September 27, 2016

Review: Sunset in Central Park

Sunset in Central Park Second in the From Manhattan with Love series
By Sarah Morgan
Available now from HQN (Harlequin)
Review copy

I felt that SLEEPLESS IN MANHATTAN (my review) was charming, but spent too much time setting up the other two romances in the From Manhattan with Love series. Luckily, SUNSET IN CENTRAL PARK keeps the focus on Frankie and Matt.

Paige and Eva, Frankie's best friends, don't lack romance entirely. Eva's prospective hero is mentioned once at the beginning of the book, and then she shows up only in a friend capacity, both offering support and needing it. Jake and Paige's relationship is referenced, but Jake only shows up briefly, mostly to serve as Matt's best friend.

Matt has been in love with Frankie for a long time, but Frankie doesn't believe in love and is reluctant to trust any romantic partners. Her father cheated on her mom, her mom decided to continually pursue men, and there was an attempted sexual assault. Frankie's issues did not come out of nowhere. But when Matt's flirting gets blatant enough, Frankie realizes that she wants to respond, even if she has no clue how.

SUNSET IN CENTRAL PARK is really Frankie's story. Matt is cute and wonderful, but the focus has to be on Frankie since she's the one keeping them apart. Matt is all in from the beginning. (A bit too all in for my taste, at times. Let a girl decide to date you on her own!) I did like that as Frankie confronted her past, she realized that some things were as bad as she remembered, but that she'd inflated other things in her mind because she'd been a hurting teen girl.

The bright purple cartoons and hearts cover promises a light read, but Sarah Morgan has served up a cute romance surrounded by darkness. There's also a significant subplot about a woman escaping her abusive ex. It's not a difficult read, but I suspect Eva's story will be the most bubbly and effervescent in the series. Frankie has too many sharp edges for a romance that is smooth summer sailing.

I thought SUNSET IN CENTRAL PARK improved on SLEEPLESS IN MANHATTAN and I look forward to Eva's romance to conclude the series.

September 26, 2016

Movie Monday: Morgan

Morgan is the first film directed by Luke Scott, the son of legendary director Ridley Scott. It is a science-fiction thriller, much like his father is known for. It isn't devoid of style, but it felt very direct. What symbolism is present on-screen served only to make the final turn the story takes obvious. But while Morgan isn't the introduction of a brilliant new voice, it is a solidly entertaining flick.

Anna Taylor-Joy stars as the eponymous character opposite Kate Mara as Lee Weathers, a risk-management consultant. Anna Taylor-Joy gave a knockout performance that made it clear she's a future star in The Witch. Morgan is a more closed off character, tasked with being magnetic and childlike and inhuman and creepy and feminine yet androgynous. It's a lot to try to convey through a character whose emotions are internalized until they explode. I definitely think Taylor-Joy seemed to have more fun when Morgan was out of control.

Mara, however, is entirely fantastic as the cold, professional Lee. Most of the other characters resent her for encroaching on their project, which is now in jeopardy. Morgan, an artificial human, is a potential product line for the company. But she's attacked one of her handlers (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and now the company must assess whether she's viable or not. Lee hasn't raised Morgan, and seems disturbed by how the researchers have humanized her. Meanwhile, it seems disturbing to the viewer how easily Lee can dehumanizing something that looks human and appears to have human reactions.

The cast is a parade of familiar faces for science fiction fans, including Rose Leslie, Toby Jones, Michelle Yeoh, and Brian Cox, among others. It's a small cast, but everyone does good work. You can feel how fervently most of them care for Morgan, while only a few have held themselves objective enough to see Morgan's bursts of temper as a very bad sign.

The story won't surprise any long-time science fiction fans. Morgan doesn't bring much to meditations of what does or doesn't make us human. But it offers some well-choreographed mayhem and more than a few powerful performances, which is enough for me. It's a fun way to take a break on a hot summer afternoon.

(I know it is officially fall, but it still feels like summer where I am.)

September 22, 2016

Review: Closed Casket

Closed Casket By Sophie Hannah
Featuring Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot
Available now from William Morrow (HarperCollins)
Review copy

I have not read THE MONOGRAM MURDERS, Sophie Hannah's first outing as the authorized novelist of new Hercule Poirot mysteries. I have peeked at the reviews, which don't seem very kind. I didn't mind going into CLOSED CASKET without having read it; after all I've read the original Poirot mysteries by Agatha Christie in a very hodge-podge fashion. (The order I read them in depended mostly on what the library had in stock.)

After a prologue featuring a meeting between a Lady Playford and her solicitor, the novel is narrated by Inspector Edward Catchpool, a character invented by Hannah. His voice isn't as memorable as many of Christie's narratives. In fact, I struggle to name a defining feature for the character. He's a policeman who is not as smart as Poirot, and that's about it. He felt a touch like a placeholder, a character there merely to narrate.

This impression may be aided by the fact that many of the other characters are strong personalities. The murder victim, Joseph Scotcher, is a charismatic man and compulsive liar who makes an impression before his untimely exit. Lady Playford, Scotcher's employer and the host of the house party all of the characters are at, is an older woman with a mind for intrigue. She's also a novelist of mysteries herself, and I'd be curious on her view of events. The chapter where Catchpool relates her testimony is certainly one of the most compelling, both clear eyed and blinded by optimism.

CLOSED CASKET does suffer some from too little Poirot. He goes off to chase a lead in Oxford and disappears for what felt like half the book. I wanted more scenes with him, because the curmudgeonly Belgian is why I picked up the book in the first place.

Honestly, the narration is a disappointment to me because Christie's prose wasn't flashy, but it never failed to draw me deep into the story. The mystery itself is well constructed, and I enjoyed the simplicity of the solution to what seemed to be a very complex snarl. It's not an Agatha Christie novel, but it is a fine mystery.

September 16, 2016

Excerpt and Giveaway: Labyrinth Lost

Labyrinth Lost I loved Zoraida Córdova's The Vicious Deep trilogy, and I've been keeping an eye on what she's written since, which includes several romances. Then the gorgeous cover of LABYRINTH LOST was revealed and I knew I had to read it.

Today, I have an excerpt and giveaway to share with you so that you can experience the first book of the Brooklyn Brujas for yourself.

Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives. 
Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange marks on his skin.
The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

Book Trailer Link:
Labyrinth Lost Coloring Page:
About the Author:
Zoraida Córdova was born in Ecuador and raised in Queens, New York. She is the author of the Vicious Deep trilogy, the On the Verge series, and the Brooklyn Brujas series. She loves black coffee, snark, and still believes in magic. Send her a tweet @Zlikeinzorro or visit her at
Follow our voices, sister.
Tell us the secret of your death.
—-Resurrection Canto,
Book of Cantos

The second time I saw my dead aunt Rosaria, she was dancing.
Earlier that day, my mom had warned me, pressing a long, red fingernail on the tip of my nose, “Alejandra, don’t go downstairs when the Circle arrives.”
But I was seven and asked too many questions. Every Sunday, cars piled up in our driveway, down the street, and around the corner of our old, narrow house in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Mom’s Circle usually brought cellophane--wrapped dishes and jars of dirt and tubs of brackish water that made the Hudson River look clean. This time, they carried something more.

September 14, 2016

Review: Who's That Girl?

Who's That Girl? By Mhairi McFarlane
Available now from Harper (HarperCollins)
Review copy

Edie and her catty friend Louis are at a wedding for two of their coworkers, but when Edie leaves for a breath of air the groom follows - and kisses her. This is witnessed by the bride and instantly makes Edie persona non grata for trying to break up the happy couple on their wedding day.

I love that Edie never blames herself for this act. Jack's the one who chose to kiss her. However, throughout WHO'S THAT GIRL? she grapples with the messages they exchanged and the attention she encouraged. She's got to figure out why she was content to get strung along by a cad like Jack if she's going to be confident in herself.

Since Edie's boss appreciates her talent, he finds her a job outside the office in her hometown: ghostwrite the autobiography of popular TV star Elliot Owen. Things get off to a horrible start, but Edie soon realizes Elliot isn't just a spoiled primadonna. In fact, she rather likes him, but is determined to be professional and keep her distance. Unsurprisingly, both of them manage to make a hash of actually communicating their feelings.

WHO'S THAT GIRL? is a fun later-in-life coming-of-age (Edie is 36), with a romance that builds believably. It's a gentle read, despite the turbulence of Edie's love life and the sadness in her past. She's learning how to reconnect with her sister, makes a connection with her father's bitter elderly neighbor, and reunites with her two best friends who are both terrific. (I'd read books about them!) There's a good sense of place, and I enjoyed figuring out what the British slang meant.

Don't be fooled by the thickness of the spine. I finished WHO'S THAT GIRL? in a single, breezy afternoon. I enjoyed seeing Edie come to believe that she was as vivacious and attractive as her true friends told her. (And man, there is a great scene in this novel for seeing a toxic person get their comeuppance.) I'm definitely planning on giving Mhairi McFarlane's other books a try.

September 12, 2016

Movie Monday: Billionaire Ransom

Billionaire Ransom is a wonderfully ridiculous film that mostly stars actors from the CW.

Kyle (Jeremy Sumpter) meets Amy (Phoebe Tonkin) at a party where they both get wasted and decide to leave together. He wrecks the car and then leaves the site of the crash without checking whether she's all right. This makes things very awkward when they get sent to the same tiny reform school on a Scottish island.

Fortunately, the school teaches everyone survival skills, which the spoiled scions will need when a trio of mercenaries attacks the school to kidnap the kids for a billion dollar ransom.

The group of students and teachers is international, but Billionaire Ransom makes the odd choice to have Sumpter speak with an American accent. (Sebastian Koch, who plays his father, doesn't.) Sumpter has obviously been acting since he was a child, making his big break in Peter Pan. If I didn't know that, I might think this was his first film due to the strangeness of his line readings. Letting him keep his accent might have helped.

Despite her prominence in the marketing materials, Phoebe Tonkin is mostly on hand to be a damsel in distress. (She does get one cool, if gory, action scene.) The focus is weighted much more towards Kyle than Amy.

As goofy as Billionaire Ransom is, I thought the growing camaraderie between the rich kids was done well and seeing them battle the mercenaries was fun. One of the mercenaries is even portrayed somewhat sympathetically, although the other two are cartoonishly evil. Ed Westwick, at least, gives good Eurotrash.

I'm not going to convince you that Billionaire Ransom is a good movie, but luckily it isn't even aiming for that status. What it wants to be is a fun movie, one that you want to watch late at night with some snacks and a few friends to unwind for the weekend. It accomplishes that just fine.


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