Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Speed Meets The Hunger Games in High-Octane Thriller

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

My husband's favorite feature on his new Tesla Model 3 is its ability to drive itself.  While the technology that makes this possible is, admittedly, pretty amazing, I find it a little ... terrifying.  My husband insists the car is always "learning," but its self-driving programming is far, far from perfect. When the vehicle lurches across the road for no reason or tries to exit the freeway unexpectedly, it's unnerving, to say the least. My husband may be fine with letting the car drive itself, but I am certainly not!

All of this is to say that I'm totally the target audience for John Marrs' new thriller, The Passengers. The plot plays on the fears of people like me who are not entirely sold on "progress," especially when it means an ever-increasing reliance on computers, robots, artificial intelligence, etc.  I, for one, find the novel's premise absolutely horrifying.  

The book is set in England in the near future.  The government has determined to ban all autonomous vehicles within ten years, gradually replacing them with driverless cars.  With the government offering huge incentives for people to buy the most advanced model of self-driving cars, British roads are already teeming with driverless sedans, taxis, buses, etc.  Despite guarantees of safety, not everyone is convinced.  Libby Dixon, for one, abhors the idea of autonomous vehicles.  She's even more disgusted by her mandatory summons to be part of a top-secret inquest committee that evaluates fault in accidents involving such.

When an inquest meeting is interrupted by a shocking news bulletin, Libby is sick to see that eight people are trapped in their driverless cars.  "The Hacker" is controlling their vehicles, the routes they are now traveling, and the massive collision he says will be imminent in just 2 1/2 hours.  As the passengers realize what is happening, their every emotion is captured with in-car cameras and broadcast to millions of viewers across the world.  An even greater panic ensues when The Hacker informs all that the public will choose who will live and who will die.  In what appears to be the most macabre and deadliest reality show ever created, no one will escape unscathed.

Aptly billed as Speed meets The Hunger Games, The Passengers is a high-octane thriller that kept me glued to the page.  It's gruesome and depressing, not gonna lie, but it's also a compelling and thought-provoking read.  In a world where every intimate detail of our lives is recorded, broadcast, and offered up for public examination, The Passengers asks some important questions about privacy, trust, bias, justice, and the role of technology and social media in our lives.  If you can handle the grimness, it's a thought-provoking read that would make for a lively book club discussion.     

(Readalikes:  The Passengers definitely reminds me of The Hunger Games, but I'm not sure what else to compare it to.  Suggestions?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

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

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

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Canadian Mystery Not All That Thrilling

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

For the MacAllister kids, summers always revolved around Camp Macaw, the business their parents have run for years.  Now that the elder MacAllisters have died, their children—now adults—are reuniting for the reading of their father's will and to figure out what to do with the prime property on which Camp Macaw sits.  With varying feelings about the camp, their parents, and each other, the five MacAllister siblings have different ideas about what to do with the land.  Prepared for some heavy debating, the kids are nevertheless shocked by the caveat their father gives in his will.  Before any of them can do anything with Camp Macaw they have to work together to solve a mystery.  

Twenty years ago, the bludgeoned body of 17-year-old Amanda Holmes was found in a rowboat at Camp Macaw.  The crime has never been solved.  Until it is, none of the MacAllisters can collect their inheritances.  

As the MacAllisters dig into their collective past, they will unearth long-kept secrets that will either bring them together or tear them apart forever.

I love a good secrets-from-the-past-haunting-the-present story, so the plot summary of I'll Never Tell by Catherine McKenzie instantly caught my attention.  Unfortunately, the novel's execution doesn't quite live up to the promise of its tantalizing premise.  The mystery is compelling enough, but the characters are almost wholly unlikable and the plot is predictable enough that I guessed the culprit almost from the beginning.  Plus, the story is seriously depressing.  Overall, then, I didn't end up loving this one.  It ended up being just okay for me.

(Readalikes:  A hundred titles should be coming to mind, but I'm drawing a blank.  Help?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of I'll Never Tell from the generous folks at Lake Union Publishing via those at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Despite Promising Elements, New Romantic Suspense Novel Just an Average Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Losing her mother at birth and growing up in a succession of foster homes has left 30-year-old Harper Taylor with a desperate longing for a family to call her own.  Wealthy Oliver Jackson, her mentor and business partner, has been like a father to her, but Oliver's real children see her only as an interloping gold digger.  While Harper tends to the pen shell beds that are the center of her research and burgeoning career, she's pursuing her goal of creating the family she's always wanted.  Not only is she "adopting" a frozen embryo, hoping to bear a child of her own, but she's also submitted her DNA to a testing company in the hopes of discovering birth relatives. 

Almost as soon as Harper receives news of a DNA match, a series of disturbing events happen—Oliver is attacked while diving, a stranger tries to assault Harper, and Harper's newfound half-sister narrowly escapes an attempted abduction.  Coincidence?  No way.  The more Harper communicates with her half-sister, the more disturbing information they uncover about their family.  Is someone trying to eliminate living members to keep secrets from the past from coming to light?  Terrified for her future, Harper reluctantly partners with Oliver's son, Ridge, to solve the mystery of her past.  Can the duo get to the bottom of what's going on?  Will Harper ever have a chance at finding love and a family or will she be the next Taylor woman to die a mysterious death?

Let me say this upfront:  I'm not a big fan of romantic suspense.  I am a *little* obsessed with genealogy, though, so the premise of Strands of Truth by Colleen Coble definitely caught my attention.  Secrets-of-the-past-haunting-the-present is one of my favorite story tropes as well, so I figured I'd give this one a try.  While I found the book disappointing overall, there are several elements I appreciate about Strands of Truth besides those I already mentioned:  (1) the fact that it's clean and faith-promoting without being preachy, (2) the featuring of honorable, God-fearing characters who come off as moral and devoted, not fanatical or weird, and (3) the inclusion of some interesting/unique subjects like pen shell harvesting and sea silk weaving (although neither gets enough attention in the story).  Unfortunately, I also found the characters to be flat and personality-less, the action to be melodramatic and far-fetched, and the prose to be lifeless and dull.  I did, however, care enough about Harper to read her story to the end.  And, while the finale feels cliché and silly, I didn't see the novel's Big Reveal coming.  So, there's that.  All in all, though, Strands of Truth turned out to be just an average read for me.  

P.S.  I'm notoriously picky about books and apparently I'm in the minority in my opinion on Strands of Truth.  Check out the book's stellar reviews on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and Goodreads for more viewpoints.  Also, be sure to follow along on the novel's blog tour (see links below).  

(Readalikes:  I don't read much romantic suspense, so nothing's really coming to mind.  Suggestions?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for violence and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Strands of Truth from the generous folks at Thomas Nelson via those at Celebrate Lit in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!


Follow along on Strands of Truth's blog tour, hosted by Celebrate Lit:

Blog Stops

Inspired by fiction, September 3
EmpowerMoms, September 3
Blogging With Carol, September 3
Christian bookaholic, September 4
KarenSueHadley , September 4
Susan Cornwell, September 5
Inside the Wong Mind, September 5
Godly Book Reviews, September 5
Emily Yager, September 6
Older & Smarter?, September 6
Blessed & Bookish, September 6
Andrea Christenson, September 6
Avid Reader Nurse, September 7
D’S QUILTS & BOOKS, September 7
The Becca Files, September 8
Mary Hake, September 8
Spoken from the Heart, September 9
Betti Mace, September 9
Back Porch Reads, September 9
Moments, September 10
All-of-a-kind Mom, September 10
For Him and my Family, September 10
Texas Book-aholic, September 11
Retrospective Spines, September 11
Daysong Reflections, September 11
SusanLovesBooks, September 11
Remembrancy, September 12
Worthy2Read, September 12
Just the Write Escape, September 12
Bigreadersite , September 13
janicesbookreviews, September 13
As He Leads is Joy, September 13
Livin’ Lit, September 13
To Everything A Season, September 13
Simple Harvest Reads, September 14
Pause for Tales, September 14
A Reader’s Brain, September 15
Quiet Quilter , September 15
Hallie Reads, September 15
Inklings and notions , September 16
By The Book, September 16
Real World Bible Study, September 16
Patiently Waiting, September 16

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Cozy Series Opener a Fun Bookish Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Put-in-Bay is a quaint village on an island in the middle of Lake Erie.  Even with a population that balloons during the summer tourist season, it's a peaceful town full of neighborly folks who do their best to get along.  Mostly.  Bea Cartwright—a brash Manhattanite who recently moved to Put-in-Bay to open a posh B&B—has had it up to here with her neighbors.  Chandra Morrissey won't silence the annoying hippie music she plays at all hours or keep her cat out of Bea's pansies.  Bea's other neighbor, winery owner Kate Wilder, won't quit whining about the traffic problems caused by constant deliveries to the B&B, complaints which are costing Bea time and money.  The women have brought their squabbles before the town magistrate so many times that he'll do anything to end the fighting.  Even something totally unconventional.

Sentenced to start a book club and meet for a weekly discussion for one year, the trio reluctantly accepts their punishment.  Almost as soon as they begin reading Murder on the Orient Express, life begins to imitate art a little too close to home.  Peter Chan, the genial owner of a new Chinese restaurant in town, is stabbed to death.  Horrified, the neighbors turned book club members turned amateur detectives vow to get to the bottom of the grisly murder.  In order to do so, they'll have to do something radical—get along.  Can they put aside their differences long enough to figure out what happened to Chan?  Or will they end up killing each other first?

Mayhem at the Orient Express, the first installment in Kylie Logan's League of Literary Ladies mystery series, is just as fun as it sounds.  Far-fetched?  Totally.  Still, it's a light-hearted novel with a colorful setting, likable characters, and a fun bookish theme.  It's nothing super original or memorable, but I enjoyed Mayhem at the Orient Express enough to pick up the next book in the series.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of the Ethnic Eats series by Kylie Logan and the Noodle Shop Mystery series by Vivien Chien)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

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

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Friday, September 06, 2019

Hey Alexa, What do You Get When You Cross a Haunted Smart Home and an Unsuspecting Nanny With Secrets of Her Own?

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Ignoring everything she's ever heard about gigs that sound too good to be true, Londoner Rowan Caine accepts a position as a live-in nanny in the Scottish Highlands.  Lured by the promise of a ridiculously generous salary; the luxury of Heatherbrae House, a remote "smart" home that's rumored to be haunted; and the charm of her three young charges, who appear to be pleasant and well-behaved; the 27-year-old is so glad for the job that she doesn't ask too many questions.  After all, she doesn't want her new employers querying her too closely, now does she?  

At first, Rowan is relieved to be given almost complete autonomy in her new job.  Bill and Sandra Elincourt—busy professionals who run a family architecture business—are consumed by work and seem perfectly content to leave the care of their children in the hands of a virtual stranger.  When the couple takes off almost immediately after Rowan's arrival, leaving the nanny in charge for the foreseeable future, she's dismayed, then horrified.  Not only does Rowan have little idea how to run Heatherbrae House's smart features, but the place seems to have taken against her, turning on lights, locking doors, and blaring music at all hours.  The Elincourt children aren't any better with their tricks and tantrums.  As the situation grows increasingly out of control, a frantic Rowan becomes more and more panicked.  In over her head, she's desperate for help that's obviously not coming.  When push comes to shove, the unthinkable happens.  

Now Rowan's sitting in a Scottish prison pleading for someone—anyone—to believe in her innocence.  A child is dead; if Rowan isn't the killer, then who is?

I'm a fan of Ruth Ware's psychological suspense novels.  I love how they keep me feeling off-kilter throughout, never quite knowing what's real and what's not.  While her newest, The Turn of the Key, is not my favorite of hers, I still enjoyed it.  Despite a slower pace than her other books, this one still boasts an intriguing premise, a creepy, suspenseful vibe, and an engrossing plot, all of which kept me flying through the pages to see what would happen next.  If you dig compelling, slow-building (but still engaging) psychological thrillers, you'll definitely want to give this one a go.  It's an old-fashioned haunted house story with a fresh, modern twist to keep things interesting.    

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of The Other Mother by Carol Goodman and The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware)


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 an e-ARC of The Turn of the Key from the generous folks at Gallery/Scout Press via those at NetGalley.  Thank you!

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Contemplative Post-Apocalyptic Novel Absorbing, Thought-Provoking

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"It was as if the building itself had drawn us to it from the most far-flung corners of the world.  And when we arrived, the world had ended" (143).

In Switzerland for an academic conference, Jon Keller—a history professor at Stanford—is staying at L'Hôtel Sixième.  Featuring 1000 rooms, breathtaking views, and a fading elegance, the isolated resort sprawls on acres of lovely country land in the middle of nowhere.  This becomes a problem when frantic news reports announce that nuclear bombs have fallen on major cities in both Europe and the U.S.  Panicked guests stampede to the door, speeding toward the nearest airport and train station.  With no transportation left, Jon and a handful of others become stranded at the hotel.  As news stations and the Internet shut down, they're left with zero information, no viable means of escape, and little hope for survival.

Two months after the disaster strikes, Jon is one of 20 or so people still living in the hotel.  Some have since wandered off or committed suicide; those who remain eke out a semblance of a life, trying to stave off the boredom and cabin fever that rules their lives.  With supplies dwindling, the guests also must figure out how to find more food, protect themselves against roving bands of desperate survivors, and whether or not it's time to move on from what has been a relatively safe haven.  While these conflicts plague the hotel community, another problem arises—the body of a young girl is discovered in one of the building's water tanks.  Horrified, Jon vows to find out what happened to her.  The situation at the resort is bad enough without having a cold-blooded murderer among them.  As their patchwork society crumbles around them, Jon and his comrades search for the killer among them while battling to hold on to not just their sanity but their very humanity.

The Last by Hanna Jameson is an intriguing genre mash-up that combines a compelling murder mystery with a tense dystopian/post-apocalyptic survival tale.  It's not a pulse-pounding thriller, but more of a contemplative study of human nature.  Which isn't to say it's boring.  It's not.  In fact, it's an engrossing novel that asks some interesting questions about right and wrong, self-interest vs. community, what truly matters when the world has gone to hell, and what makes us human.  While I didn't end up loving The Last, I did find it an absorbing, thought-provoking read.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language, violence, blood/gore, depictions of illegal drug use, sexual content, and disturbing subject matter

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

Friday, August 30, 2019

Medieval Rags-to-Riches Romance an Intriguing, Epic Tale

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Despite the thin stream of noble blood that runs through her, Rosamund Tomkins belongs neither here nor there.  Especially after the death of her beloved grandmother, a gentlewoman who was teaching her the pretty manners of a lady.  When Rosamund is subsequently taking in by her common, disinterested mother and her greedy, abusive stepfather, she becomes little more than a servant at the family's inn.  Then, a chance encounter with a wealthy London businessman changes the 17-year-old's life in an instant.  Suddenly, she's not just a wife, but also a woman with status and a title.

When Sir Everard Blithman introduces his new wife to his latest business venture—the opening of a chocolate house—Rosamund is immediately entranced.  She's never tasted the exotic beverage, but from the get-go, she proves to be a dab hand at helping to mix it in just the right combinations to entice customers into the shop.  Although having a titled woman so involved in business is considered vulgar by London's wagging tongues, Rosamund feels more at home at the chocolate house than she does anywhere else.  While she senses there is much more going on beneath the surface of her marriage, her husband's mysterious family, and her new friendship with a handsome journalist, she doesn't realize the truth until she finds herself hopelessly entangled in a complex web of deception that threatens to destroy not just Rosamund's beloved chocolate house but everything good in her new life.  With both the business and the fates of the people she's come to love on the line, Rosamund will risk everything to save them.

Although I've been enjoying a grand love affair with chocolate for decades, I knew little about its history.  Thus, I found myself intrigued by the subject of Karen Brooks' new novel, The Chocolate Maker's Wife.  The book's colorful Medieval setting, complete with castles, knights, and the Plague, is likewise intriguing.  Naive, but kind and determined, Rosamund makes for the kind of likable, admirable heroine for whom it is easy to root.  At a hefty 551 pages, The Chocolate Maker's Wife is hardly a page-turner; it did, however, move along fast enough to keep me interested.  Despite a Big Reveal that was obvious from the get-go, the plot offered a few surprises I didn't see coming.  While I didn't end up loving this book, I did enjoy the read overall.

(Readalikes:  Reminded me a little of Chocolat by Joanne Harris)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of The Chocolate Maker's Wife from the generous folks at HarperCollins via those at TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!


Would you like more opinions on The Chocolate Maker's Wife?  Follow along on the book's blog tour by visiting the sites listed below:

Tuesday, August 20th: BookNAround
Tuesday, August 20th: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books (postponed to August 30th)
Wednesday, August 21st: A Chick Who Reads
Thursday, August 22nd: Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile
Friday, August 23rd: Broken Teepee
Monday, August 26th: Jennifer ~ Tar Heel Reader
Tuesday, August 27th: Based on a True Story
Wednesday, August 28th: Reading Reality
Thursday, August 29th: Laura’s Reviews
Friday, August 30th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Monday, September 2nd: Jathan & Heather
Tuesday, September 3rd: Tina Says…
Wednesday, September 4th: Book by Book
Thursday, September 5th: bookish bliss and beauty
Friday, September 6th: Real Life Reading

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: My Beauty and the Beast (Dream) Library

It's Tuesday, time for my favorite weekly book meme!  I've skipped the last couple topics either because I was out of town or because the topic du jour had me stumped.  This week's prompt, Top Ten Books I've Read That I'd Like in My Personal Library, is problematic, too, since I don't even need a complete sentence to answer the question—ALL the books, people, ALL the books!  So, I'm going to twist it up a little bit and go with Top Ten Personal Libraries I'd Love to Call My Own.  Gazing at beautiful home libraries is always a good time, so I'm excited to show you some favorites from my Internet trolling.

Before we get to that, though, I just want to urge you to join in on the TTT fun.  All you have to do is click over to That Artsy Reader Girl for some brief instructions, make your own list, then hop around the book blogosphere checking out other bloggers' lists.  It's a good time and a great way to spread the love around our awesome online book community. 

Okay, here we go with Top Ten Personal Libraries I'd Love to Call My Own

Apparently, my dream library is one of two types—either the traditional Beauty and the Beast version like the first five below or the light, bright libraries with a view a la the last five.  If I had my druthers, I'd build myself one of the former, with gleaming wooden shelves (that I'd hire someone else to dust), a roaring fireplace, a comfy chair, and, of course, floor-to-ceiling shelves.  Since the latter is more practical (let's be honest), I could definitely "settle" for bright white bookshelves, a big window showcasing a lovely view, and a cushy armchair (my back wouldn't be able to handle a window seat).  I guess it's a good thing I don't have libraries like these in my house because I'd never leave them ...

How about you?  What would your dream home library look like?  I'd truly love to know.  Leave me a comment on this post and I will gladly return the favor on yours.

Happy TTT!

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Appealing Heroine and Twisty Mystery Make Series Debut an Engaging Start

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Although Jazz Ramsey has a job she enjoys as an administrative assistant at St. Catherine's Preparatory Academy, a girls-only school in Cleveland, her real love is training cadaver dogs.  One night, while running drills with a clever canine in an abandoned building, Jazz is shocked when Luther discovers a dead body.  The remains are those of a young woman wearing Goth clothes and makeup.  Underneath all the camouflage, Jazz is stunned to see a girl she recognizes.  Kind of.  Florentine "Florrie" Allen had a much more subtle appearance while she attended St. Catherine's, but there's no doubt it's her.  What was she doing in the old, deserted building?  Who hated the girl enough to strangle her to death?  And what happened to Florrie to cause such a dramatic change in her appearance?

Jazz's ex-boyfriend, Detective Nick Kolesov, warns her to let the police handle the investigation, but she can't get Florrie out of her mind.  She has to know what happened.  While her amateur detecting brings her closer to the truth, it also puts her own life in danger.  Can Jazz crack the case before the killer strikes again?  Or will Luther be sniffing out her corpse next?

Kylie Logan has authored several cozy mystery series; The Scent of Murder is her first foray into more serious crime fiction.  I'm glad she made the jump as this novel features an appealing heroine, a twisty plot, and dynamic prose, all elements I very much appreciate.  It's an engaging whodunit that's compelling and fast-paced, but remains PG-13 in content, an unusual feat for books in this genre.  I enjoyed Logan's descriptions of Cleveland's vibrant Tremont neighborhood as well as the warm relationships she creates between Jazz and her family.  I'm also interested to see what happens between her and Nick.  The Scent of Murder is the first book in the Jazz Ramsey series; I can't wait to see what happens in the next one!

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of A Borrowing of Bones by Paula Munier)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

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

To the FTC, with love:  Honestly, I can't remember where I picked up my copy of this book.  Sorry, FTC.
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