Friday, December 17, 2021

Review: Replica by Lauren Oliver

 


Goodreads Overview:

Lyra

From a distance, the Haven Institute, tucked away on a private island off the coast of Florida, looks serene and even beautiful. But up close the locked doors, military guards, and biohazard suits tell a different story. In truth, it is a clandestine research facility where thousands of replicas, or human models, are born, raised, and observed.

But when a surprise attack is launched on Haven, two of its young experimental subjects—Lyra, or 24, and the boy known only as 72—manage to escape. As they make their way through a new and menacing environment, they meet a stranger named Gemma, who has embarked on a perilous quest of her own. And as Lyra tries to understand Haven’s purpose, she uncovers earth-shattering secrets that will change the lives of both girls.

Gemma

Gemma has been in and out of hospitals her whole life. A sickly child, she has grown into a lonely adolescent whose life is circumscribed by home, school, and her best friend, April.

But after she is nearly abducted by a stranger claiming to know her, Gemma starts to investigate her family’s past and discovers her father’s mysterious connection to the secretive Haven research facility. Hungry for answers, she travels to Florida, only to stumble upon two human models, or replicas, 24 and 72—and a completely new set of questions. As Gemma tries to unravel the mysteries of Haven, she learns terrible truths about herself and her family that will threaten to destroy everything she loves.

Two girls, two stories, one novel.

While the stories of Gemma and Lyra mirror each other, each contains revelations critically important to the other story. Their narratives can be read separately or in alternating chapters.

Review:

I picked up a copy of this book at BEA several years ago and just now got around to reading it. I had already read Oliver's Delirium series, Panic, and Rooms, so I was familiar with her work. This is quite different from anything else I have ever read because it is essentially two stories in one.

 I decided to read it by alternating between the two stories. I definitely think that is the way to go because the stories overlap. I think it would have felt redundant to read the second story after completing the first when you already know what is going to happen. There is additional detail, which makes it worthwhile if you alternate chapters, but it just as easily could have been condensed and had alternating narrators like many authors do. As it was, you had to read one chapter, mark your page, flip the book over, read a chapter, mark your page, etc. The book ended in the middle of the physical book when the two stories converged.

This book explains what was going on at Haven, the history behind the research, and shows how the children were impacted and treated in the facility. They were nothing more than a number and were not given the emotional and physical support a child needs to grow and mature. They were locked up on an island and had no idea what existed in the rest of the world. When the facility is destroyed by an explosion, Lyra and 24 are forced to work together. They cross paths with Gemma, who looks exactly like another replica Lyra knows, but she doesn't seem to realize this and has clearly been living outside of Haven. None of them trusts each other, but Gemma wants answers she hopes the replicas can provide and the replicas do not have the skills or resources to survive on their own.

The scientists will do anything to keep what was going on at Haven a secret, but Gemma is determined to uncover the truth and get the replicas to safety. We don't really get to see what happens after the initial escape, so I am excited to see there is another book in the series. While this isn't my favorite book by Lauren Oliver, it was still entertaining and I am invested enough in the characters to continue with the series.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Review: All the Tides of Fate by Adalyn Grace

 


Goodreads Overview:

Through blood and sacrifice, Amora Montara has conquered a rebellion and taken her rightful place as queen of Visidia. Now, with the islands in turmoil and the people questioning her authority, Amora cannot allow anyone to see her weaknesses.

No one can know about the curse in her bloodline. No one can know that she’s lost her magic. No one can know the truth about the boy who holds the missing half of her soul.

To save herself and Visidia, Amora embarks on a desperate quest for a mythical artifact that could fix everything―but it comes at a terrible cost. As she tries to balance her loyalty to her people, her crew, and the desires of her heart, Amora will soon discover that the power to rule might destroy her.

Review:

I received the first book in this series, All the Stars and Teeth, in one of my Owlcrate book boxes. I really enjoyed the story and was pleased with how it concluded in this installment.

This time around Amora is determined to break her curse and restore her magic. To disguise her real agenda, she sets out on a tour of the islands to find a husband. The entire charade is ludicrous since she is already in love with Bastian, but she will not admit that even to herself. Amora gathers the crew together from last time, with a few notable additions to bolster their magical talents. 

For the majority of the book Amora is haunted by the death of her father, even though he was far from the type of leader she hopes to be. She is very naive and falls victim to a couple of attacks from her subjects that no longer want to be ruled by a monarchy. While she believes she can be a better ruler than her father and wants to help her people, she constantly considers what she would do if she had the opportunity to bring him back to life. The pressure is more than she wants to endure and, in my opinion, she is looking for the easy way out.

Lies and deception put a lot of strain on the relationships of the crew. Once everything is out in the open, there are some hurt feelings, but they need to work together if they have any chance of breaking the curse. I was shocked by the ending, but it really was the only way things could have worked out in the end. I was happy to see that this was only a duology and Adalyn didn't try to stretch it into a trilogy. There was plenty of content and action to keep readers engaged, but an additional book likely would have fallen short of expectations. I wish more authors would follow suit when there simply isn't enough content to justify an additional book in a series.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Review: Just One Day by Gayle Forman


Goodreads Overview:

When sheltered American good girl Allyson "LuLu" Healey first meets laid-back Dutch actor Willem De Ruiter at an underground performance of Twelfth Night in England, there's an undeniable spark. After just one day together, that spark bursts into a flame, or so it seems to Allyson, until the following morning, when she wakes up after a whirlwind day in Paris to discover that Willem has left. Over the next year, Allyson embarks on a journey to come to terms with the narrow confines of her life, and through Shakespeare, travel, and a quest for her almost-true-love, to break free of those confines.

Review:

Just One Day has been on my TBR list since 2014. I loved If I Stay and Where She Went by Gayle Forman, so I was pretty sure I would love this series as well. I'm not sure what took me so long to read it, but I'm certainly glad that I did.

Allyson receives a European vacation as her high school graduation present from her parents. It wasn't what she had hoped for until she has one magical day in Paris with Willem De Ruiter, an actor she meets at a street performance of Twelfth Night. When he is nowhere to be found the next morning, she assumes the worst of him. 

She returns to the United States and goes off to college to fulfill her Mother's dream of becoming a doctor. Her first semester of school is a disaster. She is not interested in her classes, has very poor grades, and isn't fitting in socially. She is consumed by what happened in Paris and simply can't put it behind her. She is depressed and the book drags as a result. When the guidance counselor convinces her to take a class on Shakespeare and some other electives outside of the pre-med curriculum, she finally begins to find her place and the book takes off again. She meets Dee, who is a drag queen, and begins to form her first real friendship on campus. She eventually opens up about what happened and the two begin searching the internet for a way to contact Willem. She needs to know what really happened so she can move on with her life.

Very little turns up, so she decides to get a summer job. She saves enough money to return to Paris to continue her search for clues. Just when her quest appears to have gone bust, she finds a glimmer of hope. Perhaps Willem didn't just disappear after all. 

The ending was very abrupt with a bunch of unanswered questions left hanging in the balance. I can hardly wait to read Just one Year to get Willem's take on the events that took place that day in Paris and to see what he went through this past year.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Review: The Queen's Gambit by Walter Tevis

 


Goodreads Overview:

When she is sent to an orphanage at the age of eight, Beth Harmon soon discovers two ways to escape her surroundings, albeit fleetingly: playing chess and taking the little green pills given to her and the other children to keep them subdued. Before long, it becomes apparent that hers is a prodigious talent, and as she progresses to the top of the US chess rankings she is able to forge a new life for herself. But she can never quite overcome her urge to self-destruct. For Beth, there’s more at stake than merely winning and losing.

Review:

My husband watched the Netflix series and said I HAD to watch it, so of course I had to read the book first. I know absolutely nothing about chess, but I still found this to be a highly entertaining read. 

Beth Harmon is orphaned when her mother is killed in a car accident at the very beginning of the book. She goes to live at Methuen orphanage, where she is given tranquilizers along with the rest of the children to keep them calm. She developed an addiction to the pills, which led to further problems with addiction down the road.

One day she observes the school janitor, Mr. Shaibel, sitting at a chess table debating his next move. She become intrigued and eventually asks if she can play. He is reluctant, but agrees to teach her the basics. It quickly becomes clear that she is an exceptional player with endless potential, but when she is adopted by the Wheatley's, she is no longer able to play. She doesn't have a chess set at home and there isn't a chess team at her school. When she is able to scrape up enough money to enter a local tournament and wins some prize money, Mrs. Wheatley finally sees Beth's potential. She isn't supporting Beth because it is something she enjoys, but because of the income she can bring to the family. They have been struggling to make ends meet and this could be the answer to their problems.

The rest of the book details Beth's struggles with addiction and the training and focus needed to become a Grand Master. She quickly moves up the rankings, but her addiction is a constant struggle that could prevent her from reaching her ultimate goal. There were a lot of detailed scenes describing moves in chess and the various games she was playing, which went COMPLETELY over my head. If you play the game, this may be something you can appreciate and learn from, but I had no clue. I could still appreciate the amount of focus and dedication that was required and the fact that she was an outsider trying to make it to the top of a man's world. Nobody gave her the credit and respect she deserved until they were on the losing end of a match with her.  Not only did she have to overcome the gender hurdle, but the belief that it took years if not decades to achieve greatness in the game of chess. Here she was at the age of 13 beating the best of the best and the chess elite could not explain it.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book and have already started watching the series. I am two episodes into the seven episodes and Netflix has nailed it so far. They are sticking pretty close to the original storyline and I am enjoying seeing these characters brought to life. I can see why this series was such a huge hit.  I would highly recommend the book and the series if you haven't already read or watched it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Review: An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

 


Goodreads Overview:

When it comes to relationships, Colin Singleton's type happens to be girls named Katherine. And when it comes to girls named Katherine, Colin is always getting dumped. Nineteen times, to be exact.

On a road trip miles from home, this anagram-happy, washed-up child prodigy has ten thousand dollars in his pocket, a bloodthirsty feral hog on his trail, and an overweight, Judge Judy-loving best friend riding shotgun--but no Katherines. Colin is on a mission to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which he hopes will predict the future of any relationship, avenge Dumpees everywhere, and finally win him the girl.

Love, friendship, and a dead Austro-Hungarian archduke add up to surprising and heart-changing conclusions in this ingeniously layered comic novel about reinventing oneself.

Review:

This was one of the choices for my son's junior year summer reading, so I read it along with him. This wasn't my favorite John Green novel, but it did have some good messages.

Colin is a child prodigy, but is obsessed with achieving greatness. He spends countless hours working on his relationship theorem because he believes that is what it will take for his life to matter. People use their life experiences to set goals for themselves and to determine their successes, failures, and self worth. Colin learns that he needs to live in the moment and not to force greatness. He will be remembered for his life story regardless.

Another theme that was expressed throughout the book is to be yourself. Colin meets a girl named Lindsay when they stop in Gutshot to visit a tourist attraction on their road trip. Lindsay wasn’t popular as a child and changes who she is to  make people like her. Throughout the book Colin notices how she changes her personality and accent based upon who she is with. She eventually learns there is no point in changing for others because there is always someone who will love you as you are.

Overall, I felt like there were some great messages in this story that readers could learn and benefit from. I'm sure that is why it was selected for their summer reading, but it was quite tedious reading some of the dialog regarding the theorem and all of the Katherines. What Colin eventually discovers from his calculation is enlightening to readers, but it took a long time to get to the point. Unless you are also a child prodigy or a mathematician, you will probably want to skim over those sections. My son listened to the audiobook and was completely glassed over with all of the square roots and power of Xs. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Review: Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey

 


Goodreads Overview:

From the Academy Award®–winning actor, an unconventional memoir filled with raucous stories, outlaw wisdom, and lessons learned the hard way about living with greater satisfaction

I’ve been in this life for fifty years, been trying to work out its riddle for forty-two, and been keeping diaries of clues to that riddle for the last thirty-five. Notes about successes and failures, joys and sorrows, things that made me marvel, and things that made me laugh out loud. How to be fair. How to have less stress. How to have fun. How to hurt people less. How to get hurt less. How to be a good man. How to have meaning in life. How to be more me.

Recently, I worked up the courage to sit down with those diaries. I found stories I experienced, lessons I learned and forgot, poems, prayers, prescriptions, beliefs about what matters, some great photographs, and a whole bunch of bumper stickers. I found a reliable theme, an approach to living that gave me more satisfaction, at the time, and still: If you know how, and when, to deal with life’s challenges - how to get relative with the inevitable - you can enjoy a state of success I call “catching greenlights.”

So I took a one-way ticket to the desert and wrote this book: an album, a record, a story of my life so far. This is fifty years of my sights and seens, felts and figured-outs, cools and shamefuls. Graces, truths, and beauties of brutality. Getting away withs, getting caughts, and getting wets while trying to dance between the raindrops.

Hopefully, it’s medicine that tastes good, a couple of aspirin instead of the infirmary, a spaceship to Mars without needing your pilot’s license, going to church without having to be born again, and laughing through the tears.

It’s a love letter. To life.

It’s also a guide to catching more greenlights - and to realizing that the yellows and reds eventually turn green too.

Good luck.

Review:

I listened to the audio book and would HIGHLY recommend listening instead of reading this book. It is narrated by Matthew and he does an AMAZING job, which you would expect from an actor. I literally laughed out loud a number of times. I do not believe the story would have come across the same way without his tone and manner of telling these sometimes unbelievable stories.

Matthew did not come from a wealthy celebrity family. He shares what his family life was like growing up and what it took to make it in Hollywood. His rise to fame did not happen overnight. He tells the struggles of a poor actor living on people's couches and how he travelled the country in his van with his dog. He eventually buys an Airstream that he calls Canoe that he still has today. I can't even imagine the look on people's faces when Matthew McConaughey pulls into the campsite next to them. I can appreciate the anonymity camping provided him and why he would prefer that to the mobs of fans that likely flock to him everywhere else he goes. Campers understand the desire for peace and quiet and are also looking for some relaxation and solitude. The chances of someone at a campground venturing over for an autograph or a selfie is highly unlikely. He did mix with some of the people he met along the way and it seemed like he fit in just about everywhere he went. Whether it was with the locals in the Amazon as he floated down the river or on a disastrous exchange trip to Australia. Regardless of how bad the situation was, he always seems to find a greenlight.

This book is very inspiring and motivational. You definitely have to give McConaughey credit for his honesty and ability to turn his everyday life into a book that everyone can appreciate and learn from. We should all spend more time looking for the greenlight in what may appear to be a red or yellow light situation. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Review: Point of Origin by Patricia Cornwell

 


Goodreads Overview:

Dr Kay Scarpetta, Chief Medical Examiner and consulting pathologist for the federal law enforcement agency ATF, is called out to a farmhouse in Virginia which has been destroyed by fire. In the ruins of the house she finds a body which tells a story of a violent and grisly murder.

The fire has come at the same time as another even more incendiary horror: Carrie Grethen, a killer who nearly destroyed the lives of Scarpetta and those closest to her, has escaped from a forensic psychiatric hospital. Her whereabouts is unknown, but her ultimate destination is not, for Carrie has begun to communicate with Scarpetta, conveying her deadly - if cryptic - plans for revenge.

Chillingly mesmeric in tone, labyrinthine in structure, Point of Origin is Patricia Cornwell at her most dazzling.

Review:

I am still plugging away with the Kay Scarpetta series. This is the 9th book in the series, but there are currently 25 books, so I have a long way to go. At the rate Cornwell is going, I don't think I will ever catch up. I do enjoy the series and was shocked by what took place at the end of this novel.

This time around Kay is investigating an arson that took place on a horse farm. It appears to be an isolated case, but she soon connects it to some other cases. Besides the fact that a roaring fire consumes the houses with way more fuel than there should have been based upon the contents and structure, there doesn't appear to be a connection. The victims are not linked and they can't determine how the fires are getting so large. Gasoline or other traceable fuel sources aren't detected, but in each case the fire appears to be concealing evidence related to a murder.

Carrie Grethen is a returning character who wreaked havoc previously in this series. She was finally locked up in a psychiatric facility awaiting trial, but manages to escape. Now that she is on the loose, Kay and her niece Lucy are not going to be safe until she is recaptured. Carrie is toying with them throughout the novel and has a huge part in the ending. 

Benton and Kay are now essentially living together, but their relationship is a bit strained. She can't seem to get away from the job and is constantly putting her personal life on the back burner. They were supposed to get away for a vacation, but this case hits too close to home and she once again can't pull herself away. 

I will not give anything away, but the ending was CRAZY. Kay, Marino, Lucy and the rest of the team get to the bottom of this case, but I don't think they will ever be the same after this. On the plus side, we should be finished with Carrie once and for all. I do not really care for how Cornwell continues to rely on previous cases to propel this series forward. I prefer more of the structure of the Women's Murder Club or Stephanie Plum novels that are independent stories with evolving characters and personal relationships. I do not want to relive the previous cases over and over again. Hopefully after this installment we can finally move on to something fresh. 

Friday, November 5, 2021

Review: The Paris Mysteries by James Patterson

 


Goodreads Overview:

The City of Lights sets the stage for romance, drama and intrigue in the latest Confessions novel from the world's bestselling mystery writer!

After investigating multiple homicides and her family's decades-old skeletons in the closet, Tandy Angel is finally reunited with her lost love in Paris. But as he grows increasingly distant, Tandy is confronted with disturbing questions about him, as well as what really happened to her long-dead sister. With no way to tell anymore who in her life she can trust, how will Tandy ever get to the bottom of the countless secrets her parents kept from her? James Patterson leads this brilliant teenage detective through Paris on a trail of lies years in the making, with shocking revelations around every corner.

Review:

This is the third book in the Confessions series. While it is set in Paris and there are a number of interesting facts and secrets that emerge, this wasn't my favorite book in the series. I gave it a generous three stars and will continue with the series, but I did not like one of the angles the plot took at the end. Perhaps there is an explanation and things will go in another direction in the next installment, but it just seemed so random and incomprehensible. 

This time around Tandy is trying to find out more about her family's past, specifically her Grandmother who's house they are now living in. In addition, she is investigating what happened to her sister Katherine and the mystery man she was with at the time of the accident. This part of the story I did enjoy along with the twisted connections back to her uncle and her family's pharmaceutical company. 

The other major part of the book was trying to find Tandy's boyfriend James Rampling, who is pretty much in hiding because of his father's controlling ways. Once they are reconnected, he splits again without any sort of explanation because of "the danger their relationship will put Tandy in if his father finds out". This is a complete load of crap in my opinion as evidenced by events that took place later in the book. I really do not see why Patterson did a complete 180 with this character and how it will benefit the series in the end. The same is true for Tandy's "best friend" C.P. who turns out to be the worst friend in history. She was such a sweet character and was dating Tandy's twin brother Harry before they left New York. How things shifted so dramatically in such a short period of time is beyond me. 

There is only one book remaining in the series, so I hope Patterson and Paetro will get things back on track. After reading the description for Confessions The Murder of an Angel and some of the reviews on Goodreads, I do not plan on rushing into reading this final book. As one reviewer put it, "It ends with a fizzle" and another says "the first book in the series was the best of all and it was downhill from there - especially the fourth book". This does not sound promising. 

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Review: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

 


Goodreads Overview:

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says good-bye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets GaĆ«tan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.

With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of World War II and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France—a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.

Review:

I purchased this book at BEA shortly after it was released due to all of the hype. It was a Goodreads choice award winner back in 2015 and I had just started reading more historical fiction. I am not sure why it sat on my TBR shelf for 5+ years before I finally got around to it, but I am glad I finally did. This was an exceptional story that easily earned the 5 stars I rated it on Goodreads.

This book tells a very realistic and heart wrenching tale of what it was like for the women, children, and elders that were left behind in France while their husbands, fathers, and other loved ones went off to fight in the war. The Nazi's were increasingly more aggressive and violent as the war went on and resources such as food, fuel, and clothing became more and more scarce. The locals were left to starve while the soldiers lived relatively comfortably on the provisions they stole from the area residents.

There can't be a novel based upon WW2 without focusing on the Nazi's treatment of the Jews. One of Vianne's closest friends is Jewish, so we get to see first hand how the persecution escalated and what could happen to sympathizers. Vianne even takes it upon her self to start hiding Jewish children who were orphaned, which was an extremely dangerous thing to do, but it was her way of contributing to the war effort. 

In addition, we get to see how Isabelle helps allied soldiers escape German occupied France.  This was an EXTREMLY dangerous job physically in addition to what would happen if she was caught. 

It seems like there are so many historical fiction novels out now that are set during the WW2 time period. So far I have read this book and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Both of these books were fabulous and I would highly recommend them. I am planning on reading All The Light We Cannot See, since it is also an award winner, but I am probably going to wait until next year. I do not think I am ready for such heavy material again so soon. 

Friday, October 15, 2021

Review: Always and Forever Lara Jean by Jenny Han

 


Goodreads Overview:

And there’s still so much to look forward to: a class trip to New York City, prom with her boyfriend Peter, Beach Week after graduation, and her dad’s wedding to Ms. Rothschild. Then she’ll be off to college with Peter, at a school close enough for her to come home and bake chocolate chip cookies on the weekends.

Life couldn’t be more perfect!

At least, that’s what Lara Jean thinks . . . until she gets some unexpected news.

Now the girl who dreads change must rethink all her plans—but when your heart and your head are saying two different things, which one should you listen to?

Review:

Overall I enjoyed the book and this series, but there was a lot of unnecessary drama that I think could and should have been avoided. Maybe it is because I am quite a bit older than the average YA reader, but I found some of Lara Jean and Peter's actions and decisions to be extremely immature in this book. I get the fact that the author needed some tension in the story and that an over the top happily ever after probably wasn't what she was going for, but it was emotionally draining at times.

Peter and Lara Jean have everything all planned out. Peter already has a lacrosse scholarship and will attend the same college Lara Jean's parents attended that has always been her number one choice. She is anxiously awaiting her acceptance letters, but things do not pan out as she had hoped. This puts a lot of strain on their relationship as they try to navigate what a long distance relationship might be like. 

In addition to the college planning, Lara Jean's Dad and Ms. Rothchild are in the midst of planning their wedding. Lara Jean has visions of a grand event with all the bells and whistles, but this is a second marriage for both of them. They would be happy with a simple ceremony with close friends and family, which Lara Jean just can't comprehend. In addition, there is a major transition as Ms. Rothchild moves into their family home and starts to add her own personal touches.

There is a lot of change taking place and Lara Jean just doesn't know how to deal with it. She makes some rash decisions that she ultimately ends up regretting. Thankfully, she is able to get things back on track and I was pleased with how the series ended. 

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Review: Blacklist by Alyson Noel

 


Goodreads Overview:

Layla Harrison has finally found herself in the middle of a celebrity story worth reporting. Aster Amirpour’s name is in every tabloid—even if it isn’t the good kind of publicity she hoped for. Tommy Phillips is inches away from getting the girl of his dreams, which may be harder than scoring a VIP ticket to an Unrivaled nightclub.

But Layla, Aster and Tommy never imagined it would be because they’re entangled in the disappearance of Madison Brooks—a story that’s blinded the world like a starlet blinded by the flash of a paparazzi camera.

Now, Layla is receiving mysterious messages from an anonymous source, Aster’s looming murder trial is so huge even her parents’ lawyer can’t save her, Tommy is retracing his steps as the last person Madison saw alive, and Layla’s ex Mateo finds himself lured into the fold.

You can dig up dirt about celebrities that the tabloids miss if you search long enough. But when Layla, Aster, and Tommy team up with an unsuspecting insider to unearth the truth, they’ll find that some secrets are best kept in the grave.

Review:

This is the second book in the Beautiful Idols series and I am just as confused about what happened to Madison as I was at the end of the first book. While all of the main characters have some element of suspicion for one another, I don't believe any of them had anything to do with Madison's disappearance. At first, I thought it was all staged so Madison could ride out some bad publicity. By the end of the book, we clearly know that is not the case. 

As Layla, Aster, Tommy and Mateo dig deeper into Madison's past, they discover a number of skeletons that could have contributed to her disappearance. How they can share this information with the authorities without somehow implicating themselves is the bigger problem. In addition, I do not trust Ira Redman, Tommy's father and the nightclub owner that hosted the contest that kicked off this series. Something also feels off with the reporter Trena Moretti, the reporter that has sky rocketed her career because of the Madison Brooks story.  

I do not feel like the story advanced much over the course of this book, but I am still interested in seeing how everything will unfold. I am vested enough in the characters and hope the final book will be more like the first, which I really enjoyed.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Review: The Camelot Betrayal by Kiersten White

 


Goodreads Overview:

EVERYTHING IS AS IT SHOULD BE IN CAMELOT: King Arthur is expanding his kingdom’s influence with Queen Guinevere at his side. Yet every night, dreams of darkness and unknowable power plague her.

Guinevere might have accepted her role, but she still cannot find a place for herself in all of it. The closer she gets to Brangien, pining for her lost love Isolde, Lancelot, fighting to prove her worth as Queen’s knight, and Arthur, everything to everyone and thus never quite enough for Guinevere–the more she realizes how empty she is. She has no sense of who she truly was before she was Guinevere. The more she tries to claim herself as queen, the more she wonders if Mordred was right: she doesn’t belong. She never will.

When a rescue goes awry and results in the death of something precious, a devastated Guinevere returns to Camelot to find the greatest threat yet has arrived. Not in the form of the Dark Queen or an invading army, but in the form of the real Guinevere’s younger sister. Is her deception at an end? And who is she really deceiving–Camelot, or herself?

Review:

This is the second book in the Camelot Rising trilogy. I enjoyed the story, but I don't feel like a lot of progress was made in the plot or character development. Arthur is still dedicated to Camelot and I do not think there will ever be a real relationship between Guinevere and Arthur. The few times Mordred appeared, there was an undeniable spark and connection between him and Guinevere. I am hoping things will eventually move in that direction even though I know she feels a sense of obligation to protect Arthur and Camelot. 

Lancelot wants to be just like all of Arthur's other knights, but as skilled as she is, she will never be one of the boys. She is assigned as Guinevere's knight and the two develop a friendship that eventually becomes strained. Guinevere can see that their relationship is impacting how Lancelot is viewed by her piers and tries to put some distance between them. Lancelot is one of the few people who knows the story of who Guinevere really is, so the two are able to speak freely with one another. They work together and take part in some quests along the way, which added the only real action and adventure to this story.

We do not learn any more about who Guinevere was before coming to Camelot or what has happened to Merlin. Without her memories, she feels like she is an imposter simply playing the role of Queen.  When the real Guinevere's sister arrives, she is convinced she is going to be outed. We do learn more about the real Guinevere from her sister, which I did find interesting.

The ending was a bit shocking, so I am looking forward to reading the final book to see what happens next. I'm not sure this story will have a happily ever after for everyone involved. Fortunately, The Excalibur Curse, is scheduled to be released December 7, 2021, so we will find out soon enough. 

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Review: Confessions The Private School Murders by James Patterson

 


Goodreads Overview:

In the sequel to the #1 New York Times bestseller Confessions of a Murder Suspect, James Patterson keeps the confessions coming breathlessly as Tandy Angel delves deeper into her own tumultuous history-and proves that she can rise above the sordid Angel legacy.

Wealthy young women are being murdered on Manhattan's exclusive Upper West Side, and the police aren't looking for answers in the right places. Enter Tandy Angel. The first case she cracked was the mystery of her parents' deaths. Now, while she's working to exonerate her brother of his glamorous girlfriend's homicide, she's driven to get involved in the West Side murder spree. 

One of the recent victims was a student at Tandy's own elite school. She has a hunch it may be the work of a serial killer, but the NYPD isn't listening to her...and Tandy can't ignore the disturbing fact that she perfectly fits the profile of the killer's targets. Can she untangle the mysteries in time? Or will she be the next victim?

Review:

This is the second book in the Confessions series and was equally as captivating as the first. I enjoy listening to these books vs. reading them since Tandy is speaking directly to the reader. She is telling her story and sharing her secrets, which comes across very effectively through the audiobook. 

This time around the family is broke. The courts freeze all of their assets due to the pending legal cases against their parents. Their Uncle Peter is assigned as their guardian, but delegates the job to Jacob, who is an uncle the Angel kids didn't even know existed until he moved in with them. He has a military background and runs a tight ship. He installs a sense of discipline and accountability the kids desperately needed.

The family's primary focus is trying to clear their brother Matthew of murder charges, but the situation isn't looking good. Matthew was heavily intoxicated at the time of the murder and isn't even sure of what happened. He is very strong and has a known temper, which can definitely be used against him.

As if that weren't enough, girls Tandy's age that meet her exact demographic are being murdered not far from her home. The police do not see the connection, but Tandy does and decides she needs to solve this case before she becomes the next victim. 

Even off their "vitamins", which were prescription medications their parents gave them to enhance their performance in just about every way, the Angel kids are extraordinarily talented. Tandy has a gifted IQ and can conduct an investigation and work through the evidence more efficiently than investigators with decades of experience. She did get lucky with a few of her discoveries, but I guess that is probably the case with most investigations. 

Tandy also begins to remember her relationship with James Rampling. James is the son of one of the investors that lost millions of dollars in their mother's investment scandal. He is now suing their estate and wants his son to stay as far away from Tandy as possible. Her parents were in agreement prior to their deaths and sent her to a mental institution to put an end to the relationship. While she was there, her memories of the relationship were erased. I'm not sure how one can maintain a genius level IQ and have only certain memories erased, but that is what happened. 

I don't want to give everything away, but will say that I was happy with the ending. All of the pieces came together nicely and in a believable fashion. I wish they would have shared the motivation behind the Private School Murders, but the case is solved and Tandy can breathe easier. The future of the Angel children is up in the air and I look forward to seeing how things will unfold in the next installment in the series.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Review: The Innocent Man by John Grisham

 


Goodreads Overview:

In the town of Ada, Oklahoma, Ron Williamson was going to be the next Mickey Mantle. But on his way to the Big Leagues, Ron stumbled, his dreams broken by drinking, drugs, and women. Then, on a winter night in 1982, not far from Ron’s home, a young cocktail waitress named Debra Sue Carter was savagely murdered. The investigation led nowhere. Until, on the flimsiest evidence, it led to Ron Williamson. The washed-up small-town hero was charged, tried, and sentenced to death—in a trial littered with lying witnesses and tainted evidence that would shatter a man’s already broken life…and let a true killer go free. Impeccably researched, grippingly told, filled with eleventh-hour drama, John Grisham’s first work of nonfiction reads like a page-turning legal thriller. It is a book that will terrify anyone who believes in the presumption of innocence—a book no American can afford to miss.

Review:

I read all of John Grisham's books as they were released from A Time to Kill through the Runaway Jury. Then I was too busy with college and eventually work and got really far behind. In fact, I didn't even know he had a nonfiction book until I was talking to my brother and he mentioned that he had just finished reading The Innocent Man and it was his favorite Grisham book yet.

This book is about two men who are accused and convicted of a murder they did not commit. The police refused to look at evidence that would have exonerated them and based their entire case on lying witnesses and trumped up evidence. It was absolutely shocking that with DNA evidence these men even went to trial let alone were convicted.

The story reads like one of Grisham's fiction novels and I was immediately engrossed in the story. Ron Williamson was a star baseball player with hopes of playing in the major leagues. He played for several seasons in the minors, but never hit it big. He struggled with depression and bi-polar disorder and required medication and treatment to stay balanced, which he didn't always take. He also enjoyed partying and drinking, which didn't help his situation. He got into some trouble here and there, which made him an easy target for the police when their investigation came up empty. Dennis Fritz was simply guilty by association.

I couldn't help but feel sorry for these two men. They insisted they were innocent and the legal system completely failed them. The corruption in the District Attorney's office and with the investigators working the case was appalling. It is scary to think that this can really happen to innocent people. 

I haven't watched the Netflix series yet, but I look forward to seeing some of the live footage that is described in the book. I also hope to hear some of Grisham's thoughts on the case and the events that took place during the investigation and the trial. As a fiction author, I don't think Grisham could have written such an unbelievable series of events and made it sound believable. It is crazy to think this can really happen in a place where people are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. 

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Review: Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra

 


Goodreads Overview:

Black Swan meets Pretty Little Liars in this soapy, drama-packed novel featuring diverse characters who will do anything to be the prima at their elite ballet school.

Gigi, Bette, and June, three top students at an exclusive Manhattan ballet school, have seen their fair share of drama. Free-spirited new girl Gigi just wants to dance—but the very act might kill her. Privileged New Yorker Bette's desire to escape the shadow of her ballet-star sister brings out a dangerous edge in her. And perfectionist June needs to land a lead role this year or her controlling mother will put an end to her dancing dreams forever.

When every dancer is both friend and foe, the girls will sacrifice, manipulate, and backstab to be the best of the best.

Review:

I picked up a copy of this book at BEA several years ago. I was finally motivated to bump it up my TBR list when I started hearing all of the gossip about the Netflix series. Always one to read the book before watching the TV show or movie, I started reading. I have since watched the series and let me tell you....Netflix really took some liberties with this one. The book is definitely YA, but the series is NOT. 

Both the book and movie tackle some difficult issues with eating disorders, the fierce competition in the performing arts, racism, coming out, and substance abuse. 

The book seemed very realistic and could be an insiders view of what it is like trying to make it to the top of the ballet world. Everyone is looking out for only themselves and nobody can be trusted. Netflix took the story and sensationalized it. They added a ton of content for shock value that did not add to the value of the story. In fact, their additions were embarrassing to watch and I was glad my sixteen year old son didn't watch the series with us.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and will read Shiny Broken Pieces, which is the final book in the duology. Cassie is a character that had a distant role in this book. She held the top position as the prima until something happened (the versions of this are drastically different between the book and movie) that sent her away from the school for a while. She returns at the very end of Tiny Pretty Things and I am sure she will shake up the dynamic at the school. There are so many little cliques and everyone seems to have something to hide. Who was really involved in what happened to Cassie is still up in the air. I have my ideas, but I do not see her as a victim. I think she is just as ruthless as the rest of them and will come back with a vengeance. She may have even had it coming in the eyes of most of the other students.

After reading this book, I will not watch a ballet in quite the same way. There is a lot more that goes into a performance than hard work, grace, and elegance.