Thursday, October 17, 2019

Despite Unique Format, Lippman's Newest Just an Average Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

After separating from her husband of almost 20 years, Madeline "Maddie" Schwartz longs to live the exciting, meaningful existence she's been missing out on for two decades.  When she hears about a body found in a park fountain, she knows she's stumbled upon a story that could be her ticket to being taken seriously in the world of investigative journalism.  No one but Maddie seems to care about the dead woman; the more she digs for answers, the more obsessed she becomes with finding the truth.

The dead woman's ghost (who is observing Maddie's investigation) just wants to be left alone.  But why?  What happened to her?  Who stole her life and set her restless spirit wandering?

Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman uses a unique, interesting format to tell an otherwise ordinary story.  It works, making the tale more compelling than it would have been.  In fact, it may be the saving grace for this novel, which features two unlikeable "heroines" who are both selfish and manipulative.  It's tough to care too much about either one of them.  In addition, Lady in the Lake is grim and depressing.  All in all, then, it was another average read for me.  I definitely didn't love it, but I liked it well enough to finish the book.

(Readalikes:  I'm tired and nothing is coming to mind.  You?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (1 F-bomb, plus milder expletives), violence, and some sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Lady in the Lake from the generous folks at William Morrow (an imprint of HarperCollins) in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Book Spotlight: Hope's Highest Mountain (with a Giveaway!)

When Ingrid Chastain agreed to accompany her father to deliver vaccines to a mining town in the Montana Territory, she never could have anticipated a terrible accident would leave her alone and badly injured in the wilderness. Rescue comes in the form of a mysterious mountain man who tends her injuries, but she’s hesitant to put her trust in this man who seems to have wounds of his own.
After tragedy struck his family, Micah Bradley left his work as a doctor and escaped to the wilds of Montana. But his self-imposed solitude is broken when he finds Ingrid in desperate need of medical attention, and he’s forced to call on his doctoring skills once again.
Micah can’t help but admire Ingrid’s tenacity despite the severity of her injuries, until he learns the crate she brought contains smallpox vaccines to help quell a nearby outbreak. With Ingrid dead set on delivering the medicine–with or without his help–he has no choice but to accompany her. As they set off through the treacherous, snow-covered Rocky Mountains against all odds, the journey ahead will change their lives more than they could have known.
I love a good historical action/adventure romance novel, so I'm excited to read Hope's Highest Mountain, the first book in a new series by Misty M. Beller.  Although I ran out of time to read it before my assigned blog stop date, it's next on my list.  Look for a review this week.
In the meantime, be sure to follow along on the book's blog tour (hosted by Celebrate Lit) by clicking the links below.  You can also snag a copy of Hope's Highest Mountain for yourself by entering a giveaway hosted by the author (see widget below) or purchasing it here. 
Blog Stops
Sara Jane Jacobs, October 12
Betti Mace, October 13
Blessed & Bookish, October 14
Texas Book-aholic, October 14
Genesis 5020, October 14
janicesbookreviews, October 16
Mary Hake, October 16
Batya’s Bits, October 17
Connect in Fiction, October 17
Older & Smarter?, October 18
Life of Literature, October 18
A Reader’s Brain, October 18
The Becca Files, October 19
Splashes of Joy , October 19
Moments, October 20
Daysong Reflections, October 21
Wishful Endings, October 21
Joy of Reading , October 21
Pause for Tales, October 22
Britt Reads Fiction, October 22
Lis Loves Reading, October 23
Bigreadersite , October 23
Live. Love. Read. , October 24
Hallie Reads, October 24
Remembrancy, October 25
Mia Reads Blog, October 25
To Everything There is A Season(,  October 25

Monday, October 14, 2019

Educated a Fascinating, Compelling Memoir

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Born to survivalist parents, Tara Westover became the seventh child in a very unconventional family.  Although her parents were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they embraced their own extreme, fanatical version of the religion.  Living in a remote corner of Idaho, she and her siblings ran wild, helping their father sort scrap metal and prepare the family for the imminent end of the world.  Because the Westovers did not believe in modern medicine or the need for schooling, their brood received neither.  Even life-threatening wounds were treated only with natural remedies and prayer.  Mind-boggling ignorance about world history, current affairs, literature, science, and mathematics?  Ignored altogether.  Possessing a keen mind and a curiosity that wouldn't quit, Tara made the courageous decision to leave home in order to pursue an education.  She entered her first classroom ever as a 17-year-old college freshman.  Although at that point she knew little about even basic academic concepts, she went on to earn an undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University as well as an MPhil and PhD from Cambridge.

How Westover evolved from a feral, resourceless child to an ambitious, devoted scholar at prestigious universities is the subject of her first book, a memoir entitled Educated.  Her story is a testament to the power of education and the ability of an eager mind to triumph in even the grimmest situations.  It's also a coming-of-age tale about stepping out of a sheltered childhood into the alarming world of adulthood and subsequently trying to determine who you really are, what you actually believe, and where you truly belong.  The exploration of these intriguing themes make Educated a fascinating book and yet, it didn't blow me away like I expected it to due to all the accolades it has received.  It's raw and powerful for sure, but for me, at least, it ended up being a good read, not a great one.  

Why didn't Educated resonate with me as much as it has with so many other readers?  I think because (1) I found it more depressing than empowering, (2) it made me feel defensive of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (even though Westover insists this is not a book about Mormonism, it kinda is), and (3) Westover seemed to suggest that a person could not be both religious and educated, a stance with which I vehemently disagree.  Despite these hang-ups, though, I did find Educated interesting.  It brings up a lot of thought-provoking questions that would make for a lively book club discussion.

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


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (no F-bombs), violence, blood/gore, and disturbing subject matter

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

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Dust Bowl Novel Grim But Hopeful (With a Giveaway!)

As the daughter of a wealthy banker, Sybil Trimble is expected to act like a lady, do what she's told, and take her place in society by marrying a man worthy of her social status.  Despite a penchant for sneaking out to the local speakeasy to dance off her excess energy, the 21-year-old is ready to do her part.  She's especially mindful of the promise she made to her father to use her smarts to exact change in the world around her.  When she's pressured into marrying a rich man she doesn't love, however, Sybil stands up to her family for the first time.  Refusing to be bullied into a marriage that sounds more like a business proposal, she instead falls for a handsome hobo who's full of faith but empty of cash.  The Trimbles will never accept Fremont Pope as a suitable husband.  Worse, as long as Sibyl is tied to him she won't have the funds she needs to make a real change for the Oklahoma farmers whose hope is shriveling along with their crops.  What's a girl in love to do?

While her hometown continues to suffer the effects of the Dust Bowl and the Depression, Sibyl finds herself in trouble of her own.  Fremont assures her that God will provide, no matter what, but she isn't so sure.  What will become of her promise to her father?  What of all her big dreams?  In a time when help is needed for so many, how can Sibyl rise above her own crises to come to the aid of others, as God—and her father—clearly expect her to?  Who is Sibyl supposed to be and how, with all the challenges of life, will she become that person?

Books set in the tumultuous 1930s aren't generally warm and uplifting.  A Promise to Break by Kathryn Spurgeon is no exception, although the author's goal is clearly to show that relying on God can get people through even the toughest times.  While it might be a tad more hopeful than other novels set in this time period, it's still pretty depressing.  It doesn't help that the characters, including our heroine, are not a very likable bunch.  Sibyl is selfish, whiny, and immature.  Although she says continually that she wants to help people, she rarely actually acts on that desire.  In fact, action (or lack thereof) is probably this novel's biggest problem—nothing really happens until the end of the book when a subplot flares up to cause some drama.  Without a central conflict or a concrete story goal for Sibyl, the plot flounders, making A Promise to Break feel long and dull.  A note at the end of the book states that the novel is based on the life of the author's grandparents, which explains some of its issues.  Had it been written as a memoir, I think it would have worked a lot better for me.  So, while I appreciate the book's themes of faith, resilience, and helping the poor, on the whole I found A Promise to Break a disappointing read.

(Readalikes:  Hm, nothing is coming to mind.  You?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for subject matter most suitable for adult readers

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of A Promise to Break from the generous folks at Memory House Publishing via those at Celebrate Lit in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!


Interested in more opinions of A Promise to Break?  Follow along on the book's blog tour by clicking the links below:

Betti Mace, October 4
Older & Smarter?, October 5
Hallie Reads, October 6
Life of Literature, October 6
Genesis 5020, October 7
Moments, October 8
Emily Yager, October 8
She Lives to Read, October 9
Pause for Tales , October 11
Connect in Fiction, October 11
Texas Book-aholic, October 12
Bigreadersite, October 12
janicesbookreviews, October 13
A Reader’s Brain, October 14
Batya’s Bits, October 14
  As part of the blog tour, Kathryn Spurgeon is hosting a giveaway:

Friday, October 04, 2019

In a Word: Meh

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When a body is found in the small town of Portland, Pennsylvania, it's obvious the dead man has been the victim of a brutal murder.  The crime bears an eerie resemblance to a 20-year-old killing, a cold case that has never been solved.  Since the locals are notoriously unwilling to talk to outsiders, Portland native Parker Reed is assigned as lead detective on the case.  

Becca Kingsley, another native, returns to her hometown around the same time to care for her estranged father, who is now dying of cancer.  As she rekindles her friendship with Parker, her best friend and unrequited high school crush, old feelings quickly surface.  But with the murder investigation turning up old rumors and long-buried secrets, Becca begins to question everything and everyone she's ever known.  The killer is likely someone local.  But, who?  The more Parker and Becca uncover, the more dangerous life in Portland becomes for them ...

I usually love thrillers like River Bodies, the first in a new series by Karen Katchur, but sadly, this one left much to be desired.  The characters are mostly unlikeable, which makes them difficult to connect and empathize with.  I found the motorcycle gang, both its members and its activities, especially cliché and far-fetched.  In addition, since we know from the outset who the murderer is, the book lacks suspense—a key element in a compelling thriller.  The novel's overall vibe is sad, depressing, and overall, kind of pointless.  That being said, I did find myself invested enough in the story to finish the book, but I can't say it was a satisfying read because it just ... wasn't.  Needless to say, I won't be moving on with the series.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other small-town mystery/thriller series, although no specific titles are coming to mind)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (a few F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, blood/gore, and sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Historical Gentrification Novel Intimate and Poignant

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

To outsiders, it may look like a grungy, aging slum.  To others, Brooklyn—a mostly Black community in Charlotte, North Carolina—is a vibrant, colorful neighborhood full of good folks, long-time residents whose families have lived, loved and died in the close-knit area.  When the city decides to raze Brooklyn, the community erupts.  Despite promises of new housing and the relocation of businesses, local families know nothing will ever be the same for them.  It may have its problems, but Brooklyn is their home.  Losing it will change their lives irrevocably.

Tomorrow's Bread by Anna Jean Mayhew is told from three viewpoints—that of Loraylee Hawkins, a single mom who must keep her relationship with her child's white father a secret; Ebenezer Polk, the aging reverend of Brooklyn's St. Timothy's Second Presbyterian Church; and Persy Marshall, the sympathetic wife of one of the white men in charge of "redeveloping" the community.  Through their eyes, the reader comes to know Brooklyn in all its variety and its people in all their complexity.  With this intimate knowledge, the reader really feels the tragedy of the neighborhood's demise.  Based on real events, the story brings the conflicts and controversy surrounding gentrification to life.  That's the beauty of Tomorrow's Bread.  The novel doesn't have much of a plot and the storyline it does have is at times disjointed, confusing, and slow, making the read a bit of a slog.  In the end, then, I liked this one but didn't love it.

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


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, mild sexual content, and depictions of illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Compelling Abduction Novel an Engrossing Debut

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

For as long as she can remember, Anna Montgomery has lived by her mamma's strict rules, even if they don't always make sense.  All she knows is that obsessive cleaning, scripture reading, and keeping herself pure from the influences of the outside world are what keep her paranoid, overly protective mamma calm.  On her 18th birthday, Anna does something she's never done before—she defies her mother by secretly going to Astroland, an amusement park that has been strictly outlawed by mamma.  Even though she's never been there before, Anna's shocked by how familiar the place seems.  It's almost as if she's visited Astroland sometime in the past.  But, how could that possibly be?  When she receives a strange card in the mail on the same day, she becomes convinced that her life is not what it seems to be.  Who is Anna, really?  What is her "mamma" hiding?

In London, 16-year-old Rosie Archer has grown up in the shadow of her older sister, Emily, who went missing from an American theme park when Emily was a toddler.  When she learns that funds in the Find Emily trust are almost gone, Rosie panics.  It's been 15 years since her sister's disappearance, with no real leads—if Rosie doesn't keep searching for Emily, who will?  The more she discovers from online conspiracy theorists, the more she realizes just how much danger her sister could be in.  If she's even still alive ...

Although it's obvious from the get-go who Anna really is, A Girl Named Anna by Lizzy Barber remains a tense, compelling read.  An assured debut, it features sympathetic characters, an intriguing plot, and interesting story elements that keep the tale engrossing.  In fact, I flew through the book, anxious to know what was going to happen.  I can't say that A Girl Named Anna is overly original or memorable, but I enjoyed it and I will definitely keep an eye out for more from the talented Lizzy Barber.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of In Another Life by C.C. Hunter, The Patron Saint of Butterflies by Cecilia Galante, The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer, The Safest Lies by Megan Miranda, etc.)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (a handful of F-bombs, plus milder invectives), violence, disturbing subject matter, sexual content, and depictions of illegal drug use and underage drinking

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of A Girl Named Anna from the generous folks at MIRA (a division of HarperCollins) in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: FALLing for New Books

A lot of fun Top Ten Tuesday topics come up during any given year, but my hands-down favorites are the seasonal reading prompts.  It's always fun to think about what I want to read in the upcoming months and it's even more enjoyable to see what books other bloggers are excited about.  The more the merrier, guys, so why don't you join in the fun?  All you have to do is click on over to That Artsy Reader Girl, read a few guidelines, make your own list, and then sit back and enjoy wandering around the book blogosphere checking out other people's posts.  Warning:  keep Goodreads open because you'll be adding a lot of great-sounding reads to your "I Need to Read it NOW" list.

I'm thrilled to have been selected as a YA fiction judge for the first round of The Cybils Awards.  I've never done this before, so I'm not exactly sure what it entails besides reading a lot of teen novels!  I assume that's what I'll be doing for most of the Fall, but since nominations don't open until November 1st, I don't have any specific titles to share.  In the meantime, then, here are the Top Ten Books on My Fall TBR List:

YA/Middle Grade

1. The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys (coming October 1, 2019)—I love Sepetys' historical fiction, so I've been eagerly waiting for this one to come out.  It's a love story set in Madrid after the country's Civil War.  I can't wait!

2.  Slay by Brittney Morris (out today, September 24, 2019)—When a conflict inside the Black Panther-inspired video game she secretly designed causes the death of a player, 17-year-old Kiera Johnson is thrust into a real-life battle that threatens the safe world she thought she had created for herself and other Black gamers.  Billed as Ready Player One meets The Hate U Give, this YA novel sounds intriguing and timely.

3.  The World Ends in April by Stacy McAnulty (out now)—As the granddaughter of a doomsday prepper, Eleanor knows she will survive the apocalypse just fine.  But what about her BFF, Mack?  Before she knows what's happening, Eleanor has become the president of an End of the World club at her school.  No matter what happens with the approaching apocalypse, her life is definitely changing.  This MG offering sounds fun.  Count me in, for sure!

4.  Color Me In by Natasha Diaz (out now)—I've always been intrigued by stories about struggles with racial identity, even before my husband and I adopted our bi-racial daughter ten years ago.  Now I'm especially drawn to them and this YA novel, about a bi-racial teen finding her way around her Black and Jewish roots, sounds exceptional.

5.  The Grey Sisters by Jo Treggiari (out today, September 24, 2019)—A trio of friends head to the mountains to visit the site of the plane crash that took their siblings' lives in order to find closure.  While they search for answers, they meet a mountain dweller searching for help.  Their meeting will change all of their lives.  I love a good survival tale; The Grey Sisters sounds like that and more.


6.  The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes (out October 8, 2019)—This historical novel, about an Englishwoman living in small-town Kentucky during the Depression who decides to become a book deliverer for Eleanor Roosevelt's traveling library campaign, sounds compelling.

7.  The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (out today, September 24, 2019)—This sweeping rags-to-riches family drama sounds like one I will really enjoy.

Of course, I can't make a TTT list without including a few mystery/thrillers:

8.  The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell (out November 5, 2019)—On the day she turns 25, Libby Jones finds out not just who her biological parents are, but also that she has inherited their posh home in London.  She soon discovers that the house has a dark, haunting history ... I love a ghostly story, especially around Halloween time.  This one sounds like it will fit the bill perfectly!

9.  One Night Gone by Tara Laskowski (out October 1, 2019)—When a woman is offered a house-sitting gig at a luxurious beach home, she jumps at the chance.  The more she learns about a 30-year-old mystery connected to the home, the more intrigued she becomes ... Another creepy house story - yaaassss!  I want them all!

10.  Before the Devil Fell by Neil Olson (out October 8, 2019)—This is another novel that sounds like a great spine-tingling Halloween read.  It concerns a man who returns to the hometown he fled in the wake of disturbing rumors about his mother and her "coven."  His assumption that his mother's interest in witchcraft was just a passing hippie phase is dissolved as he finds disturbing clues in his family history that hint at a much lengthier association with New England witchcraft.

There you have it, ten books I'm looking forward to reading this Fall.  How about you?  What's on your list?  I'd truly love to know.  Leave a comment on this post and I will gladly return the favor on yours. 

Happy TTT!
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