Category: books

Book Review: Before I Let Go, by Marieke Naijkamp

 

before i let go
Image belongs to Sourcebooks Fire.

Corey and Kyra grew up as best friends in tiny Lost Creek, Alaska. Kyra was vibrant and artistic—and manic/depressive, so the town ostracized her for being different. But Corey was always there for her. Until Corey’s mom got a new job and Corey had to move away, promising Kyra she’d be back in exchange for Kyra’s promise to stay strong.

Days before Corey’s visit home, Kyra dies, and Corey is devastated. Her grief turns to confusion when she returns to Lost, and discovers the town has changed in her absence. Everyone grieves for Kyra, but whispers that her death was meant to be.

Corey doesn’t know what to think. The town that shut Kyra out seems to have embraced her in the past months, but the more Corey asks questions, the more she’s treated as an outsider herself. As she tries to learn more about what happened to Kyra, the more her suspicions grow. Lost is hiding a secret—and Corey can’t get through the darkness to the truth.

I’m just going to say it:  this was a weird book. It’s a mix of YA, magical realism, and death investigation—kind of. Lost comes to vivid, haunting life on the pages, and the characters are both compelling and strange.  Kyra and Corey’s friendship was heartwarming and sad, and I enjoyed Corey’s attempts to find out the truth about her friend. In the end, though, I still wasn’t quite sure what happened. An interesting, unpredictable read.

Marieke Naijkamp was born and raised in the Netherlands. She is the New York Times bestselling author of This is Where It Ends. Her newest novel is Before I Let Go.

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

 

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Book Review: An Eye for an Eye, by Caroline Fardig

an eye for an eye
Image belongs to Caroline Fardig.

Ellie Matthews is a forensics professor not a crime scene investigator for a reason:  she got tired of her job taking over her life. When she was asked to consult on a high-profile case a few months ago, she got sucked back in, but she’s been happily back at teaching for a while now, enjoying her normal life.

Until a family friend disappears, and Ellie is called to consult again—on the disappearance of someone she cares about. Ellie is thrown together with Detective Nick Baxter as they try to find the missing girl.

When the girl turns up dead with a pointed message, they realize hurting law enforcement is the game the clever killer is playing. Then Ellie’s sister disappears, and the killer strikes a deal: if Ellie and Nick solve a years-old murder case, he’ll release her sister unharmed.

Tensions mount as Ellie struggles to uncover evidence from years ago, while also searching desperately for traces of her sister. She and Nick butt heads as she struggles to cope, and he tries to get her to see just how damaged she is.

I’ve loved everything Caroline Fardig has written (that I’ve read, anyway), and An Eye for an Eye is no exception. The forensics blends seamlessly with the narrative, and the slow investigation had me desperate to find out who the killer was. Nick and Ellie mesh well as they work as an investigative team, but the personal undercurrents grow stronger throughout the novel. This novel works well to both entertain and keep the reader’s mind engaged in the mysteries.

Caroline Fardig is the USA Today best-selling author of The Lizzie Hart Mysteries and The Java Jive Mysteries series. An Eye for an Eye is the second book in the Ellie Matthews series.

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

Book Review: The Immortalists, by Chloe Benjamin

immortalists_1
Image belongs to Penguin/Putnam.

In 1969, the Gold family lives on the Lower East Side in New York City. Life is normal, boring even, until the four children hear a neighborhood rumor that a local gypsy can tell you the exact date you will die, and decide to see for themselves. After all, what could it hurt? It takes some time, but they finally track down where the woman lives. They must see her alone, so one by one, they enter her shadowy apartment and listen to her words. They never tell each other what she says, but they never forget their dates.

Simon escapes the trap of familial expectations to find love as a dancer in San Francisco. Klara, who has dreamed of magic her whole life, finds reality overpowering, and becomes a magician in Las Vegas. Daniel has a steady future as an Army doctor, but finds the expectations of his job may be more than he’s willing to give. And Varya becomes a researcher in longevity, seeking to unlock the key to a long life, despite the dreariness of her own.

All of them are shaped by the gypsy’s words, and seek to prove her prediction wrong, but sometimes fate is inescapable.

Let me say, first of all, that I think The Immortalists simply wasn’t a good fit for me. I was very intrigued by the premise, and I love family-saga stories, so it seemed a good match. However, the book is told in four segments, one for each character, and I never felt like I really connected with any of them. Briefly, yes, but not enough to truly enjoy the novel.

Benjamin’s writing is lovely and evocative; I could practically smell the streets of San Francisco and feel the heat of the spotlights, but I never connected emotionally with the characters. I did read this quickly, so perhaps, in a different frame of mind, my experience would have been different.

Chloe Benjamin is an award-winning author from San Francisco, California. The Immortalists is her newest novel.

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

#TheImmortalists

 

Book Review: The Night Market, by Jonathan Moore

the night market
Image belongs to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

In a near-future society where mindless shopping—the desire for “more”—motivates humanity, darkness threatens to take over. Most people don’t even notice something is wrong—nor do they care. They just want more stuff. Homicide detective Ross Carver notices. Sometimes. When he’s not too busy trying to solve the unrelenting crimes that threaten the streets.

One Thursday evening, he visits a crime scene where the victim is covered in a strange substance that’s eating his skin. When FBI agents surround Ross, he’s hustled to a decontamination trailer, hosed down, and forced to drink a strange liquid that gives him seizures. He wakes up in his own bed three days later, with no memory of what happened. And he doesn’t know why his neighbor, Mia, whom he’s never spoken to, is sitting by his bed, reading.

Ross sets out to find out what’s going on. The bits he uncovers convince him that something terrible is going on in America, something that is being covered up by people in high places. He doesn’t know how Mia’s involved, but something tells him to keep her close—that she knows far more than she’s letting on.

I didn’t realize The Night Market was part of a larger world of stories, so the worldbuilding really threw me for a loop. It was like the present-day world, except slightly skewed. Skewed in a terrifying, I-don’t-want-to-live-on-this-planet-anymore way. Society has taken consumerism far beyond today’s ridiculous levels. The snapshots of marketing stunts and the feeding frenzy that ensues was horrifying to me—and believable.

Ross unknowing walks into a mess far beyond anything he’s every considered, and it takes every ounce of instinct and skill to keep himself alive. This is a dark book, and I really had no idea what was going on until the end. And even then, I’m still not sure.

Jonathan Moore is a Honolulu attorney whose fiction has been short-listed for the Bram Stoker Award. The Night Market is his newest novel.

(Galley provided by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Black Painting, by Neil Olson

The Black Painting
Image belongs to Hanover Square.

The Morse family is known for old money, the East Coast, and a stolen Goya painting. The painting, a self-portrait said to cause madness and death in anyone who views it, was stolen years before. None of the four cousins—Kenny, James, Audrey, and Teresa—have visited the family home at Owl’s Point—or their grandfather—since, amidst the accusations and blame over the painting’s disappearance. Not to mention the rumors of madness.

But now their aging grandfather wants to see them. Individually. Considering the patriarch’s age, the cousins think the summons is related to their inheritance, so they go. When Teresa and Audrey arrive, they find their grandfather’s body, his terrified gaze fixed on the spot where the missing painting once hung.

With the family gathered to mourn, old accusations are resurrected, and the police start asking questions—not just about the old man’s death, but about the missing painting, which is worth millions. Determined to find out who killed her grandfather, Teresa starts digging into the past, hoping to prove her own father wasn’t mad…and that she has not inherited that madness. But even missing, the black painting has a strange effect on everyone connected to it, and the darkness may be too much for Teresa.

This book sounded like a perfect fit for me:  I love family mysteries like this, although the painting creeped me out a tiny bit. However, this family is crazy. Legitimately. No matter which family member I was reading about—and even some of the non-familial characters—I could not make a connection because their thoughts and actions seemed completely illogical to me. Which kind of makes sense if viewed through the lens of a family closely associated with a painting that supposedly drives everyone around it mad. I finished reading it, but I am rarely a fan of books without characters I can care about. This book was not the right fit for me.

Neil Olson is a publishing industry professional, as well as an author. The Black Painting is his newest novel.

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

 

 

Book Review: The Forgotten Book, by Mechthild Gläser

the forgotten book
Image belongs to Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan.

Emma’s life is pretty good. She attends a prestigious boarding school. Her friends all trust her enough to ask her for advice. She’s pretty sure the guy she’s had a crush on for ages is about to ask her out. Things are going well. Except for arrogant Darcy de Winter, the heir to the family who owns the school, who’s there searching for clues about his missing sister.

Then someone trashes the abandoned library Emma and her friends have taken as “theirs,” and Emma finds an old book hidden there. The book is filled with pages written by many different people over the years. A diary of sorts, Emma thinks, and she starts writing in it as well.

When the things Emma writes in the book come true—sort of—Emma realizes there’s more to the book than she thought. But someone else knows of the book’s power, and will stop at nothing to take it from Emma. Emma must unravel the mysteries hidden in the book—and the school—if she’s to figure out what the book is—and who’s after it.

The Forgotten Book is labeled as YA, but that seems a tiny bit too old for this book, to me. Or maybe Emma’s led such a sheltered life that she seems younger. And, considering this is a boarding school, there is surprising little conflict or animosity between a group of students who all live together. Everyone gets along. That was the most far-fetched part of this book for me. Not the magic book.

I enjoyed the mystery, as Emma tries to figure out the secrets of the book, as well as the mysterious creature mentioned in the book. The school sounds like a fantastical place to live, or at least to visit. Emma is an interesting character:  she’s very innocent and oblivious to some things, but she’s inquisitive enough to make up for her naivety.

Mechthild Gläser is an award-winning German author. The Forgotten Book is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

 

What I Read in 2017

My goal for 2017 was to read 100 books. I actually read 174 books. Kind of mad I didn’t get to 175…

Here’s my Year in Books on Goodreads, if you want to see what I read.

And here are my monthly recap posts:

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

September

October

November

December

My goal for 2018 is 150. Let’s see how this year in reading goes.

What did everyone else read in 2017?

Book Review: Where I End, by Katherine Elizabeth Clark

where I end
Image belongs to Moody Publishers.

When you’re on the playground with your kids, you expect to have fun and be silly. You don’t expect your entire life to change in an instant, when a small boy jumps off the jungle gym and lands on your head, breaking your neck, but that is what happened to Katherine Clark in May 2009.

Katherine was paralyzed from the neck down, and doctors diagnosed her with quadriplegia and said she’d never walk again. She had emergency spinal surgery that night, but the doctors told her husband she was no longer the same person. They expected her to be a burden for the rest of her life. They expected her to feel sorry for herself and accept her new, horrifying reality. They were wrong.

Instead, God worked a tremendous miracle in Katherine’s life. Her time in a rehab hospital was marked with frustration and tears, but her trust in God was accompanied by progress every day. By the middle of July, Katherine had learned to walk again and returned home. She experienced the deep, abiding love of God, even in the midst of overwhelming pain and trouble, and she clung to Him and His truths to see her through.

I wanted to read Where I End because of the similarities to my own medical history (a stroke 4 ½ years ago because of an unsuspected birth defect, given a 98% fatality rate, told by a doctor “You’ll never be normal again.”) It is terrifying when your life changes in a single instant, but the experience can be a profound blessing. Katherine Clark tells her story with openness and honesty, and the reader feels her pain and her fear, as well as her hope and her joy. If you need something uplifting in your life, this is the book for you!

Katherine Elizabeth Clark is a mother, a wife to a theologian, and a writer. Where I End is her true story.

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

What I Read in December

I read 21 books this month, bringing my total for the year up to 174. Quite a bit past my goal of 100 books for the year…

Sir Percy Leads the Band, by Emmuska Orczy (classic). I found this “sequel” to The Scarlet Pimpernel to be a fun, entertaining read. And Sir Percy is such a fantastic character, able to change his persona so completely.

Life and Other Near Death Experiences, by Camille Pagan (cultural book of the month, except not). I thought this was going to be mainly set in the Caribbean, hence its place as “cultural” book, but it wasn’t. It was a very enjoyable read about a woman who finds out she has cancer, and, on the same day, her husband tells her he’s gay. So she runs away to Caribbean to deal with the idea of her pending death. A funny read, and Libby is such a likeable and relateable character that I finished this quickly.

Once Upon a Time by Debbi Macomber (spiritual book of the month). This author is one of the very few “romance” authors I’ll read, and this book was par for her:  well-written, thoughtful, and it spoke to me.

Empire of Ivory, by Naomi Novak (TBR/just because). Another solid read in this series. I can’t believe I let these sit unread on my shelf for years

as you wish

As You Wish, by Chelsea Sedoti (read to review). A magical realism read about a town where every person is granted one wish on their 18th birthday, and it always comes true.

bad call

Bad Call, by Stephen Wallenfels (read to review). This is a YA suspense about a girl and three guys who go hiking in Yosemite and end up in the midst of a snowstorm, with no food and no shelter. One of them doesn’t come back. A decent level of suspense, but the characters’ motivations had me wondering why so much that I’d rate the book three out of five.

How to Hang a Witch, by Adriana Mather (from my Tulsa book haul). So…I didn’t pay attention to the fact that the book was by one of the Mathers—of Salem Witch Trial notoriety—until I finished the book. The book is about a Mather descendant who moves to Salem and discovers the curse that haunts all of the descendant families—and she tries desperately to uncover the truth and stop the curse before it kills her father. I enjoyed this book, and it had a prominent dose of creepiness.

wolves of winter

The Wolves of Winter, by Tyrell Johnson (read to review). I loved this book! Finished it in just a few hours, straight through, because I couldn’t put it down. A dystopian about Lynn, who lives with her family in the Yukon after nuclear war and disease collapsed civilization. Survival is the focus, until Lynn meets Jax, who shows Lynn a destiny she can’t even comprehend. I can’t speak highly enough about this book, and its unique (to me) setting.

Where I End, by Elizabeth Katherine Clark (review forthcoming). The true story of Katherine Clark, who broke her neck when a boy on the playground fell on her. The doctors told her she’d never walk again, but God had other plans. An uplifting, inspiring read.

Believe, edited by Randy Frazee (person/spiritual). I’ve been reading this tome since August. Lots to digest here, but broken down into easy chunks.

Mesmerized_Mock-up dpi 72

Mesmerized, by Candace Camp (read to review). Olivia works to expose mediums and their tricks, but finds herself in the midst of events she can’t explain away, when she starts seeing visions from Blackhope Hall’s past, events that seem to feature the current lord of the manor, Stephen, as well. A solid period romance, with the “mad Morelands” providing even more interest.

Wedding Bells, Magic Spells, by Lisa Shearin (as a treat). I love the Rain Benares books, and this was no exception. Lots of action, smart humor, and, of course, the lovely Mychael.

The Forgotten Book, by Mechthild Glaser (review forthcoming). This is a YA fantasy about Emma, who goes to a prestigious boarding school, and who finds an old book full of scribblings.  But this is not your typical journal:  everything written in the book comes true…in a manner of speaking. I enjoyed this book, and the myths and mystery added depth to it. I thought the school—and its students—were a bit too good to be true—no cliques, no enemies, and a whole lot of freedom, but I enjoyed this very much.

The Black Painting, by Neil Olsen (review forthcoming). This was merely a “meh” read to me. Frankly, the characters were too confusing, and the narrative was too disjointed–which makes sense for a novel about characters who arguably all have a mental illness–for me to really get into. And the painting by Goya is very creepy to me.

Firebrand, by Kristen Britain (as a Christmas weekend treat). I absolutely love this series. SO MUCH. Karigan is such a strong character, yet so flawed, and I can both sympathize with and respect her. The characters in this series are so vibrant I feel like I know them personally, and I am drawn into all their stories. This is probably one of the best fantasy series I’ve ever read. Loved it!

Breaking Rules, by S.B. Alexander (to review, but stopped reading). I made it about halfway through this before I stopped reading. There are a ton of good reviews on Goodreads, but the characters are too wishy-washy for me. One second, Train was charming and flirty, the next he was a rude jerk. And sometimes Montana was strong and independent, and sometimes she was also just a jerk.

Menagerie and Spectacle, by Rachel Vincent (Read the first as a treat, because it was already on my Kindle, then had to buy the second one immediately.) I am a huge Rachel Vincent fan, and Menagerie had such a unique concept. Sadly, I could totally see “normal” humans acting this way towards anyone different—because that happens all the time. Looking forward to the enxt one.

The Holy Bible, as an obvious spiritual choice, that I read via a 365-day reading plan.

The Stars Never Rise and The Flame Never Dies, by Rachel Vincent (Read the first as a treat, because it was already on my Kindle, then had to buy the second one immediately.) I finished the first one in about 3 hours, then had to make myself ration the second one…for two days. Fantastic concept. where demons really exist and have consumed all the available souls as they try to take over a world run by the Church, who is desperate to catch natural exorcists. So good!

Linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy for Quick Lit.

 

 

Book Review: The Wolves of Winter, by Tyrell Johnson

wolves of winter
Image belongs to Scribner.

It wasn’t enough for nations to disagree. They had to add nuclear war to the mix, changing both the environment and nature, making food scarce and luxuries like electricity and chocolate a thing of the past. Then came the Asian Flu, and millions died, changing the landscape of the world even more.

For years, a nomadic, secretive existence is the only thing that kept them alive. Now, for seven years, Lynn and her family—mother, brother, honorary uncle and his adopted son—have huddled together in their tiny community in the Yukon wilderness, hunting and struggling to eke out a hardscrabble existence in a world gone mad. Then Lynn finds an injured stranger and his dog and brings them home, never dreaming what she was unleashing on them all.

Jax has been used as a weapon for too long; now he’s on the run, desperate to keep ahead of his enemies. “Alone” is the only safety he knows. But when Lynn and her family get caught up in his fight to survive, he realizes there is far more going on than he knew, and he must decide whether to keep his solitary existence, or fight for a glimpse of hope for mankind.

I’m not going to lie: I do love dystopian novels. Well, I love good dystopian novels. Wolves of Winter is far, far more than “good.” No, the idea of a world decimated by war and sickness isn’t new, but the execution of the concept is, and the characters are as well. We get to know Lynn:  her strengths, weaknesses, hopes, and desires, and we watch as she starts growing into the person she can be. I cannot imagine the strength it would take to survive in the Yukon with no modern conveniences to fall back on (First World problem, I know), but Lynn shines through with grace and love for her family, leaving the reader riveted to the page. I read this straight through in one sitting, and I cannot recommend it highly enough!

Tyrell Johnson loves the outdoors. Wolves of Winter is his debut novel.

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