Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: FALLing for New Books


A lot of fun Top Ten Tuesday topics come up during any given year, but my hands-down favorites are the seasonal reading prompts.  It's always fun to think about what I want to read in the upcoming months and it's even more enjoyable to see what books other bloggers are excited about.  The more the merrier, guys, so why don't you join in the fun?  All you have to do is click on over to That Artsy Reader Girl, read a few guidelines, make your own list, and then sit back and enjoy wandering around the book blogosphere checking out other people's posts.  Warning:  keep Goodreads open because you'll be adding a lot of great-sounding reads to your "I Need to Read it NOW" list.

I'm thrilled to have been selected as a YA fiction judge for the first round of The Cybils Awards.  I've never done this before, so I'm not exactly sure what it entails besides reading a lot of teen novels!  I assume that's what I'll be doing for most of the Fall, but since nominations don't open until November 1st, I don't have any specific titles to share.  In the meantime, then, here are the Top Ten Books on My Fall TBR List:

YA/Middle Grade


1. The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys (coming October 1, 2019)—I love Sepetys' historical fiction, so I've been eagerly waiting for this one to come out.  It's a love story set in Madrid after the country's Civil War.  I can't wait!


2.  Slay by Brittney Morris (out today, September 24, 2019)—When a conflict inside the Black Panther-inspired video game she secretly designed causes the death of a player, 17-year-old Kiera Johnson is thrust into a real-life battle that threatens the safe world she thought she had created for herself and other Black gamers.  Billed as Ready Player One meets The Hate U Give, this YA novel sounds intriguing and timely.


3.  The World Ends in April by Stacy McAnulty (out now)—As the granddaughter of a doomsday prepper, Eleanor knows she will survive the apocalypse just fine.  But what about her BFF, Mack?  Before she knows what's happening, Eleanor has become the president of an End of the World club at her school.  No matter what happens with the approaching apocalypse, her life is definitely changing.  This MG offering sounds fun.  Count me in, for sure!


4.  Color Me In by Natasha Diaz (out now)—I've always been intrigued by stories about struggles with racial identity, even before my husband and I adopted our bi-racial daughter ten years ago.  Now I'm especially drawn to them and this YA novel, about a bi-racial teen finding her way around her Black and Jewish roots, sounds exceptional.


5.  The Grey Sisters by Jo Treggiari (out today, September 24, 2019)—A trio of friends head to the mountains to visit the site of the plane crash that took their siblings' lives in order to find closure.  While they search for answers, they meet a mountain dweller searching for help.  Their meeting will change all of their lives.  I love a good survival tale; The Grey Sisters sounds like that and more.

Adult


6.  The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes (out October 8, 2019)—This historical novel, about an Englishwoman living in small-town Kentucky during the Depression who decides to become a book deliverer for Eleanor Roosevelt's traveling library campaign, sounds compelling.


7.  The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (out today, September 24, 2019)—This sweeping rags-to-riches family drama sounds like one I will really enjoy.

Of course, I can't make a TTT list without including a few mystery/thrillers:


8.  The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell (out November 5, 2019)—On the day she turns 25, Libby Jones finds out not just who her biological parents are, but also that she has inherited their posh home in London.  She soon discovers that the house has a dark, haunting history ... I love a ghostly story, especially around Halloween time.  This one sounds like it will fit the bill perfectly!


9.  One Night Gone by Tara Laskowski (out October 1, 2019)—When a woman is offered a house-sitting gig at a luxurious beach home, she jumps at the chance.  The more she learns about a 30-year-old mystery connected to the home, the more intrigued she becomes ... Another creepy house story - yaaassss!  I want them all!


10.  Before the Devil Fell by Neil Olson (out October 8, 2019)—This is another novel that sounds like a great spine-tingling Halloween read.  It concerns a man who returns to the hometown he fled in the wake of disturbing rumors about his mother and her "coven."  His assumption that his mother's interest in witchcraft was just a passing hippie phase is dissolved as he finds disturbing clues in his family history that hint at a much lengthier association with New England witchcraft.

There you have it, ten books I'm looking forward to reading this Fall.  How about you?  What's on your list?  I'd truly love to know.  Leave a comment on this post and I will gladly return the favor on yours. 

Happy TTT!

Monday, September 23, 2019

Upbeat WWII Novel Funny and Charming

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Although Emmeline "Emmy" Lake does her part for the war effort by penning cheery, uplifting letters to her soldier fianceè and volunteering as a telephone operator at the local fire station, she longs to do more.  What the 22-year-old really yearns to be is one of the smart war correspondents who are always dashing about importantly.  When she spots a Help Wanted ad for a job at the newspaper, Emmy seizes the opportunity.  It's only belatedly that she realizes the position she has secured is not exactly what she had in mind.

As the new assistant to Henrietta Bird—a seasoned and formidable advice columnist—Emmy is tasked with screening the letters sent to her boss.  Mrs. Bird refuses to answer any that deal with Unpleasantness of any kind.  Although Emmy's supposed to dispose of such notes, her heart breaks over letters from desperate women asking for help with everything from unexpected pregnancy to worries about the war to relationship woes to menopause.  Knowing Mrs. Bird will never answer such queries, Emmy takes on the task herself, dispensing sage advice using her boss' name.  It doesn't take long for things to get more than a little messy.  In over her head, Emmy doesn't know what to do—confess what she's doing and lose her job or do only what she's being paid to do and let down panicked people in need of real help.  As her life slowly falls apart around her, Emmy must make some tough decisions, decisions that could cost her everything that's important to her.

Dear Mrs. Bird, a debut novel by A.J. Pearce, tells a funny, upbeat tale about the complications of ordinary life, especially during extraordinary times.  The cast features colorful, relatable characters who are easy to love and root for.  Although the plotline is lively and entertaining, Dear Mrs. Bird also features some poignant, heartbreaking scenes that remind the reader of its sobering WWII backdrop.  Overall, though, this is a delightful, uplifting story, one that makes for light-but-with-substance reading.  I loved it.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a little of The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee, The Spies of Shilling Lane by Jennifer Ryan, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:  


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

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

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Mystery/Courtroom Drama Intriguing, But Still Just an Okay Read for Me

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Not everyone is on board with the idea of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), but that's the business Pak and Young Yoo run out of their garage.  Using a submarine-like chamber, the Korean immigrants offer the treatment to patients suffering from everything from infertility to cerebral palsy to autism.  While some tout the miraculous healing power of pressurized oxygen, others are skeptical, while still others will stop at nothing to get the Yoos' operation shut down.  When their "Miracle Submarine" explodes, killing two people and leaving Pak paralyzed, the Yoos become the center of a fierce legal battle to determine who was at fault.     

As the trial progresses, revealing ugly secrets about everyone involved, it provides more questions than answers.  How did the explosion happen?  Was it an accident or the result of the Yoos' negligence?  Did someone purposely rig the submarine to explode?  If so, who?  And why?  Did the Yoos do it in order to collect the insurance money needed to send their daughter to college?  Were the protestors on-site that day desperate enough to risk people's lives to prove their point?  Or was it Elizabeth Ward, the exhausted mother of a little boy with too many problems, trying to put them both out of their misery?  At the heart of the matter is one very big question:  How far will parents go to save their children?  When the truth finally comes out, it will shock everyone, changing lives forever.

Miracle Creek, a debut by Angie Kim, is an absorbing novel that examines some very intriguing questions.  It's depressing as can be, but also compelling and thought-provoking.  Most of the characters are empathetic if not exactly likable; it's their stories that really bring the novel to life.  Parents, especially those of children with disabilities, will identify with characters like Elizabeth Ward, Teresa Santiago, and Kitt Kozlowski—all of whom are fervently seeking ways to deal with kids with severe challenges.  Readers may not agree with their individual choices, but they can at least understand the motivations that propel them.  In the end, while I found Miracle Creek engrossing and its storyline interesting, it turned out to be just an okay read for me.  I liked it, didn't love it.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of novels by Celeste Ng)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

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

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 non-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?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  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?)

Grade:


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?)

Grade:


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)

Grade:


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)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Turn of the Key from the generous folks at Gallery/Scout Press via those at NetGalley.  Thank you!

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