Tag Archives: NetGalley

Death Plays Poker by Robin Spano

26th September 2011

*I received this book through NetGalley, courtesy of ECW Press. Preview the first three chapters here. Buy it from IndieBound here.

Clare is back in her second undercover assignment, playing poker on the Canadian tour. Someone is cheating at cards, and The Dealer, as he or she calls him or herself, wants to be in control of the tables, all of them. Poker players are getting strangled, and after the last undercover agent is killed, Clare is put in the game as a trust-fund princess, eager to show daddy poker can be gainful employment. But blingy sweatpants, $200 sunglasses, and hot pink everything is not exactly Clare’s style. She’s much more comfortable with greasy hands and repairing her bike than shopping and wearing heels. Can she jump into the role while still maintaining who she is and manage to find out why these players are being dealt such bad hands?

First of all, may I just say I think this is a brilliant cover? I love the retro look of it, but also, look at all the detail. Love. It. Death Plays Poker is a sequel to Dead Politicians Society, which I reviewed at the start of the year. In that book, Clare sort of stumbles around and somehow manages to pinpoint the killer. She’s learned a bit at the start of this book but not much.

In this installment, she’s belligerent and defiant toward her handler, when she claims to want to be so great at her job. Plus, she makes such rookie mistakes that I began to get irritated with her, until I remember she’s very young, early 20s in fact. She gets emotionally involved quickly, though she appears rough and tumble, and she’s very much in need of a handler who can instruct without preaching.

The other characters are straight off World Poker Tour, those interminable shows on ESPN, and I loved Spano’s depiction of the “tells” and theatrics that go into the poker persona. These people spend a good bit of time with one another at the tables and on tour. In a sense, Spano presents them as family, albeit an incestuous, extremely volatile one. It isn’t such a leap, then, to watch them play stop after stop even after a murder is committed. The game is an unforgiving matriarch, bringing them all back to face each other again and again.

This is a great rainy-day read, not too scary, but it’s no Agatha Raisin either. Clare can hold her own and reminds me a bit of Lily Bard, Charlaine Harris’s hard-ass creation.

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier

5th September 2011

Transcript: This is the story of Peter Nimble. A small, blind, friendless orphan who also happens to be the greatest thief who ever lived. One day Peter steals a mysterious treasure that sets him on a journey beyond farthest seas, across endless deserts to a lost kingdom in need of a hero, in an adventure that can only be called … fantastic.

I normally am not a huge fan of book trailers, but this one is just about perfect and so descriptive. This book popped up on my radar after I saw a great review on The Book Smugglers blog, and I was intrigued. I don’t usually read a lot of middle grade, but my curiosity was piqued by this line in the book:

There is an old saying about how easy it is to ‘take candy from a baby.’ This saying is utterly false; anyone who has tried to take anything from a baby knows well what sort of crying, kicking, and general commotion will ensue. It is very easy, however, for babies to take things from us.

And Peter does steal, first to survive and then because he is under the control of a greedy crook, which of course, the humorous narrator (reminiscent of Rocky & Bullwinkle narrator Mr. Know-It-All) explains to us all the while. Once Peter embarks on his quest to find the Vanished Kingdom with Sir Tode, the cursed half-cat, half-horse, the true adventure begins, and I have to say, I was on board the whole way.

*Slight spoiler (but nothing you probably couldn’t guess)*

I knew, as soon as I saw the premise, that there would be a possibility Peter would get his sight back. I mean, this is a fairy tale, after all. However, I had a big problem with that. I love the idea that Peter is the best thief in the world and that he does it all sightless. BUT – you guys know I love my huge “but” – there is still a sacrifice that I won’t give away. Suffice it to say, in my mind, it still worked. Peter isn’t magically 100% “whole,” for lack of a better word.

*End Spoiler*

This is the type of book that instantly brings me back to the great stories of my youth. In the summertime, my mom and dad would read stories chapter by chapter to my brother, sister, and I. Peter Nimble would have fit right in with his fantastic eyes. Plus, the book is just as fun as an adult. The bad guys aren’t dealt with nicely, but the violence is tempered with lessons and irony. Plus, it’s just so darn fun. I loved Peter and Sir Tode. I really loved the narrator. It was funny and sweet and smart and tense. What more can you ask for in a book?

Read this: and suspend all disbelief for a few hours. Feel like a kid again. Or read it to a kid. Even better. 😉

P.S. I got this book from the publisher through NetGalley. You can order this book from Indiebound. Thanks to the publisher Abrams and the imprint Amulet Books.

Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day by Ben Loory

16th August 2011

*I received this book through NetGalley, courtesy of the publisher Penguin Group USA. Isn’t that an incredible cover?


Once there was a man who was afraid of his shadow.

Then he met it.

Now he glows in the dark.

Ben Loory’s Stories for the Nighttime and Some for the Day is the kind of book that is deceptively simplistic. The short short story above is just that, a three-sentence story. Its meaning? That’s a whole other matter. For each of the 40 stories in this collection, there is no neat “moral of the story.” These are grown-up fables, maximizing the complicated weirdness of life in general.

There is a Twilight Zone quality to them (in fact, Loory mentions this in an interview on Poof Books), lending them an unreality while also burning the irony and the bizarre into your mind: a walking tree who is gated to showcase its abilities, only to have the tree’s roots dig so deeply it cannot move. A house on a cliff that yearns to be friendly with the sea rushing past it. A man who turns on his TV only to watch his own life being played out – a life he is no longer really living. An octopus who lives on land but misses his family.

Stories for the Nighttime and Some for the Day is ethereal in the telling but gritty in the details – the symmetry and cruelty of nature is a strong theme, as is the futility of fighting against it. These are not bedtimes stories to read to your child (not that they are intended to be), but I did find them to be calming and structurally interesting, and I read a few before bed each night last week.

One of my favorite moments in the book is the one I’ll leave you with today, the ending of “The House on the Cliff and the Sea”:

And now, today, the two are together. They wander the world as one. They eat cakes and scones and lots of fish, and every now and then some coconuts.

The sea doesn’t care much for the land anymore, but sometimes they drift on by. And the house smiles and waves at its friends on the shore, and then they drift some more.

At night, the sea lies there and listens to the house creaking gently as it floats, and tries to remember that it now has a new name.

A house on the sea is a boat.

Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman

2nd August 2011

*I received this book from Harper Perennial through NetGalley in May. I have been not-so-patiently waiting to tell you all about it. Big thanks to Beth Fish Reads, whose blog introduced me to the book. Preorder at Indiebound so you can get the book NEXT TUESDAY!

Every once in a while, I happen across a book so good and so funny I immediately want to buy 10 copies and hand them out to anyone and everyone. Why only every once in a while? To be honest, humor in writing is not easy. Often, comedy is hit or miss. A book might garner a laugh or two from me, but I’ve only been known on two occasions to laugh out loud multiple times during a plane ride. David Sedaris is responsible for making a good friend and my sister steer clear from me on a layover because they were humiliated by my LOL-ing all over the place. Matthew Norman is responsible for the second occasion. Thankfully, I was traveling solo and could have cared less what my snoring, iPod-listening seatmates thought of me.

Domestic Violets (which, I’m sorry, has one of the best covers I’ve seen in a while) is the story of the Violet family. Tom Violet is a man with a problem. Actually, he’s a man with a couple problems. His wife wants a second child, and he cannot quite…ahem…rise to the occasion. Curtis Violet, Tom’s dad, is a famous writer who has just won the Prize (Pulitzer, that is) and been chucked out on his rear by his most recent, and very young, wife. On top of it all, the recession has just hit, and living in D.C., Tom is on tenterhooks, waiting to see how long he will be able to keep a job none really likes all that much, while secretly writing a novel he’s a bit terrified to publish.

What’s it really about? Well, all that stuff I just said, but to break it down: It’s really about a man who hates his job, loves his wife and family, but who isn’t quite sure how to get out of the miserable place in which he finds himself. Domestic Violets is also about how sometimes in life, when the worst happens, it leaves behind it room for the life we always wanted, except not as cheesy as that last line made it sound.

If you are on Twitter, or if you’ve picked up my subtle hints on the blog, you know I loved this book. I mean, I really loved this book. It’s funny (did I mention that already?), it’s endearing, but most of all, it’s just realistic, and I think because of the writer/family realationships, there were moments that reminded me both of The Human Stain by Philip Roth and The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. Not in a gimmicky, Norman-is-copying-other-authors sort of way, but in a hey-this-guy-is-a-damn-good-writer kind of way.

Want an example of the humor? Tom Violet sends his daughter to bed and tells her to go to sleep…

I can see by her expression that she’ll do whatever she damn well pleases until she hears me coming up the stairs. By now she’s old enough to know that we’re not going to beat her, so she’s pretty much got the run of the place.

So preorder it. And then come back here so we can talk about it. Because I gave my brother my signed copy I got at BEA (to share the love), and the little punk hasn’t read it yet. He keeps giving excuses like he started a new job and moved and stuff. Whatever.

This book will:

-make you laugh out loud. warning: drinking while reading may cause said beverage to fly from your nostrils.


Other reviews:

Beth Fish Reads

The Book Garden (who also compares humor to Sedaris)

Leeswammes’ Blog (who also compares it to Franzen!)


Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman

7th June 2011

*You can preorder this book from Indiebound. Pub date is 07/19/11.

Stephen Kelman’s Pigeon English is about Harry Opoku, an 11-year-old boy living on a housing estate in London. Harri, his mother, and sister, have emigrated from Ghana, leaving behind his father, baby sister Agnes, and grandmother. Harri misses them and befriends an itinerant pigeon, talking to him as he might write in a journal.

Harri has more than a typical 11-year-old’s problems to write or talk about: an older boy is murdered near Harri’s house, and he caught a glimpse of the hooded murderer. Narrating his own story with “It felt crazy” or “It was hutious” and “It’s brutal,” Harri, in one breath, talks about the murder outside Chicken Joe’s and then moves on to describing where he lives, Poppy – the girl he likes, how fast his tennis shoes make him run, then flitting back to the murder. He and his best friend Dean start hunting for the killer, using sellotape to get fingerprints and digging in the mud near the river for the murder weapon. Dean tells Harri he saw how to investigate crime on Law & Order.

These boys, though, aren’t playing ‘cops and robbers’. The estate is full of questionable characters – Terry Takeaway, the alcoholic vagrant walking his pit bull Asbo, and X-Fire and Killa, both gang members. Gang activity is common and is a very real threat to any young man on the estate, and these criminals are hell bent on staying out of jail. Harri, in his innocence, crosses them too many times.

What I didn’t love: and what I thought was a really odd choice in terms of the writing, were the moments when the pigeon had a paragraph at the beginning of the chapter, talking back to Harri. It brought the action of the novel to a halt and imposed an unnatural, and to me, unnecessary, voice to the book. In fact, it felt (similarly to Little Bee) preachy. And I don’t like that.

What I loved: Harri enchanted me – 100%. I loved his voice. I loved his innocence and his gritty depiction of his reality, and how he didn’t always understand how the two collided.

In fact, I’d say Spelman has done an excellent job of writing in an 11-year-old, disadvantaged boy’s voice without making a sentimental novel. Harri’s observations were often hilarious – he likes to “see the chief” after his mom cleans the toilet with Bleach, so he can “piss on a cloud.” Isn’t that so 11-year-old boy-ish? Yes, there is harshness and death and fear in this story, but it never overwhelmed the truth and fun in Harri’s telling.

Has anyone heard of or read this book? I’d love your thoughts on it.

jenn aka the picky girl

* I read this ebook courtesy of the publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and NetGalley.

** I didn’t find any blog reviews of this book. If you’ve reviewed it, let me know, and I’ll add your link.