Holly Helscher

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2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-17-16

Poorly Narrated and Poorly Written

This was my first purchase of a book by this author and I was very disappointed. The first adjustment I had to make was the fake Austin/Texas accent. It was difficult to listen to. It was also a much older voice than Summer would have. But I plowed onward.

We meet Summer who is, as the title indicates, perfect. She is slightly overweight, although imagines she is obese. She hates her mother, Lilly, with a passion, but loves her teaching job and her students. The books lists of her "do-good" activities and yet she doesn't participate in any of them throughout the book. It's odd.

When she wins Teacher of the Year, her prize is a famous quarterback, rather than a new car (the prize for past winners) who needs to reinvent his image for an endorsement deal. He becomes a mentor, although once a week sitting in the back of the classroom hardly qualifies as a mentor. She is disappointed, but seems to get over it in seconds, which is not credible. He falls in love with her in about the same amount of time. But if he mentioned her "naughty mouth" one more time I was going to get a headache. He does the same with her cleavage later on. It's ridiculous. And his fear of public speaking simply doesn't play well.

Realistic emotional navigation is not something this author did well in this book. After 30 years of verbal abuse by her mother (including measuring her level of fatness and then denying her dinner), Summer gets past is in minutes when Lilly shows up to Summer's classroom. And that's after Lilly delivers a bombshell announcement that, in reality, would leave anyone reeling for days if not for weeks.

The miscommunications between Summer and the football player are way off base. So are the ones between Lilly and her own boyfriend. Reasonably intelligent people at least stop and ask a question or two before walking away. The conclusions all these characters reach in nanoseconds are quick even for people who jump to assumptions.

Character development is minimal. Everything is superficial. There's no depth to anything, as evidenced by the lack of true emotional responses to anything. Even Lilly gets over her life-long blaming of her parents seemingly overnight. The most interesting character is Inez, Lilly's housekeeper, and she's a very minor character.

To top it off, the Graykowski must not do much cooking. A few of the cooking scenes make no sense at all. They follow absurd patterns that people who do cook would know simply don't happen. And I'm not talking about intimate scenes on a kitchen table. I'm talking about basic cooking logic, steps, and timing.

This was a disappointing book and I couldn't wait to get finished with it. I see Graykowski is a prolific writer, so perhaps her other novels are better. I, however, will not take a risk in buying any of them.

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0 of 1 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-11-16

Touchdown with a Two Point Conversion

Being an assistant, cook, maid and overall babysitter for an elite football player wasn't Vanessa's dream job. But it was a means to an end. Then one day she had enough money to live her own dream and quit her job with Aiden Graves. She figured he'd barely notice since he rarely interacted with her anyway. She was a means to his end; take care of all the elements of his life so he could strictly focus on football.

When she quit, there was no fanfare. There was no reaction by Aiden, which is as she expected. But how surprised she was when he knocked on her apartment door. He wouldn't leave until she opened it. What was even more surprising was what he wanted. She could never have anticipated it.

Once again, Zapata sets up the story and the reader is immediately hooked into it. Identifying with the characters and the setting is easy to do. And, per her usual style, Zapata wastes no time in moving things along. She transports the reader scene to scene flawlessly. The interactions of her characters are believable. It's like we're eavesdropping. And we want to be.

Zapata is a skilled storyteller. She paints pictures that we can see on the page. And her narrator, Callie Dalton, does a wonderful job.

This is the first book I purchased by Zapata and I bought all there were.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-11-16

Bad Boy Book Beautifully Written

Meet Iris, broke, alone and struggling to find a job that she likes that will support her. She moves to Austin at the suggestion of her half-brother, member of the Widow Makers Motorcycle club. The head of the club is Dex. As a favor to her brother, Dex gives Iris a job at the tattoo parlor. Iris, much more conservative than bikers or any of the parlor's customers, seems an unlikely candidate for such a job. But she's determined to keep it until something better comes up. Especially since Dex is the rudest person she has ever met and makes her feel like a lost ball in high weeds.

From there the story takes off. It is well written. Tension is maintained throughout. The characters develop, grow, learn and gain insight. Even Dex. The plot has rough edges so the path of the characters is pretty much like life. It's not always a straight line upwards. But the ensemble works well and the personalities are distinct. No one is all good and no one is all bad. And each one of them has a story that explains some of their weaknesses. Each story is introduced gradually and at the right moments in time. There are no information dumps in these backstories.

Zapata maintains the reader's interest constantly. I wanted to listen to it straight through, but couldn't. Still, I found I raced through it. This is another home run for her.

Callie Dalton, narrator, does another excellent job reading a Zapata novel.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

1 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 09-28-16


I purchased this book based on the number of good reviews. I'm sorry I did. The set up is quick. Roxie leaves her private chef job in LA to help her mother with the family diner. Roxie meets farmer, Leo, back in the hometown and the story is over in the first few chapters. There's no tension or trick to winning Leo. There's no real tension in Roxie running the diner. There may a tiny bit of tension in whether or not to return to LA. But in truth, there's little if any tension at all in the book. Boring and dull.

Roxie is obsessed with Leo and sexuality. The sexual innuendo is dull, trite and overused. Her inner dialogue is primarily about Leo. There is no plot to speak of. It's the intimate scenes, done to death, that drive the book. What microscopic plot there is has no relevance to anything at all except to create innuendo. There is no true story arc or protagonist objective. Even the tiny surprise twist toward the end is managed within minutes because there is no credible reaction to it. Roxie herself speaks frequently to the reader, but is condescending as if the reader doesn't have a brain. And sometimes the author forgets the details. For example, in one scene Roxie is stung by a bee. The bee flies up her shirt, yet the sting is on her thigh, so that makes no sense. This is immediately followed by the reader learning she has on a dress. And first aid is applied to the inside of her leg. This is pretty many inconsistencies within ten sentences! Apply that to the entire novel.

The intimate scenes happen every ten minutes and go on forever, which is dull. Use of adjectives is overdone. I skipped ahead frequently just to see if any plot would develop. It didn't. That's too bad because the set up could have made the story rich and interesting. But Clayton chose to tell us the idea of a story rather than the story itself. I am surprised she is a New York Times best selling author, but you'll note this book is not on that list. So don't let the accolades fool you.

There's a lot of this type of genre out there and much of it is really good. If you want to read intimate scene after intimate scene that pretty much read the same, buy the book. If you prefer closed bedroom click lit, do not buy this book. Regardless of your preference, there's better novels out there of both types in this genre. Pick one of those.

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0 of 1 people found this review helpful

2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 09-01-16

Weak for Zapata

After having read the Wall of Winnipeg, and loved it, and then Kulti, and loved it, I took a risk with this one in spite of the plot - a porn convention. Unfortunately, Lingus was everything I feared - weak writing, weak character development, immature characters, and inappropriate behaviors that smacked of high school kids.

We have a high powered lawyer in Nicole and a writer in Kat. Both are between 25 and 29 and apparently successful. They have a friend, Zoey, in the porn business who is around the same age. In theory they all love each other as friends. Yet they call one another sluts and bitches. They grab one another's butts, tweak the tender part of "the girls" and basically disparage one another in words and deeds. This is not how adults behave with one another. At least not bright, kind and compassionate ones. So none of the girls had any credibility or depth of integrity for me. The male characters were much better written; and a lot nicer.

The development of this group of kids, because that's all they really are, is non-existent. After the rich development and wholehearted integrity of several other Zapata protagonists in her books, these characters were disappointing. I couldn't have cared less what happened to any of them, especially Nicole who was the rudest of the bunch.

If Zapata wants to manage a difficult topic, which pornography is, then do it with some class and style. Phallic images and sexual comments and motifs were simply unnecessary to move the plot the along. However, there was not much of a plot and the tension between Kat and Tristin was marginal at best.

If a reader enjoys graphic rendition of sex scenes, you'll get a few more in this book than in Kulti and Wall of Winnipeg.

Skip this one. It's drivel.

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5 of 6 people found this review helpful

2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-08-16

No Real Story

Deborah and Lenox are two very successful people in the book world. He's a writer and she's an editor, both at the top of their fields. The reader learns about the tumultuous beginning of their relationship and how it was off and on before they finally wed. Deborah brings with her a child from a former relationship and the couple have a three-month old son. And this is where their current struggles begin with Deborah not really understanding what might be the reason for the ebb and flow of her emotions. For a long time she relied upon her spirituality to heal her ups and downs, but as the story continues both she and reader realize she may need to utilize more earth-bound resources.

Although the idea of the book is good, the writing is awful. E.N. Joy tells the story in paragraph after paragraph that are without any real action or dialogue. She mostly does expository information dumps which prevents the reader from truly engaging with any of the characters. The dialogue that does occur is stilted and fraught with cliches and slang that make it superficial. There is no real emotion or credibility behind it.

What the book is filled with is preaching and preaching and more preaching. Biblical quotes occur almost every other paragraph and that's where all the dialogue occurs, including Deborah's own inner dialogue. And that isn't even well written.

While I understand there is a niche for this genre, and that E.N. Joy may view her books as a ministry of sorts, the story can still be written much better than it is. This second book in the diva series is not nearly as good as the first and I only purchased the second one because I could forgive some of the preaching in the first one. But unlike this book, in I Ain't Me No More the preaching is well spaced and makes sense within the plot. In One Sunday at a Time, the plot is an inconvenient vehicle for what seems to be Ms. Joy's mission of witnessing to the reader.

Like in the first book, "diva" here is a misnomer. Deborah is no more a diva than the character in the first book. The use of the word almost feels like Joy's trick to buy it because most readers will think they are buying one sort of book when they are really picking up this type.

However, the narration is excellent. In some ways it provides some balm for the writing, but mostly Luke's talent wasted on it.

I'll not purchase another title by this author. It is a truly a waste of money. If you want to buy a spiritual book, then buy one. This one would not create a conversion or true spiritual information of any sort.

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0 of 2 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-03-16

Not Really Diva

Helen has had a rough life and although well educated makes decisions that don't work out as expected. This is fairly typical of a teenager and young adult, but Helen's baggage tends to escalate the situations she finds herself in.

I feel the story line is decent and E.N. Joy does a good job of showing us an angry young woman. Diana Luke is an excellent narrator, although after listening to Helen's story in her voice, to flip to a different voice at the end was confusing and unnecessary.

Although it's clear from the synopsis of the book that this is a faith-based book, the story has wider appeal than that. And for about 95% of the story, the author does not beat the reader over the head with it. It is primarily used as a vehicle about a way a person can experience personal growth. However, the end ruins all it. Along with a change in narrative voice comes a change in style and focus. Did I consider it proselytizing? I think it was just shy of being so. Had the book been this way from the start, it would not have been so disappointing.

To consider this a diva type series is a misnomer. While Helen is haughty, the primary definitions of diva are not what the book is about. To utilize the word diva as an indication of what the story is, and what the rest of the stories are apt to be, is misleading. So, if you're considering listening to this, be prepared for the approach and the ultimate ending. If that is not of any concern to you, then give it a go.

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1 of 2 people found this review helpful

3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-15-16

Too Bad

Smart Girl is the last in The Girls series trilogy by Rachel Hollis. The point of view in this one is Miko, who we've come to learn in the first two books has a love affair with literature. Quirky, cute and in business with Landon, she is an event designer in love with Liam Ashton, another brother of Max's.

The plot fell just short of good. Unlike the other two, it has a one-note rather than a multi-note conflict; Miko's plan to snag Liam. She makes a list of snaring activities based on her favorite literary romances. As she implements the first two, the reader gets a sense that they are all going to go awry and the plot will be funny and show us Miko getting out of and/or explaining all kinds of scrapes. The problem is that the list becomes an inconsistent plot device. Sometimes it's there. Sometimes it's not. We are constantly in Miko's head as she convinces herself she is mature and worldly. In the meantime, Liam is self-absorbed and selfish, which causes Miko to behave similarly.

Unlike the first two books which feature the effervescent Landon and grouchy but soft-hearted Max, who both have experience tension about a guy but also have a complicated life dream they are trying to achieve, all Miko wants is Liam. She has no other life plan. That makes her one-dimensional. It creates a certain amount of boredom in the book. And I found as I read on, I didn't respect Miko very much. And I certainly didn't respect Liam. The reason for his aloofness was not well developed. Rather, it was only hinted at. Here we have this wealthy and successful man coming from a very friendly and close-knit family acting like a jerk most of the time. And the reader doesn't feel he has a very good reason for it. Had Rachel developed that better, we may have bought into Miko's belief that he is kind and good.

In a trilogy it is usually the second book that is the weakest. But in this case, it is the third one. It's simply not as good as the other two because Miko is a flat character. We know more about her from the first two books than in the one from her point of view. But even in those, we learn nothing about her life dream. Is her life dream really only about a guy? And this particular guy?

It didn't matter that the ending was predictable. The other two were as well, but the tension in the first two was created much better because of the complexity of the stories. In this one, not so much. The epilogue finishes Miko's story, but it also finishes the stories of Landon and Max.

It would have been nice as the girls hug each other in the final paragraphs if they would have given a toast to Sandra Bullock, a behavioral trope carried throughout the book.

Once again the narrator is the author. And once again, her ability to differentiate voices is not well done. However, by now the reader expects it and isn't as confused as in the second book.

All in all, I enjoyed the series. And I'd probably buy another book by Hollis. Any author can have a weak book. And this is Rachel's.

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5 of 5 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-13-16

Great for a Second in a Series Book

This is the second in The Girl's Series by Rachel Hollis. I picked it up immediately after reading the first book, Party Girl. Sweet Girl has all the same characters as Party Girl, but the point of view is Max's, Landon's roommate.

Max is rough, gruff, and aloof. But underneath she is a softy. The reader knows something happened to her along her life's journey, but we don't know exactly what. Max is independent and does not rely upon her family's wealth to get by, preferring to make it on her own. She lands a job working in the bakery of her dreams located in the hotel where she excels at tending bar, creating unusual drink concoctions customers have never tasted before.

After several months at the bakery, she learns the job was only short-term. She was a fill in until Joey, long time employee, returns after maternity leave. This not only shatters her dream of being a pastry chef, but also her income. What to do now? She hasn't told Landon or any of her other friends, or family, what she's been doing and finds herself in the difficult position of asking, or not asking, for help. Her relationships with her family are strained, and she pushes away everyone else, so feels a bit stranded. And she continually beats herself up for being who she is.

Although her friends want to come to the rescue, they're unsure where to begin since they don't know what's wrong to begin with.

The author, Rachel Hollis, reads this book herself. But because she has little, if any variation between the voice of Landon and Max, or any other characters for that matter, the beginning is confusing. Who is speaking? Who's point of view of are we in? We've completely associated Rachel's voice with Landon from book one. But here, in book two, it's the same voice, now, for Max. Although the adjustment can be made in a few chapters, the author could use some professional coaching on how to vary voice tones so the readers know who is speaking. In an audio format, this type of differentiation is essential. Still, it's not enough to prevent anyone from buying the book.

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5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-13-16

Unexpectedly Good

I was looking for something light to listen to that wasn't a romance or even a boy-gets-girl-loses-girl-gets-her-back chick lit plot. That's when I stumbled across Party Girl by Rachel Hollis. It was one of Audible's suggestions based on my searches and purchases. It was exactly what I was looking for.

Twenty-three year old Landon, or Brinkley as she is called in the book, moves to California to become an event planner, her dream of dreams. A Texas girl raised to be polite, good natured and kind, she finds herself in a cut-throat event planning company run by the rather ruthless, yet successful Salah Smith. As Landon is thrown to the wolves she does learn and grow in the company where every event seems to be a multimillionaire dollar affair. And of course, she gets herself into, and out of, complicated situations.

She makes friends who really don't understand her, yet can't help but like her energy and positive outlook on life. Although she may seem a bit Pollyanna-ish, the reader can't help but like her, too.

Loosely based on the author's life, it's a fun read because the characters are so engaging. At the conclusion I immediately went back to Audible to buy the second in the three-book series.

At first the narration by the author seems a little rough with the Southern accent, but the reader can quickly adjust and soon associates the voice with Landon. The weakness is there is not much difference between in the voices of the characters, so listening carefully is essential.

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3 of 3 people found this review helpful