Thursday, July 30, 2020

Tomorrow I start in a new direction: THE VACATION.

The VacationThe Vacation by T.M. Logan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A quick read marred by some very unlikable characters

Four friends gather together for a week in the south of France with their husbands and children. They have known one another since the first day of university in Bristol and are now celebrating their 40th birthdays. But one, Kate, is worried about her husband, Sean, who is acting secretive and odd. At the villa, she spies on his phone and realizes he's having an affair. Even worse, it's with one of her three friends on the trip: Rowan, Jennifer, or Izzy. Devastated, Kate sets out to determine which one of her friends is betraying her. But as she does, things being to unravel, with far more devastating consequences than Kate could have ever predicted.

"If I'd known what was coming, what we were driving toward, I would have made Sean stop the car and take us straight back to the airport."

Overall, this is repetitive drama billed as a high stakes thriller. Most of this book would not need to happen if Kate simply confronted Sean at the beginning of our story, instead of theatrically swanning about and playing "detective" while on vacation. I hate these sort of stories where instead of communicating, everything goes awry because the characters refuse to speak to one another.

While overall this is a quick read, the beginning feels slow. It features much of Kate's angst, over and over, as she speculates about which of her three friends is the culprit. Walks down memory lane about how good things once were. (Again, never does she really try to speak to her husband--or even honestly with any of her friends.) She is insistent, after reading a few Facebook Messenger bits, about everyone's guilt.

Of course, I cannot truly blame her, because none of these characters are very likeable. Her friends are pretty despicable and their husbands, too. All the characters treat their children rather terribly, either berating them or neglecting them for the trip. The poor kids have issues that are completely overlooked. At least Logan varies narrators throughout the story so we do get to see things from more than just Kate's panicked point of view. But it only serves to show how short-sighted these adults can be.

The story picks up later on, but, by then, it's hard to really care for anyone. I won't deny that this is a fast read and it does keep you interested with some (often predictable) twists. But it's tough to be fully invested when it's a bunch of whiny, clueless supposed grownups who think their problems are more important than all. 3 stars.

I received a copy of this book from St. Martin's Press and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

You never gave a warning sign: CUT TO THE BONE.

Cut to the Bone (Agent Sayer Altair, #3)Cut to the Bone by Ellison Cooper

My rating: 4+ of 5 stars

A dark, riveting thriller featuring a great protagonist

FBI Senior Special Agent Sayer Altair, who is also a renowned neuroscientist, is heading home for a party to celebrate her adopted daughter Adi when she gets the call. There are two dead in Washington, DC, and the situation looks suspicious. A young girl is dead in what looks like a ritualistic killing: her body left inside a circle of animal figurines, with a message written in blood. Sayer and her trusty FBI data analyst and computer wizard, Ezra Coen, quickly realize that the girl is one of twenty-four missing high school students who are supposed to be at STEM conference states away. Sayer and Ezra are pulled rapidly into the case, where they find that nothing is as it seems. A series of fake leads derails them and soon Sayer begins to wonder if the murder has ties to her own past. She knows only one thing: this case is deadly.

"It wasn't her job to accept the improbable, it was her job to unravel the mystery until it made perfect sense."

I absolutely love the Sayer Altair series and book three didn't disappoint one bit. What is not to love about an incredibly intelligent kickass black FBI agent who takes no prisoners? While Sayer lost her FBI agent fiancé, Jake, several years ago--something she's still reeling from--she's now surrounded herself by her own makeshift family: Adi; her neighbor, Tino; and Ezra. And, of course, there's her witty and tough grandmother, Nana, who raised Sayer. Coming back to this crew as a reader feels like returning to family. Cooper excels at capturing each character's unique voice, and I'm so fond of them all. We even get an appearance from Sayer's former boss, Holt, who has been kicked out of the FBI in a scandal covered in the previous books.

The mystery plot here is a really wild but totally engaging case. There are lots of references to Egypt and plenty to keep you on your toes. It is a tense and suspenseful tale and Cooper throws in plenty of well-timed twists and turns. The story turns personal for Sayer, and I was certainly riveted. Cooper writes in a quick, fast-paced style that makes it easy to keep flipping the pages.

All the books in this series are dark, and this one is no exception. They are not especially for the faint of heart. A lot of death and gruesome descriptions. It is easy to see that Cooper, who has a Ph.D. in anthropology and worked as a murder investigator, knows her stuff. For me, the authenticity just makes the story pop off the pages even more.

This book ends with a total boom for Sayer, and I cannot wait for the next installment. As I said, I love this series and adore Sayer and her little family. If you haven't read the entire series, I recommend starting with book one, but this one will standalone, especially if you love a twisty and engaging thriller. 4+ stars.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley and St. Martin's Press/Minotaur Books in return for an unbiased review.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Monday, July 27, 2020

I dreamt of you all summer long: HOW TO SAVE A LIFE.

How to Save a LifeHow to Save a Life by Liz Fenton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Fast-paced read that kept me riveted, even if the characters were lukewarm

Dom called off his engagement with Mia nearly ten years ago--and he's regretted it ever since. She's the one that got away and the standard by which he's measured every relationship after. So when he bumps into her in a coffee shop, he believes it's fate. They've been given a second chance. He asks her out on a date. But on their outing, Mia dies tragically. As an injured Dom watches Mia's body being taken away, he makes a wish: to be given a chance to save her life. So imagine his shock when he wakes the next day to discover it's Thursday: again. He seems to be reliving the same day over again, giving him a chance to save Mia. But as these Thursdays continue to happen, Dom has to confront his intense feelings for Mia. Why have they lasted all these years? Why is he reliving the same day over and over, unable to save her?

"The more things that happen like this, the more it feels like I'm reliving the same day all over again."

This was an incredibly fast read that kept me hooked, that's for sure. The Groundhog Day aspect of this book was fascinating. It's also a bit strange and completely stressful. Knowing Mia is pretty much guaranteed to die over and over--in different ways--freaked me out. I'm not sure how Dom didn't totally lose it. (I'm going to say that he definitely lost it a little bit!)

The book is certainly repetitive in some ways. I think you can't totally avoid this when you're writing a "relive the same day over and over" story. What frustrated me was the constant emphasis put on Dom's obsession with Mia: his repeated telling that she was an impulsive and different sort of person and that's why he fell for her, but also why he was wary of marrying her in the beginning. This point was hammered home far too much for me. We get it.

While I actually really loved the plot of this book--it was something new and I needed that--I couldn't fully embrace it because I just didn't adore Dom and Mia as a couple. Dom was a doormat and a bit annoying. Take control of your life! Mia's impulsive, carpe diem came across more as rude and too much. Overall, they didn't seem to be a good match.

I enjoyed the fact that this book had one narrator: Dom, even if he drove me a little crazy sometimes. I honestly couldn't grasp his infatuation with Mia and wanted to shake him and tell him to move on. The book also threw in some weird tangent plot pieces that just didn't seem to need to be there. They wound up as distractions or loose ends.

Overall, though, this was an enjoyable read. While I couldn't fully warm to Dom and Mia, this was a fast-paced read and something different. It had an interesting ending--nothing predictable here. 3.5 stars.

I received a copy of this book from Lake Union Publishing and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Saturday, July 18, 2020

We would make the best team: THE LANTERN MEN

The Lantern Men (Ruth Galloway, #12)The Lantern Men by Elly Griffiths

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the twelfth book in the excellent Ruth Galloway series, Ruth is now living in Cambridge as part of "Team Rank" (Ruth and Frank). She shares a home with her partner, Frank, and her daughter Kate, now nine. She teaches at the university but misses her small house by the Norfolk sea. When a convicted murder, Ivor March, offers to tell DCI Nelson the location of more bodies, but only if Ruth does the excavation, she finds herself drawn back to Norfolk. He weaves the tale of the Lantern Man, who lures women to their deaths. Nelson has always been convinced March killed more women, so Ruth felts compelled to help. And, of course, she feels her usual draw to Nelson. But the case turns dangerous quickly, pulling Ruth in with it.

I adore all Ruth Galloway books, and I'm so glad the series continues. I was surprised to find the book opening with Ruth away from her beloved Norfolk and its marshes--and giving more permanence to her relationship with Frank. The move only complicates Ruth's own relationship with Nelson, and their chemistry crackles as always. I love how familiar the characters feel--Ruth, Nelson, and young Kate. Ruth's friends, to include Cathbad, the eclectic druid, and his family. Nelson's co-workers. Ruth's co-workers. Each of these books feels like coming home and Griffiths captures each of their individual voices so perfectly. I love Nelson's sarcasm and Ruth's intelligence and desire for solitude--they are all so wonderful.

The case in this book is excellent; Griffiths is an expert at tying together murders in the past with those in the present, and that happens here. It kept me guessing, and it's great that's it's so often Ruth's intelligence--not just Nelson's brawn--that helps resolve things. There are some strong twists that keep things moving as well.

This book will stand-alone, though I always recommend the whole series, because Ruth and Nelson's relationship and character development alone is worth it. 4 stars for this installment, and I'll look forward to #13!

I received a copy of this book from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Friday, July 17, 2020

Once upon a time it was paradise: WHAT YOU WISH FOR.

What You Wish ForWhat You Wish For by Katherine Center

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Crazy, repetitive plot kept me from focusing on romance

Samantha Casey escaped her previous school to her current one, a wonderful oasis on Galveston Island. She's an elementary school librarian, and she loves her work, her sunny library, and cheerful, happy school. But then one of the school founders dies and is replaced by a literal blast from Sam's past: Duncan Carpenter. Duncan is Sam's old crush from her last school. There he was a lighthearted and funny teacher. Now, he's a hardhearted principal obsessed with school safety, who seems determined to rip apart every sunny and happy piece of Kempner. Sam and the other teachers need to stand up to Duncan--before it's too late.

"There's nothing better than a before-and-after. But he didn't remember the before. So that pretty much killed the after."

I feel bad, but I think I'm somehow immune to Katherine Center's charms, which seem to make everyone swoon over her books. With the exception of How To Walk Away, which I really enjoyed, I like her books, but never really love them. And that's definitely what happened here. In fact, I often found WISH to be utterly frustrating.

Maybe it's because I'm the child of educators, but I just kept shaking my head at the idea of a principal who could come in and unilaterally make decisions without any resistance. It made it impossible for me to focus on the rest of the story. Apparently Duncan is hired by the school founders' son-in-law--essentially a school board of one. What private school has one person on their board? What sort of private school has parents who just quietly allow someone to paint the halls gray and put bars on the windows??! None of this made any sense to me. All the resistance came down to the teachers?? I've seen parents riot over far less.

I couldn't handle it--could you tell? I also couldn't handle Sam for most of the book. I just get frustrated with Center's heroines. Sam was so whiny about nearly everything. She was more than happy to judge everyone else, yet completely resistant to owning her own life, making any changes, and opening up. Ugh. I wanted to shake her sometimes.

The book was very slow to start. Much rehashing of Sam's own problems, Duncan's arrival and the fact that--can you believe it--he is different than he was before. Hey, did you know Duncan used to be cool and funny, but now he's not?! I didn't! Oh wait, let me tell you again 15 times. Also, let's go into the fact that Sam has some issues and can never ever love again. Did I mention ever?

Also, later, without giving too much away, we completely gloss over how serious PTSD is and whitewash over the severity of things like depression, because focusing on happy things will just take away those issues completely, right? Also most plot points are telegraphed a mile away.

Sigh, I'm probably being too harsh here. The book gets a bit better as things go on. And there's a really cute kid whom I enjoyed. But still. Repetitive, predictable, and not the best at presenting mental health issues. 2.5 stars, rounding to 3 here.

I received a copy of this book from St. Martin's Press and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

You know you're doin' better on your own: HURRY HOME.

Hurry HomeHurry Home by Roz Nay

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

A twisted although sometimes predictable thriller

Alex Van Ness has a good life now in the Colorado mountains. A loving boyfriend, Chase, her dream job as a social worker, and a beautiful loft she and Chase share. It's a far cry from the dysfunctional childhood she's tried to put in the past. Now Alex helps kids avoid such trauma. But when her older sister Ruth shows up on Alex's doorstep, Alex's perfect life is threatened. Ruth was the one who destroyed her family so long ago. But she's still Alex's sister, and she agrees to take her in, under one condition: they don't discuss the past. But secrets are hard to keep buried, and soon both sisters must confront their childhood.

"Ruth left the farm when she twenty, seven years after she tore our family apart."

I absolutely loved Nay's previous book, OUR LITTLE SECRET, which was utterly engrossing, different, and a total page-turner. She proves again with HURRY HOME that she's a wonderful writer. I flew through this book as well.

It's told from the perspective of Alex and Ruth, alternating between the two sisters. We're never quite sure who to trust or to believe, and we are slowly doled out facts about their childhood. Unfortunately, I did find this novel to be more predictable than Nay's first. There are certainly a lot of great twists and turns, but I did guess a lot of them. I do think some of that is due to my large appetite for thrillers, though. A more casual reader will find this book quite shocking and twisty.

The action stays mainly focused on the sisters, so it can get a little repetitive as they hash through their dramas. But it's a compelling read, with some shocking reveals. Nay is certainly good at capturing the diabolical. While I did find some parts easy to guess, I enjoyed this thriller overall. I'll certainly be on the lookout for Nay's next book. 3.5 stars.

I received a copy of this book from Crooked Lane Books and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Just stay alive, that would be enough: THE SURVIVOR SONG.

Survivor SongSurvivor Song by Paul Tremblay

My rating: 4+ of 5 stars

A timely & terrifying read

A viral strain of rabies is spreading across Massachusetts. It moves quickly among animals and people, with those being bitten rapidly (think hours) losing their minds and then biting others to spread the disease. Hospitals are overwhelmed. People are under quarantine, with packets of vaccine being dropped from the sky to try to control the animal population. Chaos reigns. Dr. Ramola "Rams" Sherman is a pediatrician, about to be called in to help at an overflowing hospital. Before she can, she receives a terrified phone call from her best friend from college, Natalie. Eight months pregnant, Natalie watched an infected man brutally kill her husband--and received a bite while trying to save him. She must get to a hospital--and fast--to try to save herself and her unborn child. She and Rams begin a horrifying odyssey to get Natalie help, traversing a world filled with untold dangers.

"The presentation of symptoms with this new virus is astronomically fast compared to a normal rabies virus."

Okay, first of all, I rarely read horror books like this, but this novel was offered by my Scene of the Crime group, and I had heard such great things about Paul Tremblay. Second, I am trying to avoid pandemic-type reads and, yet, I found myself reading an incredibly pandemic, virus themed book!

However, I have to say, this was a good book! I can't say I enjoyed it, because it was so incredibly stressful that I think my heart-rate and blood pressure were through the roof while reading this thing. BUT, I could not put it down. Tremblay has created an utterly spellbinding book that also happens to be incredibly timely.

The tension in this book completely crackles. There's a virus spreading across the entire Northeast, but Tremblay focuses his action mainly on just Rams and Natalie. Somehow narrowing the story down on the survival of these two (and Natalie's baby) makes the story all the more terrifying and stressful. Their journey to get to a hospital is fraught with danger and blockages at every turn, and you can totally see this as unfolding a movie, with the "zombies" popping out around every corner. It still makes me shiver even now thinking about it.

While this book is creepy and scary, it makes some amazing (and very timely) points on society and its backward viewpoint toward vaccines, fear culture, xenophobia, and more. I found myself nodding furiously so many times. And, of course, it's filled with words that are so familiar to us now--who knew that CDC, PPE, and quarantine would be such commonplace terms?

Overall, while this is a very tense book and it might resonate a bit *too* much right now, it's very well-written. I flew through it--I'm not usually a horror fan, but it was a good balance of scary and humanizing. 4+ stars.

I received a copy of this book from HarperCollins/William Morrow and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

I wish I could say that was the last time: ONCE YOU GO THIS FAR.

Once You Go This Far (Roxane Weary, #4)Once You Go This Far by Kristen Lepionka

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Probably my favorite book in the series and that's saying *a lot.* 

Private investigator Roxane Weary is out for a stroll when another hiker, Rebecca Newsome, falls to her death on a nearby trail. Her daughter, Maggie, doesn't think it was an accident, and she hires Roxane to look into the the incident, believing strongly that Rebecca's ex-husband, Keir, a former cop, was responsible. Roxane learns quickly that Keir is a bit of a jerk, but did he kill his ex? Roxane soon finds herself driving between Detroit and Canada, following the path of Rebecca's last days. Soon she's embroiled in the Fellowship, a mega-church founded by Joel Creedle and talking to Constance Archer, a wealthy businesswoman who is now running for office. Roxane's running herself so ragged she can barely make time for herself, let alone Tom, her sometimes romantic interest. Not to mention, things are heating up in her case, and she may find herself in danger, yet again.

"Only bad things happened when it was cold out, as it was becoming now."

This is one of the best detective series out there, hands down, and I wish that Kristen Lepionka and Roxane Weary were household names. I adore these books and this one may be my favorite yet, which is high praise, as I've loved every book since the first.

"That was the thing about mysteries--no one ever deviated from the routine until the moment they did."

Roxane is her own person--a witty, intelligent private investigator who, oh yeah, just happens to be bisexual (and not a side character or the villain of our tale). Book four finds her working on a perplexing case, but also dealing with some personal growth: having to confront emotions and relationships, dreaded words in Roxane's world. I loved the balance of the mystery and Roxane's personal life in this one.

"Not knowing was hard for me. It always was."

Reading these books is like falling back with familiar friends--Lepionka captures Roxane and her crew perfectly: her brothers and mom; her on again/off again boyfriend Tom and ex-girlfriend, Catherine; her work partners; and more. She expertly portrays Roxane's wonderful sarcasm and her inability to commit. Here, we see Roxane dealing with a bombshell about her father's past--poor Roxane: she can never quite escape the shadow of her father, a former cop.

But, of course, we also read for the mystery, and this is a great one--Lepionka takes us in the world of an Evangelical church while delving into Rebecca Newsome's past, her relationship with her daughter, Maggie, and the many secrets Roxane uncovers. She also throws in Rebecca's wonderful spunky elderly neighbor who keeps things lively. This was an excellent mystery that kept me guessing (and worrying for Roxane's safety)--it's timely, interesting, and suspenseful.

Highly recommend this book and the entire Roxane Weary series. 4.5 stars.

I received a copy of this book from St. Martin's Press/Minotaur Books and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Life is made of highs and lows: MOTHER DAUGHTER WIDOW WIFE

Mother Daughter Widow WifeMother Daughter Widow Wife by Robin Wasserman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Filled with complex emotions and topics but wordy and long

Wendy Doe is found in Philadelphia without an ID and no memory of who she is. She becomes a patient at Dr. Benjamin Strauss' Meadowlark Institute--basically her only alternative for being cast out on the streets. Dr. Strauss and his young student, Lizzie, study Wendy, fascinated by her fugue diagnosis. Meanwhile, years later, Wendy's daughter Alice is looking for her mother, who has disappeared again. Wondering if her mother's past disappearance--which she never knew about--could be tied to the current one--Alice searches out Benjamin Strauss and Lizzie. She discovers Lizzie is now a young widow and begins a journey into both her mother's past, and Lizzie's.

"Every daughter became a mother, every mistress a wife--every wife a widow."

This is a hard book for me to rate, even several weeks after finishing it. Is it a brilliant work examining womanhood and love or a frustrating tale that leaves you feeling unresolved? This is certainly a complex book that features complex science, emotions, and feelings. Wasserman has done her research, and there are pages and pages devoted to the science of dissociative fugue, amnesia, and more. I won't lie: it's a lot. There were times I found myself just skimming those sections, because it was a bit much for me.

I didn't care much for the character of Alice, and I'm not entirely sure why, because her mother is missing (presumed dead by suicide by everyone except Alice), and she's worried. But there's something about Alice that just didn't make her particularly sympathetic to me. As for Lizzie, even though she didn't make the best of choices, I liked her more. Maybe I identified better with her. We get to see Lizzie in the past and present, and Wasserman does a good job of capturing the yearning of loving someone who doesn't deserve you and the idea of becoming someone else for love. Even Wendy is hard to care about sometimes, because she just doesn't seem care herself. To her, her memory is a thing she's lost, but because she can't remember, she doesn't seem too concerned.

"'You don't get it: I don't not want it back, and I don't want it back. There is no it. You can't miss what never happened.'"

What was so hard with this book is that there were just so many words. Oh the words. Words about science, words about feelings, words, words, words. It just felt long. I wasn't entirely invested in the story, but I did want to find Alice's mother, but then everything just felt sort of eh and unresolved, and yeah. I don't know. So much thinking, not much happening. I think this novel probably presents some brilliant ideas and representations, but they went over my head. 2.75 stars, rounded to 3 here.

I received a copy of this novel from Scribner and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ PaperBackSwap ~ Smashbomb

View all my reviews