NetGalley Top Reviewer

NetGalley Top Reviewer
NetGalley Top Reviewer

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Currently reading...

What can I say -- I like books about airplanes and I'm in disaster mode...

After the Crash by Michel Bussi

4.0 out of 5 stars -- Tantalizing thriller that is hard to put down...

The premise of this mystery is simple: two infant girls were passengers (together with their parents) on a plane that crashed on Mont Terri in the Jura mountains en route from Isanbul to Paris in December, 1980. The only survivor was ONE of the babies. But which one?

The relatives of both families wanted to claim the infant as their own -- one family the rich de Carvilles and the other, the provincial Vitrals. In a heated legal battle, a judge tries in vain to determine if the surviving baby girl is Lyse-Rose de Carville or Emilie Vitral. A verdict is rendered based on supposition since there was no hard evidence. But did the judge get it right?

The de Carvilles are so upset at the decision that they hire ex mercenary, now private detective Credule Grand-Duc, to investigate and bring the child they believe is their granddaughter back to them. For 18 years, Grand-Duc searches for proof of the identity of the surviving child. He leaves no stone unturned while working for the de Carvilles.

Now the child, known as Lylie Vitral, has reached 18 still not knowing her true identity, but has grown up with her brother, Marc, and her grandparents in conditions far from the luxurious life she could have had as a de Carville. She and Marc are students at Paris VIII and their relationship has deepened into something beyond that of brother and sister. The mystery of her true identity must be solved. Though their circumstances have changed, neither the de Carvilles or the Vitrals want to let go of Lylie.

When Lylie disappears after giving Marc the notebook that contains a summary of Grand-Duc's years of investigation, he traipses all over France trying to figure out the truth. At first totally bewildered and then almost fanatic in the hunt, he follows the trail in the notebook to a totally startling conclusion.

Told in alternating narratives from the viewpoints of all the different characters and the text of the detective's notebook, each chapter ends on a note that makes the book very hard to put down. The reader tries to piece together the known facts while being tantalized by envelopes containing DNA evidence (finally!) and other red herrings. Although Marc seems to be the main character, the story is less about him than about the case itself and the events that transpired in everyone's desperate search for the truth.

I found this mystery quite compelling and enjoyed it very much. It wasn't until almost the very end that I had an inkling of how this all might end. I relished the descriptions of all things French and the satisfying conclusion.

Thank you to NetGalley and Hatchette books for the ARC to review.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Final Approach by John J. Nance

4.0 out of 5 stars -- How I love a "disaster" book -- especially one that involves a tragic airplane crash at "my" airport -- Kansas City International -- located in Kansas City, Missouri!

Despite the fact that this book was written and published in the early 1990s and is thus quite outdated, it was an enjoyable and fast-paced read that focused on the NTSB's investigation into the causes of the crash of Flight 255 into another plane waiting on the ground at the side of the runway.

Was it mechanical failure, human error, bad weather, or perhaps even secret activity that produced massive interference with the sophisticated Airbus plane's computer systems? Although the NTSB does not seek to establish blame for the crash, there are many possible explanations for the accident and North American Airlines, the FAA, the FBI, and other factions don't want to be held responsible. Secrets and lies are uncovered when a US Senator gets involved because of chief investigator Joe Wallingord's difficulties in getting the answers he needs to make a full report. Is there corruption and possible governmental cover-up or was something else going on that fateful night?

This would have been an even better book had the author and publisher updated it to reflect the changes brought about by the events of 9-11.

Thank you to Open Road Integrated Media and NetGalley for the e-book ARC to review.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Small Group Read

One book. Two readers. A world of mystery, menace, and desire.

S. by JJ Abrams and Doug Dorst

This unique reading experience is presented as S. in a cardboard slipcover with 22 different inserts and lots of color-coded notes in the margins of the actual book that is titled SHIP OF THESUS. There are 5 of us in the group and we are reading it together: a Physics teacher, a librarian/nurse (me), and two library science students at the high school we work at/attend together. Several suggestions have been given about the best way to actually read this book -- I think of it more as that we five are going on an adventure together -- but this is how we are doing it:

First we organized ourselves by taking all the inserts out of the book and labeling them with the page number location where they were removed and putting all of those in an envelope. We all have a dictionary, our iPads and a notebook with a pen and highlighter handy.

We will read independently - one chapter at a time -- but have agreed to read just the actual SHIP OF THESUS book through first, then the blue ink and the black caps ink in the margins, along with any inserts found between the pages of that chapter. We take notes as we read and look up anything that grabs our interest along the way -- oh how I love a book that brings out the researcher in me! Then we plan to meet after we read each chapter to share our thoughts, comments, and questions. We are taking it slow, right now, shooting for only one chapter (about 30 pages) a week. We don't want to rush through it and want to make sure don't miss a thing on this trip.

I'll get back here when we have finished this journey and provide an overall review and recap.

1-15  We've decided that all the side margin notes and the inserts are way too distracting and we are quite confused. Reading has become a tedious exercise. We will move forward to Chapter 3 now reading only the text of SOT and the pencil notes. Ignoring the inserts for now.

1-21 We had our 4th meeting today to discuss Chapter 3. After some discussion in an earlier meeting, we changed our plan and now are reading only SOT and the original pencil notes by Eric. The other margin notes were too distracting and confusing. We are seeing themes of identity, rebirth, change throughout. Quite a bit left to interpretation and imagination within the book and we are going through it a chapter at a time. He's (S---) gone from a tavern, to a ship, to a wharf during a demonstration. The locations are nameless.

1-26 - Met to discuss chapter 4. Another chapter, another adventure. This time S is in a house (labeled with S of course in that strange script) with the leaders of the demonstrators -- they are hiding from the police after the bomb went off -- they're suspects.
More recurring themes: birds and bees, Sola again (but a problem develops and a question of whether or not this is same girl), "home is not safe" -- always changing. Allegory about hell?
See the homage to the art of storytelling thru writing or oral narratives -- it's how we tell the world who we are? There is a connection between writer and reader!
New clothes for S - he get a new set almost everywhere he goes.
Thought -- S is being reborn, changing -- we change through experiences we have and people we meet -- same as S.
Seems to be a preoccupation with relationships.
Where is he geographically? Eastern Europe?  City and country names not mentioned. Surnames of different nationalities such as French or Swedish.
Off to explore caves next. Traveling companions with S.

1-27 Great article from UTNE
The Ship of Thesus and the Question of Identity

1-29 Met this am to discuss Chapter 5. Still seeing the same themes and starting to wonder if SOT might be Straka's metaphoric autobiography? S__ sure finds himself in dire situations where he's given the chance to step up, but usually does not. He lets people down. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."  Is S___ passive-aggressive?
Another common theme is that of being alone vs relationships.  "LOVE. LOSE. DIE." S__doesn't seem to have much luck with people he runs into and they sure don't fare better for meeting him.
The cave painting description was interesting as was their journey into (and out) of it.
Once again S___finds himself in water, alone, and lo and behold -- there's the SOT there, waiting, with all his old shipmates.
We see S__experiencing loss, a little shame and will he atone and do penance?

2-2 Met to discuss Chapter 6. Our confusion as to who S__ is, and what he's doing continues. Is he moving toward something or away from something? Everywhere he goes, people die trying to help him. Time is passing -- and he's unaware. He (his foot) was healed in the water (baptism?) and now is back on the ship. Bizarre ritual observed below decks. Crew down to 15 sailors from 19 and some are women, he just notices. He's writing his story on the walls of his cabin.
Reasons for change - time, circumstances, people and experiences.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben

2.5 out of 5 stars -- "The dead always stayed dead."

Maya Stern, ex helicopter pilot, now retired Army Captain, returns home after a disastrous ending to her tour of duty in Iraq.  Shrouded in scandal, she rejoins her husband, Joe, and her 2-year-old daughter, Lily. Though suffering from PTSD, and haunted by her memories, she is trying to find her way back to civilian life. The novel opens with Maya burying Joe -- who was shot dead in a park close to their home.

Now a single mother and widow, she has to work so Joe's wealthy family provides a nanny for Lily. While reviewing the film of the nanny cam a friend gave her, Maya sees something unbelievable -- her dead husband playing with Lily in their living room. Could he still be alive? And if so, why? Where is he? That's when things really start to happen.

Without any spoilers, the rest of the narrative puts Maya into investigative mode trying to tie events from the past to the present situation This is standard Coben fare and fans who enjoy his domestic thrillers will likely find this one full of the action and twists that are his trademark.

I've read all of Coben's standalone suspense novels but did not care for this particular story as much. After talking with a friend about this one, I believe I am indeed jaded by having read so many twisty thrillers with endings that seem to come out of nowhere.

Thank you to Penguin Random House and NetGalley for providing me with an e-book ARC to review.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Crow Girl by Erik Axl Sund

"It starts with just one body – tortured, mummified and then discarded.

Its discovery reveals a nightmare world of hidden lives. Of lost identities, secret rituals and brutal exploitation, where nobody can be trusted.

This is the darkest, most complex case the police have ever seen.

This is the world of the Crow Girl."

3.0 out of 5 stars -- A confusing and very disturbing hot mess of a book that deals with sexual abuse of children (pedophilia), torture, mutilation and other acts of depravity. In addition, the fact that one of the main characters appears to suffer from the very rare phenomenon of multiple personality disorder (dissociative identity disorder) makes the narrative difficult to follow.

Whew! I would say that it took me way too long to read this novel -- probably as long as it took for Detective Superintendent Jeanette Kihlberg and her partner to bring some resolution to the complex case after the mummified body of an immigrant child is found dumped by a train stop. Jeanette seeks out a psychologist, Sofia Zetterlund, to help make sense of these bodies of mutilated children when others are found. What heinous creature could do this to children?

Set in Sweden, and with a huge cast of characters (including the other personalities), the story was extremely detailed and grisly -- it required a lot of energy and focus for me to keep everything straight. Each chapter bounces from character to character and to different places and time periods. I prefer a more linear narrative, and I definitely had a hard time staying with this book.
No spoilers, but, finally there was resolution of sorts as I reached the end of this intense story. Absorbing the impact of statistics of the high incidence of pedophiles in Sweden (and other societies as well) and revelations of the horrible damage that this type of abuse causes made for several sleepless nights. Ultimately this was a novel of revenge and hate -- but even payback does not undo the simple truth: lives ruined beyond repair.

I wonder if there will be more books to follow that feature Jeanette and/or Sofia as it seemed like their story was not finished. I do think this book was too long at 768 pages and hope any follow up is shorter and tighter.

Thank you to Edelweiss and the publisher for providing the e-book ARC to review. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

She's Not There by Joy Fielding

3.5 out of 5 stars -- "And guilt and blame are two very powerful weapons. Weapons of intimate destruction."

Imagine every parent's worst nightmare -- your 2-year old daughter is kidnapped from a hotel room while you're out enjoying dinner with friends at a luxury resort in Mexico celebrating your wedding anniversary! That's the tragedy that Carol Shipley and her husband, Hunter, faced 15 years ago. No trace of Samantha was ever found. Everyone constantly reminds Carole that she should never have left her children alone in a hotel room. She knows that, but blames Hunter for talking her into it.

Flash forward to the ringing of a telephone and a voice on the other end -- it's a girl claiming to be that missing daughter. Carole so wants this to be true, an answer to her hopes and prayers. Carole and her daughter, Michelle, travel to Calgary but the girl doesn't show. But then arrives on their doorstep in San Diego. Is this really Samantha?

This was a very fast read but populated with several characters that I found so annoying that it was distracting. The mother was a mess, not that it would be unusual since she lost her daughter, but the rest of the family -- Michelle, mother Mary, brother Steve, and Hunter -- were also not exactly the kind of people I'd be able to tolerate as friends even if given lots of latitude for their personal anguish. The only thing that saved this book was that I wanted to get to the end to see if the girl was indeed Samantha and to find out what happened in the hotel. I hoped there would be a satisfactory conclusion. Most of it I had guess and anyone who reads this type of book would as well.

Overall, I enjoyed the quick read in a single sitting. I wish I had developed more empathy for Carole, but I never connected with her. I like strong female protagonists vs those who do a lot of angsting and sobbing. The relationship between Carole and everyone else in her family was completely dysfunctional and they all need more than a few sessions with a therapist to fix all that is wrong. I don't even want to think about the pain a parent would experience in this sort of situation, so I gave her some leeway with her reactions and behavior, but some of her choices defied credibility and a reader will need to suspend a bit of disbelief about some of what happened.

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine for the e-book ARC to review.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Ashes to Dust by Yrsa Sigurdardottir (#3)

Ashes to Dust: A Thriller (Thora Gudmundsdottir #3) 

4.0 out of 5 stars -- Some mistakes can have lifelong consequences.

This third book in the series has the lawyer Thora trying to clear Markus, a man accused of multiple murder when bodies are found in the basement of his childhood home. The house was covered with ash and lava after a 1973 eruption of a volcano in his village and is just now being excavated when this grisly discovery is made.

A very complex case involving events of the past, as well as crimes in the present, and many characters makes this quite an interesting read. Thora doggedly follows the leads she is able to uncover from information that is very difficult for her to get as most of the people involved are either long dead or incapacitated. Bella, the difficult office secretary who is usually a thorn in Thora's side, has more of a role in this book than does Thora's love interest, Matthew, who is still trying to decide about moving to Iceland.

Even though I guessed some of what probably happened in the Icelandic village where the bodies were discovered, there was a huge surprise twist at the end that I did not see coming. I like the writing style and the description of the methodical way that Thora investigates. Her personal life is part of the story, but most of the narrative is focused on the case and the clues. In addition, I've learned quite a bit about the country of Iceland and the people who call it home.

I've only one more to read to be caught up with the entire series, and though I have read it out of order, I've thoroughly enjoyed each book.