Nicole Reads A Lot

so many books, so little time

Invisible City by Julia Dahl

Title:Invisible City
Author:Julia Dahl
PublisherMinotaur Books
Publication Date:May 6, 2014
Publisher's DescriptionJust months after Rebekah Roberts was born, her mother, an Hasidic Jew from Brooklyn, abandoned her Christian boyfriend and newborn baby to return to her religion. Neither Rebekah nor her father have heard from her since. Now a recent college graduate, Rebekah has moved to New York City to follow her dream of becoming a big-city reporter. But she’s also drawn to the idea of being closer to her mother, who might still be living in the Hasidic community in Brooklyn.

Then Rebekah is called to cover the story of a murdered Hasidic woman. Rebekah’s shocked to learn that, because of the NYPD’s habit of kowtowing to the powerful ultra-Orthodox community, not only will the woman be buried without an autopsy, her killer may get away with murder. Rebekah can’t let the story end there. But getting to the truth won’t be easy—even as she immerses herself in the cloistered world where her mother grew up, it's clear that she's not welcome, and everyone she meets has a secret to keep from an outsider.

In her riveting debut Invisible City, journalist Julia Dahl introduces a compelling new character in search of the truth about a murder and an understanding of her own heritage.
My rating:****


What happens when the stranger in the strange land isn’t exactly a stranger? In Invisible City by Julia Dahl, Rebekah finds herself navigating a lot of new waters at one time: journalism, New York City, and the Hasidic population of Brooklyn. When Rebekah’s barely-understood Jewish heritage unexpectedly gives her an in, she fakes her way through knowing more than she really does to keep the information coming. Along the way she makes some mistakes, uncovers details about the crime that would have been impossible for any other reporter to get, and tumbles headlong into a world that barely makes any sense to her.

Rebekah is smart and determined, and the missteps that she makes could be the result either of her youth or of entering into an insular world that she wasn’t raised to understand. At times she reminded me of Tess Monaghan, both because of her dual Christian-Jewish heritage, and also because of her attempt to break into journalism at a time when the newspaper business is tougher than ever. I liked this book a lot, and would definitely read the next Rebekah Roberts outing; the revelation at the end of the book makes me want to know more about Rebekah’s family. I love it when an author can leave me wanting more, without using an abrupt cliffhanger to achieve this effect.

I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Bias Cut by Morgan Richter

Title:Bias Cut
Author:Morgan Richter
PublisherLuft Books
Publication Date:September 2012
Publisher's DescriptionBurned out and bitter after a string of disappointments, Nicola Strozyk takes a short-term gig assisting Laurie Sparks, the design world’s reigning enfant terrible. Barely in his twenties, Laurie has built himself an empire that encompasses a chic Manhattan boutique and a role on an obnoxious reality series. Part worldly sophisticate and part cheerful scatterbrain, Laurie is beautiful and extravagant; at nearly twice his age, Nicola is jaded and resolutely unglamorous. As Laurie’s burgeoning fame threatens to overwhelm him, Nicola finds herself struggling to keep him on solid ground.

When Laurie becomes obsessed with tracking down the designer of a mysterious coat, he drags Nicola along on a champagne-fueled quest that takes them from the New York catwalks to glittery Hollywood parties and swanky suites in Paris hotels. What begins as a lark takes an ominous turn when they uncover a decades-old mystery involving the murders of two young models. Along the way, the odd-couple camaraderie between Nicola and Laurie evolves into a fierce bond, which is put to the test when she must protect him from a pair of deadly threats: a mercurial fellow designer hell-bent on burying a dark secret, and an obsessive killer who has fixed his sights on Laurie.
My rating:****

bcI got this book when it was free on Amazon, but after the first twenty pages, I knew that I would have enjoyed it even if I’d purchased it (this is my highest praise). I really liked the relationship between Laurie and Nicola, and rooted for both of them. They each gave the other something that he or she was lacking, but not in an overly sappy way. Laurie helped Nicola feel present in her life and vital in his, while she provided him with the sort of non-maternal grounding that he desperately needed. I was drawn into the mystery in much the same way as Nicola; it wasn’t initially clear to me why Laurie cared so much about who’d designed the clothes, but seeing how things escalated upped my interest, quickly. The characters, more than the mystery, were what drew me to this story. If you’re looking for a hard hitting, multi-faceted mystery, this probably isn’t it. This book is more character-driven, and all the better for it. I would definitely read another book set in this world featuring Nicola and Laurie, and hope that we haven’t seen the last of this duo.

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Out of Turn by Tiffany Snow

Title:Out of Turn
Author:Tiffany Snow
PublisherMontlake Romance
Publication Date:December 27, 2013
Publisher's DescriptionBreaking up is hard to do, as Kathleen Turner discovers. After a falling-out with her ex, high-powered attorney Blane Kirk, she’s moving on the best she can. Unfortunately, someone from her past is set on revenge and nothing short of killing Kathleen will stop them.

Keeping his brother’s ex-girlfriend alive isn’t something new to assassin-for-hire Kade Dennon, but this time can he protect her from himself? She’s a woman he can’t convince himself to walk away from, no matter what it costs him.

Regret is a constant companion for Blane as he realizes the truth behind the lies he’s been told. Can love heal the past, or can some mistakes not be undone?

Murder reunites Blane, Kade, and Kathleen as the police put Blane in their crosshairs. Blane may lose everything unless he and Kade can find the real murderer before it’s too late. But if they can’t set aside their love for the same woman and work together, it will tear them apart.

In Out of Turn, Kathleen is caught between two warring brothers, and the consequences may be fatal.
My rating:****.5

ootI have been eagerly awaiting this fourth entry in Snow’s Kathleen Turner series, and I was not disappointed at all. I’d been waiting since I read the third book in this series for this book to come out, and Ms. Snow had a lot of expectations to live up to. I’m pleased to say that she exceeded my wildest hopes for this book. A lot of the things that bothered me about the earlier books in this series were missing here. Kathleen had greater agency; she was more of a participant in her destiny, and I felt like she commanded more respect. Of course, this could be because she spent a great deal of this book in the company of Kade, the brother who was always more likely to treat her like a capable adult. I must admit that Blane bothered me a lot in the past. He seemed at times to treat Kathleen like an ignorant appendage, and I felt that he didn’t always afford her the respect that anybody should give another rational adult. And that was before he went and accused her of cheating on him with his brother. AFTER HE’D RESCUED HER FROM SEXUAL SLAVERY. I don’t even know how he could have believed that story at all, even before you got to the part where the person who she’d supposedly cheated with was HIS BROTHER WHOM HE’D RESCUED FROM A CHILDHOOD OF NEAR-DICKENSIAN PRIVATION. I mean, really.

Who I picture when Blane talks

Alas, poor Alaric…I mean Blane

Even though Blane’s character has been consistent throughout this series, this book marks the first time that I felt more than annoyance, exasperation, or anger at him; the sense I got when reading Out of Turn was that Blane was a man living with a suffocating amount of regret over his past mistakes. I’m a big fan of the extended grovel, and in way too many romance novels,  the hero (because, let’s be real here, it’s almost always the guy) gets off way too lightly for doing something terrible to the heroine. “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” might have worked in the ’70s, but I am not on board with it at all. Thankfully, it seems that neither is Ms. Snow. Here, I got the feeling that Blane really did understand the magnitude of the mistake he made when he listened to his awful uncle, accused Kathleen of sleeping with Kade, broke the engagement, and pushed his brother out of his life. What’s more, he apologized and really meant it. Not just to get back in Kathleen’s pants, or even begrudgingly: he apologized sincerely and acknowledged the possibility that he might never be able to fix what he’d broken. Even more heartening, Kathleen (after a reasonable amount of time and soul-searching), offers him sincere forgiveness, while admitting that she may never be able to trust him again.

Team Kade

Team Kade – still, forever, some more

I still don’t connect to Blane the way I do to Kade – he’s just not my kind of guy – but I felt like I came away from this book with a greater appreciation for who he is and why Kathleen would have a difficult time choosing between him and his brother. That being said, I’m 100% on Team Kade. Obviously. I mean, I was even before I read this book, but I loved seeing Kathleen and Kade work through their relationship without having to work around Blane. Sure, he’s the elephant in the room throughout the book, as the other two try, both subtly and overtly, to explore their feelings while sparing his, but DAMN. This book basically reads like the Team Kathleen and Kade playbook.

I really appreciated how Ms. Snow was able to advance the interpersonal relationships in this story, while also moving along storylines that have been in play since book one. It was good to catch up with tertiary characters with whom the main characters had interacted in the past, and to see that events that happened in previous books still resonated with the characters in this one. To my mind, Out of Turn is the strongest book in this series yet. Although I spent a lot of time gushing over Kathleen and Kade, I really love how well the strained relationship between Kade and Blane was portrayed here. It’s easy for me to say which brother I’d pick, but I really felt how torn Kathleen was by worries about the effect that her choice would have on the other brother. The balancing at between these three characters is delicious. The whole thing works even better when I think of this novel in terms of The Vampire Diaries (when that show was still must-watch television for me): Kathleen is a smarter, more capable Elena; Kade is Damon (yum); and Blane is some weird amalgamation of Stefan and Sober Alaric.

I cannot wait for book 5.

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Grounds to Kill by Wendy Roberts

Title:Grounds to Kill
Author:Wendy Roberts
PublisherCarina Press
Publication Date:January 7, 2013
Publisher's DescriptionBarista Jen Hanby's coworkers give her a hard time for bringing coffee and pastries to a homeless man who sits outside her cafe - but she has a secret. The scruffy man is her father.

She's also hiding the little matter of why her palm itches. But how can she explain that her hand has a mind of its own and writes messages from the beyond? Right. That'll get her Employee of the Month.

When she finds herself scrawling your boyfriend is cheating on you! to herself on the bathroom mirror, she immediately dumps the guy. But then his little fling—who just happens to be her half sister—turns up dead, and suddenly Jen's homeless father is the prime suspect.

Jen knows he is being framed and must take matters into her own hands to protect him. But will anyone believe that the crazy old man is innocent? Or that his spirit-writing daughter holds the truth?
My rating:***.5


This beginning of this review is heavy on the generalities, and the section that contains spoilers is clearly marked.

This was a cute little mystery (if a book centered around a murder can be called cute). Jen was a relatable character who handled some crazy things in believable ways. I mean, if I had a terrible half-sister who I hated and who later turned up dead, I think I might respond in much the same way as Jen. She took realistic, albeit not always smart, steps to prove her innocence and that of her father. Jen’s  support network, in the form of her friends and coworker, Mitch, added depth to her character and helped move  the story along. The whodunnit element of this book was well done, but wasn’t as big of a draw for me as the interpersonal relationships. Jen’s itchy palm was a cool addition to the story, and I appreciate that it wasn’t used as a lazy way for Ms. Roberts to magically advance the plot. While I appreciate red herrings, there were loose ends in this book that detracted from my enjoyment of it. I don’t ever want to think so much about lemon muffins again in my life.

Spoilers, commence.

I really, really, really wish that there hadn’t been a romantic angle in this book; it felt shoehorned in and unnecessary. Having established Jen and Mitch’s working friendship in a very different way, it strained credulity that a woman who was planning her six-month anniversary dinner with her boyfriend in the beginning of the book could already be on her way to serious emotional investment in somebody else by the end of it. Mitch said that he felt he had to tell her right after she broke up with Arthur, before she’d moved on to somebody else, but it would have been nice if he’d given her a breather.

As initially described, Jen and Mitch’s  relationship lacked the underlying tension that would have made their new direction more believable for me. While it was clear that Jen did find Mitch attractive, I didn’t get the impression that he thought of her that way from how he spoke with her; he seemed to regard her solely as a good friend. Am I supposed to believe that he teased her to disguise some his unspoken romantic attachment to her? Because that’s a little junior high-ish for me (hello, DJ Tanner). I would have appreciated any words or actions from him that would have made his later declaration of feelings for Jen seem like a natural progression instead of an unexpected 180. I don’t mind seemingly sudden relationship changes that are a surprise to a character who isn’t looking for them if there’s something that I as a reader can look back on as a potential clue. The way that Jen and Mitch went from friends to smoochy buddies didn’t sit well with me. Grounds to Kill feels like it could be the first book in a series; if so, it would have worked better for me to have the author use this book to set the stage for Jen and Mitch to kiss (and etc) in a future title. Hmmm, apparently I have a lot of feelings about this.

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