Monday, September 30, 2019

Audio Book Review: The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor book cover and review
The Chalk Man did keep me guessing until the end. And that's a good thing!

Eddie is our narrator, using a dual timeline -- his childhood in 1986 and the present in 2016. Eddie has a close-knit group of friends that get in all sorts of predicaments, as children will. When one of the group gets chalk for his birthday, these clever kids devise a language of secret chalk man symbols that they draw on the sidewalk outside each other's houses to send coded messages. Each member of the group has their own color.

One day, the messages send them all into the woods, where they find the body of a dead girl. The presumed murderer is their albino teacher, who has befriended Eddie, so this is troubling, to say the least.

In 2016, Eddie, who still lives in the same sleepy town barely keeps in touch with a couple of the group. Until they all end up getting notes containing the chalk man. Then one of the group dies under mysterious circumstances. Is the murderer still out there? Is he coming after the group for fear that they might know more? Eddie is compelled to find the truth.

There is a bit of a supernatural element, but very light. Eddie has dreams (or is he awake?) where some of the dead people appear. I thought this added to the story and was not over the top. The Chalk Man meanders a bit in the middle but ramps up the tension nicely at the end. There is an interesting resolution. Even though it totally makes sense, I never saw that coming. Well--it doesn't all make sense but that just adds to the intrigue.

The audiobook was well done by Euan Morton. The variation in voices was good and not overpowering. I, as usual, sped up the narration.

Stephen King gave The Chalk Man big props. It does have a resemblance to The Body aka Stand By Me, although it has been years since I've read that. I didn't find it quite as much of a page-turner, but definitely easy to get through.

Published by Crown, 2018, Random House Audio, 2018
audiobook obtained from the library
288 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Friday, September 27, 2019

Book Review: The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett book cover and review
I've read several books by Ann Patchett and mostly enjoyed them, so The Dutch House was an automatic request for me. I was not disappointed.

Danny is our narrator, and this is a story of his family, especially his relationship with his older sister, Maeve. When Danny was very young, his mother abandoned the family. His father made a killing in real estate and bought this huge, ostentatious house outside of Philadelphia called The Dutch House as a surprise for his wife. She absolutely hated the house. Is that why she left?

The people who knew her, those that cooked and cleaned for her, said she was a loving, caring mother. So why did she leave? The story is really an examination of the lives of these siblings and how their mother leaving and other events affected them. And what a strong pull the past still has on these two.

Their father remarries and odd woman, who may have married him just for the house. She brings along two small daughters. I don't want to say too much more, but eventually, Danny and Maeve are kicked out of the house and are penniless.

The blurb for The Dutch House states it is "filled with suspense." I beg to differ. This is a meandering tale, rich with characterizations that become a part of the reader. You do want to find out how these characters fare after this nontraditional upbringing. The reader feels what they feel. That's what it is all about. Patchett is just a good writer that pulls you into their lives. And sometimes makes you want to strangle them!

I didn't enjoy The Dutch House as much as State of Wonder (my favorite adult book of 2014), but I enjoyed it more than Commonwealth (which I didn't finish). If you enjoy Patchett, you should read The Dutch House.

Published by Harper, September 24, 2019
eARC obtained from NetGalley
352 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Monday, September 23, 2019

Book Review: Verify by Joelle Charbonneau @jcharbonneau

Verify by Joelle Charbonneau book cover and review
Compelling and a bit scary, Verify is a book that needs to be read by many teens.

Meri's world, a future Chicago, is as close to a utopia as any city has ever been.  Everyone and everything is safe. There is no poverty and very little crime. The environment has been preserved, partly by getting rid of paper. All communications are done electronically. Miri believes everything she hears on the three TV channels that have been provided by the government. What else is needed? Citizens are paid for turning in any books or paper they find and must pay a tax to use paper for anything. It is much better for the environment--or at least that's what they want you to think.

Since Meri's mother died in a freak accident, Meri's father has pretty much checked out. Meri meets some people who don't necessarily think the world is a better place at all. In fact, they are convinced the government is controlling everything you see and hear. But is that such a bad thing? Look how happy everyone is. But is everyone really happy? Meri wants to find out why her mother died and why she had become so distant in the last weeks before her death, so she begins to question everything she has believed.

Think about a world without paper. No books. Everything online. If someone were controlling what is released online, what is to stop them from eliminating words (such as "Verify") from the dictionary? Or entire chapters from textbooks. Or entire books.

If you are interested in relationships, it seems there might be a romance developing, but in no way does this relationship take away from the story. We'll have to see about this in future installments. (Something to look forward to.) The characters are interesting and the situations eye-opening. Verify has been compared to Fahrenheit 451 and 1984 and would be a great addition to any curriculum studying those texts.

Things are not all they seem in Meri's world, and she is in for a rude awakening. The tension mounts nicely as we reach the conclusion. I got through this one very quickly. And, sure to be a series, Verify leaves the reader wanting more! Charbonneau certainly has another winner in Verify.

Published by HarperTeen, September 24, 2019
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
320 pages

Rating: 5/5

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Monday, September 16, 2019

Book Review: The Widow of Pale Harbor by Hester Fox #TheWidowofPaleHarbor

The Widow of Pale Harbor by Hester Fox book cover and review
The Widow of Pale Harbor offers a unique blend of creepy mystery surrounded by a touching romance.

Sophronia is the widow. Everyone in the little Massachusetts town of Pale Harbor thinks she killed her husband. And that she is a witch. She has secluded herself in Castle Carver, with her maid and close companion, Helen.

Strange things begin to happen in town--witchlike things. Dead animals and such. Sophronia finds strange messages and dead ravens outside her door. Who is doing this?

Gabriel is running from his past and trying to fulfill his dead wife's wishes by becoming the pastor of a small church in Pale Harbor. When he meets Sophie, he feels an instant attraction. Sophie's gardener dies because of a weird fall, and of course, everyone in town thinks Sophie killed him. Gabriel tries to convince the townspeople that Sohpie is innocent -- of everything. But the strange incidents continue to escalate, and Sophie and Gabriel realize every event can be linked to one of Edgar Alan Poe's popular stories.

Gabriel's and Sophie's relationship begins to heat up, as Helen becomes more and more distraught. Sophie is actually leaving the house at times, which means Helen can no longer protect her. The tension builds slowly as the romance heats up. It becomes a fight for survival--and true love.

The characters are deftly described, and I was cheering on their romance (as well as their survival!) The culprit is not clear until the end, and I was surprised. The pace isn't breakneck but moved enough to keep my interest. I was pleased with how quickly I moved through The Widow of Pale Harbor. It is an average length book (which in this day of bloated behemoth books is a good thing!)

If you like a dark, mysterious drama, with a strong romantic element, The Widow of Pale Harbor is your book!

Published by Graydon House, September 17, 2019
eARC obtained from Edelweiss and NetGalley
352 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Book Review: Where the Light Enters, by Sara Donati

Where the Light Enters by Sara Donati book cover and review
I had some difficulty sinking into Where the Light Enters, but once I did, I was hooked.

It is 1884 and Dr. Sophie Savard is trying to rebuild her life after the death of her husband from tuberculosis. She returns to New York, a wealthy woman, and with the help of her cousin, Anna, who is also a physician, she begins to bring her dreams to fruition.

It is difficult being a woman and a physician in the 1800s. But Sophie is also mixed race, and her dark skin closes a lot of doors. Because of her husband's wealth, their marriage was scandalous, and Sophie wants to keep a low profile and mourn in peace.

There is a lot going on, plot-wise, and I won't tell you all of it. Anna has two "adopted" orphans taken away from her because of religious reasons. Anna's husband, Jack, is a police detective. There is an old case where young, pregnant women were deliberately given botched abortions which resulted in their deaths. This case remains unsolved. Now a couple of new cases of missing persons have been discovered, and another death of a woman under mysterious circumstances. Anna and Sophie are consulted for their medical expertise. There are intermittent, seemingly unrelated, newspaper articles about scandals and crimes throughout the story.

There are many other characters, Aunt Quinlan, Elise (a medical student staying with her), the Lees (housekeepers), and Jack's partner, Oscar, to name a few that complete Where the Light Enters. I thought the depiction of life for women physicians might have made it look a bit too easy. Even though they were dismissed by many, to me they seemed to be more accepted than I would have believed. Money helps, I'm sure. And the stories about disturbing medical procedures, the conditions of orphanages, and depictions of the homeless were, no doubt, startlingly accurate.

Be warned: The first thing in the books is an extensive, four-page list of characters that is quite daunting. Followed by a family tree and a map! I almost put the book down right then. But my approach to these books is to just dig right in. If that list is really necessary, I'll end up putting the book down. In this case, it wasn't needed, so don't fret.

I had a hard time determining where the story was going. What is the main plotline? Is it the police investigations? Is it the orphans that are now staying with a relative of Anna? Is it Sophie's plans to use her house and finances to help other young women become doctors? And what do all those news articles mean? I persevered, and eventually, I could feel a rhythm to the tale. And it truly is about all of the above, but I guess mostly about the police investigations.

At the end of the book, the author's note states: "The newspaper articles tucked into various corners are all composites of actual accounts...You may wonder what those women have to do with the Savards, Quinlans, Verhoevans, and Mezzanottes; eventually, you will find out." Then she talks about the notes written for the previous novel in the series. This was the first indication that this was the second book in a series! I had seen "by the author of The Gilded Hour" when reading about Where the Light Enters, but not once does it indicate anywhere that this book is part of the same series! Now I need to go back and read The Gilded Hour. 

The characterizations are what makes Where the Light Enters and what makes me long for more stories. If you are a fan of historical fiction you should let Sophie and Anna and Jack (and everyone else) into your heart too.

Published by Berkley, September 10, 2019
eARC obtained from NetGalley
672 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Book Review: The Hive by Barry Lyga, Morgan Baden

The Hive by Lyga & Baden, book cover and review
I loved Lyga's I Hunt Killers series, so I couldn't pass up The Hive. I had a few issues, but for the most part The Hive was entertaining, and I think teens will love it even more than I did.

Cassie is having a hard time since her father died. She and her mother have had to move, and Cassie is entering a new school. Her father was a famous internet hacker, and taught Cassie almost everything he knew about coding, but since his death, Cassie has lost her passion for coding and hasn't done any.

Social Media is now governed by The Hive, a new justice system developed by the government to stop online bullying. Cassie believes in The Hive and its ability to mete out justice according to approvals (or disapprovals) by society. According to how many disapprovals a post gets, the person responsible is assigned a level (1 through 5) and assigned a punishment. Hundreds (or thousands) of people can meet this person and help decide an appropriate punishment. Should they have to wear a sign all day? Should they have to disrobe and be naked for a day? These are some of the minor punishments -- it gets worse as the level rises.

When Cassie, trying to fit in at her new school, is goaded to post a funny (but tasteless) comment about the president's new grandchild, no one could predict what happens. Suddenly Cassie is on the run and trying to find a place to hide in order to save her life.

I thought The Hive took a while to get going, but once Cassie is on the run, it gets very exciting and the pace moves quickly. It is very far-fetched, but as my eyes rolled, I was swiftly swiping pages to see what was going to happen next. So, for the teen audience, The Hive will be a good one.

I think the authors were trying to send a message about the dangers of social media, but I'm not sure it comes through very strong because of the improbable plot. But still, it is compelling.

Recommend this to your techie teens.

Published by Kids Can, September 3, 2019
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
416 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Audiobook review: Becoming, by Michelle Obama

Becoming by Michelle Obama, book cover and review
I adored Becoming by Michelle Obama. Whether you are a fan or not, it is a fascinating portrayal of an unusual life.

For some reason, I'm always interested in stories of what it is like to be president and live in The White House. I got some additional information from Becoming.

Michelle Obama's life began on the south side of Chicago, with a loving family who encouraged her to be the best she could be. Being black and from the south side didn't offer as many opportunities as other people had. But she was driven to excel from a young age. And, of course, we all know how this story ends.

I really enjoyed hearing about her childhood and how she met and fell in love with Barack.  As I read her description of him, I realized that this man was destined to be president--whether he knew it or not. I loved hearing about having children and trying to raise them as she was raised. Throughout much of the book, we hear how she dealt with her fairly deep hatred of politics and how she never wanted Barack to be president. But, of course, in the end, she was devoted to him and had to help him reach for his dreams.

The stories about The White House and how their lives changed with all the protections they had to endure and their limited ability to move freely in society were my favorite parts. I enjoyed hearing about her struggles to become the First Lady she wanted to be and how her initiatives were accomplished. I guess if I have one criticism of the narrative, it would be that, especially towards the end, she talks too much about Barack's presidency and statistics and details about what he accomplished and how. I just wanted more stories about life in The White House. But it is a small niggle that really didn't change my opinion of the book.

Michelle narrates the audiobook, which made it even better. We all know her voice, and it was soothing and easy to listen to. I did not speed this one up, as I often do. I wanted to hear her tell her story as she intended.

I'm sure Becoming will appeal more to those with similar political beliefs, but I still think this book can be recommended to anyone who is interested in any sort of political or rags-to-riches stories. Becoming is such a positive, hopeful book that I think we all can take something from it.

Published by Crown, 2018, Random House Audio
Audiobook obtained from the library (after a very long wait!)
448 pages

Rating: 5/5

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Monday, September 2, 2019

Book Review: The Long Call, by Ann Cleeves

The Long Call by Ann Cleeves book cover and review
I enjoyed The Long Call. It isn't one of my favorites, but worth the time.  I thought I had read something by Cleeves before, but looking back now I don't think so.

The Long Call is the beginning of a new series about Detective Matthew Venn called The Two Rivers Series. The series takes place in North Devon, somewhere in the UK where two rivers meet.

A body is found on the beach. A man has been stabbed to death. As Matthew and his team get to work interviewing and investigating, we learn about Matthew's past. His estrangement from a  strict evangelical community, which has also caused an estrangement from his parents. His father has just passed away, so Matthew is dealing with his grief. And this investigation will include his old pastor as well as his mother. Matthew is also married to Jonathan and they live near the beach where the body was found. Jonathan manages the Woodyard, a sort of community center that includes programming for disabled people as well as other programs. The Woodyard also becomes part of the investigation.

So Matthew's life gets deeply involved in the case, as he struggles with personal issues and tries to keep a separation between those issues and his case. There are many characters who play a part, and I had a bit of trouble remembering who everyone was. The Long Call is a police procedural that doesn't contain any nifty Sherlock Holmes deductions, but we get a straight-forward unfolding of the case as the police do.

I didn't have a clue who the "bad guy" was until it was revealed, which is always a positive. The officers are effective at their jobs, and we get a glimpse of their personal lives as well. I enjoyed seeing what made them tick.

I didn't get bored; the plot moved at an acceptable pace. I wanted to figure out what happened and enjoyed the revelations as they kept my attention. An interesting case with interesting characters which I recommend.

Published by Minotaur, September 3, 2019
eARC obtained from NetGalley
382 pages

Rating: 4/5

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