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review 2018-06-12 04:31
Eleven Hours by Paullina Simons
Eleven Hours - Paullina Simons

Didi Wood, eight and a half months pregnant with her third child, heads to a mall to get out of the oppressive Dallas heat and get some shopping done. She is supposed to meet her husband for lunch at one o'clock. By 1:45, she still isn't there-she's riding down the highway at breakneck speed with a madman at the wheel. His name is Lyle, and he has abducted her from a department store parking lot. But why he's done this, and what he wants, are anyone's guess. Now the police and the FBI have to somehow track him down. And a very pregnant Didi must keep herself and her unborn child alive at any price-even as they ride closer and closer into the darkest chamber of a psychopath's mind...

Amazon.com

 

 

 

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This novel describes scenes of GRAPHIC sexual assault.

 

Desdemonda "Didi" Woods, nine months pregnant, is abducted while shopping at a Dallas mall. While the abductor takes her across the flatlands of Texas, Didi's husband, Rich, works with the FBI to try to reach her in time. There are time stamps at the beginning of each chapter, so the reader can keep track of how much time is passing.. but spoiler! the whole thing takes 11 hours. ;-)

 

So now that you know the general premise, let's dive into all the cringey, facepalm potholes in the sloppy writing here!

 

First off, this novel was originally published in 1998, so it understandably, laughably reads VERY 90s now. There's a lot of time (pages) spent on Didi's shopping spree prior to her abduction -- wracking up $200 at Estee Lauder, moving on to FAO Schwarz, Coach, I even had a big hit of nostalgia when she has a walk through a Warner Bros. store... 'memba them! But something about this shopping also put me off about Didi as a character in general when she mentions that her child had requested a set of wooden blocks... that's it, just some blocks... but Didi wore herself out so much buying bags of stuff for HERSELF that she couldn't be bothered to try to find the blocks at the end of the day.

 

Though it's not really noted anywhere in the synopsis, once you get into the meat of this story, there is a noticeable Christian Fiction lean to the tone, which only gets progressively stronger as the plot moves along. Even Rich's job in the story is "national sales manager for a religious publisher based in Dallas." To be honest, the heavy-handed preachy tone laid over the suspense just got tiresome. But weirdly, on the flip side, there's also a strong dose of profanity and crudeness to the material here.

 

The kidnapper character is mildly disturbing but only shows minimal physical violence for most of the story. It's mostly just bursts of verbal abuse. It's likely that you've read much worse characters in more recent crime novels. One scene that was really bothersome though was when Didi is searching for something in her purse or on her person that she could possibly make into a weapon later, "anything that might help" as she says... but chucks a paperclip at the bottom of her bag. Pages later, her tormentor makes a lewd comment toward her and it's written, "she wished she had something sharp and ragged in her hands at that moment"... oh, what? like a paperclip maybe??!

 

Then there's the super team of Rich and the FBI. If you watch the time stamps on the chapter headers, Didi is abducted at 1:30pm. By 4:15 SAME DAY, the police are already saying "it doesn't look good." Wow. Just throwing in the towel then, boys? Later, when Rich is conversing with Scott, one of the FBI agents, Rich pleads, "Tell me it's going to all be okay." When Scott does, Rich snaps back, "You're lying." Here, with this crew, lies Didi's hope at being saved. Precious time being wasted with this BS back and forth.

 

Just in general, the writing is not stellar. One line that actually had me laugh out loud at how terribly lazy it was: Didi purchasing Sun Ripened Raspberry lotion from Bath & Body Works, which... keep up now... "smelled berryish". This is the same author who went on to write the pretty successful Bronze Horseman trilogy. We all gotta start somewhere, I guess.

 

I'll end on a positive though. There was a conversation near the end between Didi and her abductor where he reveals why he did what he did. Not saying it made the guy innocent, but it did have me feeling a moment of honest pity for him. Around these chapters were also some moments of honest suspense that I wished would've been consistently present throughout the rest of the novel.

 

Note to readers: This novel contains spoilers for William Shakespeare's Othello and Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities.

 

______________


EXTRAS

 

* In her dedication, Simons notes that this, her 3rd published novel, was dedicated to her 3rd child. She also mentions that the book was made possible (possibly inspired?) by her husband taking a job as editorial director for Wishbone Books, which required the entire family to relocate to Texas.

 

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review 2018-06-11 17:17
Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas
Dangerous Girls - Abby McDonald,Abigail Haas

It’s Spring Break of senior year. Anna, her boyfriend Tate, her best friend Elise, and a few other close friends are off to a debaucherous trip to Aruba that promises to be the time of their lives. But when Elise is found brutally murdered, Anna finds herself trapped in a country not her own, fighting against vile and contemptuous accusations. As Anna sets out to find her friend’s killer, she discovers harsh revelations about her friendships, the slippery nature of truth, and the ache of young love. Awaiting the judge’s decree, it becomes clear to Anna that everyone around her thinks she is not only guilty, but also dangerous. And when the whole story comes out, reality is more shocking than anyone could ever imagine...

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

A group of Boston teenagers travel to the island of Aruba for their senior year Spring Break. Included in this group are best friends Anna and Elise. When Elise's body is found murdered in her hotel room, stabbed a gruesome thirteen times, Anna quickly becomes the #1 suspect in the investigation. But Anna vehemently pleads innocence, and the story becomes her fight to regain her good name and freedom as she sits in an Aruban correctional facility, awaiting the murder trial.

 

While it is not revealed or directly referenced anywhere within the novel itself or Haas' author afterword, a reader can't help but feel that this story had to be at least a little bit inspired by the true crime Natalee Holloway case. There are just too many similarities.

 

* Young teens on Spring Break choose Aruba as their destination

* Victim Elise, first night on the island, begins flirting with young 20something hot guy in a club whose overall look, it's pointed out, just screams money. But her friends warn her that they get a bad vibe off him, not to go off alone with him.

 

That's just early on in the book. Then there's the media spin illustrated in the story. One brief moment of Anna's boyfriend saying something lighthearted to her to distract her from her emotional pain even for a second, and her momentary smile is snapped by a paparrazzi photographer and splashed across all sorts of media sources with the angle that Anna appears disturbing heartless, considering the circumstances -- "unconcerned, unfeeling", "sickening lack of empathy", "sociopathic", etc. One by one, as the story picks up more and more media coverage, Anna's friends begin to turn on her in the interest of fame.

 

Now, while this particular element is original to Haas' imagination, she does write in the character of Clara Rose, a court case analyst with a tv news show recognizably similar in style to Nancy Grace. Clara Rose is even described as having a blonde bobbed hairstyle and a southern accent, y'all.

 

The show cuts to commercial again. This time, every woman in the room is staring at me.

I try to remind myself how to breathe.

I knew it was bad out there. Even locked up, I've seen glimpses of newspapers and TV news. It wasn't as if I thought everyone would be lined up, protesting my innocence, but still, Clara's show takes my breath away. I thought it would be more...balanced. Isn't that what the news is supposed to do? Present both sides of the story, fairly, not jump to conclusions based on leaked information and biased statements? We're still months away from the trial; even Ellingham swore they didn't have enough evidence to convict, so where's the support? Some kind of outcry about my arrest? Instead, they showed nothing on my side -- no mention of Juan, or Tate's lies and cheating, the balcony issue, or all the problems with the crime scene -- nothing, not one hint that I might  be innocent in all this. They assume I'm guilty and they can't wait to see me burn.

"Killer."

 

But as I said, even with the similarities, there are aspects of this story that are uniquely Haas' creation, particularly when it comes to the ending of this novel. While I wasn't always glued to the page, Haas successfully keeps the suspense going enough that I was most definitely invested in seeing how things turned out. She incorporates an interesting cast of shady characters and casts enough doubt on everyone that you just have to see where all the twistedness concludes!

 

Looking back now, I see how naive we all were. I stepped into that courtroom believing I'd have a fair shot -- a chance to state my case and be heard, the way you're supposed to. But the real truth is, it's all a performance. The trial is no different from the Clara Rose Show, in its way, only instead of a film studio with lights and cameras, we have the courtroom as our stage. The lawyers and witnesses are all actors; the judge is our audience, and whoever can sell their version of the script -- make you believe it, whether it's fact or fiction -- they're the one who wins. It's that simple. Evidence is just a prop; you can ignore it and look the other way, and even the script doesn't matter when some supporting actor can improvise their scenes and steal the whole show.

 

Anna's story also brings up a good point: that if enough digging were done in virtually anyone's life, we could ALL be made to look guilty of something if enough spin were put on it. For example, one of the points the prosecution team brings out is Anna having lyrics from a Florence & The Machine song scrawled on a school binder, lyrics that they claim clearly illustrate her mental instability.

 

Those are somebody else's words that I scrawled on my notebook during a boring class, and now he's holding them up as some kind of proof of my "violent urges". Why doesn't he go further, and pull up my DVR records and all the horror movies I used to watch, curled tightly against Tate on the living room couch? Why not go through my bookcase for every crime novel he can find?

Wouldn't we all look guilty, if someone searched hard enough?

 

 

As it turns out, the song they reference is actually one of my FATM songs (mainly because it has a cool, unique rhythm to it) so it gave me, as the reader, a jerked back reaction of Whoah, what might I be judged on, what innocuous things about my life or interests could be spun into something incriminating. It does make you pause and wonder!

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review 2018-04-08 05:49
Red Sonja by Amy Chu
Red Sonja Vol. 4 #0 - Amy Chu,Carlos Gomez

The barbarian She-Devil with a Sword faces a whole different world and challenges in this new adventure written by Amy Chu and drawn by Carlos Gomez. Somewhere deep underground, strange and powerful demons clad in metal armor attack and roust Red Sonja from a deep magical sleep. Confused and weaponless, she must find a way to defeat these mysterious creatures, escape from her solitary prison, and make her way to the surface to discover where she is, and why she was put there...

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Illustrations by Carlos Gomez

Coloring by Mohan

Cover Art by Nick Bradshaw

 

 

Once again, I'm sampling another version of the Red Sonja story. In this one, author Amy Chu places our heroine in more modern times, facing a world full of technology she struggles to understand. 

 

Can't say I enjoyed this one quite as much as Michael Oeming's work. All the classic traits of the character are still honored here, but in Chu's version it feels like overkill. Nearly every panel here seems to put the perspective emphasis on Sonja's lady bits more than the storyline at hand. I'm not necessarily bothered by Sonja being scantily clad, but do we need SO many panels of her derriere photobombing the scenes? I do like to have SOME villain backstory.

 

Coming off of Oeming's lush version, the artwork in this sampling also struck me as more cartoonish in style, the dialogue a bit more cringe inducing. I appreciate wanting to have humor worked into the character, but here it veered a little too far into cheeze-fest for me, sometimes bringing to mind old TMNT (the original one) episodes.. only not as good with the laugh-facepalm blend. As a whole, the story here had its fun elements... I just find myself not really in a rush to continue with this line in Sonja's story. 

 

The kindle edition features "exclusive digital content", which pretty much amounts to a collection of un-colored versions of some of the panels you see earlier in the book, as well as a few examples of illustrator Carlos Gomez's sketches laying out ideas for the Sonja character -- costume details, different versions of facial characteristics, that kind of thing. 

 

 

 

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review 2018-04-08 05:14
Red Sonja: She-Devil With a Sword #0 (Graphic Novel) By Michael Oeming & Mike Carey
Red Sonja: She-Devil With a Sword #0 - Michael Oeming,Mike Carey,Mel Rubi,Caesar Rodriguez,Richard Isanove

 

 

Writers: Michael Oeming & Mike Carey
Art: Mel Rubi
Coloring: Caesar Rodriguez & Richard Isanove
Cover Art: Greg Land; Inking: Matt Ryan, Cover Coloring: Jason Keith

 

 

This is a 17 page prequel to Oeming's rendition (a 50 issue series) of the epic Red Sonja tale. This first offering is told from the POV of Jessa, a bartender who tries to get Red Sonja drunk so she can steal Sonja's blade. Fighting and hell-fury ensues.

 

I've enjoyed the Red Sonja story in its various forms since my childhood. Being a (natural) redhead myself, it was cool to have such a strong, bold fellow red to look up to! Hardcore feminists in this modern age might not love Sonja as she is typically portrayed, with overflowing lady bits and ridiculously useless chainmail bikini... as a woman, let me say, either take this for what it is and have fun with it or don't read it. I find the chain bikini hilarious the same way I laugh my way through the old movie adaptation that was done back in the 80s (I think.. maybe the 70s), where Bridgette Nielsen had to wear equally ridiculous outfits. I love it all. It's campy at times, laughably stupid in some scenes, but there are also moments where you can't help but cheer for Sonja's undeniable fierceness.

 

Oeming's version here offers gorgeous color work as well as prose that just oozes that legend feel. The reader, even if only briefly, gets the chance to escape into something with a true sense of epic-ness and just downright FUN. I thought this was a blast to read and look forward to trying out the rest in the series.

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review 2017-09-19 09:42
Portrait of Vengeance (Gwen Marcey #4) by Carrie Stuart Parks
Portrait of Vengeance (A Gwen Marcey Novel) - Carrie Stuart Parks

Gwen Marcey has done a good job keeping the pain of her past boxed up. But as she investigates the case of a missing child in Lapwai, Idaho, details keep surfacing that are eerily similar to her childhood traumas. She doesn’t believe in coincidences. So what’s going on here? No one knows more about the impact of the past than the Nez Perce people of Lapwai. Gwen finds herself an unwelcome visitor to some, making her investigation even more difficult. The questions keep piling up, but answers are slow in coming—and the clock is ticking for a missing little girl. Meanwhile, Gwen’s ex-husband is threatening to take sole custody of their daughter. As Gwen’s past and present collide, she’s in a desperate race for the truth. Because only truth will ensure she still has a future.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Let me start off by saying that if you haven't read any of the previous Gwen Marcey stories, I'd recommend checking out the earlier books with this particular series. While the cases themselves could technically make for stand-alone works, there are characters and certain details of Gwen's life that are carried through all the books. 

 

In this fourth installment in the series, forensic artist Gwen Marcey is investigating the murders of a married couple within the Nez Perce tribe (Lapwai community) as well as the whereabouts of the victims' missing (presumed kidnapped) young daughter. Some of the particulars of the case, as far as clues at the scene and specifics regarding the profiling of the killer, appear to echo traumatic events from Gwen's own childhood. As the case / plot progresses, Gwen becomes more and more convinced that finding the answers within this present case will, in turn, answer questions about her own traumas that have plagued her for years.

 

The journey to the truth proves to be a solidly uphill battle, as Gwen finds that many of the key witnesses she is relying on for information have deep-seated prejudices against Caucasian people. In what's now become a signature mixture within this series as a whole, author Carrie Stuart Parks creates her characters and environments by bringing forth a compelling blend of historical fact, details / inspiration from actual true crime cases, and occasionally details from cases Parks herself worked during her own years as a forensic artist. While working within the Nez Perce tribal lands, our protagonist Gwen gets a crash course in the history of such traumatic events as Wounded Knee / Pine Ridge, as well as the development of AIM (the American Indian Movement). It takes little time for Gwen to see that she will need to tread lightly when working with the descendants of people involved in these painful moments within Native history. Though the years have passed, the hurt has hardly diminished. 

 

Having followed this series from the beginning, I couldn't help but laugh and shake my head to find 8 pages into this latest book that Gwen is STILL having fights & custody battles with her ex-husband. I couldn't help but think "it's been four books now, that kid can't have too much high school left for this argument to be relevant much longer.." I feel for Gwen there. On the happier side though, I'm loving that the stories within this series seem to be quietly steering toward a "Gwen & Beth Investigate" kind of trend. Beth has a bigger role in this book than in some of the previous ones. She's such a hoot, I love to see her getting more of the spotlight! Keep your dictionary nearby though. Beth loves her some "word of the day" usage and Parks works in some words that definitely had me feel like I was back in SAT prep days! 

 

The true star for me though has to be Winston, Gwen's Great Pyrenees dog. While Parks always gave him quite the humorously entertaining dog personality, he, like Beth, was more in the background in much of the previous books. In Portrait of Vengeance however, Winston gets solid book "screen" time, scenes that will make dog lovers cheer at the protectiveness of pups over their humans. Go ahead, hug your own pooch after this one. :-)

 

So far, the very first book in the series, A Cry In The Dust, still proves to be my very favorite. But this one is now in a close second. This book proved to be slightly more gruesome in parts than its predecessors -- in one scene, Gwen likens a crime scene to a Jackson Pollack painting. Yeaaah, I'll just let you art fans visualize that one. But if you're not scared off by a little edge, Parks yet again gives the reader one fun ride full of twists and turns that have you wondering who in this story is to be trusted! 

 

It was neat to read in Parks' acknowledgements that she wrote this story (at least in part) while participating in a writing retreat at author Colleen Coble's home. She further notes author Frank Peretti as a mentor in the process of developing this series as well. For fellow fans of Gwen's investigations: when asked whether a 5th book was in the works, Parks answered (via Goodreads):

 

"As of now, book 5 will be a stand-alone about an artist (caught up in a case) in Kodiak Island, Alaska. My publisher wanted me to take a break from Gwen. You'll be meeting Murphy."

 

 

I, for one, am looking forward to meeting this Murphy fella! 

 

 

FTC Disclaimer: BookLookBloggers kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book with a request that I might check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

 

------------------------

ICYMI -- My reviews for the previous books in the series:

 

#1 A Cry In The Dust

#2 The Bones Will Speak

#3 When Death Draws Near

 

* Gwen Marcey also makes a cross-over appearance in Colleen Coble's Mermaid Moon AND Twilight At Blueberry Barrens

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