Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Raw, Real Medical Memoir Compulsively Readable. Really.

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

From a young age, Emily Wing felt different from the kids around her.  Her emotions seemed out-of-whack, making her feel alternately aggressive, angry, anxious, lonely, and sad.  Impulsive behavior and frequent dizziness also plagued the little girl.  Starting therapy at six helped a little.  Mostly, though, she found solace only in writing stories.  "Words never let me down," she recalls.  "With words, I never let myself down" (62).  A near-fatal accident at 12 led to a discovery that went a long way toward explaining Emily's feelings of otherness—doctors found a tumor the size of a grapefruit growing at the base of her skull.  This "miracle" find changed the life of pre-teen Emily, who was determined to overcome the lingering, debilitating effects of the brain tumor to fulfill her dream of becoming a successful author.

In the fickle world of YA lit, memoirs are a rare breed.  Cruise the teen shelves at the library or bookstore and you'll find only a few.  That's one of the reasons All Better Now, a new memoir by YA novelist Emily Wing Smith is so refreshing.  It's unique, yes, but it's also honest, funny, heartbreaking, and hopeful.  A tale like this could so easily veer into a sappy, platitude-filled story; it doesn't.  It's uplifting while remaining both raw and real.  Teens, especially, will appreciate Smith's forthrightness.  No matter their age or experience, readers' hearts will go out to young Emily, an entirely empathetic heroine with a wholly compelling story.  All Better Now is not the kind of book I usually describe as compulsively readable, but in this case, it's true.  I devoured it in one sitting.  Hand this one to teens—or anyone, really—who enjoys a quick, enlightening read that will make them look at the people around them with new eyes and a more compassionate heart. 

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of Small Steps by Peg Kehret and This Star Won't Go Out by Esther Grace Earl)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, non-graphic mention of mature subjects (prostitution, sex, child molestation, male anatomy, etc.)

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of All Better Now from Amazon using a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Dark, Disturbing Mystery a Compelling (But Depressing) Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"'Don't go pokin' through other people's closets, son.  Them skeletons can be real mean" (40).

Even on her best days, Althea Leary can be unpredictable.  Jasper, her 9-year-old son, loves it when she's warm and playful.  When she's moody or angry, however, he knows to stay out of her way. Jasper is naturally confused when, instead of going to work in Detroit one morning, his mother drops him off at his uncle's farm in the country.  Althea's smiling, trying to make the outing sound exciting, but Jasper senses something frightening beneath her false grin.  When she rushes away, he worries.  When she doesn't come week after week, he gets scared.  Where has his mother gone?

Jasper's not the only one asking that question.  Everyone, including a persistent detective, wants to know where Althea's hiding.  Jasper can't understand what's going on.  His mother is just his mother.  People are calling her a troublemaker, a hussy, saying she's gotten herself mixed up in something dangerous.  But what?  And why?  As Jasper does some snooping of his own, he stumbles on some startling truths about his mother.  His search for her takes him into a crumbling old house, some seedy city establishments, and even the mysterious Indian reservation near his uncle's farm.  Somewhere, someone knows the truth about Althea.  Jasper can't rest until he finds it, finds her.  Bad men are looking for his mom.  He has to get to her first.  Even if it means risking his life to do it.

The Buried Book by D.M. Pulley is a dark, disturbing mystery set against a bleak 1950s backdrop.  Jasper's innocence at the beginning of the book makes a stark contrast to this setting.  The boy remains a sympathetic hero throughout the novel, even though his purity is scraped away day by day as he journeys to hell and back in order to make some very adult discoveries.  His experiences make for difficult reading.  More than once, I wanted to shove this book away, but the mystery at the heart of The Buried Book brought me back.  I was as curious as Jasper to know what had happened to Althea.  Although the story's big reveals didn't end up being all that startling—or even satisfying—I kept flipping pages just so I could see how the story ended.  Despite that, I found the story so depressing overall that I kind of wish I had skipped it altogether.  
 

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Buried Book from Lake Union Publishing in return for being part of the book's tour with TLC Book Tours.  Thank you!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

TTT: And Still They Languish ...


Believe it or not (not!), I started this blog ten years ago this month.  Crazy.  It's evolved a lot since then, as have I.  Weirdly enough, in all those years, my enthusiasm for book blogging has not waned.  I still think it's a grand old time.  Will I still be doing this ten years from now?  Probably.  Here's to another decade of BBB!

I've been inhaling books for a lot longer than ten years so you'd think that I'd have read every book on my TBR list mountain mountain chain by now.  Yeah, not quite.  It's still crammed full of titles I'm hoping to get to someday.  Plenty of them have been on my radar for more than ten years, which makes this week's Top Ten Tuesday topic a cinch.  I could make several TTT lists of Books That Have Been On My TBR List Since Before I Started Blogging.  I'm guessing you could, too, so why don't you join in the fun?  Cruise on over to The Broke and the Bookish for the rules of the game, then make your own TTT list, and share it with the book blogosphere.  It's fun!

Top Ten Books That have Been On My TBR List Since Before I Started Blogging:



1.  Atonement by Ian McEwan (2003)—This Booker Prize-nominated novel seems to be about many things: writing, a crime that changes people's lives, war, and I'm not sure what else.  Lots of people love it and I've yet to read it or anything by McEwan for that matter.


2.  Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick (2006)—I bought this book at Borders back in the day.  I've been meaning to read it ever since.  My Bailey (Bayley) ancestors did not come to America on the Mayflower, but they arrived in Plymouth soon after the famous ship docked.  Mayflower is supposed to be a fascinating account of the Pilgrims and their journey to the New World.  Philbrick's In the Heart of the Sea has also been on my TBR list for some time.


3.  The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (2004)—This story about an autistic teen investigating the death of a neighborhood dog sounds quirky and interesting.  I've seen lots of praise for it over the years.  And yet, still it languishes on Ye Olde TBR ...


4.  Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (2006)—A sweeping multi-generational tale about fathers and sons, this novel came out the year I started blogging.  Still haven't gotten around to it.


5.  The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst (2004)—This tale about a man who tries to make sense of his wife's death by performing experiments to teach his dog to speak sounds ... unusual.  Also heartbreaking.  I'm still curious about it.  One of these days I'll finally get to it.  Maybe.


6.  Eragon by Christopher Paolini (2001)—Admittedly, I'm not a huge dragon/fantasy fan.  Still, so many people love the Inheritance Cycle series that I need to at least give it a go.  The fact that Paolini wrote the first book when he was just 15 is another reason to check it out.


7.  I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak (2002)—Like many people, I've only read one book by Zusak—The Book Thief.  Some of my most trusted book blogging friends (I'm looking at you, Suey and Jenny) think he's written more than one great novel.  I need to see for myself.  This particular Zusak has been on my TBR list for far too long.  It's about time I just read I Am the Messenger already!


8.  The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (1998)—I love post-apocalyptic books, but for some reason I just can't ever get very far in this one.  Not because it's not intriguing, just because I always get distracted by newer, shinier books.


9.  Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach (2004)—I've heard so many great things about Roach's books, this one in particular, that it's a wonder I still haven't read her.  I need to remedy that right away.


10.  Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon (1992)—I was completely swept away by Outlander when I read it way back when.  Why I didn't grab this sequel immediately I'm not sure.  I'll have to read Outlander again before I can continue on with this series, so who knows if it will ever actually happen?  I like big books (and I cannot lie), but re-reading has never been my favorite thing.

So, there you have it.  What do you think?  Have you read any of these?  Do you consider any of them must-reads or can they linger on the TBR list?  I'd love to have a look at your list.  Leave me a comment on this post and I'll gladly return the favor.

Happy TTT!  

(All book images from Barnes & Noble)

Dark, Twisty Thriller as Surprise-Filled as the Thames Itself

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for A Dark and Twisted Tide, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier Lacey Flint mysteries.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.  Actually, in the case of this author, I recommend reading her books in order of publication to avoid spoilers about secondary, but recurring characters.)

After investigating several harrowing cases with a London homicide team, Detective Constable Lacey Flint has had enough.  She now works for the city's Marine Unit.  As if patrolling the water all day isn't enough, she's also moved into a houseboat on the Thames.  Much to her surprise, the intensely private Lacey actually enjoys being part of the floating community with its laidback lifestyle and quirky residents.  She's even taken to wild-swimming in the Thames, a dangerous hobby that appeals to Lacey's reckless side.  Add in a satisfying relationship with DI Mark Joesbury and the former homicide detective is about as happy as she's ever been.  

Then Lacey makes a gruesome discovery.  Considering the Thames is infamous for producing at least a corpse a week, Lacey shouldn't be shocked to bump into a dead body during one of her clandestine swims.  Still, it's a surprise to find the shrouded remains of a young Middle Eastern woman bobbing in the water.  And that's only the first one.  After several similar finds, it becomes obvious that someone is trying to get Lacey's attention.  Drawn once more into a puzzling murder mystery, she scrambles for answers while a sinister presence stalks her every move.  Already paranoid, Lacey's also hearing disturbing rumors about Joesbury.  With both her personal and professional lives in turmoil, she's got to figure out what's going on.  And fast.  Before her own corpse becomes the next to surface out of the murky depths of the River Thames.

Fresh is not an adjective normally associated with the Thames, but in this case it fits.  That's because the unique riverboat community setting in A Dark and Twisted Tide breathes fresh, new life into Sharon Bolton's already-excellent Lacey Flint series.  It adds an extra element of color and intrigue that makes this, the fourth installment, stand out.  Like its predecessors, A Dark and Twisted Tide also features interesting characters, vivid storytelling, and enough plot twists to make your head spin.  My only complaint is that Joesbury is more off-scene than on in this one.  Otherwise, I really enjoyed this riveting thriller.

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Lacey Flint series, including Now You See Me; If Snow Hadn't Fallen [novella]; Dead Scared; Lost; and Here Be Dragons [novella])

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language, violence, blood/gore, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Monday, August 22, 2016

Exotic Setting, Engrossing Plot Make Mesopotamian Adventure/Romance a Unique YA Treat

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Banished, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its predecessor, Forbidden.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

After witnessing the man to whom she's betrothed kill the man she loves, Jayden believes she has lost everything.  Estranged from her tribe, separated from her family, and on the run from Horeb—her bloodthirsty fiancĂ©—the desperate 18-year-old combs the desert to confirm a rumor that her beloved Kadesh yet lives.  Alive, but gravely wounded, Kadesh insists they flee to the far-off southern lands of his birth.  Only there, in a place of peace, can he safely wed Jayden, making her his Princess of Sariba.  Longing for a happily ever after far from the clutches of the vile Horeb, Jayden joins Kadesh's caravan of soldiers for the lengthy and dangerous journey. 

Although she's thrilled to be on her way, Jayden can't rest easy.  She worries about Horeb, who's only weeks away with his own army; about her lost sisters, whom she may never see again; about her young bodyguard, who may not be as trustworthy as he seems; and about Kadesh, who appears to be keeping important secrets from her.  How well does Jayden really know the man she's following to Sariba?  Will he fulfill the promises he's made to her or abandon her in a foreign land?  With danger lurking around every sand dune, Jayden must decide where her loyalties really lie.  All she wants is safety for herself and her family.  Where will she find it?  In Tadmur with a man who's loathsome but powerful or in Sariba with Kadesh, the prince she loves but hardly knows?  As she fights for survival, Jayden must decide whom to trust—with her love, her lot, and the lives of everyone she loves. 

I've been a big fan of Kimberley Griffiths Little ever since I discovered her middle grade "bayou books" a few years ago.  Although her YA trilogy takes place far, far away from the Louisana swampland, the series has everything I've come to love about Little's storytelling—a vivid, atmospheric setting; colorful, intriguing characters; a compelling, fast-paced plot; and a sprinkle of magic that spices her novels with that something special that is hard to describe but easily identifiable as vintage KGL.  Banished, the second book in the series, blends all of these elements to continue the riveting story begun in Forbidden.  Although I found Banished a tad more predictable than its predecessor, I still raced through it, unable to stop until I knew what happened to Jayden.  Since there's one more book in the trilogy (Returned, coming February 2017), it's a given that our heroine will not find her HEA quite yet.  Banished is a satisfying read in and of itself, true, but it will definitely leave you hungering for Returned.  All I can say is, February, come soon!  

(Readalikes:  Forbidden by Kimberley Griffiths Little; also, the publisher compares the trilogy to Cleopatra's Moon by Vicky Alvear Schecter and The Red Tent by Anita Diamant)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs); violence; blood/gore; sensuality; and (non-graphic) references to rape, prostitution, and sexual slavery

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Banished from the generous folks at HarperCollins.  Thank you!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Creepy Gothic Thriller Utterly Compelling, Deeply Disturbing

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Heptonclough is an idyllic little town on the moors in Northern England.  Gareth Fletcher and his American wife, Alice,  are thrilled to find a beautiful house there that seems perfect for them and their three young children.  Tom, Joe, and Millie have plenty of room to roam, even if their favorite playground has become the old church cemetery next door.  

Expecting a warm country welcome, the Fletchers are dismayed by the chilly reception they receive from the townspeople.  A series of silly pranks convince the family that someone is not only watching them, but also trying to drive them away.  As the pranks become more intense, Tom seems especially disturbed.  Convinced he's being haunted by a dead girl, the 10-year-old tries to convince the people around him of looming danger.

Harry Laycock, a vicar from Newcastle, is also new to Heptonclough.  Charged with re-opening the church next to the Fletcher's house, which has been closed for the last ten years, he's as spooked as Tom.  Something's not right in Heptonclough—he feels it, too.  It can't be a coincidence that three toddler girls died in the church during its closure, can it?  With little Millie scampering around the church grounds, Harry feels a distinct sense of foreboding.  Is the youngest Fletcher in danger?  Or is Harry's imagination working overtime, just like Tom's?  

When Joe and Millie go missing in turn, it's up to the newcomers to figure out what's really going on in a small town with big secrets.  

I've mentioned that I'm a big Sharon/S.J. Bolton fan, yeah?  At least a time or two (or three or ten ...), I'm sure.  This is because the author always delivers a taut, twisty story that hooks me right from the start and keeps me riveted until the very end.  Always.  Hence, my book-binging, blog-burbling, Bolton-bent fangirling.  She's good, y'all.  Her books are not for the feint of heart (or stomach), but if you're down for a gritty, gripping thriller, she's your girl.

Before writing the Lacey Flint series, Bolton penned several standalone thrillers.  Blood Harvest is the third (after Sacrifice in 2008 and Awakening in 2009).  It's a creepy gothic thriller with an atmospheric setting, intriguing characters, and the surprising twist and turns that are Bolton's particular forte.  Both utterly compelling and deeply disturbing, Blood Harvest is another addicting page turner that I just could not put down.  It's not my favorite of Bolton's standalones (that would be Little Black Lies), but it's just as compelling as all her other books.  I should know because I've read—no, devoured—them all. 

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of other Bolton thrillers, especially Awakening)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Binge-Reading Bolton Doesn't Stop My Yearning for More DC Flint

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  Although this review will not contain spoilers for Lost, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier Lacey Flint mysteries.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.  Actually, with Sharon [S.J.] Bolton, I advise reading her novels in order of publication.  That way you can avoid spoilers for all characters, including minor but recurring ones.)

After barely surviving her last case (Dead Scared), Detective Constable Lacey Flint is in no condition to do her job.  She's on sick leave, a temporary reprieve she wants to make permanent.  Hiding out in her flat, Lacey refuses to accept any communication from the Southwark police.  Not even from Detective Inspector Mark Joesbury, who stands by the confession he made to her on a dark night at Cambridge University.  His feelings for Lacey won't allow him to abide by her request to leave her in "peace."

Although she's not on the beat, Lacey can't ignore the murders that have London on high alert.  Four young boys have been killed and another is missing.  She doesn't want to get involved, but Lacey's concerned for her neighbor, an 11-year-old boy who is often left home alone.  Barney Roberts wants to ask DC Flint to help him find the murderer, but he doesn't want to freak her out, especially since he's pretty sure he knows the identity of the killer.  Instead, he goes to her with a more benign request, a plea to help him find his mother who disappeared when Barney was four.  Lacey agrees, even though the darkness inside her makes it difficult for her to step outside her own pain.  

In the meantime, Lacey's superiors are on the hunt for a killer who handles the bodies of dead boys with a gentle, almost womanly touch.  DI Tulloch has always suspected the intensely private Lacey of harboring homicidal tendencies.  Is this her work?  Barney's suspicions hit even closer to home.  Can Joesbury and Tulloch root out the murderer before more boys end up dead?  Has DC Flint finally gone over the edge?  And what of Barney's mother—can Lacey help a suffering boy find the answers he needs?  Can she protect him from the monster who preys on boys like him?  Or is she, in fact, the killer for whom all of London is searching?

You may have noticed that I'm a little obsessed with the Lacey Flint series by Sharon (S.J.) Bolton.  These mysteries are so addicting that I finally binge-read them all one weekend just so I could get on with my life already!  Even though all the books are gritty and gruesome, I find DC Flint appealing enough to follow anywhere.  She's an intriguing heroine—tough, mysterious, and brave.  And yet she has flaws that are sometimes shocking, but always humanizing.  A fascinating leading lady for sure!  I missed Lacey's narrative voice in Lost, the third installment in the series, which is told mostly from perspectives other than DC Flint's.  Still, the novel's plot is just as twisty and compelling as those of its predecessors, meaning that—once again—I was up until the wee hours rushing to the end of a Sharon Bolton book because I couldn't sleep without finishing.  These books are that addicting.  I literally have a tough time putting them down.  See why I had to read them all in one go?  Only problem is now I'm yearning for more Lacey Flint.  When will she make a re-appearance?  Even her creator doesn't know.  How will I cope with that kind of uncertainty?  I don't know, y'all, I just don't know ... #bookaddictproblems

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Lacey Flint series, including Now You See Me; If Snow Hadn't Fallen [novella]; Dead Scared; A Dark and Twisted Tide; and Here Be Dragons)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Winning Bolton Formula Makes Gritty Psychological Thriller A Gripping Page Turner

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Dead Scared, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its predecessor, Now You See Me.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.  Actually, the best way to read S.J. [Sharon] Bolton's books is in order of publication—that way you can avoid spoilers concerning all characters, especially minor but recurring ones.)

A string of gruesome suicides at Cambridge University has everyone on edge.  Evi Oliver (whose back story is told in Blood Harvest), the head of student counseling, thinks there's more to the story, especially since the dead women all complained of similar problems—disturbing nightmares, terrifying hallucinations, crippling insomnia, etc—prior to their deaths.  This "coincidence" has all her Spidey senses on alert.  Something strange is going on at the university and she wants to know what.  Luckily, Dr. Oliver has friends in high places.  

Not entirely convinced that anything sinister is going on, Detective Inspector Mark Josebury is nevertheless tasked with finding answers.  The only way to do that, he knows, is to send in an undercover agent.  Unfortunately, Detective Constable Lacey Flint is perfect for the job.  Not only does she look younger than her 27 years, but she's as scarred and vulnerable as the students who allegedly ended their own lives.  If someone is indeed luring susceptible women to their deaths, that someone should find Lacey Flint especially alluring.  Joesbury has more than a passing interest in Lacey's welfare; despite his reluctance, he gives her the job.

Lacey moves into a room recently vacated by a first-year medical student who tried to commit suicide by lighting herself on fire.  As she makes discreet inquiries around campus, the detective finds herself plagued by the same issues the dead women experienced.  Is it just the stress of the investigation getting to her?  Or has Lacey become the target of someone's cruel jokes?  Is she the next victim of a sadistic killer or does her enemy exist only in the murky depths of her tortured mind?  How can Lacey find answers for Joesbury when she doesn't even know what's going on in her own head?

I fell in love with the vulnerable but tough-as-nails Lacey Flint when I first met her in Now You See Me by S.J. Bolton.  She's a complex heroine, a woman who is full of surprises—and secrets.  This makes her endlessly fascinating to me.  I would probably read any story that featured such a rich, compelling lead character, but Bolton is an author who knows how to deliver on multiple levels.  Like Now You See Me, Dead Scared combines an intriguing cast with a didn't-see-that-coming plotline that unfolds with unrelenting tension to create the kind of mesmerizing, mind-twisting page turner that is literally impossible to put down.  Although I've come to expect this winning combination from Bolton, I'm still taken by surprise at how thoroughly she hooks me with this formula.  Every.  Single.  Time.  Dead Scared is grim and gritty, to be sure.  It's also gripping.  So much so that once you start the book, you won't be able to stop.  Consider yourself warned.

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Lacey Flint series, including Now You See Me; If Snow Hadn't Fallen; Lost; A Dark and Twisted Tide; and Here Be Dragons)

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 disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Treasure-Hunting Mystery/Romance Intrigues But Doesn't Satisfy

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Liv Connelly has always been fascinated by the story of the Patriot, a schooner that vanished without a trace off the Carolina coast in 1813.  No one knows what befell those aboard the missing vessel. Liv's especially curious about the fate of the ship's most famous passenger, Theodosia Burr Alston, the beloved 29-year-old daughter of Aaron Burr.  What happened to "Theo"?  Did she drown in stormy waters?  Was she taken captive by greedy pirates?  Theories abound.  Liv wants the truth.  Although crippling asthma and a paranoid, anxiety-ridden father keep her grounded, she longs to comb the ocean floor for clues, to solve the mystery for herself.

Her obsession with shipwrecks leads Liv to two men, both graduate students in marine archaeology.  Whit Crosby and Sam Felder couldn't be more different—the former is spontaneous, unpredictable; the latter calm and controlled.  The friendship between the three is exciting but rocky.  

Thirteen years after they all meet, Liv is married to Whit; the couple has been estranged from Sam for years.  That all changes when they need his help on a dive.  Sam's return brings a tornado of emotions for Liv.  Sam's obviously looking for a second chance, not just with Liv but at fulfilling their shared dream of finding the Patriot.  With her business in the red and her marriage on the rocks, it's time for Liv to finally decide what—and who—she really wants.

It's difficult not to be intrigued by the mystery at the heart of The Last Treasure by Erika Marks.  I'd never heard of the Patriot before picking up the novel, but now I, too, wonder what happened to Theodosia and her fellow passengers.  It's a puzzle, the possible solutions of which kept me reading this book despite not feeling overly connected to its players.  I'm not fond of love triangles to begin with—I especially dislike them when those involved are fickle, selfish, and just not all that likable, a description which fits Whit, Liv, and Sam.  This, coupled with a loosey-goosey plot that focused more on romance than mystery, made The Last Treasure a bit of a disappointment for me.  I wanted to like it a lot more than I actually did.  Oh well.

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

Grade:



 If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a few F-bombs plus milder expletives) and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Last Treasure from the generous folks at Penguin.  Thank you!

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Simple Yet Compelling Novella Fulfills Its Purpose and Entertains at the Same Time

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

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

"'There's a killer in every village.  In every home.  In every heart,' Gamache said.  'All anyone needs is the right reason.'"

Three Pines is a peaceful hamlet hidden in the countryside between Quebec and the U.S. border.  It's a place where friends meet in the cozy bistro, out-of-towners relax at the spa on the hill, and broken people from all over the globe come to mend.  Violence seems incongruous with the town's warmth and beauty.  And yet, the village has become a magnet for murder.  Just ask Armand Gamache, Chief Inspector of the SĂ»rete du QuĂ©bec—Three Pines has practically become his second home.

The head of homicide is summoned to town once again when a jogger discovers a body hanging from a tree in the woods.  Although the dead man was staying at the spa, he was doing so under an assumed name.  Who was this "Arthur Ellis"?  What was he doing in Three Pines?  Did he come to the village to commit suicide or was he murdered?  Armand Gamache will soon find out.

Although The Hangman features Louise Penny's iconic detective, the author says the novella isn't really part of the Armand Gamache series.  Written as part of a literacy campaign to supply emergent adult readers with material suitable to their reading level, the story is, according to Penny, "Very clear, very simple.  Not really the most complex plot or style, for obvious reasons."  By publication date (2010), the novella fits in between Bury Your Dead and A Trick of the Light.  Despite its shorter, simpler form, I found The Hangman both compelling and surprising.  Naturally, it lacks the fullness of a longer Gamache mystery, which made it a less pleasurable (for me, anyway) read than Penny's thicker tomes.  Still, I appreciate that The Hangman achieves the purpose for which it was created.  I'm not an emergent reader, but I still enjoyed the read. 

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Armand Gamache series, including Still Life; A Fatal Grace; The Cruelest Month; A Rule Against Murder; The Brutal Telling; Bury Your Dead; 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 (no F-bombs) and violence

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

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Quick, Timely Read Another Winner for Bolton

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  Although this review will not contain spoilers for If Snow Hadn't Fallen, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its predecessor, Now You See Me.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

It's only been a few weeks since Lacey Flint did battle with a Jack the Ripper copycat killer.  Emotionally and physically spent from the ordeal, the 29-year-old detective constable has been ordered to rest up in her South London flat.  Off-duty though she is supposed to be, Lacey can't ignore a call for back-up that comes over the police scanner.  She rushes to the scene just in time to witness a Muslim man being burned to death.

The horrific murder of Aamir Chowdhury—a very private 29-year-old doctor—shocks Lacey to her core.  She can't un-see the flames that consumed his body.  Vowing to find Aamir's killer no matter the cost, she flings herself into solving the baffling case.  Twists abound in the investigation, leading Lacey down more sinister paths than she could ever imagine.

If Snow Hadn't Fallen by Sharon Bolton is a novella that fits neatly between Now You See Me and Dead Scared, the first two books in the author's riveting Lacey Flint series.  Like the other installments, it's an exciting read with a surprise ending.  The problem at the story's core is both timely and compelling making If Snow Hadn't Fallen even more impacting.  The shorter format ensures a quick read, which will definitely appeal to Lacey Flint fans who want a juicy tidbit to snack on between bigger "meals."  If you're a fan of this dark, twisty series (as I definitely am), you won't want to miss If Snow Hadn't Fallen.

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Lacey Flint series, including Now You See Me; Dead Scared; Lost; A Dark and Twisted Tide; and Here Be Dragons [novella])

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (two F-bombs) and violence

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of If Snow Hadn't Fallen from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha. 

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Bloggin' Beyond Books: Finding My Own Family Saga


If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you've no doubt noticed I have a thing for family sagas.  Give me a thick, juicy multi-generational tale and you won't see me for hours.  Stories like that just have it all—adventure, romance, mystery, suspense, etc.  Have you ever considered that these same elements exist in everyone's family?  That your own history may be just as exciting—perhaps even more so—than those you read about in books?  It's true.  With a little bit of digging, you can uncover remarkable stories about your own ancestors.  Better yet?  You can do it while sitting at home in your PJs.  Check out familysearch.org, a free, user-friendly site where you can build your family tree, search thousands of historical records, and collaborate with others to piece together the stories of your ancestors.

Don't be surprised if after running a few searches you find yourself completely addicted to researching your family history.  It's fun, fascinating stuff.  It can also be frustrating and, at some point, you will probably need some professional advice to help you flush out hard-to-find ancestors.  This is where conferences come in.  I attended RootsTech a couple years ago; it was helpful, but I actually learned more from the 2016 Conference on Family History & Genealogy at Brigham Young University, which I attended last week.  The annual event's smaller, more intimate setting kept me from feeling too overwhelmed, but I still came away from it with some great information and helpful hints and tools to use in my own research.

The conference stretched over four days and offered classes for genealogists at the beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels.  A large variety of topics were discussed, including how to track immigrant ancestors across the pond, how to search un-indexed probate records, ways to do family history work on your phone/tablet, and different approaches to publishing your own story.  There was also a track for teens as well as one for those trying to complete ICAPGen requirements.  Classes were taught by genealogy professionals with years of experience.  I especially enjoyed classes taught by Michael Strauss, Lisa Louise Cooke, and Paul Milner.  The keynote addresses this year were also excellent.  Paul Cardall, a concert pianist with congenital heart disease, gave an inspiring talk about how researching his wife's roots in Slovenia changed his life.  Steve Rockwood, president/CEO of FamilySearch, also gave a touching presentation about making family history more accessible to people all over the globe.  "We are here to save families," he said, "and to save the family."

Conference attendees were reminded many times of the vital role that historical records play in family history research.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has been engaged for many years in preserving and digitizing these valuable resources.  Despite long-term efforts to index millions of records (making them keyword searchable for FREE to anyone with an Internet connection), only about 30% of the records published on FamilySearch have been indexed.  That means there is much, much more to be done!  If you're not already in on the Church's online indexing effort, consider volunteering.  It's a fun, easy way to make sure records are preserved and can be easily found.  You don't have to be LDS to join in.  For more information, visit https://familysearch.org/indexing/

Thanks to BYU, my husband and I ("official conference bloggers") were able to lunch in the Morrison Center cafeteria every day.  When we were poor college students, we used to pool our pennies and buy ice cream sundaes there to share, so it was a blast from the past.  It also gave us the opportunity to get to know other attendees, like Diana and Nicole from the Family Locket (they have a fun book club feature you might want to check out).  We enjoyed swapping stories and family history tips with all our tablemates.

As you can tell, my husband and I thoroughly enjoyed the conference this year.  We also had fun just being back on BYU campus, where we met each other as freshmen in 1994.  If you've never been to Provo, you're missing out.  It's a beautiful, family-friendly city surrounded by towering mountains.  Although my favorite time to be in Utah Valley is during the splendorous Fall season, summer is an excellent time to visit as well.  The nights cool off nicely, making the evenings perfect for enjoying a drive up the canyon, taking in a play at Sundance, or exploring the restaurants and shops downtown.  BYU is also a fun place to roam around.  It has a large family history center, free museums, a bowling alley, and, most important of all, the BYU Creamery.  I worked at the original Deseret Towers location for two years, so I can say with authority that it has the best ice cream in town (I recommend Pralines and Caramel and Bishop's Bash).

One word of warning: if you're planning to attend the conference next year (and you totally should), bring a seat cushion.  Your buns will thank you.  Also, if you're cruising up from Arizona, consider driving a convertible.  We traveled in my husband's Mini Cooper and had a blast zipping through the desert.  As we rounded both Mormon Lake and Jacob Lake, we got to inhale the most intoxicating elixir ever—pine mixed with rain—while blasts of cool wind ripped through our hair and our faces got misted with rain.  Pure heaven.

Many thanks to BYU and to Mormon Life Hacker for this fabulous opportunity.  We loved this year's informative, enjoyable conference.  We're looking forward to doing it again next year!
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