Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Review: Cause of Death by Patricia Cornwell


Goodreads Overview;

It is New Year's Eve, the last day of Virginia's bloodiest year since the Civil War. Dr. Kay Scarpetta plunges into the murky depths of a ship graveyard to recover the very human remains of Ted Eddings, an investigative reporter. What kind of story was Eddings chasing below the icy surface of the Elizabeth River? And why did Scarpetta receive a phone call from someone reporting the death before the police were notified? She soon discovers that Eddings' murder is merely the first layer of something much deeper --- a labyrinthine conspiracy that will put all of her criminal and forensic knowledge to the test like never before. For Scarpetta, the real challenge won't be cataloging the growing number of dead bodies, but preventing herself and those she loves from becoming the next victims.

Review:

This is the 7th book in the Kay Scarpetta series. While all of the books involve independent cases that can be read and enjoyed on their own, I would recommend reading the series in order if you plan on reading more than just a few of them. The characters and their relationships with others in the series evolve from one book to the next. It would be rather confusing in that aspect if you decide to skip around. 

In this installment, Kay is investigating the murder of a reporter that worked relatively closely with her office. Her assistant medical examiner in another distract, who should be the one handling this case, had a death in the family and had to return to England for the funeral. He offered to let Kay stay at his house while he is gone, which she accepted. When people start prowling around his house, she begins to question her own safety and why her assistant is really out of town. 

Another member of her staff is impacted by the investigation and an unusual event takes place at her office. Someone really doesn't want the results of this investigation to get out. The closer Kay and her team get to the truth, the more dangerous things become.

Now that Kay's niece, Lucy, has graduated from the FBI Academy, she is an actual member of Benton Wesley's team. He is a profiler for the FBI and heads up a number of investigations in this series. Kay is one of his consultants and doesn't have a second thought about putting herself in danger, but she does not want Lucy on the front lines. Lucy is a computer genius, which should allow her to work behind the scenes, but that is not the role Lucy wants and Benton is not about to hold her back. She is a valuable member of his team and he takes full advantage of her skills in this book.

Overall, this was enjoyable murder mystery. There are currently 25 books in the series, so it is a daunting undertaking if you plan on reading the entire series. I have been reading these books since 2011. This isn't the type of series you have to continue reading for fear of forgetting some of the content, so I pick one up whenever I am looking for a good murder mystery. I enjoy the characters and both the police and medical aspects of the investigations. I do find it humorous to read about some of the technology now that these books are almost 25 years old. What was high tech and advanced back then is archaic now. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Review: The Queen by Kiera Cass


Goodreads Overview:

Before America Singer's story began, another girl came to the palace to compete for the hand of a different prince….

Don't miss this digital original novella set in the captivating world of Kiera Cass's #1 New York Times bestselling Selection series. This prequel story takes place before the events of The Selection and is told from the point of view of Prince Maxon's mother, Amberly. Discover a whole new Selection with this inside look at how Maxon's parents met—and how an ordinary girl named Amberly became a beloved queen.

Review:

After reading this novella it is hard to understand how Prince Maxon's father turned out the way he did. He was actually a very likable character in this story. His parents weren't the best role models and I believe it was his mother who may have set the poor example he eventually emulated.

I enjoyed learning more about Amberly and her selection process. She wasn't as strong and polished as  she was in the Selection series. She came from a farming background and her family was poorer than their class rank implied. In addition, the conditions in the region where she lived often lead to illness. For years Amberly suffered from headaches as a result, but she discovers the effects may be greater than she imagined. As much as she wants to marry the prince, she doesn't know how she will ever be able to compete. It was interesting to see what qualities appealed to Prince Clarkson and why she was eventually chosen.

This is a quick read and a nice addition to the series. While it isn't essential to the overall story, I would recommend reading it if you have read the rest of the series. I downloaded the ebook from the library, so it didn't cost me anything to get a glimpse into what life was like at the palace before Maxon was in the picture. 

Monday, January 6, 2020

Review: The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown


Review:

My husband rowed in high school and college and still rows as an adult. I tried it for a few years and could definitely relate to the grueling schedule and workouts involved, even at a lower level of competition. My husband read the adult version of this book and really enjoyed it, so my 14 year old son and I read this YA version as one of his choice books for school.

The story begins with Joe Rantz as an old man telling his story to Daniel James Brown, who decides he would like to write a book about Joe.  Joe tells him the story shouldn't be about him, but needs to be about "the boat." Brown is a little confused because he believes Joe is talking about the rowing shell or the crew, but he is actually referring to something that is almost beyond definition. "The boat" was a shared experience when 9 men came together to achieve greatness.

Rowing had a long history in the Ivy league where wealthy young men enjoyed competing in this prestigious sport. Joe was not as fortunate. He was poor and worked hard to attend the University of Washington where he hoped to earn an engineering degree and improve his quality of life.  He had enough money to pay for his first year of college, but needed to make the rowing team if he wanted any chance of having enough money to finish his degree. The team ended up consisting of mostly young men like him. They were strong, hard working, and determined to work through the pain to achieve a goal.

The story isn't just about rowing. It teaches a number of life lessons while sharing some of the many struggles that took place during the depression. The book also explores what it was like in Nazi Germany before and after the 1936 Olympics. Hitler put on a remarkable show for the general public, but what was going on behind the scenes was deplorable and ultimately lead to the start of the second world war.

This is a very motivational story that people of all ages can learn from. It is about overcoming obstacles, perseverance, and teamwork. These working class boys with no prior experience were able to achieve greatness by putting their teammates ahead of themselves. “What mattered more than how hard a man rowed was how well everything he did in the boat harmonized with what the other fellows were doing. And a man couldn’t harmonize with his crewmates unless he opened his heart to them. He had to care about his crew.”

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Review: Skipping Christmas by John Grisham


The Kranks' daughter, Blair, leaves for the Peace Corp. and for the first time ever, will not be home for Christmas. Luther, an accountant, went through all of his receipts from the prior year and discovered exactly how much Christmas cost them last year...and what did they have to show for it? Why not spend half as much and enjoy a luxurious Caribbean cruise since it is just the two of them this year?

It sounds like a great idea until word begins to spread. The neighbors are upset because their street likely will not win the decorating contest since one house will not have a giant Frosty on the roof. Various charities arrive and the Kranks have to tell them they are skipping Christmas this year. Friends are disappointed they will not be hosting their annual Christmas Eve Party. Coworkers can't believe they will not be at the office party. Even their pastor is disappointed to hear they will not be at the Christmas Eve service. 

Everywhere they go they are reminded of the frivolousness of the season and Luther is pleased with his decision. His wife, on the other hand, is tired of all of the grief and wants to give in to a few requests, but Luther stands firm. No Christmas this year!!

Everything is going reasonably well until they receive a call from Blair on Christmas Eve. She is in Miami  and will be home in a few hours to surprise them for Christmas. Of course, she is expecting a big holiday party, a tree, Frosty on the roof, and a wonderful Christmas meal. Will the Kranks be able to pull together a traditional Christmas in less than a day?

This was an entertaining and hilarious holiday story and definitely put the season into perspective. How much do people really spend on a holiday, which is supposed to be about celebrating the birth of Jesus? Is it really worth all of the time, energy and effort we put into it every year? It isn't about the money or the gifts. It is about the tradition and spending time with friends and family. The Kranks learn this lesson in a rather amusing way and I'm sure will not try Skipping Christmas ever again.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Review: Sweet Reckoning by Wendy Higgins


Sweet Reckoning is the third and final book in the Sweet series. There is a fourth book, which is a companion novel told from Kaidan's POV, but this is the conclusion to the original story. 

The Nephilim are well aware of what their fathers, the Dukes/Demons, are capable of and are ready to risk their lives to rid the earth of them once and for all. Not all of the Dukes are evil, even though they must carry out their sinful work of spreading greed, lust, envy, substance abuse, etc. One of them in particular, Anna's father, has been helping to organize an alliance between some of the Neph. The other Dukes are beginning to suspect there is a traitor amongst them and begin monitoring him and all of their children very closely.

There were several twists and loop holes that were exploited in this book that greatly added to the overall enjoyment. All of the Neph still needed to be very careful, but we were able to see more of their true feelings and personalities in this book. I loved seeing the twins - Ginger and Marna, Blake, Kapano, Kaidan, and Anna all working together for good instead of evil. 

Unfortunately, there couldn't be a happily-ever-after for everyone in the series. We did lose a couple of characters along the way, which was very sad. With the Neph's new found faith and understanding that they were no longer condemned to hell, the loss wasn't nearly as painful as it could have been. They all realized they would be reunited some day.  

In addition to Kai and Anna, a few other couples emerged out of the alliance. It was great to see the Neph free to finally make their own decisions and live their lives on their own terms. If you enjoy paranormal romance, I would definitely recommend this series. 

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Review: One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus


This book has been on my TBR list since it was released back in May 2017. When I was at the library a couple of weeks ago, this was sitting prominently displayed on one of the shelves and I couldn't resist any longer. It was described as "The Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little Liars." While I haven't read Pretty Little Liars yet, I am very familiar with The Breakfast Club and loved the movie growing up.

I could definitely see the comparison with The Breakfast Club from the very beginning of the book. Five students, who seemingly couldn't be any more different from each other, end up in detention together because of something they claim is a mistake. The teacher found prohibited cell phones in their bags, which are not theirs, but he refuses to listen to them.

Simon is a smart kid who has always been sort of an outsider. When he starts an app that calls out all the indiscretions his fellow classmates have made, and identifies them by their initials, he is not only feared but hated by most of the students. 

Bronwyn is most likely going to be this year's valedictorian and has her sights set on Yale. 
Addy is the popular homecoming queen. 
Nate is on probation for dealing drugs.
Cooper is the star pitcher on the baseball team and could go pro right out of high school.

Simon ends up dying during detention and the remaining four students are now being accused of murder, but they all insist they are innocent. Unfortunately, Simon had something on all of them and planned on outing them in his next post. The police think this is motive for murder and continue questioning everyone, hoping they will crack. Their lives spiral out of control as their secrets are revealed, but they are no closer to solving the murder and are continuously under scrutiny. 

This was an excellent murder mystery. I guessed who the murderer was, but I had no idea how everything was accomplished or who else was involved. I really enjoyed the characters and seeing how these teens worked together to solve the murder when the police refused to look beyond what was obvious. They took it upon themselves to clear their names when nobody else would even give them the benefit of the doubt. 

I love murder mysteries, but there aren't too many that I have come across that are YA. I have a 14-year-old son who wouldn't like most of the YA books that I read because they appeal more to female readers. I feel like this is a great option for young boys and is something he would definitely enjoy. It is told from each of the four main characters' points of view, so the reader can see and feel how the events are impacting each of them individually. I really talked it up to my son while I was reading it, so I hope he will give it a try for his next choice book. There are so many secrets that are constantly revealed and the high school drama was never ending. I can't imagine he wouldn't get hooked.


Monday, December 2, 2019

Review: They All Fall Down by Roxanne St. Claire


Review:

At the start of the book we are introduced to Kenzie Summerall, who is your typical over achiever.  She is a member of the Latin club and is hoping to win a state Latin competition that could earn her a scholarship to the college of her dreams. She is not one of the popular girls and certainly doesn't consider herself prom queen material, so she is shocked when her name appeared on the annual "hottie list" at school.

For the past thirty years at Vienna High, the junior class boys have voted on the top ten hottest girls in their class.  Appearing on the list instantly catapulted Kenzie to the top of the social circles.  She is now being invited to parties and boys she never would have even considered to be in her league were asking her out.

The girls on the list form a sorority of sorts when they start having near death experiences.  When the first member on the list dies from an accident, they think it must be an unfortunate coincidence.  When the second girl dies, they believe they are cursed. Kenzie doesn't believe there is a curse, but instead thinks there is a serial killer who is taking advantage of this annual tradition.  Being number five on the list, she realizes she must work quickly to solve this mystery or they could all fall victim.

This was an entertaining YA murder mystery.  I never would have guessed why the "hottie list" was first established and what its role was in the larger scope of the story.  This book doesn't appear to have a sequel, but I felt like the author left a great opening to potentially continue the story with a few of the more prominent characters.

Overall, I liked the story, but it wasn't a sit on the edge of your seat type of thriller. I enjoyed all of the Latin quotes and how Roxanne tied in some ancient Roman history. I also felt like Kenzie's character grew tremendously over the course of the novel. She was very weak and timid in the beginning, but she really took charge and acted with remarkable bravery to help save and protect herself and the people she loves in the end. I also admired the fact that the author brought to light the fact that Levi, a new boy at the school the previous spring, was dyslexic. Everything anyone seemed to know about him was based on speculation and gossip, but Kenzie gave him a chance. He had a rough childhood and is trying to turn things around. As easy as it was for some of the students to blame him for the accidents because of his reputation, and the fact that he always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, Kenzie didn't buy it and even sought his help in solving the murders. These two are polar opposites, but they made a great team and a perfect couple.