Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Isle of Man Murder Mystery a Creepy, Compelling Thriller

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Hop-tu-naa, the Manx version of Halloween, is supposed to be a day of innocent, spooky fun.  And it is.  Until the year a woman vanishes from the Isle of Man on Hop-tu-naa, leaving behind her mystified husband and their 8-year-old daughter.  Questions about the unsolved case abound—did the woman abandon her family on purpose?  Does her husband know more than he's saying?  What really happened to Mrs. Cooper?    

Still haunted by the disappearance of her mother six years ago, Claire Cooper never looks forward to Hop-tu-naa.  When a gang of popular kids invites the shy, broody 14-year-old to join them on their annual Hop dare night adventure, she can't believe it.  Apprehensive but grateful to be included, she accepts.  Every year afterward, the group gathers for Halloween hijinks.  Until one of their pranks goes horribly awry, changing the kids' lives forever. 
  
At 25, Claire is no longer the timid, awkward girl she once was.  She's a detective constable and a tougher, wiser, more cynical woman because of it.  When a member of her old Hop dare gang dies under suspicious circumstances on Hop-tu-naa, Claire's called in to investigate.  A second death exactly a year later makes it clear that someone is deliberately and determinedly picking the gang off one by one.  Who?  Why?  And what, if anything, do these killings have to do with Mrs. Cooper's long-ago disappearance?  The more Claire digs into the past, the closer she comes to finding the answers she seeks.  But with every passing Hop-tu-naa, she's creeping closer to something else as well—her own "accidental" death.  Can she find the murderer in time to save herself?  Or will her own demise become just another unexplained Hop-tu-naa tragedy?

Thrillers with exotic, atmospheric settings always interest me, so when I heard about Dark Tides by British crime writer Chris Ewan, I knew I had to read it.  It didn't disappoint.  The Isle of Man is a place I know little about, so I especially enjoyed learning more about its unique people and customs.  The And Then There Were None-type plot makes the story especially compelling, as does the fast, almost choppy pace of its prose.  The Hop-tu-naa aspect definitely gives the novel a tense, shivery vibe that ups the suspense factor.  Although I did have the murderer pegged pretty early on in the story, it didn't detract from my reading enjoyment as I wasn't completely sure I was right until the very end of the story.  I had a few issues with this one, but overall, I found it to be an engrossing page-turner that kept me up reading long, long after I should have been in bed.

(Readalikes: Reminded me of And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie and Ten by Gretchen McNeil)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs), violence, blood/gore, depictions of underage drinking, and mild sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Monday, June 20, 2016

Compelling Psychological Thriller Also Sad, Depressing

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Heidi Wood can't resist a stray.  The 37-year-old works for a non-profit, collects feral cats, and smothers her only child in plenty of unwanted motherly attention.  She's always wanted more children, so when Heidi spies a disheveled young woman at the train station cradling an equally unkempt baby, her heart goes out to them.  At first, 16-year-old Willow refuses to let Heidi help her or baby Ruby, who's suffering from a bad cold made worse by exposure to Chicago's inclement winter weather.  When the teen finally gives in, Heidi brings both of them to her home.  The other Woods are horrified.  Who is this stranger invading their already crowded apartment?  And what of the wailing baby to whom Heidi is forming an unhealthy attachment?  Nothing good can come of sheltering them, not in Chris Wood's mind.  But his wife insists.  After all, who would be cruel enough to toss a sick baby and her worn-out young mother back onto the cold, mean streets?  Certainly not Heidi.

As mother and child continue their stay, secrets about Willow's past slowly come to life.  The more Heidi learns, the more disturbed she becomes.  She'll protect Ruby at all costs.  But what will be the price for her devotion?  Her family?  Her sanity?  Her life?  

Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica tells an engrossing story about one woman's obsession with getting that for which her heart has always yearned.  It's a twisty tale, compelling, but also sad and depressing.  While all the novel's characters are sympathetic, none are particularly likable.  This fact made the read feel less fulfilling for me.  The plot definitely kept my attention, though.  Overall, then, I liked this one just didn't love it.

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a couple F-bombs plus milder expletives), violence, sexual content, and disturbing subject matter (child abuse, spousal abuse, sexual abuse, etc.)

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

TTT: Most Anticipated Releases for the Second Half of 2016


I haven't done a Top Ten Tuesday in a long time, but I liked today's topic so I decided to join in.  If you're not aware of this super fun weekly meme, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? click on over to The Broke and the Bookish to read all about it.  Then, create your own TTT list and share it.  It's a great way to find new book blogs, add exciting titles to your TBR mountain chains, and share your love of books/reading.  Join in, won't you?  It's a good time, I promise!

You might remember back in December when TTTers were prompted to list the Top Ten Most Anticipated Releases for the First Half of 2016.  You can see my list here.  I guess I wasn't anticipating them too much because I've only read one of the books I listed.  Oh well.  Anticipation is half the fun, right?  In that spirit, let's talk about my Top Ten Most Anticipated Releases for the Second Half of 2016:  


1.  The Trespasser by Tana French — French is one of my very favorite mystery/suspense writers.  I've loved all the books in her Dublin Murder Squad series.  My only complaint is that it takes two years for a new one to come out.  Patience is a virtue but not one I have when waiting for new books from my favorite authors!  The Trespasser (the 6th installment in French's popular series) makes its debut on October 4.  Guess who's counting down the days?


2.  Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton — After devouring Little Black Lies, I binge read the rest of this English author's mystery novels.  All of them kept me totally and completely mesmerized.  Even though I just barely finished reading them all, I've still been having Bolton withdrawals.  Lucky for me, her newest comes out on September 20.


3.  Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult — I mentioned this one in my post about releases for the first half of the year, but Picoult's newest will actually not come out until October 11.  This one concerns an African-American labor and delivery nurse and a decision she makes which leads to a court case that shakes up her life.  I love me some Picoult, so I'm excited for this one.


4.  I Will Send Rain by Rae Meadows — As compelling as I find stories about people struggling to survive during difficult times, especially in a historical context, I haven't read many books about the Dust Bowl.  The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck might be the only one.  At any rate, this one sounds really intriguing to me.  It comes out on August 9.


5.  By Gaslight by Steven Price — As I said above, I've been big into British mystery/thrillers this year.  Naturally, then, this book caught my eye.  It's not written by a Brit (Price is a Canadian poet, actually), but the novel is set in London, 1885.  Sounds grisly but good.  It's available October 4.


6.  Only Daughter by Anna Snoekstra — This psychological thriller about a teen who goes missing only to be "replaced" eleven years later sounds intriguing.  Comes out September 27.


7.  We Are Unprepared by Meg Little Reilly — I know most people are so over dystopian novels, but I'm not.  As long as it tells a compelling yarn, I'm still game for a post-apocalyptic tale.  This debut novel by a former White House employee sounds like it fits the bill.  I'll be eager to find myself a copy when it comes out on August 30.


8.  Something in Between by Melissa de la Cruz — This YA novel about a high schooler whose bright future is shattered when it's discovered that she—and her whole family—are illegal immigrants sounds timely and interesting.  It will appear on October 4.


9.  The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron — I enjoyed Cameron's Dark Unwinding series, so I'm anxious to see what she's up to this time around.  The synopsis of this book reminds me of Don't You Forget About Me by Kate Karyus Quinn.  Every 12 years, the safe, rule-bound town of Canaan undergoes a bloody ritual that erases everyone's memories.  One teen girl is determined not to forget.  Sounds interesting.  I'll look for it on September 16.


10.  The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis — I enjoy this author's books, so I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for her newest YA novel.  I'm not sure how to describe this one exactly, but it looks intriguing.  Comes out September 20

There are so many amazing-sounding books still to come out in 2016!  Which ones are you most looking forward to?  What do you think of my selections?  Do we have any in common?  Which others should I be popping onto ye ole TBR mountain chain?  Leave me a comment and I will gladly return the favor.  

Happy TTT!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

New Romantic Suspense Novel an Easy, Enjoyable (Enough) Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

As a big city reporter, Kate Beaumont doesn't stop asking questions until she gets answers.  The question haunting the 30-year-old now is, why did her brother kill himself?  What would make a young man with a bright future take his own life?  Why did Jason, who had been clean for three years, ingest a toxic cocktail of drugs and alcohol, committing suicide in a lonely spot in the local graveyard?  None of it makes any sense.  Furious at herself for not being there when Jason needed her most, Kate vows to find out exactly what happened to the beloved sibling she has always protected.  

Kate travels to Laurel Ridge, Pennsylvania, the tiny town where Jason had been interning for an investment group.  Her presence immediately attracts attention in a village where newcomers are rare.  McKinley "Mac" Whiting, an ex-Marine who serves as Laurel Ridge's police chief, takes a special interest in the pretty reporter.  Wary of anyone who might stir up trouble in his town, he keeps a close eye on her.  It doesn't take long for her questions about Jason to attract the wrong kind of attention.  Someone is trying to stop her from digging into her brother's death.  But who?  Was Mac wrong in labeling Jason's death a suicide?

As Kate and Mac pair up to investigate Jason's death, the two grow closer together.  A relationship between them can never work, despite the sparks that crackle between them.  Still, Kate relies on the solid police chief to help find answers.  Desperate to keep Kate safe, Mac is torn between forcing her to leave Laurel Ridge and begging her to stay.  Can he protect her from the enemies she's making, one of whom may be a cold blooded killer?  And what about his heart?  Can he keep it safe?  

Marta Perry has authored many romance and romantic suspense books set in her native Pennsylvania.  Her newest, How Secrets Die (available June 28, 2016), is no exception.  The novel introduces a warm-hearted little town in the middle of Amish country—one that hides some sinister secrets.  These types of settings are my favorite.  Still, Laurel Ridge definitely needed more color to make it come alive.  Its residents felt more like caricatures than real people.  The same can be said of Kate and Mac, neither one of whom hadHow Secrets Die is an easy, entertaining read, just not one that really stands out from the crowd.
enough complexity to be really intriguing.  Their insta-love relationship likewise felt forced.  While I appreciated Perry's ability to write a clean romantic suspense novel with enough conflict to keep me reading, I would have liked more from it—more depth, more originality, more surprises.  As is,

(Readalikes:  I'm not much of a romantic suspense reader, so nothing's coming to mind.  Ideas?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence, references to illegal drugs, and mild sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished e-copy of How Secrets Die from the generous folks at Harlequin via those at TLC Book Tours.  Thank you!

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Black Rabbit Hall An Atmospheric Family Saga Perfect for Kate Morton Fans

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"But here, of course, it's a different story.  It's always a different story at Black Rabbit Hall.  It unspools everything" (104).

Time moves differently at Black Rabbit Hall, the Alton family's country estate in Cornwall.  None of the clocks in the home tell the same time and no one cares.  It's what makes the summers there so timeless, so ideal.  Amber, a 14-year-old bookworm, adores the place.  She loves roaming its grounds with her twin brother, Toby, and their two younger siblings.  Languishing in the salty air makes London feel a million miles away, which is just how Amber likes it.

Then, on a stormy night in 1968, the idyllic peace of Black Rabbit Hall is shattered forever. The events of that night change everything, ripping apart the seams that bind the Alton family together.  Never will they return to their country home.  Never will things be the same for Amber and her kin.

Thirty-odd years later, Lorna Dunaway and her fiancĂ© are scouring the Cornwall countryside for a half-remembered estate Lorna visited as a child.  The house has always spoken to her soul; she can't imagine a better setting for her upcoming wedding.  Even when Lorna sees what a crumbling ruin the place has become, she won't back down.  Black Rabbit Hall is the only place she wants to be married.  When the home's caretaker invites Lorna for an extended stay, she can't resist.  As she breathes in the estate's musty, enchanted air, she becomes more and more obsessed with the history of Black Rabbit Hall and the happy family that once made it their summer home.  What happened to the Altons?  Why did they abandon their beloved estate?  And why does Lorna feel so connected to a home she never lived in and family she never knew?  Black Rabbit Hall hides secrets—secrets Lorna is determined to discover ...

You probably know by now that I'm a sucker for novels which feature mysterious old houses, tantalizing secrets, and family drama.  Black Rabbit Hall, a debut novel by Eve Chase, fits the bill on all three accounts.  It's a compelling saga that oscillates between the past and the present, offering a suspenseful tale that has enough twists to keep readers guessing.  At least a little.  While I saw some of the "surprises" coming, that didn't damper my enjoyment of the story.  I found myself absorbed in the mystery, intrigued by the characters, and entranced by Black Rabbit Hall's peculiar magic.  If you enjoy a good, atmospheric family saga, definitely give this one a go.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Kate Morton's books, especially The Lake House)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Brilliantly-Plotted Falklands Mystery Keeps Me Guessing Until the Very Last Sentence

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It's easy to feel isolated in a place as rugged and remote as the Falkland Islands.  An archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean, the area is home to more birds than people.  And yet, when a Falklander goes missing, the loss is felt keenly by the residents of the islands' close-knit communities.  When the individual is a child—the third to disappear in as many years—it's more than a tragedy.  It's an indication that a serial killer may be lurking nearby, hunting for young boys.  

Still reeling after the accidental death of her own sons three years ago, Catrin Quinn has cut herself off from the people in her town.  A recluse, she ventures out only to care for the wildlife protected by the Falkland Conservation, the organization for which she works.  Bitter and angry, the 34-year-old lets only one person come anywhere near her heart—her ex-lover, Callum Murray.  She refuses to engage or trust anyone else.  People will only let you down; Catrin's learned that lesson in the most traumatic way possible.

When a 3-year-old boy disappears while picnicking with his family in Stanley, Catrin is as heartsick as anyone else.  In such a dangerous landscape, the child could easily have drowned.  Only, it looks as if something much more sinister has happened.  Suspicion falls on Catrin, whose grief—most would agree—has certainly driven her crazy enough to kidnap a toddler.  The recluse harbors secrets, it's true, but she knows she had nothing to do with the boys' disappearances.  Doesn't she? 

As Catrin struggles to come to grips with her own impending madness, she becomes obsessed with finding the missing children.  Callum and Catrin's former best friend, Rachel Grimwood, are hiding as many secrets as Catrin.  As the search continues for a missing boy, both will have to confront their own pain and unseen suffering.  Hidden deep in their broken souls, one of the three—perhaps all of the three—holds the key to finding young Archie West.  Can they pull the truth out of their damaged psyches in time to save an innocent child?  Or will he become the third victim of a ruthless, unknown killer stalking children in the beautiful but deadly Falklands?

I'd never heard of English crime writer Sharon Bolton (formerly S.J. Bolton) before picking up her 8th novel, Little Black Lies, back in March.  Except for her newest book, which hasn't come out in the U.S. yet, I've now read everything she's ever published.  That should tell you something about how mesmerizing I found Little Black Lies.  From the beginning, the story grabbed me, pulling me into the bleak but utterly compelling world of Catrin Quinn.  The Falklands make a stunning and intriguing backdrop to the tale, adding a gothic element to an already otherworldly setting.  Its treacherous isolation makes the novel even more eerie and suspenseful.  Add in complex characters; solid writing; and a twisty, brilliantly-plotted mystery; voilá, I was hooked from the first page to the last.  This book kept me guessing—not just until the last chapter but until the very last sentence.  If you like a good mystery/suspense, you can't go wrong with Sharon Bolton.  Although Little Black Lies is my favorite of hers, all of her novels have sucked me in and kept me up reading way, way, way past my bedtime.  She's that good.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a little of the Shetland mystery series by Ann Cleeves)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Atmospheric Setting + Likable Heroine + Twisty Mystery = Me Coming Back for More Anna Pigeon

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After her husband dies in a New York City car accident, Anna Pigeon flees urban life for its complete opposite.  As an enforcement ranger at Guadalupe Mountains National Park in the west Texas wilderness, the 39-year-old widow now spends more time communing with nature than anything—or anyone—else.  And it suits her just fine.

While hiking in the park one day, Anna comes across the dead body of a park ranger who appears to have been mauled to death by a mountain lion.  Shocked by the brutality of the apparent attack, Anna can't quite believe what she's seeing.  She didn't know Sheila Drury well, but she does know animals and this "attack" looks staged.  Try as she might to convince her superiors to look into the suspicious death, however, Anna gets exactly nowhere.  Refusing to back off, she launches her own investigation.  Between Drury's push to open the park to the public and her clandestine relationship with another employee, it isn't tough to find people who may have had motive to kill the ranger.  Who actually did the deed?  Anna knows Drury's killer isn't a wild cat but a human who is more vicious and dangerous than any mountain lion.  The question is, can Anna find the murderer before he or she finds Anna?  
     
Published in 2003, Track of the Cat by Nevada Barr is an oldie I've been meaning to get to for a while now.  The first book in Barr's popular Anna Pigeon series (the 19th installment of which just came out a few weeks ago), it introduces the ranger in all her complex charm.  In sharp, vivid prose that really makes it come alive, Barr also presents the real star of the show—the west Texas wilderness.  This atmospheric setting provides an intriguing background to a twisty mystery that kept me guessing.  Between the author's rich descriptions of the park and those of her brave, compassionate heroine, I found Track of the Cat to be an enjoyable read.  I'll definitely be heading back to the Guadalupe Mountains soon for more adventures with the unforgettable Anna Pigeon.

(Readalikes:  reminds me of the Kate Shugak series by Dana Stabenow and of The Wild Inside by Christine Carbo)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Vivid Setting Makes Slow-Building Murder Mystery Intriguing

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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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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

(Image from Barnes & Noble)


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

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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
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