Tag: reading

Book Review: The Left-Handed Booksellers of London, by Garth Nix

Image belongs to HarperCollins Children’s Books/Katherine Tegen Books.

Title: The Left-Handed Booksellers of London
Author:  Garth Nix   
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

In a slightly alternate London in 1983, Susan Arkshaw is looking for her father, a man she has never met. Crime boss Frank Thringley might be able to help her, but Susan doesn’t get time to ask Frank any questions before he is turned to dust by the prick of a silver hatpin in the hands of the outrageously attractive Merlin.

Merlin is a young left-handed bookseller (one of the fighting ones), who with the right-handed booksellers (the intellectual ones), are an extended family of magical beings who police the mythic and legendary Old World when it intrudes on the modern world, in addition to running several bookshops.

Susan’s search for her father begins with her mother’s possibly misremembered or misspelt surnames, a reading room ticket, and a silver cigarette case engraved with something that might be a coat of arms.

Merlin has a quest of his own, to find the Old World entity who used ordinary criminals to kill his mother. As he and his sister, the right-handed bookseller Vivien, tread in the path of a botched or covered-up police investigation from years past, they find this quest strangely overlaps with Susan’s. Who or what was her father? Susan, Merlin, and Vivien must find out, as the Old World erupts dangerously into the New.

This was a fun book! Odd—delightfully odd—with great characters. I loved Merlin (and I can’t see him as anything except Johnny Depp in Willie Wonka). There’s a bit of mystery, some overtones of a thriller/murder mystery, and a whole lot of magic and legend in this book, giving it the feel of a fairy tale set in the modern—sort of—world. I definitely recommend reading this!

Garth Nix is from Australia. The Left-Handed Booksellers of London is his newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of HarperCollins Children’s Books/Katherine Tegen Books in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Don’t Look for Me, by Wendy Walker

Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title: Don’t Look for Me
Author: Wendy Walker
Genre: Thriller
Rating: 4 out of 5

One night, Molly Clarke walked away from her life.

She doesn’t want to be found.

Or at least, that’s the story.

The car abandoned miles from home.

The note found at a nearby hotel.

The shattered family that couldn’t be put back together.

They called it a “walk away.”

It happens all the time.

Women disappear, desperate to leave their lives behind and start over.

But is that what really happened to Molly Clarke?

This was not what I was expecting at all, and a little odd and creepy…in a good way, I suppose. Molly has been through the worst thing she can imagine, and her family has fallen apart ever since that fateful day. Some days she wants to walk away, but she’d never actually go through with it…or would she?

There are many layers in this novel, many twists and turns and false trails, but the reader always gets the sense that something else is going on. The author does an excellent job building the suspense and keeping the identity of the person involved hidden—and there’s a bit twist at the end that I didn’t see coming. This is not a small town I’d like to visit.

Wendy Walker is a bestselling author. Don’t Look for Me is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Broken, by John Rector

Image belongs to Thomas & Mercer.

Title: Broken
Author:  John Rector   
Genre: Fiction, thriller
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Welcome to Beaumont Cove, a slowly decaying tourist town at the edge of the world, and the place where Maggie James’s worst fears for her estranged twin sister, Lilly, have come true.

Lilly is dead, and Maggie has arrived to identify her body.

Lilly’s husband, Mike, is in custody for her murder. With his long history of abuse, no one in town is surprised at the inevitable end to their stormy marriage, least of all Maggie. All she wants is to clean up her sister’s affairs, see Mike punished, and get out of Beaumont Cove.

With the help of the local sheriff, a retired private investigator, and a strange but friendly carnival psychic, Maggie begins to uncover the truth about what really happened to her sister. But the truth comes at a price, and soon Maggie finds herself walking a dark path toward the same deadly trap that killed Lilly.

The more Maggie discovers about her sister’s final days, the more she realizes that nothing is as it appears in this strange boardwalk town.

This novel is technically sound:  solid writing, unique characters, an interesting setting. But there was nothing unexpected here. I found it basically predictable—yes, even the carnival psychic—with just a tiny bit of creepy due to the setting (empty tourist town).

Maggie was not a likable character to me at all. Hateful, judgmental, and a liar, to boot. (Yes, I know what Mike was a horrible person to her sister, but still, what she did to him was Wrong.) I ended up feeling little to no sympathy for her, and that made the whole book just “meh.”

John Rector lives in Nebraska. Broken is his newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Thomas & Mercer in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman

Image belongs to Atria Books.

Title: Anxious People
Author:   Fredrik Backman  
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5

Looking at real estate isn’t usually a life-or-death situation, but an apartment open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes a group of strangers hostage. The captives include a recently retired couple who relentlessly hunt down fixer-uppers to avoid the painful truth that they can’t fix their own marriage. There’s a wealthy bank director who has been too busy to care about anyone else and a young couple who are about to have their first child but can’t seem to agree on anything, from where they want to live to how they met in the first place. Add to the mix an eighty-seven-year-old woman who has lived long enough not to be afraid of someone waving a gun in her face, a flustered but still-ready-to-make-a-deal real estate agent, and a mystery man who has locked himself in the apartment’s only bathroom, and you’ve got the worst group of hostages in the world.

Each of them carries a lifetime of grievances, hurts, secrets, and passions that are ready to boil over. None of them is entirely who they appear to be. And all of them—the bank robber included—desperately crave some sort of rescue. As the authorities and the media surround the premises these reluctant allies will reveal surprising truths about themselves and set in motion a chain of events so unexpected that even they can hardly explain what happens next.

I guess I should say that I’m a big fan of Backman’s voice and style. A BIG fan. I read My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry last month and now it’s in my top five favorite books ever. The voice in this one is phenomenal as well. Examples:

“This story is about a lot of things, but mostly about idiots.” 

“Hand on heart, which of us hasn’t wanted to pull a gun after talking to a twenty-year-old?”

“The policeman clenches his teeth so hard that he looks like he’s trying to breathe through his toenails.”

Lines like that are priceless, am I right? I laughed a lot while reading this—straight through in one sitting, by the way—and I thoroughly enjoyed all the different characters and the vignettes we saw of their lives and personalities. This was not what you’d expect from a novel about a bank robbery and a hostage situation, but it is what you’d expect from Fredrik Backman: pure delight.

Fredrik Backman is a bestselling author. Anxious People is his newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Atria Books in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: In Case You Missed It, by Lindsey Kelk

Image belongs to HarperCollins.

Title: In Case You Missed It
Author: Lindsey Kelk    
Genre: Women’s fiction
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

When Ros steps off a plane after four years away she’s in need of a job, a flat and a phone that actually works. And, possibly, her old life back. Because everyone at home has moved on, her parents have reignited their sex life, she’s sleeping in a converted shed and she’s got a bad case of nostalgia for the way things were.

Then her new phone begins to ping with messages from people she thought were deleted for good. Including one number she knows off by heart: her ex’s.

Sometimes we’d all like the chance to see what we’ve been missing…

I don’t think I’ve read any of this author’s work before, but judging from this, she’s a solid, capable writer. I laughed a few times, I enjoyed the description of life in London, and it was a quick read. Ros’s mother’s wardrobe malfunctions were the funniest parts to me.

Ros herself was a disaster, and it’s hard for me to sympathize with a character who keeps doing stupid stuff and ignoring things. Like the behavior of her ex—who is her ex for a reason—or the fact that she looks at everything through rose-colored glasses. She’s clueless and selfish, and while I enjoyed her friend group, Ros acted like a spoiled teenager and the plot was predictable all along.

Lindsey Kelk was born in England and Lives in L.A. In Case You Missed It is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: Furia, by Yamile Saied Méndez

Image belongs to Algonquin Young Readers.

Title: Furia
Author: Yamile Saied Méndez     
Genre: YA
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Camila Hassan lives a double life. At home, she is a careful daughter, living within her mother’s narrow expectations, in her rising-soccer-star brother’s shadow, and under the abusive rule of her short-tempered father. On the field, she is La Furia, a powerhouse of skill and talent. When her team qualifies for the South American tournament, Camila gets the chance to see just how far her talents can take her. In her wildest dreams, she’d get an athletic scholarship to a North American university, but the path ahead won’t be easy. Her parents, who don’t know about her passion, wouldn’t allow a girl to play fútbol—and she needs their permission to go any farther. Meanwhile, the boy she once loved, Diego, is not only back in town, but has also become an international star, playing in Italy for the renowned team Juventus. Things aren’t the same as when he left: Camila has her own fútbol ambitions now, and La Furia cannot be denied. As her life becomes more complicated, she is forced to face her secrets and make her way in a world with no place for the dreams and passion of a girl like her.

This is an excellent read! The setting comes to life on the page—even for someone who’s never seen an Argentina barrio—and the picture of life there is hard and dark, but with glimmers of light in unexpected places.

Camila is tough as nails, and she keeps her soft spots hidden from everyone:  her parents, her friends, even Diego. I loved reading about her determination to succeed, no matter what obstacles stand in her way.

Yamile Saied Méndez is from Argentina but now lives in Utah. Furia is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Algonquin Young Readers in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Before She Was Helen, by Caroline B. Cooney

befor she was helen
Image belongs to Poisoned Pen Press.

Title: Before She Was Helen
Author: Caroline B. Cooney  
Genre: Fiction, mystery
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

When Clemmie goes next door to check on her difficult and unlikeable neighbor Dom, he isn’t there. But something else is. Something stunning, beautiful and inexplicable. Clemmie photographs the wondrous object on her cell phone and makes the irrevocable error of forwarding it. As the picture swirls over the internet, Clemmie tries desperately to keep a grip on her own personal network of secrets. Can fifty years of careful hiding under names not her own be ruined by one careless picture? 

And although what Clemmie finds is a work of art, what the police find is a body. . . in a place where Clemmie wasn’t supposed to be, and where she left her fingerprints. Suddenly, the bland, quiet life Clemmie has built for herself in her sleepy South Carolina retirement community comes crashing down as her dark past surges into the present.

The description of this novel didn’t give me a clue of the confusion that came along with it. Because Clemmie is only Clemmie in her own thoughts and in her memories. She goes by Helen in her life and that’s what everyone knows her as. And her niece and nephew are clueless and selfish and get her into heaps of trouble with their thoughtlessness—but who would ever have suspected “Helen” was hiding secrets like this?

I liked the idea of this “helpless” little old lady being a disguise for someone who went through a terrible ordeal fifty years ago, but it just wasn’t very realistic to me. And the busybodies at the retirement community…no, thank you. I’d have moved just to escape from them.

Caroline B. Cooney started writing stories when she was in the sixth grade. Before She Was Helen is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Poisoned Penn Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: What They Meant for Evil, by Rebecca Deng

 

what they meant for evil
Image belongs to FaithWorks.

Title: What They Meant for Evil
Author:  Rebecca Deng
Genre: Nonfiction
Rating: 4 out of 5

One of the first unaccompanied refugee children to enter the United States in 2000, after South Sudan’s second civil war took the lives of most of her family, Rebecca’s story begins in the late 1980s when, at the age of four, her village was attacked and she had to escape. What They Meant for Evil is the account of that unimaginable journey. With the candor and purity of a child, Rebecca recalls how she endured fleeing from gunfire, suffering through hunger and strength-sapping illnesses, dodging life-threatening predators-lions, snakes, crocodiles, and soldiers alike-that dogged her footsteps, and grappling with a war that stole her childhood.

I cannot imagine the strength it takes to go through something like this…and to not just survive but thrive! I love how the story is told through Rebecca’s eyes at the age the events happened. This gives the story even more impact. While the things she went through are horrific—and the idea that untold numbers also experienced the violence and pain of this same war—her determination and accomplishments are very inspiring!

Rebecca Deng is one of the Lost Girls of Sudan who came to the U.S. in 2000 to escape the violence and war that had plagued her country for years. What They Meant for Evil is her story.

(Galley courtesy of FaithWords in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: Road Out of Winter, by Alison Stine

road out of winter
Image belongs to Harlequin/MIRA.

Title: Road Out of Winter
Author: Alison Stine
Genre: YA
Rating: 4 out of 5

Surrounded by poverty and paranoia her entire life, Wil has been left behind in her small Appalachian town by her mother and her best friend. Not only is she tending her stepfather’s illegal marijuana farm alone, but she’s left to watch the world fall further into chaos in the face of a climate crisis brought on by another year of unending winter.  

With her now priceless grow lights stashed in her truck and a pouch of precious seeds, Wil upends her life to pursue her mother in California, collecting an eclectic crew of fellow refugees along the way. She’s determined to start over and use her skills to grow badly needed food in impossible farming conditions, but the icy roads and desperate strangers are treacherous to Wil and her gang. Her green thumb becomes the target of a violent cult and their volatile leader, and Wil must use all her cunning and resources to protect her newfound family and the hope they have found within each other.

 This was rather dark and depressing—so the author did an excellent job of setting the tone and mood of the story. The idea of never-ending winter is sobering, at the very least. Wil is an interesting character. She’s so used to being the outcast, the one everyone shuns, that it’s a big adjustment to have people around who actually need her.

I enjoyed the character growth she experienced, but the book just depressed me, frankly. Lots of horrible people willing to steal and kill in order to get ahead, even if they don’t actually need what they’re stealing. Wil is like a tiny ray of light in a dark room in this story, and even though she sometimes flickers, she does not go out.

Alison Stine lives in the Appalachian foothills. Road Out of Winter is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/MIRA in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Sing Like No One’s Listening, by Vanessa Jones

sing like no one's listening
Image belongs to Peachtree Publishing.

Title: Sing Like No One’s Listening
Author: Vanessa Jones    
Genre: YA
Rating: 4 out of 5

Nettie Delaney has just been accepted into a prestigious performing arts school–the very same school her superstar mother attended. With her mother’s shadow hanging over her, Nettie has her work cut out for her–and everyone is watching. To make matters worse, Nettie hasn’t been able to sing a single note since her mother died. Whenever she tries, she just clams up. But if Nettie’s going to survive a demanding first year and keep her place in a highly coveted program, she’ll have to work through her grief and deliver a showstopper or face expulsion.

All may not be lost, however, when Nettie stumbles upon a mysterious piano player in an empty studio after class. Masked behind a curtain, can Nettie summon the courage to find her voice? Or will the pressure and anxiety of performing come crashing down?

This was a fun book! I know nothing about professional dancing or singing or performing, so I can’t say if it was accurate there, but if felt accurate. The author did an excellent job of connecting the reader to Nettie’s struggles and investing them in her journey.

The secondary characters were larger-than-life and a lot of fun, and I enjoyed seeing Nettie conquer her fears—all of them, not just the singing—and grow into her own person. A fun, inspiring read.

Vanessa Jones lives in Rome. Sing Like No One’s Listening is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Peachtree Publishing in exchange for an honest review.)