Thursday, December 31, 2015

December 2015 Bookshelf

The Bullet by Mary Louise Kelly
Kindle Edition - 369 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Gallery Books for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review. 


I love it when a book's back cover description comes to fruition. When the description isn't all of the best parts of a book but a representative of them.

Caroline Cashion is a 37 year old single French Literature Professor. She's got 2 brothers, a Mom and Dad, a full course load at Georgetown, and carpal tunnel. After a Doctor's visit to discuss the carpal tunnel Caroline also discovers she has one more thing she never knew she had. A bullet lodged at the base of her neck. How in the world? This new information sounds completely unbelievable at first but then Caroline starts asking questions and suddenly her life is no longer anything she ever thought it was. It leads her to circumstances and people she never knew existed before a bullet in her neck told her they did. And when all the possible known details come into the light Caroline will have choices to make - who to trust, how to deal with the truths revealed, when to seek vengeance - if at all.
This is Kelly's second book but my first read of her. I loved it. Within the first chapter I knew it was going to be the kind of book I would love. Kelly keeps an engaging storyline, characters with just the right amount of development, and enough suspense to keep you guessing even though you are quite sure you know the answers. I'm a sucker for thrillers and psychological dramas. This title fit my obsession perfectly.





Gummi Bears Should Not Be Organic: And Other Opinions I Can't Back Up With Facts
by Stefanie Wilder-Taylor
Kindle Edition - 256 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Gallery Books for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review. 


I had not heard of Stefanie Wilder-Taylor prior to this book. And what caught my attention about the book was the title and then the description to back up the title. After reading the book now what catches my attention is Taylor herself. A recovering alcoholic that had a child at 38 and twins at 40, does stand up comedy, and is a prolific author. Oh and she is the kind of Mom I am but way more verbal about it than me. With chapter titles like: They Can't All Be Gifted, The Joy of Quitting, Eff the Park, and Why Do They Call It Volunteering If It's Mandatory? Taylor is like my BFF Mom. She has the cajones to say out loud all the stuff I've been thinking during these Mommy years I've been in.  Part of my literal out loud laughter was due to the fact that I was reading in black and white stuff I had been saying to myself for years.  I'm not alone! I'm not crazy!

Each chapter in this hysterical but oh so true book deals with the pitfalls of being a parent in today's world. Chapter 1 is "Overparenting: Are We Raising Entitled, Dependant, Neurotic Kids? Or Are We Just Attentive?" and off Stefanie Wilder-Taylor goes with thoughts and opinions and her own life examples. If you can't handle language then don't read the book. Taylor is a bit loose with language that she would never want to hear come out of her kids mouths but it didn't bother me. Her writing style is so incredibly easy to read - almost like you are sitting have a cup of coffee with her and she was just venting. In all of the humor, language, and venting Taylor raises good and valid points about parenting in this day and age and it all just worked together.  Go read the book and don't be one of "those" parents okay?





Truth or Die by Jack Lynch
Kindle Edition - 304 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Brash Books for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.


I'm a Bragg fan. Jack Lynch writes a good thriller. It's somewhat elementary but enjoyable nonetheless. Because I've seen a picture of the author I always imagine Bragg looking just like him, I wonder if he did too. I'm pretty sure that isn't the case but I can't help it.  Jack Lynch had such a distinct look, in my opinion.  Anyway.

In this title Bragg and his girlfriend, Allison, are in Monterey for the Jazz Festival. He has given Allison his word that work is on the backburner all weekend and Allison can have his full attention. But as the saying goes, "...the best laid plans." Bragg runs into a former acquaintance at the Festival and by the next day is visiting her in jail as she's been accused of murdering her husband the night before. Before Bragg can help it he's in deep to an investigation of what quickly turns into more than one murder. Methodically uncovering clues and truth as he goes along Bragg finally links it all together but not before Allison is used as leverage against him. Now not only does he have the crime to solve but his girl to rescue.
As with other Lynch books I enjoyed this one. I'm reading his Bragg Thrillers out of order, which isn't my normal m.o., but it isn't interfering with the overall storyline of Bragg to much.




Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah, translated by Sora Kim-Russell
Kindle Edition - 108 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Amazon Crossing for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.


Bae Suah is a South Korean author, thank goodness for translators!  :) 

I'm not sure what caught my attention about this novella and compelled me to pick it up. 
The story is told in first person and we never know the name of this woman. She focuses in on the year 1988 in South Korea. Her father is in prison for a political reason, her brother - 10 years older than her - is headed to Japan to work in the sewers because it is more money, her sister - 10 years younger than her - is still in school and has dreams, and her mother is an alcoholic that sometimes works in the local hospital. The narrator herself is working two jobs but the money earned isn't making a difference. Life is grey. Poverty is a pit that she and her family cannot climb out of. Is this really life?
All I kept thinking about while reading this title is what no hope looks like, sounds like, feels like. The nameless narrator has zero hope and she is exhausted on all levels because of it. She drifts in and out of her days with no emotion, no hope, no dreams. She has been to college and received a higher education but is stuck in dead end jobs that provide hardly any money for life. She receives slight attention from men, one in particular in 1988, but that attention fails to stir any kind of emotion in her. The story just ends. It left me wondering how one keeps living a life that is so grey. And it made me wonder how accurate this depiction of life in South Korea might be for the author and/or others she knows. 




Eeny Meeny (Helen Grace #1) by M.J. Arlidge
Kindle Edition - 416 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and NAL for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.


WHOA! What a debut novel. Arlidge has set himself up for great success or great failure with anything following this title. What an excellent story.

Detective Inspector (DI) Helen Grace is the good guy in this book about serial murder. But this is serial murder with a twist. The murderer sets the stage, provides the weapon, and allows someone else to do the killing. DI Grace and her team can't get any leads on this unusual kind of murder and frustration mounts. But eventually something breaks and a treacherous path begins to emerge. The question is will the path lead to the killer or to dead ends and near misses?
Wow. I mean really. What a way to debut your writing. This book read like a seasoned author had penned it and has been writing this kind of genre forever. This book hit the bulls eye on all levels - character development, plot, suspense, etc. Fantastic, if not twisted, storyline and idea for murder. I'll be reading future installments of DI Helen Grace without a doubt.





Die For Me by Jack Lynch
Kindle Edition - 223 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Brash Books for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.


Another Bragg Thriller checked off my list. In this one Bragg gets pulled into a grisly scene. Mass burial sites are unearthed through a psychic's feeling and multiple bodies are found. The problem is there is no connection so there is no starting point for trying to determine who is killing so many people and why. Bragg is up against the clock, along with the police, as they try to figure it out before the next body joins the others.

An enjoyable read as Bragg books have been for me. This one was rather fascinating due to the serial killer part and the discovery of who, what, why.





Second Helpings at the Serve You Right Café by Tilia Klebenov Jacobs
Kindle Edition - 219 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Linden Tree Press for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.


Second chances. 

Jacobs second book centers around second chances. I'm a huge fan of second, actually multiple, chances so this story appealed to me. I'm also a huge fan of coffee houses so that drew me as well. 
Emet First is an employee at Serve You Right Cafe, Eden Rose is his boss. Emet has only been walking around "on the outside" for about a month. Eden Rose gave him the second chance he needs to get life back on track after years of being in prison. But is Eden Rose going to be the only one to give him another chance at life or will others be willing to understand his story? 
I really liked the characters created by Jacobs in this title. I suppose another reason I was drawn to it is because of the redemption Emet is offered and reaches for. Redemption is so powerful. I'm also interested in paroled ex-convicts getting a second chance and having employment that is meaningful and provides for them. Basically all of Jacobs topics in this story touch on things that are important to me and I wasn't disappointed with how she handled them. 





The Bones of You by Debbie Howells
Kindle Edition - 320 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Kensington for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.


A psychological thriller set in an English village. "Things are not always what they seem." And indeed the truth of that fleshes out in this title where a young lady is found dead in the woods.

The story opens with the disappearance of Rosie, an 18 year old preparing to go off to University in the fall. Rosie's neighbor, Kate, is our narrator and a Mother herself to an 18 year old girl, Gracie. As Rosie's disappearance stretches out into days Kate reaches out to her mother, Jo. Once Rosie is discovered dead Kate continues to stand by Jo's side as her grief ebbs and flows. But the murderer is still out there and each lead the police think they have falls short of any true evidence. Meanwhile, the closer Kate gets to Jo the more she sees through the veneer of the Anderson family and the more confusing circumstances get. Who killed Rosie and why?
Well-written and executed carefully, this thriller had me guessing and then second-guessing almost until the very end. As soon as Howells fit a few of the pieces together then the whole puzzle was quickly assembled but until then I wasn't quite sure of my gut instinct. It turns out that my gut was right in the end but Howells kept throwing me off the scent. I respect that kind of ability.





Susannah Screaming by Carolyn Weston
Kindle Edition - 182 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Brash Books for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.


Written in 1975 I got a giggle out of this title. At one point one of the main detectives is grumbling about how everyone thinks they are a detective or lawyer now that Perry Mason is on TV.  It made me giggle because in 1975 that was certainly true but since then the number of detective/police shows on has probably tripled or more, imagine what that detective would think of it all now! 

This title is book 2 in a series Weston wrote back in the 70's. I had never heard of it. A guy witnesses a deadly hit and run and it unknowingly, at the time, puts him right in the middle of a ongoing crime. The detectives on the case are two partners who land in two different generations and therefore two different ways of sleuthing. The older detective ticked me off - he's the stereotype for a bad cop. And his partner says it well in one part of the book, discovering evidence and steering evidence are two different things and provide very different outcomes.  Cops who steer evidence fan a flame of anger in me. 
This was a decent enough read, weird to be transported back to the 70's with the language and technology use but fun also.  




The Truth and Other Lies: A Novel by Sascha Arango
Kindle Edition - 256 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Atria for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.


This seems to be a month of reading thrillers. Another thriller for the "read" list. 

Henry Hayden is a famous author, except he's not. He's the face of the name Henry Hayden but it's his wife who writes every single word. She's fine with the arrangement and Henry is too. Their marriage is more one of companionship than love and Martha, his wife, is all too aware of his various indiscretions. Except this most current one poses a problem, she's turned up pregnant. As Henry scrambles to cover his tracks and the truth, his life of lies begins to be exposed. What is truth and does Henry even have one in his life? 
Very twisty and turny and brain boggling. Even now, finishing the book I'm a bit brain boggled. I think I know what Henry was and did but I'm not 100% certain. Arango created a charismatic character that is one of the most dangerous kind of human. The charisma outshines the psychosis the person lives in. I've heard Ted Bundy had that kind of charisma. Arango created interesting characters, ones that fed and fell into Henry's spells. This was Arango's debut novel and he set the bar rather high for himself. 





Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home by Jessica Fechtor
Kindle Edition - 290 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Avery for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

I am a sucker for memoirs and food. So Fechtor's memoir hit the bullseye for me. 
At 28 years old Fechtor ran a half marathon and then two weeks later almost died from a brain aneurysm. Stir recounts the day of the aneurysm and the two years of recovery that resulted from it. In between recovery moments Fechtor recalls how she and her husband met, how food was weaved into important memories, and other important life stories. The book also features many recipes - some of which made my mouth water while reading through them so I'm definitely going to have to do a little cooking and baking soon and try out some of Fechtor's favorites. 
Reading a book about food and the memories it can and does evoke always reminds me of the beauty, grace, care, and love it is to make and break bread with others. Fechtor "waxes poetic" about it but it made me hungry (pun intended) for some table time with dear family and friends. 




As Night Falls by Jenny Milchman
Kindle Edition - 385 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Ballantine Books for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

It took me a few chapters to get into this title but once I did I needed to finish it in one sitting.  I'd say that's the sign of a good read.

Sandy, her husband Ben, and their daughter Ivy live in a remote area of the Adirondacks. On this night their location will be what gets them in trouble. Nick and Harlan, two escaped convicts, are making their way right toward Sandy and her family. What follows is the longest night ever for all of them. It's supposed to be a quick raid of Sandy's home for supplies but things don't go as planned or expected, including the weather, and in the ensuing hours everyone involved learns new information about themselves and each other that adds to the intensity of the situation. What lengths will Sandy go to in order to protect her family?
A good thriller. A really interesting storyline with a backstory to provide the foundation. Not only is it a good thriller but Milchman also explores what happens when a child is loved for all the wrong reasons and in the wrong ways. Other titles by Milchman haven't received high marks but this title was well-written and a good read.





The Third Wife by Lisa Jewell
Kindle Edition - 352 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Atria Books for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

I've found another author to love! This is the first Lisa Jewell title I've read and I will be reading more.
Maya is Adrian's third wife and part of the big happy family Adrian has created and then left behind because he's addicted to love. All the women are friends and the children all get along and everyone holidays together to keep the big happy family happy. But someone isn't happy and is taking it out on Maya, the newest wife and potentially mother to more children Adrian will have.  The reader meets Maya post-mortem as the story flips back and forth from present day without Maya to the past when Maya was alive. As the two stories get closer to one another and eventually become the same timeline we discover, along with Adrian, that not is all as happy as he thinks - or wants to think.
What a great plot and storyline, so interesting.  A study in delusion and narcissism. Lessons in self-evaluation and growing up. Great characters, well written and fleshed out realistically. As I said above, a new-to-me author that I think I will be reading lots more of.




Swerve by Vicki Pettersson
Kindle Edition - 352 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Gallery Books for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

Whoa. What an intense read. I am fairly sure I was in fight or flight mode myself for at least half the book! It's astounding to me that someone can create such a psycho read.  It's perhaps a little scary as well. Is there anyone that is this creatively psycho? I just don't think there can be.
I feel like this is a tough book to review - a lot of anything I want to say about this read would lend toward spoilers and I do not like to spoil!
Kristine and Daniel are traveling through the Mojave Desert toward a holiday weekend. A decision to stop at a rest stop for Kristine to change her clothes leads to 24 hours of sheer terror for Kristine and Daniel. Some psycho killer is stalking Kristine through the desert and using Daniel as bait. What lengths will Kristine go to save Daniel - and herself?
Holy Smokes. This book seriously had me so wound up that I had a very hard time coming down from the flight or fight rush I experienced while reading it.  The one complaint I have is the reasoning for the killer's stalking. I didn't feel like Pettersson was able to connect those dots clearly. It didn't make sense to me, the why of it all.  But regardless of that it was quite a ride, literal edge-of-your-seat kind of read.





The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy E. Reichert
Kindle Edition - 336 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Gallery Books for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

This title is predictable, but predictable can still be an enjoyable read.
Chef and Restaurateur Lou is struggling to see her dreams become reality but some naysayers in her life are making it a bit difficult.  She's got good friends, Sue and Harley, standing by her side but food critic A.W. Wodyski has decided she isn't worth standing next too and her fiance, Devlin, isn't really her loudest cheerleader either. When she meets Al she finds a person to stand in her corner but it may be too late.
Here's the question - are people really this dumb? Do people like Devlin really do things like the stuff he does in this title? Are people really immature enough to try and hide and cover up truth from each other?  Like I said, the story - its plot, its characters - are predictable but I don't know people in my life who behave in these ways.  This was an enjoyable read especially right after the intense read I had just finished but the predictability of this fiction world makes me chuckle. I am, however, curious to try the recipe for the coconut cake. *mouth watering*




The Guilty One by Sophie Littlefield
Kindle Edition - 320 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Gallery Books for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

The description given for this title is a bit...off. The book is actually about the aftermath of a crime and the victims of a crime. The descriptor of the book is only a page and a half within the actual story - barely worth mentioning.
Maris and Jeff have lost their only child, and daughter, to a violent act. Deb and Ron have lost their only child, and son, because of the violent act. It was at his hands that the daughter no longer lives. The story focuses the most on the aftermath of this tragic event in the lives of Maris and Ron. Deb and Jeff make appearances but Littlefield hones in on the emotional and mental responses that Maris and Ron are each trying to process and work through. What is the "proper" response when you've lost a daughter to murder? What is the "proper" response when your son has been locked away for committing a murder in a haze of anger?  As a parent, what part do you play in the fault, if any? As a friend or family member how do you respond to someone who has lost their child in such a horrific way?  Littlefield explores two different responses to the same event and the outcomes those processes lead the families involved toward for the future.
This was a decent read - if you aren't basing it on the descriptor of the book given by the publisher.  If you pick it up and read it expecting it to follow that description then the book gets low marks for execution.  I like that Littlefield followed the emotional process of both sides of the tragedy and really explored the roles we knowingly and unknowingly play in the lives of our children and spouses. However, I wasn't completely captivated by the story and even that moved by the plight of Maris and Ron and their respective spouses. For this reader there was a disconnect between them and my "buy-in."  I'm not sure if that's due to plot or character development.  But overall a decent read.





We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Kindle Edition - 310 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Ballantine Books for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

To say I am a fan of Vanessa Diffenbaugh would be an understatement. I am a huge fan. Her first book, The Language of Flowers, was wonderful (which is a massive understatement) so I was eager to read her second title - We Never Asked for Wings. I was not disappointed.
We Never Asked for Wings follows the path of Alex, Luna, and Letty - a family trying to figure out how to be a family and make it.  Letty is mother to Alex and Luna but she didn't raise them, her mother did. But circumstances have changed and Letty now needs to either step up to the plate or go have a seat on the bench. Can she be a mother? Should she be a mother? Alex is smart, just like the father he's never met. Throughout his 15 years his grandfather has been teaching him about birds - their flight patterns, their migration, their feathers. Encouraged by his grandfather to find his own wings Alex, with the help of Letty, sets out to sprout the wings that will take him the places he wants to go. But Alex and his strong sense of loyalty and responsibility won't let those wings take him too far from the people he loves and cares for. Getting wings, it turns out, can be rather painful.
This is a well-written coming of age story for not just one character but two. Letty and Alex both go through the growing pains of growing up at the same time. As Diffenbaugh did in her first title, she made all the connections needed to flesh out the story and have it all make sense. She took a subject matter and infused it with the life of someone's story. She developed her characters around the core of the subject matter and the analogy of it and created a beautiful story. She explores some topics that need a closer look and I appreciated that as well. Looking forward to her third book, she's on a roll!





Hostage Taker (Eve Rossi #1) by Stefanie Pintoff
Kindle Edition - 448 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Bantam for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

I confess. When I saw the book had 91 chapters and an epilogue I was a bit nervous. "I really really really hope this is good," I thought, "because if it isn't this is going to be one looooooooooooong read."
Within the first few paragraphs my concerns faded and I inhaled this book. It was a super fast read and kept me completely engaged.
A woman appears on the steps of St Patrick's in NYC one blustery morning, unwilling to speak and holding a sign that says "HELP." As a man tries to get her to speak and help her get under shelter from the rain a red dot dances on her forehead and then she is dead. Minutes later Special Agent Eve Rossi is tracked down and requested at the scene of what is now determined to be a hostage situation. Reluctantly Rossi arrives to the scene but once she takes stock of the situation she jumps into action. With no leads on who the hostage taker might be, how many more are being held hostage, and the whys of the situation Rossi begins assembling a team she had once led. The Vidocq Unit is made up of ex-cons attempting to help right the wrongs they had contributed to in their former lives. It's the only group of people Eve knows that is going to be able to diffuse the hostage negotiations she got a personal invite to.
Wow, I've just found another new-to-me author to read. This title by Pintoff was so good - twists and turns I didn't see coming yet I knew had to be present, a strong main character in Eve with a really interesting supporting cast of ex-cons. Based on the notorious forger, thief, and master-of-disguise Eugene Francois Vidocq Stefanie Pintoff creates a unit (fictional or not is unknown) that fights crime in ways that only people who commit crime can figure out. I'm looking forward to more books in this series and reading the other ones Pintoff had authored.



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