Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Charming Epistolary Novel Warm and Fun

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

With World War II raging all around, British writer Juliet Ashton tried to lift people's spirits by penning humorous pieces for her newspaper column.  Now that the war's over, she wants to write a novel.  The only trouble is she can't for the life of her figure out what it should be about.  

When Juliet receives an intriguing letter from Dawsey Adams, a dock worker who lives on the island of Guernsey, her interest is piqued.  She's especially curious about The Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a book club Dawsey and his friends formed during the war as a spur-of-the-moment excuse to explain to the occupying soldiers why they were breaking curfew.  As Juliet exchanges letters with Dawsey and other colorful members of the club, she becomes fascinated by their lives, the history of Guernsey, and the people's experiences during the war.  The more she corresponds with the islanders, the more she realizes she's found not only a fascinating subject for her book but also a new crop of dear, dear friends.  

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows is a charming novel told entirely in letters.  As you can tell from the plot summary, it's a character-driven tale—and what characters they are!  The beauty of this story really lies in its quirky cast.  Because of the islanders' lively personalities, the letters they write to Juliet are colorful and fun.  There isn't a lot of action to be had in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, so it feels a bit slow, especially at the beginning.  It gets better as it goes, however, and readers will soon find themselves wrapped up in the story of Guernsey.  I knew nothing at all about the island, so the historical bits interested me.  Like any book lover would, I also appreciated the novel's many nods to the power of books to bring people together, spur animated conversation, and comfort people in times of strife.  While I know plenty of people who absolutely adore this book, I ended up liking it, not loving it.  Still, it's definitely worth the read.  

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs) and violence

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Unique Format Makes Psychological Thriller Even More Tense and Exciting

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When Nicolette "Nic" Farrell is summoned home to Cooley Ridge, North Carolina, she has little choice but to go.  The 28-year-old hasn't set foot in the tiny town on the edge of the Great Smokey Mountains for a decade.  Not since her best friend, Corinne Prescott, disappeared without a trace.  Nic isn't thrilled about returning to her childhood home in the woods, but now that her father has been moved into an assisted-living facility she needs to clean up the place and sell it.  Then she'll high-tail it back to her job and her fiancé in Philadelphia.  

Nic has barely arrived in town when Annaleise Carter, a 23-year-old local girl, goes missing.  The case bears a strange resemblance to that of Corinne Prescott, even involving some of the same players.  Nic can't bear to go through that kind of trauma again, nor does she want to see her brother's reputation dragged through the mud again.  Determined to find out what really happened to Corinne all those years ago, Nic starts digging for answers.  Can finding the truth about Corinne save Annaleise?  Are the cases even connected?  Can Nic piece it all together in time?  Or will she be the next woman to go missing from Cooley Ridge?

All the Missing Girls, a psychological thriller by Megan Miranda, offers a tantalizing mystery with plenty of twists and turns.  Using a unique backward-in-time storytelling format, it's a tense, engrossing novel that will have you speeding through the pages to see what's going to happen.  Because of the way it's told, the story does get confusing.  Overall, though, I liked the technique and felt like it added tension to the tale.  Although All the Missing Girls boasts plenty of action, it's mostly a character-driven novel, which makes it a bummer that most of its story people are difficult to sympathize with or even like.  They're just not a very appealing lot.  All considered, though, I still found this to be an exciting and compelling page turner.  I couldn't put it down.

(Readalikes:  Other thrillers by Megan Miranda)

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:  Honestly, I'm not sure how I acquired this one.  Hmmmm.

Disquieting Haddix Novel an Intriguing Start to New Trilogy

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Fredtown is a bright, clean village where adults and children live in harmony and love.  Twelve-year-old Rosi and her 5-year-old brother, Bobo, enjoy living in the pleasant utopia.  They know their "Fred-parents" are not their biological mother and father; they also know that they were placed in Fredtown because it was unsafe for them to live in the city where they were born.  Although Rosi and Bobo—along with the other kids in Fredtown—are curious about their origins, mostly they are content with their peaceful lives away from their biological homes.  

Then, something terrible happens.  The children are forced out of Fredtown.  Terrified, they're packed onto a plane and returned to their birth parents.  For the first time ever, Rosi, Bobo, and their friends are confronted with the ugly realities of poverty, cruelty, violence, and prejudice.  "Home" is a bleak, ruined world.  Used to comfort and affection from loving Fred-parents, Rosi and Bobo are frightened by the grim, unkind strangers who are their mother and father.

As Rosi learns to navigate life in this odd new world, it soon becomes apparent that the adults in her life are hiding some dangerous secrets.  In a world that seems built on lies, Rosi wants the truth.  And she'll stop at nothing to get it.

Children of Exile, the first book in a dystopian trilogy by Margaret Peterson Haddix, is an unsettling novel that asks important questions about identity, prejudice, love vs. hate, and nature vs. nurture.  Young readers will be drawn in not by its big themes, but by the story's mysterious, suspenseful vibe.  They'll enjoy plenty of action, interesting characters, and the constant question of what's really going on in Rosi's new world.  Although the tale is disquieting, it's not graphic, making it a safe choice for readers who enjoy dystopian stories but need PG content.  I've enjoyed many of Haddix's books and while Children of Exile certainly isn't my favorite of hers, it's still a compelling read.  Kids, especially sci fi and dystopian fans, should enjoy it.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a little of the City of Ember books by Jeanne DuPrau)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence and scary images

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Feel-Good, Fast-Eating MG Novel a Delicious Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

There's only one thing David Miller is really good at:  eating.  As a growing 14-year-old boy, he's constantly hungry, which means he's always shoveling food down his hatch.  He's never dreamed, however, that his talent for fast eating could actually earn him money.  Not until he accidentally spends $2000 on a non-returnable item using his mom's credit card.  Suddenly, he has to come up with some serious dough—and he has to do it before his parents get the bill.

While he's stressing about the upcoming eating contests he's entering, David also has to worry about his brother.  As the unnoticed/ignored middle child, he's always stuck watching 10-year-old Mal, who's severely autistic.  Plus, his two best friends are acting ... weird.  Like lovey-dovey.  It's almost as if they're trying to be a couple or something.  Creepy.

With all the tension in his life, David's having a hard time concentrating on his main goal—winning enough money to pay his mom back before she realizes what he's done.  Can he do it?  It's time to put his stomach of steel to the test ...

Slider, a middle grade novel by Pete Hautman, is a warm, funny story about friendship, family, and, of course, food.  Despite its lighthearted vibe, the novel deals with some serious issues and teaches valuable lessons about loyalty, acceptance, and appreciating perspectives that differ from your own.  I've never read a book about competitive eating before, so that aspect of the story feels original to me.  Slider is, overall, a fun story that will especially appeal to boys and reluctant readers.  I'm neither, but I thoroughly enjoyed it as well.

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs) and vague references to sex

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-galley of Slider from the generous folks at Candlewick via those at NetGalley.  Thank you!

Tense and Compelling, The Confusion of Languages Makes for An Engrossing Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

For ex-pats living in the Middle East, following the rules is of utmost importance.  At least, that's how 34-year-old Cassie Hugo feels.  Over the last two years that her husband has been working for the American embassy in Amman, Jordan, she's learned how to handle herself in a very foreign culture.  By adhering to the rules, she's remained safe and sound.  Bitter because of her inability to become pregnant and the increasing strain that struggle has put on her marriage, Cassie isn't exactly happy, but she is settled into her unconventional life abroad.  

Because of her expertise, Cassie agrees to mentor Margaret Brickshaw, a young mother who's just arrived in Amman with her husband.  Cassie's enamored of Margaret's 15-month-old son, Mather, even if she's growing more and more frustrated with his effusive, impulsive mother.  No matter how many times Cassie warns Margaret to restrain herself, the newcomer refuses to listen.  Wanting only to explore and experience real Jordanian culture, she takes risks that—in a place like Amman—could be deadly.

Cassie's worst fears are realized when Margaret is arrested after a minor car accident.  When she fails to return from the police station, Cassie grows concerned, then terrified.  What trouble has Margaret's impetuousness gotten her into this time?  How can Cassie help her if she can't even find her?  And what will she do with poor Mather, who cries for his mother?  In a place where breaking the rules can result in the most dire of consequences, what will happen to one hapless, naive American woman?

An ex-pat herself, Siobhan Fallon brings that unique experience to vivid life in The Confusion of Languages, her first novel (read about Fallon's real-life experiences living in Jordan here).  Amman provides a colorful backdrop for a tense, engrossing story peopled with characters whose personalities and relationships are realistically complex and flawed.  I cared about these story people, which kept me turning pages in order to find out their separate fates.  While the tale definitely gets depressing, it's undeniably engaging.  With skilled prose, a propulsive plot, an exotic setting, and intriguing characters, The Confusion of Languages is a well-crafted novel about regrets and redemption, fences vs. freedom, and caution vs. compassion.  I quite enjoyed it.

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-galley of The Confusion of Languages from the generous folks at Penguin Random House via those at NetGalley.  Thank you!

Haunting Watery Dystopian Asks Big Questions

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"Why do you cling to the end, when the beginning is waiting?" (13)

Lalla Paul has never experienced a normal life in a safe, stable environment.  She's grown up in a London ravaged by the deadly effects of global warming, scarcity, disease, fear, and rigid government control.  As the daughter of wealthy, influential parents, the 16-year-old has been sheltered in her parents' apartment, protected from the violence and chaos that grows ever more prevalent on the streets outside her windows.  Although her mother has done her best to educate Lalla, the teen knows very little about life beyond the walls of her well-guarded flat.

For years, Lalla's father, Michael, has been planning the family's exit strategy.  He's had a ship built and stocked with enough supplies to support 500 people on a voyage over the open sea.  Through a careful selection process, Michael has chosen the smartest, most skilled passengers—the kind of people who will be most useful in building a new society.  

When push comes to shove, Michael's plan is put into frantic action.  Suddenly, Lalla finds herself adrift in a floating city that is not quite the utopia it seems to be.  As she comes to understand what is really going on, she'll have to decide what she truly wants for her future and how far she's willing to go to make it happen.

The Ship—a debut novel by English writer Antonia Honeywell—tells a dystopian tale that's both haunting and compelling despite being skimpy on action.  It's more of an introspective story, almost an allegory (we've got a Noah's Ark archetype, plus a Michael/Adam character—a deeper reader would likely find plenty of religious symbolism here) about leaving expectations behind and starting over in a brave, new world.  Regardless of how you interpret it, the novel definitely raises thought-provoking questions.  I liked that about it, even if I found the characters (especially Lalla) irritating and the plot a bit ho-hum.  Overall, though, I enjoyed The Ship.  It's not the kind of book I'm going to be shouting about from the rooftops, but it ended up being a decent read for me.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a teensy bit of Icebreaker by Lian Tanner)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Monday, January 29, 2018

Circus Tale Compelling, But Cheerless

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Although she's ten years old, Lilly Blackwood has never run outside, never played with other children.  Instead, she's confined to a small attic room with only her parents for (occasional) company.  Her mother—a religious zealot—insists the isolation is for her own protection.  If other people saw Lilly, she says, it would scare them.  When she is finally released from the home that has become her prison, Lilly's freedom is short-lived.  Sold by her mother to the circus, she becomes imprisoned again, just with a different jailer. 

Despite the bleak, often cruel world of the circus, Lilly finds a ragtag family and, for the first time, a sense of belonging.  When tragedy descends, however, it seems she may never find a happy ending ...

Twenty years later, Julia Blackwood returns to the home and horse farm she has inherited from her parents.  The place holds few happy memories for her.  Hoping to make peace with her past, Julia explores Blackwood House, especially the corners that were off-limits to her as a child.  Stunned to discover a hidden attic room and old circus photos featuring a striking young woman, she determines to uncover all of Blackwood House's secrets.  What she discovers—about her family and about herself—will shock her to her core.

The Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman is an atmospheric, absorbing novel peopled with colorful, complex characters.  Told in the alternating voices of Lilly and Julia, it tells a vivid and compelling story.  Also a sad, sad one.  In fact, parts of the ending are so mournful that the novel, overall, feels less than satisfying.  While it offers a few sparks of hope and uplift, on the whole, The Life She Was Given is just depressing.  Engrossing, but pretty darn cheerless.  In the end, then, I found this one disappointing despite being well-written.  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen)  

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

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

Debut Thriller With Familiar Plot Not As Good As It Could Have Been

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Eight years ago, a parent's worst nightmare came true for Anna Davalos and Tom Whitaker.  Their 13-year-old daughter, Julie, was taken from her bedroom at knife point.  While Anna and Tom slept, blissfully unaware of what was happening upstairs, 10-year-old Jane watched her sister's abduction in horrified silence.  No one has seen Julie since.  With no clues to indicate the fate of the missing girl, the Whitakers have reluctantly accepted the fact that their daughter is most likely dead.  

Then, one day, out of the blue, a woman arrives on the Whitakers' doorstep claiming to be Julie.  The family is overjoyed, but also confused.  Although this stranger looks like their long-lost loved one, she doesn't always act like her.  Can Julie really have changed so much in eight years?  What happened while she was away?  Why won't "Julie" tell anyone who took her and how she finally escaped?  As much as the Whitakers want to believe this woman is their daughter, they're simply not sure.  But, if she isn't Julie, then who is she?  And what does she want from the Whitakers?

I've read a few books with the same premise as the one around which Good As Gone—a debut novel by Amy Gentry—revolves.  It's an intriguing idea for sure.  Considering the strange true case of Nicholas Barclay/Frédéric Bourdin, these types of stories aren't even that far-fetched (at least not in the pre-DNA testing era).  The question is, does the execution of the novel live up to its fascinating premise?  Sorta.  Good As Gone definitely tells a compelling and twisty story.  The ending surprised me.  Plot-wise, the tale feels a little disjointed.  Julie's chapters, in particular, get confusing.  It doesn't help that the characters are not overly warm or sympathetic—I didn't feel super connected to any of them.  On the whole, the book's depressing, but engrossing.  Although Good As Gone has been compared to blockbusters like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, it's not that skillfully written.  Gentry has potential for sure, but this one feels like a debut novel.  It's not bad; it just could have been lots better.  


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 content, disturbing subject matter, and depictions of illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Friday, January 26, 2018

Murder at the Brightwell An Engaging Opener to Historical Mystery Series

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

After being wed to Milo—a notorious playboy—for five years, Amory Ames knows a little something about unsatisfactory marriages.  So, when Gil Trent, an old friend (and former fiancé), asks her to help him persuade his younger sister not to marry a disreputable man, she obliges.  As all the key players are staying at the Brightwell Hotel, Amory checks in to the lavish resort.  A relaxing holiday is just what she needs.  If she can help Gil and his sister in the process, so much the better.  

Despite her best intentions, Amory makes little headway with Emmeline, who's determined to marry self-absorbed Rupert Howe no matter what anyone else thinks.  Before that happens, however, the unsavory man is murdered.  With his well-known dislike of his sister's fiancé, Gil soon becomes the prime suspect in Rupert's death.  Amory knows gentle Gil could not have done something so dastardly.  To prove his innocence, she launches her own investigation into the crime.  An already tense situation gets even more complicated when Milo arrives at the Brightwell unexpectedly.  With her marriage crumbling and her old flame very much available (if she can keep him out of prison, that is), Amory must sort out her feelings for two very different men while trying to solve a murder that becomes more puzzling by the minute.  Can she find the answers she seeks in time to save Gil?  And what of her traitorous heart?  What will it decide?

Murder at the Brightwell, a debut novel by Ashley Weaver, is the first installment in an exciting mystery series starring likable Amory Ames.  Deborah Crombie calls this opening novel "an elegant Christie-esque 1930s romp"—a very apt description.  The story is engrossing, entertaining, and twisty enough that I didn't guess the killer's identity until the very last minute.  Because of its large cast, the tale does get confusing; the minor characters tend to blend together, which is a little annoying.  All in all, though, I found Murder at the Brightwell enjoyable.  I already have the next few books in the series and I can't wait to read them.  

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence and sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Murder at the Brightwell from the generous folks at Minotaur (an imprint of St. Martin's Press/Macmillan).  Thank you!

MG Mystery Series Opener Fun, Enjoyable

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

As the daughter of New York City's first female police commissioner, 12-year-old Devlin Quick is hard-wired to sniff out mysteries wherever she goes.  When one unexpectedly falls right into her lap, there's no way she can resist launching her own investigation.  Even if her mother warns her to leave the sleuthing to the professionals.  Policing is in Devlin's blood, so that kind of makes her legit, right?  Right enough.

Liza de Lucerna—an exchange student from Argentina who's staying with the Quicks for the summer—is sure she witnessed a crime.  While studying in the New York Public Library, she saw a man cut a page out of a valuable old book.  Although she and Devlin both tried to chase him down, the girls lost their suspect.  Now they have only a vague description of a possible criminal and an even more dubious account of his "crime."  No wonder no one will take their accusations seriously.  

Undeterred, Devlin vows to solve the mystery of the missing page.  With Liza and her friend Booker Dibble by her side, she collects clues that lead her closer and closer to the perpetrator.  And straight into the exact kind of danger about which her mother warned her.  Can Devlin outwit the thief and solve her first case?  Or will her unofficial investigation just get her officially grounded—or worse?

Into the Lion's Den is the first book in a new middle grade mystery series by Linda Fairstein, a bestselling author of crime fiction for adults.  In her pre-teen heroine, Devlin Quick, we get a spunky narrator who's smart, brave, and a little mischievous.  The novel's plot moves quickly, making for a fun, exciting story that will appeal to anyone who enjoys an engaging mystery.  True, the kids don't always act/talk like their real-life counterparts and yes, Fairstein is excessively fond of using character names in dialog, which bugs, but still ... overall, Into the Lion's Den is a fast-moving, delightful tale.  I enjoyed it and will definitely continue reading this entertaining series.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of York by Laura Ruby)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  I borrowed Into the Lion's Den from my daughter's elementary school library as part of my volunteer work with the school's reading program.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Latest Veronica Speedwell Mystery an Enchanting, Madcap Adventure

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Note:  Although this review will not contain spoilers for A Treacherous Curse, it may inadvertently spoil plot surprises from earlier Veronica Speedwell mysteries.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.

Unlike most women of her age and era, 26-year-old Veronica Speedwell has no use for stuffy Victorian sensibilities.  She prefers a life of adventure and intrigue unencumbered by the trappings of traditional life.  Her job organizing artifacts for a generous benefactor while living on his estate suits her just fine.  Especially since Ravelstoke "Stoker" Templeton, her handsome but irascible friend, is always close at hand.  Not only is he nice to gaze upon, but he's smart, protective, and strong—a perfect partner in (solving) crime.

Veronica becomes intrigued by the story of John de Morgan, a photographer with an Egyptian expedition, who has seemingly vanished into thin air.  A valuable artifact—a diadem belonging to an Egyptian princess—is also missing.  As the expedition has been plagued by bad luck from its very beginning, rumors of an ancient curse descending on its participants don't seem all that far-fetched.  Especially since a mysterious, Anubis-like figure has been seen lurking around London.  

Although there's no love lost between Stoker and de Morgan, Veronica and her enigmatic sidekick take on the case anyway.  Digging into ancient history—both Egyptian and personal—gets more dangerous by the minute.  Veronica's determined to find answers no matter the cost, but with Anubis roaming the streets, the price may be more dear than she ever imagined.  With lives and reputations on the line, she must solve the mystery and quick, before she and the man she loves become the next victims of a deadly curse.  Or worse.

A Treacherous Curse, the third installment in Deanna Raybourn's lively series starring the intrepid Veronica Speedwell, is as delightful as the first.  After the distasteful subject matter of the second book, I'm glad this one features a more traditional mystery.  Sure, it's a little predictable, but who cares?  A Treacherous Curse is tons of fun.  Veronica continues to be a charming narrator.  She's unconventional, to be sure; she's also brave, funny, loyal, and refreshingly frank.  I adore her.  Her slow-burning relationship with Stoker is also and always entertaining.  Together, they're simply irresistable.  With lovable characters, an engaging plot, and lively prose, this is another enjoyable, madcap mystery from Raybourn.  I loved it.

(Readalikes:  Other Veronica Speedwell mysteries, including A Curious Beginning and A Perilous Undertaking; also [this installment especially] reminds me of the Amelia Peabody mystery series by Elizabeth Peters)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of A Treacherous Curse from the generous folks at Berkley (an imprint of Penguin Random House).  Thank you!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Strange, Disquieting The Child Finder Sad, But Hopeful

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Each child she found was a molecule, a part of herself still left in the scary world she had left behind.  Eventually they would all come together and form one being, knitted together in triumph.  We are not forgotten, her actions told her.  You will not put us aside.  
(Page 124, from an uncorrected proof)

Once upon a time, 28-year-old Naomi Cottle was a lost girl, a missing child, a kidnapped kid praying for rescue.  Although she can't remember the details of her captivity, fragmented memories still haunt her dreams.  Determined to help children in trouble, she's spent the last eight years working as a P.I. searching for the missing and taken.  With an uncanny knack for finding them, she's earned the nickname "The Child Finder."  Desperate parents look to her to facilitate the happy reunions they've been dreaming of—or at least to help them find closure.  

The Culver Family hires Naomi to locate their daughter, Madison, who went missing in Oregon's Skookum National Forest during a family Christmas tree hunt.  It's been three years since the 5-year-old disappeared, but the Culvers have not given up hope of finding Madison.  As Naomi traipses through the woods searching for clues, she mines her own traumatic past in a frantic attempt to find the answers hidden in her own damaged mind.  If she can locate Madison, will Naomi finally be able to unlock the secrets buried deep inside herself? 

While Naomi combs the icy forest, a little girl uses her active imagination to find safety and escape in the only way she can ...

Told in the alternating voices of Naomi and a child who calls herself "the snow girl," The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld is a strange, disquieting novel about being lost and being found.  With experience as an investigator for a public defender, an advocate for victims of sex trafficking, and a foster/adoptive mother, Denfeld clearly has a soft spot for innocents in trouble; it shows in her sensitive handling of this novel's difficult subject matter.  I appreciated that delicacy.  The other thing that stands out about The Child Finder is its shivery atmospheric setting.  Also the fact that it's sad, but ultimately, hopeful.  Other than those things, though, I didn't love this novel.  Naomi struck me as sympathetic but not very likable.  She's pushy, cold, and insensitive; I couldn't understand why parents were so quick to confide in her and all the men fell hopelessly in love with her.  Also, (warning: this may be spoiler-y) because we already know what's happened to Madison, the plot lacks the suspense and tension that would have made it more compelling.  I know I'm in the minority on this one, but for me, The Child Finder is only a so-so read.  I wanted to like it a whole lot more than I did.  

(Readalikes:  Nothing is coming to mind.  You?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (1 F-bomb, plus milder expletives), violence, and disturbing subject matter

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


Monday, January 22, 2018

Thrilling Tomorrow Series Keeps Up the Action, Adventure With Third Installment

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for A Killing Frost, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier Tomorrow, When the War Began books.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

Six months have passed since a group of teens emerged from a camping trip in the bush to find their world changed overnight.  Not only has their small town been taken over by an unknown enemy, but so has all of Australia.  By keeping out of sight, Ellie and her friends have been able to fight back in small—and not so small—ways.  They've experienced both triumph and tragedy, but they've yet to drive away the forces that are keeping their town captive.  It's time to take more extreme measures, which means putting themselves at even greater risk.  Will their efforts pay off?  Or will they end up prisoners of a seemingly unstoppable enemy?

I've enjoyed all the books I've read so far in John Marsden's excellent Tomorrow, When the War Began series.  A Killing Frost, the third installment, is no exception.  The novels are full of action, adventure, humor, romance, and intrigue.  Ellie remains a likable, relatable heroine.  Although she's tough and brave, she's also vulnerable and human.  It's easy to root for her and her friends to triumph over evil.  The installments in this series are short, making them quick reads that will appeal to reluctant readers as well as those who enjoy fast-paced survival stories.  I'm a fan and can't wait to dig in to the next book in the series.

(Readalikes:  Other books in the series, including Tomorrow, When the War Began; The Dead of the Night; Darkness, Be My Friend; Burning for Revenge; The Night is for Hunting; and The Other Side of Dawn)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

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

Intriguing Bolton Thriller Not As Exciting As Others, But Enjoyable Nonetheless

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

On a lovely Fall morning near the English/Scottish border, thirteen people float languidly along in a hot air balloon.  The passengers are excited to breathe in the fresh air, take in the bucolic scenery, and watch for colorful wildlife.  The last thing they expect to see is a vicious murder.  Below them, a man is brutally killing a young woman, unaware that he is being observed.  From the balloon, one woman captures his face on camera, but he sees hers as well.  When the balloon is shot down, only one passenger survives.  Suddenly caught in a deadly cat-and-mouse game, the woman must outrun the murderer and get her photographic evidence to the police before she becomes the next victim.

It's best to go into Dead Woman Walking, Sharon Bolton's 2017 crime thriller, without knowing too much.  Although the murderer is identified right off the bat, there are plenty of twists throughout the novel that make it both surprising and satisfying.  Because we know whodunit from the get go, Dead Woman Walking isn't quite as tense or exciting as Bolton's other books.  Still, it's engrossing.  Even though I guessed some of the plot's big reveals, the novel remained entertaining for me.  It's not my favorite of Bolton's books, true, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

(Readalikes:  A hundred titles should be coming to mind, but I got nothin'.  Suggestions?)

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:  I received a finished copy of Dead Woman Walking from the generous folks at Minotaur Books (a division of St. Martin's Press.  Thank you!)

Subterranean Dystopian Trilogy Starts Off With an A-Grade Bang

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Protected from the toxic air outside, a whole city of people live in a silo that extends 144 floors underground.  With no elevator or alternative way to move quickly from the bottom of the structure to the top (or vice versa), the residents remain mostly on their own floors, rarely making the arduous trip up to the first.  There's little to see there, anyway—only a ruined world, desolate and deadly.  Why bother?  Leaving the silo altogether would be suicide, so no one dares.  Only those who are forced out flee the safe, subterranean world.  Exile means almost instant death; no one survives that sentence.  

When the silo's venerable, long-time sheriff makes the shocking decision to leave the silo, he sets a life-changing chain of events in motion.  He selects a surprising candidate to take his place, 34-year-old mechanic Juliette "Jules" Nichols.  Unused to the comparative luxury of life on the silo's top floors, she struggles to find her place tackling a new job in an unfamiliar neighborhood.  Although she has no experience in law enforcement, she's smart and determined to do her job well.  It's only as she begins to study the inner workings of her community, however, that Jules realizes it's not quite the utopia it seems to be.  In fact, the silo hides some devastating secrets—revelations that could change everything.  The more Jules uncovers, the more her tenuous place at the top is jeopardized.  In order to make crucial changes, she'll have to risk everything to expose long-buried truth.  Will her efforts be successful?  Or will hers be the next corpse rotting away just outside the silo's sheltering walls?

Wool, the first book in a post-apocalyptic/dystopian trilogy by Hugh Howey, is a beast of a book.  At 500+ pages, it's hefty and yet, the novel never drags.  Propulsive and engrossing, it speeds along, capturing the reader's attention with complex characters, imaginative world-building, and an intriguing plot.  Yes, the novel embraces typical dystopian elements that will undoubtedly feel familiar to genre fans.  At the same time, though, Howey's inventive world manages to feel fresh and new.  Everything about this vividly-detailed book kept me completely riveted.  I ate Wool up and cannot wait to get going with Shift, the second installment in this addictive series.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Icebreaker by Lian TannerThe Compound by S.A. Bodeen; and The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

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

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Assured Debut an Engrossing, Atmospheric Thriller

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Aaron Falk has zero desire to return to Kiewarra, the tiny village of his birth.  Twenty years ago, he was accused of killing a local girl there, condemned by his neighbors, and run out of town.  Now a federal police agent in Melbourne, the 36-year-old is being summoned back for the funeral of his childhood best friend, Luke Hadler.  Despite the tragic circumstances (Luke killed himself after murdering his wife and young son), Aaron doesn't plan to go back.  Until he gets a message he can't ignore:  Luke lied.  You lied.  Be at the funeral.  

Ravaged by drought and despair, Kiewarra is a dying town full of the same small minds and explosive tempers Aaron remembers from two decades ago.  His presence in town only adds fuel to the fire, creating a tension so thick it smolders in the dusty air.  All Aaron wants to do is pay his respects and high-tail it back to Melbourne, but Luke's parents have another idea.  Although Aaron's specialty is financial crimes, the Hadlers implore him to look into Luke's death.  They don't believe for a minute that their son would commit such a brutal act.  Despite mounting evidence proving otherwise, Aaron can't bring himself to let the Hadlers down.  With the help of a local policeman, he starts digging.

As Aaron investigates, Kiewarra's long-buried secrets start to surface.  The closer he gets to the answers he's seeking, the more dangerous Aaron becomes to someone who wants to keep the past firmly in the past.  He was expelled from Kiewarra once; will he be silenced again—this time permanently?  Aaron must find out what really happened both in the present and in the past before it's too late.

The Dry, a debut novel by Australian author Jane Harper, has received a lot of buzz since its publication in January of last year.  And deservedly so.  It's a tense, atmospheric thriller written with such vividity that I could almost taste Kiewarra's dusty desperation.  Aaron is a sympathetic hero, brave and determined, but also understated and humble.  The mystery at the novel's center remains compelling throughout.  The identity of the killer surprised me, which always helps to make this kind of novel feel truly satisfying.  I enjoyed this assured debut and am looking forward to reading the forthcoming sequel, Force of Nature

(Readalikes:  I'm really bad at this.  I can't think of anything.  You?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

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

Friday, January 19, 2018

Ware's Third Novel Just As Compelling As Her First and Second

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"I haven't thought about [The Lying Game] for so many years, but in a way, I've been playing it all this time (17)."

At a small, second-rate boarding school on the English coast, four girls formed a fast and lasting friendship.  With very different personalities, Isa, Kate, Fatima, and Thea bonded at Kate's cozy home near the school, where Kate's art master father let them roam half-wild.  They also amused themselves by playing The Lying Game, wherein they told elaborate falsehoods to both other teens and adults, gaining points when they did so without being caught.  It was supposed to be fun, a diverting way to pass the long hours away from home.  When their deeds caught up with them, however, the girls were all expelled in a hush-hush event that left their schoolmates in the dark.

Seventeen years later, a dead body is found in The Reach, a tidal estuary through which Isa, Kate, Fatima, and Thea often tromped while scurrying between school and Kate's home.  As soon as the discovery is made, Kate, who still lives in her father's home, sends a text to her old friends—"I need you."  None of the women want to return to Salten and revisit the past, but they have no choice.  They promised to always be there for each other, no matter what.  Now is the time for them to stick together, no matter what.

As the past and present converge in the little coastal village, four women will be forced to face the truth about what happened during their senior year at Salten House—a truth that could have devastating consequences for each woman's future.

Although The Lying GameRuth Ware's newest thriller—gets off to a slow start, ultimately the novel is just as engrossing as her previous two bestsellers.  The moody, atmospheric setting gives the story a creepy vibe, creating a shivery background for what proves to be a chilling tale.  It's more haunting than Ware's others books, and just as compelling.  True, the characters are not very likable, and the plot drags a bit in places, but honestly, I still found The Lying Game difficult to put down.  In fact, it might be my favorite Ware novel yet.

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

Grade:

 
If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of The Lying Game from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.
Blog Widget by LinkWithin