Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Book Review: Elevation by Stephen King

Elevation by Stephen King book cover and review
I didn’t realize that Elevation was a novella which normally I avoid.  But I’ve always said I’ll read anything Stephen King writes, and Elevation is no exception.  The man could write about paint drying and make it interesting.

Scott is losing weight at a rapid pace. But he doesn’t look like it. He still has a gut hanging over his pants. And it doesn’t matter how much he eats, he still loses weight. The other thing is that it doesn’t matter what he’s carrying or what is in his pocket — his weight is still the same.

He tells this to his retired doctor friend, but they are both stumped. Scott feels great, and seems to have boundless energy. He is happy and not stressed about his situation. He uses his time to try and mend fences with his neighbors, who are lesbians. They own a local restaurant which isn’t doing well. Probably because they are lesbians. So Scott makes it his mission to break though the chip that one of the women has on her shoulder and help them make a success of the restaurant.

This is really a story about friendship and making connections. About giving people a chance to be what they are and be happy. Ironically, Scott’s disease serves to bring out the best in his small circle of friends.

Elevation is a quick, feel-good read that will warm your heart and give you hope. Give it a try if you have a couple of hours. After all, it is Stephen King.

Published by Scribner, October 30, 2018
eBook obtained from the library
160 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Monday, November 12, 2018

Book Review: The Lying Woods by Ashley Elston @ashley_elston ‏

The Lying Woods by Ashley Elston book cover and review
I really enjoyed The Lying Woods. It kept me wondering and surprised me several times.

Owen's life has been turned upside down. His mother has had to take him out of his exclusive private school because his dad has embezzled all the money from his business and left them penniless. His dad is on the run and Owen has no idea where he is.  Owen's dad owned the largest employer in the town so there are a lot of people who have lost everything. And they are blaming Owen and his mom. Going back to his old, local school is hard, and when Owen tries to connect with old friends they aren't very receptive.

Owen comes upon an old pecan farm and the lonely farmer, Gus. Gus offers to let Owen work there after school and allows Owen to use his beat-up truck to get around. Gus tells Owen that Owen's father worked for Gus when he was younger and lived in an old run down house on the farm.

We get the perspective of Owen's father from the past, as he lives and works on the farm and meets Owen's mother, a girl from town, who he shouldn't have a chance with. But she falls for him, and they have a secret romance, since her parents would never approve.

The information about how pecans are grown and harvested is an added bonus that I found very interesting. I even had to look up pictures of the shakers to see how they really worked.

Owen's and his mother's life is hard. His dad's life from the past is hard. I felt totally invested in finding out what the heck happened to get them where they are.  There are some other details and characters that add mystery to the story, and some element of danger, since Owen and his mother are being threatened by someone. It all made for an intriguing mystery that managed to totally surprise me in the end.

I'm always looking for good YA mysteries, and I can highly recommend The Lying Woods to teens and adults alike.

Published by Disney-Hyperion, November 13, 2018
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
336 pages

Rating:  4.5/5

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Monday, November 5, 2018

Book Review: The XY by Virginia Bergin

The XY by Virginia Bergin book cover and review
While parts of the premise are a bit far-fetched, I did find The XY compelling and it serves to get you thinking, which is always a good thing.

The setting is a near future where there are no more males in the population.  A virulent virus killed males, and those that were able to be saved and newborn males are all kept in sanctuaries around the world. Women are the rulers and the caretakers of the earth.  Almost all countries have signed "The Global Agreements" that consist of things like rejecting all violence and vows to always all help each other.

So they live in this utopia, where there are no more wars and life is simple. I need to make a couple of somewhat negative comments before we go on.  Just because you tell people to play nice, whether they are female or not, doesn't mean that's going to happen. And also, society seemed very primitive.  I was saddened by this because, in essence, the author is saying that if there weren't any males, technology would fail and women wouldn't be able to fix it. Thirdly, an amazing amount of physical labor was done by everyone -- even small children -- and it just didn't seem like life should be that hard. There were also several things I really liked about this new society too, so I don't want to sound too harsh.

River is a teen girl who runs into an XY (a boy) who is almost dead along the road. She manages to get him to her home, and all of the women are sure he's going to die of the virus. But he doesn't.  They begin to learn that life in the sanctuaries is a living hell -- not the life that the women thought their men were being given. There are several moral dilemmas for River and her mom and granmmumma, as well as the other women of the town. They are breaking The Global Agreements, but they also are beginning to think the government is keeping secrets from them. Granmummas are the older women who still remember life before the virus. And River's Granmumma Kate is a bright spot.

Like I said, The XY left me with a lot to think about.  I think there is enough material here for a sequel, but I have no idea if it is being planned. The XY is a quick read, and even though I struggled with some of the premises, I would still recommend it to teens who are interested in futuristic stories of this type.

Published by Sourcebooks Fire, November 6, 2018
eARC obtained from Edelweiss and NetGalley
352 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Book Review: The Outsider by Stephen King

The Outsider by Stephen King book cover and review
King has once again creeped me out (and just in time for Halloween) with The Outsider.

A teen boy has been brutally and horrifically murdered, and after a short investigation, Detective Ralph Anderson is confident that the perpetrator is a pillar of the community, his son's (and many other young boys') little league coach, Terry Maitland. After a very public arrest, during a championship game in front of thousands of people, questions begin to arise about Terry's guilt.

Terry's fingerprints and DNA evidence are everywhere. There are multiple eyewitnesses that place him with the victim and with blood on his clothes. But...Terry has an airtight alibi, corroborated by several colleagues.  He was miles away from the victim at the time of the crime.

How can this be?? Well, The Outsider tries to explain. I really don't want to say too much else about the plot, but that should be enough to hook you.  King's usual ability to ramp up the tension, as well as the dread, shines as The Outsider progresses. A character from the Mr. Mercedes series makes a large contribution, but it isn't necessary to have read those books.  I've only read the first one, and there are several references made to that case that were entertaining but not essential to understanding.

This is the kind of stuff that can give you nightmares.  And the door is open for a sequel to The Outsider, which I would happily welcome. If you are a King fan, this is classic Steve.  Don't miss it.

Published by Scribner, May 22, 2018
eBook obtained from the library
576 pages

Rating: 5/5

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Thursday, October 25, 2018

Audio Book Review: The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn

The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn book cover and review
I enjoyed the somewhat slow but twisty psychological thriller, The Woman in the Window.

Anna, a psychologist herself, lives alone in her home in New York City.  She is agoraphobic--she can't leave her home--and the reason, at first, isn't clear.  It soon becomes apparent that almost a year ago there was some sort of accident, and since then Anna has not been able to leave her house.  Her husband and daughter are gone also, so she is alone.

She watches, through her telephoto camera lens, all the happenings around the neighborhood.  She has regular visits from her psychiatrist and a physical therapist.  When new neighbors move across the park, she is surprised when she is visited by the lady of the house, as well as the teenage son.

When she witnesses a scene through her camera lens of a violent act on the woman, she desperately tries to seek justice.  Thus begins a long road, in which there are many inconsistencies, but Anna herself becomes unsure of what she actually saw.

Throughout the book, we are also learning about the accident that Anna was in, and why it caused so much trauma.

I like the way the book was written.  The information is doled out at a pace that makes it difficult to put down. Anna is definitely sympathetic, but unreliable, given she drinks heavily while on all her many medications (which she doesn't take as prescribed.) There is depth to the story, too much to describe here.  The actual violent event doesn't happen until almost halfway through the book, but the buildup is crucial for the rest of the story to play out. I did suspect the "big twist" in the middle of the book, but only very close to when it was actually revealed. The twisted ending caught me totally by surprise. :)

The audiobook narrator, Ann Marie Lee, does an excellent job.  I particularly liked when she was narrating an especially harrowing event -- she does a great job inciting fear.

If you enjoy psychological thrillers, and there seems to be a lot of good ones out there now, The Woman in the Window is worth your time.  Teens who are interested in this genre will enjoy this one too, although it moves at a slower pace than many novels of this type.

Published by William Morrow, January 2, 2018, HarperAudio
Audiobook obtained from the library
448 pages

Rating: 4.5/5

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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Book Review: The Reckoning, by John Grisham

The Reckoning by John Grisham book cover and review
I really enjoy John Grisham's books, and I did enjoy The Reckoning. It just wasn't one of my favorites of his. Grisham is a great writer, and so the way the story was told helped keep my interest.

The first part of the book is about Pete Banning, who is a cotton farmer in Mississippi in the late 1940s after WWII.  He is a decorated war hero, who was presumed dead for two years, before returning home injured after escaping the Japanese and working with some guerilla warriors in the Philipines. After having a final breakfast with his sister, Florry, at her house adjoining his farm, Pete goes to the Methodist preacher's office and shoots him in cold blood. Pete turns himself in and refuses to mount a defense as to why he gunned down this pillar of the community. He will not explain his actions to anyone. We go through the trial and sentencing. Pete's wife is in a mental institution.  His children are away at college and haven't seen their mother since she was committed two years ago. Pete doesn't want them anywhere near his trial.

The second part of the book goes back and describes Pete's early life and how he met and fell in love with his wife. Then we hear in great detail, the ordeal Pete went through during his time in the war.

The third part of the book is about Pete's family, back after his trial, trying to pick up the pieces.  There are wrongful death lawsuits, and many other issues to be overcome.  But mostly everyone (including the reader) wants to know why Pete did what he did.

Yes, there is a surprise ending.  What you think the reason for Pete's murderous rampage was, is kind of correct, but not really. I just didn't think the twist at the end warranted all the pages and pages of the middle section.  Although I learned a great deal about the war in the Philipines, the Bataan death march, and how cruel the Japanese were.  Maybe that was Grisham's point.  He just wanted to write a WWII book, and this is how he did that.

I have no problem with it and enjoyed the read.  Just don't expect his typical courtroom drama.  And, really, it's been a while since he's written one of those, I think? A good writer can make any subject entertaining, and Grisham has succeeded.

Published by Doubleday, October 23, 2018
eARC obtained from NetGalley
432 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Audio Book Review: Into the Water, by Paula Hawkins

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins book cover and review
After enjoying The Girl on the Train, I was excited to try Hawkins' new book, Into the Water. I expected a slow burn, given that's how I felt about The Girl on the Train, but Into the Water was even slower.

There are a lot of character, and the best way to describe the book is to talk about the characters.  I hope I get all the names correct since I listened to this one and had to check it back in before I wrote this review. The fact that I can even remember any of their names is a testament to Hawkins' writing because I've been known to finish a book and not be able to remember even the main character's name!

Lena is devastated after losing her best friend, Katie, and her mother, Nel, in the same way -- they both jumped into the river and drowned, presumably both suicides.  But Lena can't believe this is true.  Neither can Jules, Nel's sister, who comes to take care of Lena and sort out what happened.

The town of Beckford is known for women dying in the river, starting with the drowning of a child who was supposedly a witch, and Nel was gathering information to publish a book about all of these women.  This did not make her very popular in the town.

Katie's mother (Phyllis?) and little brother, Josh, are devastated by her loss, and since everything seemed fine with Katie, don't understand why she would have jumped.  But there are secrets.

The deaths are being investigated by Shawn, a local policeman, and ?? a female officer from London or some bigger city. Shawn's wife is Helen.  His father is Patrick, a retired police officer.  Shawn's mother drowned in the river when Shawn was a young boy.  And there are secrets.

There's the old psychic, Natalie, who everyone thinks is nuts, but she thinks she knows some secrets, if only people would listen to her.

Hawkins masterfully switches points-of-view among these people and others, as the secrets are slowly (and I mean very slowly) revealed.  I never wanted to quit listening, but I really did wonder if we were ever going to make progress towards a resolution.  But, I'm always more patient with an audiobook.

You may suspect you have it all figured out, as you slowly progress towards the end.  But I wouldn't be too sure about that...

Hawkins' characterizations are distinct.  With as many POVs in Into the Water, I was surprised that I never got confused as to who was talking.  There are several audiobook narrators, so that helped too. They were all excellent and easy to listen to. I'll keep reading what Hawkins has to offer.  Her storytelling is unique and enjoyable.  I'd recommend this one, along with the countless other people who already have. Into the Water is suitable for patient teens who are fans of the genre.

Published by Riverhead, 2017 (Penguin Audio)
Audiobook obtained from the library
400 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Monday, October 8, 2018

Book Review: An Assassin's Guide to Love & Treason by Virginia Boeker

An Assassin's Guide to Love & Treason by Virginia Boeker book cover and review
If you are really interested in Shakespeare's England, An Assassin's Guide to Love & Treason will certainly entertain.

Katherine Arundell's father is a Catholic in 1602 when Queen Elizabeth is attempting to make England a Protestant country. Katherine's father doesn't do a very good job of hiding his religion and when the queen's guard comes to arrest him, they kill him.  Katherine hides and then escapes to London with the horse groom, Jory, who also aspires to be a priest.

Katherine finds the men whom her father was working with on a plan to assassinate the queen and vows to help them to avenge her father's death.  Katherine becomes Kit, a boy, who must obtain a part in Shakespear's new play, Twelfth Night, that will be performed for the queen.  Kit will kill the queen during the performance. Kit is successful in getting the part but doesn't realize she is walking into a trap.

The other narrator is Toby, who works for the queen to discover the network of people who are planning the assassination.  Toby has set up this play just to lure the assassins to make their move.

Things get convoluted when Toby and Kit develop feelings for each other.  Toby thinks Kit is a boy, and well, there is also the problem that Kit is the assassin that Toby is supposed to turn over to the queen's guard.

The middle of An Assassin's Guide to Love & Treason gets really slow.  After Kit gets the part in the play, the relationship between her and Toby develops very slowly.  And the assassination is planned...very slowly.  And Toby tries to figure out who the guilty party is -- very slowly.  Nothing much happens.

Even though our main characters are teens, the book reads more like an adult book.  The pacing is too slow and meticulous, and the details too many.

The ending, however, is very exciting and satisfying. I would recommend this to teens who are very interested in Shakespeare or the time period.  Or those that really enjoy historical assassins.

Published by Little, Brown BFYR, October 23, 2018
ARC obtained from School Library Connection Magazine

Rating: 3.5/5

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