Hollow Kingdom, by Kira Jane Buxton***

I received a review copy courtesy of Net Galley and Grand Central Publishing. Buxton has had her work appear in The New York Times and some other impressive places, and I was drawn by the buzz. To be honest, this book didn’t work for me, but I also have to admit that I am probably outside the target audience.

The setting drew me first; it’s hard to resist work set in my own hometown of Seattle. The premise has to do with a smart crow and a dumb dog setting out to save what’s left of their world. It’s billed as a romp, and I make a point of punctuating my other reading with humor so it doesn’t get too dark out there. So there were reasons to think I would enjoy this book.

But I was expecting a story arc and a plot. And I noted at the ten percent mark that I had seen enough product placements for the rest of the story and a boxed set to go with it. I quit about halfway through and skimmed till I reached the 80 percent mark, and then read the ending; no joy.

If a friend has read this book and says they think that you will like it, that friend might be right. But I can only share what I have seen and give you my honest opinion, which is that this is only something to be obtained only if it’s free or cheap unless your pockets are deep.

The Last Good Girl, by Allison Leotta**

thelastgoodgirl This title appeared to be a sure fire winner, a thriller that would also spotlight domestic violence and even more so, campus rape. I was pleased when Net Galley and Touchstone Publishers green-lighted my request for a DRC, which I received free of charge in exchange for this review. And without the social issues, which are a mixed bag but still partially useful, this would be a 1.5 star review, because as a mystery, as a thriller, as any kind of fiction, it doesn’t stand up.

A few months back I unfavorably reviewed a title that I said appeared to be a story that was invented purely to make use of some research; the author appeared to have done a lot of digging and was determined to stretch her story to include the information she’d dug up. But this one is even worse, because it really appears to be stretched around a large number of name brands. In fact, I can save you some time and money just by giving you the majority of the story now, though of course I can’t tell you how it ends, because that would be a spoiler. So, here are the key points, bulleted for easy digestion:

  • Pottery Barn
  • Urban Outfitters
  • Nordstrom
  • Calvin Klein
  • Domino’s Pizza
  • Wall Street Journal
  • Louis Vuitton
  • Tory Burch Shoes
  • Ford
  • Sephora
  • Zagat
  • Bank of America
  • iphone
  • Jim Beam
  • US News and World Report
  • Dodge Viper
  • Netflix
  • Jell-O
  • Krispy Kremes

Even without the endless product placement, many of the above-mentioned names being plugged numerous times, it’s a hard story to appreciate. In place of using plot and character development to tell a story, we are given two premises that are hard to embrace. The first is that our victim, Emily Shapiro, put all her deepest, most heartfelt feelings and experiences into a vlog that serves as a class assignment. All of it. Of course she did! And so the author has relieved herself of the main burden here and instead is dumping all of her Emily information into a single lengthy narrative that alternates with the third person story she has shaped around her merchandise promotions.

The initial premise is that a federal prosecutor, the one and only in fact, is somehow able to assist her old flame with a local case. “We could investigate it as a federal hate crime”, Anna tells Jack.

Sure we could.

The social message that there is too much campus rape that college administrators try to sweep aside to protect the reputation of their university’s brand, is somewhat undermined by other messages that struck me as reactionary. Anna sees condoms for sale in vending machines and “…she wasn’t sure about the wisdom of packaging sex as an option as casual as a snack.”

Maybe we should just go back to the age of the chastity belt. That will take care of that darn AIDS virus and the other STDs, too!

Finally, though it’s a relatively small part of the story, an unwanted pregnancy is treated as an automatic gonna-have-a-baby. I could (and have) seen stories in which the pregnant woman decides she doesn’t like the idea of abortion, and that’s fine. Roe v. Wade and the right to choose it confers isn’t about every pregnant woman terminating a pregnancy; it’s about a choice. What grates on my nerves is the suggestion that no such choice even exists.

If you can find a credible story here to hang your hat on, more power to you. The vocabulary is certainly accessible, if a trifle trite in a number of places. But for me, the joy of getting to read the story free has been displaced by the realization that I’ve been snookered into reading a host of obnoxious advertising because I have agreed to produce a review.

It’s for sale now. If you want it, you can have it.