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2023 Bookish Books Reading Challenge

My Progress:

9 / 30 books. 30% done!

2023 Literary Escapes Challenge

- Alabama (1)
- Alaska (1)
- Arizona (1)
- Arkansas
- California (5)
- Colorado (1)
- Connecticut (1)
- Delaware
- Florida
- Georgia (1)
- Hawaii
- Idaho
- Illinois
- Indiana
- Iowa (1)
- Kansas (1)
- Kentucky
- Louisiana (1)
- Maine (1)
- Maryland (2)
- Massachusetts (2)
- Michigan (1)
- Minnesota
- Mississippi (1)
- Missouri
- Montana (1)
- Nebraska
- Nevada
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York (4)
- North Carolina (3)
- North Dakota
- Ohio (1)
- Oklahoma
- Oregon
- Pennsylvania
- Rhode Island (1)
- South Carolina (1)
- South Dakota
- Tennessee
- Texas (1)
- Utah
- Vermont (2)
- Virginia
- Washington (2)
- West Virginia (1)
- Wisconsin (1)
- Wyoming
- Washington, D.C.*


- Australia (3)
- Canada (6)
- England (11)
- France (1)
- Ireland (2)
- Scotland (1)
- South Korea (1)
- The Netherlands (1)
-Vietnam (1)

My Progress:

26 / 51 states. 51% done!

2023 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

My Progress:

19 / 25 books. 76% done!

2023 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge

31 / 50 books. 62% done!

Booklist Queen's 2023 Reading Challenge

My Progress:

36 / 52 books. 69% done!

2023 52 Club Reading Challenge

My Progress:

41 / 52 books. 79% done!

2023 Build Your Library Reading Challenge

My Progress:

27 / 40 books. 68% done!

2023 Pioneer Book Reading Challenge

15 / 40 books. 38% done!

2023 Craving for Cozies Reading Challenge

My Progress:

9 / 25 books. 36% done!

2023 Medical Examiner's Mystery Reading Challenge

Book Bingo Reading Challenge

19 / 25 books. 76% done!

2023 Pick Your Poison Reading Challenge

My Progress:

57 / 109 books. 52% done!

Children's Book Reading Challenge...For Adults!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Just Your Average, Ordinary, Everyday Police Procedural

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  Although this review will not contain spoilers for The Line Between Here and Gone, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from the first book in the Forensic Instincts series.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

Photojournalist Amanda Gleason never dreamed she'd be raising a child by herself, let alone watching one die.  As the 34-year-old sits by her newborn son's hospital bed, she longs for the baby's father—not just because she's still grieving for Paul Everett, but because he might have been the only one able to donate the stem cells his son so badly needs in order to survive.  When a friend gives Amanda photographic evidence that Paul—who was presumed dead even though his body was never found—is actually alive, she's stunned.  The betrayal stings.  Her own hurt doesn't matter now, though, not when her baby is fighting for his life.  Amanda must find Paul before it's too late.

Since Amanda doesn't have the time or the resources to hunt down her missing boyfriend, she turns the case over to the professionals.  Forensic Instincts is New York City's premiere private investigation firm.  Headed by profiler Casey Woods, the company also consists of a retired FBI agent, a former Navy SEAL, a psychic, a "techno-genius," and an evidence-sniffing dog.  Together, they agree to find Paul Everett using whatever means necessary.

It doesn't take the FI team long to discover there's more to their missing persons case than meets the eye.  Soon, they're looking into crooked politicians, screwy real estate deals, drug dealing, even mob involvement.  It's not too tough to see why Paul wanted to disappear.  Still, with an infant's life hanging in the balance, the investigators know they have to close the case.  And fast.  As the stakes get higher and higher, the FI team works harder and harder, and a worried mother gets more and more desperate.  Can Paul Everett be found in time to save his dying son?  That's the question haunting everyone's thoughts, the question driving FI team members to put everything on the line, risking it all to help a helpless infant win the battle for his life.

The Line Between Here and Gone, the second book in Andrea Kane's Forensic Instincts series, revolves around an intriguing premise.  Unfortunately, the rest of the story doesn't do it justice, wandering down paths both unoriginal and predictable.  The flat, stereotypical characters don't help matters.  The race-against-time plot makes for a fast, exciting read, just not one that's in any way unique or surprising.  I want a whole lot more from a police procedural and this one didn't deliver for me.

Oh, and as part of the book's blog tour, I'm supposed to give you this excerpt from the book: “Lyssa,” she said when she heard her friend’s voice. “I need you to come over and relieve me. It’s not Justin. He’s okay. But can you come now?” She sagged with relief at the reply.
“Thanks. It’s an emergency.”   

(Readalikes:  No specific titles come to mind.  Suggestions?)

Grade:  C-

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  R for strong language, sexual content and violence

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished print copy of The Line Between Here and Gone from the generous folks at Harlequin MIRA (via those at Meryl L. Moss Media Relations, Inc.) as well as an e-ARC via Netgalley.  Thank you! 

The One Where My Impatience Pays Off—For You (With a Giveaway!)

I'm not a terribly patient person.  I wish I was.  It would come in handy with this whole motherhood thing and, really, this whole life thing.  Generally, my inability to wait gets me in trouble, either because I spend too much money on something I could have gotten for cheaper or I make a rash decision that would have turned out better if I'd thought about it a little or well, you get the point.  Occasionally, though, my impatience pays off.  For someone.  In this case, it's you.  Here's what happened:

I was visiting with a friend, who happens to be a huge Dan Wells fan.  When she asked me if I'd read the author's new book, I (very articulately) said, "Huh?"  Being the incredibly informed book blogger that I am, I somehow missed the news about Well's newest, The Hollow City.  After my friend gushed about how brilliant the novel is, I knew I needed to read it.  Being of a practical mind (Will someone tell my husband to stop laughing?), I checked for it at the library.  No dice.  Then, I thought of Tor/Forge, Wells' fabulous publisher, a company which also happens to send me review books on a regular basis.  Maybe, just maybe, they were winging a copy to me.  A few weeks went by and nothing happened.  Finally, after hearing more great reviews of the book, I snapped.  I couldn't wait another second.  So, I ordered it online.  A few hours later, the doorbell rang.  The UPS guy handed me—what else?—a brand, spankin' new copy of The Hollow City, courtesy of the publisher.  After bemoaning my own impatience (not for the first time, believe me), I rushed to the computer and tried to cancel my online order.  Again, no dice.  I probably could return the second book to the online store from which it came, but, frankly, I'm just too darn lazy.  So, I decided to give it away instead.

First, let me tell you about the book.  Then, I'll give you all the details on how to win your own copy.  The jacket copy goes a little something like this—
Dan Wells won instant acclaim for his three-novel debut about the adventures of John Wayne Cleaver, a heroic young man who is also a potential serial killer.  All who read the trilogy were struck by the distinctive, believable voice Wells created for John.  (This is true in my case.  Though I found the books disturbing, they were, without a doubt well written.  Click on the book titles to see my reviews:  I Am Not A Serial Killer; Mr. Monster; I Don't Want to Kill You)

Now Wells returns with another innovative thriller told in a very different, but equally unique voice; a voice that comes to us from the realms of madness.

Michael Shipman has paranoid schizophrenia; he suffers from hallucinations, delusions, and complex, horrific fantasies of persecution.  They are as real to him as your life is to you.  He is haunted by sounds and voices, stalked by faceless men, and endlessly pursued by something even deeper and darker—something he doesn't dare think about.

Soon the authorities are linking him to a string of gruesome serial killings, and naturally no one believes his protestations of innocence.  On his worst days, he doesn't believe them himself.  Hounded on every side, Michael contemplates a terrifying possibility: that some of the monsters he sees are real.

Who can you trust if you can't even trust yourself?  The Hollow City is a mesmerizing journey into madness, where the most frightening enemy of all is your own mind.

Intriguing, right?  I haven't read the book yet—I'm starting it today, in fact—so I can't tell you much about it except that it sounds really, really good.  If you've read it, what did you think?

I promised you giveaway details, so here you go:  You can win a brand new, hardcover copy of The Hollow City by Dan Wells.  All you have to do is leave a comment on this post telling me about your favorite psychological thriller (supernatural or otherwise), be it a book or a movie (or both!).  If you do not have a public blog that you check regularly, please leave your email address as part of your comment.  The giveaway is open to readers with U.S. and Canadian addresses and will close on August 15.  That's it.  Unless, of course, you want to spread the word about the giveaway or chat up my blog in the social media venue of your choice.  Because I give extra entries for that.  I'll give you a breakdown of how that works here in a second—please tell me, in the comments section, which you did (no need for a bunch of separate entries) and I'll reward you accordingly :) Good luck!

- Follow my blog via GFC or other method (though I prefer GFC): (+1)
- Follow me on Twitter (@bbbforme): (+1)
- Become a fan on Facebook (you can click on the badge in the left sidebar): (+1)
- Blog, Tweet, or post on Facebook about this contest (+1 per method of word-spreading)

Oh, and don't forget to enter the other giveaway I've got going on right now.  I don't have too many entrants at the moment, so the odds of winning are very, very good!
Monday, July 30, 2012

Craving a Raw, Pulse-Pounding Zombie Adventure? Look No Further.

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Most people fear the end of the world.  Not Sloane Price.  She welcomes it.  Ever since her older sister took off, leaving Sloane to deal with her abusive father alone, she's been longing for the blissful nothingness of death.  So, when a zombie outbreak turns her hometown upside down, Sloane's not particularly worried about survival.  It's only by chance that a group of her classmates finds her.  And saves her.

Now, Sloane and five other teenagers are holed up inside Cortege High School.  Although they can hear the undead banging on the doors, the group feels safe enough for now.  They've got food, shelter, even water.  It won't last forever, but for now, the kids can breathe a little easier.  But as the days wear on, it becomes obvious that zombies aren't the only danger they face.  Fear, boredom, depression, turf wars, divided loyalties—every little thing becomes a life-or-death struggle for the kids barricaded inside the school.

At first, Sloane feels removed from all the drama.  What does it matter, when all she really wants to do is die?  But is that still her strongest desire?  As the situations inside and outside the school become increasingly desperate, Sloane has to decide what she really wants—to live or to die?

So, I've realized that my favorite zombie novels aren't really about the zombies at all.  The allure for me is not in the blood, it's not in the gore, it's in the human reaction to a world gone mad.  Which explains why I found This Is Not A Test by Courtney Summers such a riveting read.  Because while it is about zombies, it's also not about zombies.  It's really about people—six scared teenagers, who are trying their best to survive their fear, their grief, their hunger, their fury.  Themselves.  The book quickly becomes less horror novel, more psychological thriller, which just makes it more of an edge-of-your-seat, can't-go-to-sleep-until-you-finish-it read.  Considering the premise, it won't surprise you to learn that This Is Not A Test is an ultimately hopeful, but in the meantime very bleak and depressing kind of story.  No matter.  I loved it, still.  If you're craving a raw, pulse-pounding zombie adventure, look no further—you just found it.               

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick as well as other zombie novels, like Rot & Ruin by Jonathan MaberryI Am Legend by Richard MathesonThe Passage by Justin CroninThe Enemy by Charlie HigsonThe Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan; etc.  Also reminds me of Trapped by Michael Northrop, although Trapped isn't about zombies.)

Grade:  B

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  R for strong language, violence/gore, depictions of underage drinking and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of This Is Not A Test from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.          
Sunday, July 29, 2012

Oh My Heck! It's A Summer Book Trek!

I don't usually post on Sunday (day of rest and all that), but since this kinda sorta has to do with church (mine, anyway), I'm going to go ahead:

The LDS Publisher blog is sponsoring Summer Book Trek, a reading challenge that encourages people to read books by authors who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly referred to as the LDS Church or the Mormon Church).  You do not have to be LDS to participate.  Before you turn away, thinking this is just a ploy by those sneaky Mormons to lure you into their clutches with a bunch of preachy books, STOP!  Any kind of book (except maybe picture books—not sure on that one) counts as long as it's by an LDS author and, honey, there are a whole lot of them:  Stephenie Meyer, Ally Condie, James Dashner, Brandon Sanderson, Brandon Mull, Dan Wells, Robison Wells, Kimberley Griffiths Little, Bree Despain, Emily Wing Smith, Brodi Ashton, Glen Beck, Richard Paul Evans, Jessica Day George, Shannon Hale, Janette Rallison, etc.  And that's just a short list of the ones who write books geared toward the general public.  There are plenty more.

Need another reason to join up?  How about this—prizes!  LDS Publisher has lots and lots of books and other fun stuff to give away.  There are many easy ways to earn points.  Plus, so far, there aren't many participants, which means you've got an even greater chance of winning prizes.  And, oh yeah, the rules are totally flexible.  You can read as many or as few books as you'd like.  You can change your reading list—add items, subtract them, alter them, whatever—at any time.  So, really, why wouldn't you join?

The challenge runs through the month of August (although you can start earning points now), and it's going to be lots of fun. Wanna join up?  Click here for all the details.

Here's a very tentative (and no doubt unrealistically ambitious) list of the books I'm hoping to read:  

The Hollow City by Dan Wells
Faith, Hope & Gravity by Merrill Osmond
Infinity Ring by James Dashner
Twitterpated by Melanie Jacobson
Evertaster by Adam Glendon Sidwell
Breaking Beautiful by Jennifer Shaw Wolf
Everneath by Brodi Ashton
Possession by Elana Johnson

I know.  It's impossible, but that's the cool thing about this challenge, I can add/delete titles at any time.  Sweet!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Origin: Languid Loveliness, Subtle Darkness

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Hidden in a secret research facility in the middle of the Amazon rainforest is a girl like no other.  Pia may look like your average 17-year-old, but she's not.  She's smarter, stronger, more indestructible than any person on Earth.  Unlike other humans, Pia is immortal.  Long after her creators die, long after everyone she knows passes on, she will live.  

Even though Pia's surrounded by a team of scientists, two of whom are—technically, anyway—her parents, she can't help feeling lonely.  She's never seen another teenager, let alone talked to one or hung out with one.  And she wants to.  Desperately.  The scientists would scold her for entertaining such human emotions, but she can't help it.  She's been promised that someday soon she will be able to help create a boy, her perfect companion.  Together, they will create a new generation of immortals.  The trouble is, she's not sure she can wait that long.

When an illicit trek into the jungle brings Pia face-to-face with a native boy, 17-year-old Eio Farwalker, she's stunned.  Even more shocking is that she wants to see him again.  And again.  And again.  Contact with the outside world is strictly prohibited—Pia can't even imagine what will happen if she's caught.  As she struggles to deny the allure of Eio and the freedom he enjoys, she takes a hard look at her world.  For the first time, she wonders and questions and doubts the laws of her own existence.  Knowing she can't live in both worlds, Pia must make a terrifying choice—and live with the consequences, deadly though they may be.

Although the premise behind Origin by Jessica Khoury (available September 4, 2012) may not be all that original, it still makes for an exciting novel.  Don't expect an action-packed thriller, though, because the author takes her time building suspense.  This isn't a bad thing.  Not at all.  In fact, her prose has a languid loveliness to it that makes the story's subtle darkness even more affecting.  Although the plot gets predictable, I enjoyed this one—even if it was more for the storytelling than for the actual story.         

(Readalikes:  Although Origin isn't dystopian, it reminds me of books like Matched by Ally Condie and Delirium by Lauren Oliver; also a little of Partials by Dan Wells.)  

Grade:  B

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG for mild language (no F-bombs), violence and sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I received a printed ARC as well as an e-ARC (via Netgalley) of Origin from the generous folks at Razorbill (a division of Penguin).  Thank you!
Thursday, July 26, 2012

Review Part II (With a Giveaway!)

Although I'm still waaaaayyy behind on reviewing, I actually wrote the one for One Breath Away by Heather Gudenkauf over a month ago.  In the aftermath of the theater shootings in Colorado, I feel a little weird posting it, let alone offering a copy of the book as a giveaway like the book's publicist asked me to.  After debating the issue, I'm going to go ahead, if only because the novel brings to light the way shootings like these affect not just those killed or injured and their families, but all of us.

Like all of you, I was shocked to hear about the tragedy in Colorado.  Everything that could be said about it has already been said, so I'll just add that my prayers go out to all the victims.  May God bless and heal them.

Even though I didn't love, love, love One Breath Away, you might, so I'm giving you the opportunity to win a paperback copy of the book.  All you have to do is leave me a comment saying you're interested in winning.  Easy cheesy.  I'll pick a winner on August 10.  If you don't have a public blog that you update frequently, please leave your email address in your comment.  Also, because the book will be mailed by the publicist, the giveaway is only open to readers with U.S. or Canadian mailing addresses.

Another tidbit I forgot:  I was supposed to give you this link, so you can continue to follow Gudenkauf's book tour.  And, if you're interested, the author will be doing a live chat today.  You can get all the deets by clicking the icon below:

One Breath Away: Intense Premise, So-So Delivery

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

As a sudden Spring snowstorm swirls down on Broken Branch, Iowa, an armed man walks into the town's only school.  While the police scramble to figure out what's going on, parents huddle together outside the building, anxious for news.  No one knows who the gunman is, what he wants, or how far he's willing to go to make his point.  Hazardous road conditions make it impossible to bring in outside help.  Without the aid of trained SWAT teams or experienced hostage negotiators, it's up to local law enforcement to end the standoff.  They only hope it can be done quickly, peacefully, with no casualties.  As precious minutes tick by and the snow continues to fall, all the people of Broken Branch can do is wait.  And pray.  

Meg Barrett, a 33-year-old police officer, can't stop thinking about the kids trapped inside the school.  She's got to find a way to get them out, even if it means ignoring orders from her superior and going against police protocol.  Anything.  She'll do anything to save the children.  Eighth grader Augie Baker already hates Broken Branch, hates that she has to live in the middle of nowhere with the grandparents she hardly knows while her mother recovers from severe burns in Arizona.  It's just her luck that she's now locked inside the school with a madman.  But when she discovers a way to save herself, she can't do it.  Her little brother's inside the school, too, and she refuses to leave without him.  On the outside, Augie's grandfather waits helplessly, not knowing the fates of the grandchildren he's only just getting to know.  After 40 some years of teaching in Broken Branch, Mrs. Oliver's ready to retire.  She plans to end her career quietly, without a fuss, something that changes the minute a man with a gun steps into her classroom.  Now, the 65-year-old educator may be the only thing standing between a desperate, armed man and a school full of innocent children.  

Tension mounts with each passing moment.  While the police fumble around looking for answers, the townspeople grow increasingly antsy.  And angry.  When Meg discovers a personal connection to the gunman, she knows it will be up to her—and only her—to put an end to the madness.

Violence at school is every parent's worst nightmare.  Which is why it makes such excellent fodder for intense, edge-of-your-seat reading.  Add in an inexperienced police team and a snowstorm that cuts them off from any outside assistance and you've got the makings of an A-grade thriller.  That's what I expected from One Breath Away by Heather Gudenkauf after reading its very promising premise.  Did the book deliver?  Not exactly.  While the potential was definitely there, the story started too soon, forcing Gudenkauf to spend too much time filling in back story and not enough on pushing the plot forward.  A little restructuring along with some overall tightening would have resulted in a much more streamlined, pulse-pounding novel.  I still enjoyed One Breath Away, which is, overall, a fast, engrossing novel, I just wanted something more polished and, ultimately, more satisfying.  

Grade:  C

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  R for strong language and violence

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of One Breath Away by Heather Gudenkauf from the generous folks at Harlequin/MIRA and Meryl L. Moss Media Relations, Inc.  Thank you!         
Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Unique, Mesmerizing and All Those Other Adjectives That Mean Awesome ...

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Twelve high schools in three years—that's a lot, even for a troublemaker or a military brat.  But, Cas Lowood isn't either of those things.  He's a ghost hunter.  Like his father before him, Cas travels the world tracking down evil spirits.  Armed with an ancient—and lethal—weapon, he sends malevolent ghosts away forever.  Only his mother and a close circle of associates know the truth about Cas.  Outsiders can't know what he does, so he moves frequently, avoiding friendships, romances and anything else that might could tie him down.

Then, a letter written in blood leads him to Turtle Bay, Ontario, Canada.  It's a modern city, but one that hides its fair share of secrets.  And restless spirits.  One in particular has drawn Cas' interest: Anna Dressed In Blood.  Everyone in town knows the story of 16-year-old Anna Karlov, a Turtle Bay resident who was nearly decapitated on her way to prom back in 1958.  They also know what happens to anyone stupid enough to step inside the old Karlov home.  The brutal killings could be the work of some homicidal squatter living in the abandoned house, but Cas knows the truth—Anna's ghost haunts the residence.  It's not just any ghost either, but one of the most powerful he's ever encountered.  Also the most beautiful, the most mesmerizing, the most tragic.  She's killed dozens of people.  Cas has to end it, end her, but can he?  Or will he become another helpless victim, lured to his death by Anna's tale of woe?

It's hard to describe the premise of Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake, let alone explain how such a dark novel can be so compelling and beautiful.  Yes, it's a horror novel, complete with the requisite gore, but it's more than that.  It's a love story, a ghost story, a murder mystery, even a little bit of a comedy.  Unique, scary, exciting, tender, romantic, heartbreaking—it's all that.  Which is why I loved every page of Anna Dressed in Blood.  Every.  Page.  The sequel (Girl of Nightmares) comes out in 14 days and you better believe I'm counting them down.            

(Readalikes:  Reminded me a teensy bit of the John Cleaver series [I Am Not A Serial Killer; Mr. Monster; and I Don't Want to Kill You] by Dan Wells and a little bit of Ruined by Paula Morris)

Grade:  B+

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  R for strong language, violence/gore, and depictions of underage drinking  

To the FTC, with love:  I bought Anna Dressed in Blood from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.
Saturday, July 21, 2012

Sharply-Drawn Characters Make The Soldier's Wife Compelling (Updated)

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

After six months of deployment in Afghanistan, Alexa Riley's husband is finally home.  Kind of.  Although Dan's obviously overjoyed to see his family again, he's ... different.  Distant.  Alexa knows she has to give him some space, let him ease back into normal life, but every day Dan spends cavorting with his Army buddies instead of with Alexa and the kids takes her closer to the brink.  She's not sure she can take it for another day—not her marriage and certainly not the rigid, Army-controlled life she's being forced to live.  

As 34-year-old Alexa struggles to find her way in a marriage that has suddenly become very lonely, she also has to deal (alone) with the day-to-day demands of her 3-year-old twins and her 12-year-old daughter, who's acting up at boarding school.  It's like her husband's still a world away.  To complicate matters, she's got a whole slew of family members watching her every move.  They're all rooting for the marriage to work, but Alexa's just not sure she can fix it.  It's up to her to decide what's more important—her husband's military career or the needs of herself and her children. 

You don't have to be a military wife to empathize with Alexa Riley.  Any woman, especially those who are also wives and mothers, will get the heroine of The Soldier's Wife by Joanna Trollope.  They may not like her (especially since she's kind of a selfish whiner), but they'll understand her conflicted feelings.  The story does get a little depressing—overall, though, I think it's a realistic, affecting and, overall, hopeful depiction of life in a military family.  One thing the novel brings out really well is that only those who have been through it really understand what it's like to live through a deployment.  It's easy for outsiders to look at a military "widow," and say, "Why is she complaining about her husband leaving all the time?  Didn't she know what she was getting into when he enlisted?"  The answer to that question, according to Trollope, is no.  Even if you have some idea, you don't have the whole picture until you've lived through it yourself.  This theme, along with Trollope's vivid characterization (Dan's dad and grandpa are especially endearing), made The Soldier's Wife a compelling and thought-provoking read.  

(Readalikes:  The Ocean Between Us by Susan Wiggs)

Grade:  B

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  R for strong language

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Soldier's Wife from the generous folks at Simon & Schuster via Tribute Books.  Thank you!
Thursday, July 19, 2012

WWI Mystery Series Formulaic, But Entertaining

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  Although this review will not contain spoilers for An Unmarked Grave by Charles Todd, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier books in the Bess Crawford series.  These novels stand alone rather well, but I still recommend reading books in a series in order.)

After copping out on writing my own plot summary for the last book I reviewed, I planned to wow you with this one.  Yeah.  Isn't going to happen.  You want excuses?  How about a long family vacation, computer trouble, bored kids on summer break, excessive heat in the Phoenix area, yadda yadda yadda.  So, once again, please excuse my laziness and just enjoy this professionally-written jacket copy for An Unmarked Grave:
In the Spring of 1918, the Spanish flu epidemic spreads, killing millions of soldiers and civilians across the globe.  Overwhelmed by the constant flow of wounded soldiers coming from the French front, battlefield nurse Bess Crawford must now contend with hundreds of influenza patients as well.

However, war and disease are not the only killers to strike.  Bess discovers, concealed among the dead waiting for burial, the body of an officer who has been murdered.  Though she is devoted to all her patients, this soldier's death touches her deeply.  Not only did the man serve in her father's former regiment, he was also a family friend.

Before she can report the terrible news, Bess falls ill, the latest victim of the flu.  By the time she recovers, the murdered officer has been buried, and the only other person who saw the body has hanged himself.  Or did he?

Working her father's connections in the military, Bess begins to piece together what little evidence she can find to unmask the elusive killer and see justice served.  But she must be as vigilant as she is tenacious.  With a determined killer on her heels, each move Bess makes could be her last.
If you've read earlier books in the Bess Crawford series by Charles Todd, An Unmarked Grave will feel very familiar to you.  It follows the formula established in the first three novels—the headstrong Bess encounters a dead body, then heads to England to investigate the murder, a process which involves poking her nose into secrets the families of the dead would rather keep buried.  Her digging, of course, makes her a popular target for killers of all stripes.  Yes, it's formulaic, but I'm still enjoying this series.  The capable, no-nonsense Bess makes a noble heroine, even if she isn't the warmest gal on the block.  Her escapades are intriguing without being lurid, which makes them clean, compelling reads.  I am getting a little irritated with Bess' stale personal life, however and would really like to see the dashing Simon Brandon make a move, already!  A little originality in plot would also be appreciated by this reader.  Overall, though, I'm entertained by this smart, sanitized series.     

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Bess Crawford series, including A Duty to the Dead; An Impartial Witness; and A Bitter Truth; also reminds me of the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear)

Grade:  B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG for mild language (no F-bombs) and violence

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of An Unmarked Grave from the generous folks at Harper Collins and TLC Book Tours.  Thank you!
Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Miss Me?

Me and my husband at Cannon Beach, Oregon
So, you may—or may not—have noticed that I took a bit of a blogging hiatus.  It really was not an intentional break, but one that came about because my computer crapped out on me.  Thanks to Costco's superior customer service, I now have a brand spankin' new computer.  However, I'm still very, very behind on reviews, emails, blog upkeep, etc.  So, while I try to get all that in order, I'll bore entertain you with some vacation photos.

If you've read the oh, very fascinating About Me page that sits at the top of this blog, you know I hail from the beautiful Pacific Northwest.  You also know that my husband lured me away from its lush greenery, just to plunk me down in the middle of a flat, brown, scorching hot desert.  Not an easy thing for this Northwesterner.  Although I don't get back to the Motherland very often, I miss it a lot.  So, as part of our July 4th family vacation in Utah, we decided to take a little detour—to Oregon and Washington State.  It was a long drive, but worth it to see my family as well as some absolutely stunning scenery:
Multnomah Falls, Oregon
The view from my parents' deck—the gazebo is in Washington, the mountain (Mt. Hood) is across the Columbia River in Oregon.

The Bridge of the Gods—Cascade Locks, Oregon

We did tons of things during our stay in Oregon/Washington, but one of my favorite stops was, of course, a bookish one.  In the quaint little town of White Salmon (the place that bred none other than Yours Truly), we stopped in at a used bookshop owned by my parents' longtime neighbor, Joyce.  The Book Peddler is small, but cozy and—most importantly—stuffed full of books.  We all had fun browsing through its many offerings.  I was, in fact, so intent on shelf-gazing that I didn't notice my husband taking pictures.  Photos of me are never pretty, but I'm posting these anyway because I think they give you an idea of how much we enjoyed this fun, friendly shop.  If you ever happen to be in the area, it's definitely worth a look-see.  

My 10-year-old bookworm was thrilled to be able to turn the sign from  "Closed" to "Open."
Me, looking at books while my children do who-knows-what.
We liked all the fun quotes that hung throughout the store:

Well, I hope I've sufficiently distracted you from the fact that I haven't posted a new review in a while.  I'll get caught up soon, I promise.  In the meantime, enjoy the photos.  And, answer me this:  Where has this summer taken you?  Anywhere fun, exciting or breathtakingly beautiful?
Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Magic of Setting Doesn't Carry Over to Plot in New Southern Women's Novel

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Since the excessive heat here in Arizona seems to have zapped any ability I may have had to write a decent plot summary, I'm going to cheat.  Want to know what Safe Within by Jean Reynolds Page is all about?  Here's the back cover copy:  
Elaine and Carson Forsythe have returned to the tree house—Elaine's childhood home, a cabin nestled high in the branches of two oaks beside a North Carolina lake—where forty-nine-year-old Carson has chosen to spend the waning days of his life.  As Elaine prepares for a future without her beloved husband, their solace is interrupted.  Carson's mother, Greta, has set loose a neighbor's herd of alpaca and landed herself in police custody. While Carson, remarkably, sees humor in the situation, Elaine can only question what her obligations are—and will be—to a woman who hasn't spoken to her in more than twenty years.

In the wake of Carson's death, Elaine and their grown son, Mick, are thrust into the maelstrom of Greta, the mother-in-law and grandmother who never accepted either of them.  Just as they are trying to figure out their new roles in the family, Mick uncovers unexpected questions of his own.  A long-ago teenage relationship with a local girl may have left him with more than just memories, and he must get to the bottom of Greta's surprising accusations that he's not Carson's son at all.
Even with only the plot summary to go on, you can tell that Safe Within is one of those novels where the setting is as vividly portrayed as any of the characters.  Page's small, Southern town feels true-to-life, as do her story people.  Not all of them are pleasant to be around—in fact, some of them are downright depressing—but they definitely come alive for the reader.  My problem with the book has more to do with the plot, which seems to meander this way and that, without really going anywhere.  The subplots aren't any better; some feel tacked on (the whole racism thing), others (like the truth about Elaine and Wallace) are just kind of unimpressive.  Overall, Safe Within left me feeling ambivalent and a little disappointed.  I loved the novel's setting and really wanted the rest of the story to match it in originality and magic.  Bummer that it didn't.

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of books by Dorothea Benton Frank and Anne Rivers Siddons)

Grade:  C

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  R for language and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Safe Within from the generous folks at Harper Collins via those at TLC Book Tours.  Thank you!
Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Info's Good, Presentation Needs Some Work

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

How much do you know about America's battle for independence from Great Britain?  If you need a quick refresher course, you may want to check out Liberty Lee's Tail of Independence, a new picture book by Peter and Cheryl Barnes, a husband and wife team from Virginia.  Told through the eyes of a mouse named Liberty Lee, the book talks about America's settlement by English pilgrims, the colonists' disagreements with their homeland, the writing and acceptance of the Declaration of Independence, the great battles of the Revolutionary War, and the hard-won freedom we now enjoy.  Appropriately, it also discusses how the Fourth of July became an official national holiday.

As much as I appreciated the information presented in the book as well as the authors' intention to teach a valuable history lesson to children, I wasn't all that impressed with the quality of this one.  The rhymes seem clumsy, the editing needs work and the illustrations are a little rough.  The book provides important facts, I'm just not sure they're presented in a way that's going to be appealing to kids.  

Overall, I think Liberty Lee's Tail of Independence is cute and informative.  However, it needs a lot of polish.  Without it, I just don't see children reaching for this kind of book—not when there are much more engaging stories out there.  I'm hoping the series (there are several more Mouse books coming out this year) will improve with time since I really do think it gives kids valuable information.  Here's hoping ... 

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

Grade:  C

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  G

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Liberty Lee's Tail of Independence from the generous authors via the folks at TLC Book Tours.  Thank you! 
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