Category: book review

Book Review: The Blackbird Season, by Kate Moretti

blackbird season
Image belongs to Atria Books.

In a small Pennsylvania town, a thousand dead starlings fall from the sky, landing on the baseball field. The town is in an uproar, wondering what caused the birds to die, and fearing for their safety. The dead birds are the biggest news to hit town for years. Until a reporter sees everyone’s favorite teacher, Nate Winters, embracing bad girl student Lucia Hamm in front of a no-tell motel.

Despite Nate’s denials, he’s soon being investigated, and Lucia adds fuel to the fire by claiming they are having an affair. Nate’s wife, Alecia, wonders if her husband is telling the truth. With the whole town hurling accusations, other rumors start to surface about Nate. Then Lucia disappears, and Nate is the only suspect. But there’s more going on in this small town than meets the eye, and with only one person on his side, Nate may never find out the truth.

The Blackbird Season was not what I expected at all. The portrayal of small-town life is so vivid and realistic, with the gossip and back-stabbing and secrets. As someone who grew up in a small town, this felt completely believable. I spent most of the book wondering, like the characters, if Nate was guilty and just what Lucia was hiding. There are a lot of twists and unexpected turns in this novel, and it’s a riveting read.

Kate Moretti is a scientist and New York Times bestselling author. Her newest novel is The Blackbird Season.

(Galley provided by Atria Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

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Book Review: Murder, Magic, and What We Wore, by Kelly Jones

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Image belongs to Knopf.

Sixteen-year-old Annis Whitworth just found out that her father is dead and all his money is missing. With the social season in London looming, Annis and her aunt are on the verge of the horror of all horrors:  having to find jobs. When Annis finds out her father was a spy, she decides to follow in his footsteps. But the spymasters are not so sure.

After learning she can sew glamours, magical disguises, Annis moves to a small town and starts her double life as Madame Martine, seamstress extraordinaire. She must succeed in her new role if she is ever to find out who killed her father—and earn aplace as a spy herself.

Murder, Magic, and What We Wore is a fun Regency-era tale of a girl discovering who she truly is as she seeks her place in life. Annis finds out there is far more going on around her than she ever imagined, and she has talents she never suspected. This is a light, enjoyable read, with quirky characters and a fantastic setting.

Kelly Jones is the author of Murder, Magic, and What We Wore.

(Galley provided by Knopf via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: On the Spectrum, by Jennifer Gold

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Image belongs to Second Story Press.

Sixteen-year-old Clara, daughter of a famous ballerina, is totally normal. Or so she thinks. But her mom’s unhealthy obsession with food—and never eating anything “unhealthy”, including carbs—has taken over Clara’s life as well, to the point where it’s all she thinks about. After a social media disaster, Clara decides to spend the summer in Paris, with her estranged father and her six-year-old brother, Alastair, who is on the autism spectrum.

Alastair and Clara explore Paris, and Clara starts to wonder about her obsession with food. A young French baker teaches her about love—both of food and the “first love” variety, but Clara still struggles with the idea. Will it take another disaster to get Clara to admit she has a problem?

On the Spectrum is a spot-on portrayal of the affect today’s social media obsession can have on people, from the Instagram-worthy pictures of thigh gaps, to staged food photos touting healthy lifestyles. Clara struggles with learning that her way of life is not healthy, and admitting she has a problem. (That’s the first step in recovery, right?) her mental battles are portrayed vividly and believable, until the reader wants to cast suspicious looks at a croissant right along with her. Clara grows so much in the book, and her struggles are truly heart-wrenching.

Jennifer Gold is both a lawyer and teacher, and has studied at York, McGill, and Harvard. On the Spectrum is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by Second Story Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: A Few Minor Adjustments, by Cherie Kephart

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Image belongs to Bazi Publishing.

Cherie Kephart left her home in California to travel the world. In Zambia, as a member of the Peace Corps, she became very ill and almost died. Having cut her stint in the Peace Corps short, she returned home, eager to find out what was wrong with her. Instead, she only grew sicker.

For years, Cherie suffered from various symptoms, with unrelieved exhaustion, nausea, and unrelenting pain. She saw countless doctors and healers, but all of them were baffled. Despite her suffering Cherie remained determined to find answers and beat her illness to reclaim her life.

This is a powerful story of one woman’s determination to not just survive her illness, but to thrive. The first step is figuring out what her illness is. Cherie suffers for years, seeking help wherever she can, as she struggles to keep herself alive. She writes with strength and brutal honesty, taking the reader through the depths of her suffering until she emerges on the other side.

Cherie Kephart was raised in Venice, California, but served in the Peace Corps in Zambia, where she fell ill. After returning home, she struggled for years to find out what was wrong with her. A Few Minor Adjustments is her story.

(Galley provided by Bazi Publishing in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The End of the World Running Club, by Adrian J. Walker

end of the world running club
Image belongs to Sourcebooks.

Edgar Hill is a “meh” father at best:  he’s content to let his wife take care of the kids while he avoids responsibility and contemplates his dreary life. Until the sky begins to fall, and he only has a few hours to prepare. With a rain of asteroids imminent, Edgar is catapulted into motion, trying to scrape together everything he can to help save his family from the apocalypse. They are trapped in their basement for two weeks, and emerge into a world almost totally devastated.

With a few other survivors, they attempt to sort out their lives. When Edgar is out on a supply run one day, his family is rescued and taken all the way across the country in preparation for evacuation. Now he has only weeks to make it to them, with no vehicles, no supplies, and crazy, power-hungry scavengers who want to rule their own territories between him and his family. Running is the only answer. And Ed has never been much of a runner—more of a couch potato—so the lack of supplies isn’t even his biggest obstacle. Will his ragtag group make it to safety in time?

This novel mixes a dystopian, end-of-the-world feel with literary prose to achieve an adventure that focuses on the outer obstacles, but also a man’s struggles with his own inner ugliness. Ed isn’t a nice guy. He loves his family, but he’s kind of—okay, definitely is—a jerk. The end of the world doesn’t change that, but it does shake loose something in Ed and make him realize how precious his family is. Ed’s friend, Bryce, is a fantastic supporting character, injecting humor and attitude that Ed is decidedly lacking. This was a good read that gave me a bit to think about.

Adrian J. Walker was born in Australia, but now lives in London. The End of the World Running Club is his newest novel.

(Galley provided by Sourcebooks via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Long Ride Home, by Tawni Waters

The Long Ride Home, by Tawni Waters
Image belongs to Sourcebooks.

Harley lost her mother a few months ago, and she hasn’t even begun to recover. But it’s summer now, and summer is a time of change. So, Harley sets off on a road trip to come to terms with her loss, find out more about her mother’s past, and scatter her mother’s ashes. Her best friend, Dean, goes along for the ride, but Harley doesn’t know what to do about their relationship—which caused her to shut Dean out when they became more than friends.

Soon enough, Harley realizes she’s pregnant with Dean’s child. Hiding her secret as she learns more about her mother’s life, she realizes her mother faced the same choices she now does. If she is ever to know what the right decision for her is, she’ll have to find out the truth about her mother’s past.

From the first page, Harley’s voice drew me into this story. She’s hurting so badly from her loss, and she’s shut everyone out as a result, but she wants to change. Her internal journey is as compelling as it is painful, and the reader is dragged along for the ride, over the bumps and through the bruises, until Harley finds clarity.

Tawni Waters grew up near an abandoned hippie commune in New Mexico. The Long Ride Home is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by Sourcebooks via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Salt Line, by Holly Goddard Jones

the salt line
Image belongs to Penguin/Putnam.

In the future, life in the United States has contracted behind a wall of scorched earth—The Salt Line—that keeps citizens safe from deadly ticks that carry a horrific disease. Social media is ever-present, and life isn’t too different from now. Instead of going on big-game safaris to Africa, the wealthy pay to travel outside the safe zone, into the America outside the salt line.

A pop star’s girlfriend, Edie; tech genius Wes, and housewife Marta are all part of the same excursion, but once through their three weeks of survival training, they realize their vacation trip has more in store than they ever suspected. Ending up as hostages to a group of outer-zone survivors, they discover the darker secrets holding up their world, and find themselves at the mercy of everyone who wants to keep those things secret.

At first the idea of a tick causing everyone to retreat behind walls was a little bit hard for me to adjust to, but yeah, I’d run from these things, too. The world of The Salt Line is just familiar enough to make the idea of killer ticks even more scary, with social media a constant focus of every life (sound familiar?). This is a novel about an ensemble cast, which can be hard to pull off, but Jones nails it, and the backstories and motivations of her characters kept me just as engaged as the “current” action.

Holly Goddard Jones’ newest novel is The Salt Line.

(Galley provided by Penguin Group/Putnam via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Bitter Past by Caroline Fardig

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Image belongs to Caroline Fardig.
Ellie Matthews teaches forensics at a private college now, but she used to be a crime scene investigator, until one horrifying murder case turned personal. Now she teaches aspiring CSI students, and dotes on her young nephew. Then she finds the body of a murdered student, and suddenly her world is in chaos.

Ellie’s mentor asks her to consult on the case, and soon Ellie is in the thick of a murder investigation in which her closest academic colleague is the chief suspect. While Ellie races to make sense of the evidence and identify the killer, more bodies pile up, and soon Ellie has no idea who she can trust.

I’ve read—and loved—all the Java Jive books, so I was excited to read Caroline Fardig’s newest endeavor, and I was not disappointed. Ellie is a complex character, and her past haunts her, no matter how much she tries to pretend otherwise. She likes her quiet life as a professor, but her past as a CSI calls to her as well. I had to keep changing my guesses as to who the murderer was, and I didn’t quite get it right. I loved the premise, and the setting, and I look forward to reading more of Ellie’s adventures.

Caroline Fardig is the best-selling author of the Lizzie Hart Mysteries and the Java Jive Mysteries series. Her newest novel, Bitter Past, is the first book in the Ellie Matthews series.

(Galley provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.)

Books I Read in August

August was a good reading month. I read seventeen books.

any dream will do

Any Dream Will Do, by Debbie Macomber. (Read to review.) I thought this romance was a bit different from this author’s usual fare–not that I’ve read all of her works–but a pastor struggling to raise his kids after his wife’s death and a just-out-of-prison woman working to create a new life for herself made a nice change of pace.

The Almost Sisters, by Joshilyn Jackson. (From my TBR pile.) How can I forget how much I like this author? gods in Alabama introduced me to the world of Southern fiction, and this tale of a comic book author pregnant with a mystery Batman’s baby who goes back to a tiny Southern town when her grandmother starts going crazy and ends up finding a skeleton in a trunk in the attic and a dark family secret is a gripping, wonderful read. bonus points for the sweet tea love and the handling of race issues.

earthquake

Things that Happened Before the Earthquake, by Chiara Barzini(Read to review.) Um. Literary fiction is hit or miss with me. The writing was evocative, but the family this was about was a big turn-off for me. The MC was self-destructive, and I could never get a sense of the why for her actions.

Blackhearts and Blacksouls, by Nicole Castroman (The first has been sitting on my Kindle for months.) I really enjoyed these two books, which are meant to be Blackbeard’s origin story–and romance, of course. Teach and Anne are great characters, and their relationship and backstories are both well-developed. Very enjoyable reads.

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Recapturing The Wonder, by Mike Cosper. (Read to review, plus a spiritual book.) Very good read from an author with a great voice.

if the creek don't rise

If the Creek Don’t Rise, by Leah Weiss (Read to review.). Um…I did not care for this one much. The setting—Appalachia–was tough to read about, as was the poverty and mindset of the characters.

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All the Wicked Girls, by Chris Whitaker (Read to review). Great Southern Gothic about a teenage girl who disappears and the entire town’s search for what happened to her.

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Mask of Shadows, by Linsey Miller (Read to Review.) Fantasy with a gender-fluid main character. This was a pretty unique read that I enjoyed, despite some contradictions.

Dumplin’, by Julie Murphy (Has been languishing on my Kindle for months.) Loved this! A teenage girl grapples with her body image in a small Southern town. The characters in this novel are fantastic! Seriously. You must read this!

Side Effects May Vary, by Julie Murphy (Because I loved Dumplin.) I did not care for the MC, who is a teenage girl with cancer. She was pretty mean to everyone around her, and I found her mostly unlikable.

On the Wings of a Whisper, by Lynette Bonner (From a different culture.) Short. Too short. I enjoyed what there was of it, though.

The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Arthur Conan Doyle (Classic book of the month.) Can’t believe I’ve never read this before!

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The Girl with the Red Balloon, by Katherine Locke (Read to review.) Time-travel via balloon into Berlin Wall-era Germany, Loved the characters, the world, and the story!

Bitter Past, by Caroline Fardig (Review forthcoming.) The beginning of a new series for this author, about a forensics professor asked to assist in a murder investigation that has swept over her small college.

Boundaries, by Dr. Henry Cloud.

The Salt Line, by Holly Goddard Hones (Review forthcoming.) Very unique dystopian tale where America has retreated behind walls to escape the deadly ticks found outside. Not what I was expecting at all!

Linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy for Quick Lit.

Book Review: The Girl with the Red Balloon, by Katherine Locke

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Image belongs to AW Whitman.

For Ellie Baum, being in Berlin on a school trip is little unsettling:  she’s grown up listening to tales from her grandfather, who escaped from a death camp in 1942. She loves her grandfather, but his stories don’t always make sense. Like the ones of the balloons carrying people to safety. She’s heard his stories, she just doesn’t believe them. Until she catches the string of a red balloon, and ends up in East Berlin in 1988, before the Berlin Wall fell.

Stranded in the midst of an oppressive regime, Ellie meets Kai, one of the Runners who help balloon passengers escape over the wall. But no one knows what happened to Ellie’s balloon; they just know its real Passenger is dead. With the help of Kai and Mitzi, Ellie must unravel the mystery of her time travel if she’s ever to return to her own time. But someone want to use time travel to change history. And that person doesn’t care who has to die to do so.

At first, I wasn’t too sure about this book and Ellie herself, but I ended up really loving it. This is such a unique concept, and I’ve personally not read much—if anything—set in East Berlin while the Wall was still up. The tale of Ellie’s grandfather is just as enthralling as Ellie’s is, and Kai and Mitzi are so intriguing I wanted to know much more about them. A very compelling book, set in a bleak time in history.

The Girl with the Red Balloon is Katherine Locke’s first YA novel.

(Galley provided by AW Teen via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)