Saturday, December 31, 2016

Mormon Mention: Laura McNeal

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

-- 

In The Incident on the Bridge by Laura McNeal, police officer Elaine Lord says this about her partner:

"Skelly was just like her nephews.  Money was for buying nice cars, plain and simple.  She hadn't wanted to work with him at first because of his various childlike views and because he was a twenty-five-year-old Mormon the size of Sasquatch.  It had turned out, though, that he gave her a little of the old hope and ardor.  Not a lot of hope and ardor, but a little" (38).

-- Not only did I not expect a Mormon Mention to crop up in a YA mystery novel set in California, but I was surprised by its positive nature.  After a little sleuthing (including an email to the kind and patient Laura McNeal), I discovered that the author grew up LDS.  Although she now considers herself a secular humanist, she respects her Mormon family and friends and "the grace and strength their faith gives them."  This respect is definitely reflected in her portrayal of Skelly.  

YA Mystery-That's-Not-A-Mystery Falls Flat

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Thisbe Locke isn't the kind of girl who would commit suicide.  Sure, she was upset about breaking up with her user boyfriend.  And she was definitely feeling humiliated after an embarrassing incident at a party.  Still.  The 17-year-old was a good student with a bright future.  She wouldn't have thrown that all away, would she?  It's hard to imagine any other scenario, though, since Thisbe was last seen alone on a bridge.  One thing is for sure: Thisbe Locke is missing, presumed dead. 

Ted, Thisbe's 14-year-old sister, refuses to believe Thisbe killed herself.  She's determined to prove the police's theory wrong, to find out what really happened to her sister.  With the help of newcomer Fin and other invested parties, she'll have to fit together the scattered pieces of a confusing puzzle to find the truth about Thisbe's fate.

You all know I like me a good whodunit.  A YA whodunit is even better since they're so few and far between.  The weird thing about The Incident on the Bridge by Laura McNeal is that although it sounds like a mystery, it isn't.  Not really.  Why?  Because McNeal tells us what happened to Thisbe very early on in the book.  An odd storytelling device, this sucks all the suspense out of the story making it feel dull and anticlimactic.  Another problem is the narration by multiple characters (some of whom are adults—not something you usually see in teen fiction).  By not focusing on one person's point of view, it makes it difficult to really know or care about any of them.  I did like the book's atmospheric Coronado Island setting.  Overall, though, The Incident on the Bridge just wasn't a very fulfilling read for me.  Ah 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 handful of F-bombs plus milder expletives) and depictions of underage drinking and the use of illegal drugs

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Dark, Disturbing Daisy in Chains My Least Favorite From a New Favorite

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Hamish Wolfe has everything a woman could ask for in a man.  The 38-year-old cancer surgeon is successful, wealthy, handsome, and in great physical shape.  He's charismatic, bursting with natural charm.  In spite of his imprisonment, the convicted serial killer has a whole fan club of women writing him letters, sending him money, and begging for conjugal visits.  Many of them believe what Hamish has always insisted—he's innocent of the murders he's been accused of committing—while others couldn't care less.  A prison romance isn't what Hamish wants, however.  All he desires is for his story—the real story—to be told.

A defense attorney who writes true crime books, Maggie Rose is known for her astounding success rate at overturning solid convictions.  When Hamish first asks her to write his story, she ignores his pleas.  The more he contacts her, though, the more her resolve crumbles.  Like the so-called "Wolfe Pack," Maggie doesn't seem able to resist the alluring inmate.  Although his case seems airtight, she finds enough cracks in it to investigate further.  With the help of DS Pete Weston, she follows some puzzling clues to discover the strange and twisted truth about what really happened to the four overweight women allegedly murdered by Hamish Wolfe.  

If you've been hanging out with me here at BBB this year, you already know about the great author discovery I made this year.  After reading Little Black Lies by English mystery writer Sharon Bolton, I knew I had to read everything else she'd ever written.  So I did.  Although her novels are dark, violent, and chilling, they never fail to pull me in.  Bolton's clever plotting always keeps me reading, wide-eyed, until I reach a book's shocking finale.  What can I say?  I'm a fan.  So, when I heard about Bolton's newest book, Daisy in Chains, I was naturally excited to read it.  Like the author's previous work, this one boasts a compelling plot with lots of twists and turns.  Although I saw the big surprise ending coming (at least in part), I still found the novel wholly engrossing.  That being said, I also found parts of Daisy in Chains extremely disturbing and difficult to read.  And yet, I could not put it down.  Overall, this was definitely not my favorite Bolton novel (that would be Little Black Lies)—in fact, I think it's my least favorite.  Still, it's a taut page turner that will keep thriller fans whipping through it until way past their bedtimes.  If they can stomach its more unsavory aspects, that is.

(Readalikes:  Other books by Sharon Bolton, including the Lacey Flint series [Now You See Me; If Snow Hadn't Fallen (novella); Dead Scared; Lost; A Dark and Twisted Tide; and Here Be Dragons (novella)] and Sacrifice; Awakening; Blood Harvest; and Little Black Lies)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language, violence, sexual content, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Daisy in Chains from the generous folks at Minotaur Books (a division of Macmillan/St. Martin's Press).  Thank you!

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Trespasser Another Engrossing Thriller in a Series That Never Disappoints

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Antoinette Conway has finally reached her goal of being on the illustrious Dublin Murder Squad.  But after two years on the job, the 32-year-old detective still doesn't feel like part of the team.  As the only female member, she always seems to be the target of practical jokes, cruel taunts, and sexist sneering.  Antoinette has a tough shell, but after everything she's been through, it's starting to crack.

Used to receiving the worst cases, Antoinette and her partner—the affable Steve Moran—see their newest assignment as another hum drum domestic dispute.  Aislinn Murray, a pretty receptionist, has been found dead in her immaculate home, her body cooling next to a romantic table setting for two.  Her boyfriend, an intense bookstore owner, seems the obvious killer.  But, as Conway and Moran soon discover, there is much more to the story than meets the eye.  For one thing, Antoinette recognizes Aislinn.  She can't quite put her finger on it, but the detective knows the victim.  If only she could remember how ...

As the investigation goes deeper, Antoinette is feeling increasingly paranoid.  Her "partners" on the squad are trying to get rid of her, even Steve—her only ally—seems to be turning on her, and she's noticed a shadowy presence lurking outside her house.  Can Antoinette figure out what happened to Antoinette before she, herself, becomes a victim?  Who is Aislinn and why was she killed?  The faster Antoinette finds out, the safer she'll be.

I've enjoyed every book in Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series.  Each stars a different detective on the Squad, some of who are more intriguing than others.  Antoinette, star of French's newest novel, The Trespasser, is interesting enough.  Tough and brave, she's easy to cheer on and admire.  Like all French's books, The Trespasser boasts a twisty, compelling plot that's guaranteed to keep readers whipping through pages way past bedtime.  Although this isn't my favorite of the series, I enjoyed it.  I could have done without all the profanity, but I endure it because I'm such a big French fan.  If she writes it, I'll read it.  

(Readalikes: Other books in the series including In the Woods; The Likeness; Faithful Place; Broken Harbor; and The Secret Place)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, blood/gore, sexual content, and depictions of illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Trespasser from the generous folks at Viking (an imprint of Penguin Random House) via those at Edelweiss.  Thank you!

Sprinkles of Magical Realism Make MG Coming-of-Age Story Unique

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The last place 12-year-old Carol wants to spend her summer vacation is on an isolated sheep ranch in the New Mexico desert.  While her friends are lounging by the pool, she'll be sweating to death as she helps care for an elderly stranger with dementia.  Yes, Serge is her grandfather, but it's not like she's ever met him before.  Unfortunately, there's nothing she can do to change her pathetic situation—her stressed-out parents need Carol's help to clean up and sell the ranch so they can move Grandpa Serge into a care home.  

Carol doesn't take most of what Serge says seriously.  His mind is going, right?  So, why does it sting so much when he admonishes her not to spit on her Mexican heritage?  And why do his crazy stories about a healing tree and magic bees strike such a chord with her?  Grandpa Serge has no idea what he's talking about.  Or does he?  

As Carol learns to appreciate the things that matter most, she'll come to some surprising conclusions about herself, her family, and a desolate ranch that's filled with more possibility than she ever could have imagined. 

Hour of the Bees, a debut novel by Lindsay Eager, tells a compelling coming-of-age story about roots, relationships, and redemption.  Its blend of magical realism and plain ole realism makes it unique.  Carol's voice seems authentically twelve, in all of its whiny/whimsical glory.  The tale does get preachy and overly sentimental, especially toward the end.  It also has a very far-fetched finale that kind of soured the story for me.  Overall, though, Hour of the Bees makes for an enjoyable read with some important messages.  Be warned, though:  the heavy subject matter might be a tad much for more sensitive middle grade readers.


Grade: 


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for scary scenes/scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Hour of the Bees from the generous folks at Candlewick Press.  Thank you!

Moriarty's Newest Disappointingly Charmless

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Isn't it strange how—sometimes—the smallest, most insignificant decision in the world can change everything about your world?  This is the idea at the center of Truly Madly Guilty, a new domestic drama by popular Australian author Liane Moriarty.  And it's an intriguing one, for sure.  The novel lacks a lot of the charm of her previous books, yes, but it's still a compelling tale about the tiny, obscure moments in which life changes irrevocably.

Truly Madly Guilty is about three couples living in Sydney, Australia.  Erika and Oliver are both serious, orderly accountants.  Infertility has left them childless; Oliver, in particular, longs for a biological son or daughter.  Sam and Clementine Hart have two children, both of whom keep them extremely busy.  A freelance cellist, Clementine is flighty and scattered, as different from Erika as she could be.  Vid and Tiffany—along with their larger-than-life personalities and their 10-year-old daughter, Dakota—live next door to Erika and Oliver.  When the colorful couple invites Erika and Oliver over for a barbecue, and Erika invites Sam and Clementine, things take an unexpected turn.  The events of the evening will leave all three couples questioning everything they know about themselves—and each other.

After reading Big Little Lies and several other novels by Liane Moriarty, I've become a big fan.  I love the author's sharp observations about love, friendship, marriage, family, and human nature in general.  Her stories are warm and funny, but also thoughtful and complex.  So, yeah, I get excited when Moriarty publishes a new book.  Unfortunately, I found Truly Madly Guilty disappointing.  Connecting with the characters—especially the women, who all seemed selfish and cold—was difficult for me.  The overall story didn't grab my attention like Moriarty's others; it felt lacking somehow.  It does have excellent pacing, however.  The back-and-forth-in-time narration generates suspense, which just continues to build until the finale finally reveals all.  Although I didn't care much about the characters in Truly Madly Guilty, I definitely wanted to know what the heck happened at the ill-fated barbecue.  In the end, though, I found Moriarty's newest disappointing.  I wanted to love it as much as I have her previous novels, but ... I didn't.  Bummer.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other novels by Liane Moriarty, including Big Little Lies; The Husband's Secret; and What Alice Forgot)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language, sexual content, violence, and disturbing subject matter

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

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Taut, Terrifying Page Turner Keeps Me Up Way Past My Bedtime

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Rachel Jenner is already unsettled after the recent breakup of her marriage.  The last thing she needs in her fragile state is another traumatic event.  But that's exactly what she gets when she takes her 8-year-old son for a walk.  It's an ordinary outing on an ordinary day.  Until Ben runs ahead of his mom and vanishes in the forest.  As the minutes tick by without the boy's reappearance, Rachel grows concerned, then worried, then panicked.  Where is Ben?  What has happened to her son?

When searchers fail to find the child, an official police investigation is launched.  Clues lead in all kinds of directions, with suspicion falling on strangers as well as everyone with whom Rachel has ever been close.  Even Rachel, herself, is viewed with distrust.  All she wants is to find her son.  But who took him?  And why?  Is Ben even still alive?  Gripped with guilt for allowing Ben to disappear, Rachel will do anything to bring him back.  Detective Inspector Jim Clemo is just as obsessed.  Will their efforts pay off or come to naught?  The clock is ticking and everyone's a suspect ...

Anyone who reads this blog with any regularity knows I love me a good psychological thriller.  And, let me tell you, What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan definitely qualifies.  The story is taut, terrifying (especially for a mother), and twisty.  I fell for every one of the story's red herrings, which made the whole novel a riveting page turner for me.  It wasn't until 1 a.m. that I finally put the book down, having finished it in a day.  Engrossing is a vast understatement of an adjective!  What She Knew offers everything I love in a psychological thriller—a complex plot, relatable characters, and tight prose.  If Macmillan's debut is any indication, she's definitely a writer to watch.  I can't wait to snatch up her newest thriller, The Perfect Girl, which was released in September. Sleep is overrated, anyway. 

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a bit of The Widow by Fiona Barton)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Newest Bell Elkins Mystery Taut, Compelling, and Atmospheric

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(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Sorrow Road, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier Bell Elkins mysteries.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

Like Belfa "Bell" Elkins, Darlene Strayer grew up in Appalachia, went to law school, and now works in the profession.  Unlike Bell, Darlene is well-known and makes good money as a federal prosecutor in northern Virginia.  Despite her lofty status, the high-powered lawyer has come to ask for Bell's help.  Darlene's 89-year-old father, a patient at a local care home for people with Alzheimer's, has died.  Although the care center's staff insists Harmon perished of natural causes, Darlene is not convinced.  In the weeks before his death, Darlene's father was trying to communicate something urgent to his daughter.  She believes Harmon was killed to prevent him from divulging the secrets locked away in his damaged mind.

Bell is not wholly persuaded by Darlene's pleas.  Then, the lawyer is killed in a freak accident and other patients at the care center die under suspicious circumstances.  Bell can't ignore the case any longer.  Something sinister is definitely going on.  How and why did Harmon Strayer die?  Is the care center trying to cover up its own incompetence?  Or did the old man's secrets go deeper than anyone could have imagined?  As Bell looks into the situation, she discovers a tragic story of three boyhood pals and the dark secret they've been keeping for more than 50 years.  How far will someone go to keep it buried forever? 

I've enjoyed every installment of Julia Keller's Bell Elkins series.  Sorrow Road, the fifth book, is no exception.  Like its predecessors, the novel is atmospheric, bringing the complicated glory of Applachia to vivid life.  The serial characters continue to intrigue me, as do the new ones we meet in Sorrow Road.  Plotwise, the story remains taut and compelling throughout.  The back-and-forth in time gives the tale an extra layer of depth, a device that I always find immensely appealing.  Although Sorrow Road (like Keller's other mysteries) isn't exactly a happy story, it is a hopeful one.  Not surprisingly, I enjoyed Keller's newest addition to the Bell Elkins series.  I'm definitely looking forward to the next installment, Fast Falls the Night, which comes out in August 2017 (not soon enough, in my humble opinion).  

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Bell Elkins series, including A Killing in the Hills; Bitter River; Summer of the Dead; Last Ragged Breath; and Fast Falls the Night)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language, violence, mild sexual content, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Sorrow Road from the generous folks at Minotaur Books (a division of St. Martin's Press/Macmillan).  Thank you!

New Book Does What All Picoult Novels Do—Makes Me Think

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Ruth Jefferson, a labor and delivery nurse with more than two decades of experience, is on duty when 26-year-old Brittany Bauer gives birth to a baby boy.  Ruth is doing a routine check on the infant when his parents insist on having her removed from the room.  Baffled, she can't imagine what she's done wrong.  The problem?  Her race.  The Bauers belong to an aggressive white supremacist group known as the Movement.  Despite Ruth's proficiency as a nurse, they ousted her because she's black.  Ordered to stay away from tiny Davis Bauer, she hesitates before performing CPR when the newborn goes into cardiac arrest a day later.  When the newborn dies, the Bauers are quick to lay the blame at Ruth's feet.

An outraged Ruth finds herself embroiled in a lawsuit that quickly becomes a media sensation.  Trying to shield her teenage son from the negative attention, she struggles to keep their lives from unraveling completely.  When Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes Ruth's case, things get even more complicated for the troubled nurse.  With her world crumbling around her, Ruth must put her trust in a stranger whose law degree is still warm from the printer.  Can Kennedy get justice for Ruth?  When the lawyer insists that race not be brought up in the courtroom, Ruth can't contain her fury.  How can Kennedy, with her all-present white privilege, ever understand what this case is really about?  The two women have to work together in order to exonerate Ruth, but is that even possible?  As the case progresses, each will be forced to question long-held beliefs and prejudices, which will lead both to some startling revelations about each other and themselves.

I've been a Jodi Picoult fan for some time.  Although I've enjoyed some of her books more than others, there's one thing all of them have in common: they made me think.  Picoult excels at taking a hot-button issue (she's addressed school shootings, gay marriage/adoption, organ donation, child abuse, euthanasia, etc.) and examining it from every angle in an honest, forthright way that forces the reader to look at the issue in new ways.  The author's newest novel, Small Great Things, examines racial prejudice, white privilege, and the seemingly insignificant ways in which people judge each other based on appearance.  Picoult seems a little more heavy-handed with this theme than others she has explored, but the Author's Note she includes at the end of the book is very raw and intriguing.  Maybe more so than the story itself.  Which isn't to say the story isn't engrossing.  It is.  Despite its too-tidy end and some characters I found difficult to connect with. overall Small Great Things is definitely compelling.  It's not my favorite Picoult by a long shot, but the novel did what I expected it to—it made me think.  It also propelled me to look at my own attitudes afresh.  If you're looking for a book club read, this one (like all Picoult books) should prompt some lively discussion.

(Readalike:  Reminds me a little of A Time to Kill by John Grisham)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language, violence, sexual content, racial slurs, and disturbing content

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Small Great Things from the generous folks at Penguin Random House via those at NetGalley.  Thank you!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Entry Island Another Absorbing Mystery By Scottish Mystery Master

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When a suspicious death occurs on a remote island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Sime Mackenize finds himself on a bumpy flight to the Magdalen Islands.  A homicide detective for Montreal's Sûreté de Police, Sime is part of an 8-person investigation team (which includes his ex-wife) taxed with figuring out how wealthy lobsterman James Cowell died.  The answer seems pretty obvious.  Not only was Kirsty Cowell discovered with her husband's blood all over her, but her tale of an armed intruder killing James reeks of falsity.  A homicide has never occurred before on tiny Entry Island—what motivated this one?  If Kirsty Cowell murdered her husband, why did she do it?

No one on the investigative team believes Kirsty Cowell's story.  Even Sime finds it far-fetched.  So why does he want so badly for Kirsty to be innocent?  Still mourning the dissolution of his marriage, Sime is also plagued by insomnia.  Does this explain the visions he's suddenly having of himself and Kirsty living a life together in another time and place?  Or is Sime simply going mad?  

Desperate to clear the widow's name, Sime vows to get to the bottom of Entry Island's first homicide.  What he finds are big secrets on a little island.  As he struggles to solve the crime, decipher his visions, and fight his obsession with a woman he barely knows, Sime must convince his team to look closer at a puzzling, more-than-meets-the-eye mystery.  His subjectivity could cost him his job, but he has to find the truth.  Kirsty Cowell did not kill her husband.  Or did she?

I discovered Scottish mystery writer Peter May this year and have been reading through his books as fast as I can.  Like his other novels, Entry Island features a stark and desolate place populated by complex, intriguing characters.  Sime reminds me a little too much of Fin Macleod (the hero of May's Lewis Trilogy); I would have liked him to have a more distinct personality.  That's a minor complaint, though, since I found the rest of the novel so absorbing.  The back-and-forth in time gave it an extra layer of intrigue, which serves to make the plot even more compelling.  As with May's other novels, I whipped through Entry Island and enjoyed it very much.  Bottom line: I'm a fan.  If May writes it, there's an excellent chance I'll read it.  

(Readalikes: Reminds me of other books by Peter May, including his Lewis Trilogy [The Blackhouse; The Lewis Man; The Chessmen] and Coffin Road)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, blood/gore, and mild sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Death Row Drama Inspiring But Forgettable

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Accused of killing her infant son seventeen years ago, 49-year-old Grace Bradshaw has been sentenced to die.  Out of appeals, she knows nothing can stop her looming execution.  Resigned to her fate, Grace desires only one thing—that her daughter know the truth about what happened to her baby brother.  If only Grace can convince Sophie that she's not the monster everyone's made her out to be, Grace can die in peace.

Sophie Logan can't tell anyone about her past.  No one can know she's the daughter of Grace Bradshaw, baby killer.  Not her surgeon husband, not her wealthy friends, not the people on the staff of the hospital where she volunteers.  No one.  If the truth got out, Sophie's carefully constructed life would surely shatter.  She wants nothing to do with her mother, whom she hasn't visited in eleven years.  But when Grace's attorney reaches out, insisting Grace is innocent, Sophie can't help but listen.  Is it possible the lawyer's right?  

As Grace's execution date comes ever closer, Sophie launches a desperate search for answers.  Will she find enough evidence to save her mother?  Or will Grace die without anyone knowing the truth about what really happened to baby William?  

With Love From the Inside, a debut novel by therapist and life coach Angela Pisel, is a gentle story about forgiveness, redemption, and finding peace through love and God's grace.  The characters are pretty run-of-the-mill; they're sympathetic but not unique or dynamic enough to be memorable.  Likewise, the plot hobbles along, suspenseful only at the very end.  So, while I found the novel inspiring, I also found it forgettable.  Overall, With Love From the Inside was just okay for me. 

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:  


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of With Love From the Inside from the generous folks at Putnam, an imprint of Penguin Random House.  Thank you!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Blessings


I love Christmastime for so many reasons!  One of them is the opportunity it gives me to reflect on all that has happened in the year—to celebrate the good, learn from the trials, and be thankful for everything with which I've been blessed.  Among those blessings are you, my loyal blog readers.  You make this book blogging gig a pleasure and a joy.  I love talking books with you!  I adore reading your comments, exploring your blogs, and interacting with the book blogging community.  It's lots of fun for me.  So, at this time, I just want to say thank you.  Thank you for reading what I write, thank you for commenting, thank you for giving me great reading recommendations—thank you, thank you, thank you!


From my home to yours, Merry Christmas!  Have a wonderful holiday.  Be safe, be happy, be thankful.  And may the Big Guy leave at least one good book under the tree for you 📚😀

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Scottish Mystery Series Comes to a Fitting Finale

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for The Chessmen, it may inadvertently spoil plot surprises from the first two books in the Lewis trilogy.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

Having left behind his life as an Edinburgh detective, Fin MacLeod is living on Lewis, the Outer Hebridean island of his birth.  While restoring his parents' croft in Crobost, he takes a job as a security officer at the Red River Estate.  It's while chasing poachers there that Fin encounters a blast from his past.  A childhood friend of Fin's, Whistler Macaskill is still as mercurial and unpredictable as ever.  It's while reconnecting that the two witness a bog burst, a rare natural phenomenon that results in the rapid draining of a loch.  When the water disappears, the men are shocked by what remains; stuck in the mud is a small airplane which is immediately familiar to both of them.

Fin and Whistler are not surprised to find the remains of their former friend and band mate inside the aircraft.  A seventeen-year-old mystery has just been solved.  But how exactly did Roddy Mackenzie die?  And why is Whistler being so cagey?  What does he know about the events that led to Roddy's death?  As Fin digs into the past to find answers, he discovers startling truths about his friends and about himself.    

The Chessmen, the last book in Peter May's Lewis trilogy, offers another compelling mystery set against the bleak backdrop of the Outer Hebrideans.  With interesting characters, a twisty plot, and an atmospheric setting, it's a fitting finale to the series.  I'm sad, though, that the series is over as I feel there's still a lot to learn about all of May's story people.  I guess it's good to keep readers wanting more?  Maybe?  

(Readalikes:  The Blackhouse and The Lewis Man by Peter May)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language, violence, blood/gore, and depictions of underage drinking and illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Second Installment in Scottish Murder Mystery Series Deeper, More Meaningful Than Its Fellows

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(Note: While this review will not contain spoilers for The Lewis Man, it may inadvertently ruin plot surprises from its predecessor, The Blackhouse.  As always, I recommend reading a series in order.)

After returning to Crobost—a small village on the Outer Hebridean island of his birth—to investigate a murder, Fin MacLeod is back for good.  Leaving behind a broken marriage and his position as a detective in the Edinburgh police force, he's focusing on rebuilding his family's abandoned croft.  Marsaili, the woman Fin has loved since childhood, is a recent widow; their son a new father; Fin longs for connection with them all.  

With so much on his plate already, the last thing Fin expects to grapple with is a suspicious death.  When a body is recovered from a Lewis peat bog, the former detective is called in to help with the investigation.  The only clue to the corpse's identity is an Elvis tattoo and a DNA match to Marsaili's father.  Suffering from dementia, Tormod Macdonald can't give Fin a straight answer about the body.  It's up to Fin and Marsaili to delve into the old man's past in order to solve a cold case, one that will bring some hot new trouble down on them all. 

Taking place on the same island as The Blackhouse, The Lewis Man—the second book in Peter May's trilogy set in the Outer Hebrides—brings back the broody landscape, tight community, and intriguing characters that made The Blackhouse such a compelling novel.  Because of Fin's switch from cop to crofter, this second book isn't so much a police procedural as a complex study of the human psyche, both good and bad.  It delves more into the characters' hearts, minds, and souls.  Which isn't to say it doesn't have an engrossing plot.  It does.  These things, plus the story's focus on redemption, forgiveness, and overcoming the plagues of past generations, makes it a deeper, more meaningful novel than The Blackhouse.  Although I enjoyed this whole series, The Lewis Man is, by far, my favorite installment.

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of The Blackhouse and The Chessmen by Peter May)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Friday, December 23, 2016

Lackluster Murder Mystery A Bit of a Disappointment

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Detective Jo Larsen fled Dallas for the small town of Plainfield, Texas, for a reason.  The move represented a chance to put her abusive childhood behind her, to make a real difference in a community, and to get away from violent, big-city crime.  Nothing much ever happens in Plainfield, so Jo is naturally skeptical when Patrick Dielman comes into the station claiming something terrible has happened to his missing wife.  At first blush, it appears Jenny Dielman has just taken the night off from the grueling demands of her husband.  When her body is found in a local quarry, Jo can't help but agree with Patrick—something horrific did happen to Jenny.

As Jo digs into the Dielmans' lives, she uncovers plenty of tension and drama.  With several suspects—including a controlling husband; a neighbor woman obsessed with Patrick; and Jenny's egotistical ex-husband—harboring compelling motives, it's not clear who killed Jenny.  Or why.  It's up to Jo and her partner, Hank Phelps, to find the answers.  Can they get to the truth in time?  Or will theirs be the next dead bodies tossed into the quarry? 

I've enjoyed several of Susan McBride's books, so I was hoping to love Walk Into Silence, the first in a new mystery series.  Unfortunately, it didn't dazzle me.  The novel was engrossing enough to keep me reading to the end, it just wasn't all that original or compelling.  With a small suspect pool, the killer became too obvious too quickly, leading to a predictable end.  Lacking any real depth, the characters couldn't carry the story on their own merit, so as a whole, Walk Into Silence was a bit of a disappointment.  Nothing about the novel made me want to read a sequel.  Bottom line: I wanted to like it a whole lot more than I did.  Bummer.

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Walk Into Silence from the generous folks at Thomas & Mercer (an imprint of Amazon Publishing).  Thank you!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Outer Hebrides Murder Mystery a Broody, Atmospheric Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

With its dark, broody weather and desolate, treeless landscape, the Isle of Lewis makes a fitting backdrop for murder.  And this one's as grisly as they come.  Oddly, the crime bears remarkable similarities to a recent killing in Edinburgh.  Because he speaks Gaelic, Edinburgh detective Fin McLeod is sent to the Outer Hebrides to investigate.  Reared on Lewis, the policeman hasn't been back in almost two decades.  He's less than thrilled to be returning now, especially on such an unpleasant errand.

Fin has no desire to revisit his dark past, but he has little choice as he traverses the land he knew so well as a boy.  Questioning old friends and neighbors doesn't help matters.  The more he investigates the murder, the deeper he's drawn into not just the past but also the secretive presents of the tight-lipped islanders.  It doesn't help that Marsaili, the woman Fin has always loved, still lives on the island—with her husband.  Being on Lewis is seriously messing with his head.  Can Fin sniff out a killer when he can't even sort himself?  With a murderer on the loose, will the detective ever leave Lewis?  Or will his homecoming end with his body buried in the cold, hard ground he vowed never to step on again?  

Although The Blackhouse—the first book in Peter May's Lewis trilogy—begins with a murder, the novel really isn't about the crime.  It's about the journey of a man haunted by his past.  Fin is a complex character; his flaws humanize him in a way that makes it impossible not to empathize with his plight.  As he examines the Outer Hebrides, with its unique scenery, culture, and people, the book's setting comes to life, becoming an intriguing character in its own right.  As for the plot of The Blackhouse, it's tense, compelling, and twisty.  On the whole, the novel is dark, depressing, and sad.  And yet, I found myself totally engrossed by it, so much so that I put the next two books in the series on reserve at the library before I even finished The Blackhouse.  I do like a moody mystery set in a unique locale.  Since I've now finished the series, I can say that all three volumes definitely qualify.

(Readalikes: Reminded me of the other books in the trilogy [The Lewis Man; and The Chessmen] as well as several of May's stand alone novels [Entry Island; Coffin Road; Runaway; etc.].  

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language, violence, blood/gore, sexual content, and depictions of underage drinking and illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Thought-Provoking Family Drama Asks, "How Far Would You Go to Protect Your Own?"

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

For Katie and Eric Knox, nothing is more important than their daughter's gymnastics career.  An Olympics hopeful, 15-year-old Devon has been training at BelStars since she was three years old.  She and her family have sacrificed everything—everything—for the chance to vie for Olympic gold.  Now that that goal is closer than ever to being achieved, the Knoxes will allow nothing to stand in Devon's way—not money, not time, not BelStar's financial troubles, not Devon's overlooked little brother.  Nothing.  

When a young man associated with the gym is killed, his death rocks the competitive, but close-knit BelStars community.  As the investigation reveals shocking truths about her friends and family, Katie grapples to keep herself together.  No matter what happens, she can't let the tragedy distract Devon from reaching her golden dream.  With the police inquiries creeping ever closer to home, Katie must ask herself just how far she's really willing to go to protect her family. 

My daughter's brief infatuation with gymnastics gave me a disturbing glimpse at how serious many gymnastics parents are about their children's success in the sport.  Because of this, I found the plot of You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott especially unsettling.  And frighteningly realistic.  The novel is more family drama than mystery, yes, but it does revolve around how a suspicious death affects a community.  It's a tense story, compelling despite being a bit predictable.  Yes, the story gets stagnant at certain points.  And yes, the characters are not always easy to connect with, the lot of them being almost wholly unlikable.  Still, You Will Know Me remains an engrossing, thought-provoking tale that asks some chilling questions about marriage, parenting, ambition, and obsession.  I can't say I loved the novel, but it has stayed with me.  If your book club is searching for a read that will provoke a lively discussion, this one should do the trick.  

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language, violence, sexual content, and depictions of illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of You Will Know Me from the generous folks at Spark Point Studios as part of the BookSparks Summer Reading Challenge.  Thank you!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Pretty Please, Santa? I've Been Good This Year ...


With temps in the 70s here in the Phoenix area, it hardly feels like Christmastime at all.  I'm reminded at this time of year, more than any other, that you can take the girl out of the Pacific Northwest but you can't take the PNW out of the girl!  I miss watching the snow fall, hearing the crackle of a fire in the wood stove, and smelling pine on the breeze.  Christmas in Arizona just isn't the same!  *Sigh*  I'll be home for Christmas ... if only in my dreams ...

Speaking of dreaming, who's fantasizing about bookish gifts waiting for them under the Christmas tree?  I always do!  The kindred spirits over at The Broke and the Bookish want to know the Top Ten Books (or book-related items) You Wouldn't Mind Santa Leaving Under the Tree.  Only ten?  I'll try to restrain myself ...

I have it on good authority that these two are already under the tree:


1.  The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron—I've been intrigued by this one ever since I first heard about it.  I'm excited to finally read it.


2.  Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J.K. Rowling—I broke one of my cardinal rules at Thanksgiving time and went to see this movie before reading the book.  I enjoyed the film a lot.  Can't wait to see how the book compares.


3.  Bookstore gift cards—Okay, this one isn't under the tree, but my sister gave me a Barnes & Noble gift card for an early birthday present.  She knows me too well!

The rest of these are books 'n' things I'd love to see under my tree:


4.  A new set of hardcover Harry Potter books—I bought all the books in the series as they came out in hardcover.  Now that I'm re-reading them, I realize just how much they've been loved to death by my 14-year-old daughter (who claims to have read the whole series eight times).  A shiny new set would be the perfect gift!



5.  Book earrings—I think these beauties from the Coryographies Etsy shop are about the cutest thing ever.  She has lots of other adorable bookish items as well.


6.  Scythe by Neal Shusterman—I'm a big Shusterman fan and his newest is definitely on my must-read list this year.  It's a dystopian/sci fi story that sounds intriguing.



7.  Version Control by Dexter Palmer—I hadn't heard of this futuristic sci fi novel until I opened the newest issue of Bookmarks (see #8) yesterday.  It sounds unique and compelling.


8.  Bookmarks magazine—I've been a subscriber to Bookmarks for several years now.  I love receiving the magazine every couple months.  It's a great resource for finding new books to read.  If you have a book lover on your Christmas list, consider a gift subscription.  



9.  To Kill a Mockingbird hardcover by Harper LeeTKAM is my favorite book of all time, but my only copy is a mass market paperback.  Barnes & Noble sells this lovely hardcover version.  I think I know how I'm going to be spending my birthday gift card ...

10.  Scrabble 2-in-1 Message Board EditionBustle listed this walk by Scrabble board as a must-have for word lovers.  I agree.  How totally fun would this be to have hanging in your house?  

There you go, ten books and bookish items I would love to see under my tree.  What about you?  What bookish Santa surprises would make you squeal with delight?  I'd love to know!  Make a comment on this post and I will happily return the favor.  

Happy TTT!
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