Publisher: Ballantine Books

October 20, 2016

Review | O is for Outlaw by Sue Grafton

Review | O is for Outlaw by Sue GraftonO is for Outlaw by Sue Grafton
Series: Kinsey Millhone, #15
Publisher: Ballantine Books, January 2001
Pages: 354
Format: Hardcover
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Through fourteen books, fans have been fed short rations when it comes to Kinsey Millhone's past: a morsel here, a dollop there. We know of the aunt who raised her, the second husband who left her, the long-lost family up the California coast. But husband number one remained a blip on the screen until now.
The call comes on a Monday morning from a guy who scavenges defaulted storage units at auction. Last week he bought a stack. They had stuff in them—Kinsey stuff. For thirty bucks, he'll sell her the lot. Kinsey's never been one for personal possessions, but curiosity wins out and she hands over a twenty (she may be curious but she loves a bargain). What she finds amid childhood memorabilia is an old undelivered letter.
It will force her to reexamine her beliefs about the breakup of that first marriage, about the honor of that first husband, about an old unsolved murder. It will put her life in the gravest peril."O" Is for Outlaw: Kinsey's fifteenth adventure into the dark side of human nature.

Oh, Kinsey.

O is for Outlaw might have broken her heart. And mine.

As I put this book down, I remembered writing how I wished Kinsey showed more of herself in the novels, letting us as readers get to know her better. I got my wish.

Kinsey Millhone was married twice (and prefers to be single, thank you very much). We met her second husband in E is for Evidence, but her first is rarely mentioned…until we get to O. In Outlaw, Kinsey finally reveals their relationship when news arrives that Mickey Magruder, the pointedly-ignored first husband, has been shot and is in a coma in Los Angeles.

I’ve always wondered at Kinsey’s determined lack of information about her relationship with Mickey and her reaction to his condition solidified my theory: he was her first love. You know, that one we’re always slightly irrational about, even years later? Mickey Magruder, a paranoid vice cop a decade her senior, was the guy who broke Kinsey Millhone’s heart.

Being Kinsey, she can’t help but start investigating, despite the investigating cops’ warnings. She unravels the life of a serial playboy, a man destroyed, and an addict in recovery. In discovering so much about Mickey’s current life, she understands his past a little better and finally comes to terms with their relationship. But it’s the last scene that had me sniffling back tears.

The mystery in O for Outlaw was up to par, and Kinsey’s snooping nature brought light into an otherwise emotionally heavy story. The difference? Mickey’s shooting rocked her to her core, so her typical unbiased perspective was deeply slanted.

I wanted to know more about the characters, their situations, and their relationship to her, but there was only so much room in the book. Still, O is for Outlaw was a surprisingly intense story, one that I’m thrilled finally was told.

4 Stars

Posted October 20, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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September 19, 2016

Review | Tailored for Trouble by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff

Review | Tailored for Trouble by Mimi Jean PamfiloffTailored for Trouble by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff
Series: Happy Pants, #1
Publisher: Ballantine Books, August 2016
Pages: 354
Format: Paperback
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A sassy, sexy, laugh-out-loud rom-com between the hottest man never to be tamed and the woman crazy enough to try
SHE WANTS TO CHANGE THE WORLD.
Taylor Reed is no stranger to selfish, uncaring CEOs. She was fired by one, which is why she has created her own executive training program—helping heartless bosses become more human. So Taylor shocks even herself when she agrees to coach Bennett Wade, the cutthroat exec who got her unceremoniously canned. She’d love to slam the door in his annoying but very handsome face, but the customers aren’t exactly lining up at her door. Plus, this extreme makeover will give Taylor the golden opportunity to prove that her program works like a charm.
HE WANTS TO BUY IT.
Bennett Wade is many things—arrogant, smug, brusque—but trusting isn’t one of them. Women just seem to be after his billions. So when he hires Taylor Reed, he has no desire to change. Bennett is trying to win over the feminist owner of a company he desperately wants to buy, but something about the fiery Taylor thaws the ice around his heart, making Bennett feel things he never quite planned on. And if there’s one thing Bennett can’t stand, it’s when things don’t go according to plan.
They are a match tailor-made for trouble.

Taylor Reed can’t stand Bennett Wade. The arrogant CEO, whom she credits for losing her job, is blunt to the point of cruelty, arrogant, and despicable. Yet when he hires her for executive training, Taylor can’t stop thinking about him, and not just how to get her revenge…

I had to admit, at first I wasn’t so sure about Tailored for Trouble. The magic-fall-in-love-seven-days-after-eating cookie felt like a hokey ploy, but Pamfiloff’s clever narrative created the nostalgic feeling of the 90s’ romcom.

Don’t be fooled; Bennett Wade might feel 50 Shades of Grey-inspired, but don’t believe it. Sure, he’s got some tendencies: the obsessive need to know where people he cared about were at all times, the huge amount of power and riches that he holds, and the ease he has in it is a lot like Grey. But Pamfiloff brings depth and character to Wade, creating a more powerful character that provides a little bit of a foil against the lighthearted nature of the romcom. I loved how Tailored took the time to explain his “things,” as he eloquently puts it. It made him lovable.

I connected with Taylor right off the bat. As the daughter of a NASCAR driver and an actress, sister of a surgeon, Taylor always felt like odd man out. The failure. The oddball. Having felt like the oddball more than once, it was easy to understand her. She was funny, bordered onto the slightly dumb when it came to Wade (but aren’t we all in love?), and good-hearted, despite her vengeful intent when taking the job.

Unlike many romances, Tailored wasn’t just about Taylor’s growth, or Wade’s growth. Both characters made huge leaps forward in their lives, and that’s what made it easier to fall in love with them and their story. Pamfiloff, simply, writes a fun romance and I can’t wait to read another of her work.

4 Stars

Posted September 19, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 1 Comment
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July 1, 2016

Review | K is for Killer by Sue Grafton

Review | K is for Killer by Sue GraftonK is for Killer by Sue Grafton
Series: Kinsey Millhone, #11
Publisher: Ballantine Books, January 1970
Pages: 292
Format: Hardcover
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When Kinsey Millhone answers her office door late one night, she lets in more darkness than she realizes. Janice Kepler is a grieving mother who can't let the death of her beautiful daughter Lorna alone. The police agree that Lorna was murdered, but a suspect was never apprehended and the trail is now ten months cold. Kinsey pieces together Lorna's young life: a dull day job a the local water treatment plant spiced by sidelines in prostitution and pornography. She tangles with Lorna's friends: a local late-night DJ; a sweet, funny teenaged hooker; Lorna's sloppy landlord and his exotic wife. But to find out which one, if any, turned killer, Kinsey will have to inhabit a netherworld from which she may never return.
From the Paperback edition.

On the surface, Lorna Kelper was an ordinary girl, if a little private. In one of the more grisly cases at the Santa Teresa Police Department, she was found dead in her home, a case left unsolved for years. But when Lorna’s mother arrives on Kinsey’s office doorstep late one night, asking for help in finding her daughter’s killer, Kinsey can’t refuse.

Grafton’s 11th book takes a turn to the darker side. While I wouldn’t consider the Kinsey Millhone series light and fluffy, the dark nature of the victim and crime took the series down a darker path. Part was due to the life of the victim herself: a manipulative woman living on the edge, working as a prostitute and testing the patience of those who loved her. I didn’t identify with Lorna or her surviving family, but I felt for them. The arrogance, the denial, the hurt that haunts that household as potently as if Lorna’s ghost actually drifted in the halls.

Kinsey’s relationships didn’t feel quite as real in K is for Killer. I liked the minor characters, but they didn’t have the same vibrancy I’d come to expect from Grafton. They mist have been overshadowed by Lorna’s powerful character – it’s hard to overlook a whirlwind like her.

When Cheney, the new guy, arrives on the scene, I was thrilled. It’s about time Kinsey’s personal life got a little shakeup. At first, everything seemed fine, yet more than halfway through the book, he suddenly mentions a girlfriend. Kinsey doesn’t act surprised, but I found myself rocked and more than a little confused.

Despite a few plot holes, K is for Killer is fascinating. I had to find out what happened to Lorna, why it happened. When Kinsey tugs at a few strings in the family’s defenses, the whole ball unravels and opens the door to the most fascinating depictions of how different people handle grief and jealousy.

As a fan of Grafton’s series, I found K is for Killer fascinating, but without the previous context, it might fall flat for some readers. Yet I loved the darker turn and the focus on the grief, jealousy, and how it affects us.

4 Stars

Posted July 1, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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June 6, 2016

Review | J is for Judgment by Sue Grafton

Review | J is for Judgment by Sue GraftonJ is for Judgment by Sue Grafton
Series: Kinsey Millhone, #10
Publisher: Ballantine Books, December 1997
Pages: 360
Format: Hardcover
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Wendell Jaffe looks great for a dead man! He’s been six feet under for five years ago—until his former insurance agent spots him at a dusty resort bar in Mexico. Now California Fidelity wants its insurance money back. Can P.I. Kinsey Millhone get on the case?
Just two months earlier, Jaffe’s widow pocketed $500,000 in insurance benefits after Jaffe went overboard. Was his “pseudocide” a last-ditch effort to do right by his beloved wife? Perhaps. But how would that explain the new woman in Jaffe’s second life?
Kinsey is in for the long haul as she delves deeper into the mystery surrounding Jaffe’s life and death…and discovers that, in family matters as in crime, sometimes it's better to reserve judgment…

A missing (presumed dead) man spotted, an empty sailboat recovered, and a million dollar insurance policy paid out. When Kinsey Millhone hears the particulars of California Insurance’s case, her natural curiosity calls for her to dig in. But when Kinsey gets caught up in the midst of family drama, it’s hard not to cast blame in J is for Judgement.

loved the deep dive into Kinsey’s past. It’s always been Kinsey and her aunt Gin since her parents died in a horrific car accident. She’s grown up independent, and she’s just fine with that, thank you very much…right? But when the case reveals that her extended family isn’t as far away as she thinks, Kinsey suddenly has to struggle with whether or not she wants to be a part of their world. I loved how Grafton explores the difference between what we actually want and what we’re just used to.

The case behind J is for Judgement is a mix of sad and intriguing. The missing man, Wendell Jaffe, leaves behind a wife, two teenage sons, and a mountain of debut for his family to dig themselves out of. It’s a heartbreaking situation, but the family rebuilds their lives the best they can. But when a retired CI insurance agent spots the missing man living it up in Mexico, his wife and sons have to struggle against a recurrence of the pain.

J is for Judgement is less about Kinsey’s case and more of a look about what happens to the people left behind to pick up the pieces. Both Kinsey and Jaffe’s family has to learn how to live again after rebuilding their lives in the first place. It’s a much more human story than the traditional whodunit I had expected. Either way, it’s another crowning jewel in Grafton’s series.

4 Stars

Posted June 6, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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May 20, 2016

Review | Never Seduce a Scot by Maya Banks

Review | Never Seduce a Scot by Maya BanksNever Seduce a Scot by Maya Banks
Series: The Montgomerys and Armstrongs, #1
Publisher: Ballantine Books, September 2012
Pages: 372
Format: Ebook
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Eveline Armstrong is fiercely loved and protected by her powerful clan, but outsiders consider her “touched.” Beautiful, fey, with a level, intent gaze, she doesn’t speak. No one, not even her family, knows that she cannot hear. Content with her life of seclusion, Eveline has taught herself to read lips and allows the outside world to view her as daft. But when an arranged marriage into a rival clan makes Graeme Montgomery her husband, Eveline accepts her duty—unprepared for the delights to come. Graeme is a rugged warrior with a voice so deep and powerful that his new bride can hear it, and hands and kisses so tender and skilled that he stirs her deepest passions.
Graeme is intrigued by the mysterious Eveline, whose silent lips are ripe with temptation and whose bright, intelligent eyes can see into his soul. As intimacy deepens, he learns her secret. But when clan rivalries and dark deeds threaten the wife he has only begun to cherish, the Scottish warrior will move heaven and earth to save the woman who has awakened his heart to the beautiful song of a rare and magical love.

Graeme Montgomery doesn’t want a bride, especially not one from the rival clan Armstrong rumored to be “touched”. Yet when he first meets Eveline Armstrong, he’s struck by her beauty and is soon intrigued by her kindness. What he doesn’t know is Eveline has a secret – she’s not “touched” at all. As their relationship grows, so does the clan’s anger at their laird’s marriage to an Armstrong. The rivalry soon starts to threaten their relationship and the safety of their clans, and it’s up to Graeme and Eveline to set things right.

Never Seduce a Scot was a surprisingly pleasant read. The clash of the rival clans, the drama of Eveline’s life and others’ perception of her, and the slow-simmering romance was created an interesting take on the traditional Scottish historical romance. With a little more punch and a stronger emotional pull, this would have been easily four stars.

Yet I missed the connection to the characters and their emotions. It felt like Eveline immediately adopted Graeme as her protector when he came to marry her, which didn’t quite fit the jolts of fear she experienced over marriage just a few pages before. Eveline isn’t the only one – so many characters’ emotions seemed to turn on a dime without rhyme or reason. A little support for those changes, and Never Seduce a Scot would have been in business.

The winner of this book? Eveline herself, without a doubt. I loved the depiction of a deaf heroine, and one that didn’t let others’ perception of her run her life. This kind of heroine is inspiring in any kind of story.

Even with Eveline’s powerful emotions, Never Seduce a Scot was borderline predictable. With historical romance novels, there’s a kind of pleasure in the traditional storyline, yet I wanted more from Banks. Her characters felt like they wanted to go further, push outside of the traditional cookie-cutter romance.

3 Stars

Posted May 20, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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November 9, 2015

Review | Sous Chef by Michael Gibney

Review | Sous Chef by Michael GibneySous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line by Michael Gibney
Publisher: Ballantine Books, March 2014
Pages: 240
Format: Paperback
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The back must slave to feed the belly. . . . In this urgent and unique book, chef Michael Gibney uses twenty-four hours to animate the intricate camaraderie and culinary choreography in an upscale New York restaurant kitchen. Here readers will find all the details, in rapid-fire succession, of what it takes to deliver an exceptional plate of food—the journey to excellence by way of exhaustion.
Told in second-person narrative, Sous Chef is an immersive, adrenaline-fueled run that offers a fly-on-the-wall perspective on the food service industry, allowing readers to briefly inhabit the hidden world behind the kitchen doors, in real time. This exhilarating account provides regular diners and food enthusiasts alike a detailed insider’s perspective, while offering fledgling professional cooks an honest picture of what the future holds, ultimately giving voice to the hard work and dedication around which chefs have built their careers.
In a kitchen where the highest standards are upheld and one misstep can result in disaster, Sous Chef conjures a greater appreciation for the thought, care, and focus that go into creating memorable and delicious fare. With grit, wit, and remarkable prose, Michael Gibney renders a beautiful and raw account of this demanding and sometimes overlooked profession, offering a nuanced perspective on the craft and art of food and service.

In my experience, there are three types of food books. The brilliant, the okay, and the horrible. It comes down to the strength and integrity of the narrative voice: how much do they make us believe/invest in them, their stories, and their lives? 

Michael Gibney’s Sous Chef is falls into the second category. The decision to make the entire story in second person is a brave one, and I applaud him trying to bring the reader into the world of the kitchen. It felt too disjointed and odd – I would have been more comfortable with the first person persona, seeing the based-upon-true-events day in the life through his eyes instead of his/my own. 

I became really irritated with the narrative about halfway through the book as he’s/I’m organizing the speech for the wait staff’s preservice with the kitchen. Gibney uses the phrase “You need to know” 24 times in two and a half pages (beginning on the bottom of page 67 to the very last sentence of page 69). This repetition drove me insane, draining away from Gibney’s very obvious love of food and the job. It wasn’t engaging; it was tiresome. 

The shining light is that love of food. Gibney, your second person narrator, appreciates food in a completely different realm than the majority of us. His narrative as he describes his knifes, their balances, and lull and noise of the kitchen…it’s breathtaking, but overwhelmed by the second person narration. 

Sous Chef is okay. It’s a strong book in the love of food, but the narration drops its power quite a bit. But for a quick read, it’ll do.

3 Stars

Posted November 9, 2015 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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August 28, 2015

Review | H is for Homicide by Sue Grafton

Review | H is for Homicide by Sue GraftonH is for Homicide by Sue Grafton
Series: Kinsey Millhone, #8
Publisher: Ballantine Books, June 1997
Pages: 305
Format: Paperback
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H IS FOR HUSTLER…
When PI Kinsey Millhone's good friend and colleague Parnell Perkins is found murdered in the parking lot behind California Fidelity Insurance, she can't believe he had any enemies. The only clue that raises a red flag for Kinsey is one of Parnell's files on a Bibianna Diaz, who appears to have made a lucrative career out of scamming insurance companies with phony claims…
H IS FOR HAZARDOUS…
Taking an alias, Kinsey goes undercover to befriend Bibianna, hoping she'll get close enough to catch the con artist at her own game. But Kinsey never dreams that hanging out with Bibianna will get them both thrown in jail. And when they're released, Bibianna's very jealous, very dangerous ex-fiancé Raymond Maldonado is waiting for them.
H IS FOR HOMICIDE
Kinsey soon discovers the short-tempered thug is the kingpin behind Bibianna's and countless other phony insurance claims. But was Raymond also responsible for Parnell's death? All Kinsey knows is that she'll have to think quick to nab one of the most treacherous criminals she's come face to face with―and keep herself alive…

 

It’s hard to believe that at one point, I couldn’t stand this series. I didn’t like Kinsey’s narration, and the story felt flat more often than not.

I don’t know what I was thinking.

The Kinsey Millhone series has become one of my standing must-read/compulsively-buy. The combination of Kinsey’s dry narration (maybe an acquired taste?), the strong and varied cast of characters, and the unique situations Kinsey finds herself in have me hooked. H is for Homicide lives up to this standard.

Out of the ones I’ve read so far, Kinsey’s stories have followed a particular pattern: client hires her, she does some footwork, gets in a tight spot, uncovers a conspiracy/secret of some kind, and an action sequence ends the novel. H is for Homicide throws that out the window. Kinsey heads undercover (almost by accident at first) to discover who killed Parnell, a coworker at California Fidelity and a sort-of friend. What she finds isn’t what she expected: an insurance fraud ring.

Kinsey’s decision to go undercover reveals more about her character than if she had merely interviewed Bibianna, a client in Parnell’s files suspected of insurance fraud. As she morphs into her alias, Kinsey discovers the mix of guilt and a little snarky joy she finds in breaking the law. Her little walk on the wild side does wonders for her character.

I didn’t expect to love Bibianna. To be honest, I was all set up to be irritated by her. Grafton creates a complicated girl, one torn between her heart and survival. Her spirit and strength shone through even when she thought she was at her weakest.

The highlight of H is for Homicide was Grafton’s treatment of Tourette’s. None of the characters pity or fear Raymond for the disorder – instead, they fear him for an entirely different reason. I admired that Grafton created a character with the disorder. Instead of letting it rule his character, the tics became only a part of it. It was his (terrifying) personality that stole the show.

If you haven’t tried Grafton’s series and love mystery like me, please do. I can’t recommend them enough. Kinsey’s dry narration and Grafton’s fascinating set of characters leave me stunned each time.

4 Stars

Posted August 28, 2015 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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