Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Book Review: Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan

Mad Honey by Picoult and Boylan book cover and review
I usually don't bother to even read the blurb if I see Jodi Picoult's name, and Mad Honey is no exception. As usual, an excellent choice.

The moms, Olivia and Ava, have both had rough relationships and broken marriages. For different reasons, they end up in a small town in New Hampshire.

Olivia's son, Asher, and Ava's daughter, Lily end up in a relationship. When Lily ends up dead, Asher is accused of murder.

That's the short story, but of course, there is much more. Asher's father was abusive and Olivia watches his every move wondering if Asher will show violent tendencies. She has doubts about his innocence.

Lily was born Liam, and maybe that's a spoiler, but if you know Jennifer Finney Boylan, it's not that much of a spoiler. So did Asher know she was trans? Is that why he killed her?

Picoult writes from the perspective of Olivia and Boylan writes Lily's part. The writing is seamless, and I didn't even realize that fact until I read the afterward. Lily's story gave me such a new perspective on gender identity. That was a big takeaway from Mad Honey for me. Another takeaway is a lot about beekeeping, which is Olivia's occupation. Fascinating. And, as a side note, Queen Elizabeth II died while I was reading Mad Honey, and I read an article about how the Queen's beekeeper had to tell the bees that she died. (You'll get it when you read the book.)

The story is gripping and it's been so long since I read a book during which I decided to give up doing something else to read. Lately, it's been the other way around. Mad Honey is a great love story, a murder mystery, a courtroom drama, and a family story.  I loved it and highly recommend it.

Published by Ballentine, October 4, 2022
eARC obtained from NetGalley
464 pages

Rating: 5/5

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Monday, September 19, 2022

Book Review: Properties of Thirst by Marianne Wiggins

Properties of Thirst by Marianne Wiggins book cover and review
Although meandering and detailed, the writing in Properties of Thirst was so enjoyable that this became a memorable reading experience.

Because of the detailed and nuanced story, I thought I would first provide a list of characters, but I decided it was even easier to just give you the description in the Amazon blurb.

Rockwell “Rocky” Rhodes has spent years fiercely protecting his California ranch from the LA Water Corporation. It is here where he and his beloved wife Lou raised their twins, Sunny and Stryker, and it is here where Rocky has mourned Lou in the years since her death.

As Sunny and Stryker reach the cusp of adulthood, the country teeters on the brink of war. Stryker decides to join the fight, deploying to Pearl Harbor not long before the bombs strike. Soon, Rocky and his family find themselves facing yet another incomprehensible tragedy.

Rocky is determined to protect his remaining family and the land where they’ve loved and lost so much. But when the government decides to build a Japanese-American internment camp next to the ranch, Rocky realizes that the land faces even bigger threats than the LA watermen he’s battled for years. Complicating matters is the fact that the idealistic Department of the Interior man assigned to build the camp, who only begins to understand the horror of his task after it may be too late, becomes infatuated with Sunny and entangled with the Rhodes family.

As I said before, the writing makes the setting and characters come alive. While it is set during WWII, and the story is affected by the war, there is much more to it. It is really a story of family, romance, and the connection we have to our land.

It took me a while to get through the 550 pages. While it didn't really call to me to be read, whenever I did pick it up, it was immersive. So yes, I would recommend Properties of Thirst to those who enjoy a meandering, beautifully written historical story of love and family. You book club folks should consider Properties of Thirst.

Published by Simon & Schuster, August 2, 2022
eBook obtained from Edelweiss+
544 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Thursday, September 8, 2022

Audiobook Review: Razorblade Tears, by S. A. Cosby

Razorblade Tears by S. A. Cosby book cover and review 
Razorblade Tears deserves all the accolades it has received. I was enthralled by this book.

Usually, I talk about the narration at the end of the review, but the audio version made such a difference in my enjoyment. The narrator, Adam Lazarre-White, made the voices so distinct. The accents added authenticity but didn't make the narration difficult to understand. I highly recommend the audio version.

The story is a difficult one -- so to use "enjoy" seems a bit strange when experiencing such an uncomfortable tale. Two married gay men (one is white, the other black) are brutally murdered. Their fathers - who hadn't been able to accept their sons' way of life -- decide to find the killers after the police give up on solving the case.

Both of the fathers have spent time in prison and had been violent offenders. One of them, Ike, had given up this past life and made a name for himself by owning a successful landscaping company. The other, Billy Lee, doesn't have much left so has nothing to lose.

Both of these men feel the need to avenge the deaths of their sons to prove their love since they didn't do a very good job of showing it while they were alive.

There is quite a bit of violence as they tear their way through the awful people who would commit such a heinous crime. It is interesting to see how these men, from such different belief systems, come together and even become friends as they mete out their vengeance.

The characters are interesting, the writing is compelling, and the pace is excellent. I would highly recommend Razorblade Tears, especially the audio version. But don't take my word for it. Everyone else seems to love this book too.

Published by Flatiron Books, 2021, MacMillan Audio
Audiobook obtained from libro.fm
336 pages

Rating: 5/5

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Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Book Review: A Good Day for Chardonnay, by Darynda Jones

A Good Day for Chardonnay by Darynda Jones book cover and review
I finished A Good Day for Chardonnay a few weeks ago and just realized I never wrote anything about it. Not because I didn't enjoy it. I chose something light to read because I was going on vacation, and never read any of it! (Should have known there would be no time for reading with the grandkids around.)

Sunshine is a police chief in a small town in New Mexico. You would think it would be quiet and peaceful, but no. There's a big bar fight. Sunny's daughter thinks she has discovered the identity of an old serial killer. And Sunny's unsolved abduction when she was a teen is coming back to haunt her. Levi Ravinder has always been a suspect for that, but Sunny is so attracted to him, she doesn't think that's possible.

While the subject matter might sound tense, A Good Day for Chardonnay is really light with touches of humor and some steamy romance. The side characters add a lot to the light atmosphere.

A Good Day for Chardonnay is the second book in the Sunny series, and I probably missed some backstory, but I didn't really notice that. This isn't my usual type of book, but it was a nice entertaining diversion for a change.

Published by St. Martin's Press, 2021
Copy obtained from Edelweiss+
416 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Monday, August 29, 2022

Audio Book Review: The Diamond Eye, by Kate Quinn

The Diamond Eye, by Kate Quinn book cover and review After thoroughly enjoying The Rose Code, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to listen to The Diamond Eye. I was not disappointed.

Quinn has the ability to take a little-known aspect of WWII and make it so compelling. In The Diamond Eye, she tells the story of a Russian woman sniper, Mila Pavlichenko, who is a real-life historical figure. 

I enjoyed the first part of The Diamond Eye the most. The part where Mila is learning to shoot, joining the Russian army, and killing over 300 German Nazis. Later, Mila becomes a propaganda tool for Russia, traveling to the United States and meeting President Roosavelt and becoming friends with Eleanor. The story involves a plot to kill the president, which Mila becomes involved in. While this adds much tension to the story, I found it a bit far-fetched (although very entertaining.)

So I really enjoyed the entire book, but I guess I thought there was more truth to the first part. However, when I read the end piece where Quinn describes where she got her information (a lot from Mila's memoir, Lady Death,) I realized that there is a lot of truth, even in the last part of the novel.

The audio version of The Diamond Eye is excellent. The reader, Saskia Maarleveld, has an accent, but it is very easy to understand and adds to the story. The voices are distinct, but not overly done. 

If you enjoyed The Rose Code, you shouldn't miss The Diamond Eye. If you are at all interested in WWII fiction, both of these books are must reads. Quinn is a master storyteller, and I intend to keep her on my list of favorite authors.

Published by William Morrow, March 29, 2022, HarperAudio
Audiobook obtained from the library
448 pages

Rating: 5/5

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Monday, August 15, 2022

DNF Thoughts: Harlem Shuffle, by Colson Whitehead

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead book cover and review
Do you ever push through a book because you think you are supposed to like it? That was my experience with Harlem Shuffle.

Harlem Shuffle is entertainingly written and easy to read. Part of the problem is that I started this book a year ago and read about half of it and quit. I decided it was a "right book, wrong time" issue. I really wanted to know what happened to Carney. I recently returned from a relaxing camping trip, where I decided I could easily power through the remainder of the book. Nope. After reading another 10%, I called it quits for good.

For one thing, it had been too long and I no longer remembered why I wanted to know what happened to Carney. I've been looking for an adjective to describe the wonderful prose, and I've come up with "meandering." No matter how good the writing, I just couldn't stand the pace. The minute details of every situation and character. The backstories, etc.

I really liked Nickel Boys. That's why I was supposed to like Harlem Shuffle. But this just wasn't the book for me.

Published by Doubleday, September 2021
eARC obtained from NetGalley
188/336  pages

Rating: DNF

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Monday, August 1, 2022

Audiobook Review: Blood Sugar, by Sascha Rothchild

Blood Sugar by Sascha Rothchild book cover and review
I found the premise of Blood Sugar to be interesting and unique.

Ruby has killed three people, beginning when she was just five years old. We begin the story when she is being interrogated by a police detective about the fact that she, in her 30-some years, has been present at the tragic deaths of four different people.

In fact, she was more than present. As the interrogation goes on, we go back in time and hear Ruby's side of the story. All the people she killed deserved it. Ruby isn't a psychopath. She is a therapist with a successful practice. And she is happily married. But when her diabetic husband dies in his sleep, the detective begins to look at Ruby. So now she must defend herself, against the police and public opinion, from the one death for which she wasn't responsible.

Ruby is such an interesting character and I loved the way the story was told. She's really a murderer you can get behind and root for! I really enjoyed the book but felt the ending fizzled a bit. It wasn't very dramatic or surprising; although it was satisfying.

Allyson Ryan is the narrator and if I'm totally honest, she wasn't my favorite. She has this high-pitched lilting voice that I found a bit annoying at times. But not enough to quit, and it probably wouldn't stop me from listening to another book she narrates.

All-in-all, I recommend Blood Sugar if you are interested in a different kind of serial killer. There's no blood or gore, and it is interesting to be found rooting for her to get away with her crimes.

Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons, April 19, 2022, Penguin Audio
Audiobook obtained from libro.fm
336 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Book Review: The It Girl, by Ruth Ware

The It Girl by Ruth Ware book cover and review
It took me forever (over a month) to get through The It Girl, but I really enjoyed how it ended.

I'm not sure if I didn't feel like reading because I wasn't engaged in the book, or if I wasn't engaged in the book because I didn't feel like reading. I have read almost all of Ware's books and enjoyed them, but The It Girl just seemed to drag on quite slowly for much of the story.

Hannah and April are roommates at Pelham, one of the Oxford University colleges. April has money, beauty, and friends. One of them is Will, with whom April quickly begins a romantic relationship. But Hannah can hardly breathe around Will, she has such a crush. 

By the end of their Freshman year, April is dead. She was murdered in their room, and Hannah discovers the body.

Ten years later, Hannah and Will are happily married and expecting their only child. They haven't kept in touch with their other college friends, mostly because the memories are too difficult. Hannah was instrumental in having the murderer brought to justice and is happy that part of her life is over. But, when the murderer dies in prison, the publicity begins again. And this time, new facts are brought up that make Hannah think the wrong person was convicted. She feels so guilty she can't stop trying to find the truth.

The chapters jump from "Before" to "After" for much of the book. So I guess there is a lot of background and buildup. But I just didn't get very much tension or anticipation until the "Before" parts quit--I think at about 70% through the book. After that--wow!

I didn't figure out who the guilty person was, which is always a bonus. There is a small group of characters, so it was pretty easy to keep track. The writing was easy. I just didn't get that jolt--the need to keep reading--until way late in the book.

Like I said, maybe it was just me. I do recommend The It Girl, although I would recommend other Ware books first.

Published by Gallery/Scout, July 12, 2022
eARC obtained from Edelweiss+
432 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Monday, June 20, 2022

Book Review: There There by Tommy Orange

There There by Tommy Orange book cover and review
There There is an okay book. It is interesting that I read There There shortly after I read Disappearing Earth. Because I had many of the same feelings about both books.

I'm not usually a fan of short stories. And books that have multiple narrators, jumping from one perspective to another that tell just a small piece of a seemingly unrelated story just seem like short stories. I did feel like Orange did a better job of ramping up the tension and showing relationships though.

We are told multiple stories by different Native Americans, and they end up culminating at a powwow at the Oakland Coliseum. We learn early on that some of these characters want to rob the powwow, and guns are involved.

I had a bit of trouble keeping the characters straight, as we jump back and forth among them, but not too bad. I understand the creativity of the way the story is told, and the writing is excellent, but just not my thing. As far as the Native American experience, I guess I got some of that. But I've read plenty of books about life with drugs, alcoholism, poverty, and lack of parental figures that didn't involve Native Americans, so it didn't seem that unique.

The part that I really don't understand is why there couldn't have been one more chapter that finished the story. I think that authors want you to decide for yourself. But, you know what? I'm not a writer. The author is the storyteller, so tell the story! I don't understand why an author would think it would make the book worse if they finished the story and let the reader know what they, the author, thought happened to these characters!! (Stepping off my soapbox now.)

Using multiple narrators for the audio version was very effective. They all did a great job. I had actually decided I wasn't going to finish listening. I was only going to listen until my next audiobook came in (for which I have waited months.) But, not only did it not come through, it got canceled for some reason. Ugh. Well, that's another story, and I'm glad I finished There There. It got better as the book went on.

Published by Knopf, 2018, Random House Audio
Audiobook obtained from the library
304 pages

Rating: 3.5/5

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