Tuesday, December 11, 2018

REVIEW: Once Upon a River

Once Upon a River
Author: Diane Setterfield

One cold winter night, all of the regulars are gathered at The Swan, a tavern near the Thames, to tell stories, drink, gossip....the usual. But this night is going to be anything but the usual. An injured man stumbles through the door and collapses to the floor. In his arms he carries a dead child....a little girl of about four years old. The local healer woman is called to tend to the man. When she goes to have a look at the corpse of the little girl, she finds her definitely dead. But, then....either by magic or otherwise....the little girl comes back to life. The mystery of the little girl has a deep effect on many. How did she come back to life? Who is she? And, what happened to them that night?

This book reads like a magical fairy tale. I love Diane Setterfield's writing style! The tale is really many stories within the story, as villagers try to piece together who this little girl might be. There are lots of characters in this story, but unlike most character driven books, it doesn't bog the story down. Everything unfolds in its own time. Bit by bit all sorts of secrets are revealed.

I read this book a chapter at a time, letting the story build slowly over a few days. Setterfield is quite the story-teller! She also wrote The Thirteenth Tale and Bellman & Black. Reading Once Upon a River makes me want to re-read her other two novels! And I'm eagerly awaiting her next book as well!

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Atria Books via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**




REVIEW: Living Dead in Dallas

Living Dead in Dallas
Author: Charlaine Harris

This year I made a New Year's Resolution that I would read more books that I enjoy....and revisit books that I loved. From Trixie Belden to Sookie Stackhouse, I have enjoyed my year of reading whatever I wanted to read -- with no guilt or book shaming allowed. When you get right down to it, reading is great for learning and exercising the grey matter, but it can also be a wonderful, joyful, fun experience. I have enjoyed this year of free-range reading so much that I have already decided to make the same resolution again. I'm going to read what I want....review it all....and just spend the year loving books. All sorts of books. :)

I started reading the Southern Vampire Series BTHS (Before the HBO Series) and even got my husband to read the novels with me. We watched the TV show faithfully each week and discussed what we thought about the book vs show, characters, etc. It was FUN! When the series ended....and the show ended....I missed our book chats. The books have sat on my keeper shelf since the final book published in 2013. I have fondly gazed at their colorful spines many, many times and promised to revisit the entire story....but never actually did it. Until now. I'm listening to the audio book versions of this series and loving it! So nice to revisit the characters and places that made me love this series!

Now....on to my review of this Charlaine Harris novel....    I do have a point. Really. Promise.

I normally don't read supernatural romance-y books. Most vampire fiction tends to delve down into weird sex, weird vibes and lots of spurting blood. I just don't enjoy the stories. But.....this series, for me, is an exception. The Southern Vampire series mixes Louisiana easy southern manners with humor and supernatural creatures of all sorts. I like the vibe of the series. I can see why they made an HBO series based on these books.

Dead in Dallas is book 2 in the series. After meeting Vampire Bill in book 1 and making a deal with the vampires to use her mind reading powers to help them on occasion, book 2 starts to heat up the clash between humans and vamps. Some groups just don't think vamps should be allowed to live....and are willing to do anything to wipe them off the face of the earth. At the same time, all the supernatural creatures coming out into the open is coaxing some ancient, powerful beings to come out of the shadows. It makes for a dangerous, volatile mix of emotions and violent actions on all sides.....

Dead in Dallas has some great character and setting development and lots of action. A very old vampire has disappeared....and Sookie is called in to help find him. At the same time, an ancient creature called a maenad comes to Bon Temps, loosening the inhibitions, morals and judgement of most of the humans in the area. Sookie finds herself searching for a missing vampire and investigating a murder....makes for an interesting book!

This book is where the HBO show and the books reallly started to veer apart. A minor character in the book series -- Lafayette -- dies in Book 2. Murdered. In the HBO show Lafayette is a main character....and someone else was murdered. Characters and the plot of the show and books were vastly different...so I enjoyed each as different versions of the same story. Lafayette was my favorite character in the show...the actor brought a vibrancy and life to the character that was never in the book version. The short lived character never got a chance to shine in the books. He was murdered at the speed of plot to start the maenad story line.

I am very much enjoying my return to Bon Temps. It's making me want to rewatch the show too!

This series has a lot of sexual references and some adult themes....I would recommend some parental guidance before letting those under 16 read these books. Adults who don't like sexual content might also want to pass on this series. There are some pretty hot and heavy moments in this book because of the maenad...nothing graphic or gross. Just a lot of Bacchus approved moments. Bow-chickie-bow wow. lol The sex is mixed in with the humor and southern charm of the characters.....so it isn't just gratuitous boinking, but part of the plot.

On to book 3! Club Dead.

Just an aside -- but luckily I bought my box set of the first few paperbacks before the HBO series came about and became popular. Most of my books don't have a huge red splotch on the front with "Now an HBO series'' in big letters. I really HATE IT when publishers do that. I get it -- there's a show and they want people to watch it. But I don't like having the covers of my books ruined by advertising. And I don't like it when the covers get changed to pictures of the characters from show/movie versions either. The book version comes first -- leave the cover art alone. By all means include a postcard or bookmark advertising the show -- but don't F with my book! lol Anybody else feel this way? Or am I a book curmudgeon?

Monday, December 10, 2018

REVIEW: There's No Place Like Home

There's No Place Like Home
Author: Edan Lepucki

Vic is 13 years old. In a world ravaged by increased temperatures, her generation will never really grow up. Girls her age, in the extreme heat and stress of everyday life, no longer go through puberty. Lots of people are moving north, abandoning places further south to the baking heat. When her father commits suicide, Vic wants to understand why he took his life, why he let her mother work so hard and why he made some of the choices he made. She discovers that truth isn't simple.

There's No Place Like Home is the 4th story in the Warmer Collection from Amazon/Audible Originals. Each story presents a picture of a world ravaged by global warming.

This story is very dark and Vic learns a rough lesson. Not only does she have to contend with a messed up life in a ravaged, hot, horrible world, but she faces betrayal from unexpected directions as well. The future is pretty much hopeless.

This entire collection so far has been weird and not all that enjoyable. I didn't really like this story all that much either. Very bleak. Not all that believable. And horrible characters. I felt Vic was horribly betrayed by both her parents...by everyone around her....and by life itself. The story itself is strange, rambling and uncomfortable. Not all stories are for every reader....and this collection so far seems to not really be my cup of tea.

I've been listening to the audio versions of these stories. Each one is about an hour long. There's No Place Like Home is narrated by Lauren Ezzo. She does a great job narrating. She reads at an even pace and has a nice voice. I have partial hearing loss, but was easily able to understand the entire story.

I'm going to listen to the entire collection, but so far I'm just not feelin' it. For me, these stories have been strange and disappointing. Moving on to the 5th story -- Falls the Shadow. Maybe I will like the next one better.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

REVIEW: An Unwanted Guest

An Unwanted Guest
Author: Shari Lapena

Upstate New York. Wintertime. A remote inn. No cell service. No wi-fi. Blizzard conditions.

Murders.

What might have been a relaxing get-away for several guests at the Mitchell's Inn in the Catskills quickly turns to a nightmare when the guests start dying. Someone is picking them off one at a time. But who? And why? Separated from the rest of civilization by snowfall and a power outage, the guests scramble to protect themselves and find out which one of them is a murderer.

I listened to an audio book version of this novel. Narrated by Hillary Huber, the audio from Peguin Random House Audio is just under 8.5 hours long. I liked Huber's narration for the most part, although at times she did get a bit monotone. I have partial hearing loss but was easily able to hear and understand Huber's voice. All in all, a nice listening experience.

I expected a much different ending. And was surprised by the seemingly lackluster solution at the end of the story. 75% of the story was incredibly suspenseful....and I was waiting for the twisty slam of an ending....but it never came. The story just sort of conveniently wrapped itself up...with a bit of a twisty gouge at the very end. I think I liked the more dramatic ending I envisioned better.....lol.   But -- despite the fact the ending seemed a bit abrupt -- this was a very entertaining and suspenseful story. I have read two other books by Lapena -- The Stranger in the House and The Couple Next Door -- and I love her writing. Putting those two earlier books in perspective gives me more understanding of the ending of this book. What wowed me about her two earlier books was the "This Could Actually Happen'' feeling her suspense stories have -- that realistic feeling that the shit-show unfolding in print could really actually happen to someone. The ending of An Unwanted Guest is that sort of horror as well. How well do you really know those around you? Are they really who and what they say they are? Everyone has secrets. Everyone has things in their past they want to keep in the shadows. And those shadows might be pulled away at any time. What might someone do to protect their secrets? While I did like my ideas about how the story would end.....Lapena's ending is better because......It could happen. Normal people. Normal lives. Abnormal secrets. And just the right push in the wrong direction.

It. Could. Happen.

Great suspense story. I'm definitely going to be looking forward to Lapena's next book! Haven't been disappointed yet! :)

.....and I'm not going to be renting a remote cabin or staying at a backwoods inn anytime soon. Nope. No way.


Saturday, December 8, 2018

REVIEW: The Meg

The Meg
Author: Steve Alten

Shark!! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

I am not a biologist or any sort of shark expert. Other than avidly watching documentaries -- and Shark Week, of course -- I know very little about the ocean and its inhabitants. But I do know that I LOVE monster movies with one of two things: crazy angry carnivores or unknown humongous cryptids. This book delivers both. I wanted to go see the movie this summer, but when I found out that it was based on a book....I had to follow My Rule -- ALWAYS read the book first.  So I opted to wait until the movie released on DVD to watch it. Netflix has the DVD available now....so I bumped the book to the top of my list and grabbed the audio book from my local library.

On the one hand, I do have to say that this story has been done before....many times. Rogue scientist touts unpopular belief...gets mocked, "ruins'' career, gets shunned by academia....UNTIL....

....that UNTIL is the most important part......

UNTIL (suspense building music stab inserted here)......the cryptid beast, pending doom, crazy idea he was warning everyone about shows up and starts killing/attacking, etc.

Then....academia and a whole host of other people come rushing back begging him to help them take care of the situation. Godzilla. Volcanoes. Earthquakes. Global warming. Whales. Giant Octopus/squid. Asteroids. Aliens. Dinosaurs. And....sharks.

It's been done. Many times.

But I love it! And this time...it's a GIANT shark. Move over Jaws.....The Meg eats Great Whites for a snack.....and whales, giant squid, submersibles, boats, divers....hell anything that will fit in its mouth.

SO....old plot. Bigger, badder monster. Bigger. Angrier. Hungrier.  Did I say BIGGER??

BIGGER!!!!!

Loved this book! I don't care if it's impossible, faux science, old hat.....it makes me happy. This sort of book is my favorite brain candy.

I love the premise. I like the characters. And I even like the shark. It's only doing what it was made to do.....and very well for that matter. I like Steve Alten's writing....he mixes a scientific feel with an action/monster plot very well.

About the only complaint I have is a bit of an issue with the audio book narration. Sean Runnette reads at a nice pace and his acting is good for the most part. My issue is with his voice. He seems to have a problem pronouncing some consonants, especially S. It sounds like the actor might have poorly fitting dentures or some other speech problem? Or maybe it's just poor quality sound, equipment or editing? Not sure what the exact problem is, but I have partial hearing loss so crisp, quality sound on audio books is essential for me. I had a bit of trouble understanding Runnette's narration.

The audio book I listened to from Tantor Audio is 10.5 hours long and includes both The Meg and Origins (a prequel for The Meg). I was surprised to find out that The Meg is actually a series of 5 books! More large shark mayhem! Yay! I will definitely be listening/reading the rest of the series. And now that I've read the book....I can see the movie! Got it at the top of my Netflix list!

Friday, December 7, 2018

REVIEW: Murder Most Frothy

Murder  Most Frothy
Author: Cleo Coyle

Written by married co-authors, the Coffeehouse Mysteries are some of my favorite cozies. Set in a popular coffee house in NYC, the stories always have a sweet mix of coffee, life in New York and murder. I've read most of the books in this series before, but decided it was time to start all over at the beginning and read them again. :)

Murder Most Frothy is the 4th book in the series. Clare Cosi is spending some time away from Village Blend in the city. She's staying at a posh Hamptons mansion to help her friend, David Mintzer serve coffee at his summer galas. The July 4th party ends with a bang when Clare discovers a barista dead in Mintzer's private bathroom. Nobody heard the gunshots over the fireworks. Clare thinks someone is gunning for Mintzer and shot the wrong person. She's determined to protect her friend and discover the killer.

I listened to the audio book version of this story. Narrator Rebecca Gibel did a great job reading and providing voices to all the characters. At about 7.5 hours, the audio book from Blackstone Audio was an enjoyable listen. I have partial hearing loss and sometimes female voices are hard for me to hear properly. But I was easily able to hear and enjoy this entire book. :)

I love Clare as a main character. She's intelligent, feisty and a great business manager. Her situation is really unique....Village Blend is owned by her former mother in law and she will someday co-own the business with her ex-husband. She lives above the coffee shop in a posh furnished apartment, which she often shares with her ex when he's in town. They get along....with only a few moments of snark here and there. It all works out....Village Blend is a thriving business....even with a murder here and there thrown in to distract Clare.

The Coffeehouse Mystery series has 17 books, with an 18th book -- Brewed Awakenings -- coming out in 2019. Alice Alfonsi and her husband Marc Cerasini, using the pen name Cleo Coyle, also write the Haunted Bookshop series, another of my favorites.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

REVIEW: Controller

Controller
Author: Jesse Kellerman

Controller is the 3rd story in the Warmer Collection from Amazon Originals/Audible. There are 7 stories from various authors in the collection. All have a theme of climate change....sort of.

In Controller, an elderly mother and her son are living together. Both are abusive to each other. Their contempt and disrespect of each other manifests in a fight over control of the thermostat. It's hot outside. The elderly mother who is cold all the time wants the AC off. The son, who is hot, wants it left on. Tempers flare....

I did not like this story. I hated both of the characters. The mother's incessant droning on and on about how having a child ruined her life, how she is old and cold, and nagging her son for ice cream.....OMG I wanted to hop into the story and just scream at her to shut the F up.  And the son, thinking about how he hates being stuck with his aging mother (understandable really as she is completely horrific), is just completely unable to stand up for himself and be an adult. He basically just whines. Two awful people stuck in a hot, awful house basking in their awfulness together. Ick.

I listened to the audio book version of this story. It was just over an hour of pure agony. The narration by Chris Andrew Ciulla is spot on. He does the voices and emotions of the characters perfectly. But....the characters are completely annoying. Therefore, the audio was torture to listen to. It's not Ciulla's fault -- his acting was great. It's the characters that are the problem. I could not stand 5 minutes in a room with either one of them without losing my temper. The whining and complaining mother. The simpering son. Ugh. I'm not a quitter....and I can endure just about anything for an hour....so I listened to the whole thing hoping it would get better.

Nope. Hated it.

Terrible.

But.....a story that causes a real emotional reaction in readers is well-written. If I was rating this story purely on my enjoyment of the tale....I would give this one star and be happy with that. But....this story really made me uncomfortable, angry, annoyed.....so Jesse Kellerman got his point across. I was supposed to feel that way. His characters are both assholes.....I'm supposed to hate them. I don't have to like the point....he's just supposed to make me FEEL his point.

Message received. Two stars. Well-written story -- horrific, unlikable characters.

OMG....that mother. Holy shit. What a nightmare!