Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Book Review: Layover, by David Bell

Layover, by David Bell book cover and review
Very mysterious, intriguing, and tense at times, Layover was a bit of a disappointment in the end.

Joshua travels for his job all the time. While waiting for a flight, he meets Morgan, a mysterious woman for whom he feels an immediate connection. This has never happened before. They have a drink, she kisses him, and states that she will never see him again. Well, we know that's not true...

Joshua knows Morgan is on a flight to Nashville, so he abruptly changes his plans and gets a seat on her flight. He has also seen stories about Morgan being a missing person. But when he confronts her, she acts as though she's never seen him, and he has to give up or be thrown off the plane. Confused, he decides to give up. But then, Morgan contacts him again.

So Joshua is dragged into the intrigue that is Morgan. She gives him part of her story but continues to abandon him, and he continues to try to find her and figure out how he can help her. It makes for a good story and pulls you in, wondering why Morgan is hiding and running.

A parallel story is our detective who is searching for a missing businessman. These stories eventually overlap, and things become even more confusing for Josh.

Layover kept my interest, but I didn't find it "unputdownable." It is well written and the characters are well developed. One of my favorite characters is Josh's dad (who he works for). I loved that he was understanding and supportive. There are some surprises in the end, but even with that, I just felt "meh." I'm not sure why Layover just fizzled out for me, but it did.

Recommendations? Like I said, I was entertained and the pace was pretty good. It was not a waste of time, and perhaps others will get a bigger impact from the ending. So yes--give Layover a go.

Published by Berkley, July 2, 2019
eARC obtained from Edelweiss and NetGalley
416 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Monday, July 1, 2019

Audio Book Review: Split Second, by David Baldacci

Split Second by David Baldacci book cover and review
Split Second, the first book in the King & Maxwell series, provided all the suspense and unexpected twists that I was hoping for.

Michelle Maxwell has potentially destroyed her career as a Secret Service agent when the presidential candidate she was protecting gets kidnapped. She is relieved of duties and looks up Sean King, who eight years ago, as a Secret Service Agent, had let his presidential candidate get murdered.

Maxwell wants to do her own investigating. Coincidentally, King is recruited by an old colleague from the Secret Service, Joan, to help her find Maxwell's candidate. She now works privately and has been hired by the candidate's family.

These three end up working together and uncovering links between the two events, as unlikely as that may seem. The characters are interesting, as we learn about past relationships and developing new ones. The pace is quick and certainly kept my interest.

There are a lot of characters and sometimes names are thrown out quickly. I think this was a disadvantage to the audio format. If I were reading the print version, I'd page back and remind myself. For the audio version, until I remembered who they were talking about, I may miss something. Or else I would have to back up a few minutes. These multiple characters and many different suspects serve to make for a complex plot that continually surprised me.

That alone makes it a worthwhile read. I really enjoyed listening. The narrator, Scott Brick, did a great job. His characterizations were distinct without being annoying.

I'm not going to rush out and grab the next book in the series (I believe there are six of them), but I would enjoy continuing it someday. Split Second is a good choice if you are in the mood for a thriller.

Published by Grand Central, 2003. Hachette Audio
Audiobook obtained from the library
432 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Book Review: The Orphan's Song by Lauren Kate @laurenkatebooks

The Orphan's Song by Lauren Kate. Book cover and review
The Orphan's Song is a beautiful story of a strange and interesting time and place in history.

Venice, 1736. Violetta is an orphan who lives at the Hospital of the Incurables. Not only does it house syphilitic people, but it is an orphanage that trains singers for the coro, a famous group that sings at the church. Mino is an orphan who lives on the boys' side. Girls and boys never see each other. Boys are kept until a suitable apprenticeship can be found.

Weird things:

1.  During this period of time in Venice, people almost always wore masks in public. Which, of course, is sometimes very convenient. Or dangerous. Or inconvenient.

2. If Violetta is chosen for the coro, she will sign an oath to never sing anywhere else in Venice--ever. Coro singers, after their time in the group, will either be married or sent to a nunnery.

3. People leave orphaned children on a wheel, so no harm comes to them. They put the child on the wheel, and turn it so they are inside until someone in the hospital finds them.

Violetta and Mino both take solace on the roof of the hospital, and eventually meet and begin a relationship. Mino plays a violin that he has repaired himself. Violetta sings. What Mino doesn't know is that Violetta witnessed, from this rooftop, Mino's mother dropping him off on the wheel. The song she sings to Mino is the song his mother sang when she left him. Mino has half a token with a picture on it. His mother has the other half. Mino vows to find his mother once he leaves the hospital.

Mino does get an apprenticeship building gondolas that float on the canals of Venice. He builds a life and a solid future for him and Violetta. On one of the few outings that the females are allowed, he steals Violetta and asks her to marry him. To his shock, she says "no."

This begins Mino's demise into poverty. He becomes a beggar, living day to day. Violetta becomes the premier singer in the coro. But she isn't happy either and begins to sneak out at night. She finds a gambling house and meets the owner who convinces her to sing once a week. She becomes famous. (Remember, all of this is under her mask.)

Mino's fortunes eventually begin to improve. And both of our main characters seem like they will be happy in their separate lives, even though they never forget each other. Happiness is fleeting.

I was mesmerized by the setting and characters in The Orphan's Song. Such a different and bizarre world. It seems they will never find each other. How can they -- even if they were looking for each other -- they are always under masks! It makes for an exciting tale. My only complaint is that the story really dragged for a while in the middle. Lots of setup before things really start happening. A minor complaint. Since I enjoyed the world Kate had created, I was patient.

If you are at all interested in history, especially historical romances, The Orphan's Song is a wonderful example.

Published by G. P. Putnam's Sons, June 25, 2019
eARC obtained from NetGalley
336 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Monday, June 24, 2019

Book Review: Shout, by Laurie Halse Anderson

Shout, by Laurie Halse Anderson book cover and review
Anderson, who wrote Speak, has written Shouta book in poetic form, that is more autobiographical than Speak.

Anderson's life was hard. Her father was apparently suffering from PTSD and her mother was not very motherly. Like most memoirs of hard lives lived, it is a downer of a book. I believe it was very cathartic for Anderson to write Shout (I feel like that's the most important reason for this book), and I'm sure it is empowering to many, but I really didn't enjoy it very much. I guess you aren't really supposed to "enjoy" it.

But...I didn't find the poetic form to be as easy as Ellen Hopkins' (and others who have used this form effectively) books. There are a few sections that are just numbered lists written in prose and I thought those were the best parts. Shout doesn't really tell a story. There are vignettes of her life, but no beginning, middle, end. And honestly, because of the format, I'm having a hard time remembering any details of her life. The last section, especially, is just a bunch of rants. And I understand that women have a lot to rant about these days (as we always have), but Shout just wasn't my book.

I'm probably in the minority, but it is just (as always) my opinion. I feel like because I'm a woman I'm supposed to love this book, but I'm not going to say I love something that just didn't work for me. I'll probably get slammed for it, but...

Shout is a quick read, it is supposed to be empowering, and if you are an Anderson fan, probably worth your time no matter what.

Published by Viking BFYR, March 4, 2019
eBook obtained from the library
304 pages

Rating: 3/5

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Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Book Review: Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Aurora Rising by Kaufman and Kristoff book cover and review
I'm starting to realize that science fiction is becoming my favorite YA genre (maybe just after historical.) Aurora Rising helped me reach this conclusion.

We are way in the future (2380), and Tyler is on a distant planet ready to graduate from Aurora Academy with top honors and begin his career keeping the universe safe. Everything goes off the rails for Tyler when on one last flight, he rescues a girl from cryo-sleep on a spaceship that was lost over 200 years ago. The girl's name is Aurora.

Instead of the most elite squad in his class, because of this rescue, Tyler ends up with a squad of misfits who seem hopeless. And, of course, instead of an exciting, elite mission, they are given a supply delivery. However, Aurora stows away on their ship and soon it is apparent that she is wanted by the government. But Aurora is convinced she must not be caught. This unlikely crew decides to help Aurora and possibly save the galaxy from certain destruction.

The world building and science fiction elements of Aurora Rising are fascinating. The characters are quirky and distinct, each telling part of the story from their own point of view. The secrets about Aurora are compelling, and I couldn't figure out what was going on -- but I wanted too!

Yes, some of the events are a bit far-fetched, but it's science fiction, so expected. The story moved quickly from one life-threatening situation to another, and for the most part, their escapes were clever. Aurora Rising is the first book in a series, so the book ends at an appropriate point, but leaves you wanting more. After all, the survival of the universe is at stake!

These authors wrote Illuminae and the rest of that series. I enjoyed Aurora Rising more than Illuminae mostly because of the format. Aurora Rising doesn't have all of the emails and other varied types of story-telling formats like Illuminae did, and that just worked better for me.

Teens who are fans of Kaufman and Kristoff, as well as any who are sci-fi fans will enjoy Aurora Rising.

Published by Knopf, May 7, 2019
eARC obtained from NetGalley
480 pages

Rating: 4.5/5

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Thursday, June 13, 2019

Book Review: The Gown by Jennifer Robson

The Gown by Jennifer Robson, book cover and review
I love the Netflix series, The Crown, and am anxiously awaiting the next season, so The Gown was right up my alley!

The Gown is the story of two women who were the main embroiderers of Queen Elizabeth II's wedding gown. In 1947, London is still suffering the effects of World War II, so having a royal wedding to look forward to was a welcome diversion. We get the backgrounds of Ann and Miriam, two of our main characters, and how they ended up being embroiderers for the renowned fashion house of Norman Hartnell. Miriam, in particular, has a heart-wrenching story about being Jewish during the war.

Our third main character, Heather, is in 2016, and her grandmother (one of our embroiderers) has just passed away. Heather has never heard any stories from her grandmother about her life in 1940s London. But her Grandmother leaves her a box with embroidery samples and a picture that begins Heather's quest to discover her grandmother's secrets.

Those secrets involve stories about the creation of the gown (fascinating) and the royal wedding as well as stories of life during that period of time. There are romances, friendships, secrets, and other dramas that easily held my interest.

I'm totally wrapped up in the lives of England's royals, so The Gown was everything I hoped for. If you are interested in this time period, and especially if you are any kind of seamstress, you shouldn't miss The Gown.

Published by William Morrow, 2018
eBook obtained from the library
400 pages

Rating: 5/5

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Thursday, May 30, 2019

Book Review: The Friends We Keep, by Jane Green

The Friends We Keep by Jane Green book cover and review
The Friends We Keep didn't go in the direction that I anticipated, and that made it an enjoyable read. This is not my usual genre, but it had been a long time since I had read a contemporary, and even longer since I had read Jane Green, so it was a welcome change of pace.

Maggie, Evvie, and Topher end up roommates at college in England.  I think the opening chapter, the only one from Ben's POV, had me going in a certain direction for the plot. He only refers to "my wife," so you don't really know which of our three main characters to which that refers.

We get points-of-view from each of the three as they navigate their lives during (beginning in 1986) and after college, ending in 2019.  They grow up, they grow apart. They follow their dreams, they make mistakes. They have (big) secrets. They end up reuniting.

I enjoyed their journeys. Each character was relatable. I guess my minor complaint is some repetitiveness--mostly about the winey "woe is me" situations they find themselves in.

I did want them to end up together and happy. Ultimately, The Friends We Keep is a feel-good, happily ever after story. But there is a rocky road to travel until they get there, and the journey is entertaining. A good summer "fluff" read that explores the meaning of friendship. Appropriate for teen readers, Green fans will definitely want to pick this up.

Published by Berkley, June 4, 2019
eARC obtained from NetGalley
384 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Monday, May 27, 2019

Book Review: The Confessions of Frannie Langton, by Sara Collins

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins book cover and review
I was drawn to The Confessions of Frannie Langton because of the comparison to Alias Grace, which I had watched and enjoyed. The comparison was accurate, and I also enjoyed The Confessions of Frannie Langton very much.

Frannie has been accused of murdering her employers, George Benham and his wife, Marguerite. As Frannie is about to go on trial in London, she writes about her life, and what brought her to this point -- even though she can't remember what happened the night of the murders.

As a child and young lady, Frannie was a house slave on a sugar plantation in Jamaica. Her owner was a "scientist" who was trying to figure out why people with black skin were naturally inferior to whites. He taught Frannie to read, and she became his reluctant assistant. I won't say too much more. She ends up in London in the employ of another scientist.

Her story is fascinating and sad. Although at times I felt she could have done more to improve her position, she is still very sympathetic. There are some surprising twists that kept me in the story. The circumstances for a woman in her situation in the 1820s are merciless; the legal system left a lot to be desired, as well as the rampant prejudice.

I've never read Alias Grace, only watched the show, but now I'm interested in reading it also. The amnesia aspect of both of these stories intrigues me.

As I was reading, I thought The Confessions of Frannie Langton had the potential to leave things unresolved, or partially unresolved, but happily, that was not the case. The ending isn't expected to be a happy one, but I found it satisfying. Fans of gothic fiction, slavery stories, murder mysteries, and/or unreliable narrators will enjoy this fascinating novel.

Published by Harper, May 21, 2019
eARC obtained from NetGalley
384 pages

Rating: 4.5/5

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