Wednesday, June 03, 2020

It's No LOST, But YA Survival Tale is Still Entertaining

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Tom Calloway's not a big fan of spending more time than necessary with his classmates.  Normally, going on a long trip to do an ecological project in a foreign country with a whole group of them would not be his thing.  Too bad he didn't really get a choice.  It's ironic, then, that his plane crashes on the way to Costa Rica.  Only 19 people survive, all teens like Tom.  

After realizing they are stranded in the middle of a rainforest, with no signs of civilization anywhere, and that help is not on its way, the students have to figure out how to survive.  Everything in the unfamiliar jungle is a threat—from insects to prowling beasts to the unforgiving sun to the strange plant life.  As the classmates argue over who should lead them, who can be relied on to make wise decisions, and who can't be trusted at all, it soon becomes apparent that their worst enemies might not be lurking in the jungle, but hiding within themselves.  With danger all around, can Tom and his classmates find their way to safety?  Or will the teens be picked off one by one until no one's left to tell their tale?

I'm a big LOST fan, so when I saw the cover of When We Were Lost, a YA novel by Kevin Wignall, it definitely caught my eye.  I admit to being a little disappointed when I realized there's no woo-woo in the book's plot; it's a straight-up survival story.  Still, it tells an exciting, action-packed tale that kept me turning pages.  As far as characters go, there are too many to really get to know any of them well.  I wanted more depth and development from them.  Although the book's plot is engaging, I felt like there was a little something missing from it as well.  Overall, though, I enjoyed this quick, entertaining read.

(Readalikes:  Um, nothing is really coming to mind.  You?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Top Ten Tuesday: Bingo!

I don't even know what to say about the state of the world anymore. I'm just going to post the following picture of my family and say that I hope and pray and—to the best of my ability—work toward, a future that is safe and peaceful for all my children regardless of their skin color:


On a lighter note, it's Top Ten Tuesday time.  Yay!  This is my favorite bookish meme.  If you haven't joined in before, you really should—it's a great way to spread the love around our great book blogging community.  All you have to do is click on over to That Artsy Reader Girl to get started.  Easy peasy.

Today's topic is a fun one:  Top Ten Books That Give Off Summer Vibes.  Summer is my least favorite season (ironic, given that I live in the Land of Eternal Sunshine) and I actually seem to avoid it in my reading as much as I do in my real life.  So, I'm going to change up the topic a little bit today.  Jana, our TTT host, just announced a summer reading challenge she and Reading With Jessica are hosting from June 1 - August 31.  It has a Bingo format, where you cross off different prompts when you read books that fit the categories.  The kicker?  Each book has to be written by an author you've never tried before.  Sounds fun, right?  I haven't come up with a coordinated attack for tackling the challenge yet, but here are the Top Ten Books I'm Planning to Read for the New-to-Me Author Summer Bingo Event.  Want to Bingo with me?  You can find all the info here


Top Ten Books I'm Planning to Read for the New-to-Me Author Summer Bingo Event


1.  Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles—I just started this magical YA fantasy, a genre I don't usually read.  It's about a powerful show magician who's determined to break out of the gilded cage in which her mentor is keeping her.  When she escapes, she finds herself in a complex world that she doesn't understand.  So far, I'm enjoying the writing, the imaginative world, and the strong, willful heroine.  (Challenge categories:  Summer 2020 Release, Author With a "J" in Their Name, First in a Series)


2.  The Other People by C.J. Tudor—I don't usually like books centered around a revenge plot, but this one sounds intriguing.  It's about a father who wants justice after his daughter is abducted and killed.  (Challenge categories:  Author With a "J" in Their Name, Standalone)


3.  Stranger in the Lake by Kimberly Belle (available June 9, 2020)—This thriller revolves around Charlotte, a newlywed who's trying to ignore the small-town whispers about the real cause of her husband's first wife's death.  When the body of a young woman is found in the same place where his first wife died, Charlotte is forced to take a closer look at the husband she isn't sure she really knows.  (Challenge categories:  Summer 2020 Release, Your Favorite Genre, Contemporary)


4.  The Bitter and Sweet of Cherry Season by Molly Fader—A mother and her daughter seek asylum at the Orchard House, their family estate in Michigan.  As she works in the orchards and gets to know their caretaker, she begins to discover the way to a new start.  (Challenge categories:  Summer 2020 Release, Summery Book Cover, Contemporary, Standalone)


5.  That Summer in Maine by Brianna Wolfson (available June 23, 2020)—During one summer in Maine, two women who don't know each other have an affair with the same man.  Sixteen years later, their daughters find each other and decide to spend a summer in Maine getting to know their biological father.  (Challenge categories:  Summer 2020 Release, Contemporary, Summery Book Cover, Your Favorite Color on the Cover, Beach on the Cover, Standalone)


6.  The Woman in the Green Dress by Tea Cooper—I'll be reviewing this one for a blog tour later in the summer.  It centers on a young widow who receives a large sum when her husband dies in the Great War.  Knowing his family in Australia needs the money more than she does, Fleur travels Down Under and finds herself in a strange country living a life she never expected as the owner of a remote farm and a crumbling curio shop.  Sounds like a fun read!  (Challenge categories:  Summer 2020 Release, Your Favorite Color on the Cover, Standalone, Set in a Country Other Than Your Own)


7.  A Deadly Inside Scoop by Abby Collette—Bronwyn Crewse has returned to her small Ohio town to renovate and reopen her family's ice cream shop.  A delayed opening means her first day in business coincides with the first snowfall of the year—and the murder of a drifter who harbored an old grief against Bronwyn's family.  I'm enjoying cozy mysteries lately and this series opener is getting good reviews.  (Challenge categories:  Contemporary, Cool Off With a Wintry or Snowy Setting, First in a Series)


8.  The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue (available July 21,2020)—This one is set in a Dublin hospital during World War I and the deadly flu pandemic.  The women at its center change each other's lives in meaningful ways over the course of the novel.  I've never read anything by Donoghue, but I find pandemic novels fascinating, so this one appeals.  (Challenge categories:  Set in a Country Other Than Your Own, Standalone, Hyped)


9.  The Lost Family:  How DNA Testing is Upending Who We Are by Libby Copeland—As a budding genealogist, I find genetics and family relationships endlessly intriguing.  I can't wait to read this one, which I have on hold at the library.  (Challenge categories:  Recommended By a Friend, Reader's Choice, Lesser-Known)


10.  Mind Games by Nancy Mehl—This series opener features FBI behavioral analyst Kaely Quinn, whose career is ruined when she's ousted as the daughter of a serial killer.  Starting over in a new city with a demotion to field agent, she gets caught up in a puzzling murder case.  Mehl writes "faith-filled" mystery and suspense, so I'm hoping this one will be clean and uplifting, but also compelling.  We'll see.  (Challenge categories:  First in a Series, Contemporary, Your Favorite Color on the Cover, Lesser-Known) 

There you go.  What do you think of my choices?  Have you read any of them?  Any suggestions for other books that might fit the challenge's prompts?  What summery books are on your list today?  I'd truly love to know.  Leave me a comment on this post and I'll return the favor on yours.

Happy TTT!  

Monday, June 01, 2020

The Prisoner's Wife: Unique Premise, Ho-Hum Execution

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Without the intervention of World War II, Izabela would never have met Bill King.  At 20 years old, she is stuck on the family farm in Czechoslovakia helping her mother while her father and older brother are fighting with the Resistance.  As much as Izzy wants to do her part for her country, she can't leave what's left of her family to fend for itself.  When a Nazi officer offers to help the women with the harvest by bringing in a group of British POW's, Bill is among the workers.  Although he's skin and bones, the gunner from London catches Izzy's eye because of his ready smile and his obvious passion for music.  He's attracted to her, too, and soon the unlikely couple is meeting in the barn for clandestine cuddles.  

When Izzy and Bill decide to marry secretly and run away together, defying both the Nazis and Izzy's mother, they set themselves on a dangerous path.  Only days after their union, they're captured and thrown into a large POW camp in Poland.  Dressed in her brother's old clothes, Izzy is hiding in plain sight, desperate not to be revealed as a woman or a Czech.  If thought to be a spy, she would be shot on sight.  Determined to protect his new wife at all costs, Bill enlists his trusted comrades to help keep her safe.  Not all of the POW's can be relied on, however, and when push comes to shove, it's up to Izzy and Bill to save themselves ...

I've read a lot of World War II novels and I've never come across another with the premise that lies at the heart of The Prisoner's Wife, a debut novel by British poet Maggie Brookes.  Although the tale purports to be based on a true story, the details of the "real" Izzy and Bill are so vague that their story's veracity is very much in question.  Regardless, it's an intriguing idea that should have led to a tense, nail-biter of a novel.  Turns out, The Prisoner's Wife is really not all that exciting.  Most of the story takes place inside the camp or on work details where the POWs are starved, but not in immediate danger of much more than dying of boredom.  Despite a few conflicts here and there, it wasn't until the characters were enduring the Long March at the end of the book that I really worried about their survival.  Beyond that, the plot is episodic and rather dull, especially in its very saggy middle.  While Brookes succeeds at creating a strong feeling of friendship and camaraderie between Izzy, Bill, and the other POWs, Izzy and Bill never feel very well-developed as individuals or as a couple.  Although she's described as a spitfire on numerous occasions, Izzy spends the majority of the novel content to let the men protect her, without taking any risks of her own.  I kept waiting for her to do something and she just ... doesn't.  It's not even until the end of the story that she really makes sacrifices for anyone other than herself.  Likewise, her hasty marriage is based way more on lust than love, making her fight to remain with Bill seem unrealistic.  All things considered, then, I didn't end up loving The Prisoner's Wife.  I'm still intrigued by its premise, but its ho-hum execution made the book way too easy to put down.  Although I did end up finishing it, the read left me feeling less than satisfied.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of every other World War II concentration camp novel I've read) 

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of The Prisoner's Wife from the generous folks at Berkley (an imprint of Penguin Random House).  Thank you!

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Missing Persons Thriller Engrossing, But Unsatisfying

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

In a quaint Indiana community, 3-year-old Alice Fine was kidnapped from her front yard.  Luckily, she was rescued less than 24 hours later by her policeman father.  Although Alice was not hurt in the ordeal, the family was traumatized enough to remove themselves to Illinois in an attempt to put it all behind them.  Although she has not accomplished a lot in the three decades since her abduction, Alice is passionate about her work with the Doe Pages, a website that encourages amateur sleuths to study missing persons cases with the goal of finding the lost, giving their families closure, and bringing criminals to justice.

On one of her frequent website searches, Alice is shocked when a photograph of her abductor flashes on the screen.  Although it's deleted almost immediately, Alice can't forget what she's seen.  With the help of other Doe Pages devotees, she launches her own investigation into the man's identity.  When she meets another woman, 30-year-old Merrily Cruz, who is searching for the same man, the two form a tenuous partnership.  Who is the man they seek?  As they set about answering that question, both will discover shocking secrets, lies, and deceptions that will change everything they know about themselves and each other.

I love me a good psychological thriller and Lori Rader-Day has written several that I've really enjoyed.  The Lucky One—her latest—is, however, a bit of an exception.  The characters are almost entirely unlikeable.  Our "heroines" are hot messes, who are immature, unambitious, self-centered, and just not all that appealing.  Plotwise, the story starts off slowly, carefully building up the tension and suspense.  Unfortunately, a rushed ending spoils the effect, leading to a disappointing finale that left me with lots of questions.  The story is unfailingly depressing but also undeniably engrossing, including some twists I didn't see coming.  Overall, though, it just didn't come together well enough to satisfy me.  All things considered, The Lucky One was just an average read for me.

(Readalikes:  Um, nothing is coming readily to mind.  You?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Lucky One from the generous folks at William Morrow (an imprint of HarperCollins).  Thank you!

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Luminous and Lovely, The Last Blue Captures Both My Interest and My Heart

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"At her expense, readers will snatch up magazines and entertain themselves, using her as a measure against their own deficiencies, as a consolation for their incredible fortune of being ordinary" (161*).

Despite winning a Pulitzer Prize for a photograph depicting the grimness of The Great Depression, 32-year-old photographer Clay Havens is feeling uninspired.  His creative juices have turned to sludge and he's fairly sure his newest assignment isn't going to provide the spark to get them flowing again.  As part of President Roosevelt's plan to sell his country on his New Deal, he's sending journalists into Appalachia to "capture the rugged, steadfast nature of hill people, whether they possess it or not, and to portray their hardship in a way that will make the public sympathetic to their plight and ready to cast their votes accordingly" (14*).  Feeling more like a propagandist than a photographer, Havens nevertheless travels to eastern Kentucky with his reporter friend, Ulys Massey.  Another prize-winning photo may not be hiding in the hollers, but at least the assignment will keep Havens and Massey out of the breadline.

When the pair arrives in Chance, an offhand remark from one of the small town's more unsavory residents piques their curiosity.  Rumors of a scorned family of people with blue skin send them traipsing through the woods to Spooklight Holler.  Havens is immediately entranced when he and Massey come across a skittish young woman with skin the color of a robin's egg.  A deadly snakebite lands Havens in the extended care of the woman's family.  As he and Massey spend more time with the infamous Blues, they become fascinated by their way of life and horrified by how the family has been treated by their White neighbors.  While Havens spends his time wooing kind, gentle Jubilee, Massey's itching to sell the Blues' remarkable story to the highest bidder.  Reluctant to oust the already hunted people who have been so good to him, Havens searches frantically for a way to stop his partner from causing more trouble for Jubilee and her family.  The city slickers' presence has already prompted violence locally; what will happen if Jubilee's beautiful blue face is splashed across the cover of Time?  Caught between duty and love, Havens scrambles frantically for a solution that will stop Massey, protect the Blues, and convince Jubilee to give him a chance with her fragile heart.  With Chance's White population already whipped into a heated frenzy against the Blues, Havens' time is rapidly running out ...

Earlier this year, I read and adored The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson, which featured the Blue people of Kentucky.  So, when Isla Morley contacted me about reviewing her newest novel, which was inspired by the same fascinating clan, I jumped at the chance to grab myself an Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) of The Last Blue.  I'm so glad I did because just as The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek did, this one immediately captured not just my interest but also my heart.  I loved everything about it, from its engaging heroine to its atmospheric setting to its tender love story to the ending that almost undid me entirely.  While the book touches on issues of prejudice, fear, exposure vs. exploitation, identity, family, and self-discovery, at its heart, it's really about love in all its messy, life-changing glory.  If you, too, are intrigued by the Blue people, or if you just enjoy rich, immersive historical fiction, I absolutely recommend picking up a copy of this luminous, lovely novel.

Intrigued?  Good.  Learn more by checking out this interview with Isla Morley:


(Readalikes:  The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson and Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (two F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, disturbing subject matter, scenes of peril, and mild sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of The Last Blue from the always generous Isla Morley.  Thank you!

*Quotes are from an uncorrected proof and may be changed in the final version of The Last Blue

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Top Ten Tuesday: Famous (But Not Always Fabulous) First Lines


Happy Tuesday, everyone!  How are things going?  Did you do anything fun for Memorial Day?  We had a small family BBQ/swim party to celebrate the holiday and my daughter's graduation from high school last week.  Warning, proud mom bragging ahead:  The little smartie ended up 10th in her class of 730 seniors.  We're super proud of her hard work.  She'll be attending a state university on a four-year, full-ride, Arizona-based scholarship.  Anyway, having a crowd of people at my house sitting elbow-to-elbow (social distancing is tough while playing game after rousing game of Dilbert Corporate Shuffle) was a little weird, but it was also good to be around family again. 

Speaking of family, I always take a moment on Memorial Day to remember the men (we haven't had any female soldiers, although our military wives definitely deserve a shout-out) from my family who have served and sacrificed for this country.  My ancestors have served in nearly every war involving the U.S., with deaths in all, but this is the guy I've heard the most about throughout my life:


My 22-year-old Uncle Joe (the man on the left) was killed in action in Vietnam on March 5, 1967, when he saved several members of his platoon and took the most direct hit from the land mine that threatened them all.  His bravery and sacrifice deserve to be remembered and honored.  R.I.P. to my family's favorite hero.

On a lighter note, it's time for Top Ten Tuesday, my favorite bookish meme.  It's always a good time, so I definitely encourage you to participate.  Click on over to That Artsy Reader Girl for all the details.  Today's topic is a fun one:  Top Ten Opening Lines.  You can talk about book openers that you love or hate; those that made you laugh, cry, think; or whatever.  I love a great opening line as much as the next reader, but my memory is terrible so the only one that comes quickly to mind is "It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times."  So, I decided to use Google to check out the first lines of ten of my all-time favorite novels.  Funny enough, most of them aren't that intriguing, profound, or memorable at all!  Some of them you will no doubt recognize; others not so much.  Hint:  half of them are from traditional American or Canadian classics, while the other half are more modern. 

Top Ten Opening Lines From Some of My All-Time Favorite Novels:

1.  "When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow."

2.  "The librarian and her mule spotted it at the same time."

3.  "If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are."

4.  "'Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents,'" grumbled Jo, lying on the rug. 

5.  "Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies' eardrops, and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate, headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods with dark secrets of pool and cascade; but by the time it reached Lynde's Hollow it was a quiet, well-conducted little stream, for not even a brook could run  past Mrs. Rachel Lynde's door without due regard for decency and decorum; it probably was conscious that Mrs. Rachel was sitting at her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed, from brooks and children up, and that if she noticed anything odd or out of place she would never rest until she had ferreted out the whys and wherefores thereof."  

6.  "Marley was dead, to begin with."

7.  "Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much."

8.  "Nothing endures, not a tree, not love, not even a death by violence."

9.  "Mae Mobley was born on a early Sunday morning in August, 1960."

10.  "I want something of hers."

Answers:

1.  To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
4.  Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
5.  Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
6.  A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
7.  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
8.  A Separate Peace by John Knowles

How'd you do?  How about you—what are your favorite (or least favorite or whatever) first lines?  I'd truly love to know.  Leave me a comment on this post and I'll return the favor on yours.

Happy TTT!

Monday, May 25, 2020

Secret Sister Novel Pleasant, Enjoyable

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Although they're as different as three women can be, Liza, Maggie, and Tricia have always formed a tight trio.  The Sweeney Sisters—daughters of the universally-beloved literary lion, Bill Sweeney—were a familiar sight around the small, seaside town of Southport, Connecticut, where they grew up.  Now that they're adults, the women have spread their wings, with Tricia working as a hotshot lawyer in Manhattan, Maggie attempting to make ends meet as an artist-in-residence in western Connecticut, and Liza trying to balance marriage, motherhood, and ownership of a successful Southport art gallery.  Tension and distance have strained relationships between the sisters.  When their father dies unexpectedly, the threesome is reunited in their hometown for a raucous goodbye party and the reading of Bill's will. 

The presence of a mystery woman at Bill's wake causes some confusion, then utter shock.  Unbeknownst to Liza, Maggie, and Tricia, their father had an affair with a neighbor that resulted in another Sweeney Sister.  Serena Tucker, a 38-year-old investigative journalist, grew up next door to her half-sisters without any of the girls knowing they were related.  Until a DNA test Serena took six months ago revealed the truth.  Suspicious of Serena's timing, the original Sweeney Sisters aren't sure what to think of the new addition.  What does the woman want from them?  Is she after an inheritance?  Or does she want the memoir Bill was reportedly writing, the juicy tell-all that could expose all the family secrets and make its finder a very wealthy woman?  As the four women hunt for the manuscript together, they will make some surprising discoveries about each other, their father, and what family and sisterhood really mean.  

I love books involving family secrets, family history, and DNA discoveries, so I was excited to give The Sweeney Sisters by Lian Dolan a go.  While I didn't end up absolutely loving the novel, I did enjoy it.  This is a character-driven story, with four interesting women at its heart.  Each is well-crafted, empathetic, and admirable in her own way.  I enjoyed reading about all of them.  There's not a lot of action in The Sweeney Sisters, but there was enough to keep me turning pages.  In the end, I found this tale to be a pleasant, funny, and entertaining read, even if I didn't fall head-over-heels in love with it.


Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of The Sweeney Sisters from the generous folks at William Morrow (an imprint of HarperCollins).  Thank you!

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

TTT: How Do I Love Thee, Goodreads? Let Me Count the Ways ...


It's Tuesday again and things in the world have changed a little bit.  Has your state or country started opening up?  What do you think about it?  Here in Arizona, a few more places (restaurant dining rooms, movie theaters, public swimming pools, salons, etc.) have been given the green light to reopen.  I'm still a little leery about the whole thing, but I'm not going to lie—I'm happy to have a hair appointment next week and to have been able to reschedule several doctor's appointments that had been postponed due to COVID-19.  I'm a homebody by nature, so I plan to stick close to home no matter what.  I just hope things can get back to a new normal that will feel stabilizing and safe.  This has certainly been a strange Spring, hasn't it?

On a lighter note, it's time for my favorite weekly meme.  This week's topic is a nice, open one that should lead to lot of interesting lists:  Top Ten Reasons I Love ______ (insert your favorite book, author, genre, etc.).  I'll tell you what topic I chose in a sec, but first I want to encourage you to join in the TTT fun.  All you have to do is click on over to That Artsy Reader Girl, read through some brief instructions, craft your own list, and then spend some happy hours hopping around the book blogosphere.  It's a great way to spread the love around our wonderful community!

I've always been a list-making type of person.  There's just something so satisfying about corralling my thoughts into neat columns, adding to it when needed, and then crossing out accomplished tasks.  I began keeping track of the books I read and those I wanted to read in the back of a paper journal in college.  When Google Docs became a thing, I switched to a spreadsheet.  While I've used Goodreads here and there since its creation, it hasn't been until the last few years that I've made it my number one tool for keeping track of what I read, what I want to read, and what I think about what I've read.  So, for today's list, I'm going to tell you why I love the site so much.  

Top Ten Reasons I Love Goodreads (in no particular order):

1.  I can keep track of what I read.  Yes, I could do this on a Google spreadsheet, but I like GR's interface.  It makes tracking easy and fun.

2.  I can rate what I read.  Like many, I have some issues with GR's limited star-rating system.  Half-stars should totally be a thing!  Still, I like being able to rate a book using a simple system.  I can always explain my reasoning in my review.  

3.  I can review what I read.  For the most part, I review every book I read on my blog.  However, sometimes it's months before I actually get around to doing it!  I'm good about ticking off the books I read on GR right away, though, and typing up a quick review on the site.  It's really nice to be able to look back at what I wrote about a book when my thoughts were fresh to remind me of what to write in my blog review.

4.  I can see ratings and reviews from other GR users.  As always, I take other readers' opinions with a grain of salt, but I still appreciate being able to see what other people thought of a book.  Both ratings and reviews help me decide which titles to add to my always-growing TBR lists and which to leave on the shelf.

5.  I can follow my friends and acquaintances.  It's fun to follow my friends on GR so I can see what they're reading as well as the titles on their TBR lists.  My favorite feature under the "Friends" tab is "Compare Books."  It's always interesting to compare/contrast my thoughts on a book with those of my friends.

6.  I can make endless "Bookshelves."  This is a GR feature that I should use more.  Right now, I have only three bookshelves:  Adult Fiction TBR, MG/YA Fiction TBR, and Non-Fiction TBR.  Originally, I only had one bookshelf for all genres, but when the shelf was loaded up with more than 5000 titles, GR would no longer let me organize them in want-to-read order, so I split my main shelf into three.  I could have organized my TBR list by genre or favorite author or setting or whatever, really.  Other people do this a lot more than I do and it's fun to see their lists, some of which are very handy, creative, and entertaining.

7.  I can organize my books in want-to-read order.  This is my favorite GR feature by far.  There are a number of ways you can organize your bookshelves in GR, but I like to have mine in order of most excited to read to least.  In fact, I'm a *tad* obsessive about this.  I spend a fair amount of time making sure the first 30 books on my shelves are in want-to-read order.  Because I can pull up GR wherever I may be, this prioritizing helps when I'm browsing for books at the library or bookstore.

8.  I can take GR with me wherever I go.  See above.  Bringing up a Google spreadsheet on my phone when I'm at the library or bookstore is not easy.  Firing up GR is simple.  The site helps me see what books are on my TBR list as well as find other authors/books when I'm on the go.  Super helpful.   

9.  I can participate in GR's annual reading challenge.  I love me a reading challenge, so I've had a ball with this GR feature.  The site makes it a cinch to set a personal reading goal and keep track of your progress.  GR even gives me a fun widget to put on my blog so everyone can see how I'm doing.  Who cares if I never actually reach my GR goal?  I still have a good ole time with it!

10.  Everything else.  GR has tons to offer book lovers.  You can follow favorite authors, interact with authors and other readers, enter book giveaways, join groups of like-minded bibliophiles, vote for your favorite reads in the annual Goodreads Choice Awards, etc.  There are tons of great features on GR, probably more than I'm even aware of.  It's an awesome website that I definitely recommend using.  If you haven't checked it out yet, do it!  And if you want to follow me, just click on the GR icon on left sidebar of my blog.  Easy peasy.

There you have it, ten reasons I love Goodreads.  Do you use GR?  What do you think of it?  What are your favorite features?  I'd truly love to know.  Leave me a comment on this post and I'll return the favor on yours.

Happy TTT! 

Monday, May 18, 2020

Unconvincing Mystery/Thriller Not Super Satisfying

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Considering it's named for the dark, serpentine cave system that lurks at its edge, it's not all that surprising that little Grotto, Iowa, is hiding big secrets.  The largest surrounds the vicious murder of a teenage girl twenty-five years ago.  Found inside one of the caves, her battered body revealed she had been beaten and strangled.  Although several suspects were investigated at the time, no one has ever been charged for the murder. 

When new evidence is discovered in the cave, the case of Eve Knox's murder is reopened.  This time, Detective Maggie Kennedy O'Keefe—the daughter of the police chief who initially spearheaded the investigation—is in charge.  Despite the fact that she's 8 months pregnant after a decade of miscarrying, Eve's childhood best friend, and the person who found her friend's dead body 25 years ago, Maggie insists she's up to the task.  As she revisits evidence, she's reminded of the many people who could have been responsible for Eve's death, from the girl's abusive boyfriend to her creepy younger sister to a neighbor who would kill to keep her from talking.  As Maggie tries to untangle the truth from the lies, she must face the secrets she's been keeping.  Risking the disintegration of everything good in her life, Maggie persists—even with her own life and that of her unborn baby on the line.

My favorite setting for mystery/thrillers is small towns like Grotto.  They're always concealing such juicy secrets!  Unfortunately, while the premise of This Is How I Lied by Heather Gudenkauf appealed to me, its execution didn't so much.  The novel is peopled with unlikeable characters, implausible plot points, and a heroine who isn't all that convincing as a detective.  Despite these irritants, I did finish the book because I wanted to know what was going to happen.  In the end, though, I found This Is How I Lied to be depressing, far-fetched, and not all that satisfying.  It turned out to be just an average read for me. 

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of books by Catherine McKenzie and Erin Kelly)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of This Is How I Lied from the generous folks at Harlequin.  Thank you!

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Slow, Introspective Dystopian Novel a Bit of a Slog

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

With floodwaters rising steadily over the last 100 years, the world has dwindled to a string of small colonies perched on the mountain peaks that used to soar far above civilization.  Oceans of dark, impenetrable water are all around, forcing many to live solely on the water, stepping on land rarely and only to gather news and supplies.  Ever since the floods swallowed what was left of Nebraska, Myra has lived on a 15-foot long, 5-foot wide boat with her 7-year-old daughter, Pearl.  Although her life is focused mainly on keeping Pearl fed and out of danger, Myra has another purpose guiding her actions.  She's desperate to find her older daughter, Row, who was stolen from Myra by her husband seven years ago.  

Just when Myra is giving up hope of ever finding Row, a stranger claims to have spotted her in a remote Arctic Circle colony.  Is it true?  Even if it is, can Myra really make the long, arduous journey to such a far-flung spot?  Regardless, she has to try.  But such an undertaking will require getting help from strangers and she stopped trusting other human beings long ago.  Desperate, she throws her lot in with a group of pilgrims looking for the perfect place to create a utopian society.  Even in a bigger ship, with a crew of people who seem trustworthy, Myra feels anxious.  Can she keep herself and Pearl safe all the way to the Arctic Circle?  What if Row isn't there?  With the trip becoming more dangerous with each mile, Myra has to decide what is more important—keeping Pearl safe or finding Row—because the farther she travels, the more apparent it's becoming that she can't do both ...

Of all the dystopian worlds I've encountered in books and movies, I'm most creeped out by the watery ones.  There's just something about the fathoms below ... With its unsettling setting and sad, introspective vibe, After the Flood, a debut novel by Kassandra Montag, is a haunting read in more ways than one.  It's not a page-turner by any means; in fact, there are only occasional spurts of action.  This made the story a bit of a slog for me.  I also had a little trouble with the characters.  I found them an interesting lot, but they were written in a way that felt removed, which made it tough to connect with them.  Nevertheless, I found Montag's prose assured, the world she created fascinating, and her heroine intriguing.  I finished the book because I wanted to know what was going to happen to Myra and her daughters.  In the end, though, After the Flood turned out to be just an okay read for me.  Bummer.

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of After the Flood from the generous folks at William Morrow (an imprint of HarperCollins).  Thank you!

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

It's a Quarantine Top Ten Tuesday. Again.



Well, it's another Tuesday in quarantine.  How are you all holding up?  We're doing fine over here.  Not a lot has changed since last week and the week before that and the week before that, although apparently, things are going to start opening back up here in Arizona this week and next.  My husband and sons are readying our jet skiis to hit the lake as soon as the gates open on Saturday.  I know they're ready to bust out of quarantine for good, but I'm still not sure if a grand reopening of the world is a solid idea.  It makes me nervous, I have to say.

In less controversial news, it's Tuesday again, time for my favorite bookish meme.  If you haven't joined in the fun of Top Ten Tuesday yet, you really should.  It's a great way to get involved in the book blogging community, visit favorite blogs, find new ones, discover fantastic-sounding books, and keep yourself entertained (something we all need right now).  Click on over to That Artsy Reader Girl to get all the details.

Not gonna lie, I'm not totally feeling today's topic of the Last Ten Books I've Abandoned.  I prefer to keep TTT a positive thing.  Also, there's the little problem of my faulty memory—I honestly wouldn't be able to dredge up the names of the last ten books I DNF'd if I tried!  Since I couldn't think of a creative way to spin the topic du jour, I'm just going to chatter generally about the Top Ten Reasons I Might Abandon a Book (in no particular order):

  • The story is moving way too slllloooowwwwwlllllly and I'm bored with it.  I've gotta have some action to keep me awake!
  • The characters have no personality or they have personalities that grate on my nerves.
  • The plot is too gory, violent, graphic, or disturbing.  I DNF'd a book last night and one last week for this reason.
  • The writing is unskilled, unpolished, or just downright terrible.
  • My own moodiness.  Sometimes books that would otherwise grab me just don't at a certain time, for no particular reason other than my mood.
  • Too much cheese!  When it comes to food, there is no such thing.  Books are different, though.  Too much corny, saccharine, or eye roll-worthy prose and/or dialogue and I'm out.
  • Serial OCD.  I've abandoned (or, rather, postponed) a number of books I've randomly grabbed at the library because I later discovered they were part of a series.  I refuse to read books in a series out of order, even when other people swear up and down that they don't need to be read in order.  Yes, they do, Karen!  YesTheyDo.
  • I just don't care.  Have you ever been in the middle of a book only to realize you really couldn't care less what happens next?  This occurs to me fairly often, usually because the characters are unlikable or just too flat to really make me interested in what happens to them.
  • Certain topics.  There are topics I just don't like to read about, either because they make my blood boil or my stomach turn or my head/heart hurt.  If I encounter these subjects in a novel, I almost always jump ship.
  • Variety.  I like to read several different genres, shuffling between them to keep my reading life interesting.  If I start with a book and realize it's too similar to something else I've read lately, I'll usually abandon it, even if just for the time being.
So, there you have it, ten reasons I might abandon a book.  Do any of my reasons resound with you?  What makes you stop reading a book?  Which have you DNF'd lately and why?  I'd truly love to know.  Leave me a comment on this post and I'll gladly return the favor on yours.

Happy TTT!

Monday, May 11, 2020

Book Woman an Atmospheric, Evocative Novel About the Transformative Power of Reading

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Cussy Mary Carter is a woman who stands out for many reasons, not just because she's the last of her kind.  The 19-year-old is one of Kentucky's famous Blue people, the only one still living.  It's not just her blue-tinged skin that sets her apart, however.  She's also one of the few women courageous enough to venture into the rugged mountains and deep hollers of Appalachia to deliver books to folks living in the most remote areas of her community.  As a rider for the Pack Horse Library Initiative, Cussy braves everything from nasty weather to ill-tempered recluses to snooty, prejudiced society women to bring the joy of reading to her far-flung neighbors.  Scorned by those who think hers is not a job suitable for a lady, let alone a Blue, Cussy perseveres.  Although she's already experienced more than her fair share of violence and fear, Cussy will battle every snowstorm, every fist shook in her face, every filthy name hurled in her direction, every haint whistling through the holler, and every tumble off her horse to bring the magic of books to those who need it most ...

Sometimes you can tell just by the title of a book that it's one you're going to love.  Add in an evocative cover and an intriguing plot summary and that's it, you're a goner.  Such is the case with me and The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson.  I love everything about this lush, touching novel.  The setting is so atmospheric that I could see, hear, smell, and touch the Appalachians and her people in all their glorious beauty and impoverished desperation.  Cussy, herself, is so well-drawn that I felt instantly for her, even while admiring her kindness, humility and determination.  As heartbreaking as this novel is, it tells a beautiful, touching story that has stayed with me even though it's been months since I read it.  If you love historical fiction or tales of Appalachia or books about the transformative power of reading or any combination of the three, you absolutely must pick up this book.  It might just be my favorite read of the year so far! 

(Readalikes:  I'm guessing The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes and The Last Blue by Isla Morley are similar, but I've yet to read either [although both are on my TBR mountain chain].)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

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

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Summery Friendship/Secrets Novel Gets a Meh From Me


(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Six years ago, three strangers flew to Italy to enjoy a surprise vacation on the stunning Amalfi Coast.  Each of the women expected to soak in the picture-perfect scenery, dine on delectable cuisine, and relax on the sparkling beach.  None of them foresaw meeting the others at a ramshackle villa and becoming instant, lifelong friends.  What Kim, Colette, and Annie experienced in Italy—from friendship to romance to the start of a successful business—changed their lives.

Now, Kim is bringing them back to Italy for the grand re-opening of the villa that started it all.  A well-known wellness guru, she's had the place renovated and turned into a health spa.  She can't wait for her old friends to join celebrities, investors, and other influencers at what will certainly be the most glamorous event of the season.  It soon becomes apparent, however, that someone is out to sabotage Kim by exposing a ruinous secret she thought no one knew about.  She's not the only one worried about what could happen in Italy.  Annie has her own secret to hide.  She's also got her own reasons for needing to be at Kim's fancy party—and it's not to pat Kim on the back for a job well done.  Then there's Colette, who fell madly in love with a local while in Italy and subsequently had her heart dashed into a million pieces.  Although she's been happily married to another man for five years, she can't help but wonder what happened to the one that got away.  Luca will no doubt be at Kim's party.  What will happen when she sees him again?  

When the three women reunite on the Amalfi Coast, shocking secrets will out, old resentments will flare, and, once again, the friends' lives will be forever changed by what happens in Italy ...

Old-friends-coming-back-together-to-deal-with-past-secrets-that-are-threatening-to-come-to-light is one of my favorite mystery/thriller tropes.  I figured I'd dig it in a contemporary romance/women's novel as well.  Unfortunately, The Summer Villa by Melissa Hill didn't pull me in like such thrillers usually do.  The story started slowly and took its time getting to the juicy parts.  As much as I loved the book's sparkling setting, I found the characters, the prose, and the plot pretty meh.  All of the starring women irritated me with their immaturity—even their adult selves were childish and petty.  Even though I saw the plot twists coming, I did want to know what was going to happen in the story, so I finished it.  In the end, though, The Summer Villa was just an average read for me.  Nothing special.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other summer friendship novels, but no specific titles are coming to mind.  You?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a few F-bombs, plus milder expletives) and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Summer Villa from the generous folks at HarperCollins.  Thank you!

Friday, May 01, 2020

Book Spotlight: The Heirloom Garden by Viola Shipman


I didn't get a chance to read The Heirloom Garden by Viola Shipman (which is actually a pen name used by Wade Rouse, who writes under his late grandmother's name as a way to honor her) in time for my blog tour stop, so I'm just going to do a little spotlight today.  According to the back cover summary, here's what the book is about:

In her inimitable style, Viola Shipman explores the unlikely relationship between two very different women brought together by the pain of war, but bonded by hope, purpose…and flowers.

Iris Maynard lost her husband in World War II, her daughter to illness and, finally, her reason to live. Walled off from the world for decades behind the towering fence surrounding her home, Iris has built a new family…of flowers. Iris propagates her own daylilies and roses while tending to a garden filled with the heirloom starts that keep the memories of her loved ones alive.

When Abby Peterson moves next door with her family—a husband traumatized by his service in the Iraq War and a young daughter searching for stability—Iris is reluctantly yet inevitably drawn into her boisterous neighbor’s life, where, united by loss and a love of flowers, she and Abby tentatively unearth their secrets, and help each other discover how much life they have yet to live.

With delightful illustrations and fascinating detail, Viola Shipman’s heartwarming story will charm readers while resonating with issues that are so relevant today.

Have you read The Heirloom Garden?  What did you think?

Thanks to the generous folks at Harlequin (a division of HarperCollins) for sending me an e-ARC of The Heirloom Garden!
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