Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Girls' Night Out

Girls' Night Out
Author: Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke

Three women take a vacation to Mexico in an attempt to mend their relationship. The problems between Ashley, Natalie and Lauren are complicated. Lauren blames Ashley for the death of her husband. Natalie wants Ashley to agree to sell the corporation they built together. And Ashley wants to keep control of her life, her business...and her secrets. But she also wants her two best friends back. The trip takes a strange tangent when Ashley becomes obsessed with a local man. Marco talks about native rituals, ceremonies and magic.....a way to bring peace back to life. And Ashley just loses focus. When she disappears, things careen out of control for Natalie and Lauren. Natalie can't remember what happened that last night, and Lauren regrets things she said and did. What happened to Ashley? And will their lives ever be the same?

Wow....this book was suspenseful, disturbing and awesome. It kept me guessing until the very end. Just as I thought I knew what happened....the story would take a twist and leave me wondering again. What a bunch of F'd up people. But aren't we all just a little F'd up? Not to this extreme I hope....but we all have secrets, regrets, friendships we screwed up, mistakes made, lessons learned. These three women want to re-forge their friendship, but sometimes it's difficult to rebuild burnt bridges or get past insurmountable personality differences. None of them are totally honest with any of the others. And that sort of fake, yet emotionally binding, friendship has a cost. It's a toxic mix.  Each one is selfish in their own way, wanting the friendships to last for their own gratification not for any bond or caring for any of the others. I disliked, yet sympathized, with each of them. Ashley is clueless about her controlling and manipulative behavior. Natalie is weak-willed and lets others take control, then resents it. Lauren blames others for the crap in her life, rather than admitting the fault is her own. They are all whiny, immature, manipulative bitches......yet very very human. Just like all of us. Ultimately, they all pay a price for their mistakes.

This book sucked me right in. I couldn't stop reading. I stayed up way too late because I had to know what happened! Definitely a binge reading event! Loved it! The characters frustrated the piss out of me....but I couldn't stop wondering what the hell was going to happen to them. Perfect. Love-hate relationship with the story. It definitely kept me reading! Like a soap opera keeps you watching, even though you want to look away.

This is the first book I have read by these authors. I'm definitely reading more! Great book!

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

Monday, July 30, 2018

REVIEW: Turtles All The Way Down

Turtles All The Way Down
Author: John Green

Russell Pickett is missing. The wealthy businessman is just gone....no trace, no calls or contact with his kids, no activity on his bank accounts. There is a $100,000 reward for information leading to his whereabouts. Local teenager Aza and her sidekick Daisy decide to become amateur sleuths, hoping to claim the reward. Aza tries to keep her spiraling obsessive thoughts under control, while suffering through therapy appointments and being lax with her meds. Her friend Daisy helps to keep her functioning, although it is at times more than she can take. They befriend Pickett's older son, Davis and his little brother, Noah. Where is Russell Pickett?? But, really, this novel isn't about Russell Pickett at all. It's about relationships, mental illness, family, emotions.....just about everything else but Russell Pickett. And....it's beautiful.

At first, I didn't know whether I was going to like this book or not. I try to steer away from novels that are deeply emotional or deal with difficult subjects. I don't like to finish a story and feel depressed. But I gave this one a chance. I'm glad I did. While the book is hard-hitting and emotional, I didn't finish it with depressed feelings. I felt like the story was realistic....a coming-of-age tale told with truth and hope.

The characters are engaging and realistic. I loved and sympathized with them all. Aza is my favorite. She battles her demons with all her might, while realizing her faults and mistakes. She comes to understand so many things about herself and others. She learns to love, to forgive and to respect herself. Daisy is a close runner up. She has her faults, but she loves her best friend. No matter how difficult that is at times.

Before I read this book, I wondered why the coverart was so weird....but now I totally get it. The cover is perfect.

This is the first book by John Green that I have read. I'm definitely going to read more. This was a "heavier'' story than I usually allow myself to read, but incredible.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

REVIEW: A Cold Flame

A Cold Flame
Author: Aidan Conway

As Rome is sweltering in the summer heat, a killer lurks...striking out in horrific ways. Five illegal immigrants are burned to death, unable to escape a flat where the doors have been sealed from the outside. Then a priest is killed, his body horribly mutilated and a pipe bomb goes off at a university. Detective Michael Rossi and his partner Luigi Carrera are on the trail of a terror organization and a brutal killer. Can they stop the killer before more people die?

A Cold Flame is the follow up book to A Known Evil, the first book in the Michael Rossi series. While it isn't completely necessary to read the books in order, to get the full scope of the characters and setting, it might be best to read A Known Evil first. I loved the gritty, fast paced plot in A Known Evil, and this second book didn't let up one bit. The action started at page 1 and kept up a steady, suspenseful pace all the way through. I love the fact this series is set in Rome....lots of politics, intrigue, corruption. It really makes for an exciting read! There is plenty of action and twists in this book. The characters are engaging and the crimes gruesome. A Cold Flame is a great addition to this new series.

I'm not going to say much about the plot, as this is a book readers want to experience with as few spoilers as possible. Once I got sucked into the story, I couldn't put this book down. I like the international feel and grit of this series. Very enjoyable! I will definitely be reading more of this series.

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Harper Impulse/Killer Reads via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

Thursday, July 26, 2018

REVIEW: Indianapolis - The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in Naval History

Indianapolis: The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in Naval History
Author: Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic

I am ashamed to admit that I knew nothing of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis during World War II until I saw a documentary on it during Shark Week on Discovery Channel in 2007. Years of history classes...many on the two world wars....for a college degree....and I knew nothing about the most disastrous sinking in US Naval history.  Most stories about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis focus on the sharks that attacked both dead bodies and live sailors in the water after the sinking, but this book focuses on the entire story, not just the dramatic survival parts. Information on the ship, its officers and crew, the war, its mission just before the ship was torpedoed, the men who died and the survivors who floated in the ocean for four days before being rescued. The intent of the authors is to present the information necessary to prove that Captain Charles McVay III was not at fault. Captain McVay was court martialed after the sinking, but later pardoned. His naval record was wiped clean decades later after his death.

The authors definitely did a lot of research. The facts are presented in an interesting and detailed fashion, while still being respectful of the Sailors who lost their lives in the sinking. This book dispels a lot of rumors and misinformation caused by movies and television shows. For example, the sharks did not appear for a couple days after the sinking not instantly as portrayed in a recent movie. The animals were lured in by the scent of corpses and injured sailors in the water. A majority of the deaths after the sinking were not due to shark attack. About 300 men went down with the ship. 900 went into the water. After dehydration, injuries, salt poisoning, lack of food, exhaustion....and sharks....took their toll on the survivors, only 316 sailors survived.  The book also explains why Captain McVay was not zigzagging the boat at the time it was torpedoed, and why it took four days for suvivors to be rescued. The Indianapolis had just completed delivery of top secret war materials (uranium and materials for the nuclear bombs dropped on Japan) so it's position and orders were secret. Nobody knew where the ship was and when it was supposed to return to port except for a very, very few people. It took days for them to realize the ship was even missing.

Very interesting book! I enjoyed hearing the entire story. I never knew the ship was severely damaged by a suicide bomber just months before a torpedo sank the ship. I never knew why the captain was not zigzagging, as ships were usually directed to do to make it harder to target them. Because I learned about the sinking initially on a Shark Week documentary, I thought most of the men in the water were attacked by sharks. Not true. Some were, but most died of exposure, exhaustion and untreated injuries.

All in all, a great, very informative book. I will definitely read more by these authors!

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

REVIEW: Young Hitler

Young Hitler
Author: Paul Ham

How did a young man who wanted to be an artist end up one of the most reviled, evil men of recent history? As a mother, I have often wondered what horrible mistakes his family must have made to raise a son that ordered the deaths of millions of people. It turns out the answer really isn't as simple as a bad childhood or abuse or whatever go-to reason we might ascribe to it today. Paul Ham's book on the youth and young adulthood of Adolph Hitler is well researched and points out some pivotal times in the creation of a monster.

The book not only includes information about Hitler's upbringing and young life, but also the history of politics and social upheaval in Germany, Austria and Europe at the time. All of those historical elements set the scene for Hitler to develop into the dictator he became. His life moving from soldier to revolutionary to political leader to dictator is fascinating and sad at the same time. I wonder what would have become of Hitler had he been accepted into art school as a young man, instead of being rejected? In the end, I guess it really doesn't matter what "might have been'' as history can't be changed. But it is thought provoking to think that one or two small changes in this man's life might have prevented the deaths of millions across Europe.

Ham obviously put much research and thought into his book. He did say that tracing facts about family lineage and youth of the Fuhrer is difficult because many of the records were destroyed by the Nazi party so they could build him up as a perfect leader. They created lies and propaganda to cover up the illegitimacy and questionable background of one of his parents and anything deemed less than stellar in his background. The author does not present Hitler in a totally negative light. He shares the good and bad that he discovered about Hitler as a young man. He was not born totally evil. He morphed into it over years. And, as we all know, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

All in all, a very interesting book and I learned a lot that I didn't know. It is a hard subject to read about as I had family members who fought in the war, and extended family in Germany who were killed. I read the book in small doses....when it got to be too much, I would take a break and come back after a rest from it. As a mother I'm glad I read this book. It shows that the sum of a man's adult decisions do not necessarily stem from his upbringing, but as a total of his life experiences, environment, outside influences and other factors. I can't imagine what it would be like to be the parent of a evil, murderous person. Hitler's mother died in 1907 way before her son killed anyone. I'm glad that she never knew what her little boy would grow up to become. And, I'm sorry that little boy ended up the way he did. Nobody is born evil. It's unfortunate that he made the life choices that he did. Not out of concern for him.....but for the millions of people that he had murdered. My family members....and the family of so many, many others. Sad.

Great book! Very well documented. The facts are presented in an interesting fashion without becoming dry, tedious or repetitive as some non-fiction books can be. I'm definitely going to read more non-fiction by this author!

**I voluntarily read an advance readers copy of this book from Pegasus Books/W.W. Norton via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

Sunday, July 22, 2018

REVIEW: The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald

I first read this book in high school, and again in college. But, I didn't fully understand it. I read it in-depth and thought I knew what it was all about. But, I had to re-read it at age 50 to really get it. There are just some nuances a younger me didn't comprehend.....how a person can surround themselves with friends, yet have no real friends...how a person can sit in a room filled with others and be lonely....how some live behind a facade hiding their real selves....the line between the phenomenally rich and normal people just can't be easily crossed....and the huge price some people will pay for obsessive love. I got a lot more out of this book re-reading it in middle age. It made Gatsby a much more tragic character. He had everything.....and nothing at the same time. And lost it all. Over a woman who didn't deserve his feelings for her. Much more powerful experience reading this book when I understand the underlying emotion better.

Gatsby lives on Long Island. He has a huge mansion, expensive cars, expensive friends.....hell, expensive everything. He is lavish. He is larger than life. He is the life of the party. But it's all fake. Inside he is lonely, desperate and empty. The story is told through the eyes of Nick Carraway, who watches as the man disintegrates. All the glitz and glamor of the 1920s colors this novel. Fitzgerald lifts the veil off the upper class, showing the darker underside of the golden age.

I listened to an audio version of this book. William Hope narrated. His reading pace was perfect and his voice is easy to understand. I have partial hearing loss, but was easily able to hear and understand the entire story.

The Great Gatsby is one of the 100 books chosen for The Great American Read. I enjoyed re-visiting this story. Jay Gatsby is a memorable and tragic hero. Fitzgerald really was a master of his craft. This book is truly a classic. This is the 14th book I have read on my quest to read the entire list of books chosen for The Great American Read. A listing of the books is here: http://www.pbs.org/the-great-american-read/books/#/   86 to go! :)

Saturday, July 21, 2018

REVIEW: Written in Stone

Written in Stone
Author: Ellery Adams

Oyster Bay, NC has a witch....a strange fortune teller woman, Munin Cooper, who lives outside town. Olivia Limoges thinks it's a bit unusual when a friend tells her that Munin has summoned her. She is busy trying to help plan the Coastal Carolina Food Festival, but it's just too intriguing to ignore so she goes to visit Munin. The strange woman has much to say about Olivia's past and her mother, leaving Olivia with many questions. Unfortunately, the witch woman is murdered, leaving the questions unanswered and Olivia a suspect. Munin left behind a piece of her artwork....a memory jug filled with clues. Will the items sealed in the jar lead to a killer?

Written in Stone is the 4th book of 8 in the Books By the Bay series, so I'm halfway finished with this series. The mystery was nicely paced and kept my interest from beginning to end. There were some surprises in this one. I like how Ellery Adams not only finishes out the mystery portion of the plot, but takes time to flesh out some more character development and background story in each book. The tale doesn't just abruptly halt when the killer is discovered. I do have to add that at times the events do get a bit too melodramatic for me. I like the mix of mystery and women's fiction.....and dislike it at the same time. Does that make sense? Let me explain -- I enjoy the extra character and story development....but I dislike the characters constant whining about the past, the saga of love relationships and mucka-muck that drown much of women's fiction until it's like reading a story from the Lifetime Channel. That is the very reason I avoid the romance genre like the plague. BUT....the mystery plots in this series are unique enough to keep me coming back. Plus the series is set in NC where I live -- I love reading stories set in my home state. :) So I still roll my eyes when the female characters in these books start getting overly emotional....but I can enjoy the story.

A slight note of caution -- this is technically a cozy mystery series because there is no spurting blood or cursing, etc. BUT, this series does have sex in it. It isn't graphic or overdone....but there are some more adult themes. If looking for a cozy series with no sex or one that is appropriate for sharing with your kids, I would pass this one by.

On to the next book! I'm very curious what will happen with this likable cast of characters in the final 4 books in the series!

Friday, July 20, 2018

REVIEW: Purrfection

Author: Sophie Macheteau

This is quite simply a book about cats for people who love cats. Purrfection has a little bit of everything from cute cat photos and facts about the history of cats to crafts and links to download kitty fun online (apps and audio of cat purrs) This book would be a perfect gift for a cat lover or someone bringing home their first feline companion.

Purrfection is a quick read at 96 pages. Every page has a photo or illustration on it. I enjoyed the section with yoga poses that people could do with their cat. But, I expect my four cats would all freak out at being picked up like that. The wide variety of information is fun to read. I not only kitty companions, but I foster for the local humane society as well, so I enjoyed every little tidbit of information about kitties. :) The photos are cute and engaging, and the cover is eye catching.

An enjoyable read! And definitely a great gift idea for any cat owner or new adopter!

My littlest foster kitten, Little Orphan Annie, gives this book a 5 Toe-bean rating. She sat on my desk and "helped'' me read by batting at all the kitty pictures with her paws and meowing in her little squeaky way. She is a tortoiseshell kitty....and torties always speak their mind. Even tiny ones. She was definitely engaged with all the beautiful photos of cats. I'm not sure she really read the text though.....maybe skimmed it. :) I did not try yoga with her. Torties do not appreciate yoga. I figure reading time together is about as zen as she is going to get.

Little Orphan Annie, guest book reviewer
**I voluntarily read a review copy of this book from Schiffer Publishing via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own. All meows and feline commentary are totally Little Orphan Annie's idea, too. Meow. Dogs stink. (Annie made me add that last bit).**

REVIEW: The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water
Author: Guillermo del Toro, Daniel Kraus

An expedition from the Occam Aerospace Research Center treks into the Amazon to find the legendary Gill God, an aquatic creature rumored to live there. They capture it and bring it back to Baltimore. Elisa is mute and works as a janitor at the facility. While her muteness cuts her off from some facets of society or makes people treat her differently, she finds ways to express herself like wearing colorful shoes she loves to work. Nobody else does janitorial work in high heels, but it makes Elisa happy. When she befriends the man-fish creature they have trapped in a holding tank at Occam, she feels she understands his feelings of being trapped, the emotions he must feel about being "other'' and misunderstood. She knows that the creature will die if kept in captivity, so she hatches a plan to rescue him.

The Creature From the Black Lagoon is my favorite monster movie. When the film version of this story won academy awards, I knew I had to read the book....and then watch the film. I have a firm rule....always read the book first. So I did -- even though with this particular story the film and book were released at the same time. The film concept came first.....the book after. A special situation....but I still followed my rule. I read the book. And I now have the sealed Blu Ray Disc on my desk to watch later today. :) I'm glad I read this story. While it is about the capture of a creature from the wild, it's also a complex commentary on how society treats those who are different. Other characters in the book also feel that "otherness''....Elisa is mute. Giles is gay. Strickland has PTSD. His wife yearns for more in an era where women are supposed to be content being wives and mothers. Zelda is black and trapped in a bad marriage. Dr. Hoffstetler has a deep desire for knowledge and scientific discovery but is victimized by the politics and greed of others. It isn't just the "monster'' that's trapped.

Elisa ends up having emotional ties to the fish creature. While that is a bit disconcerting if looking at things in a realistic manner....this story isn't realistic. It's fantasy. So the story line and ending work perfectly.

This story left me feeling very thoughtful about life, my place in it and my own sense of "otherness.'' Sometimes you just have to find inner freedom within individuality. But I do sympathize with the creature in the tank.....I'm sure we all feel a bit chained at times.

Beautiful story! I can't wait to watch the movie!

Thursday, July 19, 2018

REVIEW: Claws of Death

Claws of Death
Author: Linda Reilly

Claws of Death is the second book in the Cat Lady Mysteries series. Aging former filmstar Deanna Daltry has come home to Whisker Jog, NH. Lara Caphart and her Aunt Fran run the High Cliff Shelter For Cats. They are delighted when Deanna adopts two kittens from them. Their delight turns into concern when someone begins targeting the former star with, at first, mean pranks hinting at something in the woman's past. When things escalate into dead bodies being discovered on Deanna's property, Lara is on the case to be sure Deanna and her newly adopted fur babies are safe. Unfortunately Deanna is the number one suspect in the murder of a local teacher. Who is out to get the aging star...and why?

I enjoy this series. I like the mix of humor, small town atmosphere and mystery. I foster kittens for the local humane society, so I identify with Lara and Aunt Fran's concerns and hopes for their shelter. The mystery was nicely paced. The kitten/shelter background theme did not overshadow the mystery, but enhanced the main plot. The pacing was perfect. There were plenty of suspects and twists. All in all, Claws of Death is a nice addition to this new cozy mystery series.

I like Lara as a main character. She is funny and feisty, and definitely out to protect the kittens and cats they adopt out. Aunt Fran is a hoot. She's my favorite character in this series so far. Fran is feisty, smart and determined.

I'm definitely looking forward to more books in this series. It won't be a long wait! Book 3, Claws for Celebration, comes out in December 2018!

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

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

REVIEW: Baby Teeth

Baby Teeth
Author: Zoje Stage

Hanna loves her daddy. And she knows her daddy loves her. But everything would be so much better if mommy would just disappear and die. Dead Mommy. Bye bye Dead Mommy.

Move over, Damien. Hanna is here.

This book is so creatively creepy. The seemingly sweet little girl who hides so much. The mother who wants so badly to love her daughter, even if she's afraid of her. And the father who is trying to make sense of what is happening to his family.

The thought of a truly psychotic and dangerous villain wrapped up in the cute visage of a little girl is truly terrifying. At first I was a bit angry at the father for not noticing what was going on.....but then I thought...wait a second....would I believe that my little girl was capable of that sort of vicious behavior when I never saw it myself? I would be just like the father wanting to protect and make the proper decisions for his child, perhaps even blaming the adults in the situation rather than the child. After all, children aren't really capable of malice, deviousness, and murderous intent. Right? *Shiver*

This book gave me the same shivers that I got from The Little Girl That Lives Down the Lane when I read it years ago. A child hiding dark secrets, dark thoughts, and dark deeds. Baby Teeth is even more psychologically terrifying because the girl involved is only 7. At first, I was thinking a 7-year old couldn't possibly cause much damage. But once the story sucked me in and I couldn't put it down, it dawned on me that this little girl is capable of even more harm than an adult. Because nobody expects it.

Baby Teeth is Zoje Stage's debut novel. I'm definitely going to be reading more by her in the future. This first novel creeped me the hell out.

**I voluntarily read an advance readers copy of this book from St. Martin's Press via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

Monday, July 16, 2018

REVIEW: The Butcher's Daughter

The Butcher's Daughter
Author: Victoria Glendinning

Agnes Peppin is the daughter of a butcher. As a young girl she makes a mistake. She meets a boy and becomes pregnant. Having disgraced her family, she is sent to Shaftesbury Abbey to have her child and then become a nun. She is lucky. The only reason she is accepted at Shaftesbury is because her mother has powerful connections through her family. When Agnes has the baby, it is sent away to be raised by the father's family and she settles in to life in the Abbey. Agnes is chosen as assistant and secret-keeper by the Abbess because she can read and write. Unfortunately King Henry the VIII is on the throne and his Great Matter threatens the abbey. The king divorces one wife, marries another, beheads the new wife....and along the way monasteries and abbeys are dissolved, their assets taken by the crown and the buildings razed. It's not a safe time to be Catholic. Finally Agnes is faced with the question of where she will go when Shaftesbury Abbey is no more.

I enjoyed this book. It was a bit slow at the beginning, but as I got to know the characters and got pulled into the daily life of a disgraced girl in the Tudor era, I found myself mesmerized by the story. Agnes lives in an age where women had few choices....men mostly made their choices for them. I liked the fact that the story gave another angle to the tale of King Henry and his fracas with the Catholic Church. I had never really thought about what it might have been like for the nuns and priests who suddenly had no place to live and no church to worship in. It must have been terrifying and extremely sad for them. Not to mention dangerous. Agnes also discovers that there is much hypocrisy, lying and secrets hidden by those around her.

I found this book to be quite thought provoking. Agnes accepts so much without question or argument because she really isn't allowed to have an opinion. She's a woman.....a disgraced woman....and she knows her place in the scheme of things. At first, I thought she was weak, but then I realized she just knows things are they way they are. She has no hope of changing anything so why voice any dissent? And she learns that pointing out hypocrisy or problems usually just ends with her getting in trouble for noticing something that isn't her concern. So it's not really weakness....but wisdom on her part to remain silent. I don't think I would have survived had I lived in the Tudor era.

All in all, an interesting read. Anyone interested in the Tudor era would enjoy this story.

**I voluntarily read a review copy of this book from Overlook (W.W. Norton) via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

REVIEW: Staged 4 Murder

Staged 4 Murder
Author: J.C. Eaton

Staged 4 Murder is the 3rd book in the Sophie Kimball Mystery series. I enjoy the mix of humor and mystery in this series. The characters are kooky, intelligent and just plain entertaining. I love how Sophie's rag-tag mix of retirement community senior citizens help her go after the bad guys. It always makes for a fun reading experience.

This time around all the seniors are involved in a local production of Agatha Christie's Mousetrap. Phee is tired of hearing about the play and she's a bit distracted by the newest staff member at her detective agency, Marshall Gregory. She had a major crush on Marshall when she worked for the Mankato, MN police department....and now they are working together again. Major distraction. Phee has to put her thoughts of Marshall on the back burner when conflicts on the set of the play her mother and book club cronies are involved in causes problems. It starts out with diva behavior and a suspicious case of food poisoning but escalates into murder. Miranda Lee is found dead on the theater catwalk. Miranda was difficult and many of the cast did not like her. But who was upset enough to murder her?

I enjoyed this newest book just as much as I did the first two books in this series. The seniors are feisty and funny as usual. The mystery is well paced with plenty of suspects and surprises. Marshall is a nice addition to the crew. Overall, an entertaining and enjoyable cozy mystery. I can't wait to see what trouble the gang gets into next! It won't be a long wait....the next book, Botched for Murder, comes out in January 2019.

J.C. Eaton also writes The Wine Trail Mysteries series.

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

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

REVIEW: Jar Of Hearts

Jar of Hearts
Author: Jennifer Hillier

When she was 16, Georgina watched her boyfriend kill her best friend and helped him dispose of the body. The sight of Angela Wong's blank dead eyes haunted her for 14 years until her arrest. 5 years in prison for helping Calvin bury Angela in the woods. Georgina survived prison. Now she's back home again. But nobody wants her there. Dirty looks. Harsh treatment. Doors shut in her face. Nasty messages in red spray paint on her father's garage doors. Dead bodies left in the woods behind her father's house. The bodies are dismembered just like they did to Angela. They are a message to Georgina. Is Calvin coming to kill her?

This book seriously creeped me out...but I couldn't stop reading. I was completely engrossed in the story...until the ending. The plot had me....until I just couldn't reconcile the very end. It just seemed a bit too....convenient? Maybe that's not the right word. The end of this book just seemed too easy. I can't hint at events because I don't want to spoil anything. But I don't think a similar story in real life would end that way. Too simple. Too easy. Too forgiving. But,despite my slight disappointment in the last few pages, this book kept me up most of the night reading.....great story! The pacing was perfect, keeping the suspense going from beginning to end. The characters are likable and severely flawed at the same time, which is realistic. Georgina got caught up in an abusive, psychologically damaging relationship at a young age. The choices she made have far-reaching consequences for everyone around her. Sometimes people can be good and bad at the same time.

I enjoyed this book and will definitely be reading more by this author. Seriously creepy story....I can't wait to read more!

**I voluntarily read a review copy of this book from St Martin's Press via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

Monday, July 9, 2018

REVIEW: I Am Still Alive

I Am Still Alive
Author: Kate Alice Marshall

Jess is alone. She is angry, hurt and struggling to stay alive. First she lost her mother in a car accident that left her injured and facing months of physical therapy. Then she was shipped off to live with her father in the Canadian wilderness. She barely remembers her father and she doesn't want to live with him in the middle of nowhere. No radio. No electricity. No nothing. Soon after she arrives, her dad is gone too and Jess is left to face the wilderness alone. Can she survive?

I love this book! Once I started reading, I couldn't stop. I had to find out what happens! I binge read the entire thing. The story is suspenseful and compelling. Jess is stronger and more capable than she believes at first. As she struggles to learn how to hunt and keep herself dry and warm, she comes to learn just how intelligent and resourceful she is. She not only takes care of herself and her dad's dog, Bo, but she prepares for a showdown with the people who took her father away. She knows they are coming back....but she's going to be ready for them. It's quite the showdown in the end! Great book!

I have a weakness for suspense thrillers set in the wilderness. This book was just what I love! I'm definitely going to read more by this author. The story was well-written and the pacing kept the suspense going from beginning to end! I don't binge read books very often...but this one I just could not put down.

**I voluntarily read an advance readers copy of this book from Penguin via First To Read. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

Sunday, July 8, 2018

REVIEW: Damnation Island

Damnation Island
Author: Stacy Horn

In 1828, New York City purchased a small island. Located in the East River, Blackwell Island was the perfect location for a new asylum. At first, the plans were for a humane facility to help the mentally ill, indigent and criminal elements in the city. They estimated the number of mentally ill in the city to be less than .5% and planned an initial structure to house 200 people. The mentally ill and criminals would never be housed together and the facility might be able to help some of the chronically indigent in the city as well. They got a big surprise when the initial facility opened and had 199 patients (almost at max capacity) within days. The asylum was enlarged multiple times, and the plans for a humane facility was overpowered by cost cutting measures, bad planning and ignorance. In the 100 years Blackwell Island was used as an asylum the conditions, treatment of patients and medical services there were suspect and often cruel. Damnation Island tells the story of Blackwell Island and its inhabitants.

This book is very well researched and documented, which made it difficult to read. I had to read a chapter at a time...and go cool off....then return. What a grim picture of life in the 1800s. People could be committed for eccentricities or completely fraudulent reasons. Many women were committed because they were in the way or difficult, not because of any mental illness. Conditions in the institution were abysmal. Treatments were even worse. And this went on for 100 years!! Racism even played a part in the treatment of patients. The Irish were seen as incurable and intrinsically insane. Wow...really?? This book is a real eye opener about the use of institutions to pack away citizens seen as problems, without any real care about the quality of their life, health or care. At one point, the city was proud that they could run the institution at a cheap per-patient cost, completely oblivious to the fact that meant there was not enough food or medical supplies to go around. Patients were overcrowded, exposed to diseases and vermin, kept in unsanitary conditions and mistreated. Criminals housed on the island were hired as orderlies and workers and further mistreated patients. Just a sad tale all around.

I enjoyed this book, despite the grim subject manner. I am glad that there have been vast improvements in the mental health field, laws passed to protect people from fraudulent commitment, and health and safety regulations for institutions. I know that atrocities still occur, but I'm hopeful that they are nowhere near the level that happened on Blackwell Island.

Stacy Horn is the author of several non-fiction books including The Restless Sleep: Inside New York City's Cold Case Squad and Waiting For My Cats to Die: A Memoir.  Damnation Island is well researched and interesting. I will definitely be reading more by this author.

**I voluntarily read a review copy of this book from Algonquin Books via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

Saturday, July 7, 2018

REVIEW: A Bond of Destiny and Dragons

A Bond of Destiny and Dragons
Author: Karen Tomlinson

A Bond of Destiny and Dragons is a prequel to the YA fantasy series The Goddess and the Guardians. There are three books in the series so far. This book has a little bit of everything....warrior fae, fire-breathing dragons, gods and goddesses, shape-shifters, wizards, plus greed, betrayal, power struggle....definitely action packed!

This is the first book in the series I've read. I found it well-written and interesting. The action and battle sequences definitely kept my attention! Nothing like deadly magic and angry dragons to liven up a fantasy story! There is definitely a lot of world building and character development in this prequel to the series. Although it is setting the stage for the main series, it works well as a stand-alone story as well. And it's definitely a good place to start reading the YA series.

There is a lot going on in this story. Many warring factions, intrigue, and a complex fantasy world. So much in one book often becomes cumbersome and confusing, but Tomlinson pulls it off with style. The story kept my interest from beginning to end.

I enjoyed this story and have added the series to my tbr list. I'm looking forward to reading more about this magical world!

**I voluntarily read a review copy of this book via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

Friday, July 6, 2018

REVIEW: Us Against You

Us Against You
Author: Fredrik Backman

Beartown. Hockey. The two go together and always have. A little town in the middle of a forest loves its hockey team. Amid turmoil in the wake of a rape case involving a star player, residents of Beartown find out their hockey club is going to be disbanded. All the public money will be going to the team in nearby Hed. When a new team sponsor, a wily politician and other factions get involved to save Beartown hockey, emotions and old jealousies start to boil underneath the surface. It becomes more than a sport, wanting to win, believing in the local team....morphing into something that might be dangerous. It's no longer really about hockey and innocent town rivalry.  When all is done, one person is dead and everyone is left wondering what happened to make things so out of control.

Coming from the midwest where American football is serious business, I identify with the small town politics and behind-the-scenes wrangling where sports is concerned. The need to win....the undercurrents....intense team rivalries....the situations that make people lose it. I loved this book! The effect that change has on Beartown....an all new hockey team, a female coach, economic and social concerns...it all combines to make the situation volatile. It all comes down to the final game....  I'm not going to say much more about the plot to avoid any spoilers. If you loved Beartown, you will love this sequel! I love how Backman creates so many diverse characters and ties them together with hockey. The characters are vibrant and realistic. I found myself comparing the Beartown players with kids I knew growing up. I had a real-life equivalent for all of them. It made me wonder where those ghosts from my childhood are today.

This book is an awesome and powerful follow up to Beartown. When does the love for playing and watching sports morph into something else? I've seen those parents who sit in the bleachers at games yelling inappropriate things at both the opposing team and their own children.....I've seen fights erupt over sports.....and read the stories about deaths related to anger over games. In towns where sports are more than just local kids playing a game, so much gets added into the mix....politics, rivalries, economics, greed, jealousy, anger.....  It can be a volatile mix.

This is the second book by Fredrick Backman that I've read. And I'm hooked. I have A Man Called Ove on my tbr shelf to read next, and two on hold at the library. There is always quite the long waiting list for his books on my local library's digital site. There's a reason for that -- his books are excellent!!! Well worth my wait in line!

**I voluntarily read a review copy of this book from Atria via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

REVIEW: Twilight

Author: Stephanie Meyer

I remember when this series first came out. My teenagers and their friends were carrying the books around chatting endlessly about sparkly vampires and werewolves. YA books existed prior to this series, but this first book in the series is the first one I remember being so popular that all the area teens were reading it. Then the other books continued the story.....and the movies.....

I can totally see why this series made it onto the list of 100 books for The Great American Read. Because I want to read through the entire list, I happily checked the audio book out on my local library's digital site and proceeded to find out what makes Edward Cullen sparkle. :)

I enjoyed the story, but the book is definitely for younger readers who still understand the intricacies of high school social events and first love. I hate to admit this -- but I'm too old for this book. As Bella gushed about loving Edward despite his strange behavior and barely controlled urges to drink her blood, I did catch myself rolling my eyes a bit and thinking how ridiculous she was being. But then I would stop myself and think....this book is written for 13-18 year old girls....not for a 50 year old woman who has been married twice and had kids. :) Bella is justified by her youth in her simpering and dreamy sighs over.....a vampire who could kill her (but who magically loves her enough to bravely hold back his urges and promise to never harm her -- even if she smells incredibly tasty).

I came, I checked out, I listened.  Not for me. Would have been for me 35 years ago when I was still longingly gazing at a senior boy who did not even know I was on the planet (who thanks to the magic of Facebook I have come to know is now 100+ pounds overweight, bald and a 3 times divorced alcoholic. Dodged that bullet!!! ha ha ha)

This book series got millions of teenagers to read and talk about books! Even my teenage son read the series at the urging of his then girlfriend. And that is the purpose of The Great American Read....a celebration of books that got the public reading. All types of readers! And all types of books! I'm loving my journey through the list. This particular series is not my cup of tea.....but it's because of ME, not the book. I'm too old and have lived too much life (gained wisdom since my silly girl days) and just can't identify with the main character anymore. Does that make this a bad book? Nope. It makes it for another target audience. And I'm ok with that. Girls have been simpering and pining after boys they should really best leave alone (I know this for a fact, because I married one.....hence the divorce and re-marriage later when I had a brain) for hundreds of years. And boys have been falling in love with the wrong girls for those same centuries. It's young human nature. Then as adults we all look back and roll our eyes, thinking how unbelievable naive and stupid we were.  :) Such is life. :)

I do wish I had had a boyfriend that sparkled though. My husband offered to spray himself with glow in the dark spray paint and chase me through the woods near our house.....but it just wouldn't be the same. And, we would probably both trip over a tree root and pull a muscle or sprain something. Nope....sparkly trysts are best left to the young. I will settle for a cute, slightly overweight, non sparkly husband....and move on to the next book on the list. :) I read this first book...but will not be reading the rest of this series.

Check out The Great American Read! It will be a series on PBS starting in October. They have shown an intro episode already which is streamable online. The list of 100 books is here: https://www.pbs.org/the-great-american-read/books/#/  Happy reading!! Twilight is the 13th book or series from the list that I have read/re-read as part of The Great American Read. :) Only 87 to go!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

REVIEW: The Last Word

The Last Word
Author: Ellery Adams

Bestselling novelist Nick Plumley has come to Oyster Bay, NC to research and write his next novel. Olivia Limoges and the other members of the Bayside Book Writers are happy to welcome Nick into the fold. He seems very curious about the house that one of the members just purchased, but as it was a location mentioned in his first book, it seems a normal curiosity. But then Olivia discovers discovers Nick dead in his rental house. Someone strangled the author. Olivia and the other writers scramble to discover who would have wanted to stop Nick's new book enough to kill him. The investigation turns out to be quite complex involving war-time intrigue, lost love and revenge. And, in the end, Olivia will lose a dear friend.

The Last Word is the third book in the Books By The Bay series. It's by far the best in the series so far IMHO. The characters have developed so much more, and Olivia (who can be a real snooty piece of work sometimes) is actually starting to really grow on me. The mystery is complex with lots of interesting twists and turns, and a surprise or two. The suspense didn't stop until the very end. Although the story started off a bit slow....once it got rolling, it really got interesting and suspenseful. I like how Ellery Adams doesn't draw her stories to an abrupt close right after the mystery is solved. The ending is always a mix of tying up loose ends, and finishing out character development. I prefer that to an oh-they-caught-the-killer-so-The-End sort of finish. At times, I do find myself rolling my eyes a bit when the characters get a bit too emo or melodramatic about their love life or personal situations, but that's just me...I don't care for romance novels. So when the scenes lean too far in that direction....I do end up channeling my inner Olivia. ha ha. I listened to the audio book version of this novel and one of the love scenes actually  made me bust up laughing. Just something about the narrator's almost dead pan voice reading about hands cupping breasts and hot desire just struck me as funny. I admit to hitting fast forward a couple times to get past that part.....mostly because I had a construction crew here working on my roof and didn't want them to overhear bits about kissing and breast cupping. (cue giggles again). Not to mention my 13-year old son teasing me about listening to "kissy face'' books. :) (insert more giggling).

I'm enjoying this series. The mysteries are unique and very creative. The characters are interesting. I like how snippets of the novels the Bayside Writers are working on are included in the story as the group critiques each other. All in all, a great series so far! There are 8 books in total....so 3 down....5 to go! :) On to the next!

REVIEW: Something In The Water

Something In The Water
Author: Catherine Steadman

Erin and Mark have a bright future before them. Erin makes documentary films. Mark is an investment banker. They have a picture perfect London wedding planned....the perfect food, the perfect venue, the perfect honeymoon.....the perfect couple. Until......   Things start to go south and the couple finds themselves faced with a decision that will completely change both their lives irrevocably. Their situation raises two huge questions:   What would you be willing to do to secure your "dream'' life? And, how well do you really know those closest to you? 

This book opens with a shocker.....and never lets up. I loved it! So delightfully intriguing with a sinister edge. This is definitely a story that provokes "What would I do in this situation?" thoughts. And side-eye glances at those around me wondering "What would THEY do if they were in it with me?'' Chilling story. Well written. Perfect pacing. Kept my attention from start to finish. Steadman takes a picture perfect couple and pulls their life apart bit by bit. And then introduces a simple object that harbors a choice. Something seemingly benign....just floating in the ocean. It's amazing how easily perfect can start to crumble. One choice. A path chosen. Consequences. Totally chilling. So much fun to read!!

Catherine Steadman is an actress. This is her first book. I will definitely read more by her....this was a very enjoyable, suspenseful book!

**I voluntarily read a review copy of this book from Random House/Ballentine via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

Sunday, July 1, 2018

REVIEW: Death And A Pot Of Chowder

Death And A Pot Of Chowder
Author: Cornelia Kidd

Anna Winslow has lived on Quarry Island, ME all her life. So has her husband, Burt. Burt and his brother Carl are fishermen, trapping lobster and netting fish for a living. It's dangerous work, but they are 4th generation lobstermen. It's in their blood. Anna loves the feeling of community and family on the small island. Island roots run deep. But then a letter Anna receives in the mail changes her whole life. She has a half-sister....one she never knew about. On the day she drives to Portland to meet her sister Izzie, her brother-in-law Carl drowns at sea. Turns out he was murdered. Izzie travels to Quarry Island to help the family cope, and ends up investigating Carl's death with Anna.

I loved this story! It's not just a cozy, but great women's fiction as well. Anna and Izzie have to learn how to become sisters amid the Winslow family grieving a murdered member. Turns out, the sisters make a great amateur sleuthing duo and help each other make some important life decisions as well. The background theme of life on a Maine island and the life of fishermen didn't overpower the mystery but added depth to it. The plot moved at a nice pace, with plenty of suspects and surprises. I wasn't quite sure how the story was going to end until I got there. All in all, a nice start for a new cozy series. I can't wait to find out what the second book in the Maine Murder Mystery series will bring! There are some yummy recipes included at the end of Death and Pot of Chowder, as well! I can't wait to try a couple of them!

Cornelia Kidd is a pseudonym for Maine author Lea Wait.

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