Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Madcap Middle Grade Adventure a Fun, Zany Read

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As the ruler of the Kingdom of Camellia, the 22-year-old emperor has been so spoiled that he's become an insufferable egomaniac.  Watching from the Great Beyond, his meddling ancestors decide it's high time their ungrateful descendant learns a lesson in humility.  Using their otherworldly powers, they plop him in the countryside alone except for an 8-foot tall ostrich.  

While attempting to make his way back to Lotus City, the helpless emperor crosses paths with Begonia, a young dairymaid in search of her lost cow.  She's accompanied by Key, a romantic lad who's seeking his fortune away from the overcrowded home in which he feels invisible.  When two of their party make an unlikely love connection, all of them are sent on a wild, madcap adventure that will have them crisscrossing the kingdom, chasing twitterpated animals, encountering strange folk, and rescuing a forlorn emperor who cares only about himself.  Along the way, they will all learn some valuable lessons about friendship, family, and working together to save the day (also, an ostrich).
Because of stunning novels like All the Truth That's In Me and The Passion of Dolssa, I've become a big fan of Julie Berry.  She's a talented writer who's not afraid to take risks.  I love that about her, even if her newest—The Emperor's Ostrich—is a risk that didn't work all that well for me.  Although I enjoyed it overall, the story did seem overly long and it got confusing in places.  Despite a few dull spots, though, it's a fun, zany adventure that will appeal to kids who like fairy tales (which I never was, which probably explains why I didn't like this one as much as Berry's others).  With a strong female lead who's brave and independent but also a team player, the tale offers a refreshing spin on a conventional genre that should delight girls who prefer to rescue themselves rather than wait around for Prince Charming to do it for them.  Even though The Emperor's Ostrich is not my favorite Berry novel, I still think it's worth the read for fairy-tale lovers who like quirky adventure stories infused with magic and mayhem.  

(Readalikes:  This tale is supposed to be Berry's nod to Lloyd Alexander, an author whom I've never read.  Presumably, it's similar to his novels?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Emperor's Ostrich from the generous folks at Macmillan.  Thank you!

Monday, February 19, 2018

MG Friendship Novel Tender, Touching

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Ever since Katie Burton moved to Boston four months ago, she and her neighbor Ana Petrova have been best friends.  At least that's what Ana thinks.  Katie still misses her BFF in Utah.  She's getting used to Ana's effusive personality, but she's a little frightened of it, too.  With her heart condition, Katie's used to playing it safe; Ana's an impulsive risk-taker, whose wild schemes sometimes get them both in trouble.

Although Katie wants to trust Ana, she feels like she can't share her biggest secret.  Not only was Katie adopted from Russia as a toddler, but lately she's been wondering about her birth family and the country where she was born.  She doesn't want to upset her kind, loving adoptive parents with awkward questions and yet, she can't stop thinking about Russia.  Ana is hiding her own troubles.  Ever since Ana's dad walked out, her mom has been so depressed that Ana's been the one taking care of the house and her little brother.  The surprise arrival of her brusque, bossy Babushka is making everything worse.  Ana has to convince her dad to come back, but how?
In a time when both girls desperately need someone to lean on, their secrets are tearing their new friendship apart.  Can they learn to trust each other or will the weight of their individual problems pulverize a bond that hasn't even really had a chance to form? 

Paper Chains, a middle grade novel by Elaine Vickers, tells a tender, touching story about a burgeoning friendship with all its charms and challenges.  Both of our heroines are sympathetic and likable.  It's simple to root for the survival of their friendship.  There's a lot going on in their lives, maybe too much, as the story sometimes feels unfocused.  The plot gets far-fetched as well, but overall, this is an engaging tale that teaches some valuable lessons about friendship, family, and fighting for what's really important.  

(Readalikes:  Hm, no specific titles are coming to mind.  You?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for subject matter that's most appropriate for readers over the age of 8

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Paper Chains from the generous folks at HarperCollins.  Thank you! 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Wordy Medical Drama A Dull Slog

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Ever since they were randomly assigned to be roommates at a summer camp for teens interested in medicine, Zadie Anson and Emma Colley have been best friends.  Although their backgrounds and personalities differ, they've always gotten each other.  Their bond has only strengthened over the years as they pushed through med school together, got married, had children, and now juggle the demands of medical careers and motherhood.  No matter how busy their lives get, Zadie and Emma always make time for each other.

The women's contented lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, are upended when a former colleague moves to town.  Chief resident while Zadie and Emma were in med school, Dr. Nick Xenokostas was the handsome hotshot who turned everyone's heads.  Zadie fell under his spell, a mistake that led to a heart-rending tragedy that broke more than just her heart.  The last person she ever wants to see again is the infamous Dr. X.  Emma's still furious with him as well.  She couldn't protect Zadie from him 12 years ago—this time she'll stop at nothing to shield her best friend from his egotistical manipulation.  And from the secret she's been hiding since med school.  

When the truth about what really happened during Zadie and Emma's third year of med school comes out, what will happen to a friendship that's been rock-solid from its beginning?  Will the women's lives ever be the same again?

As a former ER fan girl, I still find myself drawn to hospital dramas from time to time.  The Queen of Hearts, a debut novel by Kimmery Martin—an emergency medicine doctor herself—seemed intriguing enough to keep my attention.  Seemed being the operative word here.  Although there's plenty of potential action in the novel, Martin spends so much time describing everything and everyone that the first 3/4 of the story just drags along, veering here, there, and everywhere.  It doesn't help that none of the central characters are very likable.  Zadie, Emma, and Dr. X are all immature, self-centered, and annoying, which makes it difficult to care what happens to any of them.  The novel's Big Reveal is pretty obvious from the get-go, so even the tale's finale seems anticlimactic and silly.  I did read to the end (just to confirm what I already knew, I guess), but honestly, The Queen of Hearts felt like a long, dull slog to me.  The book gets rave reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads, so I'm in the minority once again.  That's okay—different strokes for different folks and all that.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a little of He Said She Said by Jane Casey)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (a dozen or so F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, blood/gore, and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Queen of Hearts from the generous folks at Berkley (an imprint of Penguin Random House).  Thank you!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Story Behind Famous Wyeth Painting Interesting, But Not Riveting

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For Christina Olson, life is small and ordinary.  House bound because of a debilitating condition (probably Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease) that twists her limbs into useless twigs, she spends her days keeping house as best she can, sewing dresses for ladies in town, and conversing with her brother, Al.  As the only daughter in a family of sons, she's destined to be the eternal housekeeper—but never the owner—of Hathorne House, her ancestral home.  Although a young man once offered her the dim hope of a different life, Christina knows she will never leave Cushing, Maine, her tiny piece of the world.

When 46-year-old Christina meets Andrew Wyeth, a young painter, life changes most unexpectedly.  His frequent visits light up Hathorne House with an energy and vitality that hasn't been there in decades.  He brings color into Christina's bleak, lonely world.  Already enraptured by the stark scenery of Cushing, Andrew becomes fascinated by Christina, even featuring her in an evocative painting that becomes one of his most famous.  This surprising friendship changes both of their lives and ensures that an ordinary, but remarkable, woman is not forgotten.

It's hard to describe the plot of A Piece of the World, Christina Baker Kline's newest, because it really doesn't have one.  Blending fact and fiction, it tells the story of the real woman who inspired Andrew Wyeth's striking painting, Christina's World.  Kline delves into Christina's growing-up years, which were marked by difficulty and pain, as well as her adulthood and her unlikely association with Wyeth.  It highlights her fierce independence as well as her undying devotion to her family.  What results is a quiet, character-driven novel that is interesting, but not riveting.  I ended up liking it, but not loving it.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

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

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

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Rear Window-Ish Mind-Twister a Thriller of the Highest Order

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After a horrific accident, Anna Fox becomes a prisoner in her own home, separated from the two people she loves most.  Crippled by agoraphobia, the 38-year-old can't even step outside her Harlem brownstone without being crushed under the weight of her own panic, fear, and anxiety.  To protect herself, she stays inside 24/7, relying on a delivery service for groceries and old mystery movies for company.  A child psychologist, Anna finds some purpose on the Internet, where she counsels other agoraphobics in an online forum between games of chess.  Although she chats with her husband and daughter daily, she's still heartbroken and lonely.  

When Hitchcock films fail to keep her entertained, Anna indulges in her favorite hobby—watching her neighbors through her camera's telephoto lens.  Although she's ashamed of her tawdry voyeurism, that doesn't stop her from looking in on private arguments, affairs, and other activities.  It's harmless; after all, "Watching is like nature photography: you don't interfere with the wildlife" (4).  And Anna doesn't.  Until she witnesses what looks like a brutal murder-in-the-making.  The victim has become an unlikely friend.  In spite of what it will cost her, Anna must intervene.  When the police come calling, however, they see no evidence of a crime.  With her obsessive viewing of old mystery movies, her habit of mixing prescription pills with alcohol, and the obvious damage to her own sanity, Anna makes for a very unreliable witness.  Try as she might, she can't make the cops understand that she's not crazy, that she's sure of what she saw.  

As Anna tries to make sense of everything, she has to ask herself some terrifying questions—Has she finally lost her mind?  Is she seeing things, assuming things, that aren't real?  Will she ever live a normal life again?  Or has she forfeited forever the right to live the life she wants with the people she loves?  If she really saw a murder taking place, what can she—a woman so broken she can't even leave her home—do about it?  Convinced she must do something, Anna starts digging.  With the safe world she's made for herself crumbling around her, she will risk everything—her home-sanctuary, her last bits of sanity, her very life—to solve a mystery that may only exist inside her own warped and tortured mind.

The book world has been all abuzz about The Woman in the Window, a Hitchcockian debut novel by A.J. Finn.  Rightly so.  With its Rear Window-ish setup, its complex characters, and its tense, suspenseful plot line, the book offers plenty to tickle a thriller lover's fancy.  While the story is less of a white-knuckled, adrenaline-fueled roller coaster ride and more of a slow-burning, carefully-crafted psychological mind twister, it's still a page turner of the highest order.  Even though I saw some of the plot surprises coming, the Big Reveal walloped me good.  All in all, then, I loved this skillful, satisfying debut and will absolutely be looking forward to more from Mr. Finn.  


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language, violence, disturbing subject matter, and mild sexual content

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

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Atmospheric Yukon Dystopian Absorbing, But Indistinct

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With the world in shambles after a crippling apocalypse, Lynn McBride and her family have found safety in the wilds of the Yukon Territory.  It's not an easy life they live, nor a simple one.  Every day, they must battle the harsh weather, find enough food to sustain them, and deal with the loneliness and boredom that come from seeing the same four faces day in and day out, year after year after year.  Although Lynn is grateful for her safety, she longs for something more.

"More" comes in the form of Jackson Day, a 27-year-old stranger she finds wandering the barren landscape with his dog.  Jax is the first new person Lynn has seen in seven years; bringing him home seems like a natural, normal gesture.  Not everyone in Lynn's family is glad to see him, though, especially when he triggers a chain of events that will have deadly consequences for the McBrides.  Before long, Lynn will find herself traversing a frigid, hostile world toward an unknown future in a ruined world.  It's up to her to save the world.  Can she do it?

I had very high hopes for The Wolves of Winter, a debut novel by Tyrell Johnson that has been described as "written in a post-apocalyptic tradition that spans The Hunger Games and Station Eleven but blazes its own distinctive path."  With that kind of acclamation, I expected to be knocked off my feet by excessive wow.  Did that happen?  Not exactly.  While The Wolves of Winter offers an absorbing survival tale set against an intriguing, atmospheric backdrop, the story adds little originality to the genre.  The plot remains very basic, nothing you won't find in dozens of other post-apocalyptic stories.  While this is a comparatively quiet tale with lyrical prose reminiscent of Station Eleven, it's nowhere near as unique or compelling as The Hunger Games and there's little about it that's truly distinct.  That being said, I enjoyed the novel overall.  I didn't love it, but I liked it enough to be interested in reading more from its author, a talented newcomer.

(Readalikes:  similar in tone to Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel; story reminds me of the Partials trilogy [Partials; Fragments; and Ruins] by Dan Wells


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for strong language and violence

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Monday, February 12, 2018

Moody, Broody Hebridean Mystery Atmospheric and Engrossing

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When Hetty Deveraux inherits her crumbling ancestral home in Scotland's Outer Hebrides, she decides to transform the dilapidated edifice into a hotel.  Never having seen the property before, she's shocked at the ruinous state of Muirlan House.  Even if she sinks every penny she's got into the place, it won't be enough.  With potential backers in London, Hetty decides to go forward with the plan anyway.  

Hetty's project goes awry almost immediately.  She's meeting resistance from locals who don't want their quaint island turned into a fancy tourist destination.  Then, bones are discovered at Muirlan House.  With police crawling all over her property, she doesn't know what to think.  Who could possibly be buried in the old house?  

As Hetty digs into the house's history, she learns it once sheltered Theo Blake, a distant relative and a skilled painter of some renown.  She also discovers that the bride he brought to Muirlan House disappeared without a trace in 1910.  Could the bones be those of Beatrice Blake?  If so, what happened to the couple's seemingly happy marriage?  By listening to local gossip and studying Theo's increasingly dark, disturbing paintings, Hetty hopes to find answers to explain the past and guide her future.

Thanks to Peter May, I'm all in for novels set in the wilds of the Outer Hebrides.  Initially, that's what drew me to The House Between Tides by English author Sarah Maine.  The novel's premise did the rest—I'm always up for a family secrets novel set in a mysterious old house in the middle of a moody, broody landscape.  And you know what?  The House Between Tides did not disappoint.  With it's atmospheric setting and tense, suspenseful plot, it sucked me right in.  Yes, I saw the big reveal coming, but there were other twists that caught me by surprise.  Overall, I enjoyed this one and will definitely be checking out Maine's previous (and future) books. 

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of The Edge of the Earth by Christina Schwarz as well as Hebridean mysteries by Peter May and novels by Kate Morton)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

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

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

Friday, February 09, 2018

BBB Steps Into 2018—FINALLY!

Get out the noisemakers and shoot off some fireworks—Bloggin' 'bout Books is finally ready to step into the new year!  Phew.  After the reviewathon of the past few weeks, I am done reviewing books that I read waaaayyy back in 2017.  Thank you for your patience during this catch-up process.  Thanks, especially, for continuing to visit and comment.  I appreciate your support more than you know.  Because I enjoy blogging so much, I would probably do it even if no one read a word I wrote, but it's a lot more fun to have book conversations here rather than just monologues, so THANK YOU.  

I'm going to take a little break from reviewing (your feed readers will be so relieved), but I will be responding to comments, visiting your blogs, and updating some things this weekend.  

Thanks again for your support.  What's everybody reading these days?  I'm about 1/2 way through Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson and I am loving it!  

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Promising Mystery Series Opener Convinces Me to Read More

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Earl Marcus left Coulee County, Georgia, twenty years ago with no intention of ever going back.  Scarred—both physically and emotionally—from growing up in the snake-handling obsessed Church of the Holy Flame, he's cut ties with the "church," his cult leader father, and his haunted past.  Now a private investigator in North Carolina, he's compelled to return only when a photograph of his dead father surfaces with a recent time stamp.  The man in the picture is no corpse.  It appears as if the powerful, legendary R.J. Marcus is still alive.  Either that or, as his followers believe, he's come back from the dead.  Earl has experienced the mystical power of his father's presence enough to believe almost anything.  Thing is, he can't put his own demons to rest until he knows for sure.

R.J. isn't the only person missing in Coulee County.  "Rebellious" teenage girls from the Church of the Holy Flame's congregation are also disappearing, only to return changed.  The strange marks on their skin could be signs of almost anything.  Hoping to find answers before another girl is traumatized, Earl starts digging.  Unearthing old secrets doesn't sit well with some people and Earl finds himself in danger once again.

Heaven's Crooked Finger by Hank Early is a debut novel and the first in a promising series.  The novel tells a tense, compelling story that's both atmospheric and suspenseful.  Although the tale feels a bit flimsy and far-fetched, it's still engrossing.  In the end, I didn't love Heaven's Crooked Finger, but I liked it enough to continue with the series.  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language, violence, sexual content, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Confusing, Far-fetched Psychological Thriller a Strange Disappointment

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As the former head of development for a t.v. company, 43-year-old Justine Merrison is done with stress.  She's moving to the coast to start a new, tension-free life doing absolutely nothing.  With her opera singer husband frequently out of town, it's up to her to take care of their 14-year-old daughter, Ellen.  Even that isn't usually difficult.  The only problem is that the move has changed Ellen, who's become surly and withdrawn.  When she begins writing a story for English class, Justine becomes concerned.  The tale is sordid and disturbing; also, it takes place in a house that is eerily similar to the one in which they live.  

When Ellen tells Justine about her new friend, George Donbavand, Justine is thrilled that her daughter finally seems to be settling in.  Then, George is expelled over a minor incident that upsets Ellen so much Justine promises she'll talk to the principal about it.  The principal informs Justine that George has not been expelled because there is no George Donbavand at their school.  George does not exist.  Stunned, Justine can't decide what in the world is going on.  Has Ellen created an imaginary friend to assuage her loneliness?  Is she playing a weird prank on her mother?  Or is the principal lying to cover up her unethical behavior?  When Justine starts receiving threatening phone calls, she's even more confused.  What in the world is going on?  It's up to Justine to make sense of her increasingly bizarre situation.

As you might imagine, A Game for All the Family by Sophie Hannah, is a tad confusing.  Actually, more than a tad.  A lot more.  Its premise is intriguing, but its plot is so convoluted and far-fetched that it just gets ridiculous.  I like a psychological thriller that keeps me off-balance.  This one does that, for sure.  I definitely wanted to know what was happening, but the big reveal felt anti-climatic.  Add an unlikable narrator to the mix and A Game for All the Family turned into a big disappointment.  I wanted to like it, but I just ... didn't.  Oh well.

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


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language and violence

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of A Game for All the Family with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Macmillan's Newest Sad, But Compelling

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Note:  Although this review will not contain spoilers for Odd Child Out, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from the first Jim Clemo mystery, What She Knew.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.

Despite the fact that Noah Sandler is a natural-born Brit and Abdi Mahad is a Somalian refugee, the boys form a quick friendship.  Classmates at a fancy Bristol prep school (Abdi is a scholarship student), they bond over nerdy hobbies like chess.  Both of their families are shocked when Noah's body is found in the Feeder Canal.  CCTV cameras show the boys were on its banks late at night, but the fuzzy recording can't prove what happened.  Neither can the boys.  Noah is in a coma and Abdi refuses to speak, seemingly in profound shock.  What happened between the two friends?  Did Abdi purposely shove Noah into the water or was it a tragic accident?

Back to work after a case gone wrong, Detective Inspector Jim Clemo begins an investigation into the incident.  With racial tension already boiling over in Bristol, a twist in the case divides the public, threatening to reach fever pitch.  As Clemo digs into the histories of both the Sandler and Mahad families, he makes some surprising revelations.  The most shocking of all, however, is the truth of what really happened between Noah and Abdi.

Odd Child Out, the second installment in the Jim Clemo series by Gilly Macmillan, is a tense, timely novel.  Although it's not action-packed like many thrillers, its quiet intensity makes it suspenseful and compelling.  It tells a sad story, but one from which I couldn't look away.  As engrossing as Macmillan's others, Odd Child Out is a gripping, resonant read that just adds to the author's already impressive repertoire.  I can't wait to read the next Clemo mystery.

(Readalikes:  What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (a half dozen F-bombs, plus milder expletives) and violence

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

Disappointing Dystopian Opener A Not Very Promising Start

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A businessman on holiday in Scotland goes on a hunting trip with family, where he's exposed to tainted pheasant's blood.  He starts feeling poorly almost immediately; by the time he's on the plane back to the U.S. he's deathly ill.  Within 48 hours of exposure, he's dead.  The sickness spreads rapidly, killing 1/3 of the world's population in a matter of weeks.  With widespread death and decimation comes fear, anarchy, and chaos.  Out of the ashes of the dying world something even more unsettling rises—magick, both good and evil.

As the immune flee New York City, running toward the hope of safety, strangers will band together for survival.  Despite rising conflicts between the Uncanny, the immune, and everyone else, those who desire good must work together to fight the powerful forces that want only destruction and domination.  The trick—as it turns out—is knowing one from the other.

I love me an immersive dystopian series, so I've been looking forward to Year One, the first book in a new one by Nora Roberts.  Hoping for a rich, engaging read, I found myself disappointed.  What plot there is in Year One isn't very original or surprising.  Its cast features too many characters with too little personality—it's difficult to keep track of who is who.  The book's overly long and by the end, I just did not care (although I did read to the end).  This means I won't be continuing the series, which is a bummer because initially I was very excited about it.  Ah well.  Such is the reading life sometimes.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken and a little of the Gone series [Gone; Hunger; Lies; Plague; Fear; and Light] by Michael Grant)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for strong language, violence, blood/gore, sexual content, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Year One from Barnes & Noble with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Gorgeous Cover the Best Thing About Creepy Dual-Timeline Murder Mystery

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Although it seems morbid to others, 26-year-old Ivy Thorpe keeps a detailed "death journal" so that the people her father autopsies are never forgotten.  Still mourning the losses of her mother and her brother, the task soothes Ivy, helping her through her own grieving process.  When Ivy discovers the dead body of a young woman on the nearby grounds of an abandoned edifice known as Foster Hill House, she's shocked but determined.  This stranger will not be forgotten.  Enlisting the help of a childhood friend who is now a detective, Ivy launches her own amateur investigation—a decision that will put her in grave danger. 

Over a century later, Kaine Prescott, a weary social worker from San Diego, is looking for a new start.  Still devastated over the mysterious death of her husband two years ago and frustrated with the police for giving up on the case, she feels a desperate need to get out of California.  On a whim, she purchases an old house in Oakwood, Wisconsin, her grandfather's hometown.  One look at creepy old Foster Hill House, though, and Kaine's ready to run back to California.  When she learns of its dark history, she's even more unsettled.  The more she stays in the home, the more convinced she is that something sinister haunts its dusty hallways.  Determined to unearth its age-old secrets, she vows to exorcise its demons—and her own.

First of all, cast your eyes on the cover of The House on Foster Hill, a debut novel by Jaime Jo Wright.  It's gorgeous.  Seriously gorgeous.  I adore it.  Mostly, I picked up this novel based on its lovely jacket art, although the dual-timeline, mystery/horror-type premise also appealed.  Unfortunately, the cover might be the best thing about The House on Foster Hill.  Harsh, I know, but consider this—the novel is overwritten and melodramatic; the characters are bland, with Kaine being especially whiny and unlikable; the loosey-goosey plot doesn't even make sense in some places, and the religious overtones (this is a Christian novel, which I didn't realize at first) are overt and preachy.  So, while I like the bones of this novel, its "flesh" just didn't work for me.  The House on Foster Hill gets rave reviews on Amazon and Barnes & Noble (part of the reason I bought it), so apparently I'm in the minority here, but I found it to be a big disappointment.  Bummer, because it sounds like something that would be right up my alley.  Oh well.  

(Readalikes:  The premise reminds me of Kate Morton's dual-timeline books about the secrets of old houses)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for violence and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of The House on Foster Hill from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Adoption Novel Raw and Honest

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After 16-year-old Grace places her baby for adoption, she feels adrift.  Grief-stricken and looking for answers, she feels compelled to search for her own birth mother.  Adopted at birth, Grace never knew the woman who gave her life—she'd like to find her, ask her questions, and maybe gain some vital understanding of her own situation.  What Grace finds is two half-siblings, Maya and Joaquin, both of whom live shockingly close to her.  She reaches out to them, curious to find commonality with these two strangers.  Surely, they will want to find their bio mom as much as she does; the three of them can work on the project together.

As desperate as Grace is to connect with Maya and Joaquin, she's surprised when things don't turn out quite as she planned.  Maya is a wealthy, spoiled brat who's never felt a part of her adoptive family.  With her parents fighting constantly and her mother drinking too much, her world is falling apart.  She doesn't really care about finding their bio mom, but she's up for anything that will get her out of her oppressive house.  Joaquin, on the other hand, is adamant that he wants nothing to do with the mother who abandoned him.  After spending most of his life in foster care, he trusts no one, not even his current foster family who want to adopt him.  Shy and awkward, he doesn't even seem that keen on hanging out with his newly-discovered sisters.  

Even though Grace's half-siblings aren't quite what she expected, she still wants answers.  With their reluctant help, she will find them.  She'll also discover some enlightening truths that will change her perspective on family and on her own future.

Ever since I adopted my youngest child nine years ago, I've been drawn to books on the topic of adoption.  The premise behind Robin Benway's newest, Far From the Tree, especially intrigued me since my daughter has a number of half-siblings out in the world.  The idea of her meeting them someday appeals—I wonder what they might have in common and how they might differ.  So, of course, I had to pick up this book to see what happened to Grace.  What I got was a raw, honest story that's both tender and touching.  It's more graphic than I was expecting and, truthfully, I didn't feel a huge connection to any of the characters.  They all seem unrealistically world-weary.  Still, Far From the Tree is a well-written, thought-provoking novel that offers important insight into teen pregnancy, adoption, and the reality of families that are not perfect but nevertheless important.  I didn't end up loving Far From the Tree like I wanted to, but I did enjoy it overall.

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


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for strong language, sexual innuendo, and depictions of illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Teen Murder Mystery Twisty, Tense

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Five boys head into the woods for a hunting trip.  Only four make it out alive.  Grant Perkins lies dead from a gunshot wound that any of the boys could have inflicted on him.  Who killed him?  Accident or murder, someone was responsible for his death, but no one is talking.  What really happened that day in the woods?  Everyone wants to know.

Despite the fact that any of the remaining boys could be guilty, the DA wants to sweep the whole case under the rug.  He owes his career to their wealthy, powerful families.  Kate Marino, the boys' classmate, isn't about to let the so-called River Point Boys get off with a slap on the wrist.  She has her own reasons for wanting the truth and she's determined to get it.  Her internship at the DA's office gives her a unique opportunity to investigate Grant's death.  The closer she gets to the truth, however, the more danger Kate is in.  Someone out there is willing to kill in order to protect the River Point Boys.  Can she identify the killer before she becomes their next victim?

This Is Our Story by Ashley Elston is an engrossing whodunit that kept me reading far into the night.  Although it's populated with a host of unlikable characters, none of whom I really cared about, I still wanted to know what was going to happen.  Overall, it's a depressing, unrealistic tale (where are all the parents?) that I didn't end up loving—even if I couldn't stop reading it.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a little of One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (a handful of F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, references to illegal drug use, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Dual Timeline Mystery/Romance Clean and Uplifting

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Boston, 2015—Two years ago, Anaya "Annie" David's life changed in an instant when a bomb exploded at the 2015 Boston Marathon.  Although her injuries were relatively minor, she's plagued with guilt over the fact that her niece, Grace—whom Annie convinced to enter the race—lost a leg because of the bombing.  Haunted by the traumatizing event, Annie has distanced herself from Grace and her livid mother.  When she decides to try to repair the damage to these relationships, she makes a startling discovery in her sister's house that sets her on the road to finding the man who rescued her on the day of the bombing.  She's been meaning to return the heirloom ring he loaned her, an antique-looking piece that has given her strength every day since she received it.  When she meets handsome Brad Kilroy, the two begin researching the ring, which has a rich, surprising history.

Boston, 1770—Alone in a dangerous town, 17-year-old Liberty Caldwell has to find a way to survive.  When she's offered a position as housemaid in a home where Redcoat officers live, she doesn't have much choice but to accept.  She may be branded a traitor, but she has to look after herself until her brother arrives.  Although she knows she shouldn't, Liberty becomes close to Alexander Smythe, a kind officer who protects her from his housemate, an older man with more sinister designs on Liberty.  When the inevitable happens, she has to flee.  She takes Alexander's family ring to remember him by—and to sell, if needed.  In a city erupting with violence, she knows she must be strong.  The ring lends her strength as she does what she must to survive.

Separated by centuries and united by an heirloom piece of jewelry, two Boston women wounded in traumatic circumstances must find the strength and resilience to survive their separate challenges and trials.  Compelled to find out what happened to Liberty, Annie will look to the past for answers that will teach her about the redeeming power of hope, resilience, and love.

Freedom's Ring, a debut novel by Heidi Chiavaroli, tells an uplifting, faith-promoting story narrated by two strong women.  I dig dual-timeline plots, although I often find the past stories interest me more than the present ones.  This is the case with Freedom's Ring.  Although I enjoyed the genealogical mystery-solving in Annie's day, I found her to be a bit dull.  With not enough personality or tension in her relationship with Brad, her tale got a little too humdrum for me.  Liberty's sections are much more exciting.  While I liked, but didn't love, Freedom's Ring, I found it to be a clean, engaging story that is inspiring without being preachy.  Chiavaroli's sophomore novel comes out in May and I'll definitely be giving it a go.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of dual-timeline books by Susan Meissner)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for violence

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find


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