Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Goodnight Beautiful by Aimee Malloy

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Pages: 293 pages
Published: October 2020

Goodnight Beautiful by Aimee Malloy was a BOTM selection that I did not purchase, but rather borrowed, from my local library. The story is about newlyweds Sam and Annie who move from New York City to a more suburban area of New York to start their new life together. Sam is an attractive, well-known therapist who sees clients in his downstairs office. Unfortunately, his sessions can be heard via an upstairs vent. Sam also, like many married couples, has some secrets of his own. These all collide and Sam goes missing. 

Oh my word, this was an excellent, twisty read! Tangled with plot lines from Stephen King's Misery, the story is fast-moving and reaches a pretty tidy ending. The thing I liked most about this book is it challenged the reader to question his/her/them preconceived ideas about gender dialect and behavior. 

I don't want to share anymore so that I don't give away any of the juicy plot twists and turns. 

Recommendation: Just go snag a copy for yourself. It's a fun way to spend a few days losing yourself in a story.  

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Sister Dear by Hannah Mary McKinnon

Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Pages: 384 pages
Published: May 2020

I borrowed a copy of Sister Dear by Hannah Mary McKinnon from a work colleague. It's an odd little story about Eleanor who on the same night she learns her father is not who she thought he was, he dies. As a result, she learns the name of her biological father and seeks to learn more about him. By interjecting herself into his life she becomes friends with his daughter, her half sister, Victoria. Victoria is everything Eleanor is not, and she wants everything Victoria has. Over the course of the novel, we see how her attempt to attain what Victoria has plays out, ultimately to her detriment. 

This was a quick little read for me over a weekend, but I think the story had several plot holes and situations that were just not realistic. One of them being the relationship between Eleanor and her mother and younger sister. I just didn't understand all of the acrimony in the relationship, and it wasn't really explained well. Also, Eleanor's biological father was very unlikeable and unrealistic, I just couldn't see a person being that cold to flesh and blood. However, I don't know how the other half lives; perhaps people do go to these limits to hide major secrets. 

Other than these character development issues, the story was interesting. It kept me engaged over the couple of days I read it. I liken it to one of those family mysteries you'd catch on the Lifetime Movie Network. I wouldn't say the book was time well spent, but it wasn't time wasted either. 

Recommendation: This is a twisty work of fiction that anyone could find themselves lost in over the course of a couple of days. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

337 by M. Jonathan Lee

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Pages: 337 pages
Published: November 2020

Hideway Fall publishers contacted me a few months ago with an email teaser about M. Jonathan Lee's intriguing sixth new novel, 337. I get a lot of these requests through my blog contact form. After learning a bit about this book, I allowed the publisher to send me a ARC for review. And I am glad I did. 337 pulls the reader in before even opening the book. I noticed the title was displayed on the cover in a font that mimicked the author's last name (if you flipped it over). The book's page count is 337. Beyond those two elements, I'm not sure how the title relates to the story. The book is about and narrated by a young man, Sam, whose mother (Sandra) disappeared when he was just 12 years old a day after the family's annual family picnic. Her disappearance leaves Sam and his 7-year old brother with their neglectful and abusive father, Ray. The book is a double-ended and upside down, for reasons I am still trying to discern. I started reading from the side of the blue cover. After learning about the disappearance of Sandra, the book fast-forwards 25 years and Ray, Sam's father, calls and asks him to go check on Sam's dying grandmother. Then, the book instructs the reader to flip and turn the book to page 16 and continue reading normally.  

From the outset, it seems as though the story is about a man trying to come to terms with the unresolved disappearance of his mother, and it is about that to a certain degree. However, the bigger story is about Sam's reconciliation and reconnecting with his family and, in a sense, himself. The overall tone of the books is somber. The story, told from Sam's point-of-view, is very descriptive. Honestly, there's very little action, which makes the short chapters seem a little longer than they are. However, the writing style and Sandra's disappearance create enough intrigue to keep the reader hooked. 

There's a little plot twist at the end that I can't say I saw coming, but it didn't really surprise me either. I am wondering if it was even necessary. The mystery portion of the novel left me with more questions than anything. I think this novel is about personal growth and overcoming tragic circumstances and the ending just felt a little expendable to me. Having said all of that, Lee is definitely a gifted writer. The PR packet I received with this book makes me want to read some of his others. 

Recommendation: This is not an action-packed mystery. It is a beautifully written story about grief and healing. I devoured this book in a short weekend, and I would definitely recommend it with the caveat that one shouldn't put too much stock in the synopsis for guiding you through the story. In fact, I'd say, just skip the author-provided synopsis and dive right in. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Please note: The double-ended upside-down opening for this book is available in books ordered in hard copy from UK booksellers only.

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

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Sunday, November 15, 2020

Pretty Little Wife by Darby Kane

Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Pages: 416 pages
Published: December 2020

Pretty Little Wife by Darby Kane (who also writes romance as HelenKay Dimon) was a fast-paced mystery thriller about a young wife who plans the perfect murder of her morally-questionable husband only to find that his supposedly-dead body has gone missing and thrown her plans into complete disarray. 

The story centers around Lila and her husband, Aaron. He commits some pretty horrible acts that triggers his pretty little wife's past and causes her to take dire actions in an attempt to stop him. The only problem is the set-up for her husband's death does not go as planned, and she, of course, becomes the prime suspect target in the lead detective's (Ginny's) eyes. 

I enjoyed the book. It had all the elements of a suspenseful plot. The chapters were really short, some only a page or two long, which for some reason gives books a faster-tone for me. I have noticed this a lot with mystery novels. I think it's intentional to create tension as you turn (or click in ebooks) the pages faster. There was definitely some red herrings in the novel to throw the reader off, but I found it to be somewhat predictable about two-thirds of the way in. The ending introduced at least one character quite randomly, and I'm not sure if that was added after the original manuscript was written. I don't know. It just didn't seem fully thought out to me. Additionally, the ending was wrapped up nicely and quickly, which I found to be a bit of a flaw in such a complex plot. 

Truly, the best parts of the book are when we, as the readers, learn about Lila's backstory as well as the backstory of some of the secondary characters. It gave them depth and made the story more compelling. I do have to say, the strong character of Ginny resonated with me most. This is another excellent selection from Book of the Month, and I'm thankful for the opportunity to have read it upon its release. 

Recommendation: A fun, fast-paced mystery thriller for adult readers, I give this one four stars and offer it as recommended reading for you or your book club discussion. Trigger warnings: violence, sexual abuse

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

The Girl in the Mirror by Rose Carlyle

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Pages: 304 pages
Published: October 2020

I signed up for the Book of the Month subscription nearly a year ago because the company touts their panel's ability to choose great reads, and for the most part they have not disappointed me. When I added The Girl in the Mirror by Rose Carlyle to my box, I figured it would be good. 

As a read along about these identical twin sisters who separated at the last possible moment in the womb and, as a result, were mirror images of each other (include their internal organs), I found the story to have the makings of a run-of-the mill mystery. As older teens, the sisters' father died and, in a most dysfunctional way, he leaves he entire fortune to the first child (and there are more than just the twins) who marries and produces his first biological grandchild. The "winning" heir cannot share the monies with any of his or her siblings. As the identical twins enter adulthood, they are the oldest and most likely to bear an heir. Summer who has the perfect life with her husband seems in prime position since her twin's, Iris, marriage has recently fallen apart. As luck would have it, Summer calls Iris out to help sail the family yacht back home due to a family emergency and on the way back, Iris finds herself without her twin in the middle of the Indian Ocean. When she makes landfall, she uses the unfortunate opportunity to seize her sister's perfect life and grab the inheritance while she's at it. 

The story is well written. It creates enough mystery to keep the reader invested to the finish, but the thing that makes this book great is the plot twist that literally doesn't come till the last page of the book. It has left many readers, myself included, jaw dropped. You might think throwing in a plot twist at the very end of the book would cheapen its effect, but it does just the opposite. It leaves the reader reeling and trying to figure out how it all happened for days. 

Recommendation: This was definitely a fast-paced, twisty sister novel. If you can get past the technical sailing terms included in  the novel, it's an easy and fun read over a lazy weekend. I highly recommend it. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Pages: 368 pages
Published: October 2020

My last October read for this year was Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell. Although a prolific author, this was my first Jewell read, and it did not disappoint. The story is told from three perspectives - Owen, a bit of a socially awkward teacher, his neighbor, Cate, a stay-at-home mom who might be letting her imagination get the best of her and Saffyre, a young girl who mysteriously disappears. 

The bulk of the book takes us back and forth in time with each of these main characters giving us a glimpse into their world to solve the mystery of the missing teenager. The book flowed at a good pace and provided enough clues along the way to keep the reader intrigued and guessing. There was good character development. I think Saffyre was probably my favorite character. There was some darkness to her that made me, as the reader, sad but there was also an element of hope. The book also broached some difficult topics like molestation and violence against women. I would be mindful of those triggers should you choose to pick up this book. 

Overall, this was a thrilling read with a satisfying ending. I did rather enjoy the little twist at the end that left me thinking for days after. I would definitely read another book by this author. 

Recommendation: If you're looking for a twisty mystery thriller, you might consider putting Invisible Girl on your to-be-read list! Thank you to the Fort Worth Library for this digital loan

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

Rating: 2 of 5 stars
Pages: 256 pages
Published: October 2020

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam is one of of those books where you love it or you hate it. I hated it. It seemed much longer than its 256 pages and ended with no real conclusion of any kind. The book is basically about a white family of 4 who rent an Airbnb for a vacation away from the city. Upon the first few days of their vacation, the Black owners of the home show up unannounced with news that something very strange is going on in the world that has hindered communication with people in New York and news media to electronic devices. From there, many random things happen that, I suppose, are to illustrate the uncertainty of the situation and how people react in a dire situation. The book goes on like this till the end that isn’t really an end. I seriously thought maybe I was missing some pages. 

This was a Book of the Month add-on selection for me. On one-hand I’m disappointed I spent my money on it, but on the other hand, it was only $9.99. So, membership does have its privileges. 

The over-attention to detail - the droning on and on of grocery list items and non-essential sexual activities just didn’t do it for me. The only reason, and I am so serious when I say this, the only reason I continued to the end is for the upcoming Netflix movie that will star my two favorite actors -  Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts. I have a feeling this will be one of the rare cases where the movie will be better than the book - it has to be! 

Recommendation: Save your time and your coins - just wait for the movie. So little time; so many books. Choose something else.  

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Pages: 264 pages
Published: September 2020

I have had a difficult time pulling together a review for Yaa Gyasi’s sophomore novel, Transcendent Kingdom I absolutely loved Homegoing. I read it twice, which is something I rarely do. (There are simply too many books to read.) Gyasi is a talented writer, a gifted storyteller. However, despite warnings by the publisher, critics and the author herself, I wanted Transcendent Kingdom to be like Homegoing. It was not. The story was told in a stream of consciousness format from Gifty, the main character’s viewpoint of she and her mom healing from a husband and father who deserted them and a son and brother who died of an opioid addiction. As a result of these traumatic events, Gifty has dedicated her education to studying addiction and trying to find a cure to help people overcome it. This is where we find her in the opening of the book - in the midst of her PhD research on the subject. In addition to healing from the loss of her brother, Gifty is also trying to come to terms with her father’s return to Ghana from the United States many years earlier. And she is trying to reconcile her dedication to science while being the daughter of a devout Christian mother.

Even though the page count is a little over 250, the book had so many layers. I found it to be very complex and reflective but also very sad. The book does have some elements of hope but overall it basically focuses on the psychological struggle of a young woman attempting to synthesize the very heavy life experiences she’s faced. 

Recommendation: This is not a book that ties up neatly in the end. It’s one that you have to consider the journey more so than focusing on the ending. While I loved Homegoing much more, Transcendent Kingdom is good in its own right. It is different, but the writing is solid and I would recommend picking it up when you’re in the mood for an in-depth read. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Rating: 5+ of 5 stars
Pages: 352 pages
Published: September 2020

I love, love Fredrik Backman. I've read all of his novels (just search his name on this blog), and I think he is one of the most gifted writers in modern literature. He is able to compose sentences in a way that evoke a myriad of emotions. So, it was no surprise that as I read, I found myself pondering then laughing and then tearing up throughout Anxious People. So, what is this book about? If you read it (and please do read it), you will see that even the narrator even has a hard time pinpointing the exact subject matter. But I think overall it's about life and how we deal with it. It's written in a unique way, and in my opinion, it almost reads like a stage play. The best part of the book are the little nuggets of truth Backman hides within this dramedy. Here are some of my favorites - 

Our hearts are bars of soap that we keep losing hold of; the moment we relax, they drift off and fall in love and get broken, all in the wink of an eye. 

Because that was a parent's job: to provide shoulders. Shoulders for your children to sit on when they're little so they can see the world, then to stand on when they get older so they can reach the clouds, and sometimes lean against whenever they stumble and feel unsure. 

She told herself that was why you should always be nice to other people, even idiots, because you never know how heavy their burden is. 

I think you can understand someone without necessarily agreeing with them. 

Have you ever held a three-year-old by the hand on the way home from preschool? You're never more important than you are then. 

Because the people we argue with hardest of all are not the ones who are completely different from us, but the ones who are almost no different at all. 

He was my echo. Everything I do is quieter now. 

If you can do something for someone in such a way that they think they managed it all on their own, then you've done a good job. 

Loneliness is like starvation, you don't realize how hungry you are until you begin to eat. 

That's the power of literature, you know, it can act lie little love letters between people who can only explain their feelings by pointing at other people's. 

It's such an odd thing, the way you can know someone so perfectly through what they read. 

You can't carry the guilt and the shame and the unbearable silence on your own, and you shouldn't have to.

You see what I mean? He just finds the most beautiful ways to say the most basic things. So, back to the book. It's a story about a person at a desperate point in their life who does something they normally wouldn't and the resulting events affect a group of people who happen to be viewing an apartment for sale. Backman provides a bit of back story to each character while taking us through one day they all shared together. It sounds complicated, but the result of this novel is an uplifting work of art. Just go snag a copy! 

Recommendation: This book was definitely written for my generation, but I really think anyone can appreciate the beauty in it. If you have ever considered suicide suffer from anxiety or depression, please consider this book carefully. But note that it contains much hope! And in times like these, we could all use a little of that. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Killer Deadline by Lauren Carr

Category: Adult fiction (18+) / Mystery / Cozy
Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Pages: 232 pages
Published: April 2020 

Folks in Pine Grove, Pennsylvania, claim that where Nikki Bryant goes, trouble is not far behind. Her refusal to back down from a challenge has made Nikki Bryant a top investigative journalist.

When an online friend nudges her to join him in a pact to reconnect with their first loves, Nikki and her boxer dog Elmo leave the bright lights of Las Vegas for the charming town of Pine Grove. There, she must face the biggest challenges in her career and life—the first love she had left behind and her father’s unsolved murder.

But before she has time to unpack her car, Nikki stumbles upon the dead body of local news anchor, Ashleigh Addison, her childhood rival. Could Ashleigh’s death be connected to an explosive news story that she had teased about airing live? Did that explosive story have anything to do with the murder of Nikki’s father?

With the clues in her father’s cold case hot again, Nikki intends to chase down the story of her life until she catches his killer—no matter what it takes.

Killer Deadline by Lauren Carr is a fictional cozy mystery novel that centers around Nikki Bryant and her return to her small hometown of Pine Grove to take over management of the family's TV news station. When Nikki was a child, her father was murdered in his office at the news station. This event played a part in her career as an investigative journalist. When she returns home to take over the business from her mother, one of her employees is mysteriously killed. In trying to follow the clues of the present-day murder mystery, Nikki begins to uncover what might have happened to her father all those years ago. 

The book includes a cast of some eccentric characters living in the charming town of Pine Grove. Carr creates a vivid community that brings all the characters to life, not just the primary ones. While it may seem difficult to keep up with who's who, the author provides a nice list and description at the start of the novel. I'd have to say my favorite character was Nikki's sidekick, her Boxer dog, Elmo. 

At just over 200 pages, this book an engaging and quick read. Carr's writing style definitely keeps the reader turning the pages to learn the ultimate conclusion of the mystery. This book can easily be read over a long weekend or perhaps a quick road trip. It has just the right balance of elements: humor, romance, suspense and a tidy resolution. 

Recommendation If you are a fan of cozies, enjoy good, clean reading, and a strong female lead, this is just the book for you. Pick up a copy and escape reality for a few hours. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Lauren Carr is the international best-selling author of the Mac Faraday, Lovers in Crime, Chris Matheson Cold Case, and Thorny Rose Mysteries—over twenty-five titles across three fast-paced mystery series filled with twists and turns!

Killer Deadline marks Lauren's first venture into mystery's purely cozy sub-genre with a female protagonist.

Book reviewers and readers alike rave about how Lauren Carr’s seamlessly crosses genres to include mystery, suspense, crime fiction, police procedurals, romance, and humor.

​A popular speaker, Lauren is also the owner of Acorn Book Service, the umbrella under which falls iRead Book Tours. She lives with her husband and two spoiled rotten German Shepherds on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Connect with Lauren: 

Prizes: $50 Amazon Gift Card courtesy of Lauren Carr, author of Candidate for Murder
(ends Oct. 16, 2020)

Sep 21 Locks, Hooks and Books 
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Sunday, September 20, 2020

One by One by Ruth Ware

Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Pages: 372 pages
Published: September 2020

The thing with having a Book of the Month subscription is that you rarely, if ever, run into any bad books. For the month of September, I splurged on three books (read the next 2 reviews or view my reading list to learn the titles). While I finished One by One by Ruth Ware on the last day of a warm summer in Texas, the book took me to the snowy mountains in the French Alps. This was my first read by this prolific mystery/thriller author. The book centers around the employees of this interesting new mobile app that allows users to listen in or "snoop" on what other people, including celebrities, are listening to musically. 

Anyway, the eight employees including the founding (and stock-holding) members of the company go off to the luxurious ski chalet for a team-building retreat. While there, they learn that one of the founders has ulterior business motives for the trip. An unexpected and dangerous avalanche leaves the guests stranded and one by one (get it?), people start dying. The plot has the makings of a classic whodunit, like Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. The two staff members, Erin and Danny, try to maintain a sense of control while waiting for help to come clear the way, but they are in just as much danger. 

This book was suspenseful enough to keep me turning the pages. Ware does a good job of providing clues to lead you to the killer. I enjoyed her beautiful descriptions of the Alps and the snow. It transported me right there, and when she got to the action, I felt emotions as if I were a character in the book. The only thing that bothered me about this book was the length. I think the last portion including the ski chase could have been removed as it seemed to slow down the overall pace of the novel. 

None of these characters are really that likable, which is odd because the story is. I read this book as a read-along with an online book club, but I think it might be even more fun to read when it's cold outside. 

Recommendation: I would recommend One by One as an intense, fast-paced winter read. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff

Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Pages: 387 pages
Published: February 2016

The Fort Worth Library's Stay At Home Book Club prompted me to dig into the fantasy/horror of Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff this summer. Coupled with the recently released series of the same name on HBO, I couldn't pass up this opportunity to read the book even though neither fantasy nor horror is my favorite type of book or movie. 

So, basically this book is told is eight vignettes all set in 1954 on the backdrop of Jim Crow racism in the United States. The inciting story is about a young man, Atticus, who returns from military service in search of his missing father. He partners up with his uncle who is the publisher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide (which is based on the real Negro Motorist Green Book that Black people had to use to find safe shelter and resources while traveling not so freely though these United States of America) and, reluctantly, with his childhood friend (possibly crush) Letitia. On their quest to find Atticus' father they are faced with some dangerous encounters with racists and horrific ones led by Samuel Braithwhite and his son Caleb, who are attempting to secure salvation for their secret tribe, the Order of the Ancient Dawn, that only Atticus can provide. 

I found the first chapter of the book to be attention-getting and engrossing. Being a historical fiction buff, the Jim Crow thematic elements are what kept my interest. At times I wasn't sure what was more nerve-racking, the overt racism or the fantasy and horror elements of each short story. All of the stories are intertwined, and you would need to read the book in order to get a full understanding. My favorite chapter was the one that focused on a secondary character, Ruby who is Letitia's sister.  

I don't really know much about Lovecraft or his type of horror writing; however, I think if I did I would have had a greater appreciation for how this author put his spin on it. I enjoyed the book for what it was, but I do think fans of horror would enjoy it more. 

Recommendation: If fantasy and horror float your boat, you might enjoy this book as it has a little more depth by adding the racial element. However, if you're looking for something about racism or the Jim Crow era, choose another book. 

Thanks to the Fort Worth Library for this ebook loan! 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.