Showing posts with label mystery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mystery. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

What I Was Reading When I Wasn't Here (and, Hi!)

And Lord knows it's been a while since I've been here!

Sorry for the protracted absence, reader friends.  I told ya this was likely to happen though, what with me in school, and child in school, and toddler in full force, and making time for me + husband, and running, and this freaking election (don't even get me started), and just EVERYTHING.  All the things.  There are too many things.  So yes, I have been absent.

However, I have been reading!  I just haven't been blogging about it!  Which has been weird (since I've blogged about EVERY book I read between August 2012 and...6 weeks ago), but also very liberating.  I just fly through books when I have the time, and don't worry about how I will review them.  It's rather wonderful, in fact, even though I know that doesn't bode real well for the blog...though I'm still staunchly NOT shutting it down, for whatever that's worth.

Anyway, instead of full-on reviews, I thought I would highlight the best of what I've read lately, in a very short and sweet list...plus let you know about the one book I've been reading forever, but have yet to DNF.

The Best of What I've Read Lately (with exceedingly short descriptions):

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

RELEVANT IMMEDIATELY.  READ NOW.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

New release by a debut author, the hype in the blogosphere was justified.  Plus, I like pretty things, and the cover is a very pretty thing.

In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin 10, both by Ruth Ware

Mystery and debauchery!  Lots of red herrings!

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (my first Christie!)

The queen of Mystery and Debauchery and Red Herrings!  I was not disappointed.

Why I Run by Mark Sutcliffe

Runners need to read this one.  It helped me get out of a running slump and pushed me to sign up for a marathon (again).  More on that in another post...

And...The Book I Have Been Reading Forever:

Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon

I dunno guys.  I am starting to think this series is not for me.  Been at this since August?  September?  I still have 300 pages to go.  Determined to do it, but it might be a while before I think about picking up the third installment.

So, readers, catch me up...what are you reading lately?  Have you read any of the books I listed above?  What should be next on my ever-expanding TBR list?

Also, send Joe Biden memes.  All the Joe Biden memes.  #UncleJoe

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell (Giveaway!)


Title: The Girls in the Garden
Author: Lisa Jewell
Publisher: Atria
Publication Date: June 7, 2016  (originally published in 2015 as The Girls)
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Imagine that you live on a picturesque communal garden square, an oasis in urban London where your children run free, in and out of other people’s houses. You’ve known your neighbors for years and you trust them. Implicitly. You think your children are safe. But are they really? 

On a midsummer night, as a festive neighborhood party is taking place, preteen Pip discovers her thirteen-year-old sister Grace lying unconscious and bloody in a hidden corner of a lush rose garden. What really happened to her? And who is responsible?

Dark secrets, a devastating mystery, and the games both children and adults play all swirl together in this gripping novel, packed with utterly believable characters and page-turning suspense.


My Review:

If you want a thriller that you can gobble up quickly, I can't recommend The Girls in the Garden enough.  This is a fairly short read, but it moves along quickly and throws so many red herrings at you along the way that you definitely won't feel like you're being shortchanged!

Normally I find that mystery novels with too many suspicious characters begin to feel implausible after a while (could ALL of these people be THIS shady?  Really?!).  However, Jewell finds a way to cast doubt upon nearly every person in the book, while still keeping your interest (and your faith in the story).  You may decide early on that you know who the culprit is, but even if you're correct, you won't be disappointed because you'll have taken so many interesting segues along the way.

I also think that Jewell has really nailed the angst and confusion of 13-year-old-girl life here.  Several of the main characters are in that age range, and much of the story hinges upon the quest for maturity and self-understanding that comes along with that stage of development.  Having been a 13 year old girl once (albeit many moons ago...), many of the struggles the characters faced rang true for me, which made for an even more engaging reading experience.

The Girls in the Garden isn't going to overwhelm you with extraneous detail and long-winded diatribes.  Compared to many other thrillers, it's rather concise and to the point.  But the writing is solid, the characters are fleshed out just enough to keep your attention, and the mystery at the heart of the novel will certainly make you want to devour it as fast as possible.

As always, much thanks to Lisa at TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Want to find out more?  Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Lisa Jewell on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.


GIVEAWAY TIME!  TLC Book Tours is running a giveaway for 5 copies of this book, open for entry until October 3, 2016.  Enter using the Rafflecopter below:

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Friday, August 5, 2016

August Mini-Reviews

It's Mini Review time again!  My streak of good novels continues--it's certainly been a wonderful summer for reading.  A bit o' popular fiction to share with you this time around:

First Comes Love by Emily Giffin
Ballatine, 2016
ARC received from the publisher for an honest review

In case you've forgotten, I'm a huge Emily Giffin fan, and fully ADORED her last release (The One & Only).  That put her 2016 novel, First Comes Love, near the top of my must-read list this summer.  However, on the whole I have to say that I liked it, but didn't quite reach "love it" status.  Giffin's usual penchant for relateable, well-rounded characters is still intact--I loved the protagonists, Meredith and Josie, and the fact that they were both so perfectly flawed and quirky.  HOW does Giffin make characters that are both unique and yet have at least one trait that you can totally identify with??  It is a gift, for sure.  This novel is absorbing and involves some interesting discussion topics, but I was unable to get 100% on board when Josie's story got a bit too convoluted and far-fetched for me.  I appreciate Giffin's ability to include lots of gray areas and touchy subjects in her writing, but this one became a bit too hard for me to get behind.  I'd love to discuss with anyone else that has read it!  Overall: worth the read, but just not as outstanding as some of her other work.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Viking, 2012
ARC received from the publisher for an honest review

Yeah, take another look at the info above.  An ARC that I received...4 years ago.  OOPS.  Not long after I started the blog, actually, and well before this book's hype flew through the roof.  But even after the good reviews started rolling in, I was a tad skeptical because...it's a romance.  And as I've said so many times before (see: every time I talk about Outlander) I'm not known for loving the romance genre.  However, one of my friends really wanted to see the movie with me, so I figured it was time to finally dive in.
OH LORDY.  THE SADS.  ALL THE SADS.  Please excuse me while I add to the hype, because this book was amazing.  I adored the two protagonists (Lou and Will), and their ever-changing dynamic is what makes this book a home run.  This is not at all a typical romance, but one that will make your wheels turn (it has some interesting moral dilemmas in the mix).  You'll laugh (I love Lou and Will's snappy dialogue), you'll cry, and then you'll do it all again.  The ending is one that I love to hate, and I'm looking forward to checking out the sequel very soon.  Highly recommend!!


Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter
William Morrow, 2015
borrowed from the library

This was the latest pick for my MOMS Club book club, and I was intrigued, because I've seen many Karin Slaughter books on the shelves before but had yet to pick one up myself.  My first warning to you is that the description of this book on Goodreads/Amazon/etc does NOT give an accurate idea of how much brutality is involved in the plot.  I've read my fair share of violent novels (hi, Stephen King groupie over here), but Pretty Girls is shockingly graphic in a way that I did not expect going in.  Alley stabbings, serial killing, snuff porn, we really cover all the bases here.  It took me a while to acclimate to that, but once I did, I found myself involved in a thrilling story.
Pretty Girls is impressive as a mystery, a thriller, and a crime drama.  The plot twists were never predictable for me, and even though the book is quite long, it never loses momentum.  The main character (Claire) is the perfect mix of tough heroine and annoying Stepford wife--easy to root for, but just naive enough to drive you insane once in a while.  This whole novel came together for me, which is impressive, given the crazy number of plot elements that Slaughter weaves into the story.
Definitely recommend this one as well--I see that Slaughter has quite a backlist, so I'm sure I'll be checking out more of her work soon!

What are you reading lately, bookish friends?

Friday, July 15, 2016

July Mini-Reviews: Natural Parenting, An Amazing Mystery, and NEGAN!

Reading has been a bit slow lately, but I've had SO many good books on the docket!  Here's a quick rundown of 3 of my most recent reads:

Push Back: Guilt in the Age of Natural Parenting
Dr. Amy Tuteur
Dey Street Books, 2016
borrowed from the library

(Sorry, this review became a little longer than mini!)  As soon as I grabbed this one on impulse at the library, I was afraid that I might get my Good Mommy card taken away...haha.  But seriously, I saw that subtitle and HAD to read it.  Personally, I find modern-day mothering to be positively FRAUGHT with guilt that others try to impose upon your parenting style--no matter what style that may be.  But the natural parenting industry gets top marks in the guilt-mongering category.  And I say that having taken a fair number of "natural" parenting methods myself--breastfeeding, cloth diapering, blah blah blah.  However, I also picked a lot of "not natural" parenting options: epidurals, formula, the list goes on.  So, I've seen both sides.  And I never can understand why people find the need to judge so much on these topics.  Dr. Amy Tuteur delved into that issue, and what we can do to push back.

Overall, I found Tuteur's discussion to be a refreshing rebuttal to the constant sanctimommy, holier-than-thou banter that you see on social media these days.  She specifically takes on 3 aspects of natural parenting: "natural" childbirth (meaning no drugs, no c-sections, etc), breastfeeding, and attachment parenting (co-sleeping, babywearing, etc).  She discusses the actual scientific evidence that supports (or fails to support) each of these concepts, and shows how the natural parenting industry skews and misquotes these findings in order to further their agendas.  And anyone who knows me knows that I LOVE a good discussion of the actual, published SCIENCE behind a concept.  That said, women who are currently pregnant (or plan to become pregnant soon) may want to pause before picking this book up--part of me thinks I would have loved reading it before having kids, but the other part of me isn't sure, as Tuteur is very straightforward about the data behind the risks of pregnancy (mortality rates for mother and child, for example)...things that I know would have made me rather anxious while pregnant.  Something for mommas to consider.

My only hesitation in recommending this book is that Tuteur's vitriol against the natural parenting industry is a little much at times.  I would have preferred if she could have kept a more level head in her discussion of the issues, as the scientific evidence speaks for itself in many cases.  And anyone who is a hardcore La Leche League/Dr. Sears/etc. follower will likely not enjoy this.  However, if you're as sick of parent-shaming as I am, give this book a try!

Before The Fall
Noah Hawley
Grand Central Publishing, 2016
borrowed from the library

Current contender for my favorite book of the year!  Before the Fall is a positively fabulous mystery/thriller that had me reading well past my bedtime, captivated by every page.  A small private plane crashes off of Martha's Vineyard, and only two passengers live to tell about it.  What ensues is an investigation into what caused the mysterious crash, as the two survivors struggle to navigate the next steps in their lives.

Hawley's storytelling style played a major role in my involvement with the novel, as he flashes back to each passenger on the plane to show you what they were doing in the years, months, and days leading up to the crash.  You get new pieces of the puzzle added with every chapter.  The book also goes beyond being a simple mystery by making interesting commentary about the power of the media in the wake of national tragedies (sadly very relevant right now).  I won't say more for fear of spoiling this one for you, but I can't recommend it highly enough!!

The Walking Dead, Compendium 3
Robert Kirkman et al
Image Comics, 2015
borrowed from the library

Only recommended if you read the first two compendiums, but this one is SO good!!  Compendium 3 brings you up past where the TV show is now, with the introduction of Negan.  All I can say is, season 7 is gonna be a doozy FOR SURE (even if Negan's first TV victim is not the same as it is in the comics).  This collection ended on a pretty shocking note, and I know it's going to be a while before there's enough editions for a Compendium 4...so it may be time for me to start figuring out how to get my hands on individual issues!  :)  The Walking Dead is the first comic series I've ever read (my only other graphic novel/comic experience was The Watchman--also very good, though quite different), but it's got me thinking I should look into this medium a bit more.

What are you reading these days, reader pals?

Monday, June 13, 2016

He Will Be My Ruin by K.A. Tucker


Title: He Will Be My Ruin
Author: K.A. Tucker
Publisher: Atria
Publication Date: February 2, 2016
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Twenty-eight-year-old Maggie Sparkes arrives in New York City to pack up what’s left of her best friend’s belongings after a suicide that has left everyone stunned. The police have deemed the evidence conclusive: Celine got into bed, downed a bottle of Xanax and a handle of Maker’s Mark, and never woke up. But when Maggie discovers secrets in the childhood lock box hidden in Celine’s apartment, she begins asking questions. Questions about the man Celine fell in love with. The man she never told anyone about, not even Maggie. The man who Celine herself claimed would be her ruin.

On the hunt for answers that will force the police to reopen the case, Maggie uncovers more than she bargained for about Celine’s private life—and inadvertently puts herself on the radar of a killer who will stop at nothing to keep his crimes undiscovered.


My Review:

I haven't jumped into the mystery genre in a while, but I was happy to give this one a shot after reading that description.  I'm new to K.A. Tucker's work, but recognized her name, and this was a great first novel of hers to jump into.  He Will Be My Ruin combines a sassy protagonist, several shady suspects, and of course, a few good red herrings along the way.  I was pleasantly surprised by the end result.

At first, I thought for sure that I had this mystery all figured out from the get-go.  I had it narrowed down to two possible suspects, and couldn't see how Tucker would manage to have it NOT be so predictably one of them.  However, even though I kept going back to my two main targets, by the end of the book I had suspected EVERYBODY (except maybe Maggie) at least once.  Tucker builds just enough oddity into each character that it's easy to concoct a motive for nearly any of them.  Plus, she creates unexpected side plots that flesh out the mystery more and more as the novel goes on.  I won't give away the ending, but I'll say that it was a spectacular finish that left me happy to have gone on the journey to get there.

This review is about as straightforward as it gets: if you love a good whodunit, with lots of quirky characters and a little bit of romantic spice thrown in, then He Will Be My Ruin is a good bet.

As always, much thanks to Lisa and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Want to find out more?  Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE. And connect with K.A. Tucker via her website, Twitter, and Facebook.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Girl in the Red Coat (Giveaway!)


Title: The Girl in the Red Coat
Author: Kate Hamer
Publisher: Melville House
Publication Date: February 16, 2016
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Newly single mom Beth has one constant, gnawing worry: that her dreamy eight-year-old daughter, Carmel, who has a tendency to wander off, will one day go missing.

And then one day, it happens: On a Saturday morning thick with fog, Beth takes Carmel to a local outdoor festival, they get separated in the crowd, and Carmel is gone.

Shattered, Beth sets herself on the grim and lonely mission to find her daughter, keeping on relentlessly even as the authorities tell her that Carmel may be gone for good.

Carmel, meanwhile, is on a strange and harrowing journey of her own—to a totally unexpected place that requires her to live by her wits, while trying desperately to keep in her head, at all times, a vision of her mother …

Alternating between Beth’s story and Carmel’s, and written in gripping prose that won’t let go, The Girl in the Red Coat—like Emma Donoghue’s Room and M. L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans—is an utterly immersive story that’s impossible to put down . . . and impossible to forget.


My Review:

That word "immersive" from the last line of the plot summary is COMPLETELY on point.  I was immersed, steeped, saturated in this story.  The Girl in the Red Coat will have you working your page-flipping fingers at Olympic pace.

I went into the novel a bit unsure, because as much as I loved the book's description, the first couple of chapters didn't hook me right away.  I think this is because Carmel and Beth are such unusual protagonists that it took me a while to get a good grip on their personalities.  I didn't understand their peculiarities (especially Carmel's) until I went further into the book.  However, by the time of Carmel's disappearance, my initial hesitations had vanished, allowing me to sink into the story.

The novel alternates between Carmel and Beth's POVs, and Hamer writes them in a way that creates a strong connection between the two, even when they are physically separated.  The mother-daughter bond and its many complexities would be a great discussion point for any book clubs that pick this one up.  That said, I did find Carmel's POV to be more gripping for the reader than Beth's--Carmel's situation stays fluid and unpredictable for most of the book, while Beth's chapters started to become a bit repetitive after a while, without as much forward motion.  This wasn't a deal-breaker for me in terms of enjoying the story, but it was worth noting that I often flew through Beth's chapters to get more of Carmel.

It's worth noting that the conclusion is very open-ended--so if that's not your cup of tea, you've been warned.  However, I LOVED all of the unanswered questions at the end, because they left me with so much to ponder about the various relationships in the novel.

Overall, The Girl in the Red Coat was a super fun read.  It's an excellent thriller, with many of the riveting plot elements that you've loved in other books of the genre, but also with so many unique twists and turns that it won't be a novel easily forgotten.

As always, much thanks to Lisa and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Want to find out more?  Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.

GIVEAWAY TIME!!  TLC Book Tours is giving away one copy of The Girl in the Red Coat to one of my lucky readers.  US/Canada entrants only.  Giveaway ends 3/23/16.  Enter with the Rafflecopter below!
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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Twinning (and Giveaway)! Beside Myself by Ann Morgan


Title: Beside Myself
Author: Ann Morgan
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication Date: January 12, 2016
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Beside Myself is a literary thriller about identical twins, Ellie and Helen, who swap places aged six. At first it is just a game, but then Ellie refuses to swap back. Forced into her new identity, Helen develops a host of behavioural problems, delinquency and chronic instability. With their lives diverging sharply, one twin headed for stardom and the other locked in a spiral of addiction and mental illness, how will the deception ever be uncovered? Exploring questions of identity, selfhood, and how other people's expectations affect human behaviour, this novel is as gripping as it is psychologically complex.


My Review:

If you like thrillers, family dramas, and complex psychological mysteries...I have a book for you to read, my friends!

I asked to review Beside Myself because the description intrigued me--haven't we all heard stories about identical twins who try to pull one over on their parents/teachers/friends by swapping identities for a day or two?  I was interested in how Morgan would be able to pull off such a swap for an entire lifetime.  How could you convince the twins' entire family (and me, the reader) that they are able to swap places for that long without anyone knowing?

Not only did Morgan make this entirely believable, but she did so to the point where it was disturbing.  I was devastated and angry for Helen as her sister Ellie slowly usurped every bit of her life: friends, social standing, intelligence, and bright future included.  However, the novel slowly opens up into a much more complicated story that goes beyond Helen's loss of self.  I was worried that this book would eventually become too narrowly focused, but Morgan introduces a whole host of mysterious elements that kept me engaged to the very end.

This book becomes much more than a tale of two estranged sisters.  In the end, you're left grappling with questions about mental illness, identity (how much is genetics, or personality, or environment-based?), and loyalty.

Great twists, beautiful writing, unexpected questions to ponder...this one is a good bet, reader friends!

As always, much thanks to Lisa and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Want to find out more?  Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  You can also connect with Ann Morgan via Twitter or her website.

GIVEAWAY TIME!!  TLC Book Tours is giving away one copy of Beside Myself to one of my lucky readers.  US/Canada entrants only.  Giveaway ends 1/21/16.  Enter with the Rafflecopter below!


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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Last 2 Books of 2015!

My last 2 mini-reviews of the year!  I was able to squeeze these in right under the wire, bringing me up to 49 for the year.  Not bad!

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Little, Brown and Company, 2005
personal purchase

I put this book on my 30 Before 35 list because I've heard raves about it for the last 10 years, and have had a copy on my bookshelf for almost as long, but I kept pushing it off due to the fact that it's a pretty sizeable chunker (676 pages).  I finally picked it up on a whim, not even knowing what it was about, and was pleased to find that it's a historical fiction novel about the legend behind Dracula.  How fortuitous that I read Stoker's famous book just a few months ago!  However, reading Dracula before The Historian is certainly not a requirement, as this book provides more than enough background to keep you on top of things.

Quick synopsis: the narrator is a teenager in the 1970's, living with her father (a diplomat) in Amsterdam.  One day, she stumbles upon some old letters in her father's study, which turn out to be the beginnings of a rather epic mystery surrounding the legend of Lord Dracula.  When, in the midst of learning about this mystery, the narrator's father disappears, she begins her own journey to figure out where he went, what sort of discoveries he made in the past, and what really happened to her mother.

I only gave this book 3 stars on Goodreads, which feels underwhelming, but unless you are a serious fangirl/fanboy of medieval history, this book is surely going to drag in parts.  And I feel bad saying that, because this book is positively overflowing with lavish detail--a more elaborate story would be hard to find.  But that doesn't erase the fact that it's terribly drawn out, the frequent flashbacks making an already-detailed story even tougher to follow at times.  Even so, the mystery at the heart of the story is intriguing, and I enjoyed the little twist in the epilogue.  Thus, 3 stars is accurate for this middle-of-the-road novel.

Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide by Hal Higdon
Rodale Books, 2011 edition
received as a Christmas gift :)

What a surprise, right?  Haha.  Now that I am fairly certain I will be running my first marathon in late 2016, I figured it's time to start doing some reading.  I'm a huge fan of Higdon's race training plans (they have worked for me at both the 15K and half marathon distances), and I plan to use one of his novice marathon plans in the fall.  However, I also have a lot of questions about proper nutrition during training, hydration needs, tricks for staying in the game mentally, etc. and I thought this would be a good place to start.

I was correct in my thinking!  Higdon speaks equally to novice and more advanced runners in this book.  Some of the information was familiar to me after following his programs in the past, but some of it was new as well, and a LOT of it is going to be re-read as I dive into marathon training in the late spring.  In particular, I was very interested in the parts about the different varieties of speedwork (seriously, I still have a hard time telling a fartlek from a stride from intervals...), proper long run pacing, and pre-race nutrition.  Plus, I found this book to be a great motivator in general.  Reading about Higdon's formulas for success has left me feeling excited for the marathon journey ahead.

If you're a newbie marathoner looking for some solid advice starting out, or a more advanced marathoner who wants to shave time off of a PR, Hal Higdon's Marathon is an excellent read to help you get going in the right direction.

What's your last book of 2015?  Runners, any other good marathon training books I should look for?

Friday, November 20, 2015

November Minis: Lisbeth Salander & Nonfiction!

Hi, friends!  I know that November is not over, but I don't really want to include more than 3 mini-reviews in one post, so here's a little recap of what I've read so far this month.

The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz
Knopf, 2015
borrowed from the library

You've heard of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series by Stieg Larsson, yes?  One of my FAVORITE series in the history of all series.  When I got to the end of the 3rd book and realized that Larsson had died before he could continue Salander and Blomkvists's stories, I was devastated.  However, David Lagercrantz got permission from Larsson's family to continue the series on his own, and now we have this 4th installment of Larsson's brainchild.

Here's the deal: if you're a devout Salander/Blomkvist fan, you have to go into this book knowing that Lagercrantz can't resurrect the dead.  He can't write in EXACTLY the same tone and style that Larsson did.  But you know what?  He does a damn good job trying.  I found myself being very critical and picky at the beginning (how could I not?).  Some of the new characters introduced were basically walking stereotypes, the overall tone didn't feel dark enough, etc.  But suddenly I was 300 pages in and realized I was completely sucked into the story, differences be damned.  Lagercrantz has still managed to create an excellent mystery full of espionage and seedy doings, and the spirit of the originals is certainly there.  I will say that the ending was a bit kitschy (full of too many sudden romantic successes, presumably for a "happy" ending?).  But otherwise, I was happy to have Lisbeth Salander back in my life, and would welcome more of her besides.

Run Like A Mother by Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea
Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2010
borrowed from the library

I run!  And I'm a mother!  So I felt like I definitely had to check this book out.  This is a nonfiction guide to running specifically for busy moms who are juggling husbands, kids, jobs, etc. with their love of getting on the road (or the trail).  The introduction and first chapter had me completely HOOKED.  I felt like McDowell and Shea were totally speaking my mother-runner language.  It was great to read stories about how other moms manage to balance running with all of the other priorities in their lives.  However, after that first chapter, I did realize that this book is primarily geared towards beginner runners--a lot of the next sections covered things like choosing the proper running attire, how to do speed/track workouts, etc...things that more seasoned runners are already quite familiar with, though I did appreciate the reminders here and there.  Towards the end, they get more into the balance of family and running life, which was more of what I was looking for.

I didn't love the repetitively cheesy humor used by the authors, but it was manageable.  I DO like that Shea and McDowell are two very different runners, and as such, provided two very different perspectives on the sport.  McDowell, like me, is more of a laid-back runner who does not always push herself to the max, whereas Shea is more driven, always going for the PR and leaving everything out on the road.  So there's something for every momma here.  Overall, this was a fun read with a great angle, but may be better for beginning mother runners, rather than veterans of the road.

On Immunity by Eula Biss
Graywolf Press, 2014
borrowed from the library

Yes, I managed to read 2 nonfictions for Nonfiction November!  Amazing!  On Immunity has been on my radar since it first came out, because if you know me, you know that I don't stand on many soapboxes, but VACCINATING YOUR DAMN KIDS is one of them.  I was mighty interested in what Biss had to say here, and I am 100% open about the fact that I went into this with a biased POV--so you've been warned.  :)

This book was actually quite a bit different than what I anticipated.  I think I was expecting a straightforward, research-driven discussion of the immunization debate.  That is certainly the basis of her essays--Biss has done her research, and (unsurprisingly!) it throws in favor of vaccinations--but as the tone of the title suggests, this book is also a good bit of musing on her part, regarding the fears she faced as a parent when her son was born, and how that translated into the immunization issue as a whole.  I'm torn on how I feel about this approach.  I am partially thankful for the humanizing touch that this gave the topic, but at the same time, I was kind of hoping for a stronger, more hard-hitting book that could really be used to shut down the anti-vaccine stance.  This book wanders too much down the road of an academic waxing philosophical for it to be seen as that.

Overall, this one will certainly get the immunization discussion going, and it is a unique angle in the debate.  And while she never comes out and definitively says it, all of Biss's research points towards the need to vaccinate, which I appreciate.  However, this is not a focused discussion of the issues, so if you're looking for that, go elsewhere.

What did you read so far this month?

Friday, October 9, 2015

Everything She Forgot by Lisa Ballantyne

Title: Everything She Forgot
Author: Lisa Ballantyne
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publication Date: October 6, 2015
Source: copy provided by the publisher for an honest review

Summary from Goodreads

They’re calling it the worst pile-up in London history. Driving home, Margaret Holloway has her mind elsewhere—on a troubled student, her daughter’s acting class, the next day’s meeting—when she’s rear-ended and trapped in the wreckage. Just as she begins to panic, a disfigured stranger pulls her from the car just seconds before it’s engulfed in flames. Then he simply disappears.

Though she escapes with minor injuries, Margaret feels that something’s wrong. She’s having trouble concentrating. Her emotions are running wild. More than that, flashbacks to the crash are also dredging up lost associations from her childhood, fragments of events that were wiped from her memory. Whatever happened, she didn’t merely forget—she chose to forget. And somehow, Margaret knows deep down that it’s got something to do with the man who saved her life.

As Margaret uncovers a mystery with chilling implications for her family and her very identity, Everything She Forgot winds through a riveting dual narrative and asks the question: How far would you go to hide the truth—from yourself…?


My Review:

Having never read any of Lisa Ballantyne's other novels, I was not sure what to expect from her latest thriller.  I've read a lot of thrillers lately, and I was wondering how Ballantyne would make hers stick out from the rest of the pack.  I was pleasantly surprised!  Ballantyne keeps this book going at a fast pace, and her writing excises the extraneous detail and description that I find often plagues other mystery novels.  The plot never lets up, and I was hooked right up to the end.

One thing that really impresses me about this book is that it is a thriller, but it is not bogged down in a lot of violent, gruesome detail.  I've found extreme violence to be commonplace with most of the suspenseful novels I've read lately, and while I don't have a problem with that as a literary tool in general, it can get difficult to read such graphic violence over and over.  There are some vicious scenes in the book, but they are few and far between, with much more focus placed on the motives of the characters and their personal struggles.

Ballantyne uses a multiple-narrator format, which works well for the type of mystery she weaves together here.  That said, I was surprised by a few of the details she chose to reveal before the end.  There was one "big" reveal in particular that I felt was let out of the bag a bit early, and there was also one primary narrator whose story ended up feeling rather ancillary to the rest of the plot.  The multiple POVs were definitely necessary for how the book rolled out, but I do think they could have been used a bit more poignantly, especially around the conclusion.

While I do think those caveats are worth mentioning, I don't think that should push you away from the book as a whole.  Everything She Forgot grabbed my attention right from the get-go, has a cast of characters that will make you run the gamut of emotions, and does a great job balancing the labels of "captivating thriller" and "heartwrenching family drama".

William Morrow is hosting a giveaway of Everything She Forgot!  Three lucky readers will win a copy at the end of this blog tour.  Enter below!
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Purchase links:

Friday, June 12, 2015

Fantastic Thriller Alert! Disclaimer by Renee Knight


Title: Disclaimer
Author: Renee Knight
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: May 19, 2015
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Finding a mysterious novel at her bedside plunges documentary filmmaker Catherine Ravenscroft into a living nightmare. Though ostensibly fiction, The Perfect Stranger recreates in vivid, unmistakable detail the terrible day Catherine became hostage to a dark secret, a secret that only one other person knew--and that person is dead.

Now that the past is catching up with her, Catherine’s world is falling apart. Her only hope is to confront what really happened on that awful day even if the shocking truth might destroy her.


My Review:

I've read a few good books lately, a few "okay" book as well, but Disclaimer is the first one I've come upon in a while that really knocked my socks off.  The plot moves quickly (very short chapters that easily keep your attention), your perception of each character is constantly evolving, and Knight saves up some plot twists that pack a serious emotional punch.  This novel is everything I want in a thriller.

What really makes you fly through these pages is the mystery of it all--Catherine reads this book that she finds at her bedside, but does not make you (the reader) privy to its full contents.  As a result, you are left demanding answers--what is it in this book that is making Catherine so crazy--crazy enough that she feels it could ruin her life?  These revelations are worth the wait, especially because they will completely change your opinions of the protagonists.  I love it when a novel can take my perception of a character and turn it on its head halfway through the story.  Not only is this just fun for me as a reader (I like being kept on my toes), but it's a sign of great character development, as each person in the book becomes impressively multi-faceted.

Disclaimer is a perfect example of the old adage that "every story has two sides".  In this case, many more than just two.  And what happens if you take drastic action after hearing only one, or two, of those sides?  If one of those sides is no longer able to speak for itself?  Or if you never give one side a chance to explain itself?  The truth is a shifty thing in this novel--all the more engrossing for the reader.

I can't say too much more about Disclaimer without giving out spoilers, so I'll leave it at that.  I flew through this book in 3 days.  At my slow reading rate these days, who needs more of an endorsement than that?

As always, much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Want some more opinions?  Some of my favorite other book blogs are reviewing this one!  Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.
Renee Knight

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Worst Vacation Ever = Summer House With Swimming Pool by Herman Koch


Title: Summer House with Swimming Pool
Author: Herman Koch
Publisher: Hogarth
Publication Date: June 3, 2014 (English version)
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads

When a medical mistake goes horribly wrong and Ralph Meier, a famous actor, winds up dead, Dr. Marc Schlosser is forced to conceal the error from his patients and family. After all, reputation is everything in this business. But the weight of carrying such a secret lies heavily on his mind, and he can't keep hiding from the truth…or the Board of Medical Examiners.

The problem is that the real truth is a bit worse than a simple slipup. 


My Review:

There is a lot (LOT) more to the book description above if you look at the Goodreads link, but I didn't include it because I think it's SUPER SUPER spoilery.  And there are few things I dislike more than a spoilery book description!

If you've read The Dinner (Koch's other English-translated novel...review HERE), you likely suspect that this book is rather dark and unsettling.  And if so, you're 100% correct.  To paraphrase my thoughts on the other novel, I was impressed with the character development (none of them were quite what they seemed) but put off by the farfetched nature of many of their actions, as well as the slow-moving plot action.

That said, I believe I enjoyed Summer House with Swimming Pool more than The Dinner.  This was likely in part because I already knew what to expect from Koch, so the things that threw me off about the first novel didn't ruffle my feathers in this one.  Again, we have highly unlikeable characters all the way around (there's no other way to say it--the protagonist, Marc, is a straight-up a-hole), characters making very questionable choices, and inaccurate medical details that are often sprung from Koch's imagination.  However, one big difference is that I did not find the plot slow-moving at all in Summer House--something new was constantly being revealed, and the book takes place over a longer time period, so there was more to keep me involved as things moved along.

This combination of elements worked better for me this time around.  Koch has created an exceptionally thrilling, foreboding novel here, one that is sure to leave you feeling uneasy long after you finish reading.  (Seriously, some of the subject matter in this one is really stomach-turning at times.)  The "summer house" in question is brought into the novel as Marc (in the midst of the medical error that was mentioned above) flashes us back to the previous summer, when he and his family vacationed with the doomed Ralph Meier at a rental house on the coast.  The sinister nature of the novel's events come together slowly, which kept me riveted from beginning to end.  I had an inkling of what was going on before it was actually revealed, but that didn't make the buildup to the conclusion any less absorbing.

Overall, an excellent read, if not terribly unsettling.  I need to go read something about unicorns or fluffy puppies to even myself out.  If Koch can take a beautiful summer vacation and turn it into something horrific, I can't wait to see what he'll take on next.

What's the most disturbing novel you've read lately?

Ever rented a summer house?  Where?  DETAILS!  (I'm still waiting for the snow to melt here, give me some hope.)

Friday, January 30, 2015

Giveaway Time! The Last Breath by Kimberly Belle


Title: The Last Breath
Author: Kimberly Belle
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Publication Date: September 30, 2014
Source: review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Summary from Goodreads

Humanitarian aid worker Gia Andrews chases disasters around the globe for a living. It's the perfect lifestyle to keep her far away from her own personal ground zero. Sixteen years ago, Gia's father was imprisoned for brutally killing her stepmother. Now he's come home to die of cancer, and she's responsible for his care—and coming to terms with his guilt. 

Gia reluctantly resumes the role of daughter to the town's most infamous murderer, a part complete with protesters on the lawn and death threats that are turning tragedy into front-page news. Returning to life in small-town Tennessee involves rebuilding relationships that distance and turmoil have strained, though finding an emotional anchor in the attractive hometown bartender is certainly helping Gia cope. 

As the past unravels before her, Gia will find herself torn between the stories that her family, their friends and neighbors, and even her long-departed stepmother have believed to be real all these years. But in the end, the truth—and all the lies that came before—may have deadlier consequences than she could have ever anticipated.


My Review:

This book was most definitely a step outside the comfort zone for me.  I do enjoy a good thriller, but The Last Breath also has lotsa lotsa burnin' hot romance.  And Lord knows, I am usually not one for a romance novel.  Just not my thing.  However, I gotta say, this time it worked for me.  The Last Breath is the perfect murder mystery-slash-love story for a snowy winter's day, and I've certainly got my fair share of those this time of year.

Part of why I was able to suspend my usual disdain for swoony romance elements is because the central mystery of the book is so compelling.  The novel opens with the murder of Gia's stepmother (with the culprit left untold, of course), so my interest went sky-high immediately.  Belle does a great job of shifting your suspicions throughout the novel, and in the end, I was pleasantly surprised when I found out who really dunnit.  Definitely not predictable, and not annoyingly far-fetched (arguably the two worst ways a mystery can end).  Also, you've got to love the small-town drama that occurs throughout this novel.  While it could be a little overdone at times, I thought many of Gia's interactions with the nosy townsfolk were hilarious.

Is this a mystery novel of the highest literary echelons?  No.  As I mentioned before, the romance aspects were expectedly fluffy and not my favorite (REALLY, how many times can Gia and Jake get it on?  Like while she's dealing with her two absent siblings and the return of her imprisoned father and the mystery of who killed her stepmom?  REALLY?).  Plus, I had a hard time believing Gia's bad-ass stories of working in humanitarian aid when held up against her personality as illustrated in the rest of the book.  However, her relationship with Jake was cute and provided a bit of levity to the rest of the situation (plus an interesting twist), so I was able to forgive it.

Overall, The Last Breath is a perfect choice if you want a cozy mystery, and added bonus if you do enjoy romance novels.  Because I'm sure Jake is somebody's ideal book boyfriend (even if he's not mine).  :)

Giveaway time, friends!

I have a (gently used) copy of The Last Breath to give away to one of my lucky readers.  (US/Canada only please.)  Just fill out the Rafflecopter below by February 6 for your chance to win!
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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Book Review: Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult


Title: Leaving Time
Author: Jodi Picoult
Publisher: Ballantine
Publication Date: October 14, 2014
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads

For more than a decade, Jenna Metcalf has never stopped thinking about her mother, Alice, who mysteriously disappeared in the wake of a tragic accident. Refusing to believe that she would be abandoned as a young child, Jenna searches for her mother regularly online and pores over the pages of Alice’s old journals. A scientist who studied grief among elephants, Alice wrote mostly of her research among the animals she loved, yet Jenna hopes the entries will provide a clue to her mother’s whereabouts.

Desperate to find the truth, Jenna enlists two unlikely allies in her quest. The first is Serenity Jones, a psychic who rose to fame finding missing persons—only to later doubt her gifts. The second is Virgil Stanhope, a jaded private detective who originally investigated Alice’s case along with the strange, possibly linked death of one of her colleagues. As the three work together to uncover what happened to Alice, they realize that in asking hard questions, they’ll have to face even harder answers.

As Jenna’s memories dovetail with the events in her mother’s journals, the story races to a mesmerizing finish. A deeply moving, gripping, and intelligent page-turner, Leaving Time is Jodi Picoult at the height of her powers.


My Review:

OF COURSE I'm reviewing the latest Jodi Picoult release within a few weeks of its release date, and OF COURSE I loved it.  Sometimes I'm just so predictable.  (In all fairness, I don't love every Picoult novel...Songs of the Humpback Whale was mediocre at best...but 22 out of 23 is a pretty good success rate.)  :)

First, I should mention that I was pleased with how Larger Than Life (the novella that Picoult released in advance of Leaving Time) meshed with this novel.  Alice is not the protagonist in Leaving Time, but her actions do drive much of the story, so it was nice to already feel like I had some insight into her persona when the novel opened.  Larger Than Life doesn't give any spoilers, and you won't be at a disadvantage if you haven't read it, but it does provide an enjoyable compliment to this book.

Readers who decry Picoult as too formulaic will be happy to hear that there is no legal case involved in Leaving Time.  None!  I promise!  Though she does stick to her usual multiple-perspective POV, this novel had a much different feel for me than her others.  It is definitely the most mystery-driven, as you spend much of the novel trying to figure out whether Jenna's mother is alive or dead, and who caused her disappearance.  Lots of good, old-fashioned police work happening in this novel, which gives it more of a "whodunit" flavor, versus the family drama that sits front-and-center in much of Picoult's work (though there is a good amount of that as well).

I must say, I was a tad nervous about the whole psychic aspect that Serenity Jones brought to the novel.  I am more inclined to enjoy books that have a solid real-world focus, rather than supernatural elements.  However, I found myself impressed by how smoothly Serenity's "gift" was worked into the plot, and in the end, I didn't find the "otherworldly" details hard to believe at all.  Which is saying a lot, since they play a rather large role in the story.

If you've read any of Picoult's other novels, you know that she's also famous for the Big Twist Ending.  If that's your thing, you absolutely will NOT be disappointed.  I thought for sure that I had the ending staked down between two possibilities, and they were both blown completely out of the water.  I really wish I could tell you what I turned and yelled at my husband when I read it (expletives and all), but that would spoil it for you, so I won't.  (Which is too bad.  It was rather hilarious.)  But suffice to say, this is a book that's worth savoring right up to the very last page.

I know you already expected a great review from me on this one, but I promise you, this is one of the best JP novels I've read in a long time!

Have you read any of Jodi Picoult's novels?  Do you think you will be picking up Leaving Time anytime soon?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Book Review: Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl


Title: Special Topics in Calamity Physics
Author: Marisha Pessl
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: August 3, 2006
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads

Marisha Pessl's mesmerizing debut has critics raving and heralds the arrival of a vibrant new voice in American fiction. At the center of this "cracking good read" is clever, deadpan Blue van Meer, who has a head full of literary, philosophical, scientific, and cinematic knowledge. But she could use some friends. Upon entering the elite St. Gallway school, she finds some--a clique of eccentrics known as the Bluebloods. One drowning and one hanging later, Blue finds herself puzzling out a byzantine murder mystery. Nabokov meets Donna Tartt (then invites the rest of the Western Canon to the party) in this novel-with "visual aids" drawn by the author-that has won over readers of all ages.

My Review:

In case you haven't noticed, it's become a bit of a pet project of mine to read through the books listed in this article that I mentioned a few weeks ago: 'We Were Liars' and 8 Other Books You'll Love if you Were Shocked By The Twist in 'Gone Girl'.  Because who wasn't shocked by the twist in Gone Girl?  I've had more than my share of "blah" reads this year, and I figured this list would be a good pick-me-up.  So far, I've not been disappointed.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics is a one-of-a-kind read.  The novel opens with our protagonist, Blue Van Meer, informing us of her teacher's suicide.  Blue formats her narrative like a college syllabus for an English class, largely due to the influence of her father (a professor).  As we go through each literature-inspired chapter, Blue attempts to discover the truth behind her teacher's suicide, but ends up with much more than she bargained for.

There's so much that I love about this novel, but I feel like each stellar point comes with a caveat.  For example: I loved Blue's character.  She has a great way with words, a nearly photographic memory, and is hilarious (often without meaning to be).  She's wise beyond her years, but still struggles with a typical high school need to fit in.  However, despite my love of Blue, I continually felt annoyed by the verbosity of her narrative.  She uses 10 words (or 10 paragraphs from a classic novel) when one would do.  But I TOTALLY GET why she is so wordy.  She's brilliant, she's memorized nearly every book she's ever read, and the writing style reflects that.  If it didn't, you'd have a completely different character.  But even though I completely understand why that was necessary, it was just too much at times, as I felt myself going cross-eyed at her long-winded explanations.  Appreciating it doesn't mean that I always enjoyed it, I suppose.

Similarly, we have the central mystery of the story.  In the end, I was astounded with how well everything came together.  This book is CHOCK FULL of details...really, really minute details (see above paragraph).  Given that, it is impressive how cohesively Pessl was able to wrap them up at the end of the book.  (There is even a "Final Exam" in the last chapter that leaves you with a few interesting points to ponder.)

However, despite the awesomeness of how the ending was crafted, I was a little bit annoyed with the specifics of the conclusion.  The background of the big "reveal" is something that is not alluded to at all earlier in the book, so much so that Blue spends many pages filling us in on historical details late in the novel that are relevant to this game changer.  I get a tad irked when a mystery novel takes such a drastic turn that it starts to feel like something got unnecessarily dropped on me out of left field.  Twists are a good thing, but completely out-of-the-blue plot details that require enormous explanations towards the end of the book?  The story starts to lose its seamless feel when that happens.

Apparently I shouldn't complain about Blue being too wordy, because I'm fairly guilty of that myself in this review.  But my final verdict is this: Special Topics in Calamity Physics is immersive.  Blue's tendency to ramble may make you leery in the first chapter or two, but push through that introduction, and I promise you'll be in for quite the ride.  Despite my misgivings about the direction the novel took in the last 150-ish pages, there are some great twists here, and it will most definitely keep you up til the wee hours wanting to see how it ends.

What was the last good mystery you enjoyed, friends?

Friday, November 8, 2013

GIVEAWAY and Book Review: The Last Camellia by Sarah Jio


Title: The Last Camellia
Author: Sarah Jio
Publisher: Plume
Publication Date: May 28, 2013
Source: won in a giveaway on Nadia's blog (A Bookish Way of Life)

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

On the eve of World War II, the last surviving specimen of a camellia plant known as the Middlebury Pink lies secreted away on an English country estate. Flora, an amateur American botanist, is contracted by an international ring of flower thieves to infiltrate the household and acquire the coveted bloom. Her search is at once brightened by new love and threatened by her discovery of a series of ghastly crimes.

More than half a century later, garden designer Addison takes up residence at the manor, now owned by the family of her husband, Rex. The couple’s shared passion for mysteries is fueled by the enchanting camellia orchard and an old gardener’s notebook. Yet its pages hint at dark acts ingeniously concealed. If the danger that Flora once faced remains very much alive, will Addison share her fate?


My Review:

I have to admit--I was a little unsure of how I would do with this novel.  You may remember that I read my first Sarah Jio novel (Blackberry Winter) earlier this year, and it left me feeling kind of "eh".  Liked it, didn't love it.  I was surprised, because so many people had raved to me about Jio's work, but Blackberry Winter was too predictable for me to completely get on board.  However, I was determined to give her another shot, and this giveaway win from Nadia came at the perfect time for a second try.

The Last Camellia fits well into a variety of genres: romance, historical fiction, and mystery being the primary categories.  I'm not usually a romance reader, but the relationships in this novel are not overly schmoopy or steamy.  They add a warm and fuzzy "background music" to the plot, if you will.  As for the historical fiction, that is one area that I knew Jio would excel in after reading Blackberry Winter.  I really enjoy how she merges the past with the present rather seamlessly, as modern-day Addison entwines herself in the question of what happened to Flora and the residents of Livingston Manor in the 1940's.

As for the mystery--this is where I was wary at first.  I was afraid that I would see the finale a mile away, and I simply can't stand a mystery that lacks, well, mystery.  HOWEVER, that was completely not the case here.  While I did have some hunches along the way about "whodunit", in the end I was quite surprised by the ending.  There are so many complicated players in this story that I think even the hints you do receive leave you feeling hesitant before you draw any big conclusions.

I'd say that my only hiccup with this novel is that some of the major events that occur happen rather abruptly.  For example, Addison is hiding a big secret from her husband (don't worry, not a spoiler--you find that out pretty much on page one), and when it's finally revealed, the unveiling is rather quick and terse.  Same goes for some of the events that wrap up the ending.  Given the flowing, beautiful prose of the rest of the novel, these too-quick bursts of action stick out like a sore thumb.  However, I'd say this is more an issue of styling than anything else, and it doesn't detract from how much I liked the story overall.

Sarah Jio was originally recommended to me as "the lesser-known Jodi Picoult", and I absolutely see that comparison in The Last Camellia.  A fluid blend of past-meets-present, a little bit o' love, and a good mystery = a reading win.  I'm feeling much more interested in trying Jio's other novels!

GIVEAWAY TIME!
When I won the giveaway on Nadia's blog, I received not one, but FIVE copies of The Last Camellia!  So I am keeping one, and graciously giving the other four away.  Just fill in the Rafflecopter below for your chance to win!  :)  (US/Canada only please)
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