Saturday, December 16, 2017

REVIEW: Illuminae

Illuminae
Authors:  Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

The audiobook version of this sci-fi thriller is just amazing. It's full cast, with amazing acting and sound effects. The story grabbed me right from the beginning. This is an action packed, entertaining, sci-fi story.

The basics:  When Kady breaks up with her boyfriend Ezra, she thinks that is the extent of the stress for her week. She couldn't have been more wrong. That same day the planet is attacked by a corporation, BeiTech, that wants to take over the mining operation there. The attack causes death and chaos. To make matters worse, those who escape the planet face a virus, mutating and spreading among the survivors. The AI that controls the weapons, life support and other vital systems malfunctions. And, in the distance, a ship is coming.....a ship that means to destroy everyone who is left.

Wow! This story just blew me away. The full cast audio book made this a truly entertaining experience. I'm not going to give away much about the plot so that I don't spoil anything. I will say the story is a great blend of action and emotion.....a tale about the strengths and weaknesses of humanity, the dark,empty beauty of space, and the many facets of love. I enjoyed the full story....but the last hour, it definitely kept me right at the edge of my seat. Don't discount this book because it's classified as YA....just as the main character can't be judged for only being 17.  Kady is such a strong, intelligent, brave character. The story is told through ship's logs, instant messages and emails, interviews, and recovered documents. Creative!

All in all, a great sci-fi action story! I loved every minute of it!

This is the first book in the Illuminae Files trilogy. Book two, Gemina was published in 2016, and book 3, Obsidio, will be out in 2018.  I will definitely be reading (or listening) to the rest of this series!

To find out more about the authors check out their websites: http://amiekaufman.com/ and https://jaykristoff.com/

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

REVIEW: Mr. Dickens and His Carol

Mr. Dickens and His Carol
Author: Samantha Silva

A Christmas Carol by Dickens has been my favorite book ever since the first time I read the story as a child. I re-read it every year and watch every movie version from Alastair Sim to the Muppets. :) When I heard about this book, I knew I had to read it. :) I'm glad I did!

First of all, don't confuse this book with the book or movie "The Man Who Invented Christmas''....that is another story by another author (Les Standiford). Standiford's book is non-fiction, telling the tale of how A Christmas Carol reignited Dickens' career. This book -- Mr. Dickens and His Carol -- although it contains some factual information here and there, is a work of fiction. Silva states at the end of the book that the story is a re-imagining of how A Christmas Carol was written. It's meant as an homage to Dickens, not as a factual story. I read and enjoyed Silva's book with that in mind.

I read this book wrapped up in my favorite fuzzy purple blanket, a cup of hot Earl Grey beside me, my fat cat asleep on my lap, and Alastair Sim in the movie A Christmas Carol (1951) playing in the background for ambiance. Full on Christmas spirit goin' on around here. :) The only way I could have felt more Christmas-y would be if I had strung twinkle lights around my head before sitting down to read. I couldn't read a book about my absolutely most favorite beloved story without everything being just right. I wanted to enjoy every word. The minute I started to read, I couldn't put the book down. It's a delightful story! Before Alastair Sim as Scrooge pretended to fire Cratchit for being late to work after Christmas, I had devoured this entire book. I loved it! And the cover is awesome! It made this Dickens fan totally happy!

Anyone who loves A Christmas Carol will enjoy this book. Just remember to read it as a work of fiction -- not a factual account.

Mr. Dickens and His Carol is Samantha Silva's debut novel. For more infoformation on the author, check out her website: https://www.samanthasilvawriter.com/


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

REVIEW: The Giver

The Giver
Author: Lois Lowry

I had never heard of this book or the author before my son came home from school with a permission slip for me to sign. The book had some "sensitive subject matter"in it (as far as the school is concerned) so they asked for parental permission before assigning the kids to read it. I looked up a blurb on the book, read a little about it, and listened to the first couple of chapters of the audiobook. I signed the slip. I would have signed it no matter what the content of the book. But I would have carefully read it and had discussions with my son about the book if it had sexual or other situations I thought warranted some parental involvement. I didn't feel the book warranted Mom-mode, but the little bit that I read did pique my curiousity. I spent today doing some heavy cleaning and packing up items to donate to local charity and I needed something to listen to while I worked. I remembered I still had the audiobook loaded on my phone. The unabridged audiobook is only 4 1/2 hours long....perfect companion for a day of housework.

The basics: Jonas is nearing his 12th birthday. When kids in his community turn 12, they get assigned their jobs in life. Everything changes....they start training for their vocation, there is less time for play with their former classmates, and they are on the track to adulthood. It's an important milestone. More important than their naming ceremony the first year, the year where they lose their comfort item they've slept with since infancy, the 9th year when kids get their first bicycle......all of the other milestones pale in comparison to Twelve. Jonas is nervous. What if he gets wrongly assigned to a job he won't like? He's excited, but a bit scared too. He hopes that whatever he get assigned that he will perform well and not make mistakes.People who can't follow the rules or make mistakes can get corrected...but sometimes they are released. Old people are released. Sickly infants are released. They leave the community to go Elsewhere and are never seen again. Jonas really doesn't wonder much about Elsewhere. He's sure they are happy and productive there. Jonas has no clue what his Twelfth year will mean for him....it will change his entire life.

I'm not going to give away any spoilers. But, I do understand why the school asked permission for sixth graders to read this book. It's not bad....nothing sexual or completely over the top....just some deep subjects that do require a bit of discussion. My son isn't quite to the part where I know he is going to have some questions -- or want to rant a bit. But I did let him know I've read the whole thing, and I'm ready for when he gets to certain parts. The plot isn't anything new......it's been discussed in many books before. But it does add some new elements to the story. When is it ok to control choices and limit decisions, experiences......and what happens when it goes too far? When does trying to prevent injury, pain and harsh life experiences become so total that other parts of what it means to be human also disappear? Things like love, the value of life, and individuality.  Very interesting concepts....and the iffy portions of the subject matter are not graphic or over dramatized. The book is well-written...and chilling. I'm glad my sixth grader is reading it....and I look forward to discussing the book with him as he gets a bit further in the story.

The audiobook I listened to (enguin Random House Audio Publishing) is just a bit under 5 hours long. Ron Rifkin narrates. He reads at a good pace and is easily understandable. I have hearing loss, but was easily able to hear and understand him. The recording quality is excellent.

The Giver is part of a 4-book series. I'm definitely going to read the rest of the series!

To find out more about the author and her other books, check out her website: http://www.loislowry.com/

REVIEW: The Trouble With Murder

The Trouble With Murder
Author: Kathy Krevat

Colbie Summers is trying to build her organic cat food business, raise a 12-year old boy and help her ill father. Her life in beautiful Sunnyside, CA is busy and chaotic. She has a chance to increase distribution of her Meowlio Batali products to a health food store chain that owns seven locations in the San Diego area, and she's networking like mad to get as much local exposure as possible. She's even joined the Sunnyside Power Moms, a group for female home business owners in the area. The SPMs are having a trade show in a gated community and Colbie is helping with setup. She fields complaints about booth space, competing products and other catty in-fighting among the SPM members, but the show goes smoothly otherwise. During the show, her father becomes ill at home so Colbie has to leave early. Her friend Twila offers to pack up her products and drop them off at her house after the show ends. Later, Colbie and her father return to the product show site, only to find that Twila has been murdered. Not just killed...she has a Meowlio Batali brand knife sticking out of her chest. Suddenly Colbie's life is a whole lot more complicated.... she's a suspect in a murder investigation!!

The Trouble With Murder is the first book in the new Gourmet Cat Mystery series It's a quick, fun read and gives a great introduction to the characters and their lives in Sunnyside. I like Colbie as a main character. She is trying to improve her life by building her business but still takes time out to help her father recover and to make sure her son gets what he needs to thrive. She also supports her son's love of theater. I also had to smile at the relationship between her and her father. They grouse at each other occasionally, but are always there to support and love each other, even if it's in secret. The mystery moved along at a good pace and had some nice surprises. I pretty much had the murder figured out before the end....but the ending was action-packed and exciting, so I didn't mind that the murderer's identity wasn't a surprise. All in all, a very enjoyable, fun cozy mystery! And the cover is totally cute! :)

I will definitely be reading more of this series! Luckily, I don't have too long to wait! The second book, The Trouble With Truth, will be out in August 2018.

Kathy Krevat also writes the Chocolate Covered Mystery series (published by Berkley) under the name Kathy Aarons. To find out more about the author and her books, check out her website: http://www.kathyaarons.com/

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




Monday, December 11, 2017

REVIEW: Fever Dream

Fever Dream
Authors: Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

So far, this book is my favorite in the Agent Pendergast series. Fever Dream is the 10th book in the 16-book series. A 17th book, City of Endless Night, is coming out in 2018.

Pendergast's wife, Helen, died 12 years before during a safari in Africa. She was attacked and killed by a lion. While in New Orleans at his family's home, Pendergast discovers evidence that Helen's death was not an accident. It was murder. Immediately he knows he must investigate, identify Helen's killer, and get justice (or revenge) for his wife. He enlists the help of NYPD officer Vincent D'Agosta. As they investigate, Pendergast discovers that there were things about his wife that he didn't know. She was researching a dangerous, mind altering virus and illegal medical experimentation and someone wanted her silenced. Pendergast is willing to go from the jungles of Africa to the swamps of Louisiana to find out who killed his wife.

Pendergast is still tall, pale, brooding and upper class snooty. A'gosta remains city tough and  NYPD through and through, with a strange loyalty to Pendergast. And Captain Laura Heywood is still pissed that Pendergast always seems to get A'gosta injured or in trouble. This story gives some new insight into Pendergast....his past and how he deals with emotion. We see some chinks in the FBI agent's armor. There were so many things about his wife that he didn't know, and he struggles with that knowledge while hunting for her killer. This book is an action-packed thriller. I think the series has found new direction following the ending of the Diogenes storyline. I can't wait to see where it goes from here.

I don't really care for the Constance Green portion of the story. I felt like it was inserted inbetween portions of the investigation just to keep readers reminded that Constance is still around....still strange. She goes from being in a tibetan monastery, to on board a ship, to in a mental hospital....bleck. I know that her storyline will be picked up in a subsequent book, but I almost feel like it's an unnecessary cord attached to the Diogenes plot. I'd rather the series just moved forward with new, creepy investigations without opening the can of worms that is his time-displaced, strange ward, Constance. But, I know it's coming......like a strange black cloud on the horizon.

I enjoyed this book....and I love this series. It's creepy, weird and exciting. I'm definitely moving on to book #11!

I listened to the unabridged audiobook version of this book. It was narrated by Rene Auberjonois.He reads at a nice, even pace and is easily understood. I have partial hearing loss but am able to easily hear and understand him. I also like his accent and the way he does dialogue for Pendergast. After listening to most of this series on audiobook, I prefer Auberjonois as narrator. The audiobook is about 14 1/2 hours long. The quality is great. Enjoyable listen!

To find out more about the authors and their books, check out their website: https://www.prestonchild.com/

Saturday, December 9, 2017

REVIEW: The Child Finder

The Child Finder
Author: Rene Denfeld

Naomi is The Child Finder. She's a private investigator who specializes in finding lost children. A little girl, Madison Culver, disappeared while on a trip into Skookum National Forest. She was with her parents and they were hunting for a Christmas tree. One second she was right there with them....and the next second she was just gone. Her parents searched for hours. Search teams scoured the area for days....she was never found. Three years later, the parents call Naomi. If anyone can find Madison, her body, or just some sort of sign of what happened to their little girl, it's The Child Finder. Why is Naomi so talented at finding lost little ones? She was once lost herself. She knows something happened to her as a child, but she has no memory of events before she was found wandering, naked. Some migrant workers dropped her off at a police station, and she was put into foster care. Naomi was once lost....and now she helps find the lost. Can she find little Madison?

This story is powerful and haunting. And not for the feint of heart. Warning: This book contains instances of child rape, abuse, and kidnapping. It is not described in graphic detail....but it is there. If that might be a trigger topic, or too much for a reader, it might be best to avoid this book. As a mother, I had a hard time reading this book. It's well written and suspenseful, but disturbing. If I had known beforehand that this story dealt with that level of abuse, I probably would not have read it. But -- that does not mean it isn't a good book. Some stories make a reader uncomfortable. Some stories hit where it hurts. Some stories are about truth that we don't want to acknowledge. That makes this a hard hitting, realistic story....not a bad book. If the subject of child kidnapping and abuse didn't make me uncomfortable....then I would have something to worry about.

There was one point in the book where I had an eyeroll moment. Naomi is talking about prior cases she worked. One was a kidnapping case where the girl was found alive. The girl's name was Elizabeth Wiley. Wiley? Badly veiled reference to Elizabeth Smart? I just felt that the name wasn't necessary....too melodramatic maybe? Or just a weird choice by the author. Or it could be I was already extremely uncomfortable with child rape references that the name choice just was an easy excuse to roll my eyes and put the book down for awhile.

All in all - as a mom this was a rough book to read. But, it is a well-written story of human strength, resilience and survival. Naomi brings light to the darkness.....her strength and determination lend hope to those broken by loss.

To find out more about the author and her books, check out her website: http://www.renedenfeld.com/

Friday, December 8, 2017

REVIEW: The Black Jacket Mystery (Trixie Belden)

The Black Jacket Mystery
Author: Kathryn Kenny

This 8th mystery in the Trixie Belden series opens with the BWGs (Bob-Whites of the Glen) planning a carnival fundraiser to help the Mexican village of San Isidro following an earthquake. The money they raise will help buy books for the San Isidro school library that was heavily damaged in the disaster. The BWGs are busily planning the event, gathering prizes and doing all they can to have a fun carnival. But as usual, Trixie and the gang get pulled into a mystery. Regan, the Wheeler's groom, is acting strangely and seems to be hiding something. Trixie sees a paper in the Wheeler's tack room that might be pointing to some sort of legal problem. Soon after, there is a new boy on the school bus. He seems very unfriendly and seems out of place in his black leather jacket and hat. His name is Dan Manigan, and he starts talking some pretty rough talk in the cafeteria....gangs, fights, switchblades. Then strange things start happening....Honey's watch is stolen and the clubhouse is broken into. Is Dan a thief? Or are they misjudging him?

The plot for The Black Jacket Mystery is a bit predictable, but still an enjoyable read with a good message. There are some nice developments for the BWGs in this 8th story. As an adult re-reading these I am wondering one thing though......when is little Bobby (Trixie's little brother) going to start talking like a 7 year old and not a toddler? What 7 year old says stuff like "Holp! Holp!'' and "I losted it and Trixie tooked it.''  No kid that goes to school talks like that. lol.  C'mon Bobby -- you can be cute and little without talking like a two year old. As a middle schooler I loved these books. It was my favorite series. I had every book -- all matching of course -- lined up in series order on my bookshelf. :) And when the last few new books came out (I was in high school) I remember being so excited that the series was continuing. :) As an adult, I'm still very much enjoying the series, but I do notice I look at a few things (like Bobby's dialogue) with adult eyes.

Moving on to book 9! Next up is The Happy Valley Mystery!

The Trixie Belden series was written from 1948 - 1986. There are 39 books in the series. The first six books were written by Julie Campbell. The rest of the series was written by various authors under the pen name Kathryn Kenny.