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.

Friday, July 21, 2017

My take on: The Bookshop at Water's End

I have said it before and I will say it again, books by Patti Callahan Henry are an automatic buy for me. Now, I didn't buy her latest, The Bookshop at Water's End, but...of course I said yes to a review copy!! Plus, the title attracted me. It sounded like a book about books, which is like music to my ears.

For lifelong friends, Bonny and Lainey, the small town of Watersend, South Carolina, is where they spent many happy summers -- earning them the nickname "the Summer Sisters." Whenever possible they escaped to the town bookstore, making a lifelong connection with the store's owner, Mimi. However, those idyllic summers didn't last. One day Lainey's mother abruptly left the family, abandoning her daughter and son, Owen. Lainey and her brother were never the same afterward. Lainey would spend the next several decades searching for the mother who didn't want to be found. Meanwhile Owen would spend his time globe-trotting and never setting down roots and never forming a lasting romantic relationship--much to Bonny's dismay.

Ever since she was a young girl, Bonny has always been in love with Owen. But they've never been in-sync. Owen comes in and out of Bonny's life, constantly afraid of commitment. Bonny's heart could no longer take it, she had to move on. But moving on came at a price. Marrying Lucas, a prominent lawyer, brought joy and pain. Their daughter, Piper, brought the joy. But Lucas' constant criticism and disdain for Bonny's career as a doctor brought the pain. Now in her fifties, a deadly mistake forces Bonny to take a hard look at her life. What does she want for her career? Her marriage is over, does this mean it's time to face her feelings for Owen? The answers don't come easy. The only thing Bonny knows for sure is that she needs to get away, and she needs her best friend.

After decades spent away from Watersend, Bonny and Lainey go back to the place of their many happy memories. This time their children are in tow, with the now teenage Piper looking after Lainey's children, Daisy and George. Piper doesn't see the point of toiling away in a small town for the summer. But even Piper has issues that she needs to confront. She's failing at college and her boyfriend has left her. Like her mother, Piper isn't sure what she wants out of life. The only thing Piper is sure of? Her love of books. Like Bonny and Lainey did when they were younger, Piper finds solace reading a book at Mimi's shop.

I do have to say the title of this book is a little bit misleading. I thought everyone's love of books would play a larger role. But the book angle was more of a backdrop, than a dominant theme. Little issues aside, what works here is Patti Callahan Henry's talent for creating relatable characters. Everyone can relate to the highs and lows that come with marriage, friendship, family, and love.

Rating: Superb

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

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

My take on: Like a Fly on the Wall

For a while I was staring at a blank screen. I wasn't sure how to describe Like a Fly on the Wall by Simone Kelly. It's a book with a lot of different themes: romance, suspense, family drama, and mysticism. In my opinion, there isn't really a plot. I don't say that as a bad thing. The lack of a traditional plot works here and let me tell you why!

The characters and how they interact are what make this book work. Jacques Berradi is a good-looking and intelligent man--with a unique talent. Ever since he was young, Jacques could communicate with spirits/spirit guides, which help him see the future. His robust list of clients pay him to guide them down the right path to personal and professional success. But despite his professional achievements, Jacques' mother refuses to believe in her son's connection to the spirit world. To her, it's just a bunch of nonsense. Ever since his father died, under suspicious circumstances, Jacques has been trying to convince his mother that his father speaks to him. However, she refuses to believe in Jacques' gift, instead she chooses to ignore it. On the flip side Jacques' brother, Hicham, believes in his older brother. While Jacques is the calming influence on the family, Hicham is like a hurricane. He hops from girlfriend to girlfriend. His moods change from minute to minute. As a character, Hicham was exhausting. I would hate to have a sibling like that!

In Jacques' professional endeavors, he meets all kinds of clients. The beautiful and bubbly Kylie Collins is a client like no other. While Jacques has a girlfriend, named Vicky, he is instantly drawn to Kylie. There's an instant emotional connection between them. Early on in the book, it seemed like Kylie and Jacques were headed toward a romantic relationship. But (spoiler alert) that doesn't happen and I'm sooo glad. I think that would have been a big mistake. Kylie and Jacques have way more chemistry as friends than as lovers. Jacques helps Kylie get to the root of her mother, True's, secrets and to find her purpose in life. Kylie helps Jacques get to the root of his family's secrets. Making them more than friends would have cheapened the overall book. Romance just for the sake of romance doesn't make for a good story.

For a debut novel, this was pretty good. Some of the storylines were left unfinished, I think that's because this is clearly the first book in a series. There's more to come. I definitely want to know what happens to Jacques and Kylie in the next book.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (William Morrow) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours.

Friday, June 30, 2017

My take on: The Space between the Stars

A virus has left Earth and the surrounding planets desolate wastelands. The people left are few and far between. In The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett, one woman, the sole survivor in her community, will have to confront the loneliness that surrounds her physically and the loneliness in her heart.

Jamie, a survivor of a community on planet Soltaire, fled Earth years ago. A miscarriage led to the end of her relationship with Daniel and to her life on Earth. Somehow Jamie has survived a deadly virus outbreak, leaving her to survive on her own. Small amounts of food and a horse are Jamie's only sources of comfort. Solitude could drive some people to insanity, but for Jamie it seemed to be a source of strength. However, Jamie is not alone. Rena, a research scientist, and Lowry, a priest, find their way to Jamie. Soon a ship picks up their distress signal. The captain, Callan, is a bit of an enigma. He wants to help, but he also doesn't want to help. Does that make sense? He wants to do just enough but no more than necessary.

This ragtag group is on their way to the capital, but not to Earth. That's close enough for Jamie. She's now convinced Daniel is alive and needs her. What's this pull Daniel has over her? Is their still some love between them? Or is it because when you're stripped of everything in life you start to reflect. You to start to reflect on the good and the bad in your life. They continue to pick up more people, including a socially awkward young man named Finn and a former prostitute named Mila. This trip to the capital is not without its challenges. They continue to pick up distress signals. They fight about who to pick up and who to leave behind. They fight about who's in charge. They fight about food. In a world where there isn't much in the way of material things, you fight over the smallest things.

Sometimes I wasn't sure how to feel about this book. I wasn't sure if this was trying to be a sci-fi novel? Dystopian? Literary fiction? It reminded me of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel and I was a bit indifferent to that book too. A lot of the book takes place in outer space, but that element of the story seems like an afterthought. The space angle could have been a fascinating part of the story. It could have been an extra character. But the space portion of the story is more of a backdrop to the characters. Sometimes I didn't understand Jamie. She didn't seem to love anything or anyone. What was with the sudden desire to find Daniel? As a whole, this wasn't quite what I was expecting. Parts of it were good, and with a little more action I think this would have been a great story.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Berkley) as part of a blog tour.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

My take on: Hungry Heart

In June of 2012, I got to hear one of my favorite authors Jennifer Weiner speak at BEA Bloggers conference. Yes, I confess I was one of those wondering why she was chosen to be the keynote speaker at a blogger convention. But it doesn't matter because she was extremely funny and engaging. I remember a story about a bad smell during a reading at a bookstore. "Sorry about the smell, here's Jennifer Weiner!" At the end of her speech, I tried I really tried to get her autograph on my very worn copy of Good in Bed. But no such luck on the first day. The next day, of course I forgot to bring my copy of Good in Bed back with me to BEA. Grrrrrr!! But I had the good fortune to be the fourth or fifth person in line for her autograph the next day.

Photo proof right here. Five years later, I'm pretty sure I'm wearing the same pair of glasses. Fast forward to the present day, I've just finished reading her book of essays, Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing. After reading this book, I wish I had something pithy to say back in 2012 besides "How do you say your last name?" She did answer that question with a laugh! Or if Hungry Heart was out back in 2012, I would have said, "How do you get away with calling your mother Fran instead of mom?" Seriously that fascinates me. I've called my mother by her name once or twice and it was just to get her attention in a crowded airport! Or I might have asked have you ever met Jonathan Franzen and wouldn't you just love to tell him about the joys of  Twitter and books written by women!!

But back to Hungry Heart, I liked reading about this side of Jennifer Weiner. I came to see her as more than just the person who writes about plus size heroines or the snarky tweets about trashy reality shows like the Bachelor and Bachelorette (Shhhh I've never seen either show but I feel like I have when I read her tweets). I wanted to give 16-year-old Jennifer a hug because like a lot of people I know what it's like to be called the "fat one." I read about her love for books, about her absentee father, about her struggles with weight, her delightful Nanna, her siblings (there's a whole chapter dedicated to her sister, Molly. I defy anyone with siblings to read that without laughing), and of course Fran. She's very honest about all her success and her low points, which were the hardest, but also most insightful, parts to read. The vivid descriptions of her miscarriage and her father's death left me with my mouth open. Those were deeply personal moments that she didn't have to share. But I'm glad she did.

Rating: Superb

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

Friday, June 23, 2017

It's June already!!

It's hard to believe half the year is gone already. I feel like 2017 just started. I thought this might be a good time to take stock of my reading resolutions for 2017. After a lackluster 2016, I set my goals for 2017 a little bit lower. Why put so many expectations on myself when I know it will be hard to fulfill? So I set a reading goal of 50 books for 2017. The year is halfway done and I'm NOT halfway to 50 books. How many have I read? Eighteen books and counting. It could have been more but I've had some dry spells this year. I started and stopped several books. 

DNF: I tried, I really tried

A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin: This book is sooooooooooooooo dense. I just couldn't believe this man would spend pages upon pages waxing poetic about milk and food. There were parts that were interesting but some that were kind of boring. I own all of the books in the series, so I will have to come back to this at some point. But for now, I had to breakup with Mr. Martin.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: The writing style is a bit unorthodox. I wasn't getting the hype. What is so special about this book? After almost 200 pages, I gave up.

Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett: This was an office book club pick. It was less
than 200 pages, but I struggled to finish it. It made ZERO sense to me. I skipped the book discussion on this one because I just had nothing to say. There was nothing special about this one.

Sweetness #9 by Stephan Eirik Clark: Another office book club pick. I was just indifferent. There was nothing overly bad or overly good about this one.

Caught in the Revolution by Helen Rappaport: This was about the Russian Revolution of 1917. The time period was certainly compelling but the way the story was told wasn't enough to hold my attention.

Ninth City Burning by J. Patrick Black: An opportunity to finally read some more sci-fi. I couldn't get past the first three or four chapters.

How is the rest of the year shaping up?

I think I will get really, really close to 50 books. But I think I might come up short. I'm starting to read longer books, 400-plus pages, and those just take up more time. I also don't think I'm going to break my habit of reading several books at once. Some days I'm just in the mood for more than one book. I'm currently reading
Night Film by Marisha Pessl. At nearly 600 pages, it's going to take me at least another month to finish. So far, I think Night Film is going to be my favorite book of the year. I'm only about 160 pages in, but it's so different from anything I've read in years. It's not just a mystery, it's a thriller, it's a family drama, it's a mind-bender. It's so many things, I'm going to have a hard time describing it when I post my review.

What else am I looking forward to? It by Stephen King. I'm dating myself, but I remember when the original TV movie came on. Now that a movie is coming this fall, I want to finally tackle the book. I've tried before, maybe I'll succeed this time! Natchez Burning by Greg Iles and Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult are also on my mile long TBR.

What's on your list?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

My take on: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs has been in the ether for six years. To celebrate the sixth anniversary, Quirk Books, the publisher of this series, is hosting a re-read of all three books. Or in my case, read them for the first time. I've owned all three books for a while now and they've just been collecting dust. This read-a-thon was just the motivation I needed.

I did have some trepidation about reading this book. This is a much beloved series, and I worried I wouldn't like it. But I worried for nothing. The book started a little slow for me, but with each chapter I was thoroughly wrapped up in the story.

The death of Jacob Portman's beloved grandfather, Abraham, sends the teenager into a bit of a tailspin. Over the years, the elder Portman filled his grandson's head with fanciful stories of a mysterious island. This island was home to a group of special or peculiar children, including Abraham at one time. Abe's old photos of these children are almost too good to be true. A girl floating in mid-air. A young contortionist. Twins wearing weird costumes. Are these photos fake? Or are they from real life? It's hard for Jacob to decipher. Jacob always thought his grandfather's stories were just stories. The ravings of an eccentric man. But Abe's mysterious death throws everything into doubt. Jacob is certain an animal, a monster killed his grandfather. But no one believes Jacob. Abe had been warning Jacob for a long time that monsters were coming. Monsters were coming for the family. What if the warnings were all true?

It's hard for Jacob to make his parents believe in anything. They're so convinced Jacob is on the same path to stark raving mad just like his grandfather, his parents send him to a shrink. But Jacob, like a lot of teenagers, is rather resourceful. He tells the doctor what he wants to hear, all while maintaining a rather dry sense of humor. Jacob manages to convince his parents and his doctor that the only way for him to truly get better is to trace his grandfather's roots. He needs to go that mystery island to truly heal. But of course, what Jacob really wants to know is if the home for peculiar children is real? Are any of the residents still alive? Who is the woman, aka Miss Peregrine, in grandfather's letters?

Jacob and his dad travel to the small island of Cairnholm. For dad, it's a chance to work on his bird book -- which might never get published (but don't tell him that). For Jacob, it's a chance to explore the island, find grandfather's childhood home, and find Miss Peregrine. Jacob finds more than he bargained for. Finding the source of his obsession comes at a cost. His life and the lives of others are put at risk. Was it all worth it?

I know this book is often labelled as fantasy, but it felt like a mystery to me. The creepy photos throughout add to the mystery. They look so real, there has to be some truth to them. I found myself routing for Jacob. Routing for the new friendships his forges with the children. Jacob has the right amount of naivete, confidence, humor, and strength to carry the story. He believes in his grandfather. He believes in the children and Miss Peregrine. If you can't tell, this is all to say.....that I'm ready for book #2!!

Rating: Superb

Friday, June 2, 2017

My take on: Pretty Girls

I have to say I was presently surprised by Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter. Before this I had never read one of her books. I thought this would be a formulaic thriller, but I was sooooo wrong. In my opinion, this was a dark dark family drama. Yes there is a murder. Yes there are moments that made me squirm, so much so I wondered where the author got these ideas. To me, all of that is secondary to what the book is really about -- the relationship between two sisters.

Twenty-plus years ago, Lydia and Claire's sister, Julia, went missing. Did she leave on her own or was she taken? Is she alive or is she dead? Her disappearance consumed their family, especially their father. He spent his days and nights pouring over police reports, pursuing witnesses, and pursuing leads that went nowhere. In a way, his life stopped when Julia disappeared. His marriage to their mother ended in divorce, and the family was forever fractured. Lydia lost herself in drugs. And Claire lost herself in a seemingly "perfect" man named Paul.

It was Paul who drove a wedge between Lydia, and her entire family. Lydia always knew something was off with Paul and truly saw him for what he was. But no one would believe her, especially Claire. Paul and Claire get married, settling into domestic life. It takes years before Lydia overcomes her drug addiction, but her life blossoms. She's now a mother, has a successful business, and a man she loves. The lives Claire and Lydia have built are about to be shattered.

The disappearance of another young girl has eerie similarities to Julia's case. Are both cases the work of the same person? Or is it just a coincidence? In the two decades since Julia's disappearance, her sisters have never been the same. Thoughts of Julia are never far from their minds. And now more than ever, Lydia and Claire will need to rely on each other. Paul is murdered, shattering Claire's sense of security -- and everything she thought she knew about her husband. I don't think it's a spoiler by dropping this little nugget about Paul because it happens very early in the book. The aftermath of his death is the main catalyst for the book. His death forces Lydia and Claire to reunite after two decades of silence.

There's no picking up right where they left off, but they're forced to confront the pain. Claire begins to learn who Paul really was. Outwardly, Paul exuded nothing but confidence and perfection. However, he was far from perfect. He had a lot of secrets, many of them disturbing and criminal. These are secrets that Claire can't handle on her own. She turns to Lydia for help. Lydia is reluctant, and despite the long time apart her sister needs her. The bond between them was always there, but they had to wait until they were both emotionally ready. As they peel back the layers of Paul's secret life, they get closer and closer.

Some of the details of Paul's shenanigans were difficult to read. I don't want to go into detail on his secrets because I think it would give away a big plot point. Just know that it involves torture, disturbing enough that it made me a little squeamish. Dark details aside, I was thoroughly engrossed in this book. Beginning to end I didn't know where the story was going. I don't mean that in a bad way, but a good way. This was a thoroughly compulsive read. Chapter after chapter I just wanted to know what's going to happen. Is Julia really dead? Was Paul somehow involved? But the most important thing, I wanted to know if Claire and Lydia could get back to being sisters. To being best friends. I think that was the ultimate goal all along, not to solve crimes but to heal a family. I think Karin Slaughter did an excellent job of balancing the sinister elements with the heartfelt elements. I'm now a fan, and will definitely read more of her books.

Rating: Superb

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

Saturday, May 27, 2017

My take on: Homegoing

Two half-sisters, born at the dawn of slavery in Ghana. One is "married" off to an Englishman, living a life of luxury. The other sold into slavery, and shipped off to America. In alternating chapters, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, tells the tale of their descendants, over the course of 300 years.

Effia grew up loved by her father, but hated by the woman she thought was her mother. The woman Effia believed to be her mother hates her with a passion and takes her anger out on Effia. Nothing Effia does is right. Rather than remain with the family, her mother sees to it that Effia is taken away from the family. Effia is "married" off to British soldier James Collins. She's not really his wife, but his wench. The woman he gets to have sex with while his real wife and kids live in England. Effia goes to live with James in a castle on Africa's Gold Coast, eventually giving birth to their son, Quey.

Several floors below Effia's new family, the slave dungeons are filled to the brim with African men and women who have been stripped of not just their clothes but their dignity. One of those women, Esi, is Effia's half-sister. Effia and Esi don't know each other, but their paths in life and their descendants are full of strife and heartache. Despite being chained to multiple women in a dark dungeon, Esi tries to remember happier times. She was on the verge of getting married before being captured. She holds onto those memories. She tries to forget the stench of human waste. She tries to forget the stench of death. While she can occasionally escape mentally, physically there is no escape for Esi as she is shipped to America landing on a plantation in the South.

Effia's descendants live through war in Ghana, between the Fantes and the Assantes, and the booming slave trade. Esi's descendants live through slavery in the American South, the Great Migration, and the jazz era in Harlem. Both narratives leading to the present day. To me, each chapter has a different degree of sadness. Ness, Esi's daughter, endures such severe beatings that her skin often cracks open and bleeds. She and her husband, Sam, risk everything to get their son out of slavery and on the path to freedom but it comes at a high price. Akua, one of Effia's descendants, is driven to bouts of madness. Almost everyone on both sides of the family tree has some degree of tragedy in their lives. Each character truly could have filled an entire book on their own.

How did this book land on my radar? This month I got to pick the book for our office book club, and I chose Homegoing. With such a broad scope, I thought this was a good choice. I still think it was a good choice...even though I had issues with it. The front cover says "a novel" but that word has a certain meaning for me. When I read a novel I expect it to draw me in, to connect with the characters. For me, it was hard to find that connection when every chapter is about a different character. In my opinion this wasn't novel, but a series of connected short stories. I have never been into short stories. Because each chapter begins with a different character I found the timeline hard to follow. Problems aside, the writing is very well-done and engaging. I would definitely read another book from this author!

Rating: Give it a try

Saturday, May 6, 2017

My take on: The Mothers

I have seen nothing but great reviews for The Mothers by Brit Bennett. When my co-workers picked it for our book club, I thought it was a great choice. After reading it, I feel a bit indifferent about the book. There were some parts of it that were really good, but the rest......

The premise, the lives of three young people, Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey, as seen through the eyes of a group of mothers. The mothers are a group of women who worship at the same church. At times they take great pride in Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey. But in my opinion all the mothers are a bunch of gossiping, judgmental woman. Which I'm sure is par for the course at a lot of churches. In the eyes of the mothers, Nadia is the bad one. Luke is the pastor's son, and can do no wrong. Aubrey is the sweet, virginal one and must stay away from bad influences like Nadia. All three play right into those roles, but the decisions they make as teenagers will impact them forever.

In the eyes of the mothers, Nadia never had a chance. After her mother committed suicide, Nadia "lacked" the proper maternal guidance. Her father, Robert, is physically in her life, but emotionally he's long gone. Instead of turning all of his attention and love to his daughter, he focuses on helping the church. Helping the church is what feels normal to him. Her father just let her run "wild." She ran right into the arms of Luke, getting pregnant just months before she starts college. Her decision to have an abortion is the turning point in everyone's life. Would life have turned out differently if she had the baby? Perhaps. But she didn't. After the abortion, Luke treats Nadia like she doesn't exist. He doesn't want to acknowledge her feelings because he's too busy wallowing in his own misery. Without Luke in her life, Nadia seeks friendship elsewhere. She finds it in Aubrey.

In the eyes of the mothers, Aubrey is everything Nadia isn't. Aubrey volunteers at the church. She's respectful and kind to everyone. Aubrey's mother is alive, but isn't an active participant in her life. Shouldn't that make the mothers question the type of person Aubrey is? But they don't. She has an air of purity that Nadia doesn't. That's why it's worrisome when Nadia and Aubrey become best friends. So close, they almost seem like sisters. But that all changes when Nadia finally leaves for college in Michigan. She still speaks to Aubrey regularly, but Nadia avoids coming home at all costs. Aubrey finds friendship and love in the most unlikely person, Luke.

It seems soooo wrong that Luke and Aubrey end up together. Aubrey is everything that Nadia wasn't, attentive, caring, and loving. In the years in between his relationship with Nadia and his relationship with Aubrey, Luke's life fell apart. He went from college football prospect to a reject. He had setback after setback. His life was aimless until he met Aubrey. But I found this relationship so cliche. He can only have a relationship with a good girl? Nadia is the one who really ruined his life by having an abortion? Why was it so easy for him to love Aubrey and not Nadia?

Telling Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey's stories through the eyes of a group of mothers was an interesting premise, but ultimately a total letdown. The chapters open with the mothers narrating, but for only a few paragraphs and then we don't hear from them again until the next chapter. Early on, I found this to be confusing because it took me a couple chapters to understand who the narrators were. Also problematic for me was the portrayal of abortion. Without going into too much detail, Nadia's abortion impacts not just Luke but the entire church. If you have one, well darn your life is going to suck afterward. Was this book supposed to be a cautionary tale on abortion? What kind of message is that? This book had potential, but by the end it was unfulfilled potential.

Rating: Meh

Thursday, April 20, 2017

My take on: In Farleigh Field

The dangers of World War II hit close to home at Farleigh Place, when the dead body of soldier is discovered on the stately grounds. His death the result of a failed parachute. But the bigger mystery? Who was he? He had no I.D., and even the soldiers stationed at Fairleigh Place don't know who he is. His only possession? A photograph. Perhaps he was a spy? A German spy? Who he was, who he intended to meet, and why is at the heart of In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen.

Ben Cresswell, an MI5 operative, is tasked with finding out who the dead soldier was. Ben's special relationship with Farleigh allows him to carry out his mission covertly. Farleigh Place is home to Lord Westerham, his wife, Lady Esme, and their five daughters Pamela, Margot, Diana, Dido, and Phoebe. Ben is a longtime family friend. This assignment offers Ben the chance to get closer to Pamela, whom he has been in love with for years. But Pamela is smitten with Jeremy Prescott, a pilot who has recently escaped from a Nazi prison camp. However, Pamela is more than just a lovesick young woman, she's doing her part to help Britain defeat Germany. Pamela is a code breaker, which her family doesn't know. She isn't the only one in the family keeping secrets. Margot is in Paris under the guise of an apprenticeship with a famous fashion designer, but she's actually part of the resistance.

The investigation into the mysterious soldier leads to more questions than answers. Ben can't fathom that anyone at Farleigh or in town is involved. The traitor can't be someone he knows. Maybe that's denial on Ben's part. Or maybe it's a stranger? The only tangible clue is the photograph, which Ben is convinced is a coded message. The photo maybe part of a larger conspiracy, and Ben needs to figure it out before it's too late.

Historical fiction is right in my wheelhouse. I loved the premise and there definitely was mystery and intrigue throughout. But sometimes I felt like there was a little too much going on. The story is told from the perspective of several characters, which I didn't think was totally necessary. Each character could have had their own book, but all of the storylines were together in this one story which made for uneven pacing. I was pulled in by the dead soldier. What was his motive? What was his mission? Did he intend to land at Farleigh? I wanted the book to stick to that story and Ben and Pamela's relationship. But there is still a lot to like about this book. My favorite aspect is that the women in this book are very driven and determined not to be damsels in distress. They want to be part of the action just like the men. Overall, this a worthy read and I would gladly read another book by this author.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from Little Bird Publicity in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

My take on: The Hate U Give

It usually takes months sometimes years before I jump on the hot book of the moment. I've only read one Harry Potter book. I'm still struggling through Game of Thrones and The Book Thief. One day I will finish The Lunar Chronicles. But I made an exception for The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

The Hate U Give has been praised by multiple authors, readers, bloggers, and media outlets. I wanted to see if this book was worth the hype. I'll be honest, I wasn't totally wowed by the writing style but I was wowed by the subject matter and the message. The author was inspired by the music of Tupac Shakur and the Black Lives Matter movement, and it shows in this book.

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter is the sole witness to the shooting death of her childhood friend, Khalil, who dies at the hands of a white police officer. Like many real-life police shootings, Khalil's case becomes a national headline and a fight for justice -- resulting in riots, violence, and vandalism. Lost in all the madness? Starr. The night Khalil died, is also the night Starr lost her voice and her identity. Can she find herself again and get justice for Khalil?

"...people like us in situations like this become hashtags, but they rarely get justice. I think we all wait for that one time though, that one time when it ends right." -- Pg. 59

For the past several years, Starr has lived in two worlds -- her poor black neighborhood of Garden Heights and her middle-class prep school Williamson. She doesn't speak, act, and think the same way in both of those worlds. At school, she's Williamson Starr. At home, she's Garden Heights Starr. In Garden Heights, Starr can let her guard down. But at Williamson, her guard is always up, even with her friends, Maya and Hailey, and her boyfriend, Chris. She spends a lot of energy keeping the two worlds separate. Her Williamson friends don't visit Garden Heights and vice versa. But after Khalil's death, it's getting harder and harder to keep the two separate. Students at Williamson want to protest Khalil's shooting, but they're not doing it for the right reasons. She wants to express her anger and grief over Khalil's death, but then Garden Heights Starr might come out. The people at Williamson, especially Hailey, wouldn't know what to do with Garden Heights Starr -- the one who is angry about racial digs Hailey has thrown her way.

Garden Heights itself is in turmoil. Maverick "Big Mav" Carter, Starr's dad, tries to keep the peace in the neighborhood and in his home. Mav is an ex-con and ex-gang member, his words of wisdom carry a lot of weight except with King, the neighborhood gang leader. As the riots and violence increase in the neighborhood, so does the tension in the Carter household. Lisa, Starr's mom, wants their family out of the neighborhood, but that's a concept Mav struggles with. How can he bring about change if he leaves Garden Heights? Is he a sellout if he leaves? Clearly, Starr isn't the only one in the household with identity struggles.

Overall, I wish there was a book like this when I was younger. I don't remember reading about characters that looked like me. I'm in my thirties and I truly appreciate books like this. My one knock on this book, the writing style. The writing takes some getting used to, and I wasn't in love with the numerous references to 1990s culture and entertainment. The references felt like overkill. But put that aside, and this is still a very good book -- one I wish a lot of people in power would read. If politicians and law enforcement could truly understand the other side, understand people not like them, today's climate would be so much better. The ending isn't sunshine and roses, it plays out very true to real life!

Rating: Superb

Monday, March 20, 2017

My take on: The Hike

The Hike by Drew Magary is an odyssey through an Alison in Wonderland-like world on acid. Trust me, this is a compliment! I know this might not be popular opinion, but this is one of the best, funniest, and weirdest books I've read in a long time.

Yes, The Library at Mount Char was weird, but that took me a long time to like and understand. I think The Hike succeeded where the latter didn't. The Hike could almost pass for a children's story, if only for that pesky cursing, drinking, and mild sex!

Ben is an ordinary dude, with an ordinary life. He has a wife, Teresa, and three children. Everything is normal....until he heads to the Poconos for a business trip. After settling into his hotel, Ben decides to go for a hike in the woods. What could go wrong? Everything!

At first, it seems like Ben is lost. Did he see that tree before? Did he pass that rock before? But things take an odd turn. He sees two men with Rottweiler faces burying a body. Yes, men with dog faces. Men with dog faces who are out to kill Ben. Somehow he gets away from them, finding a tent, drinks, and a backpack filled with food. How is it that supplies just happen to magical find their way to Ben? Nobody is that lucky, but he's not about to squander his good fortune. Partaking in beer and hot dogs, Ben takes the first of several trips down memory lane. He dreams of a former girlfriend, but it feels so real that Ben believes he's cheating on Teresa. Is it all just a really bad dream? He'll wake up soon from this nightmare won't he?

There is no waking up from this nightmare, at least not any time soon. In the morning, Ben seems to be caught in some medieval world. He encounters Mrs. Blackwell who doesn't seem to understand anything Ben is talking about. Like how does one charge their phone, when this lady doesn't even know what one is? But she's there to set Ben on his path and offer some very wise advice. Ben has to find the producer and to do so he has to stay on the path. If he leaves the path, he's not only risking his life but his sanity.

Along his travels, Ben meets some very funny, dangerous, and weird characters. A crab named Crab becomes Ben's sidekick. Yes, don't call Crab anything other than "Crab" or he'll snap your fingers off with his claws. As insane as it sounds for a grown man to speak with a talking crab, it's funny and it all makes sense. Ben and Crab appear to be a real-life Odd Couple, but they become friends and save each other at every turn. When they meet Fermona, a human-eating wise-cracking giant, Ben and Crab work together to outsmart her.

Days turn to weeks. Weeks turn to months. Months turn to years. Yes, Ben is stuck in this wackadoo alternate universe for years. The friends and enemies he makes on this journey come and go. The only constant is Ben. Slowly, he's losing his physical and emotional strength. How will he ever get out of this cycle? Does he want out? If he does get out will he be the same? Will his family be the same? Will they even remember him? Sometimes it felt like Ben's journey was a way of atoning for his past sins. He gets to re-live many prominent moments in his past. The memories are so vivid, it's hard to know what's real and what isn't. But each morning it's clear that Ben is far removed from reality.

This was my office book club pick, and I really didn't have high hopes. Fantasy just isn't my thing, but I'm trying to read outside of my comfort zone. I'm glad I did. From start to finish, I was hooked. It's heavy on the fantasy/magical realism, but it's also about discovering the depths of one's own humanity. It becomes clear that the answer to Ben's problems is not within this wacky world but himself. Whenever he realizes that he just might be saved. Overall, this was a fun, heartwarming, fascination, and WACKY read!

Rating: O.M.G. !!!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

My Take on: The Possessions

Somewhere in the distant future, there exists a society that reconnects people with dead loved ones. Eurydice a.k.a. Edie works as a "body" at the Elysian Society. The bodies surround themselves with clothing, pictures, and other sentimental items of the deceased, immersing themselves in the lives of those who have passed. Then with the swallowing of a pill called a lotus, the bodies cease to exist and the dead take over. It's all done in a controlled environment and has worked to great success. But that only works as long as everyone follows the rules. Edie is tempted to break those rules but it comes at a cost in this thrilling debut, The Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy.

In her five years at the Elysian Society, Edie has always played by the rules. She doesn't get attached to her clients. She goes to work and then she does home. She doesn't socialize a lot. Edie's co-workers don't know much about her. She's the goody-two shoes in the office. But the cracks in Edie's armor start to show once she takes on Patrick Braddock as a client.

Patrick's wife, Sylvia, drowned more than a year ago and is still grieving. He comes to the Elysian Society for help. With Edie's help, he gets to feel, touch, and talk to Sylvia again. When the first session is over, Edie would normally go back to her life. The lotus pills don't allow bodies to retain memories of their sessions. But there's something different about Patrick and Sylvia. He gives Edie some of Sylvia's sentimental items to keep, including a beloved book and her favorite shade of lipstick. She feels connected to the Braddocks more than any other clients. But that connection has a price. Edie is also having very vivid dreams, which could possibly be Sylvia's memories. Sylvia died under mysterious circumstances. Did she really drown accidentally or was something more sinister at work? The answers to those questions become Edie's obsession. She starts meeting Patrick outside the confines of the Elysian Society. The professional boundaries start to blur. Is Patrick just a client? Or does Sylvia want more? A real relationship? But what if Patrick isn't the grieving husband? Is risking her career worth it?

I'm not sure what I was expecting with this book. The premise sounded very unique. I went into this thinking it would lean toward science fiction. What I got was a thrilling, romantic suspense book. This a strange and weird city. Who would want to subject themselves to such a process over and over again? Connecting with a loved one sounds like a good idea, but what do you do when you have to go back to your regular life? This was a different take on a dystopian society, making for an addicting read.

Rating: Superb

Notes: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours.

Friday, February 24, 2017

My take on: The River at Night

Four friends head off for a little fun and a little adventure. Sounds like a good idea right? But what if that weekend getaway turned into a nightmare? Stripped of all your worldly possessions, food, and water, what would you do to survive? Is it every man, woman, and child for themselves? Or would you find some way to rely on each other?

That's the scenario Wini, Pia, Sandra, and Rachel, are facing in The River at Night by Erica Ferencik.

In the past, Wini, Pia, Sandra, and Rachel went for the typical girls getaway: beaches, sun, sand, and alcohol. Thanks to Pia's adventurous spirit, the tropics have been replaced with a camping and rafting trip. In the midst of a divorce, Wini is reluctant to rough it out in the woods. And Pia's plan, isn't exactly well thought out. Which I found a bit odd for modern women. But of course they all go, otherwise there would be no point to this book.

The trip starts out fine. They trek from their big-city lives to a small town in Maine, where some of the locals aren't so welcoming. But their young river guide, Rory, makes up for that. He and Pia clearly have a lot of mutual affection, much to the chagrin of Wini, Sandra, and Rachel. Sometimes the lovebirds don't seem to realize not everyone wants to see and hear their lust for each other, leading to a lot of tension in the group. But all of that has to be put aside once they venture out on the river. Rory makes it clear that all of the bickering has to stop once they're in the water. The surging rapids are in charge and everyone will have to listen and work together.

What should be a unique experience for Wini, Pia, Sandra, and Rachel becomes a fight for survival. A freak accident leaves the four women alone with nothing but their helmets and the clothes on their backs to survive. It's at this point where the book comes alive for me. It was a little slow for me and I was waiting for the hook. For the suspense. The closest comparisons I can think of to this book are the movies Deliverance and The River Wild. In both movies, everything starts out sunshine and roses and then everything turns to %&*^ (insert your four-letter word of choice)!!

There are moments when I thought these women would turn on each other. Who do they trust? Themselves? The woods? Or two mysterious strangers who might have ulterior motives? I won't go into detail on that one, I think that would be giving away too much. Anyway you slice it, these women will never be the same after this trip. If they do survive, how can they go back to normal life after such a traumatic experience?

The wilderness and the river are like extra characters, every time the women venture into both it threatens to consume them literally and figuratively. There are moments when all of them feel like giving up. Just let the elements take them. But just when you think they're at their lowest points they come back. At its core, this is about friendship and learning who you are when everything has been taken away. It's a suspenseful and enjoyable read.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received an e-galley from Wunderkind PR in exchange for an honest review.

Excerpt: The River at Night by Erica Ferencik

Read on for a little snippet from The River at Night by Erica Ferencik

Early one morning in late March, Pia forced my hand.
A slapping spring wind ushered me through the heavy doors of the YMCA lobby as the minute hand of the yellowing 1950s-era clock over the check-in desk snapped to 7:09. Head down and on task to be in my preferred lane by precisely 7:15, I rushed along the glass corridor next to the pool. The chemical stink leaked from the ancient windows, as did the muffled shrieks of children and the lifeguard’s whistle. I felt cosseted by the shabby walls, by my self-righteous routine, by the fact that I’d ousted
myself from my warm bed to face another tedious day head-on. Small victories.
I’d just squeezed myself into my old-lady swimsuit when the phone in my bag began to bleat. I dug it out. The screen pulsed
with the image of Pia Zanderlee ski-racing down a double black
diamond slope somewhere in Banff.
My choices? Answer it now or play phone tag for another week.
Pia was that friend you love with a twinge of resentment. The
sparkly one who never has time for you unless it’s on her schedule,
but you like her too much to flush her down the friendship toilet.
“Wow, a phone call—from you!” I said as I mercilessly assessed
my middle-aged pudge in the greasy mirror. “To what do I owe the
Of course I knew the reason. Five unanswered texts.
Pia laughed. “Hey, Win, listen. We need to make our reservations.
Like, by tomorrow.”
I fished around in my swim bag for my goggles. “Yeah, I
“I get it. Nature’s not your thing, but you’re going to love it
once you’re out there. Rachel and Sandra are chomping at the bit
to go, but they have to make their travel plans. We all do.”
With a shudder, I recalled my frantic Google search the night
before for Winnegosset River Rafting, Maine.
No results.
“Just wondering why this place doesn’t have some kind of
website. I mean, is it legit?” I asked, my voice coming out all high
and tinny. Already I was ashamed of my wussiness. “I’d hate to
get all the way up there and find out this is some sort of shady
I could feel her roll her eyes. “Wini, just because some place
or something or someone doesn’t have a website doesn’t mean
they don’t exist.” She sounded windblown, breathless. I pictured
her power walking through her Cambridge neighborhood, wrist
weights flashing neon. “It’s a big old world out there. One of the
reasons this place is so awesome is because no one knows about it
yet, so it’s not booked solid before the snow’s even melted. That’s
why there’s space for the weekend we all want, get it? This year,
it’s the world’s best-kept secret—next year, forget it!”
“I don’t know, Pia . . .” I glanced at the time: 7:14.
She laughed, softening to me now. “Look, the guy who runs the white-water tours is a good friend of my dad—he’s my dad’s friend’s son, I mean, so it’s cool.”
          “Can’t believe Rachel would want to—”
“Are you crazy? She’s dying to go. And Sandra? Please. She’d get on a plane right now if she could.”
With a wave of affection I pictured my last Skype with Sandra: kids running around screaming in the background, papers to correct stacked next to her. When I brought up the trip, she’d groaned, Hell, yes, I’m game for anything—just get me out of Dodge!
“Wini, listen up: Next year—I promise, we’ll go to a beach somewhere. Canc├║n, Key West, you choose. Do nothing and just bake.
“Look, Pia, I’m at the pool and I’m going to lose my lane—”
“Okay. Swim. Then call me.”
I tucked my flyaway dirty-blond bob—the compromise cut for
all hopelessly shitty hair—under my bathing cap, then hustled my
stuff into a locker and slammed it shut. Do nothing and just bake.
Did she really think that was all I was interested in? Who was the
one who rented the bike the last time we went to the Cape? Just
me, as I recalled, while all of them sat around the rental pouring
more and more tequila into the blender each day. And my God—
we were all pushing forty—shouldn’t awesome and cool be in the
rearview mirror by now?

I crossed the slimy tiles of the dressing room and pushed open
the swinging doors to the pool. The air hit me, muggy and warm,
dense with chlorine that barely masked an underwhiff of urine
and sweat. Children laughed and punched at the blue water in the
shallow end as I padded over to my favorite lane, which was . . .
It was 7:16 and frog man had beat me to it. Fuck.
For close to a year, this nonagenarian ear, nose, and throat doctor
and I had been locked in a mostly silent daily battle over the
best lane—far left-hand side, under the skylights—from 7:15 to
8:00 each weekday morning. Usually I was the victor, something
about which I’d felt ridiculous glee. We’d only ever exchanged
the briefest of greetings; both of us getting to the Y a notch earlier
each day. I imagined we both craved this mindless exercise,
thoughts freed by the calming boredom of swimming and near weightlessness.
      But today I’d lost the battle. I plopped down on a hard plastic seat, pouting inside but feigning serenity as I watched him slap through his slow-motion crawl. He appeared to lose steam near the end of a lap, then climbed the ladder out of the pool as only a ninety-year-old can: with careful deliberation in every step. As I watched the water drip off his flat ass and down his pencil legs, I realized that he was making his way to me, or rather to a stack of
towels next to me, and in a few seconds I’d pretty much have to talk to him. He uncorked his goggles with a soft sucking sound. I noticed his eyes seemed a bit wearier than usual, even for a man his age who had just worked his daily laps.
“How are you?” I shifted in my seat, conscious of my bathing
cap squeezing my head and distorting my face as I stole the odd
glance at the deliciously empty lane.
“I’m well, thank you. Though very sad today.”
I studied him more closely now, caught off guard by his
intimate tone. “Why?”
Though his expression was grim, I wasn’t prepared for what he
“I just lost my daughter to cancer.”
“I’m sorry,” I choked out. I felt socked in the soft fleshy parts;
smacked off the rails of my deeply grooved routine and whipped
around to face something I didn’t want to see.
He took a towel and poked at his ears with it. A gold cross hung
from a glimmering chain around his thin neck, the skin white and
rubbery looking. “It was a long struggle. Part of me is glad it’s over.”
He squinted at me as if seeing me for the first time. “She was
about your age,” he added, turning to walk away before I could
utter a word of comfort. I watched him travel in his flap step the
length of the pool to the men’s lockers, his head held down so low
I could barely see the top of it.
My hands trembled as I gripped the steel ladder and made my
way down into the antiseptic blue. I pushed off. Eyes shut tight
and heart pumping, I watched the words
She was about your age
hover in my brain until the letters dissolved into nothingness. The
horror of his offhand observation numbed me as I turned and
floated on my back, breathing heavily in the oppressive air. As I
slogged joylessly through my laps, I thought of my own father
rolling his eyes when I said I was afraid of sleepaway camp, of third
grade, of walking on grass barefoot “because of worms.” As cold as
he could be to my brother and me, not a thing on earth seemed to
frighten him.
I had barely toweled myself off when my phone lit up with
a text from Pia. A question mark, that was it. Followed by three
more. Methodically I removed my work clothes from my locker,
arranging them neatly on the bench behind me. I pulled off my
bathing cap, sat down, and picked up the phone.
         My thumbs hovered over the keys as I shivered in the over-
heated locker room. I took a deep breath—shampoo, rubber, mold,
a sting of disinfectant—and slowly let it out, a sharp pain lodging in my gut. I couldn’t tell which was worse, the fear of being left behind by my friends as they dashed away on some ├╝berbonding, unforgettable adventure, or the inevitable self-loathing if I stayed behind like some gutless wimp—safe, always safe—half-fucking-dead with safety. Why couldn’t I just say yes to a camping trip with three of my best friends? What was I so afraid of?
Pool water dripped from my hair, beading on the phone as I commanded myself to text something.
I watched my fingers as they typed, Okay, I’m in, and pressed send.
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