NetGalley Top Reviewer

NetGalley Top Reviewer
NetGalley Top Reviewer

Friday, February 27, 2015

Second Life by S.J. Watson

3.0 out of 5 stars -- "a woman's descent into the treacherous world of the Internet."

Julia Wilding, middle-aged wife of Hugh, is enjoying her safe, albeit somewhat boring, life when her world is upended by the death of her estranged sister, Kate. The sisters had been extremely close in childhood but things had become ugly between them lately when Kate wanted Julie and Hugh to return her son, Connor, whom they had adopted when Kate could not take care of him after he was born. Before that issue could be resolved, Kate is murdered in an alleyway in Paris...and that's when the trouble really begins.

Julia, a recovering alcoholic and former heroin addict with a bit of a wild past herself, is completely unhinged by Kate's brutal death, and becomes obsessed with finding out who killed her and why. When the police don't seem to be following up on the case to her satisfaction, Julia decides to take matters into her own hands and begins by contacting Kate's former roommate, Anna, to find out what Kate had been doing in the period before she was murdered. Julia discovers that Kate often used an online web site to chat with or meet up with strange men...and that's when Julia completely goes off the rails.

Deciding to pretend to be her dead sister, Julia uses Kate's ID to sign on to a website and meets a younger man. They begin chatting, and Julia, emotionally fragile and insecure, is immediately drawn in by the excitement and danger of the illicit sexual interaction, and begins a physical affair with Lukas...and that's when the story line veers off the path and becomes a tawdry cycle of unbelievable actions by Julia and convenient co-incidences that are meant to ratchet up the suspense but that only left me shaking my head in amazement that anyone could make those choices! Sure, Julia might have been in need of much more than ho-hum sex with her staid, steady surgeon husband, but it seemed that her decisions were always the ones that anyone with sense just would not make. I was wondering if some of the scenes were influenced by "Shades of Grey" as the affair continues despite the obvious danger Julia has put herself and her family in. Julia becomes mired in a situation out of control when the affair escalates into something that she can't seem to get out of, but things are not exactly what they seem. What has Julia done? And when the excuse that she was just trying to find her sister's killer no longer is the point, what can she do to stop what she has set in motion -- OR is there something else, even more diabolical going on here?

The book is divided into five parts and the description above is just the set up. I won't say anymore about who does what to whom or the startling, and very "disturbing conclusion" that left me shaking my head in disbelief. Julia is a very hard character to like and the reader is sucked in -- all the while knowing this is going to be a train wreck. Although I had predicted the twists to some degree, I must admit that I couldn't help but race through the book, unable to put it down as it reached the climax. There have been a lot of books lately that are described as psychological suspense, and to some degree that's true here, but it was hard to buy into some of what Julia did and the reader gets tired of being inside her head with all her issues and past. I kept on reading, despite those misgivings, and am glad I finished the book despite the lack of resolution at the end.

I chose this because I had read this author's previous book, Before I Go to Sleep: A Novel, and enjoyed it well enough, so wanted to read another. I think there is an overabundance of this type of novel out there now, and it's getting harder to shock and surprise readers with twisty tales and unreliable, flawed narrators, but I think many will probably still like this one.
Amazon Vine

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Bones Never Lie by Kathy Reichs

3.0 out of 5 stars -- This is #17 in a very popular series featuring Dr. Temperance Brennan, a forensic anthropologist, who works out of Charlotte, North Carolina and from another office in Canada. This is only the 3rd book of Reichs's that I have read, and I think it was a mistake to miss out on the intervening books before picking this one. There was so much back story that I obviously missed which made understanding the roles of each, the relationships and the intensity of this particular case a bit more difficult.

Dr. Brennan is called in to the Cold Case Unit after two young female victims have been found that link to a decades old murder spree involving child murderer Anique Pomerleau. The catch is that this killer had eluded police for years, and had once almost tried to murder Brennan! In a complicated investigation that jumps from North Carolina to the frigid northeast and to Canada and back, Dr. Brennan, her old partner Andrew Ryan, and cop "Skinny" Slidell, try to figure out if Anique is truly active again, and why. The details of the forensics and the laborious process of following leads were extremely interesting, and part of what makes me love this type of book so much. Although I figured out what was going on long before the characters solved the mystery, it was fun to see it slowly revealed, however hard to believe the involvement of Brennan's mother! Oh well, some co-incidence and stretch of credulity did forward the narrative.

I think I need to go back and start at the beginning of the series and grow attached to Tempe in the proper manner. I must say that this is nothing like the television series, BONES, that I really enjoy because of my love of science and forensic investigation.

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

Monday, February 23, 2015

Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight

The tiny body of a newborn baby girl is found half buried in a wooded area near the Essex Bridge in Ridgedale, New Jersey. The main character, Molly Anderson, who used to be a lawyer, but who is now a reporter for the local "Ridgedale Reader" newspaper, is sent to the scene when the usual crime reporter is out having minor surgery. The problem is -- Molly has barely recovered after a breakdown she experienced when she recently had a stillbirth delivery. So, she's fragile and emotional but feels that writing this story will help her get her small family back on track. Husband Justin - who teaches at the university -- and toddler daughter Ella, are supportive. Absolutely no one has any idea whose baby this might be. There are no clues, and apparently no recently pregnant woman with a missing infant. The local police chief investigates. The medical examiner hasn't released cause of death.

The narrative shifts to include the points of view of other women in the small town. More characters are introduced and the story line becomes quite complicated as the reader tries to figure out who the baby belongs to and who the father is and what happened that fateful night. Flashbacks that use nicknames further confuse. There are red herrings galore but most readers will be able to figure out the big reveal well in advance.

I chose this because I had enjoyed Kimberly McCreight's first novel, RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA. I would have to say that I didn't care for this one as much, and never developed any connection to the many one-dimensional characters. The ending was lifetime movie worthy and I was disappointed by the pat and predictable resolutions of the conflicts and problems. No surprises.

I'd read another by this author and would recommend it to anyone interested in a mystery that doesn't have grisly murders or intense suspense.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Stranger by Harlan Coben

3.0 out of 5 stars -- I was racing along, really into this thriller involving a man whose wife had lied to him. Definitely a 4 star read, I was thinking. Lots of possibilities here with the plot line and I was caught up in wondering what was going on and trying to figure it all out. Until the big reveal and the completely unbelievable ending. Coben used to be near the top of "must read" authors, but after the last few he's written, all I am is disappointed. Again.

Regardless, if you do read it, and I'm sure his many fans will propel it to the top of the lists, perhaps you'll feel differently than I do. I won't be recommending.

Stands alone -- not part of any series.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Downton Abbey: Rules for Household Staff by Mr. Carson

3.0 out of 5 stars -- A guide for service at Downton Abbey that gives details about the various positions in the household and highlights their job duties. In addition, a hierarchy of staff and an order of preference among the ladies and gentleman is included.

This is an interesting companion book that gives background to both the television series and a recent Masterpiece theater DVD release (THE MANNERS OF DOWNTON ABBEY) that features Alastair Bruce, the historical adviser to Downton Abbey. One can learn all manner of helpful household hints from the proper way to store wine to how to fold napkins to how to clean everything in the house properly.

I can say, emphatically, that I feel quite happy to have never been "in service" during those years -- it sounds utterly exhausting just reading about it all! I would have liked to know more -- much more -- about the actual daily lives of the servants other than some of their tasks. What did they eat? When did they bathe and where? What was it like to live in the upstairs quarters in the house? What did they do in their free time? Were most of them able to read and write? Just MORE.

It was an enjoyable and short bit of entertainment perfect for any DA fan. Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for the e-book ARC to review.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth

2.5 out of 5 stars -- Don't be misled by the cover and the synopsis -- this is NOT anything like the television series or the books by Jennifer Worth (CALL THE MIDWIFE). The setting is present day east coast with only a tiny scene that flashes back to England and bicycles.

Simply put, it is women's fiction -- about mother and daughter relationships, romance, secrets kept, and predictable outcomes. There is also graphic description of the births attended by the two women who are practicing midwives. As a nurse, I kept reading only for those details, as I found them fairly interesting though definitely there was an anti-hospital, anti-medical establishment undercurrent. I am tired of reading stories that focus on rivalry and competition between doctors and nurse midwives with only the barest nod to the fact that both professions have a place in the birthing of babies and, from my experience, usually demonstrate a mutual respect for the skills and knowledge each brings. Birthing choices are just that -- a variety of options -- with the pregnant couple making their decision with the hope that the outcome will be a safe delivery of a healthy infant. There's no reason to have a bias where a woman is made to feel more or less "powerful" based on the type of delivery chosen.

The narrative shifted in point of view of the three main female characters. I'd figured out the secrets and guessed the outcome of each woman's individual story line quickly. I never experienced any empathy or connection to any of the characters and felt they were quite flat despite the author's attempts to give them some depth with their personalities (seemed cliche). Could say this was a fairy tale about modern day midwives with a neatly wrapped happy ending.  

I was extremely disappointed as it was not at all what I was hoping for. Not recommending.

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for the e-book ARC to review. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Those Girls by Chevy Stevens

2.0 out of 5 stars -- Three sisters escape a violent, abusive father only to end up in an even worse predicament that they barely survive. Years later, the women are still tormented and scarred by the events of that summer. One of the girls is determined to have a final reckoning, but plans go terribly awry.

This is the 5th book I've read by this author and it was very much a let-down. I didn't find it suspenseful, there's no mystery, and few thrills here. I read that it's supposed to be a novel about resilience and survival, but the decisions made by the women were so unbelievable that I lost whatever empathy I'd had for them early on. The characters were so one-dimensional (especially the bad guys) and I never got attached to any of the sisters. I was quite excited to get a copy of this book, but must say that every turn of the page brought predictable action and I was just glad when I finally finished it though I had considered not doing so -- which is quite rare for me. I was also disappointed in a previous book, THAT NIGHT, as I'm still trying to find the same feeling I had about this author when I read her debut, STILL MISSING.

Nevertheless, I'd like to thank NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for the e-book manuscript to review. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Camille by Pierre Lemaitre

3.8 out of 5 stars -- A complex case brings a rather unsatisfying conclusion to the trilogy that features Police Commandant Camille Verhoeven.

Camille has finally allowed a woman into his life after spending years trying to recover from his wife's brutal murder. Anne Forestier is his secret -- Camille is not ready to take the relationship to the next step or make it public -- but they are growing closer. Suddenly, Camille is ripped back into a personal nightmare when Anne is savagely assaulted during the commission of a robbery. She barely survives, and even while in hospital, an attempt by an intruder to finish the job and kill her is narrowly prevented. Camille takes her to his own home to recover, but it seems that this robber has a more personal vendetta and the case seems about more than a burglary gone bad. Is Camille the real target, and why is this relentless killer so determined to get to Anne?

Tying up a trilogy is never an easy feat -- especially when the first two (IRENE and ALEX) were so amazing. I love the way the author weaves a very complicated web and then pulls it apart little by little. I did enjoy this book, and love its eponymous hero who is unique, quirky and a very well-developed character whom I've grown attached to. I hate to say goodbye to Camille and hope the author will take him in another direction.

I recommend the series to anyone who loves a great thriller. In order then:
1) Irene
2) Alex
3) Camille

And they MUST be read in the proper order!  Enjoy!

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

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly

4.0 out of 5 stars -- "A zoo is a place for animals to study the behavior of human beings."

What a fun and fast-paced read -- it fit my need for pure adrenalin-based action-packed entertainment and I had a hard time putting it down. I don't want to give any spoilers because the details and surprises of the magnificent zoo are part of the enjoyment. The characters ricochet from one pulse-pounding scene to another and, truly, the whole adventure is fast and furious. Enough adjectives? If you want to stop thinking and immerse yourself in a tale of a grand new zoo opening gone terribly wrong, then this is the book for you!

The author did a tremendous job making the zoo inhabitants believable and the people in the story are the usual mix of good guys and bad guys. Let's just say that Dr. CJ Cameron, female protagonist, is more superwoman than human! There will be the inevitable comparisons, but this is unique in setting and scope. Don't read too much about it ahead of time, suspend your disbelief, and enjoy this roller coaster thrill ride.

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

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

3.0 out of 5 stars -- Trite and overly sentimental, this coming of age story is narrated by 85-year-old Addie Baum Metsky when she is interviewed by her college-aged granddaughter. Ava has asked the question, "How did you get to be the woman you are today?"

Spanning the years from 1915-1985, Addie hits all the historical and period references, but she is a very emotionally removed narrator, more an observer, of the events and tragedies that befell other people during that time. It seems as though she has merely watched events unfold, participating from the sidelines, conveniently finding money, jobs, friends, and a love interest whenever needed to advance the story line. Her personal traumas are relatively minor compared to all that was happening in Boston, in America, and in the world during those years.

All told, I felt this was more of a fairy tale than a realistic picture of what life was really like for women living during the wars, the epidemics and the social upheaval of those critical decades. Addie always has some cliched words of wisdom to toss into the narrative and seems quite a lucky woman indeed to have navigated some experiences without too much suffering -- unlike most of the other characters. I was a bit disappointed as I loved THE RED TENT and its strong female protagonist, and found Addie's character to be rather bland and uninspiring. The historical events are mentioned almost as a side note with an offhand remark during the interview, and there isn't much depth to the relationships Addie has though she had an almost unbelievable group of friends who helped her immensely. Many of the supporting characters in Addie's story were stereotypes of Jewish mother, radical feminists, crusading lawyer, etc. I just didn't find the expected profundity in this novel, but I'm glad I read it.

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

Friday, February 6, 2015

Normal by Graeme Cameron

2.8 out of 5 stars -- Disturbing psychological thriller told from the point of view of a sociopathic serial killer.

First off, this unnamed male is definitely not DEXTER. He doesn't prey on criminals who've somehow escaped justice -- this guy is no righteous vigilante. Instead, he roams the supermarkets and neighborhood seeking women to imprison in his cage below the garage on his property. There's no particular reason why he chooses one over another, why he stalks one, or why he strikes and kills suddenly as if on an impetuous whim. He is just a regular guy, nothing special, so he slips around town in his specially made Transit to abduct and/or murder. Just a normal guy, nothing remarkable that stands out about him. Except for the fact that he's a psycho with some series issues that actually don't make the reader want to understand him better. How to explain the things he does?

Narrated in the first person, this novel puts the reader inside the mind of a guy who can seemingly "fall in love" with one woman while keeping another caged in his garage. Meanwhile, the police are snooping around his property and things start to get really dicey. I kept reading only because I wanted to see how this all played out, though there were so many contradictions in the behavior of the main characters that their actions didn't make sense in many instances. Pray tell, however, why the police have no weapons or defense equipment of any kind? Seems crazy to go after a suspicious character armed with nothing but a badge.

I really did not enjoy this book and I did not want to spend any more time trying to figure out this guy or spend any more time in his head. With an ambiguous conclusion, the author allowed me to get the closure I felt was deserved as I imagined Mr. Normal's future. I don't develop empathy for sociopathic killers, don't want to understand them, I just want them caught, stopped, and punished appropriately. This was a grisly read and I'm glad to be done with the book. I think anyone you enjoyed the book YOU by Caroline Kepnes would like this one too.

I'm thankful, however, to Harlequin UK and NetGalley for the opportunity to read the e-book ARC. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Girl With a Clock for a Heart by Peter Swanson

3.8 out of 5 stars -- Liars lie -- that's what they do. All the time. If you fall into the trap of one, especially a beautiful young girl at a point in your life when you're still a callow, naive youth, you might never be able to climb out. Even if she disappears on you, the memory of her sort of taints your life. If she should suddenly come back into your life, would you be tempted to reconnect and try to start it all up again? I'm guessing you would.

And so did George, poor sap. Liana makes him an offer he just can't refuse and he doesn't see why he shouldn't do her this one little favor. Unfortunately for George, Liana has a "clock for a heart" and things are nothing like they seem. George is unwittingly caught up in a scheme that leaves him confused, and his life in danger.

This was a good and somewhat unpredictable thriller, but not as good as THE KIND WORTH KILLING, and since I had read the other first, I sort of anticipated the flow and outcome of this suspenseful tale. The two books are not part of a series, fortunately, so reading them out of order didn't matter. I enjoy the way this author writes and I'll be looking for his next novel. Great characters and fast-paced action as the narrative flips back and forth in time from George's viewpoint. Enjoy!

Library book