Category Archives: travel

Review: Death’s Last Run by Robin Spano

1st August 2013

pg1*I received this book from the publisher ECW Press in exchange for an honest review.

Clare Vengel is back again in Robin Spano’s sequel to Death Plays Poker. Now an FBI agent, Clare is called to go undercover when a U.S. Senator’s daughter dies. Though Sasha’s death is ruled a suicide, Senator Martha Westlake, also campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination, doesn’t believe her daughter killed herself. With enough clout to call in the FBI, Martha expects results but also begins doing her own digging to determine what happened.

As Clare embroils herself in the snowboarding culture of Whistler, she learns that drug running is hot business and that Sasha likely had several people who wanted her dead. She also learns that Sasha may have had other motives than drug money and counter culture.

Clare is an odd protagonist. At times, she’s incredibly childish – painting herself into corners with her boyfriend and her boss – yet she also makes it clear she’s not a child, doing things for the job that shock and anger those around her. She also doesn’t seem to be an incredible undercover agent, allowing herself to become wrapped up in the people and the place she’s assigned without keen observation or detection. But what the reader discovers each time is that Clare’s assumption of her role is exactly what makes her successful, even if it puts her in danger at times.

As always, Spano’s sharp storytelling and economical prose quickly grabbed my attention. What sets her apart even further, however, is her expert handling of multiple perspectives, exploring the quirky citizens of Whistler and their motives without judgment. She also does an excellent job of providing readers with characters we should like – Clare, Martha, Noah – who are pretty awful at times, and characters we should dislike or suspect and making them sympathetic and likable. Thus, when the denouement occurs, there’s an uneasy feeling as the reader holds his or her breath, waiting to find the identity of the culprit.

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Review: Love Me Anyway by Tiffany Hawk

11th July 2013

pg1*This book was sent to me by the publisher Thomas Dunne Books, in exchange for an honest review.

Since my first flight at age 23, I’ve fantasized about careers that would give me the means to travel for a living. Samantha Brown? I may have said a few bad things about her because I’m green with envy. Yet I never once considered being a flight attendant. Tiffany Hawk’s debut novel Love Me Anyway is a great example of why.

Emily Cavenaugh and KC Valentine meet when they begin training as flight attendants. Both seeking a different life – Emily as an escape from an abusive husband, KC looking for the father who abandoned her – they become friends, or as friendly as they can be when their schedules involve flying to different sides of the world and running into one another infrequently in the apartment they share with four other girls.

KC encourages Emily to loosen up, to really cash in on the experience of literally becoming a world traveler. But Emily falls for the wrong guy, a married flight attendant working a stringent schedule so he can spend more time with his two young daughters.

Problems don’t disappear at 35,000 feet; in fact, the hectic schedules, exhaustion, and loneliness only intensify the challenges as KC and Emily fly from San Francisco to London, London to Chicago, and everywhere else in between.

When the unimaginable occurs, and the September 11 attacks involve their sister planes, the women are grounded and forced to face the reality of who they are and where they’re from. Hawk does such a fantastic job of showing what the men and women working for airlines must have felt in the days and weeks after the attacks. The shock and grief of those moments is distilled in these characters and sharpened as many face layoffs, unable to acclimate to life on the ground.

As Emily says to her father when he picks her up, “I want to go home.” “You are home,” he says. Love Me Anyway is a surprisingly deep look at what that word entails and how finding home may not happen while surrounded by four walls and a roof overhead.

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Review: The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway

25th April 2013

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*This book was sent to me by the publisher, Dutton, in exchange for an honest review.

Julia Percy sits beside her grandfather’s deathbed, grieving his coming death and anxious about what life without him means. As an orphan whose cruel cousin Eamon will come into the family estate and title, Julia is concerned. Plus, the magic of her life, her grandfather’s ability to manipulate time, will die with him, and it saddens her.

Meanwhile, Nick Davenant is 200 years in the future and an ocean away. Having jumped just as death was imminent on the battlefield, Lord Nicholas Falcott wakes up to the knowledge that he can never go back. The Guild, a secret network of time travelers, trains him to live in his new present and gives him a new name and an ungodly amount of money to adjust.

And he’s mostly fine with that, except the dark eyes of a young woman haunt his dreams. When an edict from The Guild arrives, Nick learns that everything he’s believed about time travel is false, that he can go back – and The Guild needs him to return to his own time because there are others like him but with different, more sinister aims. Nick is hesitant to return, but he’s thrilled to reunite with his mother and sisters and the dark-eyed girl, Julia, the granddaughter of an earl who lives in the neighboring estate.

Time travel in The River of No Return is no scientific experiment. Instead, time jumpers only move within the river of time through periods of intense emotion – and most jumpers only discover their abilities on the point of death. Learning to harness that energy is Nick’s task. Julia, on the other hand, is unaware of her abilities, thinking her grandfather was the manipulator of time. As her cousin attempts to find the talisman, something he believes will give him these abilities, Julia comes to realize her grandfather was not the manipulator…she is. Her abilities far exceed those of her grandfather or The Guild, and that puts the dark-eyed Julia, the woman Nick realizes he loves, in danger.

I don’t think there’s much you can say about a book that kept you up until 3:45 a.m., but I’ll try. The story of my relationship with this book began when I told the publicist I was intrigued by the premise of a different sort of time travel novel. The relationship heightened when I opened the package and discovered an absolutely beautiful book tucked inside. I actually gasped. I knew it was true love when I didn’t eat dinner, missed the gym, and only looked up at 3:45 a.m., the book finished and tucked by my side. Even after I set it down, I thought about this book, part time travel, part Regency romance, all adventure. Now that’s a good read.

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Fridays at Home: Nate Berkus

8th March 2013

The rule in my home when it comes to decorating is this: If I don’t love it, I don’t buy it. That may mean that I live without the right piece of furniture for a while. It might even mean a wall remains black for four years (ahem). But I’m not a Kirkland’s fan. I’m not going to buy something just to buy. The result is a very “me” home. It’s certainly not to everyone’s taste, I’m sure, but I love it. The downside of all those meaningful objects? Well, all that meaning. Makes even cleaning out the closet very difficult.

Via Goodreads

Via Goodreads

When I first heard about Nate Berkus’s new book, The Things That Matter, I instantly loved the title. Then, when he was a surprise guest at the Random House Reader event during BEA last year, I was (ask Lori or Tara) ridiculously excited. Like, trembling. When they finally convinced me to go up and talk to him and take a picture, I felt like I was floating – partly because he’s Nate Berkus, and partly because when he talked about treasuring the things around him, I felt he was talking directly to me.

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I was the little girl who lay awake at night thinking about which route I would take if my house was suddenly on fire. Yes, I would get my family out, but I had my belongings strategically placed so that I could stuff them in my pillowcase and run. The only thing that worried me was my dollhouse. How to lug that sucker out the window?

(In answer to your unasked question, I actually did have a stomach ulcer in high school. Stress related.)

At times I’ve felt badly about this relevance I give to my belongings. Does that make me materialistic? I knew that was not likely. I’ve never had much money and certainly haven’t been wasteful. And here was Nate Berkus, a true force in the design world, telling me that a home should reflect its owner, not the decorator. As silly as it may sound, that was powerful for me.

My sister bought me Things That Matter for Christmas, and I waited until a quiet evening to pore over it. It was unexpectedly delightful. Not that I didn’t think it would be good, but as most coffee table books go, I thought it would be heavy on pictures, light on text. What I found, instead, was a lovely tribute to the things with which we surround ourselves. The book is broken up into its introduction, which Nate delivers and that had me tearing up within 12 pages as he discussed coming out to his family and later, the death of his partner. After the introduction, Nate focuses on the interesting, well-cultivated spaces of his friends. It ends with his own current space and his reflections on how he got to the place he calls home now.

Aside from Nate’s own story, the most poignant was Dr. Ruth Westheimer’s. The famous radio sex talk show host left her family home in Germany as a young girl, never to see her family again. She learned later, both of her parents died in the Holocaust. When she asked Nate to take a look at her place, she told him she wouldn’t get rid of anything. Challenged, he went to learn more about her and her things, and he shared some of the most meaningful pieces and how he crafted her space to highlight them. His reverence for her objects and her memories was touching and lovely.

At the same time, Nate also touches on the beauty of editing, and this is the heart of good design, in my opinion. Editing a room is also the reason I never feel fully pleased with a space. It’s never quite right, but as insane as that sounds, the tweaking is part of the enjoyment for someone like me, and as he talked about his own tweaking, I felt the joy he gets from crafting his house, as it’s much the same as my own joy. To physically be able to touch and move my grandmother’s sofa, to glance over at my other grandmother’s typewriter or my aunt’s paintings, books from a particular trip – these are all important to me.

The things that matter. For you, it might be something seemingly insignificant. But there is a beauty there, regardless.

If you love design or things, I’d highly recommend The Things That Matter.

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Review: Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles by Ron Currie, Jr. & Giveaway

5th March 2013

Via Goodreads

Via Goodreads

*This book was sent to me by the publisher, The Viking Press, in exchange for an honest review.

It’s important that you understand, from the very outset, here, that everything I’m about to tell you is capital-T True. Or at least that I will not deliberately engage in any lies, of either substance or omission, in talking with you here today.

The truth is that just like Huck Finn, who also mostly tries to tell the capital-T Truth, Ron Currie (the character, that is, not the author) is on a journey. Yes, we’re all on a journey, but Ron is on a journey unlike the philosophical or figurative one most of us understand is our life. First to the Caribbean and later to parts unknown, Ron is escaping part of himself and seeking another. The woman he has loved and loves now is beyond his reach. He drinks himself and fights himself into oblivion. His father has died of cancer. It’s the processing of these losses that leaves him breathless while he waxes on about the Singularity, when machines will become sentient, seeming in some instances to welcome it as a way to be free of pain but in others, to stand in awe of the capability of the world we’ve created:

That the machines will see us as a threat requiring elimination seems unlikely to me. My guess is they’ll be fairly benevolent, even indulgent toward us, as a gifted child toward a beloved, enfeebled grandfather. They will have nothing to do with our demise, at least not directly. We will die by increments, as does anything that finds itself completely bereft of purpose. We will die, slowly, of shame.

Odd though these interjections may first appear, they’re actually poignant and apt as Currie slowly reveals himself to the reader. He’s painfully self aware, vacillating between the Singularity to the realism of his life, particularly when it comes to his father:

Or, if you insist on a natty conclusion, how about this one: my father got sick and died and that was it. Nothing followed but silence. No insight or revelation, no evidence of anything beyond that last breath. We paid someone we did not know to transform him from a man full of love and hate and fear into three pounds of ash, which is just about as neat and tidy as it gets, if you like neat and tidy so much.

It has seemed, since then, as though he never existed.

In what is one of the most fascinating and addictive books I’ve read in a while, Currie conjures Ginsberg and Ralph Ellison, writing a novel that is part poetry, part bildungsroman, and all human experience. Though I hesitate to describe Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles as poetry, it is at once poetic and experimental in its reach, and it succeeds without feeling blatantly poetic or experimental. That’s a roundabout way of saying you should read it and not be scared off by its quirks.

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Viking Books has generously offered a copy to one of The Picky Girl’s readers. Leave a comment below by March 11, 2013 at midnight CST, and I’ll draw a winner at random by Tuesday, March 12! [Restricted to U.S. residents.]