Monday, October 15, 2012

MYSTERY MONDAYS: Review & Giveaway: Curveball by Jen Estes

I hope you've all had a chance to read Jen Estes' guest post about the inspiration behind Curveball. If not, please go check it out! And be sure to enter my giveaway at the end of this review! One lucky winner will receive an e-copy of Curveball in whatever format you prefer!

Title: Curveball
Author: Jen Estes
Genre: Mystery
Pub Date: October 1, Camel Press
Format: eBook
Source: I received this book from the Author and Partners in Crime Tours in exchange for an honest review.

My Thoughts

I've always been a big fan of baseball, but this is the first time I have ever read a mystery that revolves around the game. And the story does take place in perhaps one of the darker settings that is tied to the game: Latin America, where young players have been exploited in the process of trying to achieve their dream to become a Major League Baseball player. Though Curveball is not technically based on a true story, the general idea of taking advantage of teens in Latin American countries is a real problem that Estes is bringing to light in this cozy mystery. And this particular mystery starts off with the death of a teen prospect who wasn't able to make the cut in his bid to become a professional ballplayer.

As with most cozy mysteries, you have a rather eclectic cast of characters. Cat is a go-getter in the baseball world, as you learn a little bit about her past history with baseball. She is roped into "baby-sitting" her potential future boss's daughter, Paige, during Paige's internship in Santo Domingo. There's also a slick agent/sleazeball with whom Paige decides to entangle herself, and the baseball jock whose dream of a career in the MLB was cut short due to injury. Combine them all and you've got a fast-paced story that takes several twists and turns before we finally not only discover "whodunnit", but the full extent of the crime itself.

If you enjoy cozy mysteries, I think you'll enjoy Curveball. And if you don't happen to be a big fan of mysteries but do like baseball, you might be interested in reading this book for the other topics that are addressed.

My Rating

It's Giveaway Time! Please enter for a chance to win an eBook copy of Curveball in the format of your choosing! Contest ends midnight on October 23rd -- good luck!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Please be sure to visit Partners In Crime Tours to see the other blogs hosting the tour for Curveball!

MYSTERY MONDAYS: Blog Tour: Curveball by Jen Estes

As a member of Partners In Crime Tours, I am so excited to bring to you a guest post from Jen Estes, author of Curveball, a Cat McDaniel mystery. I'll be reviewing the book in a separate post later today and will also be giving away an eBook copy to one lucky winner, so be sure to check back in a few hours! First, Ms. Estes will be discussing the inspiration behind her baseball-themed mystery! Welcome!

I wish I could say that my inspiration comes from a mystical spirit guide or a chiseled, beefy muse, but the truth is my stories begin with the sports pages.  Most of my ideas trickle out of real life scandals in baseball -- and that's a well that never dries up.  (Usually, I can't write fast enough to keep up.)  My newest book, Curveball, is no exception as my lead character, Cat McDaniel, travels down to Santo Domingo to cover the Latin American training camp for her New York team.  There, she quickly finds out that baseball's dirty little secret has little to do with the diamond.

A couple of years ago, I read an exposé in TIME magazine wherein the Dominican Republic was coined "baseball's puppy mill."  Most baseball fans know the island nation glorifies baseball and produces 20% of MLB players, but the driving force behind that is tragic.  It's a country where little boys dream of climbing out poverty by making it big in baseball.  Sadly, the article revealed, where there's dreams, there's exploitation.  Sometimes, that abuse comes from a buscón (Spanish for searcher): a man who multitasks as a scout/agent/trainer and recruits the most talented kids on the island as early as 11 or 12 years old.  They house, feed and clothe these boys training them from dawn to dusk, in hopes of getting them signed when they turn 16 (the minimum age for foreign players), at which point they claim 25 to 35 percent of the signing bonus.  The competition is fierce -- only 2% of prospects will get a contract and desperation for success often leads to age fraud, drug abuse, malnutrition and, more often than not, disappointment.  If the ballplayers aren’t signed, they're left with no education, no work skills and no knowledge of anything other than baseball -- in fact, many end up becoming buscónes themselves.

As a fun mystery, Curveball doesn't come with a "Based on a True Story" lead-in, but the exploitation was the driving force behind the story and helped me form the setting for my book.  Curveball's characters and the events are fictional, but I do hope that it brings awareness to this very real issue.

To read an excerpt and see the complete list of participating blogs in this tour, please visit Partners In Crime Tours.

Born and raised in Illinois, Jen Estes started her writing career as a baseball blogger in 2007 and expanded to freelance sports writing in 2009. She is an active member of the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR), Springfield Poets & Writers and the National Writers Union (NWU). Curveball is the second in a series featuring sassy sports writer Cat McDaniel. When Jen isn’t writing, she enjoys running, yoga, traveling and watching baseball with her husband and cat.


Barnes & Noble

Every eBook received for review on the tours for Partners In Crime are given in exchange for an honest review. The eBooks are sole property (copyrighted) of the author and should not be sold, distributed to, or exchanged among other people not part of the tours, nor should they be listed on file sharing sites. Failure to comply with this disclaimer, will result in removal from all future tours.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Review: The Crown of Embers

Title: The Crown of Embers
Author: Rae Carson
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Pub Date: September 2012, HarperCollins
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased from

Synopsis (from

She does not know what awaits her at the enemy's gate.

Elisa is a hero.

She led her people to victory over a terrifying, sorcerous army. Her place as the country's ruler should be secure. But it isn't.

Her enemies come at her like ghosts in a dream, from foreign realms and even from within her own court. And her destiny as the chosen one has not yet been fulfilled.

To conquer the power she bears, once and for all, Elisa must follow a trail of long-forgotten—and forbidden—clues, from the deep, hidden catacombs of her own city to the treacherous seas. With her go a one-eyed spy, a traitor, and the man whom—despite everything—she is falling in love with.

If she's lucky, she will return from this journey. But there will be a cost.

My Thoughts

I was glad that I didn't have to wait too long after reading The Girl of Fire and Thorns before I could read the sequel, The Crown of Embers. Of course, the downside is now I will be waiting nearly a year to read the final book in the trilogy, but this is the price I pay for enjoying series books! And given just how much I loved this second book (even more than the first), the wait is going to be long indeed.

I found it impossible not to get swept away in Elisa's adventure this time around. Rae Carson sets the pace from the beginning and simply doesn't let up. Every time I thought I should put the book down and turn out the light to go to sleep, the chapter would end and I would decide that I just had to know what was going to happen next. Elisa continues to grow as a character .Yes, she has moments of weakness and insecurity early on, but she learns from them and becomes a better leader for them. I enjoyed her much more in this book, particularly because she didn't dwell on her physical imperfections so much this time around. I have really been impressed with Carson's overall character development and interaction in these books.

I will say that as much as I loved this book, I did think the resolution of Elisa's quest was a little contrived and almost too neat and pretty. I admit that I was a bit disappointed, but only mildly in comparison with my genuine love of the overall story, characters, and adventure. (But it was enough to knock a star off of my rating.) I also loved the building romance for Elisa, even though it left you wanting more. I guess I enjoy the suspense of it! This relationship was something I could see signs of in the first book and I am so glad that Carson took it to the next level (well, sort of to the next level?) in the second book. Though, of course, we won't know how it all turns out until the conclusion (darn cliffhangers)!

Be warned, if you decide to read this series, while this book sets the stage for the last book, it is a major cliffhanger and the wait will be frustrating! I have resigned myself to the long wait by looking forward to re-reading the first two books before the third is published. That way, I can enjoy the entire series from start to finish. Bottom line: If you enjoyed The Girl of Fire and Thorns, I would be very surprised if you didn't enjoy The Crown of Embers, as well.

My Rating