Tag Archives: Harley Jane Kozak

Surburban Spies, A Dead Ex, Wicked Plants, Genius Kids, and The Mystery of the Dead Romance Writer

Wouldn’t you know it? Just as I’m really getting into my blogging rhythm again, my deadlines undergo a mini-explosion and now my January looks very much like my December and November.

In other words, lots and lots of work.

But, since I really don’t want to lose this new blogging rhythm of mine, here I am! And because, despite the deadlines, I’m still managing to sneak in a few pages here and there, I thought it was high time for an “I’m Currently Reading …” post.

Suburban Spies: Original Sin, by Beth McMullan


Synopsis from the publisher:

She has a license to kill. And carpool.

Seeing Lucy Hamilton, you would think she is just like any other suburban stay-at-home San Francisco mom. She takes her three-year-old son Theo to the beach, playground, and the zoo. She makes organic applesauce, folds laundry, and plays on the floor with Matchbox cars until her knees ache. What no one knows about Lucy, not even her adoring husband Will, is that for nine years she was known as Sally Sin, a spy for the USAWMD (United States Agency for Weapons of Mass Destruction). And that’s just the way Lucy wants to keep it – a secret.

Ian Blackford, a notorious illegal arms dealer and Lucy’s long-forgotten nemesis, returns to the USAWMD’s radar, and they are forced to call Lucy back to action to lure Blackford out into the open. As she races to unravel the mystery that surrounds Blackford’s return (and get dinner on the table), she realizes that the answers she needs lie in a past that she’s tried very hard to forget. In a race against time, Lucy must fight to save herself, her family – and, oh yes – the world.

I just started reading Original Sin: A Sally Sin Adventure, by Beth McMullan last night (ARC courtesy of NetGalley and Hyperion), and so far, it’s been a funny read. I haven’t yet gotten to the part where Lucy gets called back into action, but it’s definitely very promising.

A Dead Ex: Dead Ex, by Harley Jane Kozak


Synopsis from Amazon:

When David Zetrakis, the producer of a popular soap opera, is found shot to death the day after Christmas, Wollie Shelley finds herself caught up in the murder investigation. Zetrakis was one of the many Mr. Wrongs in Wollie’s career as a serial dater, and her friend Joey has emerged as the media’s prime suspect. A hot-tempered celebrity who had dated Zetrakis and was fired from his show some years ago, Joey has inherited a million-dollar Klimt from him. But Joey is not the only potential suspect. Zetrakis left lots of nice bequests to the cast and crew of the show. And as the dating correspondent on a talk show called SoapDirt, Wollie, who’s required to dine and dish with the stars, quickly discovers that the behind-the-scenes intrigues of television soaps are as highly charged as the on-screen shenanigans.

When Wollie is not trying to protect Joey from an onslaught of predatory reporters, she’s helping her brother make the transition from a mental hospital to a halfway house and negotiating her relationship with Simon, her FBI-agent boyfriend. Dead Ex is another full-out romp of a mystery sure to please Kozak’s many fans—and win her many new ones, too.

I discovered to my absolute delight last night that my library is now loaning out ebooks – and not only that, I’m able to upload them to my iPad and read them (not with the app that my library’s using, which isn’t optimized for the iPad, but with Bluefire Reader, which works with Adobe DRM’d ebooks, both the pdf and epub versions).

So I checked out Harley Jane Kozak’s Dead Ex, featuring Wollie Shelley. Back in 2009 I’d read and reviewed A Date You Can’t Refuse and absolutely loved it, even though it was a whirlwind read with a lot going on, and I normally dislike books that have too much going on. A Date You Can’t Refuse is actually the fourth book in the series; Dead Ex is the third.

I’ve only had a chance to quickly dip into this one, but I’m expecting a very good read out of it.

Those Wicked, Wicked Plants: Wicked Plants, by Amy Stewart


Synopsis from Amazon:

A tree that sheds poison daggers; a glistening red seed that stops the heart; a shrub that causes paralysis; a vine that strangles; and a leaf that triggered a war. In Wicked Plants, Stewart takes on over two hundred of Mother Nature’s most appalling creations. It’s an A to Z of plants that kill, maim, intoxicate, and otherwise offend. You’ll learn which plants to avoid (like exploding shrubs), which plants make themselves exceedingly unwelcome (like the vine that ate the South), and which ones have been killing for centuries (like the weed that killed Abraham Lincoln’s mother).

Menacing botanical illustrations and splendidly ghastly drawings create a fascinating portrait of the evildoers that may be lurking in your own backyard. Drawing on history, medicine, science, and legend, this compendium of bloodcurdling botany will entertain, alarm, and enlighten even the most intrepid gardeners and nature lovers.

Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities, by Amy Stewart, has been on my “I want that!” list since I first read about it on some book blogs early last year. Don’t ask me why I’ve been wanting to have it in my library so badly; I kept thinking, “What a fun read this will be! And it’s writing research, for when I need to slay a character with something deadly. No, really! Doesn’t it sound so good?”

I can hanker for something for only so long before I cave in to my acquisitional instincts. So last month, as I was ordering books left right and center for all the people on my gift list, I sneaked in an order for Wicked Plants just for me (you all do this, too, right?). I don’t intend to read this one through from cover to cover; I’m using it for inspiration.

So yes, my idea of fun is to open the book up at random and discover some atrocious plant which might one day come in handy in a story. I’m weird that way.

Genius Kids: The Atomic Weight of Secrets, by Eden Unger Bowditch

image Synopsis from the publisher:

In 1903, five truly brilliant young inventors, the children of the world’s most important scientists, went about their lives and their work as they always had.

But all that changed the day the men in black arrived.

From all across the world, they’ve been taken to mysterious Sole Manner Farm, and a beautiful but isolated schoolhouse in Dayton, Ohio, without a word from their parents as to why. Not even the wonderful schoolteacher they find there, Miss Brett, can explain it. She can give them love and care, but she can t give them answers.

Things only get stranger from there.

So far, I’ve read the first chapter of The Atomic Weight of Secrets, or The Arrival of the Mysterious Men in Black, by Eden Unger Bowditch (ARC courtesy of NetGalley and Bancroft Press); it hasn’t quite caught my imagination yet, making me want to speed through to the end, but the story is still intriguing enough for me to stick with it and see where the story will take me. And it really is quite an interesting premise, isn’t it?

The Mystery of the Dead Romance Writer: Naked Once More, by Elizabeth Peters

image Synopsis from the publisher:

She may be a best-selling author, but ex-librarian Jacqueline Kirby’s views on the publishing biz aren’t fit to print. In fact, she’s thinking of trading celebrity for serenity and a house far away from fiendish editors and demented fans, when her agent whispers the only words that could ever make her stay: Naked in the Ice.

Seven years ago, this blockbuster skyrocketed Kathleen Darcy to instant fame. Now, the author’s heirs are looking for a writer to pen the sequel. It’s an opportunity no novelist in her right mind would pass up, and there’s no doubting Jacqueline’s sanity…until she starts digging through the missing woman’s papers — and her past. Until she gets mixed up with Kathleen’s enigmatic lover. Until a series of nasty accidents convince her much too late that someone wants to bring Jacqueline’s story — and her life — to a premature end.

Of course, no period of heavy deadlines is bearable without a few good audiobooks on hand, for those moments before bed when I don’t want to look at another proof or the computer monitor, and I just want to relax before sleep.

So I’m rereading Elizabeth Peters’ Naked Once More in audio (Blackstone Audio, narrated by Grace Conlin); it’s been wonderful meeting up with Jacqueline Kirby again (my favorite Peters series character).

As always, this Peters mystery is liberally spiked with a lot of humor, and Jacqueline is as quirky and headstrong and wonderful as always. And Kirby’s take on the whole romance writing biz is just so funny!

So that’s what I’ve been up to reading-wise lately. What are your current reads?

Review: A Date You Can’t Refuse, by Harley Jane Kozak

A Date You Can't Refuse

In A Date You Can’t Refuse, by Harley Jane Kozak, greeting-card artist Wollie Shelley is made an offer she can’t refuse: the FBI wants her to be a cooperative witness and infiltrate the offices of MediaRex, as MediaRex’s newest “social coach”. In return, the FBI will ensure that Wollie’s brother, who suffers from schizophrenia, will continue to have a place at the federally-subsidized halfway house where he’s currently living. Everything’s going as well as can be expected for Wollie, until a coyote-chewed corpse turns up.

When I finished reading A Date You Can’t Refuse with a happy sigh, I was actually a little surprised that I enjoyed this book so much.

You see, a lot of things happen to Wollie from the moment she steps foot in the offices of MediaRex, a media-training company that teaches foreign celebrities how to handle living famously in America.

In novels where there’s a lot going on all the time, I tend to start feeling stressed and exhausted. Often, I get the feeling that the frenetic pace is forced, as if the author is worried that if there’s not enough “stuff” happening, readers will get bored and close the book. But it’s when things get too chaotic that I’m more likely to put the book down, never to return, or skim quickly past all the frenzy (and usually without really missing much when it comes to plot advancement).

Not so with A Date You Can’t Refuse. Wollie finds herself up to her eyeballs in stuff, but none of it ever feels forced. Yes, the pace is fast, but it all fits the story in such a natural way. And it was all really interesting, with lots of funny moments. Rather than feeling exhausted by all the action, I found I didn’t want to put the book down.

And here’s the main thing: I really liked Wollie Shelley. She’s smart, but vulnerable, too. And she doesn’t do anything dumb and out of character just to move the plot along (one of my pet peeves). She’s funny and endearing, the kind of woman you can see yourself becoming best friends with.

I also enjoyed Kozak’s secondary characters, and even found myself liking most of the suspects – Kozak has a knack for creating likeable and distinctive minor characters. The only characters I had problems with were Wollie’s two best friends, Joey and Fredreeq. Joey’s a sexy actor and Fredreeq’s a sexy soccer mom, and I kept getting the two of them mixed up. I liked them both, but they sometimes felt like they were the same person.

The plot has a lot of fun twists and turns and I didn’t figure out who-done-it before Wollie did. There are also some interesting side plots, such as Wollie’s wobbly relationship with her boyfriend, an FBI agent working undercover on another case.

All in all, I found A Date You Can’t Refuse to be a fun, fast and absorbing read with an endearing protagonist, a great cast of secondary characters and an interesting mystery. And because I stepped into this series with the most recent title, I’ve got a lot more to look forward to: not only Wollie’s next adventure but also the three previous titles in the series.

Where to buy A Date You Can’t Refuse:

U.S. (Amazon.com) | Indiebound | Canada (Chapters) | UK (Amazon.co.uk)

Review copy details: published by Broadway Books, 2009, trade paperback, 338 pages