Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Book Review: The Perfect Wife, by JP Delaney

The Perfect Wife by JP Delaney, book cover and review
I haven't been in the mood to either read or write reviews, but I did manage to get through The Perfect Wife. It isn't because of "sheltering in." I'm doing fine. It has to do with the fact that I got a new sewing machine about a month ago (one of my other hobbies) and the weather is getting nice so I want to be in the yard or garden. Hope you are all doing well and keeping busy during these strange times...PLEASE stay home...

So, The Perfect Wife. The premise was a bit out there, but I was still entertained and wanted to find out what really happened. Abbie awakes in what she thinks is a hospital to find her husband sitting next to her. She feels weird. Not just injured, but weird. Tim, her husband, tells her very quickly that she is an android that he has created and given some of Abbie's memories. It seems that Abbie died five years ago (under mysterious circumstances that he won't talk about) and because he couldn't live without her, he commanded his company to help him create Abbie.

Tim is the Steve Jobs of the robotics world. He's driven and works his employees to the bone. We get flashbacks from his employees' perspective about how he and Abbie met, their tumultuous relationship, their falling in love, and their problematic marriage.

Abbie, in the meantime, is trying to figure out what happened to her five years ago. She finds some evidence of her former life and enlists the help of some people to help her figure things out. It seems Tim was tried for her murder but was ultimately acquitted. She begins to realize that their marriage may have had problems, even though she doesn't have those memories. And those problems may have partly stemmed from the fact that they have a severely autistic son.

That's probably enough of the plot to get you going. It moved quickly and was interesting. Abbie's family is suing Tim to have Abbie "turned off." There are betrayals and surprises along the way. It's a weird premise but an interesting story. I had read a Delaney book before and will continue to do so.

Published by Ballentine, 2019
eARC obtained from NetGalley
432 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Monday, March 23, 2020

AudioBook Review: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens book cover and review
The award-winning, best-selling Where the Crawdads Sing is a great story. But, I must say, it really dragged for me at times.

We learn the story of The Marsh Girl, Kya, whose mother and four siblings left her with her drunken, brutal father in the early 1950s when she was six years old. She and her father live in a little shack, miles from the nearest town, in the marshes of North Carolina. Her father comes and goes, leaving Kya to fend for herself for weeks at a time. Eventually, he leaves her too. It is fascinating to see how Kya learns to take care of herself. She is good at hiding, so after going to school for one day, she is able to escape the truant officer's repeated attempts to find her. Even though there was hot food at the school, Kya couldn't take the other kids taunting.

She eventually makes friends with Jumpin', an older black man who runs a little place that sells gas and supplies. His wife begins to provide Kya with some donations of clothes and food. As she grows, she makes friends with Tate, a young boy from town who is as interested in the marsh as Kya is. He teaches her how to read, and thus begins Kya's entrance into adulthood.

Tate goes away to college, and Kya is courted by Chase, the town stud, who is determined to be the first one to get Kya into bed.

We also get the story of Chase's mysterious death in 1969, which the sheriff determines is murder. Eventually, Kya is charged with his murder.

Like I said, the story is really interesting. But sometimes Owens goes on and on about things like Kya's life, day after day, in the marsh. It just took too long for things to happen. Although she writes beautifully, losing some of those descriptions about every detail of the nature of the marsh would have strengthened the book.

The narrator, Cassandra Campbell, was great. Her voices and expressions were perfect. It is worth noting that I am very patient with slow-moving stories when on audio--but this book was even too slow for that.

A good story with beautiful writing, but just too much of it!

Published by G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2018
Audiobook obtained from the library.
384 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Book Review: All Your Twisted Secrets, by Diana Urban

All Your Twisted Secrets by Diana Urban book cover and review
All Your Twisted Secrets is a compelling, twisty story that kept me guessing (through most of it...)

I don't usually do this, but I'm just going to copy the blurb. It says mostly what I was going to say anyway.

What do the queen bee, star athlete, valedictorian, stoner, loner, and music geek all have in common? They were all invited to a scholarship dinner, only to discover it's a trap. Someone has locked them into a room with a bomb, a syringe filled with poison, and a note saying they have an hour to pick someone to kill ... or else everyone dies.

Amber Prescott is determined to get her classmates and herself out of the room alive, but that might be easier said than done. No one knows how they're all connected or who would want them dead. As they retrace the events over the past year that might have triggered their captor's ultimatum, it becomes clear that everyone is hiding something. And with the clock ticking down, confusion turns into fear, and fear morphs into panic as they race to answer the biggest question: Who will they choose to die?

I was about 80% through when I pretty much figured out what was going on. The tension built nicely, and the characters were interesting (if a bit stereotypical.) I didn't buy that the person who did this would actually do it. But, the reader is supposed to be surprised by it, I guess.

All Your Twisted Secrets is a quick, suspenseful read that is worth the time but won't stick with me for long. But that's OK.

Published by HarperTeen, March 17, 2020
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
400 pages

Rating: 3.5/5

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Monday, March 9, 2020

Book Review: The Red Lotus by Chris Bohjalian

The Red Lotus by Chris Bohjalian book cover and review
The Red Lotus not only kept my interest but creeped me out a little!

Alexis is an introverted emergency room doctor who lives a quiet life. One night Austin comes in with a bullet wound in his arm, and her life becomes more exciting.  Austin is an avid biker, and after six months of their blooming relationship, he plans a trip to Vietnam where he will bike and Alexis will enjoy the country. Austin plans to bike to a site in Vietnam where his father was wounded and his uncle was killed during the war. Because this is personal to Austin, and he is an experienced rider, the tour guides allow him to go alone on this quest.

Austin never returns, his body is found the next day, and Alexis finds out he hasn't been completely honest with her. In fact, he has told her some pretty big lies. Alexis gets caught up in the investigation, even after returning home, and can't let it go, even though the authorities think Austin's death was an accident. She decides to hire a private investigator to see what he can find out.

What the detective and Alexis herself find out will put them in grave danger. Well, actually, it will put the entire world in grave danger. The creepy part of the book has to do with antibiotic-resistant diseases that rats carry. Not only in Vietnam, but in New York. I don't want to say too much more about that.

The Red Lotus is a twisted tale that is well-paced and the tension builds nicely. The danger is real, and the part about these awful diseases seems entirely plausible and scary. The ending may be a bit unbelievably happy, but that was okay with me.

I would recommend The Red Lotus to readers who enjoy twisted, suspenseful mysteries. I've read several of Bohjalian's books, and The Red Lotus may be my favorite yet.

Published by Doubleday, March 17, 2020
eARC obtained from NetGalley
400 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Book Review: A Conspiracy of Bones by Kathy Reichs

A Conspiracy of Bones by Kathy Reichs book cover and review
I was a little disappointed by the last Temperance Brennan book I read, but I really enjoyed A Conspiracy of Bones.

My main issue with the previous book is that Tempe didn't do much lab work. She really didn't apply much forensic knowledge to solve the case. In A Conspiracy of Bones, the same is true, however, Tempe is challenged to solve the case without much use of her lab. A body of a man has been found with no hands and a very damaged face. There is no love lost between the new director and Tempe, so Tempe isn't even asked to help identify the body.

But, she is determined to help, so she enlists some friends and past associates to feed her information. And of course, she puts herself in danger. More than once.

Her personal life is always an added benefit to the stories, and in this case, she is battling a chronic, life-threatening condition, Ryan being away, and anger and some depression from basically losing her job. (This illness mirrors Reichs' life and is the reason she didn't release a book in 2019.)

I enjoyed the usual painstaking attention to detail that allows these cases to be solved. It is never what you think, and this case is no different. I haven't read all the books, but I will always be a fan and look forward to catching up on the ones I've missed when I get a chance.

It helps to be familiar with the characters -- it just adds to the story -- but it isn't necessary. A Conspiracy of Bones is the 19th book in the series, so you really get to know the characters after that long. And, honestly, I liked the early books better. Just FYI, the first one is Deja Dead. Oh, and also the TV series Bones is based on these books, but I never really cared for the series. Tempe has a much different personality in the books. Check Temperance Brennan out if you like detectives who specialize in forensics.

Published by Scribner, March 17, 2020
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
352 pages

Rating: 4.5

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Monday, March 2, 2020

Book Review: Stormbringers by Philippa Gregory

Stormbringers (Order of Darkness 2) by Philippa Gregory book cover and review
I like these characters, but somehow Stormbringers just didn't do much for me. Perhaps it's a "second book" issue? It has been a while since I read Changeling, the first book, but I remember there was a lot more excitement in that book.

Isolde and Ishraq are on the run after Isolde was accused of witchcraft. They are traveling with Luca and Freize while Luca continues his mission for the Order to find evidence of the End of Days.

And find evidence they do! We experience the Children's Crusade and the ensuing tsunami that ends it, which is of course considered to be a sign.  Then Isolde and Ishraq are accused of being the Stormbringers that caused the devastating wave.

Stormbringers starts out slow, which made me impatient. The tension mounts, and it does have an exciting ending. We meet the head of The Order of Darkness, which imparts a desire to continue the story. Ishraq, being part Arab, is constantly under scrutiny, and after meeting an Arab commander, the reader realizes this analysis may be justified. There is much to be curious about.

Fortunately, enough surprises and questions cause eager anticipation for Fools' Gold, the third installment of this four-book series. The fourth, Dark Tracks, has also been released. As for me, I'm not sure how enthused I am about continuing. For teens, Stormbringers is a pretty deep story, but those who enjoy interesting characters navigating the bedlam of the 1400s will certainly enjoy Order of Darkness.

Published by Simon Pulse, 2013
Copy obtained from the library
336 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Thursday, February 27, 2020

Book Review: Sparrow, by Mary Cecilia Jackson

Sparrow by Mary Cecilia Jackson book cover and review
Watching an extremely gifted, hard-working, driven teen girl fall into the grips of a controlling, anger-filled boy made me feel helpless and frustrated.

Savannah--Sparrow to her friends--narrates the story. She can't believe it when handsome, popular, well-off Tristan begins to have feelings for her. He is so kind and gives her gifts and wants to be with Sparrow all of the time.

Sparrow's best friend and dance partner, Lucas, has never liked Tristan. He's been bullied by Tristan since childhood, and Lucas does not believe that Tristan has changed, no matter what Sparrow says. Delaney, Sparrow's best friend, and Lucas watch Sparrow become more and more frightened of her supposed peach of a boyfriend as he controls her every move. Tristan becomes very jealous of Lucas, which makes things even more difficult. Delaney and Lucas repeatedly try desperately to help Sparrow see what Tristan has become. She refuses to acknowledge anything and sticks up for Tristan over and over. Eventually, after Sparrow suggests some time apart, Tristan blows up and beats Sparrow until she is almost dead.

This happens at about the halfway point, and the rest of the story is about Sparrow's difficult path back from potentially losing herself. She must confront not only her relationship with Tristan but other secrets about her childhood relationship with her mother, who died when Sparrow was young. Her friends and family all feel helpless as well as guilty. Her father never allowed her to talk about her mother and the abuse Sparrow suffered. Lucas feels responsible and can't hold his temper. He almost loses everything he has worked for. 

After slogging through the torturous first half of the story--part of it being described by both Sparrow and Lucas--they slowly and painfully begin to heal. Thankfully her family is supportive, and Sparrow builds a therapeutic relationship with a counselor. Lucas spends time away with his grandmother. Their eventual recovery isn't portrayed as being easy or complete. One thing that I must caution--I wouldn't want teens to think that this type of toxic relationship only happens to girls (or boys) who are abused as children. That is what happens in Sparrow's case, but I'm sure these abusive relationships happen to all kinds of "normal" teens as well. And sadly to plenty of adults.

I was put off when the POV first switched to Lucas, and he begins to relate the same events as Sparrow had. I really don't like dual POVs that repeat the same events. I feel like I can imagine the other character's perspective well enough without reading a retelling of the same story. But, this only happened the first time. After that, the switches in POVs continued the story, rather than repeating the same episodes.

Teens who are attracted to edgy, dramatic, issues books will enjoy this one. While somewhat disturbing, it may be enlightening. Give this to your Speak and Dreamland fans. I think Sparrow is going to be popular.

Published by Tor Teen, Marcy 17 2020
ARC obtained from School Library Connection
364 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Book Review: Bent Heavens by Daniel Kraus

Bent Heavens by Daniel Kraus book cover and review
Bent Heavens is a strangely weird, macabre science fiction story. I'm still not sure how I feel about it.

Liv's father, Lee, has been missing for a couple of years after he claimed to have been abducted by aliens and returned. The reader is taken back to find out what happened after the abduction and before he disappeared.

Lee became obsessed with protecting his loved ones from aliens. He spent all his time in the shed on the back of the property making elaborate traps to catch them and weapons to defend against them. Liv and a good friend, Doug, were in on Lee's plans. Ever since Lee has disappeared, Liv and Doug go out to the woods behind her house to check the traps every Sunday. Liv just believes her father was mentally ill, but Doug believes in the aliens and takes their preparations very seriously.

Everything changes in a hurry when Liv finds an alien stuck in one of the traps.

Sooooo, I had a hard time believing what these teens did after they found the alien. I couldn't believe the lack of compassion. And that lack is what led me to figure out the twist almost immediately. The story got so gory that I had to skim those sections.

There was a big climactic event at the end, and I also had difficulty believing that Liv would do what she did. That's all I'm going to say.

A pretty gruesome, depressing story that is well written, with well-developed characters and settings. It was just the story that I couldn't get into. So, science fiction fans may enjoy Bent Heavens a lot. There's nothing wrong with the execution. I just could buy it (and really didn't want to.)

Published by Henry Holt & Co. BYR, February 25, 2020
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
304 pages

Rating: 3.5/5

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Thursday, February 13, 2020

Book Review: The Whole Thing Together, by Ann Brashares

The Whole Thing Together by Ann Brashares book cover and review
The Whole Thing Together is a story of family, both the good and the bad. Even though the family ties are complex, the characters are wonderfully drawn, and the story easy to follow.

Sasha and Ray live in the same bedroom, but not at the same time. Sasha's dad and Ray's mom were once married. They each remarried and gave birth to Sasha and Ray within a few months of each other. And now these families share a summer house on alternating weeks.

There are three older sisters from the original marriage, who, of course, know both Sasha and Ray. But Sasha and Ray have never met.  And then they do.

It's a complicated and compelling relationship. The three older siblings each have distinct personalities that add to the drama. And there are other secrets. And romance. As these dysfunctional parents persist in their refusal to be in the same house with each other, circumstances propel them together with disastrous results.

Brashares, as usual, unwinds this twisted tale, engrossing us in the lives of each character. I was quickly absorbed in the story and found The Whole Thing Together to be a quick and entertaining story.

Published by Delacorte, 2017
Copy obtained from the library
304 pages

Rating: 4/5

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