Monday, January 22, 2018

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

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"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.

YA Anorexia Novel Not Mind-Blowing, But Powerful Nonetheless

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In an ongoing effort to slim down, 16-year-old Elizabeth Barnes has finally starved herself into a size 0.  Weighing only 90 pounds, she's elated with her "progress."  The side effects she's experiencing, though, are a tad concerning.  It's possible she's gone too far—it's possible she might now be "a little bit" anorexic.  Alarmed, Elizabeth's parents enroll her in a treatment program at Wallingfield, an in-patient clinic for young women with eating disorders.  Elizabeth, a studious good girl, plans to be a model patient, following the rules until she can get back home and continue her extreme weight loss regimen without nosy nurses looking over her shoulder.

As Elizabeth settles into life at Wallingfield, she finds surprising commonality with the other patients.  While they swap tips and tricks, offer sabotage and support, the girls become a close-knit family.  Elizabeth can't imagine what she'll do without them, especially when she returns home to her weight-obsessed mother.  In the meantime, she's receiving care packages at the clinic from a mysterious sender.  Could her ex-boyfriend be trying to mend their relationship?  Or is some prankster toying with her when she's at her most vulnerable?  As she attempts to claw her way back to health, Elizabeth will make some surprising discoveries—about her anonymous gift-giver, about her new friends, and about herself.

What I Lost, a debut novel by Alexandra Ballard, is an affecting story about one teen's rocky journey of self-discovery.  As she attempts to achieve wholeness and healing, she really finds herself.  Through Elizabeth, Ballard presents a candid portrait of anorexia, showing how difficult the disease is to control and how thoroughly it warps the minds of its victims.  Naturally, What I Lost does not offer a perfect ending.  It does close on a hopeful note, however, which makes it an uplifting read despite its serious subject matter.  Any teen who struggles with body image/eating disorders should find this novel both intriguing, illuminating, and empathy-inducing.  Issue novels abound in YA lit; while this one isn't all that original or mind-blowing, it's still powerful.  


Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs) and mild sexual content

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

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Sixth Installment in Charming Action/Adventure Series As Enjoyable As All the Rest

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Note:  Although this review will not contain spoilers for My Bonny Light Horseman, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier Bloody Jack novels.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.

Jacqueline "Jacky" Faber is no stranger to danger.  In fact, it seems to follow the 16-year-old orphan wherever she goes.  Although she's had a fine time being a ship's boy, a pirate, a riverboat captain, an entertainer, and a student at a fancy Boston school, it seems her life of adventure is about to come to an end—at the guillotine.  She's in deep trouble and there seems to be no way out.

Luckily (or unluckily as the case may be), everything is not as it seems.  By faking Jacky's death, British Intelligence is able to enlist her as a spy in the war against the French.  Going undercover as a dancer in a seamy Parisian nightclub, her job is to flirt her way into the private lives of enemy soldiers, coaxing out secrets she can pass along to her own government.  Jacky's not happy about taking such a big risk—both to her life and to her virtue—but it's the only way she can get her friends freed from prison.  In her trademark fashion, Jacky soon finds an even more daring way to fight the French, one that will take her to the front lines, even into the presence of Napoléon Bonaparte himself.  While Jacky's certainly gotten herself into some grand scrapes before, this one might be the most dangerous one of all.  If she fails, her friends will surely rot in prison and "Bloody" Jack—the infamous, unforgettable pirate and adventurer—will be no more.

It's no secret that I'm mad about the Bloody Jack series by the late L.A. Meyer.  I've loved every installment, each of which is full of humor, adventure, and charm.  My Bonny Light Horseman, the sixth book, is no exception.  It's exciting, fun, and just downright enjoyable.  No surprise here, I adored it.  I'm reading this series slowly, savoring every book, knowing that there will be no more.  R.I.P., Mr. Meyer.

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Bloody Jack series, including Bloody Jack; Curse of the Blue Tattoo; Under the Jolly Roger; In the Belly of the Bloodhound; Mississippi Jack; Rapture of the Deep; The Wake of the Lorelei Lee; The Mark of the Golden Dragon; Viva Jacquelina!; Boston Jacky; and Wild Rover No More)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

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

Space Apocalypse Story Quiet, Contemplative, and Compelling

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Born on the Northumbrian coast of England, Jamie Allenby has always longed for the wide open space of ... space.  When given the chance to relocate off-world at 22, she takes it.  Now 38, she's a veterinarian living on Soltaire, a planet roughly the size of Russia.  Jamie gains consciousness one day after suffering from a debilitating fever to find that the deadly virus has killed most of Soltaire's 10,000 inhabitants.  Fearing she's the only survivor, she heads out looking for others.  It's a desperate, frantic search through an endless, empty landscape. 

Eventually, Jamie finds a ragtag group of survivors, which includes Callan Jacobs, the captain of a spaceship.  Against the advice of his crew, Callan has been landing wherever he can in an effort to save as many humans as possible.  Relieved to be rescued, Jamie sets her sights on Planet Earth.  She and her estranged lover, Daniel, always said they'd meet in Northumberland if—when—their world in the stars ended. 

Turns out, Jamie's not the only one with an ambitious plan.  Others have their own ideas about how to move on, rebuild, and repopulate the human race.  Torn between duty, desperation, and desire, Jamie must decide what she really wants and how much she's willing to risk to get it.  With opposition around every corner, it will take all her strength, all her courage, to make her own future worth living.

The Space Between the Stars, a debut novel by English short story writer Anne Corlett, tells a sci fi tale unlike any other I've read.  Unlike most space age adventures, this one is quiet, contemplative, and fiercely character-driven.  Its brilliance comes not from elaborate world-building or creative creature-inventing, but from its ruminations on what it means to be human.  This isn't to say the novel's boring.  It's not.  Not at all.  There's more than enough action to keep a reader flipping pages.  That's just not what makes the book memorable.  Instead, it's the novel's chilling (without being too gory or graphic) vibe; vivid, lovely prose; and its thought-provoking questions that cause it to linger in the reader's mind long after they finish it.  I loved this unique novel and can't wait for more from its promising author.  

(Readalikes:  Reminded me a little of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of The Space Between the Stars from the generous folks at Penguin Random House.  Thank you!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Enjoyable Historical Mystery Series Off to a Promising Start

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Although the world's newspapers are buzzing about the sinking of the Lusitania and the shooting of J.P. Morgan's son, aspiring reporter Capability "Kitty" Weeks has not been assigned those stories.  Instead, the 19-year-old is stuck writing about society soirees and fashionable apparel for the New York Sentinel's Ladies' Page.  It's a start, but Kitty longs to be on the front lines, writing the stories that really matter. 

Kitty's shocked—but secretly thrilled—when a murder happens at a high society picnic she's attending.  The victim is Hunter Cole, a blue-blooded gambler married to a fortune-less outsider.  Intrigued, Kitty vows to find his killer.  Not only will justice be done, but she'll finally have a real story to prove her mettle as a reporter.  The more she digs, however, the more she begins to realize just how big and dangerous a conspiracy she's uncovering.  With her life on the line, Kitty must get to the bottom of the affair before her own murder becomes someone else's big story. 

A Front Page Affair by Radha Vatsal is the first book in a new mystery series starring the intrepid Kitty Weeks.  With an atmospheric New York setting and a colorful historical backdrop, the debut novel offers an effortless, entertaining read that is both compelling and enjoyable.  While the book isn't terribly original or memorable, it's a promising start.  I'll be back for more Kitty Weeks, for sure.

(Readalikes:  Vatsal's books have been compared to those by Rhys Bowen.)

Grade:  


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of A Front Page Affair from the generous folks at Sourcebooks.  Thank you!

For Witch Trial Descendants, History Always Repeats Itself in Salem ...

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

With a surname like Mather, you're bound to get some attention in Salem, Massachusetts.  Even 300+ years after the Witch Trials.  Samantha, a 16-year-old descendant of Cotton and Increase Mather—key players in the Trials—isn't so keen on moving away from New York City in the first place.  When she almost immediately becomes the target of a group of mean girls nicknamed The Descendants, she's even less thrilled with her new hometown.  Can these kids, whose ancestors were convicted as witches with the help of Sam's forebears, really be holding a centuries-old grudge?  Apparently so.

As if that's not bad enough, there's a ghost haunting Sam's grandmother's home.  Elijah Roe is handsome (for a dead guy), but he's not exactly the chillest (pun intended) house guest.  The only bright spot in Sam's move is her next-door neighbor.  Unlike her classmates and resident apparition, Jaxon is kind and welcoming.  It doesn't hurt that he's good-looking enough to make Sam blush.  

Sam just wants to settle in and get on with life, but it soon becomes apparent that Salem has other ideas for her.  She, like everyone in town with a connection to the Trials, is at the center of an age-old curse.  To stop it, she'll have to enlist the help of her handsome haunt as well as The Descendants.  Only then, can Sam stop the ruinous cycle that ensures history always repeats itself in Salem.

Ever since I heard that a descendant of Cotton Mather was writing a YA novel about the Salem Witch Trials, I knew I had to read it.  How to Hang a Witch, Adriana Mather's literary debut, also boasts an intriguing, spine-tingling premise that seems to guarantee an exciting, engrossing read.  Imagine my disappoint then when I found the story to be just ho-hum.  While I liked its creepy, atmospheric setting, the novel's characters fell flat for me, never developing past cardboard teenage clichés.  The plot also struck me as choppy and clumsy, dragging in some parts, and making no sense at all in others.  These irritants combined with stilted dialogue, insta-lovey romance (x2), and some major melodrama soured me on How to Hang a Witch.  I wanted to adore this one, but it turned out to be pretty meh for me.  Since I can't resist books about the Titanic, I might give its sequel a go, but probably not.  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 (no F-bombs), violence, and blood/gore

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

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Resolutions I Make (And Break) Every Year


Top Ten Tuesday is my favorite weekly meme by far and wide so, despite recent tweaks, I'm sticking with it.  In case you haven't heard, TTT will no longer be hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  In fact, that blog is dissolving.  You can read goodbye posts from the contributors that include links so you can follow them individually on their own blogs and social media accounts.  Thank you, ladies, for all your hard work over the years!  From now on, TTT will be handled by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl.  Be sure to stop in and give her some love.  To join in the TTT fun, just read up on the meme, make your own list, then have a good ole time hopping around the book blogosphere.  It's a great way to find new blogs to follow, revisit old favorites, and of course, add to your TBR list mountain mountain chain.  What's not to love?

This week's topic is: Top Ten Bookish Resolutions/Goals.  I feel like I've already talked about this, so forgive the redundancy.  I'm really not making any hard and fast bookish resolutions for the new year, but here's what I wouldn't mind accomplishing: 

1.  Read 200 Books.  This has been my yearly goal for a number of years now.  The closest I've come is 186 in 2011.  I read 158 last year, so we'll see what happens in 2018.

2.  Read more non-fiction.  I've always been a fiction kind of girl, but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy an intriguing biography, a scintillating memoir, a fun pop-psych book, or an uplifting inspirational read now and then.  I avoid anything too deep or too dry, but other than that, I'm fairly open ... Anyone have any great recommendations?

3.  Comment More.  Not gonna lie, I'm pretty good about commenting on other people's blogs.  I know how much I enjoy it when people react to my posts, so I always try to return the favor.  However, I'd like to do better about visiting ALL the blogs on my reader and commenting regularly so the authors know how much I enjoy their work.

4.  Keep up on reviews.  You guys, I totally suck at this.  Totally.  My bookish OCD makes me feel like I have to give every book I read its day in the sun, so I can't cheat with mini-reviews, skipping books, etc.  I must review them all!  Apparently, I am incapable of doing it in a timely manner, though, so yeah, I need to work on that this year.

5.  Limit the amount of books I accept for review.  This one is SO tough because I want to read all the things! It's hard to resist shiny new releases, hopeful debut authors, awesome-sounding ARCs, fun blog tours, etc.  I've gotten pickier over the years about what I accept, but I need to be even pickier so I don't go stark raving mad from the guilt I feel over not being able to review everything.

6.  Clean up my feed reader.  My feed reader is crammed full of book blogs (as well as food blogs, diet blogs, organization blogs, writing blogs, etc.).  It's overwhelming and guilt-inducing to see all those unread posts just sitting there.  A lot of the blogs have fallen by the wayside over the years, or my interest in them has waned, so I need to ditch the dead weight and focus on those that are still dynamic and helpful.   

7.  Find new blogs to read.  I love reading book blogs and am always looking for new ones to follow.  I prefer those whose authors share my reading interests, have a clean, upbeat writing style, and comment/follow back.  This is one of the reasons I love TTT—it helps me find new blogs to enjoy.

8.  Actually complete a reading challenge.  I get so excited for the new reading challenges that come out every year, but then I never finish them.  I'm doing some fun ones in 2018, so hopefully I'll actually have some success this time around.  Wish me luck!

9.  Catch up on all the series in which I am woefully behind.  Yeah.

10.  Keep enjoying doing what I love.  By limiting the number of blog tours in which I participate and being very up front with authors about the amount of time (years!) it will likely take me to review their books, I've minimized (but not erased) a lot of the pressure in my blogging life.  This makes the "job" much more pleasurable.  I want to keep that feeling going this year.  More than anything else, I want to make sure this gig remains a pleasurable labor of love.  When it starts to feel like a stressful slog, that's when I'll know it's time to give it up.

What do you think of my resolutions/goals?  What are yours?  I'd truly love to know.  Leave a comment on this post and I'll gladly return the favor.     

Happy TTT!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Raw, Emotional Sandy Hook Memoir Deeply Touching, Inspiring

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

On December 14, 2012, in a small town in southwestern Connecticut, the unthinkable happened.  Adam Lanza, a 20-year-old man who had just mudered his mother, forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School.  He proceeded to shoot and kill twenty first graders and six staff members before committing suicide.  His violent actions left a peaceful town and a stunned nation in horrified shock.  

Among the dead was 6-year-old Emilie Parker, a sweet little girl who loved art and the color pink.  In the wake of the shooting, her grief-stricken parents—Alissa and Robbie—struggled to understand such a senseless act.  Faithful members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they couldn't fathom how God had let such an atrocity happen.  Mostly, they missed and mourned their young daughter, who had been taken from them way too early in a terrifying, tragic way.  

Although Alissa Parker doesn't consider herself a writer, she wanted to share her story.  An Unseen Angel, a raw and heart-wrenching memoir, is the result.  In the book, she talks about the shooting, but she spends most of the pages discussing her long, rocky path to healing and forgiveness.  She doesn't sugarcoat things as she discusses her warring emotions, her bitterness in the wake of her loss, and her constant yearning for the one thing she can't have—more time with Emilie.  I especially love the parts where Parker talks about how learning to forgive Adam Lanza allowed her to not only find true peace but also to more fully feel Emilie's spirit as she moved forward with her life.  This passage has really stuck with me:

I finally came to the conclusion that I would never know [why Adam Lanza did what he did].  I would never fathom what was in his heart.  But God could.  God knew how to hold him accountable.  God knew how to judge him.  That burden was not for me to carry; rather, it was for me to lay down at God's feet.  It was not something I needed to grapple with for the rest of my life.  I didn't have to judge.  I didn't have to figure it out.

As I made this decision, a burden so deep and heavy it had nearly crushed me was physically lifted from me.  My heart burned with a joy so powerful it brought me to tears.  I had learned it was possible to forgive Adam Lanza, and that the first step for me was to choose to simply let go (137).

Told in straightforward, unadorned prose, An Unseen Angel is an emotional and powerful memoir.  It touched me deeply, more so than I imagined it would.  Parker's story made me cry; it made me think; and it made me look at my own struggles with a new perspective.  As sad as the subject matter is, An Unseen Angel focuses not on the shooting at Sandy Hook itself, but on the hope, healing, and grace that have come about because of it.

If you're looking for an inspiring, faith-promoting read, look no further.  Just be sure to have a box of tissues handy because you're definitely going to need them.

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of An Unseen Angel from the generous folks at Shadow Mountain.  Thank you!

Friday, January 12, 2018

Second Installment Proves Lady Darby Series Just Gets Better As It Goes

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Mortal Arts, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its predecessor, The Anatomist's Wife.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.

Having been the assistant of her anatomist husband while he made a macabre study of death, Lady Kiera Darby has earned an unsavory, though undeserved, reputation.  Now a widow, the 25-year-old painter has gladly retreated from society.  Her sister's country home has become a refuge, in spite of the unfortunate murder that took place there recently.  When Kiera's pregnant sister is encouraged to relocate to Edinburgh to be closer to medical help, Kiera knows she must go, too.  Leery of society gossips, she tries to remain in the background, blending as well as she can into the scenery.

It's not to be.  When a local girl goes missing and Kiera's old art tutor, William Dalmay, becomes a suspect in a possible crime, Kiera is once again drawn into the intrigue.  Paired with Sebastian Gage, an infuriating inquiry agent whose many charms are not lost on the widow, she vows to prove William's innocence.  The more the duo investigates, however, the more it looks like William may, in fact, not be as innocent as he seems.  Kiera refuses to believe he's guilty, but she can't deny that the 40-year-old war veteran has been suffering from a severe case of shell shock.  Could he, in his debilitating illness, have done something terrible?  It's up to Kiera and Sebastian to find out.

While I liked The Anatomist's Wife, the first book in Anna Lee Huber's historical mystery series, I enjoyed this second installment more.  Mortal Arts boasts a more exotic setting, a more complex story, and a more exciting (albeit slow-burning) romantic subplot.  All of these elements work together to make it more engrossing on the whole.  While Mortal Arts has some grim parts, overall it's a clean, entertaining mystery that will appeal to readers who fancy detective novels with colorful historical settings, strong female leads, and fewer gory, graphic details than you find in a typical mystery/suspense novel.  I'm loving this series that just keeps getting better and better.

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Lady Darby series, including The Anatomist's Wife; A Grave Matter; A Study in Death; A Pressing Engagement [novella]; As Death Draws Near; and A Brush With Shadows)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

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

Eclipse-Chasing Mystery/Thriller Tense, Twisty

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

August 1999—Laura knows little about solar eclipses, but when her college friends decide to take a trip to the Cornish coast to witness one, she's all in.  She meets Kit McCall, a passionate, principled eclipse chaser, at a pre-trip planning meeting and falls swiftly in love.  By the time they travel together to Lizard Point, they're an established couple, both eager to experience the upcoming, sure-to-be-brilliant phenomenon.  But, in the chaotic, carnival-like atmosphere on the Point, Laura witnesses something even more life-changing than the eclipse.  She's not exactly sure what she's seeing; she only knows she has to intervene.  Grateful for her aid, 19-year-old Beth Taylor latches on to Laura, even showing up later on her London doorstep.  Leery of their new houseguest, Kit and Laura do what they can to help.  However, when things with Beth take an unsettling turn, they know they have to distance themselves from the increasingly unstable young woman.

March 2015—Now married to Kit and pregnant with twins, Laura still lives in fear.  Although the McCalls have taken great pains to hide their identities—they have new names, no social media profiles, burner phones, no personal photos published on the Internet, etc—Laura remains anxious, terrified of being discovered by Beth.  Kit's desire to go on an eclipse-chasing trip fills her with dread.  When his excursion triggers a brush with the past, Laura is forced to face the truth about what really happened in Cornwall.  With everything—and everyone—she loves at risk, she must find a way to stop her worst nightmare from coming to fruition.  

He Said She Said by English author Erin Kelly is an engrossing thriller that's both timely (more so when I read it back in July) and terrifying.  Complex and twisty, it kept me guessing and on the edge-of-my-seat until the very last page.  Although the novel is sad and depressing, it's also a tense, suspenseful page-turner from which you'll be hard pressed to look away.  If you're a twisty mystery fan, you'll definitely want to check out He Said She Said as well as other books by Erin Kelly.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of books by Sharon Bolton and Jane Casey)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, sexual content, disturbing subject matter, and depictions of illegal drug use

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

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Swoon-Worthy Trifecta Not Enough to Make Southern Beach Novel Stand Out

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Bonny Blankenship's happiest memories from childhood all center around one place: Watersend, South Carolina.  She loved spending long, languid summers there with her best friend, Lainey.  Known around town as the "Summer Sisters," the girls wiled away the hours swimming, dreaming, and reading at Title Wave, the local bookstore.  Although those idyllic vacations ended abruptly when Lainey's mother disappeared, Bonny still longs for the innocent, bygone days of her youth.  

When Bonny, now an ER doctor in Charleston, makes a critical mistake at work, she's encouraged to take some time off.  Lainey's suggestion of spending one last summer at Watersend seems to be just the ticket. Piper, Bonny's college drop-out daughter, comes along to nanny for Lainey's children while the two old friends (sans spouses) reconnect at the family cottage they've always loved.  As Bonny and Lainey share their individual triumphs and tragedies, they find camaraderie and understanding.  While trying to make sense of both their presents and their shared past, the duo poke into the continuing mystery of Lainey's mother.  With some help from Mimi, the owner of Title Wave, the women search for answers, healing, and the comfort that can only be found within the pages of a good book.  

The Bookshop at Water's End by Patti Callahan Henry combines several of my favorite novel themes: the South, the beach, and books.  That's a trifecta pretty much guaranteed to make me swoon.  In this case, though, it just ... didn't.  Not really.  I had trouble feeling any connection with Bonny or Lainey, both of whom seemed immature and self-absorbed.  While the story felt melodramatic to me, it was compelling enough to keep me reading.  Overall, though, I didn't love it.  In fact, The Bookshop at Water's End was so forgettable to me that I had to read a couple different plot summaries before I could remember enough about the book to write this review.  Bummer, because I wanted to like this one a lot more than I did.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of books by Karen White and Dorothea Benton Frank)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated: 


for language (a few F-bombs plus milder expletives), violence, mild sexual content, and references to illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Bookshop at Water's End from the generous folks at Penguin Random House.  Thank you!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman-Ish Historical Romance Enjoyable Overall (With a Giveaway!)

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

For her proper New York family, Kate Donahue's insistence on pursuing a medical degree is confounding.  She's a well-bred woman for heaven's sake, one with plenty of money and a handsome fianceé to manage it for her.  What more does she need?  For 24-year-old Kate, becoming a doctor is about helping people.  Her parents and intended might think her dream frivolous, but she's determined to pursue a career in medicine no matter the cost.  

When Kate sees an advertisement from Craig, Colorado, seeking a town doctor, she hesitates.  But only for a moment.  Knowing the move will mean disinheritance, she sets out for the Wild West anyway.  Not surprisingly, a female doctor is not quite what Craig expected.  From the moment she steps onto its dusty streets, she meets resistance.  It only worsens when Kate finds herself entangled with a handsome Irish sheep rancher with plenty of his own problems, including an estranged wife in Boston.  Can Kate really create a life for herself, pursuing her passion—for medicine and for Lucas McCurdy—out in the lawless west?  Or will she be forced to return to her parents with her tail between her legs?

Heart of the West, a historical romance by Carolyn Twede Frank, is a clean, compelling story with plenty of conflict to keep it exciting.  It's an uplifting girl power novel that explores women's roles in America at the end of the 19th Century.  Kate represents a new kind of woman, one who bucks tradition by pursuing both a career and a family.  While I appreciated our heroine's confidence and determination, I also found her to be a condescending, know-it-all busybody.  Although she does learn some lessons throughout the novel, I felt like she didn't grow enough as a character.  A little humility would have made her more likable—at least for me.  Overall, though, I enjoyed this book.  It made for light, entertaining reading even if it was pretty predictable and tell-y. 

(Readalikes:  Honestly, the only "readalike" that comes to mind is Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.)   

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence, mild innuendo, and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Heart of the West from the generous folks at Covenant.  Thank you!

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Tuesday, January 09, 2018

TTT: Distractions and Detractions


I discovered all kinds of new book blogs last year thanks to Top Ten Tuesday—just one of the many reasons I love participating in this weekly meme so much.  One of my finds was Reading is My SuperPower, written by the lovely Carrie.  I love her twist on this week's TTT topic, so I'm going to steal it.  Hopefully she doesn't mind 😬 

Before I get to that, though, I want to give a shout out to the lovely ladies over at The Broke and the Bookish.  They created TTT and have been hosting it for a looonnnggg time.  They'll be passing the duties on to Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl starting next week.  So, I just wanted to take a minute to say thank you to all of our hostesses.  I appreciate your hard work in running this super fun meme.

This week's topic is Top Ten Books We Meant to Read in 2017 But Didn't Get To.  I feel like I've already talked incessantly about what I want to read this year, so I'm going to channel my inner Carrie and go with this instead (thanks again, Carrie, for the fabulous idea):  

Top Ten Excuses Reasons I Didn't Read As Many Books As I Wanted to Last Year


1.  Words With Friends—It's embarrassing to admit, but this is definitely one of the top distractions that got in the way of my reading last year.  I've never cared for video games, but it's tough for me to resist word games.  If you play, hit me up—I'm sjwordnerd.


2.  Word Streak (formerly Scramble With Friends)—This is Zynga's version of Boggle and it's actually more fun than WWF.  Since you only get a limited number of free tokens to use for play, I can't waste endless time on it; thank goodness because otherwise I totally would!  I'm sjwordnerd on Word Streak as well.


3.  Family History—Much less embarrassing and a much more noble pursuit is genealogy.  Like many LDS people, I'm obsessed with tracing my roots.  It's fun and it's addicting.  Because it's my church "calling" as well as my hobby, I spend lots of time indexing historical records, exploring my own family tree, and helping others do the same.  If you're interested in family history, I highly recommend checking out familysearch.org.  It's a free, user-friendly site that allows you to search millions of historical records and use them to build a collaborative family tree.  Watch out, though, or you might find yourself becoming as obsessed with it as I am!


4.  Housework—I live in a 5000 square foot home that I clean myself. 'Nuf said about me and my first-world problems.

5.  Family—My husband and kids wouldn't recognize me if I didn't have a book in my hands.  Occasionally, I do have to come back to Earth and pay them a *little* attention.


6.  Lack of Speed Reading Skills—Every year I set the goal of reading 200 books.  Every year I fail.  I'm a fast reader, but I can't speed read unless I want to suck all the enjoyment out of the experience.  No thanks.  


7.  Writing Reviews—I read books faster than I review them, so I'm always—always—behind on reviews.  I review every book I read and I try to do so in a thoughtful manner, considering both what worked for me and what didn't.  As a writer, I've always been a bleeder so composing a satisfactory review takes some time.  Especially when you're still working on books you read back in July!



8.  Book Blogger Relations—I love the book blogging community.  I've been a part of it for a long time because I enjoy it so much.  That being said, it takes time to visit blogs, make comments, participate in memes/community events, etc.  It's fun but it definitely gets in the way of my reading—and that's okay.


9.  Social Media—Scrolling through Facebook and Instagram eats up way too much of my time.  I love keeping up with far-flung friends and family, but it's definitely a time suck.  

10. Volunteering—I love to volunteer in my community and should probably do more of it.  Still, I manage to put in time at my daughter's elementary school, at church, and with the FamilySearch Indexing program.  Go, me!

Do any of these things get in the way of your reading?  What other distractions take your attention away from the books?  What books did you plan to read in 2017 that you just didn't get around to?  I'd love to know.  Leave me a comment and I'll gladly return the favor.

Happy TTT!

*Generic photos/graphics from Google Images.  Family photo by Sidney Ulrich Photography.     
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