Monday, December 30, 2019

Book Review: Furious Thing, by Jenny Downham

Furious Thing by Jenny Downham book cover and review
I have mixed feelings about Furious Thing. It started out very bleak and took awhile before I felt any sense of hope. However, this may be just the right book for some teens.

Lexi has never known her father, so when her mother brings home a new man,  John, she thinks her life is looking up. And her mother is so happy--or is she? Subtle things begin to cause Lexi to doubt. John disappears and often her mother doesn't know where he is. He seems to expect her mother to ask no questions.

Lexi's temper tantrums are driving her soon-to-be stepfather mad. She vows, over and over, to be the good girl. To make her mother and John proud of her. For some reason, this proves impossible. The explosions keep happening and escalating--she really is a Furious Thing. It doesn't help that her stepbrother has gone away to college. He was the one bright spot in her life, and she wants so badly for him to return her affections. Lexi reaches John's last straw, and he requires her to see a doctor (of his choosing) and go on medication. The reader sees the issues way before Lexi or any of her family does. It is frustrating realizing that she has no one to turn to, no one to help her see how controlling her stepfather is.

While there are indications to the outside world of his nature, no one feels like they can help, and you get a sense of hopelessness and desperation that feels uncomfortable. As the wedding approaches, Lexi reaches out to one of her mom's friends who begins to help. Lexi begins to realize that her little sister (John's and her mom's child) will soon be in the crossfire and becomes a bit desperate to change something for her sake.

It takes a while for Furious Thing to begin an upward swing. And for this reason, this one might not be for every reader. However, the story is compelling and quick. Sometimes what we see from the outside looking in isn't the entire picture, and in Lexi's case, this was certainly true. Her anger seemed to be entirely illogical and entirely her fault. But abuse comes in many different forms. So while the bruises aren't visible, they are definitely present. Lexi's realization of this fact and the eventual support of some adults is the beginning of her turn-around. The reader is left with hope at the end of a very dismal story.

Recommend Furious Thing to teens who enjoy contemporary stories that are raw and a bit desolate.

Published by David Fickling, January 7. 2020
ARC obtained from School Library Connection Magazine
373 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Friday, December 27, 2019

Book Review: Cross Justice by James Patterson

Cross Justice by James Patterson book cover and review
I'm just a sucker for Alex Cross books. I haven't read them all, but once in awhile, I have to pick one up.  This time it was Cross Justice.

Alex Cross has returned to his home town, where he hasn't visited since he was a child. His wife, kids, and grandmother are along. This isn't strictly a social visit--Alex's cousin has been accused of a heinous murder. It is hard to believe his cousin is innocent, given hard evidence against him. But Alex begins to do some investigating.

The small town is skanky. No one seems to be honest...everyone is out for themselves.  Or is there a deeply hidden secret that needs to be exposed? It seems Alex will never be able to connect the dirty drug-dealing secrets to the murder of which his cousin is being accused.

Alex gets some unexpected help from out of left-field. I didn't really like the shocker ending. I understand Alex Cross books seem to go over the top a bit (in all directions). Everything is always too good to be true. But this reveal was even a bit much for me.

However, the novels are always quick and easy reads. And I can't help picturing Morgan Freeman as Alex when I read them.

If you enjoy these books, then of course Cross Justice is worthwhile. If you haven't experienced the Alex Cross, then be sure to start at the beginning with Along Came a Spider. The early books with the nursery rhyme titles are the best.

Published by Little, Brown (2015)
eBook obtained from the library
448 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Thursday, December 19, 2019

Book Review: Airport, by Arthur Hailey

Airport, by Arthur Hailey book cover and review
I saw Airport as a Kindle Daily Deal for cheap. I had seen the movie years ago (it was a big hit), so I thought I'd give the book a go. It was worth the time.

You have to realize that Airport was first published in 1968, so things were a bit different at airports. As in -- absolutely no security. This isn't inaccurate -- truly, that's the way it was -- hard as that is to believe! My edition contained a forward by the author explaining this.

There is a huge snowstorm at the airport in Chicago (fictitiously named Lincoln International.) Flights are delayed and the biggest runway is blocked by a huge aircraft mired in the mud after having slid off the runway. We learn about the characters first. One main character is the manager of the airport. Also the eventual pilot of the fated flights. An old woman who is an expert at stowing away on airline flights (imagine that was also common!) The maintenance person trying to clear the runway and the eventual bomber. These are but a few of the vast cast of characters about whom we learn every little detail of their lives before anything happens!

If you read reviews of Airport, many don't finish or complain about the excessive details. I slogged through, although Hailey does write well, and I found it interesting enough. You do become a part of their lives! It isn't until about 50% that the bomber actually boards the airplane. And I found the last 25% to be thrilling. That is when I started picturing the movie after all these years. I could actually see George Kennedy as the maintenance guy, yelling, with a cigar hanging out of his mouth.

The movie also stars Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, and Helen Hayes and is great. If you haven't seen it, I recommend it. I want to see it again now that I have read the book. There are a couple of sequels too, as I recall.

You learn a lot of the behind-the-scenes workings of an airport (at least how it was in the 60s), and I enjoyed that. And the lack of security, once again, will blow your mind. Given that the first half of Airport was pretty slogging, I still enjoyed it and found it a satisfying read.

So I'll let you decide....

Published by Doubleday, 1968 (my copy Open Road Media, 2014)
eBook Purchased
548 pages

Rating: 3.5/5

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Monday, December 16, 2019

Book Discussion: The Crown: The Official Companion Volume 1, by Robert Lacey

The Crown: The Official Companion, Volume I, by Robert Lacey book cover and thought
I'm calling this post a discussion because I did not read the entire The Crown: The Official Companion Volume 1. Not that it isn't a good book, it just wasn't what I expected.

I'm a huge fan of The Crown Netflix series, and when I saw a book that was going to tell me all the secrets about the series -- where it was inaccurate and what it left out, I was excited.

However, The Crown: The Official Companion Volume 1 was far more detailed and repetitive than I had hoped. It tells the entire story that was being conveyed, adding more details for sure. I didn't want to read the entire story again...I just wanted a tell-all that indicated "this is what really happened" or "this is what we didn't show."

Also, I found the organization of the book to be ungainly. Right in the middle of a story (each chapter covers an episode), there would be a vignette (or several) about one of the characters or events that would take up one, or sometimes many more, pages. And it would include some of the events already described in the general chapter, albeit from a different perspective. I found the interruptions jarring and couldn't figure out how to smoothly fit them into my reading.

There are a lot of photos from the series as well as genuine historical pictures. Some of them of the same event, which for me was the best part of the book.

I ended up skimming most of the book, and therefore will not be counting this one on my list of books and pages read. I also won't be giving a rating, since I really didn't read the whole thing. Judge for may want to just skim this for the pictures if you are a fan. If you are diehard and need to know everything about The Crown, you may be interested in the entire text.

The book for season two has been published, but I probably won't bother.

Published by Crown Archetype, 2017
Copy obtained from the library
336 pages

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Book Review: Capital Gaines, by Chip Gaines

Capital Gaines by Chip Gaines book cover and review
I don't read many biographies, but Capital Gaines caught my eye because I'm a fan of Fixer Upper and wanted to hear some of Chip's crazy stories. And it was cheap.

Chip does tell some stories, but mostly he writes an encouraging story about how he never gave up on his dreams (once he figured out what those dreams were) and that the reader shouldn't give up either. You get some inside scoop on their business and how it grew. And comments about juggling family and work. And, of course, his relationship with Joanna and how that developed. The story of how they have learned to work together, even though they are opposites in many ways, is a lesson for all couples.

There is some stupid stuff, as the title implies, but mostly he's a really smart guy who learns from his mistakes, is willing to take risks, and never gives up.

It is also a very quick read. My son has his own carpentry business, and I've recommended he read Capital Gaines. If you are any kind of entrepreneur, you should consider it.

Note that I listened to the new paperback edition, which includes an extra chapter with an update for 2019.

Published by Thomas Nelson, February 26, 2109
eBook purchased
224 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Thursday, December 12, 2019

Book Review: Home by Harlan Coben

Home, by Harlan Coben book cover and review
Coben is one of my favorite authors. I prefer his mysteries that aren't from the Myron Bolitar series, which Home is, but I still enjoyed it.

This time Win gets an anonymous tip about his nephew who has been missing for ten years. Rhys, his nephew, and his friend Patrick were abducted from Rhys' home when they were six years old. Now Win has found Patrick in London, but the boy has fled. So Win calls on Myron to help.

Myron hasn't heard from Win for years, but even though Myron has vowed to his fiance he will stay out of danger, he can't help but answer Win's call. And off he goes.

I think Bolitar (and especially Win) are a bit over the top. But still, the stuff they do is compelling. The story has delightful twists and turns and some shady, as well as colorful, characters. I didn't see the ending coming which is always a bonus.

If you are a fan of Myron Bolitar, Harlan Coben, or if you just love a thrilling mystery with a lot of twists, you should put Home on your list. BTW...Tell No One will always be my favorite by Coben. So if you are unfamiliar with the author, start there.

Published by Dutton, 2016
eBook obtained from the library
400 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Book Review: Murder in Her Stocking by G. A. McKevett

Murder in Her Stocking by G. A. McKevett, book cover and review
I always want to read a Christmas story for the holidays, and this was my second attempt -- the first was a DNF.  I like a mystery as part of the story. Murder in Her Stocking was exactly what I needed.

Stella Reid loves her six grandchildren and wants to give them the best Christmas. But it isn't easy when their father is gone on the road for his job and has no intention of helping out. And their mother spends most of her time (and money) at the local bar.

It doesn't help that the local Nativity Scene has been vandalized (and the culprit is known to Stella.) Then the local tramp gets murdered, and Stella can't help but get involved. As she helps out the local police chief, it becomes clear that he has feelings for her.

So there is a mystery, a family story, and a romance to warm your heart. Yes, it's a bit cheesy, but just what I need in a Christmas story.

Published by Kensington, 2018
eBook obtained from the library
304 pages

Rating: 4.5/5

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Thursday, December 5, 2019

Book Review: Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd, by Alan Bradley

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I had skipped a Flavie de Luce Mystery! This title, Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd, comes before The Grave's a Fine and Private Place, which I reviewed at the beginning of 2018. Once I discovered this, I hurried to read.

Flavia finds another dead body (of course) hanging upside down from a contraption on his bedroom door. The situation doesn't matter. Suffice it to say, Flavia is relentless in her pursuit of the murderer. Her father is ill and in the hospital, so we don't hear from him in this story.

It took me a while to get into the book. I think because some of the quirky banter between the sisters and the discussion of bizarre chemistry that Flavia is known for was missing. It picked up, and soon I was again captivated by the character, the crazy sleuthing, and the eventual solution to the mystery. Dogger, as usual, brings some interest to the story.

I don't have much unique to say about Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd. It is a Flavia story. If you aren't familiar, you should begin at the beginning with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.  If you are a historical mystery fan in a Brittish setting and enjoy a bit of scientific sleuthing, Flavia is your girl!

Published by Thorndike, 2016
eBook obtained from the library
413 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Monday, December 2, 2019

Audiobook review: Unsheltered, by Barbara Kingsolver

Unsheltered, by Barbara Kingsolver book cover and review
Unsheltered left me with mixed feelings. The story wasn't much, but the writing, well, if you've never read Kingsolver you won't understand how enamored I am with her writing.

So, yes, I'll always pick up a book written by Kingsolver. Unsheltered follows two timelines of people who live in the same house. The first point-of-view is Willa in 2016. She lives in an old Victorian house with her husband and adult daughter. The house is literally falling down, and as the story progresses, they are confined to less and less space.

Willa is trying to get the house designated as historic, so she can get some grants to help fix it up. There is much soul searching, as she reflects on the past and how hard they have worked and still don't even have enough money to make basic repairs to the house. The stories of her two children are integral to the plot as well. Her daughter is appalled at the damage that our civilization has done, and continues to do, to the earth. Her son is mourning the loss of his wife and has left his newborn son with Willa.

As Willa is researching the historical significance of the house, she discovers (eventually) that Thatcher Greenwood, a local science teacher, may have lived in her house in the1870s. Part of the reason he is significant is because of his relationship with a renowned woman scientist, Mary Treat, who lived next door. Thatcher's house is also in disrepair, and he also doesn't have enough money to fix it. It is just as well, because his desire to teach about Darwin's theories will most likely be the end of his employment by the local conservative school.

Kingsovler does a good job switching the narration and building a connection between these two eras. Her command of prose just mesmerized me. She narrates Unsheltered herself and this is the second book I've listened to that she has narrated. I wouldn't say she's a great narrator. She's not very good at male voices--some of them just sound drunk. But I appreciate her doing it. I feel like the author alone knows the proper emphasis and emotion she wants to convey. A couple of times I think she got a little choked up.

All in all, Unsheltered is my least favorite of her offerings. I could recommend just about any other of her books before this one, but if you are a Kingsolver fan, be sure to include this in your list.

Published by Harper, 2018
Audiobook obtained from
480 pages

Rating: 3.5/5

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