Monday, July 15, 2019

She Lies in Wait by Gytha Lodge

When I wasn't doing laundry, dishes, and some errand running on Sunday, I spent most of it inside gulping down this mystery. I came across it at the library and thought it would be a good switch from the two contemporary women's novels I'm reading now-kind of like the salty snack in between my sweets. 

A quick plot rundown: In 1983, a group of teenagers decide to camp out in the woods overnight. Plenty of booze, food, and drugs are involved. The seven teens range in age from 18 to 14. Aurora, the youngest, is tagging along with her sister Topaz, a beautiful teen who has her eye on Brett. At 18, Brett is the oldest, and a star athlete. Also in the mix: JoJo, Connor (who has a massive crush on Topaz), Coralie, and Daniel. Aurora is definitely out of her element with this group of popular kids, and Topaz is really annoyed her sister is there with the group. 

A night of drinking, drugs, dancing, and yes, some sex is a big blur for the teens. And when morning comes, Aurora is missing. Hungover from booze and drugs, memory is fragmented and confused for the remaining six. An investigation leads nowhere.

Aurora remains missing for 30 years, until a young girl camping with her family discovers a bone, and Aurora is finally found, not far from the original camp site. How could she have been missed all those years ago, when she was so close?

In steps DCI Jonah Sheens, who was a new police officer the night Aurora Jackson disappeared 30 years before. He went to school with the group, but didn't know them very well. Aurora's disappearance has haunted the community, and Jonah, too. Now her remains are found, and it's going to take some smart investigating to figure out how she died, and who did it: which of the six is the killer?

The build up to Aurora's murder was the best part of this mystery. Told from Aurora's viewpoint, her last day and night in the woods tick down, and your anxiety ratchets up. It was clever of the author to add the hour to each of Aurora's chapters, to enhance that anxiety. Aurora is the character we come to know best, even though she's only with us for a short time. 

Jonah and his team definitely are a good, solid group of people. Their individual background stories are slowly revealed, but since this is probably the start of a series, you just get a taste and quite a bit is left unanswered. Most especially Hansen, the new female investigator, and her abusive ex-boyfriend who continues to stalk her throughout the investigation.  

You may figure out who did it pretty quickly; I had my suspicions, but couldn't quite figure out the why. The investigation moves pretty quickly after a slow start, and there are some red herrings thrown in to keep you guessing. The last 75 pages move pretty swiftly towards the reveal of the killer and the motive. It was who I suspected; however what was more disturbing than the murder of Aurora was the life lived by the killer, and the manipulations that kept taking place for the next 30 years. Clever only goes so far before it all falls apart. 

This was a satisfying contemporary murder mystery/police procedural. Some of the characters remained a bit underdeveloped, and I think a bit more of that would have made the book longer, but more fleshed out and complete. I would probably read the second of the Jonah Sheens investigative novels.

Rating:  4/6 for a mystery that sets a hard task: how do you solve a murder that took place 30 years before? My big takeaway from this novel was sadness for the murder of an innocent 14 year old girl who had all of life ahead of her, but was caught up in a situation out of her control. The unanswered questions of her disappearance 30 years before still haunt the community, her family, and the six teens-now adults-who last saw her alive. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Dead Set by Richard Kadrey

I needed to read a Sci-Fi/Fantasy novel for my book group on Tuesday, and what is usually a super easy pick for me turned out to be not so easy! I tried a couple of different novels before I picked this up at my library on Friday. It turned out to be a pretty darn good read, and my introduction to author Richard Kadrey. 

Kadrey writes the Sandman Slim series, which are urban fantasy and very popular. I've looked at that series many times over the past few years, but never actually picked one up. Now I'm more inclined to do so, after reading Dead Set. It is not part of the Sandman Slim series, and is a stand alone fantasy novel--something that's getting harder and harder to find. If you're a reader of Sci-Fi/Fantasy, you know that the majority of writers craft a trilogy or a series instead of single novels, and that can be frustrating. Sometimes you just want to read a story that ends with the last page, and leaves you satisfied with the conclusion. I'm bad about series, anyway. I usually read about half the series before I lose interest. I'm not opposed to series; I've been sucked into a few and entranced by the plot and the characters so much that I'm glad there are more novels. But, I do get a bit restless and always feel that eventually, the series jumps the shark and isn't quite as good as it was in the beginning.

Back to Dead Set. It was a quick read, and definitely one you can zip through in a day or two. I stayed up late last night and got up early this morning to finish it. I couldn't wait to see what happened. Zoe is a teenager, in a new crummy apartment with her mother in San Francisco. Her father died suddenly, and until the insurance money comes in, they are really broke. Her mother is searching for a job, but she's been out of the workforce for years and is just not having any luck. Depressed, grieving, and angry, Zoe starts at a new high school. Bored with her teachers and her classes, she skips school one day and finds a really weird record shop. She's in familiar territory, since her father used to work with punk rock bands and famous rockers, and her mother used to design the artwork for album covers. 

This is, of course, not a usual record shop. And Emmett, the creepy dude who runs it, is a little outside of normal. Dusty, musty, and crammed with hundreds of albums, Zoe wanders around, until she sees another room and just has to look. Inside are more albums, but they're very different. These albums contain the lives and souls of people. 

Oh, and Emmett gleefully shares with Zoe the news that he has her father's album there, and she can listen to it-for a price. 

Zoe's a pretty smart kid, and a tough one, too. But she's a kid missing her Dad, and of course she's going to pay whatever price is required so she can see her Dad one more time. 

And from there, the story takes off! Zoe's recurring dreams of her friend Valentine, the treehouse they occupy, the scary black dogs roaming around, and the beautiful woman she sees in quick glimpses are all part of the adventure Zoe is about to take. Egyptian mythology marries with a startling look at what happens when we die. Modern concepts of what lies beyond are always fascinating, and this novel explores that--with a twist, of course. Zoe has to keep all her wits about her in order to survive and return home; but her grief and sense of duty may doom her. 

I'm so glad I spotted this book at the library and took a chance. It was a great introduction to a new author (new for me), and it was just the kind of fantasy novel I was looking for the past week. It is suitable for young adults, too. Some folks think it's firmly a YA novel, but I think it's an adult novel that YA would enjoy, too. 

Rating: 4/6 for a novel with big themes: death, the other side, grief, coping, love, loyalty, and oh heck yes-being stronger than you ever though you could be. A quick read the ramps up in action that will have you biting your nails and rooting Zoe on to victory. And ICK! SNAKES. 

Available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audio. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell

I always enjoy a good historical novel in the summertime, and this paperback arrived on my doorstep last month from HarperCollins, as if by magic. Actually the U.S. Post Office, but it felt like magic. If I had come across this at a bookstore, or saw it in a magazine, i would have immediately picked it up or read reviews online--the cover grabbed me pretty quickly. Give me covers with gardens, flowers, food, wine...well, I'm a sucker for them. 

The cover drew me in, but the story itself kept me in that "Peacock Summer". Two women-Lillian and Maggie-grandmother and granddaughter tell two stories that are 50 years apart, but ultimately twist together. Lillian is frail and ill, living in the slowly crumbling former glorious estate named Cloudesley, in the English countryside. Maggie, having left Cloudesley the year before after an unhappy relationship, is forced to return to take care of Lillian. When she arrives, she realizes Cloudesley is in danger of falling apart. Overdue bills, unkempt gardens, and a lot of repairs are needed-but there is no money, and only a skeleton staff to run the place.  

Lillian married Charles Oberon as a young woman, hoping for a loving marriage and happy to take on the task of raising Charles' young son Albie. Charles was charismatic, and the proud owner of Cloudesley. What Lillian realized very quickly was that Charles was a deeply troubled man with a horrible temper and a desire to own and possess beautiful things, but not love them. Trapped in an unhappy marriage, unable to have children after a miscarriage, Lillian is pretty miserable. It's 1955, and she has no family to fall back on; besides, Albie needs her. Enter Jack Finch, an artist attending one of Charles' summer parties. He's handsome, smart, and a gifted artist. Charles hires him to turn the now empty nursery into a fantastic work of art--at once creating a spectacular, one of a kind room, and also to punish Lillian for being barren. As I said, Charles is one mean and cruel man. 

Lillian's memories of that summer make up a large part of the novel. Her growing feelings for Jack, her desire to break free from Charles, her love for Albie. You also see Maggie, in present day, getting bits and pieces of information from Lillian as she grows increasingly more frail. Enough information for Maggie to begin to suspect that what she saw as devotion between Lillian and Charles as a child was not quite the truth of the matter. 

Meanwhile, Maggie is coping with her own troubled relationship, and the scandal she created when she left suddenly the year before. She's a bit of a mess, but thankfully her relationship with her grandmother is her saving grace. 

This novel is all about love, and the many ways we love people, and how sometimes loving someone means giving up something else that you love, too. It's a novel about choice, breaking free from expectations, and the difference between love and duty. It's a family drama that starts in 1955, and ends fifty years later. That summer of 1955 was a life changer for Lillian, and what comes from that summer is what may ultimately save Cloudesley. 

It took me a few pages to get into this novel, but then it all clicked, I hit fifth gear, and I couldn't put it down. You know Lillian and Charles stay together, but knowing the marriage is deeply unhappy, how the heck does that actually happen? What happens with Lillian and Jack? And there's Maggie. Will she get it together, and figure out what life she wants to lead? I'll confess, Lillian's story is so much more interesting than Maggie's, but it is satisfying to see how Maggie matures through her trials. I was so happy when she finally pieced everything together, and figured out her grandmother's story. 

This is a solid story, and I liked that it didn't necessarily have a fairy-tale ending for either Lillian or Maggie. The ending felt appropriate, and I wasn't disappointed in the end--I was hopeful for Maggie, for Cloudesley, and for Lillian's legacy. 

A big thank you to HarperCollins for a copy of this novel to read and review. It's just recently been released in the U.S., and is available in paperback, ebook, and audio. 

Rating:  4/6 for an historical novel about family, duty, art, love, choices, and one  summer in the English countryside that reverberates though two generations of a troubled family. 

Monday, July 8, 2019

Death and Other Happy Endings by Melanie Cantor

What would you do if you only had 90 days to live? How would you handle it? Denial? Rage? Give up? Or, as Jennifer Cole does, refuse to take the medicines the doctor prescribes, and decide to mark the days off the calendar? 

Well, Jennifer does more than that. She realizes this is her one final chance to let three people who shaped her life know exactly what they did to her. Those people are: her older sister Isabelle, her ex-husband Andy, and her ex-boyfriend, Harry. 

Isabelle --the pretty one (Jennifer is the smart one) who cruelly snatched Jennifer's college boyfriend away from her, and lives a happily married life with two perfect daughters, and never has anything nice to say to Jennifer. 

Andy, her ex-husband, who left her for another woman (the horrid Elizabeth) after Jennifer's third miscarriage, is a complete toad. Jennifer thought they had a happy marriage, and his announcement that he had been having an affair and was leaving her were low blows. Even years later, it leaves a bitter taste in her mouth, and has her wondering how she could have been so wrong about someone--and why he had to treat her so badly. 

Harry--he's the one that got away, into the arms of Melissa. Handsome, sophisticated, and charming, Jennifer thought he was the shit. And yes, he was a shit--just not a good one. Their breakup was so painful for Jennifer that she never quite got over it. 

So, Jennifer writes each a letter, telling them she has a terminal blood disorder, a short time to live, and then tells each of them exactly what they did to her, and how it made her feel. She hopes, of course, that there will be some kind of response, and in the short time she has left, some resolution. Does she find it?

This was a charming novel. It may seem terribly sad, and that may keep you from picking it up, but please do--you'll be surprised at Jennifer's journey. Things are not at all what they seem, and Jennifer's one moment of spontaneity early on in the novel reverberates throughout the story. It wasn't hard to figure out what was going on, but I didn't care--I enjoyed Jennifer's story. She's a charming, warm, intelligent woman who has a few regrets--and those regrets are failed relationships. It was interesting to delve into Jennifer's thought process as she grapples with the news of her terminal disease. You will think about yourself, and how you would cope, and what would be the most important things for you to set to rights before the end comes. 

A huge thank you to Penguin/Viking and Pamela Dorman Books for an advanced copy of this book. If you want to smile, cheer, sigh, and laugh, this is the book for you. 

Rating: 4/6 for a novel that crept up on me and suddenly, I didn't want it to end. Full of humor, wit, love, warmth, and some blazing good moments of telling the brutal truth. 

This novel is released in the U.S. on July 9th, 2019 in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Monday, July 1, 2019

July! In the Thick of Summer Reading

Going through the pile of books I want to read this month...well, I have to whittle it down. Darn it! I can certainly say if our weather continues to be super hot and super humid (the dew point was a balmy 77 today) I'll be spending a lot of time inside reading. A/C is definitely my friend. 

So, it looks like I'm traveling around the world this July in my reading choices. And actually, completely outside this world, too. Here's what's on my plate this month:

The first in the Discworld series from the master Terry Pratchett. My book group has picked Sci-fi/Fantasy as our theme for July. I bought it four years ago, so it's time to read it!

So many of my co-workers have read and loved this novel. I've had it in a pile for about 6 months. This was the push I needed to read it. I can't wait to read the story of Marsh Girl.

I mentioned this novel in my video last week. Food, family, and a San Francisco setting. OOOH I can't wait!

Oh Jenny Colgan. Thank you for writing a novel I can read this summer. Loch Ness, a bookstore, and friendship. What more could a reader want?

A publisher review. I started it and love the dual timeline. Easy to get sucked into this one! A granddaughter returns to the crumbling family estate to take care of her grandmother, who has a whole lot of family secrets waiting to be discovered. 

Another publisher review. A woman is given 3 months to live, so she chooses to finally be upfront and honest with the three people who have most effected her life (not for the better!) and the results are unexpected. Sounds grim, but actually uplifting and full of surprises. 

So there it is. I'm reading a few other books, too. I'm ready to settle in and read away the month of July. If only I could get up just a wee bit earlier to grab more reading time...

Happy July 4th! Enjoy the holiday with your family and friends, and your perfect summer read. 

Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Perfect Fraud by Ellen Lacorte

This was a novel I received from HarperCollins last month and it took me awhile to dig into it. A sleepless night was the key to flipping the switch and really diving into the story. Then of course, I wanted to stay home and finish it the next day but darn it all I had to work! I finished it at lunch. 

I've read a lot of domestic thrillers in the past few years, ever since Gone Girl and Girl on the Train jump-started the genre. I have to confess it's not my favorite type of read. And heck, it makes you look around at the people in your life and wonder if there's a story there just waiting to get out. I had a hard time getting into this story; I kept putting it down and moving onto other books. 

Part of the reason was because one of the main characters-Rena-is so unlikeable I didn't want to read her story. If you think she's unlikeable in the beginning, just hold onto your shorts, because she doesn't grow on you at all!

Short plot: Rena is a mother who has a daughter, Stephanie, aged four. Ever since she was a baby, Stephanie has suffered from painful stomach ailments. Rena has spent all her time taking Stephanie to doctor after doctor, demanding test after test and no one can figure out what is wrong with Stephanie. A few times she's been so ill--her sodium levels have skyrocketed and put her in severe health crises. Rena is fed up with the doctor who is treat Stephanie, so she decides to fly to Arizona to see a specialist. Rena also runs a blog that not only discusses her daughter's illness, but talks about Rena's search for healthy food and alternative ways to heal her daughter. 

The other main character is Claire. She lives in Arizona, and works in Sedona as a psychic--who gives fake readings. She doesn't care, actually. Mostly because her mother is a psychic, and pushed Claire to develop her natural talents in that area. But Claire resents her mother, and shut it all off (she actually doesn't think she's got any psychic abilities anyway). Claire is a bit prickly; her boyfriend wants to marry her, but she keeps him at arm's length. Her father's health suddenly nosedives, and she has to fly back home.

On the flight back to Arizona, Claire sits next to Rena and Stephanie. This is where to two paths finally cross. And where the story gets interesting. 

It's pretty easy to figure out what's going on with Rena and Stephanie. Rena is so completely unlikeable that she leaves a bad taste in your mouth, and a fair bit of rage in your heart. Claire grows on you, for sure. She has some big revelations that shake her up, and in doing so, opens up her psychic talents BIG time. You will get to a certain point in the action where you won't be able to put the book down, and you'll feel your heart rate increase a bit! 

It's a fast read, and even though I struggled a bit at the beginning, it turned out to be a pretty good story. Certainly a different one--not at all what I expected when I picked it up. Definitely a vacation read you'll pass onto your friends. 

A big thanks to HarperCollins for a preview copy. It's a book I probably wouldn't have read otherwise, so I'm always grateful for a chance to step outside my reading comfort zone and try something different. 

Rating: 4/6 for a domestic thriller that takes a few twists and turns and ends with a bit of a zip. A quick read that will grip you as you race towards the end. 

Available in hardcover, audio, and ebook. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

I Finally Read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

My top ten reads list for 2019 is filling up fast and I've still got 5 months to go. This book is definitely on the list. It's a novel I've had my eye on since it first came out in hardcover; but as you know, other books crowd in and it's soon pushed waaaay back on the list. So far back that even buying the paperback earlier this year still didn't push it to the top of my TBR list. 

However, on Instagram I follow Penguin Random House, and they've been showing a new book bag that features Eleanor Oliphant. I really would like that bag! But their Instagram did what it was supposed to do, and it had me looking through my bookcases at home to find my copy. There were a few moments of "I'm pretty sure I bought a copy...I'm pretty sure...I think..." and yes, I was right. I did have a copy tucked away. I spent Sunday afternoon diving into Eleanor's world, and I was immediately captivated. 

Eleanor is the voice inside your head that says everything you wish you could say out loud. And not because she's mean-she's just very honest and observant. She's also very lonely. In a world where everyone has some kind of contact or relationship with at least someone, Eleanor has none. Her weekly phone call to Mummy is filled with angst and dread, because Mummy is "away", and Mummy is a horribly mean person. Abusive, in fact. 

Eleanor meets Raymond, an IT fix it guy at work when her computer freezes and he comes to her desk to fix it. He's just an everyday Joe, and Eleanor slowly  begins a friendship with Raymond. And by slow, I mean bit by bit. As you read Eleanor's story, you quickly realize she's got a lot of issues, and she has quite the journey to overcoming those issues. But that journey is the best part of this novel. 

Eleanor is one of those characters that captures your heart right away, even as you hurt for her and sympathize with her. You understand why she is who she is-what made her a 30 year old lonely, timid woman. Her understanding that her life is not okay, and she's not completely fine, are key to her slow steps towards healing. She's weird, she's funny--oh so funny; you just want to give her a big hug. If she would let you. 

Read it, if you haven't already. It's a book that I will wholeheartedly recommend to anyone. Gail Honeyman really created one unforgettable heroine--and yes, she is a heroine. Read the book and you'll understand why. 

Rating:  6/6! Yes! For a book that will have you laughing, tearing up, cheering, and thinking about those who are quietly suffering. It's a book about acceptance, friendship, and simple gestures that can mean the world to someone. 

Available in paperback, hardcover, ebook, and audio. It's been optioned by Reese Witherspoon for a movie...I hope the movie does the book justice.