 20th book? (I dearly hope so!)