Thursday, September 03, 2015

AwakeAwake by Natasha Preston

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Scarlett doesn't remember anything before the age of four, which she doesn't find too unsettling, until, as a teen, a car accident jars her memory and makes her start wondering what happened to her as a kid. Around the same time as her accident, Scarlett meets Noah, a new kid to town, and falls for him immediately. Noah tries to help Scarlett remember her past, but does he have her best intentions at heart?

Not really sure how to explain this book. The story itself is odd - another quick teenage romance, with a cult thrown in! However, it is oddly compelling in its own strange way - I read the book in about a day or so. The writing is rather silly and disjointed at times and the plot seems unbelievable. It's not even the cult aspect, per se. It seems weird that Scarlett focuses so much on not being able to remember things before the age of four (is that really so strange)? The end of the book ties up awfully easily, without much semblance or adherence to legal niceties. All in all, while the book moves quickly, not sure it's worth that little amount of time.

(Note: I received an copy of this book from Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.)

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

I've been here, sleeping all these years.

The Third WifeThe Third Wife by Lisa Jewell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One early April morning, Adrian's young wife, Maya, falls into the path of a bus and dies. Adrian, who saw their life and marriage as perfect, is devastated. To him, Maya was happy, even as she dealt with Adrian's two ex-wives and the five children he shared between them. It's only when Adrian puts up an ad to potentially re-home Maya's cat that he starts to realize that perhaps everything wasn't as perfect for Maya (or himself) as he thought.

So, I think when I requested this book from Netgalley (who gave me a copy in return for an unbiased review), I thought it was a real mystery. My own fault for reading through too quickly. One guy, three wives, one dead. Whatever. It's not a true mystery per se, but a fairly engaging tale of a man trying to figure out his life after the death of his wife. We hear the story from various viewpoints -- not just Adrian's -- and timelines, including hearing from Maya before her death. As such, Jewell lets us slowly piece together what led up to Maya's bus accident.

Overall, this was an interesting read and rather suspenseful at times. It lagged a little in the middle, but picked up at the end. Adrian is a bit of a clueless dope at times, but I enjoyed the passages from Maya. Jewell does a very good job of conveying how a marriage isn't always what it seems - even to the two people actually within the marriage. I thought the ending tied things up a little too easily, but still enjoyed the novel. I will definitely try some of Jewell's other books.  

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I'm just a little hummingbird, I want to sing but I can't find the words.

Those GirlsThose Girls by Chevy Stevens

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jess, Dani, and Courtney live in a neglected house with their abusive and drunken father. One night, after a particularly bad fight, the girls have to flee town quickly -- only to see things go from bad to worse as their truck breaks down during their journey. Eventually, the story picks up 18 years later (with the girls living under new names), when a turn of events threatens to tear down the lives they've managed to somewhat re-build.

This book was rather bizarre, I have to say. First of all, do not read this if you are triggered by scenes of brutal abuse or rape. Just don't. Terrible things happen in this book. It was almost mind-numbing to read - almost too much.

I'm still not sure how I feel about this one. The sisters drove me a bit crazy. It seemed like one bad decision after another with them. I know they are young when they initially leave home, and abused, but seriously? Then it just seems like the book was a series of misfortunes after another. I feel like Stevens could have limited it at some point. However, it was all oddly compelling, and I found myself reading the whole thing rather compulsively, even if I was constantly disappointed and disheartened by each turn of events.

(Note: I received a copy of this book via Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.)

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Friday, July 17, 2015

Never knew I could hurt so bad.

Her Last Breath (Kate Burkholder, #5)Her Last Breath by Linda Castillo

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An Amish father and his three children--traveling home in their buggy--are struck one evening in a terrible accident. The vehicle leaves the scene and in the aftermath, Paul Borntrager and two of his small children are dead. Chief Kate Burkholder (no stranger to awful crime scenes) is horrified by the scene.

This is the fifth book in the Kate Burkholder series, and honestly, if I knew Kate, I feel like maybe I would move out of Painter's Mill, as it seems well on its way to becoming the "Cabot Cove" of the Amish community. How many more terribly things can happen to this poor Amish community?

Anyway, I still love Kate, even if she's still wishy washy about her relationship with reliable Tomasetti. At some point, I just want to shake her. So I keep reading, even if at some point, I feel like there may be no Amish left in Painter's Mill to keep off.

Overall, this is a disturbing book and it was a bit hard for me to read, since it dealt with such a brutal death of two little kids. The plot is interesting, however, and as a I mentioned, I do enjoy Kate, even if I also find her frustrating. I'm amazed at how Castillo can keep things interesting - when I had my "aha" moment in this one and realized what had happened, I was impressed. A good read and I'll no doubt keep going through the series, though I really hope Kate gives Tomasetti a break. (And maybe the poor Amish of Painter's Mill can catch a break, too.)

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Heavy heart, now a weightless cloud.

About a Girl (Metamorphoses, #3)About a Girl by Sarah McCarry

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book tells the story of Tally, who at age 18, seems confident that her life will turn out just as she had planned - summer spent with her best friend, Shane; head to college; become an astronomer... But when Tally starts wondering about her past, she finds herself on a quest to learn more about mother and father, and her neatly ordered life is quickly turned upside down.

This is third book in the Metamorphoses trilogy - Tally, we learn, is the daughter of Aurora, whom Aurora left on her best friend's (now termed "Aunt Beast") doorstep to raise, along with Aunt Beast's best friend, Raoul and his husband, Henri. (All characters easily recognizable if you've read the first two books.)

Needless to say, this is an interesting book. I actually really liked Tally. She's different from Aurora and Maia and even Cass. Tally finds relief in the order of planets and stars. She is a good kid, overall, with a pretty common upbringing, despite the fact it was by her "Aunt" and her friends.

However, when Tally is shown a picture of Jack (and Aurora) and sent off to the West Coast by the shadowy Mr. M - whom she just knows as her friendly neighbor - everything changes. She finds herself sucked into the strangeness of the town where Jack lives, where she can't remember things and time just slips away. As always, the "weirdness" in McCarry's writing comes out, and I'm always not 100% sure I'm following things correctly. I won't spoil the book, but I can point out that Tally meets Maddy there, for whom she falls for deeply.

I probably liked this book the best of the three - I rooted for Tally, and I loved that this book featured a transgender character (Tally's friend Shane) and a lesbian relationship (between Tally and Maddy). Great to see that thrown into a YA book without it truly being the focus of anything. As always, the mystical side of McCarry's novel threw me a bit, but I found it less disconcerting in this one than the previous two, for some reason. While I would have loved more resolution to the story of everyone, this book did seem a fairly fitting bookend to the tales McCarry has woven for these characters.

(Note: I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.)

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The sun is setting on you like a stone.

Every Fifteen MinutesEvery Fifteen Minutes by Lisa Scottoline

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Dr. Eric Parrish is a busy psychiatrist juggling his work as Chief at a hospital unit, as well as his own private practice. He is also reeling from his recent separation from his wife and the subsequent time he must spend away from his daughter, Hannah, who is only seven-years-old. One day, Eric is called to treat an elderly woman who is dying from cancer, but it quickly becomes clear the real patient is her grandson Max, who, at 17, is having difficulty dealing with his grandmother's impending death. Eric quickly discovers that Max is depressed, struggling with OCD, and having violent thoughts about a girl he knows from his job. However, as Eric treats Max, he suddenly finds his own life breaking apart around him. There is a murder, a violent incident, problems with his wife and daughter, issues at work, and much more.

I never really got "into" this book. To me, Eric is not a likeable character. Throughout the course of the novel he seems to make a remarkable number of questionable decisions, even if his life is somewhat spiraling out of control. For instance, as he goes through the divorce with Caitlin, Eric is constantly lamenting about Hannah and the effects of the divorce on her. So much so that he comes by the house unasked, calls his wife and daughter at all hours, completely ignores the advice of his lawyer, etc. He seems to lack knowledge of any basic divorce or legal protocol - not to mention common sense.

The lack of common sense prevails throughout the book. So much of the plot is supposedly driven by what Eric knows about Max, this teenage kid he meets at the hospital, but really they have two sessions together before things go awry. It seems insane that he would have learned so much about his patient in this time. So much of the plot just seemed implausible and annoying. We hear constant talk about Eric's past anxiety and how he overcame it. OK - so what?

Overall, I just found myself irritated by Eric and annoyed by his decisions. Parts of the book seem completely improbable and the plot is so thinly constructed that once you figure out how everything comes together, it seems barely possible. Then Scottoline throws in another twist that seems completely unnecessary. Overall, rather disappointing read.

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Thursday, June 11, 2015

An angel out there still believes in me.

Dirty Wings (Metamorphoses, #2)Dirty Wings by Sarah McCarry

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The second book in Sarah McCarry's Metamorphoses' trilogy, this novel actually goes back in time to introduce us to Cass and Maia - the mothers of the heroines from McCarry's first book, "All Our Pretty Songs." Maia is a lovely, but sheltered, teen - a piano prodigy living with her rigid, overprotective adoptive parents. Cass, meanwhile, is a tough kid living on the streets - she's used to taking care of herself and no one else. But when she meets Maia, everything changes.

I'll confess that I am somewhat continuing to read this trilogy as it checks off a requirement in a book challenge that I'm doing. But, McCarry's books are always very well-written and interesting, if not a bit strange. I actually enjoyed this one a bit more than the first. The story was a little more clear. Much like book one, I still maintain that I would enjoy these books more without the odd mystical influence hovering in the corners of the pages. In this novel, Maia and Cass eventually meet Jason, with whom Maia falls in love with, and with whom it seems that Minos (the shadowy man from the other world) is trying to lure away... or, as Cass fears, does he just want Maia?

It's all a bit confusing and such a strange side plot to a story of troubled teenagers falling in love and rebelling against the world - which would work just fine on its own. Oh well. I'm still hooked and will read the last book. McCarry has a beautiful voice and this book is very poetical, much like the first. The story flips between present and past in this one, which can be a bit confusing, but also makes the book fly by. It's a compelling read, if not one that will leave you a bit frustrated and wanting more.

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Friday, June 05, 2015

Even my heart was smart enough to stay behind.

Coming of Age at the End of DaysComing of Age at the End of Days by Alice LaPlante

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Anna is a depressed teenager living with her parents in a conventional California suburb. One day, she finds herself pulled out of her "melancholia" by meeting Lars, another teen who moves into her neighborhood, and his parents. Lars and his family introduce Anna to the world of his "church," which is more of  religious cult that has a forceful prophecy about the upcoming end of days.

As Anna becomes more and more drawn into this religious world, she finds herself beset by visions and otherwise withdrawing from life around her, including her parents, who are confused and upset by her religious fervor. Anna's only other real contacts are her neighbor, Jim, a mid-20-something who has returned home to live with his parents after a string of disgraces, and Jim's crush/sweetheart, Clara, who also teaches chemistry at Anna's high school.

I'll be honest - I just didn't like this book. It wasn't what I was expecting from this author, or even the description of the novel. I loved LaPlante's "Turn of Mind," but this was nothing like that novel. The plot was odd, disjointed, and really seemed to make no sense. Anna is not a sympathetic character to me -- I completely empathized with her bewildered parents. There really seems to be no reason why Anna would become so drawn into this religion (which perhaps may be the point, but if so, it's not really made well). There are odd plot twists and turns that seem just to pop up out of nowhere, for no reason, including the oddly inserted ending and epilogue. Even's Anna's visions aren't really explained well.

I don't know; I was disappointed by this read. Perhaps I just missed a greater point this book was trying to make, but it didn't do it for me.

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(Note I received an ARC of this book from Negalley in return for an unbiased review.)

Young or old I say that love is still the same.

BlueprintsBlueprints by Barbara Delinsky

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Caroline MacAfee is a divorced carpenter; one who has kept her last name because she is still part of the well-known MacAfee family, which owns MacAfee Homes, a popular business in their town. Caroline is also host of the popular TV show "Gut It" (think something on DIY or HGTV) - that is until she's told she's too old to host the show the day after her 56th birthday. The network wants a new host: Caroline's 29-year-old daughter, Jamie MacAfee, an architect with the family company. Pushing for the change is Caroline's ex-husband, Roy, and her ex-father-in-law, Theo. The news rattles Caroline and upsets the foundation of her happy mother/daughter relationship with Jamie.

But everyone's life is further upended when Roy and his new wife die suddenly on a stormy night, leaving MacAfee Homes without its charismatic marketing lead and Jamie to deal with sudden guardianship of her toddler half-brother, Tad. Quickly, she must navigate life as a new mom; deal with the impact of motherhood on her relationship with her fiance; juggle the impact on her work, especially with her father no longer with the company; and try to heal her fractured relationship with Caroline.

If it sounds like there is a lot going on in this novel, there is. Yet, it seemed like it got off to a slow start. I almost put the book aside for some others on my "to-read" list until I got to the accident and things picked up. After that, even if parts of the plot and the characters' actions irked me, the book itself breezed by, and I found myself wanting to finish it quickly.

One of my biggest pet peeves with this novel was all of the talk of sex. I am no prude and have no issues with sex being in a novel, when appropriate. In this book, it seemed like it was inserted just because. Delinsky made several veiled references to "50 Shades of Grey" (the characters were reading it, for instance) and it almost seemed as if, because of that, it felt necessary to insert dialogue about sex, sex scenes, and more. Caroline and Jamie's discussions of sex, Caroline's discussions of sex with her friend, Annie - they were all painful and came across as extremely stilted. In fact, several times, it seemed like the characters were having various conversations to make sure we really, really knew how they felt about certain things, when, truly, if Delinksy would have just let the plot unfold naturally, it would have all come out on its own. It was a little unnatural and forced.

Speaking of said plot, it is a Delinsky novel, so be prepared that it will all seem a little fantastical at times. I would have liked to have been reading this novel on the beach - it's the perfect beach read where you can just suspend real life for a little while and get caught up in a slightly unrealistic plot.

That being said, Caroline and Jamie are fairly likable characters. They grow on you. I found myself empathizing with Jamie and her struggles with working motherhood, for instance. If you go in expecting a fun, silly book, you won't be disappointed.

(Note: I received an ARC of this book via the Goodreads First Reads program in return for an unbiased review.)

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Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Caught up in our little lives, there's not a lot left over.

Single, Carefree, Mellow: StoriesSingle, Carefree, Mellow: Stories by Katherine Heiny

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This collection of short stories started off strongly, and I found myself drawn into the web Heiny creates for her characters. The majority of her stories feature women and after the first couple ended, I found myself disappointed that we wouldn't get to know more about the characters. (There is one group of characters that she re-visits throughout a couple of stories in the collection, which does help sate your curiosity a bit.)

Because I devoured this book so quickly - over less than two days - I was a bit fatigued by the end. Most of the stories feature adultery in some form or another, and frankly, that got a bit old in the end. That would really be my only issue with the story set. By the end, you're thinking "really? again!" and wondering if these women have anything else to do to occupy their time.

Otherwise, this collection of stories is vibrant and poignant and at times, made me laugh out loud. I found myself tagging pages where lines were just so hilarious, I wanted to jot them down for safe-keeping: it's rare when that happens. And again, even though the stories were brilliant little nuggets, so many of the characters were so intriguing, I found myself wishing I could read more about them. I just wish they had a little more to do than cheat on each other all the time.

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