Saturday, November 18, 2017

Where have I been?

The million dollar question...where have I been? I'm always reading, but I confess I don't always have the drive to do blog posts. I also started reading, and then stopped reading several books that I just found a little boring. And I made the genius decision to start tackling several books that are 400-plus pages at the same time. Add all that up...and I haven't posted in more than a month.

But I digress, lets catch up with what I have finished reading lately.

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

I bought Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen when it first came out -- two years ago. I remember braving a loooonnnnggggg self-checkout line at Walmart to buy this book. Then, like a lot of my books it started to collect dust on shelf. But this year I was determined to read more of my own books. On a whim, I finally decided to read this. It's also my first foray into reading a Sarah Dessen book.

The short: Teenage Sydney has long lived in her older brother, Peyton's, shadow. He gets all of the attention, no matter how badly he screws up. And now, after a drunk driving accident leaves a young boy in a wheelchair Peyton is headed to prison. Even with Peyton gone, Sydney is still questioning her place and self-worth within her own family. That is until she switches schools, makes new friends, and is welcomed into the arms of the Chatham family. Has Sydney finally found her place in life?

Thoughts: I LOVED this! It kind of reminded me of Jodi Picoult's writing. The strong friendships and family dynamics are what make this story work. Sydney's mom is someone who always has to have it together. She always has a plan, even when it comes to Peyton being in prison. Sydney's mom can find any reason to excuse Peyton's behavior. She can find any reason to rally behind him. But it takes so much more to see the pain that Sydney is in. Sydney's new friends, Layla and Mac can see that pain and help her through it. Sydney just needs to find the strength to tell her parents her true feelings...before it's too late.

Rating: O.M.G.!!

When We Were Worthy by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen
The short: A car crash changes the lives of just about everyone in the small town of Worthy, Georgia. In one car, three teenage girls are killed instantly, leaving their families and friends to pick up the pieces. In the other car, a teenage boy named Graham is left with severe injuries and the lasting memory that he took three people. But everyone, not just Graham, will be forced to take a hard look at their own lives in When We Were Worthy by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen.

Thoughts: A short but impactful book. Every character has some issue, some flaw that they were able to ignore until the accident. Finding the strength within and truly knowing your worth is the only way to move on.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Lake Union) in exchange for an honest review.

Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman

The short: Luisa "Lu" Brant is the new state's attorney. A grisly murder committed by a homeless man, offers Lu the chance to make a name for herself and step out of the shadow of her father -- a man who once occupied the very office she now holds. But what seems like a routine case will spark memories of the past. A past that could have dire consequences for her family in Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman.

Thoughts: I had high hopes for this one. The cover seemed to imply that something sinister took place. I was expecting a payoff that never came. It takes until the last 75-80 pages before the real plot is revealed. I felt like this book was a big buildup to nothing. The larger plot also seemed to come out of left field. I do like Laura Lippman's writing style, but I was a bit indifferent to this book as a whole.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: received a copy of the book from the publisher (William Morrow) in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

My take on: Night Film

In my continuing efforts to read more of my own books, I finally tackled the monster that is Night Film by Marisha Pessl. I bought this two or three years ago, and I'm not sure what attracted me to it. I think it was probably the cover or the discounted price. I'm certain I picked this up from a bargain bin at Barnes & Noble.

The cover certainly hints at something ominous. Something sinister is going on with the woman on the cover. She did something or something happened to her. When I bought this and when I finally started reading this book, I was convinced there had to be a great story ahead. After 600-plus pages, this was a bit of a mixed bag.

Young Ashley Cordova is dead. Her death is ruled a suicide, but bulldog investigative reporter Scott McGrath is not convinced. Scott is certain there is more to the story, possibly even foul play. Ashley is the daughter of the reclusive horror director Stanislas Cordova. Scott has come up against Stanislas before. He once tried to expose the celebrated director's sinister lifestyle and film career, even going so far as to compare Stanislas to cult leaders like Jim Jones and Charles Manson. Actors on his films were worked to the point of exhaustion and even mental breakdowns. But no one will ever go on the record. Stanislas has followers that would do anything and everything for him, including protecting him from people like Scott. The pursuit of Stanislas turned out to be a big failure, leading Scott to become a pariah in the journalism world. That is until Ashley's death. Solving the mystery surrounding Ashley's death could be Scott's ticket to redemption or it could be his downfall.

McGrath's life is in shambles. One day melts into the next. He's estranged from just about everyone in his life. He loves his young daughter, Samantha, but barely makes an effort to spend time with her. It doesn't seem like Scott should be going down the Cordova rabbit hole, but he is. One tip leads to another, and another, and another. Enough clues to fill 600 pages. Along the way Scott gets some help, forming his own squad--reminiscent of Woodward and Bernstein in their pursuit of the Watergate scandal. Yes, Woodward and Bernstein are a running gag throughout the book. Youngins Nora and Hopper, both with connections to Ashley, join the investigation.

It's hard to know what type of book this was trying to be. Horror? Literary? Mystery? Magical Realism? I didn't even get to the mixed media component of the book. Throughout there are fake newspaper articles, magazine articles, web pages, and photographs. They're supposed to enhance the story and there used to be a website/app for the book, but it looks like that's no longer active. The articles, links, and photographs are another character, an annoying character. They don't enhance the story, they slow it down. There are parts of this book that are really good, but some that are just boring, slow, and unnecessary. If this book had 200 less pages, it would have made for a better read. For all of the pages, the final payoff was a big letdown. Without giving too much away, the true story behind Ashley's downfall was not what I was expecting at all. After investing so much time I was disappointed in the ending. Looking at this as a whole, I felt like the whole investigation was pointless because it led to nothing!

Rating: Give it a try

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

My take on: Shine

I'm not sure how many years ago I bought Shine by Lauren Myracle, but I'm glad I finally I dug it out of my TBR pile.

Seventeen-year-old Patrick is beaten and left to die at the gas station where he worked. The horrific crime rocks the small town of Black Creek, North Carolina. People in town and local law enforcement are certain it's a hate crime and it has to be the work of outsiders. Why a hate crime? Patrick is gay. It's easier to believe that outsiders did this rather than admit that someone from Black Creek committed this crime. While it was hard to be himself in such a small town, but Patrick never stopped being himself or denied who he was. Patrick was left to fend for himself after the death of his beloved grandmother, Mama Sweetie; going to school and supporting himself by working at the gas station. He was friends with the local jocks/popular kids in town, Tommy, Christian, and Beef, despite the many times they teased him about his sexuality. Patrick dealt with whatever life handled him with dignity and grace. Now, he's literally in the fight of his life.

Many in town offer their prayers of support for Patrick, but the truth is they would much rather gossip about Patrick than actually try to help him. Except for Cat. As kids, Cat and Patrick used to be best friends. Cat often spent more time with Patrick than her own family. As teens they drifted apart. After a sexual assault, Cat chose to retreat within herself than to seek solace from her best friend. Now that Patrick is in the hospital, Cat is full of guilt and regret. Does she deserve to feel sad after rejecting Patrick for so many years? In some ways she feels responsible for Patrick's attack. Maybe if she hadn't shut him out, Patrick would be OK? Cat is convinced that the only way to alleviate the pain and guilt is to find Patrick's attacker. It won't be easy. There are some, including Cat's brother Christian, who are convinced that Cat should leave well enough alone. Investigating forces everyone to confront their own feelings about Patrick, when they would rather avoid them. Investigating forces Cat to face her own feelings and insecurities, when she would rather avoid them. And more importantly, investigating could be dangerous.

This was very well-paced. Each chapter is an insight to small-town life, small-town "values", and small-town prejudices. It's easier to ignore what's uncomfortable than facing it head on. Cat wants to face everything head on. She's afraid but can't give into fear because she would be letting Patrick down. Patrick's attack is the catalyst for the overall book, but this is really Cat's story and her journey. Although, I do wish we could have heard a little bit more from Patrick's perspective. Everything we know about him comes from other people. It would have been nice to get just a little bit more of Patrick, but overall I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Rating: O.M.G.!!!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

My take on: The Gentlemen's Guide to Vice and Virtue

Several times a week, I find myself losing countless hours watching YouTube videos. What intrigues me so? I follow a lot of booktubers. I like watching book hauls and books reviews on YouTube. It's because of a review I saw on YouTube that The Gentlemen's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee caught my eye.

This was 500 pages of lighthearted fun.

It's the 1700s, and Henry "Monty" Montague has no desire to be like all the other teenage boys his age. Boarding school is not for him. Besides he got kicked out. Coming home at a decent hour is not for him. Besides there's too much fun to be had staying out late, partying, gambling, and drinking. Being a proper "gentlemen" like his father is not for him, especially if it means denying who he is. Who is Monty? A fun, self-absorbed, reckless but often thoughtful young man. He also loves the company of young ladies and young men. Although, Monty is certain the love of his life is a young man. And not just any young man, Monty is in love with his best friend, Percy.

Given the time period, a man being in love with another man was taboo. Especially a man like Percy. Who is Percy? A gifted musician, who just happens to be of mixed race. When people look at Percy, they don't see a talented man. All people see is his skin color. Everyone but Monty. He sees a beautiful talented man, and Monty wants to be more than just his friend. However, Monty's father has had enough of his son's antics. It's time for Monty to grow up. It's time for Monty to take over running the family estate. In his father's eyes, it's also time for Monty to give up the sins of the flesh--a.k.a. stop being gay. Monty isn't ready to change in any way. He shouldn't have to after living with a father who not only beats him, but also hates Monty with a passion. But Monty has a little time before deciding on the future. Now he's getting ready to hit the open road.

Monty is about embark on a yearlong Grand Tour of Europe. Percy and Monty's sister, Felicity, are along for the ride. It's supposed to be a year of growth, education, and reflection. Not exactly high priorities for this young man. Nope. Monty desires a year filled with pleasure and alcohol. The trio's chaperone, Mr. Lockwood, will have none of that. Lockwood is determined to keep his group of youngsters in check. Yeah, that doesn't work for long. Monty easily outsmarts Lockwood, and heads out for fun with Percy. Anything to distract himself from the hellish future his father wants for him.

Monty is constantly fighting his feelings for Percy. He wants to love Percy, but what if Percy doesn't want to love him back. There are brief moments of passion between Percy and Monty, but they always stop short of discussing their true feelings for each other. This yearlong trip through Europe also doesn't go as planned. It quickly goes off the rails after Monty, Percy, Felicity, and Lockwood are attacked by roadside pirates. The youngsters get separated from Lockwood and are forced to fend for themselves without money, a place to sleep, and a steady source of food. Without actually intending to, Monty does "grow up." He's forced to think about other people instead of just himself. Monty even sees Felicity as more than just his annoying little sister. He sees that Felicity is actually a resourceful and intelligent young woman. Health problems for Percy finally force Monty to face his true feelings for his best best friend. Faced with the opportunity to "cure" Percy's health problems, Monty is determined to take it. But at what cost?

At times Monty, Percy, and Felicity's romp through Europe was a stretch of the imagination. Every time you think they're finally going to get some relief, something else happens. They have all kinds of people chasing them. But altogether this is a funny, romantic, and endearing book. Please read it!

Rating: O.M.G.!!!

Monday, September 4, 2017

My take on: Ten Dead Comedians

A legendary comedian offers nine of his peers the trip of a lifetime, a weekend at his private island retreat. What should be a weekend of collaboration with a comedic superstar turns into a nightmare. Their host is dead by their arrival, and that's not all! They're completely cutoff from civilization, the island is deserted, there's no Wi-Fi, food is scarce, and one-by-one someone is killing them. Death and comedic hijinks ensue in Ten Dead Comedians by Fred Van Lente.

What is billed as a dark take on Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, actually reminds me of a more twisted version of the movie Clue. Like the movie Clue, the people in this book are all connected. They each have a secret, one that could ultimately lead to their demise.

In Ten Dead Comedians, Dustin Walker has become a bit of a recluse but the well-known funnyman appears to up for one last hurrah. He invites a mixture of up-and-coming comedians, like Dante Dupree, Zoe Schwartz, Ruby Ng, and Oliver "Ollie" Rees, and has-been/past-their prime comedians, like Steve Gordon, TJ Martinez, Janet Kahn, and William Griffith, to his private island. None of them are exactly sure why they've been invited, but who can pass on the chance to work with someone they once looked up to.

Once on the island, nothing is going right. Dustin's "assistant," Meredith, has no idea where their elusive host is but tries to assure everyone that everything is OK. Of course, it's not! While no one has seen Dustin in the flesh, he did leave behind a video detailing all the fun that awaits. Although, it's not so funny when Dustin kills himself on film. Is it real? Or perhaps it's an elaborate prank by the comedic genius? Ollie refuses to believe it's real, he's certain Dustin will reveal himself at the proper time. But...not everyone is so easily convinced--especially when the bodies start to drop. The first victim falls prey to poison, this one got off pretty easily. Each death gets more elaborate and more gruesome and in a macabre way kind of funny!! The whole island is booby-trapped. One more step could be your last. One person dies after falling into a bouncy house with knives at the bottom, on the surface that doesn't sound funny but read it in context. Who is behind it all? Why? If it's Dustin, why? What did any of his guests ever do to Dustin? No one knows for sure, but soon it's every man and woman for their themselves. It's hard to trust someone who might want to kill you!

I did my best to guess who the murderer was, but I really didn't get it until the end. I think that's the mark of good writing. I was engrossed from start to finish. I don't think I picked up on all of the comedic nuances, but I still managed to enjoy this addictive story!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Quirk Books) at the request of Saichek Publicity, in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, August 28, 2017

My take on: Everything We Keep

Aimee Tierney's wedding day should have been the happiest day of her life. But instead of a day filled with joy, Aimee spent that day burying her fiance, James. Aimee's struggles to move on and rebuild her life are at the heart of Everything We Keep by Kerry Lonsdale.

Aimee's dreams of spending the rest of her life with James are dashed when he dies in a boating accident in Mexico. A life without James is unimaginable. Moving on is unimaginable. Outside of working as a chef at her parents' restaurant, Aimee's entire life was James. Her friends, Nadia and Kristen, insist that Aimee needs to focus on what she wants out of life. But it's hard to move on when a psychic, named Lacy, contacts Aimee and insists that James is alive. Aimee never saw his body, James' brother Thomas didn't allow it. Some of James' artwork is missing from their home. Is all of this just a coincidence? Is he really alive?

Giving up hope on the love of your life isn't easy. Aimee and James were childhood sweethearts, best friends at first and then deeply in love until the end. Their marriage was supposed to be the start of the rest of their lives. They were both supposed to pursue their passions. Aimee was supposed to buy out her parents' restaurant and run it herself. James was supposed to leave the family business and pursue his passion for art and painting. But his death brings all of that to a halt. James came from a family with high expectations. His mother, Claire, was determined to have her sons, James and Thomas, take over the family business. Until that day came, there was only room for academics anything else, including a relationship with Aimee was considered a distraction. But teenage James had a passion for Aimee and for painting, so much so that he had to hide his artwork from his family -- keeping his paintings at Aimee's home.

Thoughts of James are never far from Aimee's mind, but even she starts to see the logic in moving on. She forges a new friendship with handsome photographer Ian. She opens a high-end coffee bar/cafe. She's finally starting to find her own happiness. A happiness that's not dependent on James. She even starts to imagine having Ian as more than just a friend, more than just a shoulder to cry, more than just a pretty face to stare at -- possibly he's someone to fall in love with. Ian feels the same saw, but it's hard to compete with the ghost of a dead man. Especially when Lacy continues to pop up, insisting that James is alive. How can Aimee move on if life won't let her. Maybe it's time to face her fears and get answers?

This story grabbed me and had my attention for two-thirds of the book. Why two-thirds? I can't go into great detail because that would spoil the latter part of the book. But I will say this, I thought some things were a little too convenient, a little too far-fetched. There were some things that I found to be unnecessary, like incest. Yes, there is an incest plotline toward the end of the book that seemed to come from nowhere. This is all to say that I liked most of the book, but not all of it.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Lake Union Publishing) in exchange for an honest review. 

Friday, August 4, 2017

My take on: Shadow Girl

Is it ever a good idea to read book #2 in a series, if you haven't read book #1? I'm a staunch believer in reading a series in sequence. Not having all the background details of the prior book could make for a disappointing read. But sometimes the plot description wins me over. The review pitch for Shadow Girl by Gerry Schmitt sounded intriguing. And trust me, you don't need to have read book #1 to get sucked into this thrilling mystery!

Leland Odin is the wealthy CEO of Diamond Shopping Network, and he is on the verge of death. His days are numbered if he doesn't get a heart transplant. Leland's luck changes for the better when a donor heart becomes available. The joy is short-lived when the helicopter carrying the donor heart is shot down, killing both pilots, injuring dozens, and taking away Leland's shot at survival. Leland made a very powerful enemy in Mom Chao Cherry, and she will not stop until he pays for stealing from her. I should say I don't see that little nugget of information as a spoiler since it's revealed very early that Mom Chao is behind the helicopter crash. It's the why and the how that's at the heart of this mystery.

Enter lead detective Max Montgomery and his defacto partner family liaison officer Afton Tangler. Afton isn't a cop, she's called upon to be an advocate for victims and their families. But she aspires to be a cop. She's around them all day, Afton can't help but thinking and acting like a cop. She's a vital member of the local police department, and hopes that Chief Thacker will soon see how valuable Afton could be as member of the police force. Max supports Afton's dream, but cautions her to take things one step at a time. She's quick to put herself in dangerous situations, leading Max to constantly remind Afton how her impulsiveness could put her in danger. As a single mother of two daughters, Poppy and Tess, Afton is often reminded that she has a family that depends on her to come home safely every night. However, investigating the crash and the deep plot behind it, is full of danger.

With little clues to start with, Afton and Max are left to investigate everyone in Leland's life. Did his trophy wife, Sunny, have a hand in this? Did she want access to Leland's money sooner rather than later? What about his robotic stepdaughter, Terrell? She acts like she has no interest in her stepfather's money, but Terrell is definitely hiding something. Her aura of perfectionism is just a facade. Meanwhile, Mom Chao Cherry is just getting started in her revenge against Leland. She's one of the most powerful criminal figures in Thailand, if Leland knew what was good for him he would have left Mom Chao alone.

Each chapter peels back a layer of the mystery. Yes the investigation plays out like a by-the-book police procedural, but this is by no means a boring book. It's a fast-paced, engrossing novel and I highly recommend it!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Berkley) in exchange for an honest review.
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