NetGalley Top Reviewer

NetGalley Top Reviewer
NetGalley Top Reviewer

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Irene - #1 Verhoeven Trilogy by Pierre Lemaitre

4.0 out of 5 stars -- Grisly. Gory. Good.

If you're planning to read the Verhoeven Trilogy, wait for its release and read this one first! I made the mistake of reading ALEX and it spoiled much of the shock because I already knew the outcome. Sometimes it doesn't matter that much if you read out of order, but I wish I had read this book first. That said, get ready for chills and thrills in this action packed suspense thriller that grabs on and doesn't let go.

Police Commandant Camille Verhoeven is called to the scene of a very brutal homicide (lots of graphic details in this book so be forewarned) and finds a message: I AM BACK! After some initial investigation, and a call from a bookstore owner, the team finds that the serial killer may be staging scenes from classics in the crime fiction genre. The case becomes intense very quickly with tons of media attention and even a personal profile about Camille and his wife, Irene, who are expecting a baby. All the papers are demanding answers about unsolved murders from the past and worried about what this mad killer has planned next.

No more revelations about the plot, but know that it is fast paced and had me furiously flipping the pages racing toward the climax. I could not put this down until the very end. Even though I KNEW what was coming (mistakenly reading ALEX first - DO NOT DO IT), I was still caught up. I'd recommend it if you like psycho thriller chiller type of books with well-developed characters who are quite unique.

I can't wait for the conclusion to this trilogy and have no idea of release date or title.

Alex by Pierre Lemaitre

4.0 out of 5 stars -- Unpredictable and TWISTED!

STOP! If you are reading this review because you are interested in this book, do not make the same mistake I did and read it before reading IRENE, the first book in this trilogy. If you go ahead anyway, be forewarned, that you will be sorry later. Unfortunately, I thought this was the first book in the series, but in truth, it is the second. Now, having read both IRENE and ALEX, though out of order, I can say I would have enjoyed them even more had I read them the other way around.

Alex Prevost is enjoying a day of shopping and an evening of dining out in Paris. On her way home, she is kidnapped and taken to an abandoned structure where she is caged and hung from the ceiling. Who has taken her, and why does he want to "watch her die."

The unreliable witness to the abduction can only offer that the victim was beaten and taken off in a white van. Police Commandant Camille Verhoeven grudgingly takes up the case with little more to go on -- no one has been reported missing and the police have no idea who the abducted girl might be. As the team races against time to find Alex, they uncover interesting information that leads them to wonder if there is more to this than originally thought.

Fast-paced with twists and turns the reader can't anticipate, this is a very enjoyable and suspenseful read. Part thriller, part police procedural, it's well developed and complicated -- just when you think you know what's going on -- a surprise. The story leaves you will a few nagging questions and more than a few thoughts about good vs evil. People are much more complex than their actions. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes a dark story with some graphic content and some unique characters.

I can't wait to read the conclusion to this trilogy.

Amazon Vine ARC

Saturday, September 27, 2014

You by Caroline Kepnes

2.0 out of 5 stars - I am not the intended audience for this book and I did not like it at all.

The stalker's first person present tense voice and his intended victim were both just too crazy for me. The language was coarse and the sexual focus did not add to my appreciation of the story. I detested almost all the characters in the book, but most especially Joe and Beck -- in a way, I guess you could say they deserved each other. The book reminded me of American Psycho (which was better written) and I really don't care to read about sick perverts who get away with multiple murder. I don't understand all the positive reviews.

I can't think of anyone to recommend it to, and fortunately, I'll soon forget having read it.

E-book ARC was provided by NetGalley and Atria Books for purposes of review.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Five Days left by Julie Lawson Timmer

2.0 out of 5 stars -- Maudlin and melodramatic...

This contrived drama focuses on two different people who have a huge decision to carry out in 5 days. Mara, diagnosed with Huntington's Disease, has decided to commit suicide to end her life before she becomes more dependent on her family. Scott is counting down until his foster son, Curtis, has to be returned to his mother upon her release from prison.

The ensuing account of their last five days is mawkishly sentimental and predictable. Both Mara and Scott are so self-centered and ostensibly noble in their agony that I wanted to throw the book at the wall just reading their sagas. I asked myself as I turned every page -- why am I continuing to read this manipulative tripe? The answer is simple: I am committed to finishing the books I start and those I accept for review purposes. Each chapter reinforced my negative reaction and I had to dial back the urge to vomit as I read each character's self-serving angst. This is not the type of book I'd recommend to anyone looking for intelligent literary escape, but one for those who like soap opera style narratives designed to tug at heartstrings or celebrate a pity party for those whose motives fall completely on the side of self-interest. I detested both characters though I'm sure I was meant to cry buckets of tears for their sufferings. I admit I was drawn to choose it when I saw the words, Huntington's Disease -- and the medical information about that condition was the only part of the book I did enjoy. Unfortunately for me, the interesting facts about the disease did not outweigh the basic story line.

No, I'd not suggest you read this unless you're a die hard Jodi Picoult fan or if you love reading Lifetime Movie-like books so that you can have a good cry over fake NON HEROIC people who get what they want no matter the cost. I'm not happy to post this negative review and I'm sure I've already seen that others have LOVED this novel, but I make no apologies that I'm not one of them.

Amazon Vine ARC.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Confessions by Kanae Minato

4 out of 5 stars -- Judgment and revenge...

Yuko Moriguchi is a middle school teacher when her 4-year-old daughter, Manami, drowns in the swimming pool nearby. Consumed with grief, she retires from teaching -- but leaves her class with one last lecture. While giving the students a little background of her life, Yuko shocks them all by declaring that she now knows that her daughter did not die in an accident, but was murdered! And that the two killers are right in that very room! Then she tells the students that she has decided not to go to the police and turn them in, but will punish them herself -- and has already set her plan in motion. She leaves the students to do what they will with this knowledge and information.

What follows is a point of view shift by chapter as a significant person attempts to give rationalizations, explanations or interpretations of both the murder and what follows. The climax is both shocking and horrible -- TWISTED! The reader will not be able to put this short book down until finishing the very last page. Be sure to allow yourself a couple of uninterrupted hours!

I'd recommend this to anyone who likes chills and suspense full of characters who are mostly completely unlikeable (for many reasons), and a great, unpredictable story!

Thank you to NetGalley and Mulholland Books for the e-book ARC.

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

3.0 out of 5 stars "Hope always comes back, pushing up through the ashes, growing from seeds that are invisible and invincible."

Vine Customer Review of Free Product 
3.5 stars out of 5 -- "The world changes too fast. You take your eyes off something that's always been there, and the next minute it's just a memory."

This novel was definitely NOT anything like Faber's book, The Crimson Petal and the White (my favorite of all his books) set in Victorian London. Instead, the reader is transported to a brave new world far away from Earth where a mysterious mega corporation known as USIC has set up a colony of scientists to make the planet liveable. The new world is named Oasis in a contest and Peter Leigh is sent there as a missionary to cater to the needs of the native inhabitants -- to bring them the word of Jesus and his Book of Strange New Things -- The King James Bible. Peter is no ordinary pastor -- once a drug addict and alcoholic, the reformed preacher is eager to begin his work spreading the good news to the Oasans (as he calls them). Surprisingly, many of these natives are already converted and hungry for the Word. Unfortunately, Peter's wife, Bea, has had to stay behind on Earth putting a severe strain on their marriage as billions of miles separate them and they can only communicate by messages sent through a device called the Shoot.

While Bea sends messages of calamity in England and disasters around the world, Peter finds himself in his element tending to his new flock. Overcome with his success, he neglects Bea and their relationship starts to unravel. Caring less about the world he left behind, Peter becomes even more involved with his community of believers and stays with them in their settlement. The creatures are not human in any way, their language is almost unpronounceable, but they attempt to speak English, though without the ability to say some of the consonants *s and *t, for example. Although Peter still interacts peripherally with the others at the USIC base, he finds his heart and soul with the natives and works beside them getting to know them better.

I'm not quite sure what to say about my reaction to this book. I have read other glowing reviews calling this a masterpiece. I'm not feeling it. On one hand, it was interesting, on the other, I can see that if you are not a Christian, you will get very tired of the religious theme that is pervasive throughout the book. Peter often quotes long passages from the Bible and delivers sermons to the Oasans and, when he writes Bea -- admonishes his wife to pray and trust in God though her life is falling apart. The concept of new world building is scientifically interesting, but the main story here is Peter bringing Jesus to the natives who want more of this Book of Strange New Things -- in fact, dedicate themselves to its study even as Peter tries to explain concepts of the passages in words they can understand since they don't have knowledge of sheep, flock, gender, and so on. I found myself totally irritated with Peter's self-absorption and selfishness as God-sent missionary and totally empathetic to poor Bea.

And, if this bothers you, be warned -- there's a sort of cliffhanger at the end. Knowing how Faber ended Crimson Petal should give you an idea. Would make a great book club book for discussion and I'd love to hear more about what others think of its literary merit.
Thank you to NetGalley for the e-book ARC.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

You Disappear by Christian Jungersen

4.0 out of 5 stars What is love when all that is familiar is gone?

This was an eye-opening and entertaining read that centers on the topic of traumatic brain injury and its effects on the patient, his family, his marriage, his friends, his job and his life. On one hand I found it terribly depressing but on the other, extremely educational as the author obviously did meticulous research into the subject and included it in asides (such as a personal letter, a chart, a journal article, etc.) that makes the reader delve more into the science of the brain and the study of neurobiology. I found the medical information absolutely fascinating and enjoyed that part of the novel much more so than the characters.

I'm not certain I could call this any kind of psychological thriller, however. The story itself showed how Frederik changes once his hidden brain tumor is diagnosed and removed. Does the soul reside within the brain? And, if so, when someone's entire personality and manner of being has been altered, is the person really Frederik or is he someone completely new? Who then did/does Mia love -- the real Frederick or the one who was changing as the result of a growing tumor? In the aftermath, when Frederick is completely dependent, Mia has a crisis -- she's overwhelmed with caring for him, losing connections with former friends, and her relationship with their son Niklas is horribly strained. She strives to help the man she's still married to and gets involved in a support group that provides a degree of interaction with others who know what she's going through. When she meets Bernard, another member whose wife has brain damage, she feels that she has finally found someone who meets HER needs. It's a rescue! Burdened by the shame -- it's discovered that Frederik embezzled thousands of pounds from the private school where he was beloved headmaster -- the family has to sell their belongings and move from their home. Mia is at the bottom -- and she can wallow in self-pity like none other, however I did feel a lot of empathy for her considering her horrible situation.

I liked this book in many ways, though it was quite different from what I had been expecting. I'd definitely recommend it to others interested in the science of neurology and study of the brain. Book groups would find a wide variety of topics for discussion and debate. This is the third book I've read recently dealing with TBI (traumatic brain injury) and the most well-written of them.

Thank you to Amazon Vine, NetGalley and Doubleday for the ARC to review.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Truth Stained Lies by Terri Blackstock

2.0 out of 5 stars -- This is a formulaic and predictable attempt at suspense thriller that falls flat for many reasons. One of the major reasons I didn't like it was that it was heavily laced with religious overtones and emphasis on Christianity and prayer. Nowhere in the synopsis does it mention this, so readers who avoid this genre need to be aware that a great deal of the narrative focuses on examination of conscience, themes of judgment and morality, and lengthy ruminations on abortion. Much of it sounded preachy and I felt it was overdone as it took up so much of the book.

The story itself was fairly lame as far as plot -- when their soon-to-be ex-sister in law is killed, 3 sisters team up with a disgraced former cop to clear their brother who is arrested in connection with the murder. Red herrings aside, it was simple deduction to identify the killer very early in the book. No chills or thrills here. I probably wouldn't have bothered to finish it if I hadn't agreed to write a review. It's murder lite. I have the second book in this series on my shelf as well, but I do not plan to read it for all the reasons I've listed. It's not one I would recommend unless you're truly a fan of Christian fiction.

The author's note is a sermon.

I received this e-book ARC from NetGalley and Zondervan Publishers for review. 

Loud Awake and Lost by Adele Griffin

2.0 out of 5 stars -- "Who was I, just before I almost died?"

I'm not sure what urge possessed me when I selected this YA novel from Amazon Vine. I confess that I would not have forced myself to finish it had I not been required to post a review. My advice -- skip it.

Ember Leferrier is 17 years old when she returns home after spending over 8 months recovering from a near fatal accident. She sustained severe body injuries, and because of traumatic brain damage, has also lost the memory of six weeks of her life before the car crash. Although her body is mostly healed, the amnesia persists and Ember feels compelled to seek some answers -- especially when she finds that she "forgot" that a boy she can't remember much about was in the car beside her when she slid off the bridge that night. Who was she, and who was Anthony?

The voice of Ember doesn't ring true in conversation with friends or parents, and seems completely unrealistic considering the usual clinical effects seen as the result of brain injury. She doesn't appear to have speech difficulties, thinks clearly, has no deficits from the damage. Every so often the reader gets a sneak peek of medical insight with Ember complaining of temperature regulation issues or extreme tiredness, but she's back at school and running all over New York as soon as she gets home. There's nothing genuine about Ember's post rehab state as she blows off therapy and sends emails to her former neurosurgeon while her parents allow her complete independence as she hits dance clubs and former haunts to solve the mystery of her missing six weeks of memory. The big "reveal" will be guessed by any savvy reader mid chapter 6. Of course all of Ember's friends and her very busy parents are supportive and so good to her, but does she talk to them, confide in them? No. Frankly, she's a lousy friend as she puts on her clunky studded boots and her leather jacket (which apparently she never bothers to clean and which are retrieved from the plastic bag they were put into in the ER after her accident!) and roams the streets, visits strange restaurants, and meets a boy she can't quite keep track of but to whom she is intensely attracted. Can I say it? HO HUM. Contrived and straining credulity, this novel has little to offer as a story of a girl trying to reclaim her identity or piece together her missing past after a devastating accident.

I don't know if this book will appeal to young adult readers or not. It's safe to say that I was not the intended audience.

Book provided by Amazon Vine Program as ARC.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Accidents of Marriage by Randy Susan Meyers

3.0 out of 5 stars - "The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places."

Maddie, married to Ben, is a social worker with 3 children. She has endured and cowered from Ben's temper and anger issues for years. One day his rage erupts while they are together in a car -- Ben is driving -- and his careless recklessness results with Maddie in the ICU brain injured and in a coma. The family rallies around in confusion and fear. Eventually Maddie returns home, but she's forever damaged.

I attended a Book Trib webchat with the author before I read the book and I'm sorry to admit that I really didn't like this book as much as I had looked forward to reading it, especially seeing all the superlatives used in other reviews that gave it 5 stars. I wanted to feel empathy for Maddie and for the children, hoped to see developing awareness and change in Ben, and waited for an ending that would make me believe that this novel would be more than a "why she stayed...why she left" Lifetime movie-like drama. I tried, in vain, to like and care about the characters and what happened to them. I never reached that point. Maddie is portrayed as a long-suffering saint, the teenaged daughter, Emma, is of course a mess, the other two siblings have issues that were exacerbated, the in-laws and out-laws were stereotypical in their responses, and Ben -- oh Ben -- the narcissistic bad guy who needed anger management therapy and a reality check. With so much in the news about abusive relationships gone wrong, we're aware that all parties need serious help. Where was the family therapy aspect in this book -- no one was getting counseling except for Maddie and her "adjustment" appointments. I don't know why this novel didn't resonate with me and I kept going back to various points in the story to reread them, trying to make myself feel what I expected, what other readers must have felt -- to look at Ben and say he's totally someone to get away from, that Maddie was justified. I hate the notion of any kind of abuse in a relationship. I guess I'm just frustrated that Maddie tolerated Ben's behavior, took pills to soothe and numb herself, subjected her children to that household, denied the extent of the problem for so long...and then the accident. Probably because I've known far too many women in relationships like this who KNEW beforehand what the man was capable of, had experienced recognition that this man had issues. Forgave him time and again. No, love is not and never will be enough to overcome and promises and pleas for forgiveness can't mend what's broken in the cycle of domestic violence. Maybe I just wanted a happy ending even as I realize that the conclusion here is more true to life.

Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for the e-book ARC to review.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Firebird's Feather by Marjorie Eccles

3.0 out of 5 stars -- "Wishes are sometimes liars. They hold out too much hope, so always be careful what you wish for."

Historical fiction involving a murder investigation and family secrets set in Britain circa 1911. King Edward has just died and preparations are underway for the coronation of King George. Despite the celebratory mood in London, brave women are protesting for the right to vote and all of those demonstrations have not been peaceful ones. In the Challoner household, not far from Hyde Park, the aristocratic family is about to experience its own upheaval in the form of the shooting death of the lady of the house, Lydia Kasparov Challoner.

Lydia, the daughter of a Russian revolutionary who fled to Britain for asylum, was shot with a gun known to be the weapon of choice for many foreign revolutionary gangs while out riding with her escort one Sunday. It's suspected that her murder might be connected to the Letts -- terrorists who had also fled Russia and joined other lawless expatriates leading to violence in the streets. How might Lydia have been involved with any of these activities since her father had died long ago and why was she targeted? Her daughter, 18-year old Kitty, is caught up in the search for her mother's killer as the police question all of Lydia's family and acquaintances. Kitty joins forces with Marcus Villiers to do some sleuthing on her own.

This novel is quite short and meanders a bit as snippets of information and clues are revealed or discovered. None of the characters are very well-developed and are quite superficially portrayed. The plot is a bit thin and when the murderer is identified it seems anticlimactic after all the red herrings. Described as "a late-Edwardian mystery," the book is a quick read.

Thank you to NetGalley and Severn House for the e-book ARC to review. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

We Are Called To Rise by Laura McBride

5.0 out of 5 stars "Where the tiniest act, the smallest space of time, the most inconsequential of decisions changes a life" ALL matters.

Have you ever read a novel that challenges you to be a better person? In this story, often very heartbreaking, the central characters struggle with the circumstances of their lives as each makes choices that ultimately offer hope in the face of loss, devastation, and tragedy.

The other Las Vegas -- the homes and communities off the strip where the highrollers and tourists don't often go. Some parts of the city can be tough and mean, the seedy side competing with the bright lights and lures of a fantasy town built on dreams and money. Millions of people drift in and out of Las Vegas and some have lived there for generations hardscrabbling to make a life in a place carved out of the desert. It can be a nightmare for those on the fringe and Roberta Weiss, a CASA volunteer, has seen the worst so she seeks out the homeless and marginalized children to offer food, a place for shelter, advocacy in court or foster care. There are many she can't save.

The narrative shifts in perspective as a compelling tale unfolds -- for all of these separate lives ultimately converge. Nate Gisselberg and Luiz Rodriguez-Reyes are two soldiers rasied in Las Vegas who returned from the war zones deeply affected by where they've been and what they've done. Avis, Nate's mother, is dealing with a shocking betrayal and divorce after her husband tells her he's fallen in love with another woman. And then there's Bashkim Ahmeti, an 8-year-old boy, son of Albanian immigrants -- his parents and little sister make their living selling ice cream off a truck that's on its last fumes. None of them live in the same Las Vegas, but all will meet after a tragic twist that the author has based on a true event. Who among them will be "called to rise" and whose stature will fail to "touch the skies" when the unspeakable happens?

This book captured me from the first few lines and I was unable to tear myself away from the unfolding chapters even as I held my breath waiting for the climax as if it was a ticking time bomb. The writing was eloquent and honest, the characters were complex and the voices of each so believable. The reader feels the pain and the soul searching, the cry in the night, the fear, the heartache. Every one is fighting personal demons, but yet, there is love, too.

I'd recommend this enthusiastically as it will generate fantastic discussion. The only reason I felt a bit cheated was that the last chapter seemed a bit rushed and I wanted more detail about some of the dangling ends that were never fully explained. But, if it almost brought tears to my eyes, it also made me feel hopeful that people are meant to be good, but many can't do it alone and often need help they can't or won't ask for. For some of us, there will be a defining moment in our lives where we are "called to rise" and I fervently hope I can be "true to plan."

4.5 out of 5 stars
Vine Customer Review of Free Product

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar

4.0 out of 5 stars Choices. Friendship. Forgiveness...

Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Dr. Maggie Bose is asked to visit a new patient who was admitted after an attempted suicide the previous night. Lakshmi, immigrated from India, and estranged from her family left behind, is startled and hesitant to confide in the African American psychologist. Their relationship moves beyond the professional one usually mandated in therapy and becomes a sort of friendship as Maggie and her Indian husband, Sudhir, try to help Lakshmi make changes in her own marriage and improve her situation in life.

Unfortunately, both Maggie and Lakshmi have different expectations of their roles in the unequal relationship they have. Both ultimately disappoint and hurt each other in ways that permanently fracture their fragile connection. Lakshmi, upset by something that Maggie has said in response to a revelation, is stunned by an unexpected discovery of her friend's secret, and does something that completely shakes up Maggie's life. Forgiveness -- difficult to give and sometimes hard to accept.

This book created a wide range of emotions as I read and I often felt that I could not really connect with either character. The choices and reactions they had to situations were none that I could identify with and neither did I really like Maggie or Lakshmi though I was empathetic to their emotional pain at times. I did not appreciate Lakshmi's first person narrative in dialect and that was irritating enough to cause me to rate the book lower. Despite that, the way that the author writes is really amazingly profound. The manner in which her characters experience personal revelations and insight probe the depths of the human heart and our capacity for love and forgiveness even though our follies and foibles often strain the bonds of family and friendship.

The conclusion is satisfying and fitting and I would recommend this to book groups as it definitely will provide for some great discussion of these themes.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

3.5 out of 5 stars -- Love. Drama. Crime.

Frances Wray and her widowed mother live in genteel poverty on Champion Hill -- it's just south of London and still considered a fashionable district in 1922. Unfortunately, Mr. Wray died with substantial debt and the two women are forced to acquire paying guests to sustain their quiet lives without hired help or funds for upkeep of the decaying house. The young, new renters, Leonard and Lilian Barber, take up residence in rooms on the upper floor and soon create a seismic shift in the lives of the homeowners. Frances, in particular, finds herself caught up in a sudden new passion as she watches the tenants, does the chores, and tries to maintain the sparsely furnished spaces where she and her mother languish. While Leonard is at work as an insurance clerk, Frances and Lilian forge a relationship that invariably leads to a crime, an unanticipated challenge, a moral dilemma, and a quandary with implications that mean the difference between being caught in a trap or gaining freedom.

I vacillated between a 3 and a 4 rating on this one and settled for 3.5 -- I haven't felt this ambiguous about a novel for quite some time. That said, the slow buildup and the storyline were enough to keep me coming back for more even as I was wishing that Waters would step up the pace of the narrative and move along, stop repeating herself, and get to the end a little faster. That's not to say that I found this tale suspenseful even though I think it is meant to be. It was more like having something continuously dangled nearby but out of reach almost to the point of frustration and annoyance. This was not a mystery, per se, as the reader knows exactly what happened but it takes a slow, infuriating and somewhat exasperating while to get to the climax. The resolution was absolutely fitting even as I was on tenterhooks as I continued reading even faster to see if the author would make that choice.

I've read a couple of this author's other books and always enjoy her unique stories and settings. I'd recommend this to fans of Sarah Waters and those who enjoy a bit of sinister with their afternoon tea.

Complimentary ARC received from publisher for review.