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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Monday, October 1, 2018

Book Review: When We Caught Fire, by Anna Godbersen @AGodbersen

When We Caught Fire by Anna Godbersen book cover and review
Historical fiction is my favorite genre, and The Luxe Series is one of my favorite book series. So when I saw that Godbersen had a new book coming out, When We Caught Fire, I was very excited.  I was not disappointed!

The reader knows that this is a book about The Great Fire that occurred in Chicago in 1871.  But the story starts out about a girl, Emmeline Carter, who is a society girl soon to be married to Frederick Tree. Emmeline's father has worked very hard, in a sort of rags-to-riches story that has gotten the Carter family accepted into society.  And now he is to see his daughter "marry up."

Emmeline's personal maid, Fiona, is a friend from her past.  The days when they lived in squalor. Emmeline treats Fiona more like a friend, but Fiona knows that without the Carters, her family would be much worse off. She still visits her family often and gives them money each visit.  But she hasn't seen the third member of their group, Anders, and she doesn't want to. They were getting along fine, but then there was a kiss, and Anders didn't want anything to do with Fiona anymore.

Fiona wonders if he knows about Emmaline's upcoming nuptials. Anders and Emmaline were promised to each other at a young age. When Emmeline demands that Fiona find Anders for her just a few days before the wedding, Fiona senses trouble coming.

And boy does it come! Emmeline decides she's going to bail on the wedding and run away with Enders.  And Fiona has to help her with this plan. I don't want to go any further.  There is excitement, entertainment, danger, romance, and some eye-rolling moments.  I was thoroughly entertained the entire time.

Several well known Chicago figures make an appearance, but this only adds to the authenticity. In Godbersen's accounting, it wasn't Mrs. O'Leary's cow that tipped over the lantern (this story has pretty much been debunked anyway), but of course, our characters are instrumental in starting the blaze. I enjoyed learning about that historical period in Chicago and a bit about how the city changed after the fire.

Teens who enjoy historical romance will certainly enjoy When We Caught Fire, and so will adults.

Published by HarperTeen, October 2, 2018
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
384 pages

Rating: 5/5

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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Book Review: A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult book cover and review
I appreciate that A Spark of Light is an "issue" book. I think Picoult handled the subject well. But I just didn't think it was very compelling.

I think Wren and Hugh are the main voices. Wren is in an abortion clinic, not to get an abortion, but to get birth control, when a gunman enters and starts shooting. Hugh is her father, who is also a police officer specializing in hostage negotiating, and he is on this case. There are many points-of-view, and it was not difficult to keep them distinct, a testament to Picoult's talent. There is a nurse, an older woman, Wren's aunt Bex, a doctor, a pro-life protester, a woman who has just had an abortion, and the shooter. And a young woman in a hospital named Beth.

I'm not going to describe all the reasons these people are narrating, that is what's intriguing. The timeline is backward, which was difficult for me to adjust to at first, but eventually, I got it.

I just didn't feel much build up of tension. We just slowly learn all the character's stories, and there are some surprises.  But, face it, what you want to know is who survives and how it ends.  So for about the last 3 or 4 pages, we get the wrap-up. I was happy with the outcome, but it wasn't that startling or exciting.

I've read almost all of Picoult's novels, and A Spark of Light is not one of my favorites. But she's a must-read for a lot of people, so go for it!

Published by Ballentine, October 2, 2018
eARC obtained from NetGalley
384 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Thursday, September 13, 2018

Book Review: Best Day Ever, by Kaira Rouda @KairaRouda

Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda book cover and reviewWhere do I start?  I really enjoyed everything about Best Day Ever.

The book is narrated by Paul, the husband.  It takes place in one day.  Paul is taking his wife for a getaway to their summer home.  He is planning the Best Day Ever for her.

We quickly figure out that Paul has issues.  Just how big his issues are is only slowly revealed.  He's a domineering husband--one that requires his wife to stay home with the kids, cook his dinners, and run his household. So even though they seem to have a perfect marriage--two kids, lots of money--all is not what it seems.

I don't want to say too much about what happens.  As Paul narrates his innermost thoughts, we get to learn about his past and really just what makes him tick. I couldn't put Best Day Ever down.  Which is really strange, because if you ask me what actually happens in the book -- well -- not much. But as I read, I just couldn't wait to see how this was all going to turn out. What did Paul have planned for his wife? Rouda subtly ramps up the tension just by letting us in this guy's head.

The ending was stunning and unexpected.

Okay.  That's it.  I'll say no more -- except -- if you enjoy a good "their marriage is not what it seems" thriller, read this one right now. Also appropriate for mature teens who enjoy the genre.

Published by Graydon House, October 1, 2018
eARC obtained from NetGalley
352 pages

Rating: 5/5

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Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Book Review: The War Outside by Monica Hesse

The War Outside by Monica Hesse book cover and review
The War Outside is a unique, compelling story about life during WWII that has never been told.

Margot and Haruko have been uprooted from their lives along with their families.  WWII is raging, and these families have been taken to a Family Internment Camp in Texas because their fathers have been accused of spying for the enemies.

Based on true events, this camp was the only one of its type in the country.  Both Japanese and German families were sent here.  The two teens’ friendship is unlikely, since the two nationalities are segregated within the camp.  But Margot’s family, going against the wishes of the camp’s Nazi leadership, decide to send Margot to the Federal High School, which is accredited, rather than the German school.

So Margot and Haruko begin a secret friendship that isn’t easy.  It is difficult for Margot to be honest, and Haruko tells secrets that she probably shouldn’t.  But she needs someone to talk to.  Life isn’t easy, and Hesse does a great job of pointing out hardships, both mental and physical, that readers might not consider.  No one can be trusted, the girls must be secretive, and they both have other stresses that threated their friendship.  Margot’s mother is pregnant.  Haruko’s brother is serving as a soldier in the war, and they don’t know where he is.

The dual narration is expertly utilized. The girls are in an unbelievable situation.  The War Outside isn’t a happy story. The last chapter found my jaw dropping open. But this is a story that hasn’t been told. This camp isn’t like the ones where Japanese who lived on the coast were sent. Yet another story of one of the atrocities of WWII that needed to be told.  Anyone, teen or adult, who wants to learn more about WWII should be exposed to The War Outside.

Published by Little, Brown BFYR, September 25, 2018
ARC obtained from School Library Connection Magazine
318 pages

Rating: 5/5

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Monday, September 10, 2018

Book Review: Sawkill Girls, by Claire Legrand

Teens (or even adults) who are looking for horror stories should check out Sawkill Girls--it is truly horrific!

Marion has moved to Sawkill Island with her mother and sister.  Her mother is the housekeeper for the Mortimers - Val and her mother. When Marion is injured after falling off a spooked horse, Zoey is one of the people who are first to reach her. Zoey's father is the chief of police.

Over many years girls have been disappearing from Sawkill, and none of them are ever found.  Their deaths are never explained.  The most recent was Thora, Zoey's best friend, who had recently dumped her for Val.  It seems the Mortimers have been somehow involved in all of the disappearances.  Zoey is determined to find out what is going on. The three girls' lives begin to intertwine as more girls disappear.

This book is weird and strange.  And like I said, it really gave me genuine creeps at times. Horror isn't a common genre for me, but I have read some. I really appreciated the writing.  Legrand can really describe a scene vividly.  That is the main positive for me from Sawkill Girls. However, this book just wasn't for me.

The storyline was a bit too far out and unbelievable for me. That is definitely a personal threshold, but I had trouble suspending my disbelief. My main issue was that it was, at almost 500 pages, just so looooong.  At about 50%, I thought we were going to start wrapping things up.  But...50%. At 75%, I actually started skimming. I wanted to know the resolution, but I was getting tired of it.  Which is strange, because I said the writing was compelling, but along with that it was very descriptive and the segments of action were just too far apart.

I would definitely recommend this to teens who enjoy gory, creepy, macabre stories that are a bit fantastical. It is not easy to find a real horror book.  And Sawkill Girls is one. It just wasn't one of my favorites.

Published by Katherine Tegen, October 2, 2018
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
464 pages

Rating: 3.5/5

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Monday, September 3, 2018

Book Review: Sadie by Courtney Summers @courtney_s ‏

Sadie by Courtney Summers book cover and review
Sadie is most definitely not a happy book.  But it is a good one.

It has been up to Sadie to take care of her sister, Mattie, since her mother is a drug addict and has abandoned her daughters.

Mattie is found brutally murdered, well, I guess it was brutally because we don't get those details.  Sadie's only support is her neighbor, May Beth, who has been a surrogate grandmother doing the best she can to help the girls.

The case of Mattie's murder goes cold, and Sadie decides to take matters into her own hands to hunt down the murderer. After months, Sadie's car has been found, but nothing else.

Wes McCray hosts a podcast about small, forgotten towns and overhears Sadie's story.  He reluctantly begins to investigate and can't help but be drawn in.

Sadie is told from Sadie's perspective as she searches for the man she knows killed Mattie alternating with McCray's podcasts as he follows Sadie's trail.

The way the story is told is unique and interesting.  We slowly get the details of Sadie's and Mattie's past lives and what led up to the horrible ending. I found it difficult to put down and would think about it while I wasn't reading. And don't expect a happy ending.  It is very realistic.

Sadie has been given four starred reviews with good reason.  As far as teen contemporaries go, this one is edgy and compelling. There would be much to discuss if Sadie were used as a classroom read (although there is some language that might prevent this in some schools.) Don't let your teens miss out on Sadie.

Published by Wednesday Books, September 4, 2018
eARC obtained from Edelweiss and NetGalley
320 pages

Rating: 5/5

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