NetGalley Professional Reader

NetGalley Professional Reader

Thursday, April 24, 2014

I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

5.0 out of 5 stars  

An amazing suspense thriller with an unforgettable character. It screams "blockbuster movie" and I simply could not put it down though I paced myself so I could make the pleasure last longer. It is one of the best I've read in ages! I had about given up on this genre, but this book managed to lure me back and to remind me of how much I had once loved it.

Readers will be glued to the pages in this race against time -- can Pilgrim find the lone man intent on destroying America with a scheme so heinous, and with a 100% kill rate, that is about to be unleashed on innocent people? Sent on a globe-trotting covert mission to find and stop this threat, Pilgrim seeks answers from the scant information he has and the few clues he is able to find. What does the "perfect murder" in a sleazy US hotel have to do with an "accidental death" in Bodrum, Turkey? The only key may be a tenuous connection between a book and a very radical Islamist.

I will be recommending this to everyone who loves heart-stopping action without the inclusion of a ridiculous romance, a smart-mouthed sidekick, or a trusty animal. 

Thank you to NetGalley and Atria/Emily Bestler publishers for the e-book ARC to review.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

4.5 out of 5 stars -- "Language comes from what we've seen, touched, loved, lost...We want to verify with others what we seem to perceive."

I thought this book was brilliant though I realize that it is not for everyone. I've noticed from reading other reviews that people seem to have loved it or hated it -- many rated it without actually finishing more than a couple of chapters. I loved it because I love words -- those that I hear, speak, or write. Vocabulary fascinates me and I always have a dictionary close - and it really got a workout while I was immersed in this imaginative tale involving an epidemic of "word flu" -- a condition wherein victims can no longer communicate appropriately in their native language; the "virus" is initially most severe in the USA. Speech is garbled and words are nonsense. People cannot be understood as made up words spontaneously erupt and other words simply disappear or suddenly have new meanings or definitions.

In the not-so-distant future, the entire world is dependent on handheld devices called Memes. These digital marvels can anticipate almost every need and citizens have become quite attached to them. In fact, most people don't have to remember anything, even everyday words, because the Word Exchange can give a word to use and a definition whenever necessary in a barrage of texting, messaging or beaming. Books, letters, photographs, maps -- printed material of all kinds -- have slowly disappeared. Even paper and the act of writing on it have become nearly obsolete.

There are only a few holdouts trying to prevent further obsolescence. Anana Johnson works with her father, Doug, who is the Chief Editor for the North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL) in New York. One night, right before launch of the latest and last print edition, Doug disappears. Frantic to find him from strange clues he left behind, Ana embarks on a harrowing mission just as the language virus hits. Her search leads her to a secret society, puts her life in danger, and forces her to confront the nature of being human.

Set in the near future, this dystopian novel takes aim at our increasing dependence on technology and serves as a warning that we perhaps ought not to rely so much on our devices to meet our every need but should instead focus more on conversation, thinking and reading. Turn off the constant contact with meaningless data, learn multiple languages take a break from being "plugged in" -- a least for a couple of hours a day!

I really enjoyed this story concept and allowed myself to suspend disbelief when the science was shaky (re: the "virus") and just went along for the ride. It's fiction and an author is always allowed liberties! This would be an excellent choice for a book club as there are many great points to discuss and debate. I'd recommend it to all those who love linguistics and their dictionaries! 

A comment about format: When reading this book on a Kindle device you may have difficulty following the footnotes.

Lastly -- this book reminded me of a series written by Jasper Fforde -- the THURSDAY NEXT novels -- which I also enjoyed immensely.

The titles of the series are:
Thank you to NetGalley and Doubleday for the e-book ARC to review. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

No Safe House by Linwood Barclay

Well, I was wrong about this one. I've read every book Barclay has written and my favorite is NO TIME FOR GOODBYE. When I realized that this suspense thriller was going to revisit those characters, I was more than hesitant to read it because I really am tired of sequels and series and, honestly, I was done with the Archer story. Fortunately, I won this book as a First Reads giveaway and decided that I'd go ahead and give it a try. I'm very glad I did because this novel was a very entertaining roller coaster ride that hooked me quickly and didn't let go. Although many of the characters are those from that other novel I loved, the story told here is capable of being a standalone and involves the Archer family in another brush with an acquaintance who is basically a criminal but who had, once upon a time, done them a good turn that prevented a family tragedy.

The action doesn't let up and each chapter switches between characters and events as the reader becomes entangled in a convoluted plot that, at times, can be confusing. Barclay does a really excellent job writing about the average family man who is called upon to do unconventional -- and can we say: illegal -- maneuvers with an unsavory partner in order to save his daughter from peril. Terry Archer is a high school English teacher who usually wants to do the right thing and stay out of trouble. This time, however, his 14-year-old daughter has become embroiled in a situation that will have huge repercussions if the police become involved. Despite the fact that I find the daughter, Grace, to be extremely unlikeable, I do understand a parent who wants to protect his daughter. Wife Cynthia is also a bit of an unsympathetic mess, but a man does what he has to do, right?

I think readers will enjoy this return to Milford and the reconnection with these characters in a "wicked-good story" where the lines between good and evil are a little bit blurred.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Secret History by Stephanie Thornton

4.0 out of 5 stars - This historical fiction novel recounts the rise of a young, homeless street urchin to the throne as Empress Theodora circa 500 AD.

Theodora and her 2 sisters, along with their mother, are put out on the mean streets of Constantinople when their father and husband dies suddenly. Too young and too unskilled to find any work, the two older sisters leave their drunken mother and find the only money they can earn is on the boards at a local theater where the women perform for men of all rank and power both on and off the stage. Faced with many trials, betrayals and disappointments, Theodora does whatever she needs to do to survive -- forming alliances here and there --  using her resilience and determination to drag herself out of situations that almost break her spirit. Basically considered a whore, though a very popular one, Theodora attracts the one man who just possibly might be the one to save her. Faced with treachery and secrecy. often unable to trust those closest to her, Theodora earns the respect and adoration of her Emperor and has the opportunity to take the ultimate step -- to accept the crown.

Told in the first person, the story of Theodora's triumphs and the agony of her defeats, is filled with the sights and sounds of Byzantine life in what was basically the most important city in the Empire at that time. The colors, the jewels, the fabrics, and the food were described in great detail. The reader could see the famous palaces and architecture vs the small moldy rooms and tavernas, and feel the contrast between the plebeian and the patrician society. I love the kind of book that can make a reader feel present in the time and setting.

Other reviewers have remarked that everything in the book is not completely accurate and -- it was not meant to be -- thus is not a biography, but historical fiction with some liberty taken by the author (as she explains in an afterward). I enjoyed it very much and would recommend it to anyone interested in this era with all its political and religious intrigue, its passion, and its extreme privilege that unimaginable wealth provides. Rich with description and with characters to love and hate, it's a great read that I couldn't put down until I finished it.

Library book - paperback format.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Here and Now by Ann Brashares

3.0 out of 5 stars YA with a hint of sci-fi, a report of time travel and a forbidden love.

Prenna travels back in time from a future world where millions have died from the plague as the result of politics and environmental meltdown. Ethan sees Prenna when she appears in front of him while he is fishing by a local creek and instantly falls in love.

But they cannot be together, for Prenna is part of a secret community that has developed rules so as not to interfere with the current time natives. The main rule is that members cannot fall in love or be intimate with anyone outside their enclave. But Prenna, age 17, and her classmate, Ethan, bond during a shared class in high school and find themselves drawn into a plan to save the world on May 17, 2014.

Very predictable with stereotypical one-dimensional characters, this novel seems to be the start of a series. The action and developing plot requires a great deal of suspension of disbelief. With themes of loss and identity that are never fully developed, Prenna's past life is only hinted at and the full reasons for the community's return to circa 2014 are not adequately explained enough to make it all believable. The narrative includes some political posturing and attempts moralistic commentary on the lifestyles and habits of contemporary society.

I'll see what the teens think of this one but I'm not likely to read the follow up. I'm pretty sure I know how it's all going to end.

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Children's for the e-book ARC to review.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Empress of the Night by Eva Stachniak

3.5  out of 5 stars A woman with the strength and a dream to bring the "greatest happiness to the greatest numbers.", April 11, 2014

In this follow-up to her sumptuous novel, The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great, author Eva Stachniak takes us back to Russia and Catherine the Great as the Empress reflects on her life in a first person account as she lies dying after suffering a massive stroke.

Any historical fiction novel relies heavily on extensive research into the subject and it's evident that much effort has been made to recreate the details that make a reader see the sights, hear the sounds of Russian life, smell the odors (pleasant and unpleasant), taste the food, and almost feel the textures of the cloth and furs. I could close my eyes sometimes and imagine I was actually there next to Catherine as she interacted with her family, lovers, favorites, courtiers and enemies. Her life story is full of triumphs and defeats, both on a personal level and a national one. She was an amazing woman, a strong leader, and an incredible visionary at a time when men thought themselves superior and more fit to rule great countries.

I was most grateful for the list of the cast of characters provided by the author as there are many similar names and sometimes it was hard to keep everyone straight. The shifts from present tense to Catherine's reminiscing about her life were often confusing.

I did enjoy both novels and suggest that they be read in order.

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

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Cruise by Suzanne Vermeer

2.0 out of 5 stars - Secrets and betrayal...

Predictable and full of stereotypes and cliches, this translation falls short of being a suspense thriller. Though there are a lot of contrived and unbelievable action scenes, the protagonist spends a lot of time with her own repetitive rhetorical self-questioning and angsting which leads to reader annoyance.

Helen and Frank are on a 15th anniversary luxury cruise when he disappears. Helen is bereft and heartbroken. Despite an exhaustive search, authorities are unable to find Helen's missing husband and he is presumed dead. Through Frank's company attorney, Helen learns that Frank has led a double life and the shocking discoveries keep coming. Helen, naturally, goes off to investigate these developments on her own and gets herself into some unbelievable predicaments and peril. The conclusion is completely pat and unsatisfying.

This is one to miss -- way too much "telling" in the writing and though it was a quick read (I read it over a couple of hours), I found myself just wanting to finish and be done with all the characters and the lame plot.

Thank you to NetGalley and Open Road Integrated Media for sending along the e-book ARC to review. I'll likely not read another by this author.