Saturday, April 17, 2021

Harper's Newest Another Twisty, Atmospheric Page Turner

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Returning to his Tasmanian hometown is never easy for 30-year-old Kieran Elliott.  He still gets the stink eye from Evelyn Bay locals, who blame him for the drowning deaths of two men—one of whom was his older brother, Finn—twelve years ago.  It's only fair since Kieran also blames himself for the accident that stole his idol, rocked his small town, and created a barrier of sorrow and guilt between him and his parents that has never gone away.  Kieran's reluctant to go back, but his father's dementia is worsening, necessitating a move to a nursing home, which means his mother needs help packing.  She also wants to spend time with her only grandchild, Kieran's infant daughter, Audrey. 

Kieran hasn't been in town long when a body washes up on shore.  The dead woman is Bronte Laidler, an art student from Canberra in town for the summer.  Although she drowned, there are some distressing signs that show Bronte's death might not have been an accident.  What really happened to Bronte?  Are the police correct in their suspicions that Kieran's father might have had something to do with her death?  Is this newest drowning connected to the events 12 years ago that turned Kieran into the town pariah?  The more questions he asks, the more Kieran is sure that the secrets of the past are the key to figuring out what—or who—caused Bronte's death.

I love Jane Harper, so it's no surprise that I enjoyed this book, her newest. The author is skilled at creating atmospheric settings and The Survivors' moody, broody Tasmanian backdrop is no exception. Evelyn Bay is a well-drawn small town with plenty of secrets and drama simmering under its surface. Kieran, Mia, and the other characters are sympathetic and likable, without being super memorable or unique. Still, their story is compelling. It moves a bit slowly, but it's still suspenseful and engrossing. I realized who the killer was about halfway through the book and yet I wasn't totally sure of their guilt until the very end. Overall, then, I found this an engrossing, satisfying read that kept my attention throughout.  While I tend to enjoy Harper's series books more than her standalone fiction, I'll read anything she writes.  I'm a fan.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Harper's other novels)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs), violence, depictions of underage drinking, and mild sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Highly Anticipated 2021 Release a Disappointing Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When her documentary becomes instrumental in freeing a man she feels was wrongfully convicted of murder, filmmaker Tessa Shepherd is thrilled.  She spent countless hours interviewing Oliver Barlow, even coming to think of him as a friend.  Tessa believes—beyond a shadow of a doubt—that he's innocent, a victim of bungled policework.  After fourteen years in prison, Oliver Barlow can finally return to his wife and kids.  And he has Tessa to thank.

Eighteen months later, Tessa is shocked when Oliver posts a video online.  In it, he confesses that he has kidnapped a young woman and plans to kill her.  It's not long before a stunned Tessa is being vilified by the outraged public, all of them wondering how she could have been hoodwinked by a monster like Oliver.  When he mentions her name in a subsequent video, Tessa feels not just trapped but also hunted.  After the will of her recently deceased mother reveals that Tessa and her sister have inherited an old family home they didn't know existed, she decides to hide at Fallbrook.  The crumbling mansion is the site of an old, mysterious tragedy.  Now, it's inhabited only by ghosts.  Its elderly caretakers know what really happened there, but they're not talking.  Tessa is determined to unearth Fallbrook's secrets, no matter what it takes.  What went on in the isolated home?  What are the caretakers hiding?  Tessa has always been adept at reading people, but she was oh so very wrong about Oliver ...

As you can tell from the plot summary, there's a lot going on in The Caretakers by Eliza Maxwell.  I went into the book thinking it would be an intriguing family drama with a little mystery thrown in along with a lot of creepy Gothic atmosphere.  So, I was a bit confused when the story seemed to center more on Tessa's investigation of Oliver Barlow.  Frankly, I cared little about anything happening in her present; my interest was in Fallbrook.  Unfortunately, Maxwell just couldn't seem to decide whether she was writing a cat-and-mouse mystery/thriller or a spooky drama/ghost story.  The mash-up didn't work for me.  The Caretakers ended up feeling unfocused, melodramatic, and weirdly paced.  I still whipped through the novel in a day because I wanted to see what would happen next, but overall, the tale felt dissatisfying to me.  This was one of my most highly anticipated novels of 2021, so I'm bummed.

(Readalikes:  The Gothic-y bits remind me of novels by Carol Goodman and Emily Carpenter)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (two F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, blood/gore, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Caretakers from the generous folks at Lake Union Publishing via those at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Top Ten Tuesday: Colorful Reads


I'm rubbish when it comes to the really creative Top Ten Tuesday prompts, so today's is just impossible for me: Top Ten Book Titles That Sound Like Crayola Crayon Colors.  Seriously, I got nothin'.  The idea of color did get the cogs in my brain turning, though.  Since I did a list of specific colors found in book titles not too long ago, I decided to look at titles with the word "color" in them.  I found quite a few, which I'll talk about in a sec.

Before we do that, though, take a minute to click on over to That Artsy Reader Girl.  Jana has all the deets on how to participate in TTT.  It's a fun weekly event (even when the topic du jour is a toughie)—don't miss out!

Top Ten Books With "Color" in Their Titles  


1.  The Color Purple by Alice Walker—Not surprisingly, this is the first book that came to my mind.  It's been ages since I read this one, so I don't remember much about it except that it deals with two Black sisters in Georgia who stay connected through letters.  I recall it being a tough read with heavy subject matter (domestic and sexual abuse).


2.  Color Me Beautiful: Discover Your Natural Beauty Through the Colors That Make You Look Great and Feel Fabulous by Carole Jackson—I remember devouring this book as a kid, convinced that I'd look like a supermodel if I just found the right colors to make my drab brown hair and eyes come alive through the magic of colorful clothes!  If you've ever had your colors done to determine which "season" you are, you'll know what I'm talking about.  Oh, the '80s!

I haven't read any of these, but they all sound interesting to me:


3.  The Color of Lightning by Paulette Jiles—This historical novel takes place during the American Civil War and features a former slave who heads out West hoping to find freedom and safety for his family.  When a violent raid steals away everything he loves, he vows to get it back no matter the cost.


4.  True Colors by Kristin Hannah—I'm a big Hannah fan, so I'm down for this novel which revolves around three sisters and the shocking crime that rocks their world, revealing all their secrets along the way.


5.  The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride—When he was a child, McBride found his "light-skinned" mother embarrassing with her fiery, demanding ways and confusing in her evasiveness about her past.  It was only as an adult that he began to look into her background, which yielded shocking revelations about an enigmatic woman with a fascinating story.


6.  Color Me Dark by Patricia C. McKissack—I've talked about my love for the Dear America series before, I'm sure.  They're middle-grade books that bring historical events to life through the fictionalized diaries of young girls.  I've read a number of them as well as a few hist-fic titles by McKissack, but I'd never heard of this one until today.  Set in 1919, it's about the migration of Black people out of the American South to escape racism. 


7.  The Color of Bee Larkham's Murder by Sarah J. Harris—Intriguing title, no?  This one concerns a 13-year-old boy with synesthesia who's desperate to find out who killed his beloved neighbor.


8.  The Colors of the Rain by R.L. Toalson—I love historical middle-grade novels, so I'm surprised this one has never come across my radar before.  Written in verse, the book is about the tension and violence surrounding desegregation that took place in Houston, Texas, in 1972.


9.  Color Me Murder by Krista Davis—This series opener introduces Florrie Fox, a bookstore manager and adult coloring book creator, who becomes an amateur sleuth when she finds a dead body hidden in her shop.


10.  The Color of Water in July by Nora Carroll—Books about people inheriting family homes full of secrets always appeal to me.  This one is about a woman who returns to her ancestral cottage in Michigan, where she discovers letters and photos that reveal hidden secrets.

There you have it, ten "colorful" books that I've either read or want to read.  Have you read any of them?  Can you think of any others that fit the prompt?  Were you creative enough to come up with any Crayola color titles?  I'd truly love to know.  Leave me a comment on this post and I will gladly return the favor on your blog.

Happy TTT!

Friday, April 09, 2021

Elly Griffiths' Newest Surprising in a Delightful Way


There's nothing unusual about residents of Seaview Court dying.  It's a block of retirement flats occupied by elderly people, after all.  Still, Ukrainian carer Natalka Kolisnyk can't help but think there's something fishy about the "sudden" demise of 90-year-old Peggy Smith.  Even more curious is the business card she finds identifying Peggy as a "murder consultant."  If all the crime novels dedicated to Peggy on the shelves of her apartment are any indication, the senior citizen advised authors on inventive ways to kill off their characters.  Surely a woman with such an odd job couldn't have died of natural causes.  Could she? 

Although Natalka brings her suspicions to DS Harbinder Kaur, it's not until there's a break-in at the dead woman's apartment followed by the murder of an author who used Peggy's services that Harbinder starts to take Natalka seriously.  Although the detective agrees that something strange is happening, she and her colleagues can't move fast enough for the concerned carer.  Much to Harbinder's dismay, she discovers that Natalka has enlisted the help of two friends—coffee shop owner and former monk, Benedict Cole and Edwin Fitzgerald, a senior citizen and good friend of Peggy's—to help her investigate the strange occurrences.  When another author murder takes place, Harbinder realizes they're in a frantic race against time to find a murderer who will not hesitate to kill again.  

One of the reasons I enjoyed The Stranger Diaries, the first installment in Elly Griffiths' engaging mystery series starring Harbinder Kaur, was its deliciously Gothic feel.  I was surprised, then, to discover that the second book in the series has an entirely different vibe.  The Postscript Murders is lighter and more upbeat than its predecessor, almost like a cozy mystery.  Natalka, Benedict, and Edwin are quirky, funny characters.  Harbinder is likewise appealing.  Plot-wise, the story is twisty enough that the killer's identity caught me by surprise.  Although The Postscript Murders didn't turn out to be what I expected it to be, I still found it engaging, compelling, and wholly entertaining. 

(Readalikes:  The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths and The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Postscript Murders from the generous folks at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via those at NetGalley.  Thank you!

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Top Ten Tuesday: Seaside Reading is Just Beachy


I don't like my Top Ten Tuesday posts to be negative (or environmentally irresponsible), so I'm going to have to twist this week's topic of Books I'd Gladly Throw in the Ocean into something more friendly.  How about Books I'd Gladly Read By the Ocean?  In truth, I'll read anything by the sea, even if it's not really a "beach read," but for today's list I'm going to stick with some of the lighter reads on my TBR, the kind that would be perfect to enjoy while sitting on the sand listening to the waves crash nearby.  Because of my pale skin, I can't lounge on the beach without a sunshade and copious amounts of sunblock, but it would be worth it to relax with these reads by the shore.       

If you want to join in the TTT fun, click on over to That Artsy Reader Girl for all the details.

Top Ten Books I'd Gladly Read By the Ocean 


1.  Fatal Fried Rice by Vivien Chien—Fun, frothy mysteries are perfect for seaside reading.  This is the seventh and newest installment in one of my favorite cozy series.  In this one, Lana Lee—who manages her family's Chinese restaurant but can barely boil water—enrolls in culinary school on the sly.  When the teacher ends up dead one day, Lana finds herself investigating yet another homicide. 


2.  You Have a Match by Emma Lord—I'm always up for a DNA discovery story and this YA one sounds like fun.  It's about two long-lost sisters who come together at summer camp to figure out why they never knew about each other.  Sounds like a 21st Century The Parent Trap.  Yes, please!


3.  Luck of the Titanic by Stacey Lee (available May 4, 2021)—I've talked about this YA historical before, but that's because it's the 2021 release that I've been most anticipating.  The story concerns Valora and Jamie Luck, a pair of estranged British-Chinese twins who are trained acrobats.  Valora sneaks aboard Titanic with plans to first reunite with her brother, then convince an American circus owner to hire them.  Of course, her plans are about to go horribly awry...


4.  Hems & Homicide by Elizabeth Penney—I just heard about this cozy series set in an apron shop in a quaint seaside town.  This first installment has Iris Buckley moving to Maine to help her grandmother run the store.  When she finds a skeleton in the shop's basement, an amateur murder investigation begins.


5.  Simmer Down by Sarah Smith—Rom-coms always make for good beach reads.  This one, which revolves around two food truck chefs competing for a coveted parking spot at a Maui beach, sounds super cute. 


6.  A Distance Too Grand by Regina Scott—Lark over at Lark Writes...About Books and Life raves about the American Wonders historical series.  The first installment is set at the Grand Canyon (practically in my backyard) and concerns a woman who is determined to do the surveying job her deceased father was hired to complete for the Army.  She's stunned to discover that the project leader is the man she once refused to marry.  Sparks fly as the project is threatened and the pair must rely on each other in order to survive an expedition that grows more dangerous by the minute.


7.  The Other Emily by Dean Koontz—Koontz's newest is a little darker than my other picks today, but it sounds too intriguing to pass up.  It's about David Thorne, a man who is grief-stricken over the disappearance—and presumed murder—of the woman he loves.  When he meets the alluring Maddison Sutton, he can't help but be drawn in by her flirty attentiveness.  Most surprising is how similar she seems to David's vanished love.  Is Maddison really Emily?  Or is she a convincing dead ringer playing a cruel and sinister game?


8.  Murder's No Votive Confidence by Christin Brecher—Another cozy series opener, this one stars the owner of a Nantucket candle shop who comes under fire when the centerpiece she created for a wedding is used as a murder weapon. 


9.  A Summer on the Bluffs by Sunny Hostin—Every summer, Perry Soto looks forward to escaping sweltering New York City to relax at her godmother's seaside cottage.  Ama plans to gift the house to one of her three goddaughters, but all of them—Perry included—have secrets that could keep them from the inheritance they all want.  


10.  Bluebird by Sharon Cameron (available October 5, 2021)—I'm a big Cameron fan, so I'm looking forward to this historical YA novel about Eva, a young woman who flees Berlin with a horrifying secret, one so potentially explosive that both the Americans and the Soviets will kill to get it.  While those governments are searching for Eva, she's on the hunt for an escaped Nazi with whom she has a score to settle.  

There you go, ten novels I'd be happy to enjoy while relaxing on the shore.  Have you read any of them?  What books would you tote to the beach?  Which do you want to throw in the ocean?  I'd truly love to know.  Leave me a comment on this post and I'll gladly return the favor on your blog.  

Happy TTT!   

Sunday, April 04, 2021

Happy Easter!


Whether or not you celebrate Easter, I want to wish you a happy one.  Spring is a time of rebirth and renewal, a season that celebrates life, hope, and growth.  I feel that hope keenly at this time of year as I join with other Christians to focus on and celebrate the resurrection of our Savior.  As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I also look forward to General Conference, a two-day long event that occurs twice a year, once in April and once in October, in which Christ-centered messages are given by leaders of the Church and musical performances are offered by The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.  For my family, both Easter and Conference come with cherished traditions that bring us together for food, fun, and worship.  So, from my home to yours, I wish you a very happy Easter and Springtime.

I should have posted this video last week since it's about making Holy Week more meaningful, but I've been slacking on Easter prep this year.  Case in point: since I wasn't feeling well after getting my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Good Friday, I let my kids go shopping for their own Easter basket goodies!  Yeah, I'm an awful mom.  Anyway, I wanted to share this beautiful Easter message from Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Enjoy!

Thursday, April 01, 2021

New Literary Thriller Broody and Atmospheric

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

A seasoned San Francisco missing persons detective, 35-year-old Anna Hart is used to dealing with the atrocities that are a daily part of her job.  Although she can steel herself enough to perform her duties, each case embeds itself deeply inside of her.  When tragedy strikes in her personal life, the emotional toll throws her over an edge that forces her to take a step back from work.  Taking a leave of absence, she retreats to Mendocino, the coastal town where she lived as a child after being taken in by a loving foster family.  It's the place she feels most at home, most at peace, making it the perfect spot from whence to lick her wounds.

Anna is supposed to be resting, but when she discovers that a local girl has gone missing, she can't just sit idly by.  The Mendocino sheriff, an old pal of Anna's, is thrilled when she offers to assist him with the case.  She's puzzled by the disappearance of Cameron Curtis, the 15-year-old daughter of a famous, wealthy actress.  The girl had been sheltered and kept separate from the local kids.  If she ran off, with whom did she go?  If someone took her, how did they get access to her?  And what have they done with her?  Cameron's case reminds Anna too much of the last time a girl from Mendocino went missing, twenty some years ago.  Is it possible the disappearances are related?  Whatever it takes from her, Anna vows to find Cameron as well as the long-missing Jenny Ledford.  Asking probing questions in the tight-knit community soon puts the detective in the spotlight—an increasingly dangerous place to be.  Can she find the answers she needs to find the missing?  Or will she be the next woman to vanish without a trace?

When the Stars Go Dark (available April 13, 2021) is a new literary thriller by Paula McLain.  Because it's more of the former than the latter, the story moves slowly (but steadily) with more emphasis on the characters and their relationships than on the twin mysteries at the novel's center.  The characters are sympathetic and likable enough; the prose is skilled, even poetic in places; and the plot is suspenseful and engaging.  The mystery part of the story is pretty straightforward, without any surprises.  In fact, I saw the "bad guys" coming from a mile away.  Usually, I hate predictability in a mystery/thriller, but it didn't bother me too much in this one since the book is really more about Anna finding herself than solving another case.  I don't know if McLain plans to write more books starring Anna Hart, but I would definitely read a series with her as the leading lady.  I enjoyed this broody, atmospheric novel overall and will be on the lookout for more stories like this one from McLain.

(Readalikes:  A million 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 (a dozen or so F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, blood/gore, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of When the Stars Go Dark from the generous folks at Penguin Random House via those at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

The Children's Historical Fiction Reading Challenge Monthly Review Link-Up (April)


Please use the linky below to post links to reviews for the books you read for the challenge this month.  Include the name of the book and the name of your blog so I can come visit you!

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