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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Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Out here it's like I'm someone else.

Saint AnythingSaint Anything by Sarah Dessen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sydney is a high school kid with a seemingly average life - navigating homework and a new school and typical teen problems. Except that Sydney is at a new school because she's trying to escape the shadow of her older brother, Peyton, who has recently gone to jail for injuring a local kid while driving drunk. For her whole life, Sydney has felt like her parents have focused on Peyton and his antics - and even with him in jail, it seems like nothing has changed. At her new school, Sydney meets Layla Chatham, a member of the Chatham family. They run the local pizza parlor near her new school and soon Sydney feels comfortable and nearly adopted by her Layla and her parents, her older sister, Rosie, and her brother, Mac. They are everything her family is not.

This was a good book, with a typical Dessen teenage drama and love story plot, but it wasn't anything earth-shattering. Sydney is a good kid and I liked her character, and I very much liked Layla and Mac, as well. Sydney's back-story with her brother is a good one, but seems a little unbelievable at times, and her rigid mother is almost too uptight and clueless. Her father is totally spineless and frustrating. For much of the story, you're waiting for something to happen and then when it finally does, it all seems a bit anti-climatic and it all gets fixed up rather quickly to seem truly plausible.

Still, a fun little read, but I do prefer "Lock and Key" or "Someone Like You." (However, I feel like a sequel featuring the Chathams would somehow be awesome.)

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Friday, May 29, 2015

I hear their voices, sirens singing in the street.

I've been working like crazy lately, so working my way through all these library books hasn't been easy! I was laughing when I saw them stacked on the counter and noticed some similarities in the titles. Therefore, you get them all in one post!

Before He Finds HerBefore He Finds Her by Michael Kardos

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In 1991, Ramsey Miller holds a huge block party for his neighborhood. Then, the story goes, he drunkenly and angrily murdered his wife and young daughter.

However, that's not exactly the case: his daughter got away, via the Witness Protection Program, and is living in a small town in West Virginia. Renamed Melanie, she lives with her father's close friend and his wife; it's a cautious life, as her father was never found. However, as she nears 18, Melanie is tired of this life of secrets and hiding. Finding herself pregnant, she decides she doesn't want this life for her own child, so she heads back to her hometown to find her father herself.

The book weaves in Melanie's current life and discoveries with narrative of Ramsey's life leading up to the days of the block party, allowing us to figure out what happened along with Melanie.

This novel started out really well, and for a while, I was thinking it was going to be one of my favorites read so far this year. However, it soon petered out a bit, and the more I thought about it, I liked it less. There are just some odd plot holes that doesn't really make sense and leave you wondering. Further, even accounting for her upbringing, Melanie as a main character is so "blah" and doesn't stand up for herself, thereby making it very hard to root for her. I really found myself pulling for Ramsey at many points. Lots of potential, but doesn't really follow through.

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Where They Found HerWhere They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The body of a baby is found in a small New Jersey town, close to the town's prominent university. Molly Anderson is asked to cover the story for the local paper -- her first big break since becoming a reporter, but both she and her husband are concerned it will dredge up memories of the loss of her own baby. Meanwhile, across town, teenage Sandy searches for her own missing mother. At the same time, Barbara, the wife of the local police chief who is investigating the baby's death, is busy trying to deal with her young son, who is having trouble in school and acting strangely.

McCreight weaves together the stories of these three very different individuals, as we learn what happened to the baby and more. I confess that I figured a lot of this out early on, but was still intrigued enough to keep reading. It's a very enthralling storyline and I found myself staying up late to find out what happened to the baby and the various women involved.

The story winds up being tied to another death nearly 20 years and it's well done, if not a little easily tied up at the end. The characters were a little flat for me - I had a tough time empathizing with Molly or Barbara, which made it harder to get into their stories, though I did like Sandy. It's still a good page-turner and a quick read.

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Where She Went (If I Stay, #2)Where She Went by Gayle Forman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a sequel, of sorts, to "If I Stay" and picks up three years after Mia leaves Adam to start a new life at Juilliard. We learn that Mia has become a star in her own right, while Adam is rock star: the main focus of his band, Shooting Star. He has a celebrity girlfriend, a major tour, and a crazy life. But is he happy? And is Mia content with the choice she made to walk away from Adam?

This book is told from Adam's point of view and we learn about how Mia's decision has left him devastated. It's another rather short book, but it's also lovely. I am not sure exactly how to describe it. I liked "If I Stay," but I truly loved "Where She Went" -- it was beautiful and poignant and touching. Even though Adam (and Mia) could be a bit frustrating at times, it was certainly a worthwhile read.

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