Tuesday, December 16, 2014

My Top Ten(ish) Favorites of 2014 (With a Giveaway!)


Even though I have a million other things I should be doing right now, I didn't want to miss out on this week's Top Ten Tuesday.  The question this week is:  What are (were?) your favorite reads of 2014.  I can't wait to see what's on everyone's lists!  Are there any last minute books I need to buy for myself Santa to bring me?  If you want to join in the TTT fun, hop on over to The Broke and the Bookish and sign up.  It's lots of fun!

Here are my Top Ten Favorite Reads of 2014 (they're not in any particular order, but you'll want to pay special attention to #1):


1.)  Forbidden by Kimberley Griffiths Little—I loved this lush historical YA novel set in the exotic Mesopotamian desert.  It's full of romance, danger, adventure, and heart.

Thanks to the extremely generous Little and her publisher, HarperCollins, I ended up with an extra copy of Forbidden.  So, I'm going to pass it on to one lucky winner.  You'll love this beautiful hardcover volume, with its gorgeous cover and riveting story.  Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter.  Giveaway will end December 31, 2014 and is only open to residents of the U.S. and Canada.  Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


2.  Everything by Kate Morton—No, the Australian author does not have a new book out (I wish), I just can't choose which of hers I like best.  Since I read all of her wonderful novels this year, I'm going to count all four as my favorites.

3.  UnWholly and UnDivided by Neal Shusterman—The UnWind series has been a favorite ever since I started it.  I read the last two installments this month and they're just as good as the first ones.  The whole series is excellent—exciting, original, and thought-provoking.  I highly recommend it.



4.  Cress by Marissa Meyer—The Lunar Chronicles is another of my favorite YA series.  It's original, clean and fun.  I loved the third book just as much as the first two.  I've already purchased tickets for my daughter and I to see Meyer when she comes to Arizona in February!


5.  The Secret Place by Tana French—All of the books in French's Dublin Murder Squad series are intriguing and well-written.  I thought The Secret Place was especially clever because it took place over just one day.



6.  Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson—I've long been a fan of Woodson's lyrical, thought-provoking fiction.  This memoir-in-verse is different, but just as compelling and thoughtful.



7.  Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty—Lots of people are raving about this entertaining novel, which is both laugh-out-loud funny and heartbreaking.



8.  Bone Gap by Laura Ruby—This very original novel doesn't come out until March, but it's one you'll want to keep on your radar.  I loved it because it was suspenseful, unique, and had a twist I've never encountered before in fiction.  Ever.



9.  Save the Cat by Blake Snyder—This book on screenwriting is a must-read for any would-be novelist.  It breaks down the elements of a good story in a way that's logical, entertaining and kinda mind-blowing.


10.  Bones Never Lie by Kathy Reichs—The latest installment in one of my favorite adult series, this book gave me all the feels.  I pretty much swooned over the ending.  Love.

What fabulous books did you read this year?  Which should I be adding to my TBR list?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Creepy-Crawly Swamp Murder Mystery Entertaining and Compelling

         (Image from Barnes & Noble)

Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Swamp Bones, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier Tempe Brennan books.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.

When forensic anthropologist Tempe Brennan visits a friend in Florida, she expects to spend her vacation relaxing in the sun.  No such luck.  Almost as soon as she steps foot into The Sunshine State, she's drawn into a puzzling mystery.  Finding human remains inside a dead, 18-foot long Burmese python is a new one for Tempe, but "reading" bones is certainly not.  It's what she does, what she knows, where she excels.  Her diagnosis?  These bones come from a murdered human.  

The search for the victim's identity leads Tempe into the strange world of python hunting.  Each year, hundreds of wildlife wranglers flock to the Everglades for a 30-day, Fish and Wildlife-sanctioned snake hunt.  They track Burmese pythons, competing for prize money and bragging rights, while helping the state control the insidious, overpopulated species.  The question is:  Who was hunting more than snakes?  And why? Tempe is determined to find out who killed the poor woman whose remains she keeps finding inside the bellies of wild animals.  So much for a vacation.

I love Kathy Reichs' Tempe Brennan series, so it's no surprise that I enjoyed this one (in spite of the fact that it made my skin crawl).  As always with her books, I learned plenty of new things—not that I really wanted to know anything about giant snakes and other Everglades critters (yuck!), but still ... she took me inside a vivid, intriguing world that I never knew about before.  Tempe is, of course, an entertaining narrator.  Her brushes with the local yokels are comical, her adventures always suspenseful and exciting.  If you're a Tempe fan, you definitely don't want to miss out on her capers in the Everglades.  The e-novella is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other books in the Tempe Brennan series, including Deja Dead; Death Du Jour; Deadly Decisions; Fatal Voyage; Grave Secrets; Bare Bones; Monday Mourning; Cross Bones; Break No Bones; Bones to Ashes; Devil Bones; 206 Bones; Spider Bones; Flash and Bones; Bones Are Forever; Bones in Her Pocket (e-novella); Bones of the Lost; and Bones Never Lie)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs), violence, blood/gore

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Swamp Bones from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

TTT: Favorite New-To-Me Authors


It's been awhile since I've participated in Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by the lovelies over at The Broke and the Bookish), my favorite weekly bookish meme.  So, even though I should be catching up on reviews (not to mention folding laundry, cleaning house, writing Christmas cards, etc.), I'm going to join in the fun.  This week's topic is:  Top Ten New-To-Me-Authors I Read in 2014.  My list follows.  With the exception of #1, they are in no particular order:

Oh, wait!  Before you read on, check out the giveaway I'm hosting.  It's for one copy of The Halcyon Bird, the second installment in Kat Beyer's demon catchers series.  Since no one has entered it yet, you have an excellent chance of winning, so click over there right now and enter.



1.  Kate Morton—I read all four of this Australian author's novels this year.  Why?  Because I love her.  Her lush family sagas are filled with mystery, romance, drama, and history.  My only complaint about Morton is that she doesn't write fast enough!  (see my reviews of The Distant Hours; The Secret Keeper; The Forgotten Garden; and The House at Riverton)


2. M. D. Waters—I enjoyed both Archetype and Prototype.  The two-book series is action-packed and thought-provoking.  I'll be interested to see what this author does next.




3.  Ryan Graudin—If you haven't read Graudin's newest novel, The Walled City, then you're really missing out.  It's an exciting, provocative and compelling read, which easily became one of my favorite reads of 2014.  I haven't read All That Glows yet, but I definitely intend to.



4.  Dianne K. Salerni—I read all three of this author's novels this year and was impressed by the variety of her subject matter and the skill of her storytelling.  (see my reviews of The Eighth Day; The Caged Grave; and We Hear the Dead)


5.  Em Garner—Teen zombie novels are a dime a dozen these days, but Em Garner's struck me as different.  More sympathetic.  I enjoyed both Contaminated and Mercy Mode.



6.  Holly Black—Believe it or not, I'd never read anything by Black until a couple months ago.  Doll Bones intrigued me from the moment I heard about it.  The spooky middle grade novel did not disappoint.


7.  Liane Moriarty—Like lots of other readers, I adored Big Little Lies.  The warmth, the humor, the social commentary—I loved it all.  Her other novels are all on my TBR pile mountain mountain chain.



8.  Elizabeth Blackwell—I just finished While Beauty Slept, which I really enjoyed.  As its her first novel, I know we have much to look forward to from this promising author!



9.  Kate A. BoormanWinterkill, Boorman's debut YA novel, is another one of my favorite reads from this year.  Two more books in the series will be coming out and I can't wait.



10.  Julie Berry—Berry's debut, All the Truth That's in Me, is a powerful, lyrical read.  I enjoyed it and am looking forward to reading the author's new middle grade novel, The Scandalous Sisterhood of Pickwillow Place.

There you have it.  I didn't read too many debut authors this year, but these are the ones that stuck out to me.  How about you?  Find any awesome authors this year?  I'd love to check out even more new-to-me writers in 2015, so, please, leave me any recommendations.

Happy Top Ten Tuesday!

*All author photos from authors' websites.

**I can't think of anything more to say.  Does that mean I'm done procrastinating and have to do something productive now?  Aw, man!  Say it ain't so.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Heart-Shattering Sleeping Beauty Retelling Not Really About the Princess—And That's Why I Like It

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Capturing the essence of a book in a brief, but suitably intriguing plot summary is a very difficult thing to do.  Why I even attempt it, especially when a professional has already done such a beautiful job, is beyond me.  In an attempt to hang on to what little sanity I still possess, I'm going to quit trying to describe While Beauty Slept, Elizabeth Blackwell's mesmerizing new novel, and just give you the back cover blurb already:
I am not the sort of person about whom stories are told.  Those of humble birth suffer their heartbreaks and celebrate their triumphs unnoticed by the bards, leaving no trace in the fables of their time ... 

And so begins Elise Dalriss's story.  When she hears her great-grand-daughter recount a minstrel's tale about a beautiful princess asleep in a tower, it pushes open a door to the past, one Elise has long kept locked.  For Elise was the companion to the real princess who slumbered—and she is the only one left who knows what actually happened so many years ago.

As the memories start to unfold, Elise is plunged back into the magnificent world behind the palace walls she left behind more than a half century ago, a labyrinth where the secrets of her real father and the mysterious fate of her mother connect to an inconceivable evil. Elise has guarded these secrets for a lifetime. As she understands all too well, the truth is no fairy tale.
It may seem odd to tell the "real story" behind a well-known fairy tale from the perspective of one who, as Elise herself admits, left "no trace in the fables of [her] time."  And yet, she's pretty much the perfect narrator.  Our brave, self-deprecating heroine spins a yarn that builds slowly, intensifies quickly, and culminates in a shocking, heart-shattering climax.  While the moderate pace of the novel may sound tedious, it's not at all.  It gives us time to get to know the characters—their flaws, their virtues, their complex back stories—along with the ins and outs of castle life, especially the "malevolent intrigues that hide behind courtly manners" (17).  Just in case that's not enough to keep the reader intrigued, Blackwell drops frequent bits of tantalizing, what's-yet-to-come foreshadowing, always hinting that there's more danger, more intrigue, more heartbreak just a few pages ahead.  Guess what?  She never disappoints.  Since I love the way this kind of slow, intense build-up plays with my emotions, I found While Beauty Slept enthralling from its first page to its last.  Sleeping Beauty has never been my favorite fairy tale, but this retelling isn't really about the princess, anyway.  It's about someone way, way more interesting.  No surprisingly, I adored it.    

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of To Die For by Sandra Byrd)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language; violence/gore; some sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of While Beauty Slept from the generous folks at Penguin in exchange for my participation in the book's blog tour.  Thank you!

Monday, December 01, 2014

Right-Up-My-Alley Premise Doesn't Live Up to Promise

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Alice Hyatt believed she had a happy, stable marriage.  Then, her accountant husband disappeared with a pretty co-worker and the $200 million he stole from his company's clients.  Even though Alice was as shocked by his actions as everyone else, the police never quite believed her.  Her reputation shot, Alice fled New York City, nursing her broken heart at her family's summer cottage in the Berkshires.  Seven years later, she's still in Massachusetts, where she's finally managed to rebuild her life.  Her newly-launched landscape design company is gaining favor among the area's wealthy, securing her reputation as a tough, but successful businesswoman.  Sure, people still whisper about her husband, but Alice has managed to put the scandal behind her.  Mostly.  

When Alice receives an offer from the wealthiest man in town to design the extensive gardens which will surround his new mansion, she can hardly believe her luck.  Although Alice doesn't agree with hydro-fracking, the controversial practice through which Graham McKenzie has amassed his fortune, she can't help imagining all the things she could do with the exorbitant amount he's proposing to pay her.  After striking a deal that includes McKenzie donating a large sum to the town's historical society, Alice takes the job.  Although not everyone is happy about her decision, she's thrilled, especially with the friendship she's developing with her new boss.  Maybe McKenzie isn't the greedy blowhard everyone thinks he is.

Just when everything seems to be going right for Alice, her big paycheck bounces.  Then, her employer collapses.  He's dead.  And not of natural causes.  Plenty of people had reason to want McKenzie in the grave—including Alice.  With the suspicions of her past hanging over her head, she finds herself Public Enemy Number One.  The only way to clear her name?  Sniff out Graham McKenzie's murderer.  Before she ends up behind bars for a crime she didn't commit.

I always like a good scorned-woman-returns-home-to-find-herself-again story.  And with a murder mystery thrown into the mix?  How could I resist?  Bleeding Heart by Liza Gyllenhaal, sounded like the kind of novel I would totally eat up.  I would have, too, if it weren't for a few things, namely:  (1) a clumsy, plodding storyline; (2) a cast of unlikable characters; and (3) a mystery that starts too late and finishes too early.  A more suspenseful, streamlined plot would have done wonders for this novel.  As is, I found it dull, tedious and just not all that enjoyable.  Bummer, since Bleeding Heart had definite potential.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't really think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, sexual content, and violence

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Bleeding Heart from the generous folks at Penguin.  Thank you!

Second Demon-Catcher Novel Not For Me, But Maybe For You? (With a Giveaway)

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  Although this review will not contain spoilers for The Halcyon Bird, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its predecessor, The Demon Catchers of Milan.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

American teenager Mia Dellatorri has lived in Milan long enough to learn Italian, prefer her Nonna's homemade cuisine to anything else, and to feel almost more at home at her uncle's than with her immediate family in upstate New York.  And yet, the Della Torre's still won't let her out on the streets without at least one blood relative to protect her.  Inside the well-guarded home, Mia's safe from the vicious, ancient demon who desires to possess her.  Outside, she's vulnerable.  Too vulnerable.  The monster doesn't leave living victims, as Mia knows all too well.

When Mia meets Bernardo—the most beautiful man she's ever seen—she's ready to throw caution to the wind.  Anything to feel his strong arms around her one more time.  She knows that being with Bernardo means exposing him to the danger she faces every day.  If only she could tell him the truth about her family's demon-catching enterprise!  She hates deceiving her kindhearted boyfriend, but she has little choice.  The only way to keep him—and herself—safe is to get rid of her demon once and for all.  Challenging him means risking her life.  It's a chance Mia's willing to take if it means defending the lives of those she loves.  Even if the one person she can't save is herself.

It's no secret that I wasn't all that impressed with The Demon Catchers of Milan, the first book in Kat Beyer's urban fantasy series.  The novel sagged under too much detail and too little plot.  The Halcyon Bird, the second Mia Dellatorri book, picks up a bit, but still drags.  Again, Mia has no real story goal, which makes the novel feel episodic and aimless.  This, along with a confusing magical world, underdeveloped characters, and tell-don't-show prose made this a tedious, unsatisfying read for me.  It's more exciting than the first book, true, but not enough to entice me to stick with this series.  Bummer.

(Readalikes:  The Demon Catchers of Milan by Kat Beyer; similar in subject to The Mortal Instruments series [City of Bones; City of Ashes; City of Glass; City of Fallen Angels; City of Lost Souls; City of Heavenly Fire] by Cassandra Clare)


Grade:



If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs) and violence


To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Halcyon Bird from the generous folks at Egmont as part of the book's blog tour.

****

Even though I wasn't wild about The Halcyon Bird, it might be right up your reading alley.  What better way to give it a shot than to win a free copy of the book?  The good people at Egmont are generally offering one to one lucky Bloggin' 'bout Books reader.  If you'd like the chance to win, all you have to do is fill out the handy-dandy Rafflecopter thing-y below.  Please note that you must have a U.S. or Canadian mailing address to be eligible for the giveaway.  Contest ends on December 13.  Good luck!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Rich, Vibrant Forbidden Should Be at the Top of Everyone's Christmas Wishlist

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Shifting sands are part of life in the Mesopotamian desert, but what about shifting hearts?  

As a child, Jayden thought little about her betrothal to Horeb, the son of her father's best friend.  Now that she's 16 and he 20, with their marriage scheduled to take place within the year, Jayden's terrified.  Not just of the responsibilities she will have to take on as a wife and a mother, but of the man she's to wed.  As the next in line to become their tribe's leader, Horeb has become increasingly ambitious, aggressive and cruel.  He's changed.  Maybe she has too, because her stomach twists at the sight of Horeb, let alone the thought of marrying him.  Poised to become the people's next princess, Jayden is the envy of all the other girls in her tribe.  As the daughter of a poor camel herder, she should be thanking God for her impending reversal of fortune.  Instead, she wants to fling herself onto the nearest camel and charge into the desert, fleeing the prison of marriage to a man she has come to despise.

When tragedy strikes on the morning Jayden's tribe begins its annual trek to a far-off oasis, it compounds her trepidation about her future.  More vulnerable than ever, she must make her way through the menacing desert, even though it means marching toward a fate she considers worse than death.  Meeting a mysterious stranger—a beautiful boy from the Southern lands—only shows her how starved her heart is for true love and affection.  Arousing Horeb's jealousy is a dangerous game, one that could cost Jayden her life.  With nowhere to turn, she must make the ultimate choice between duty and love.  

Whether her novels take place on the bayous of Louisiana or in the arid deserts of the Middle East, Kimberley Griffiths Little knows how to make settings come alive.  She has a particular gift for creating rich, atmospheric story worlds that pulse with life, tantalizing the reader with vibrant explosions of sight, sound, and smell.  No matter how exotic the setting, though, Little infuses her tales with the kind of everyday emotion and drama with which we can all relate.  Her newest novel, Forbidden, is no exception.  Jayden might be a Mesopotamian princess-to-be living in 1759 B.C., but today's teens will relate to the way she worries about her sisters, fears the grown-up world, and longs to act on the desires of her heart.  As if an empathetic heroine isn't appealing enough, the novel also offers an action-packed plot, a pulse-pounding romance, and plenty of family/tribal drama.  With something for everyone, Forbidden is unique, masterful—the kind of novel that will delight anyone who enjoys thrilling, passionate tales about family, faith, and the fight to control your own fate.  The first installment in what promises to be a brilliant trilogy, Forbidden should be at the top of everyone's wishlist this Christmas.

(Readalikes:  The publisher likens it to Cleopatra's Moon by Vicky Alvear Shecter and The Red Tent by Anita Diamant)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for sensuality, mild sexual content, and references to sex/prostitution

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Forbidden from the always generous Kimberley Griffiths Little.  Thank you! 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Average, Ordinary Teen Fantasy Needs Something More to Stand Out From the Crowd

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Dealing with demon possession is all in a day's work for the Della Torre Family.  For centuries, they've been walking the streets of Milan, "catching" the city's darkest citizens.  It's a lonely, but important profession, one that's as crucial as it is secretive.    

Mia Dellatorri, a 16-year-old living in upstate New York, knows nothing of her father's history.  He doesn't talk about his family, doesn't discuss Italy, and has certainly never mentioned demons.  Which means she's shocked and utterly unprepared when a particularly nasty one decides to invade her body.  After an exorcism she barely remembers, involving cousins she never knew existed, Mia is shipped off to Italy for her own safety.  Trapped inside an apartment with only her cousins and her history books to keep her company, Mia is restless and scared.  She doesn't want to hide from demons, she wants to hunt them, just like her relatives do.  Can she convince her relations to stop babying her and start training her?  She knows her demon will strike again.  Whether her relations like it or not, this time, she will fight him head-on.  Or die trying.

Okay, I admit it:  I made the plot of The Demon Catchers of Milan—a debut urban fantasy by Kat Beyer—sound a little more exciting than it actually is.  In truth, it gets off to a slow start (after Mia's possession/exorcism, anyway), plodding along until it gets to a very anticlimactic end.  The author spends a lot of time (a lot) building Mia's demon-catching world, which isn't a bad thing, unless it drags down the action without answering important questions, which is what happens in this novel.  Mia doesn't really form a concrete story goal until the last 3/4 of the book, which makes the rest of the tale feel sluggish and unfocused.  Since there's nothing really new or different about the premise of The Demon Catchers of Milan (although the setting definitely appeals), the novel needs something more to make it memorable—superb writing, unique characters, a never-saw-it-coming plot twist—something to make it stand out.  As is, I found it to be just another average, ordinary teen fantasy novel.  Nothing special.  

(Readalikes:  its sequel, The Halcyon Bird by Kat Beyer; the whole demon/mythical creature thing also reminded me of Cassandra Clare's The Mortal Instruments series [City of Bones; City of Ashes; City of Glass; City of Fallen Angels; City of Lost Souls; and City of Heavenly Fire] and Tyger Tyger by Kersten Hamilton)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs) and violence/gore

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Demon Catchers of Milan from the generous folks at Egmont.  Thank you!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Haunting Sarah's Key A Powerful Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

On a summer night in July of 1942, 10-year-old Sarah Starzynski awakens to the sound of someone pounding on her front door.  A bolt of fear races through her.  She's heard her parents whispering about round-ups and camps and Jewish men being forced from their homes.  Have the police found her father, who spends every night hiding in the cellar?  Are they going to take him away?  Sarah's shocked when the policemen—French policeman, no less—demand that she and her mother come with them.  In the few minutes she's given to pack her things, Sarah locks her little brother in a secret cupboard, promising he'll be safe until she can come back for him.  

Sixty years later, Julia Jarmond—an American journalist living in Paris—is researching the Vélodrome d'Hiver roundup in order to write a story for the upcoming anniversary of its occurrence.  Although the Parisians she talks to are reluctant to speak of it—if, indeed, they've even heard of it—Julia is fascinated by this little known event in the city's history.  The more she discovers about the roundup, which involved the arrests of around 12,000 Jews, mostly women and children, the more horrified she becomes.  When she finds a personal link to one of the roundup's young victims, Julia vows to find out what happened to little Sarah Starzynski and her family.  

Urged by her family and friends in Paris to leave the matter alone, Julia becomes even more determined in her quest.  As her search for the truth becomes an obsession she can't let go of, she finds herself reevaluating her own life, from her marriage to her work to her own future.  

Since I'm probably the last blogger on Earth to read Sarah's Key, Tatiana de Rosnay's bestselling novel, I don't have to tell you what a powerful read it is.  The rave reviews the book's garnered speak for themselves.  Although the events related in the story are similar to those in other Holocaust novels, de Rosnay brings something new to the genre.  Her prose feels a little stiff, but other than that, she tells the kind of compelling, haunting tale that stays with you long after you close the book.  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other adult novels about the Holocaust, including Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (one F-bomb, plus milder invectives), violence, and mild sexual innuendo/content

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Sarah's Key with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Intriguing Premise, Disappointing Execution

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Stillwater Bay, Maine, is the kind of tiny, close-knit community where nothing bad ever happens.  Until it does.  

It's been a month since a local teen barged into the elementary school, shooting ten kids and two teachers before turning the gun on himself.  Although the residents of Stillwater Bay are still reeling from the shocking incident, Mayor Charlotte Stone thinks it's time for the town to move past the tragedy.  Re-opening the school, she reasons, will bring some peace to the grief-stricken town.  Her husband, the school principal, feels the same.     

Her best friend, Jennifer Crowne, does not agree.  The thought of innocent children streaming through the halls where her son died so horrifically fills her with a rage so fiery and deep, she can barely suppress it.  Alcohol numbs her fury, but only so much—and only for so long.  Jenn wants the school torn down; it's the only thing that might ease her suffering.  

While residents clash over the school closure/opening issue, Charlotte struggles to keep the community together.  Not only is she losing her best friend, but her husband seems to be hiding something as well.  Jennifer knows she may be giving up everything—and everyone—she loves to fight a battle she can't win, but she has to do it for herself, for her son.  Nothing is more important.

As friends and neighbors chose sides, tempers flare and relationships are put to the ultimate test.  Can a town already so scarred come out unscathed?  Can it weather this most devastating of storms?  The odds are not looking good ...

I'm always interested in books—fictional or otherwise—that look at how communities deal with crises.  The human drama fascinates me.  That's why the premise of Stillwater Rising, Steena Holmes' newest, piqued my curiosity.  But, while the book definitely has drama, what it doesn't really have is a plot.  The story is more reaction than action, which makes it dull.  The central conflict (to close the school or not) just isn't big enough to carry a whole novel.  Plus, the characters remain pretty flat throughout the book.  Jenn is so childish and self-centered that it's difficult to empathize with her.  The other characters run together, making it tough to keep track of who's who.  Even the Big Reveal isn't much of a surprise.  It's predictable and comes so late in the story that the whole novel feels not just unresolved, but unsatisfying.  So, while I liked the idea of Stillwater Rising, overall, I found the read a disappointing one.     

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult, One Breath Away by Heather Gudenkauf, and a little of And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:  


for mild language (no F-bombs), intense situations, and vague references to sex

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Stillwater Rising from the generous folks at Lake Union Publishing (a division of Amazon Publishing) via those at Booksparks PR.  Thank you!

Friday, November 14, 2014

It's No Secret, French Mesmerizes Me—Every Time

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

For most of his 32 years, police detective Stephen Moran has been trying to rise above his "working class Dub" background.  Earning a spot on the Dublin Murder Squad would help his efforts immensely.  If only breaking into the old boys' club were that easy; Stephen might as well be wishing for a seat on the next shuttle to the moon.  In all likelihood, he'll be stuck investigating cold cases from now until forever.

Then, 16-year-old Holly Mackey walks into the police station with a tip she's only willing to share with Stephen.  Knowing this could be the golden ticket that gets him on his dream squad, he hears her out.  What he discovers is chilling.  Holly has brought him a card plucked from a bulletin board, where she and her classmates at St. Kilda's are encouraged to anonymously post their most tantalizing secrets.  The message on the card reads:  I know who killed him.  Him being Chris Harper, a 16-year-old student at a boy's school near St. Kilda's, whose head was bashed in last year.  With the crime still unsolved, Stephen smells a big opportunity to prove his worth—not just to his derisive colleagues, but also to Holly Mackey, who, in all her young innocence, believes him capable of sniffing out a murderer.  

With the help of tough, caustic Detective Antoinette Conway, Stephen hightails it to St. Kilda's to begin his investigation.  The posh boarding school in Dublin's quiet suburbs looks as benign as a sleeping kitten, but it soon becomes clear that dangerous secrets are hiding behind its gentle facade.  Unfortunately for Stephen, the biggest ones circle back to Holly and her small group of close-knit friends.  With the school's headmistress breathing down his neck, an irate Frank Mackey (Holly's father, the star of Faithful Place) watching his every move, and a gaggle of flirtatious, but reticent girls to crack, Stephen's beginning to feel as if he's in way, way over his head.  Who killed Chris Harper?  The frustrated detective is determined to find out.  Even if it means putting Holly Mackey—the girl who trusted him enough to come to him with evidence of a killer on her school campus—behind bars.

As much as I love murder mysteries set in boarding schools, I admit, the premise of The Secret Place, the newest in the Dublin Murder Squad series, does sound a little generic.  But, consider this: Tana French wrote it.  As far as mystery writers go, I've never found her equal (despite repeated Google searches for authors like Tana French) in clever plotting, intriguing characters, and tight, magnetizing prose.  She one-ups herself in The Secret Place, though, because she gives her detectives only one day to solve the puzzling crime at the center of the novel.  Given the tight timeline, you might expect a similarly narrow reading experience.  Not so.  French is skilled enough to not only create multi-layered characters, but to allow us time to know and understand them, even within the framework of a fast-paced murder investigation.  She's that good.  Her books always mesmerize me—this was no exception.  I could do without French's ever-present potty-mouth and the fact that she only writes one book every two years, but other than that, no complaints.  She's a gem.  I can't wait to see what she does next.

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Dublin Murder Squad series [In the Woods; The Likeness; Faithful Place; and Broken Harbour])

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, sexual innuendo/content, violence, and depictions of underage drinking and illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Secret Place from the generous folks at NetGalley.  Thank you!
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