Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Vivid Setting Makes Slow-Building Murder Mystery Intriguing

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

On a peaceful autumn night, Ted Systead and his dad are camping in Montana's ruggedly beautiful Glacier National Park.  Encounters with wildlife are a possibility, of course, but one against which the men have taken every precaution.  They're both stunned, then, when a giant grizzly attacks their campsite.  Fourteen-year-old Ted freezes in terror as his father is dragged away and mauled to death.  It's a violent, tragic, and traumatic experience that will haunt him forever.  

Twenty-three years later, Ted is back in Glacier.  As a special agent for the National Park Service, he's been called to Montana to investigate a death with startling similarities to his father's.  Like Jonathan Systead, Victor Lance is dead from a vicious encounter with a bear.  The difference?  Lance, a 27-year-old druggie from Martin City, Montana, had been tied to a tree, presumably exposed to the park's dangers on purpose.  Who could have committed such a cold-hearted act?  However unsavory the man might have been, he didn't deserve to die so horrifically.  Or did he?  

Paired with Monty Harris, an unassuming Park police officer, Ted is tasked with finding Victor's killer.  Not an easy job, considering locals want nothing to do with a nosy outsider.  Ted's perseverance helps him peel back the shocking layers of a case that chills him to the bone.  It doesn't help that old memories are creeping in, throwing him off his game.  As he creeps closer to discovering Lance's killer, he's putting himself in the line of fire.  Will Ted, like his father before him, leave Glacier only in a body bag?  

Although The Wild Inside, a debut novel by Christine Carbo, is billed as a mystery/suspense, it's much more of the former than the latter.  If you're looking for a high-octane thriller, this might not be the book for you.  What it does have is a vivid, intriguing setting.  The surreal beauty of Glacier National Park comes alive under Carbo's hand, as does the unpredictable state of nature in general.  The other characters pale in comparison to the vibrant personality of the Park.  An introspective fella, Ted lives mostly inside his head; Monty does too, which makes them not the most dynamic pair.  Carbo's style is more tell than show, which also makes The Wild Inside feel overly long and a little dull.  Although I enjoyed the read overall, I never came to a point in the story when I couldn't have set the book down and walked away.  I definitely would have liked more suspense from this one, as well as characters who were at least as exciting as their surroundings.  Still, I'm interested to see where this series goes.  Even though the next installment is narrated by Monty, who's not the most lively of guys, I'll definitely be giving it a go.

(Readalikes:  The national park setting reminded me of Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon mystery series)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, blood/gore, and mature subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Contemporary LDS P&P Re-Telling Entertaining & Enjoyable (With a Giveaway!)

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As the daughter of a well-known senator infamous for being both a Mormon and a Democrat, Summer Knight has developed a thick skin.  The 24-year-old couldn't survive life in the spotlight without it.  She knows the world of politics is cutthroat, but what she hasn't quite developed is the capacity to forgive those who've sought to ruin her father's career.  Especially when they're church members who profess to be kind and loving, only to turn on one of their own when he dares to express unpopular opinions.  After an especially humiliating event, Summer decides she's done with the small-mindedness, done with the judgment, done with the LDS church altogether.

Living in Newport Beach, California, Summer spends her Sundays on the water, logging perfect attendance at the Paddleboarding Ward.  Although her conscience (and a tenacious visiting teacher) tells her she should be spending Sunday in church, she just can't make herself take that step.  Then, a tantalizing stranger enters her life.  Tall, dark, and handsome, 28-year-old Benson Hardy is the nephew of Clint Knight's rival, an LDS politician campaigning to be President of The United States.  Benson is also a devout Mormon.  Clearly, this is a man with whom Summer should not be fraternizing.  Ever.  Yet, there's something about the enigmatic political strategist.  Sure, he's stiff, unsmiling, and a master at calling her bluff.  He's also patient, forgiving, and loyal.  Or is he?  When an old friend of Benson's—one much more affable than gruff Mr. Hardy—arrives in town, he's got a whole different story to tell about his childhood pal ...

Not sure what to believe about the enigmatic Benson, Summer tries to keep him at arm's length.  A difficult prospect.  At every turn, he angers her, frustrates her, and provokes her.  So why can't she get him off her mind?      

With tension building to a crescendo around her, Summer must decide who she really is, what she truly believes, and how much she's willing to risk in order to create the future she never knew she wanted. 

 As you can tell, Pride & Politics—a debut novel by Brittany Larsen—takes Jane Austen's beloved classic and gives it a modern, LDS spin.  While no contemporary version can equal the original in pure charm, Larsen gives it an admirable go.  Like Austen, the author examines her own people with a sharp eye, offering up some bold and surprising observations.  In fact, that's what I like most about Pride & Politics—it doesn't shy away from addressing some of Mormonism's toughest, most divisive issues.  Without being hypercritical, it teaches a truth people have a hard time believing: Latter-Day Saints aren't always, well, saints.  Although the story gets heavy at times, mostly it's not.  Summer's voice is bright, funny, and real, keeping the tone of the novel light.  Like Pride & Prejudice, plot is not this book's strong point.  Still, it's entertaining.  While Benson is no Mr. Darcy (too nice, maybe?) and Summer is no Lizzy Bennet (too self-centered?), Pride & Politics is still swoony enough to elicit romantic sighs.  All in all, I enjoyed it.  Quite thoroughly, as a matter of fact.

(Readalikes:  Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for sexual innuendo and (non-graphic) references to mature subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Pride & Politics from the generous folks at Covenant Communications.  Thank you!

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Want more reviews of Pride & Politics?  How about a chance to win your own copy of the book?  Check out the following links:




a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Cozy Home Repair Is Homicide Series Off to a Delightful Start

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Tired of the Manhattan rat race, money trader Jacobia "Jake" Tiptree buys a dilapidated, 200-year-old mansion on a whim.  The crumbling fixer-upper is located in Eastport, Maine—a far cry from Wall Street.  And her arrogant snob of an ex-husband.  Both Jake and her 16-year-old son, Sam, breathe easier in the small town, in spite of (or maybe because of) its colorful residents, laidback atmosphere, and backwater way of life.  Even with her house falling down around her, Jake is happier than she's ever been.

In renovating the old mansion, Jake has learned to expect the unexpected.  Still, she's shocked when she finds a dead body in her storeroom one ordinary April morning.  The corpse is not a victim of some ancient crime, either.  It's Threnody McIlwaine, a local bazillionaire, who's been very recently stabbed to death with an ice pick.  How he ended up in Jake's house is anyone's guess.  His killer, however, confesses immediately.  Jake's best friend, Ellie White, claims she murdered Threnody to avenge her parents, whom he swindled out of a large sum of money.  Ellie's confession doesn't ring true to Jake's ears, however.  Since the DIY diva is already channeling her inner Bob Vila, she decides to Nancy Drew her way to the truth about McIlwaine's murder.  Desperate to clear her friend's name, she starts digging into family and town secrets—secrets someone will kill to keep hidden.  Jake must solve the mystery fast or McIlwaine's won't be the only corpse rotting in her storeroom.

After thoroughly enjoying all the books in the Lizzie Snow series by Sarah Graves, I wanted to give her older mystery novels a go.  I'm not a huge cozy fan, however, so I wasn't sure the Home Repair is Homicide series would be my cup of tea.  Boy, was I wrong!  The Dead Cat Bounce, the first mystery in the series, hooked me with its very first paragraph.  Jake made me laugh right off the bat, so I was more than willing to stick with the empathetic but wryly witty heroine.  With a cast of quirky characters, a plot that kept me guessing, and a Down East setting that bursts right off the page, the novel offers an entertaining, enjoyable read.  I loved it and can't wait to see what Jake Tiptree gets herself up to in the next installment.  

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

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

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Small Steps a Fascinating Medical Memoir About Triumph Of Spirit Over Body

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Before she became a bestselling, award-winning children's author, Peg Schulze Kehret had an experience that would change her life forever.  In 1949, at 12 years old, she contracted polio.  Not just one kind, but all three types: respiratory, spinal, and bulbar.  For three weeks, the disease paralyzed her from the neck down.  Although the paralysis went away, Peg still had trouble swallowing, breathing problems, and constant, all-over pain.  Hospitalized for about six months in a Minneapolis facility 100 miles from her home in Austin, Minnesota, she also experienced frustration, fear, homesickness, and loneliness.  Eventually, Kehret beat the disease, but the memories of her days as a polio patient still loom large in her mind.  "Those months," she wrote, "more than any other time in my life, molded my personality" (10).

In 1996, Kehret published Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio.  The memoir is both heartbreaking and fascinating.  Kehret tells her story in a warm, compelling way that gives children an honest account of what happened to her, while making it clear that she was one of the luckier polio patients.  Unlike some of her roommates at the hospital, Kehret had parents who cared for her and made a point of visiting her often.  While the author describes the excruciating treatments she had to endure, she does so with self-deprecating humor and gratitude (gained in hindsight) for the lessons it taught her.  Even though the effects of polio have come back to haunt Kehret in her later life, she ends her memoir on a positive, hopeful note.  The overall message of Small Steps is one of triumph over difficulty and thankfulness for the things many of us take for granted every day—breathing easily, walking without assistance, moving painlessly, etc.  It's an excellent memoir, one kids should find accessible and interesting.  I certainly did.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a little of All Better Now by Emily Wing Smith)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Friday, May 06, 2016

Novel's "Good Bones" Too Hard to Find

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In the moment before Jaleel's father killed himself, he told the 12-year-old to run.  Jaleel should have listened.  Instead, he called 911, hoping it might be possible to save his mother at least.  No such luck.  Now, not only are both his parents dead by his father's hand, but Jaleel is being accused of killing them.  As a black boy in central Texas with no money and no family, he's also got no chance.  Even in the early 1980s, racism is rampant in Peartree County.  Sent to a juvenile holding facility, a shell-shocked Jaleel knows his life is over.
When Jaleel gets the chance to escape, he takes it.  Ending up in North Hollywood, he rebuilds his life.  As long as he keeps to himself, he's able to attend high school, play baseball, and get a real shot at an Ivy League education.  
Then, he meets a wealthy white girl.
Although 15-year-old Alexandra Baten lives not far from Jaleel, her posh Toluca Lake neighborhood might as well be the moon for all the resemblance it bears to Jaleel's part of town.  Still, when Alex meets Jaleel, she's fascinated.  He's a smart guy, bright and funny.  She's never met anyone like him.  Knowing her socialite mother will freak if she finds out Alex is hanging around a black boy from the wrong part of town, Alex tells no one about Jaleel.

Jaleel figures befriending Alex will lead to trouble, but he has no idea just how much when she asks him to do her an innocent favor ...
Once Upon A Lie by Michael French has lots of the elements I usually dig in a book—family drama, racial tension, a star-crossed love story, etc.  At its heart, it's a story about rising above injustice, another theme I'm usually keen on.  I think the novel has good bones; it's just that they're tough to find, hidden as they are by layers of overwritten prose, purposeless detail, and meandering tangents.  At 401 pages, the saga is about 200 pages too long.  The tale starts with a bang (literally), sags, picks up in the middle with a misplaced climax, then limps to a disappointing finish.  Because the characters in Once Upon A Lie are such a whiny, self-absorbed bunch, it's tough to care about any of them for that length of time. Overall, for me, this novel was a long, dull slog.  A pity, because in the hands of a diligent editor it could have been whittled down into a tight, impacting story about triumph over racism and prejudice.  As is, it's too long, too unfocused, too preachy.  And depressing to boot.  I finished it because I had committed to do so; otherwise, I wouldn't have bothered.  

As often is the case, I appear to be in the minority on this one.  Once Upon A Lie gets rave reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads.  You can read even more opinions by visiting these stops on the book's blog tour:

Monday, May 2nd: 5 Minutes for Books
Tuesday, May 3rd: Books a la Mode – guest post
Wednesday, May 4th: Reading Cove Book Club
Friday, May 6th: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books
Monday, May 9th: Hoser’s Blook
Wednesday, May 11th: Lavish Bookshelf
Thursday, May 12th: Thoughts on This ‘n That
Monday, May 16th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Wednesday, May 18th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews

(Readalikes:  Hm, nothing really comes to mind.  You?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, sexual content, and brief mention of illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Once Upon A Lie from the generous folks at Terra Nova Books via those at TLC Book Tours.  Thank you! 

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Unhurried Psychological Thriller Complex, Compelling

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Maud Horsham knows something's wrong with her memory.  The 82-year-old often can't recall the names of everyday items.  She goes to the store and forgets why she's there.  Even the notes she leaves for herself make little sense anymore.  There is one thing, however, that Maud is sure of: Elizabeth Markham—her neighbor and only real friend—is missing.  Positive that something sinister has happened to Elizabeth, Maud pleads for help from the police, her daughter, even Elizabeth's temperamental son.  All to no avail.  No one takes an old woman with dementia seriously. 

It's not the first time Maud's world has been rocked by the sudden disappearance of someone she loves.  In 1946, her older sister vanished without a trace.  As the two disappearances become entangled in Maud's mind, she grows even more confused.  The answers to both mysteries are inside her head somewhere—if only she can remember.  

Determined to figure out what happened to her friend, Maud mines her fractured memories, discovering in them some very disturbing truths.  Can she hold on to her discoveries long enough to save Elizabeth?  What about her sister?  Will Maud be the one to save the missing women?  Or will the secrets of the past remain hidden inside the recesses of a cloudy memory that is slowly, slowly slipping away ...

Elizabeth Is Missing, a debut novel by English author Emma Healey, is a complex psychological thriller.  A quiet, unhurried one, yes, but also a twisty, riveting mystery.  While the story offers plenty of suspense and intrigue, the most compelling thing about Elizabeth Is Missing is the terrifying issue at its heart—memory loss.  Healey, whose grandmother suffers from dementia, brings the horror of the disease to life in such a vivid, heartbreaking way that it's impossible not to empathize with Maud and all of her real-life counterparts.  Although it tells a sad, scary tale, I enjoyed this compelling, well-crafted debut novel.  If you like a puzzling, mind-bending story, give this one a go.  It's definitely worth the read.

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a dozen or so F-bombs plus milder expletives)

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Southern Family Drama Enjoyable Despite Predictable Plot

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Still guilt-ridden over her part in the accident that left her sister wheelchair-bound, 30-year-old Eleanor Murray spends her days helping Eve perform the tasks she can no longer do for herself.  Eleanor knows she shouldn't feel jealous of her disabled sister, but she does.  As beautiful as ever, Eve is married to Glen, a good man who works hard to support her.  She's also expecting the couple's first child.  With no real life of her own, Eleanor can't help but be envious.  Especially since she's loved Glen ever since she first met him.  Living in the same house as her sister and brother-in-law makes the situation even more torturous.

When Eleanor is offered the chance to work as a part-time companion for an elderly woman, she jumps at the opportunity.  Not only is the money too good to pass up, but the job will give her the opportunity to return to Edisto Island, the magical place where she spent her childhood.  Dealing with 90-year-old Helena Szarka won't be easy, though.  The cantankerous old woman obviously doesn't want Eleanor around.  Intrigued by the secrets Eleanor knows Helena harbors, she vows to get to the heart of the old woman's bitterness.  But will shocking revelations tear apart the people Eleanor's coming to love?  And what of her own family?  Will she ever find her own happiness?  Or will she forever live in the shadow of a sister who eclipses her even from a wheelchair?  

I've read most of Karen White's novels, but somehow The Time Between (2014) escaped my attention.  Until now.  Like the author's other books, this one offers a multi-layered family saga with a gentle Southern setting, empathetic characters, and an intriguing mystery.  The story doesn't offer a lot in the way of originality.  Or surprises, as I saw the twists coming from a mile away.  Still, The Time Between is a satisfying read that's compelling in spite of its predictability.  If you enjoy Southern family dramas, definitely check out Karen White.  This particular novel isn't my favorite of hers, but I've enjoyed all the ones I've read.

(Readalikes:  The premise reminds me of Kate Morton's novels.  The style is vintage Karen White.)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild violence; brief, non-graphic sex; and sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Exciting Backdrop, Realistically-Flawed Characters Make LDS Historical Novel a Compelling, Convincing Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

At 14, Ethan Pace doesn't need a governess.  And yet, he's not complaining about Leah Donaldson, the pretty young orphan who has come to Lawrence, Kansas, to look after him and his younger sister.  Four-year-old Addie is immediately smitten with her new minder, as is Ethan.  Not only is 18-year-old Leah beautiful, but she's also playful, smart, and kind.  Some people shun her because of her strange religion; Ethan couldn't care less if she's a Mormon.  He and his best buddies, Bobbie and Toe-Jam, adore her all the same.  Ethan knows Leah intends to stay only until she can afford to make her way to Salt Lake City—her Zion—but he's determined not to let her go.  His tender heart couldn't take it if she did.  

Although Lawrence has remained relatively safe from the Civil War violence raging in other parts of the country, there have been threats from bloodthirsty vigilantes.  On August 21, the town is ransacked in a deadly raid which leaves over 150 people dead.  In her effort to protect the children, Leah has to make a terrible choice.  

Haunted by the loss of his beloved childhood governess, an older Ethan vows to get revenge.  All he's ever wanted is to make Leah happy; now that he's a man, he has the means to do it.  If only he can find her, punish those who've hurt her, and convince her to trust—and love—him, they'll finally have the happily ever after they both deserve.  

If only it were that easy ...

You all know by now that I'm not a huge fan of LDS fiction.  Too often it's cheesy, poorly written, and unrealistic.  Overall quality in the genre is improving, though, and Loving Leah, a historical romance by Lynne Larson, is an excellent case in point.  Using a lesser-known event from the Civil War as a backdrop, the author creates a tense, exciting setting that brings a time and place I knew little about to vivid life.  The characters are intriguing, mostly because they're realistically flawed.  Even the lovely and virtuous Leah makes mistakes.  Because these story people feel so human, it's easy to empathize with their plight.  I cared about what happened to them.  Although the book talks a lot about the Gospel, it never gets too preachy.  All of these elements combine to make Loving Leah a compelling, convincing read.  Its ending broke my heart a little, but overall, I enjoyed this one very much.  I'll definitely be watching eagerly to see what this author does next.

(Readalikes:  Style-wise, Loving Leah reminds me of Carla Kelly's Western romance novels.)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence, blood/gore, and brief, non-graphic references to sex

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Loving Leah from the generous folks at Covenant.  Thank you!

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If you'd like to read more reviews of Loving Leah, check out the following links from its blog tour.  Unfortunately, the giveaway referred to in the banner is no longer accepting entries.  No worries, though.  You can buy yourself a copy of Loving Leah at Amazon, Deseret Book, Barnes & Noble, etc.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Middle Grade Japanese Internment Camp Novel Teaches Valuable Lessons

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Manami Tanaka's life on Bainbridge Island, Washington, is nothing remarkable.  The 10-year-old spends her days going to school, walking with her grandfather along the beach, and playing with her dog, Yujiin.  It's only when she's forced to leave her home that Manami realizes how much she's lost.  Ordered to relocate to an interment camp in California, she must give up not just her freedom, but also the companionship of her beloved dog.  It's this sacrifice that breaks her heart and steals her voice.

With around 10,000 residents, Manzanar is bursting at the seams.  The camp is like a large village, boasting its own school, hospital, store, baseball diamond, and cemetery.  Living in such crowded quarters is bad enough, but the people interred there have to deal with the unrelenting heat, dust, and confinement.  Manami feels as if she might go crazy.  She needs Yujiin now more than she ever has.  If she sends him pictures, will her faithful companion come running?  Will her family be happy again?  Or will Manami be forever mute, lonely, and sad?

Paper Wishes, Lois Sepahban's fictional debut, paints a vivid, sympathetic picture of the plight of Japanese Americans unfairly interred during World War II.  Through young Manami, we get a feel for the fear, anger, and dismay that must have accompanied such an experience.  Although short and spare, Paper Wishes teaches some valuable lessons about prejudice, hope, and making the best of bad situations.  It's an interesting, poignant story.  Its plot is quite thin, however, making the tale drag in places.  Because of this, I liked Paper Wishes, I just didn't love it.

(Readalikes:  I haven't read any other children's books on this subject.  Have you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence and scary situations

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Monday, April 25, 2016

Dark, Disturbing Psychological Thriller Unique in YA Fiction

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Ten years ago, Tessa Lowell left her troubled, redneck life in tiny Fayette, Pennsylvania, behind.  With her father in prison and her mother MIA, there's only one family member Tessa cares about seeing again—her older sister Joslin.  But it's Glenn Lowell who's summoning her home.  The dying inmate's last wish is to see his youngest daughter. 

Although reluctant to return to Fayette, once she's there, 18-year-old Tessa can't seem to make herself leave.  Too much unfinished business.  Like the secret she and her childhood BFF keep, the one that may have landed an innocent man on Death Row.  The guilt is eating Tessa up inside; Callie deals with hers as all alcoholics do—by drowning it in booze.  When it becomes apparent that a new killer is on the loose, the girls will have to decide what to do with their knowledge of a decade-old crime.  Then, there's Joslin.  Tessa knows she's close, knows she has answers Tessa needs—all Tessa has to do is find her.  And what about their mom?  Where is she hiding?  Although she thought she was beyond caring, suddenly Tessa is desperate to find—and question—them both.

As Tessa investigates her own past and its unsettling connections to her present, she comes to some shocking conclusions.  She and Callie aren't the only ones keeping secrets.  But does Tessa really want to know the answers if they're too horrible to contemplate?  Yes. If she's going to stop a killer, she's going to have to face some horrifying truths about her family, her past, and herself.

If you happen to peruse the YA shelves at bookstores and libraries, you're not liable to find many dark, disturbing psychological thrillers.  With the recent popularity of adult books like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, that may be changing.  I'm not sure The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas, deserves comparisons to these bestsellers, but it does offer at least one whoa-I-didn't-see-that-coming twist.  The plot, although melodramatic and far-fetched in places, moves along at a fair clip making for a tense, exciting read.  In spite of this, I didn't find myself loving The Darkest Corners.  It's depressing, for one thing.  I think it's the big info dump at the end of the novel, though, that annoys me most.  It steals the finale's thunder, making the ending feel rushed and anticlimactic.  Overall, then, this book kept me reading; its execution just lacked a little something, leaving me feeling disappointed with a novel that should have been right up my alley.

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a handful of F-bombs plus milder expletives), violence, and references to mature subject matter (underage drinking, prostitution, sex, etc.)

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of The Darkest Corners from the generous folks at Delacorte Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.  Thank you!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Mormon Mentions: Lisa Beazley

If you're not sure what a Mormon is, let alone a Mormon Mention, allow me to explain:  My name is Susan and I'm a Mormon (you've seen the commercials, right?).  As a member of  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly known as the Mormon or LDS Church), I'm naturally concerned with how my religion is portrayed in the media.  Because this blog is about books, every time I see a reference to Mormonism in a book written by someone who is not a member of my church, I highlight it here.  Then, I offer my opinion—my insider's view—of what the author is saying.  It's my chance to correct misconceptions, expound on principles of the Gospel, and even to laugh at my (sometimes) crazy Mormon culture.

--

In Keep Me Posted by Lisa Beazley, 34-year-old Cassie Sunday is composing a letter to her sister.  An exhausted stay-at-home mom, she writes:

"I just remembered something.  When the boys were about four months old and I had been back at work for a month, I used to watch TV during their two a.m. feed.  I got into that show on Showtime with Chloë Sevigny about the Mormon polygamists, and I remember thinking, these people are genius!  A few extra wives really come in handy with a house full of kids.  It's just good sense.  We could have used an extra wife right about then (still could, actually).  I would have gladly let her sleep with Leo.  God knows I wasn't.  I fantasized about it for weeks—not the sex part, but the wife part, the extra set of hands to take care of the babies, cook, clean, all that" (36).  

--  All I can say is ha ha.  And members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints haven't practiced polygamy in more than 125 years.  The practice is continued by some fundamentalist sects, but these groups are not associated with the mainstream LDS Church.  If you want to read more about plural marriage and the history of the Church, click here.   

Wickedly Funny Epistolary Novel Not As Fluffy As It Seems

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

After swooning over letters their grandparents exchanged during WWII, Cassie Sunday and her sister decide to launch their own written correspondence campaign.  A stay-at-home mom obsessed with how she looks on Facebook, 34-year-old Cassie vows to be real in her letters to her older sister—no more hiding behind staged selfies and clever status updates.  If she wants to be as close to Sid as she once was, she's going to have to open up like she hasn't since.  

Spilling her guts turns out to be a cathartic exercise for the frazzled New Yorker, who hasn't quite adjusted to full-time mommyhood.  As Cassie vents about everything from toddler tantrums to her lackluster marriage to her annoying in-laws, she receives the kind of authentic support and reassurance she never gets from her Facebook friendships.  Sid, a soft-hearted midwife who's leading a luxurious ex-pat life in Singapore, is likewise invigorated by the correspondence.  Despite the physical distance between them, the sisters are growing closer than ever.

Then, the unthinkable happens.  Suddenly, all of the sisters' letters are on the Internet, out in the open for everyone to see.  Cassie has poured her heart out to Sid, sharing everything from petty gossip to a confession that will tear her husband apart.  Sid's been equally as forthcoming.  With their dirty laundry flapping in the Web's wind, the sisters stand to lose everything they hold dear—their marriages, their friends, their families, and, most distressingly, each other.

Keep Me Posted, a debut novel by Lisa Beazley, is an epistolary tale about the risks and rewards of being authentically oneself.  It's a cautionary story that will strike a chord with perpetually plugged-in women everywhere.  Wickedly funny, Keep Me Posted entertains while teaching some important lessons about honesty, vulnerability, and focusing on what's most important.  Although it leaves a few threads hanging, the story wraps up a little too neatly.  I would have liked the sisters to struggle a little more so their finale feels more hard-won.  Still, this a satisfying novel that's not as fluffy as it first appears.  While it didn't blow my socks off or anything, I found Keep Me Posted enjoyable.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other books/movies about diaries being revealed to the public, although no specific titles are coming to mind ... Help?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, sexual content, and references to illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Keep Me Posted from the generous folks at New American Library (an imprint of Penguin Random House).  Thank you!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Masterful Canadian Mystery Series Gives Me All the Feels

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Bury Your Dead, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier Armand Gamache mysteries.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

Haunted by his role in a recent investigation gone horribly wrong, Armand Gamache retreats to Québec City for a much needed respite.  Though his face has been splashed all over the news of late, he's hoping to keep a low profile while he licks his wounds.  But, he is not the only visitor to the historic, walled city.  Despite the bone-chilling winter temperatures, a crowd of tourists is in town for the annual Winter Carnival.  While he enjoys seeing the faces of delighted revelers, Gamache wants no part in the festivities.  He desires only to be left alone with the memories that haunt his mind, breaking his heart and wounding his soul over and over again.

Gamache finds solace in the peaceful quiet of a forgotten library run by the Literary and Historical Society.  When a body is discovered in the building's basement, the chief inspector's days of tranquil study come to an abrupt end.  Local police are stumped by the murder of Augustin Renaud, an amateur archaeologist obsessed with finding the remains of Samuel de Champlain; reluctantly, Gamache agrees to help with the investigation.  As he searches for clues in Québec City's history, culture, and political climate, he makes startling realizations that reveal enough motives and suspects to keep him busy.  In the meantime, Gamache dispatches Jean-Guy Beauvoir to quietly re-open the investigation into a murder that occurred several months earlier in Three Pines.  Although Olivier Brulé has been deemed responsible, his partner, Gabri, refuses to believe it.  He's been writing Gamache daily letters begging him to find the real killer.  Jean-Guy is attempting to do just that, but will there be anything to find?  Or will further inquiries only confirm that Olivier deserves to be exactly where he is—behind bars?

As Louise Penny masterfully oscillates between the two stories, the tension mounts for both police officers.  Will they find the killers for whom they are searching before they become targets themselves?  Can Gamache exorcise his demons enough to move on?  Or has the most revered cop in Québec reached the end of his professional rope?

Although I adore the village of Three Pines, I'm always intrigued when Penny sets one of her Armand Gamache mysteries outside the town.  And what setting could be more fascinating than Québec City?  I'd never heard of the place before, but Penny brings it to such vivid life in Bury Your Dead that I felt as if I'd walked its streets before.  Everything about the old fortress intrigued me.  The mystery at the center of the novel is similarly compelling.  Like all the books in this series, Bury Your Dead combines a colorful setting, a cast of complex characters, and a gripping mystery to create an engrossing detective story that will keep readers guessing.  Penny, as I've mentioned before, isn't afraid to toy with the emotions of her dedicated fans.  The resolution in Three Pines satisfied, but it also made me sad.  Despite the bruising I've taken from The Brutal Telling especially, I'm more dedicated than ever to this series with its trademark warmth and humor.  If you haven't "met" Chief Inspector Armand Gamche yet, introduce yourself, will you?  You won't regret it.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other books in the Armand Gamache series by Louise Penny, including Still Life; A Fatal Grace; The Cruelest Month; A Rule Against Murder; The Brutal Telling; The Hangman [novella]; A Trick of the Light; The Beautiful Mystery; How the Light Gets In; The Long Way Home; The Nature of the Beast; and A Great Reckoning)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a handful of F-bombs plus milder expletives) and violence

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Friday, April 15, 2016

Lady Helen A Clean, Compelling (Enough) Diversion (With a Giveaway!)

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Besides London and Bath, Lady Helen Poulter has never been anywhere.  Curious about the world beyond her Somerset home, the 19-year-old decides to accompany her mother and stepfather when they sail to the Brigadier-General's new military post in India.  Fascinated by the colorful sights and exotic sounds of Calcutta, Helen is delighted with her new home.  Unlike the other Englishwomen in town, she finds the city thrilling, its people intriguing, and their customs delightful.

Helen is immediately taken with another of Calcutta's magnificent sights: Lt. Arthur Bancroft.  With his handsome face and elegant manners, he's exactly the type of man she would like to marry.  But it's with Michael Rhodes, a 32-year-old captain, that she can really be herself.  Although crippled from a battle wound, the soldier has a calm, soothing way about him that always makes Helen feel safe.  A good thing, as she's discovering just how many dangers lurk in the shadows of India's blinding beauty.

As things heat up around her, both politically and socially, Helen discovers some harsh truths about her new home, about the two men vying for her heart, and, most of all, about herself.  When a deadly battle calls all the men Helen loves to the front lines, she fears the one she adores most will be lost forever.  Has she finally found her true love only to lose him?

Like Jennifer Moore's previous Regency romances, Lady Helen Finds Her Song is a sweet, upbeat love story.  Clean and compelling enough, it's an easy read, one that worked well as a fluffy diversion between all the heavy psychological thrillers I've been devouring lately.  The novel requires little from the ole brain cells, as its plot is about as familiar and predictable as they come.  While its unique setting offers the tale a pinch of originality, nothing else really sets it apart.  I would have appreciated a few twists in the story as well as more complexity from the characters.  A number of typos pepper the book, which take away from the overall experience.  All in all, though, Lady Helen Finds Her Song is a nice, enjoyable read.

(Readalikes:  Other Regency romances by Jennifer Moore, including Miss Burton Unmasks a Prince; Simply Anna; and Lady Emma's Campaign)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Lady Helen Finds Her Song from the generous folks at Covenant Communications.  Thank you!

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