NetGalley Top Reviewer

NetGalley Top Reviewer
NetGalley Top Reviewer

Monday, February 29, 2016

S. by JJ Abrams and Doug Dorst

3.0 out of 5 stars -- "One book. Two readers. A world of mystery, menace, and desire."

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. List of inserts/page numbers taken from

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.

2-9 Met to discuss Chapter 7. We were quite surprised by events that bring even more questions and confusion. S___ is writing. S____ has aged. S_____still has no answers to his history though it seems that memories are coming. The visit to the island was interesting -- who was that old woman?
Is this whole experience to this point some sort of dream state for S____?  He's back to the ship after seeing all the books and the old woman. Makes a mistake to sneak a visit the orlop deck? or is it not a mistake after all?

2-11 Again we meet to talk about Chapter Interlude when S___is apparently fulfilling his duties with the contents of the valise and murdering the Agents who work for THE BOSS (Vevoda).  It was interesting to see a reference to a specific place (Sarajevo) and a real event (assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand) and some other details that eliminate some of the vagueness associated with the rest of the book. May be helpful to review some of the pertinent history of that time and place. Circa 1914?
Interesting that S___sews up his own lips but takes out the thread when he leaves the ship to go on his missions. He still spends hours in the orlop writing "all the stories of the world" and time is fluid.

2-16 Met for Chapter 8 - on the Territory for another assassination. This time -- someone S___ has known in the past! Again his guides are killed/die. There's a baby too -- what does it mean? Some good quotes in this chapter: "What matters is what you DO, not what you are called." (name is not your identity). "Better a change than an end."  "History - a story of choices."  When S____attempts to return to the ship, it's been destroyed and all appear dead.

2-22 Well, we have finished reading the book of Ship of Thesus and were quite dismayed by the NONending. No answers. Just a lot of platitudes and axioms about life in general. What happened at the Chateau? Where are S and Sola going (if anywhere). Where's their ship? Is this a happy ever after ending for them?

Not sure what to do next. We've agreed that we will give a shot to going back through and now reading the margin notes and trying to figure out what the inserts have to do with anything. I'm afraid we all missed the boat and the message of this one...

2-29 How appropriate to end our reading of this book on "Leap Day" -- yes, we're done. After all this time, we just don't want to commit any more to trying to decipher the hidden means, go through the clues, and figure out any further revelations from this book. The experience was interesting, but in the end, all the "extras" didn't really do anything to add to the value or the story of S. In fact, the most common complaint from the group was that the story was frustrating and confusing.
SO -- we're glad we read it, found some insight about the truth of personal identity and change.
I'm thinking that others might get more out of it than we did, but we just didn't want to invest any more energy and continue reading between the lines (and around them) to get the whole story!

I like this quote (on a card inserted between pages 360-361) attributed to VM Straka: "A person is NO MORE & NO LESS than the story of his Passions and Deeds."

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

4.0 out of 5 stars -- "Life is a series of decisions and reactions. It is the things you do and the things that are done to you. And then it's over."

It's been awhile since I opened a book and read until I finished it. Over the couple of hours I spent with this novel, I experienced quite a few emotions and thoroughly enjoyed the writing style of the author and the characters he created in this sadly too familiar story that could be current headline news.

A private jet crashes into the ocean just minutes out of Martha's Vineyard. The passengers include a wealthy family of 4 the Batemans, a couple who were friends of theirs, the Kiplings, a bodyguard to Mr. Batemen, a washed up artist posed for a comeback, Scott Burroughs, and the plane's crew of 3. There are only two survivors -- 4 year old JJ Bateman and Scott Burroughs. What brought down this plane?

The narrative shifts in point of view as the backstory of the characters is revealed as well as all that was currently going on in each life. It's a story of how the very wealthy live. It's about the power of the media in this age of 24-hour all access news. It's about perception and honesty and the difficulty one can have in figuring out what is important and how terribly fleeting life is.

I don't want to say more -- I'd recommend it!  February was a month of "plane crash" books for me!

Thank you to NetGalley and Grand Central Publishing for the e-book ARC to review.

What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan

4.0 out of 5 stars -- Nothing strikes fear into the heart of parents as much as the thought of a missing child -- their own missing child...

Eight year-old Ben Finch goes missing while out walking on a lovely autumn day near their home in Bristol. Ben had run on ahead by himself to a clearing to a rope swing and when Rachel Jenner, his mom, catches up -- Ben is gone! Brought to the edge of insanity by everything that transpires as police try to find her son, Rachel is undone by how the trust she innocently placed in others was misguided at best, and dangerous at worst. Who could have taken Ben? Neither the detectives nor the public are very sympathetic to Rachel, who is not behaving as expected. But no one involved is who they have held themselves up to be.

I enjoyed this fast-paced mystery thriller that alternated between the voices of Rachel and the lead detective assigned to the abduction, James Clemo, from the Avon and Somerset Constabulary. The details of the investigation were solid police procedural mixed with conflicting personal drama that interfered with the case. Although I wasn't all that keen on Rachel, I was empathetic to her situation and kept biting my nails and holding my breath at the red herrings and distractions that prevented me from guessing the identity of Ben's kidnapper. I found the conclusion quite satisfying and would recommend it to any fans of domestic suspense. If you like the novels of authors such as Linwood Barclay and Gillian Flynn, you'll not want to miss this.

Library book. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Secret Language of Stones by M.J. Rose

This is the second in the daughters of La Lune series and set in Paris during WWI.  Frankly, these are the most beautiful covers -- I just love looking at them to get in the mood for reading.

3.0 out of 5 stars -- "Make of the blood, heat. Make of the heat, a fire. Make of the fire, life everlasting."

Romance, witchcraft, and lithomancy set in Paris toward the end of World War I. Opaline Duplessi, the daughter of Sandrine (of book #1 in the Daughters of La Lune series), is studying the craft of jewelry making under the tutelage of Pavel Orloff, a Russian expatriate. Opaline is able to hear voices of those who have died after she makes a special talisman for those who seek her special skills. One day, while creating such a charm, she hears the voice of a dead soldier speaking directly to her! Along the way, she also becomes involved in the politics of the Bolshevik Revolution and the Romanov family.

Art and history combine with the supernatural to create a love story that transcends what we normally understand about the occult and death. It matters not whether you believe in psychic power.

I've read all of MJ Rose's novels and this is another one that will please her fans and perhaps entice new readers as well. The beautiful cover art draws the reader in, and the writing captures the time period and the deepens the mood. Satisfying read.

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

Friday, February 19, 2016

Far From True (#2) by Linwood Barclay

3.0 out of 5 stars -- Something is seriously rotten in Promise Falls...

I was excited to get this second book in the trilogy by one of my favorite authors. Had I known that the cliffhanger at the end of this one was going to be so glaringly a slap in the face after the time I invested reading it, I would have definitely not read it at this time. If you haven't yet started this trilogy, my recommendation would be to wait until all 3 books are available so that you don't experience the frustration of wanting to throw the novel at the wall!

The story is a complicated mix of various plot lines and a vast cast of characters. Trying to keep them all straight is difficult as there are multiple investigations going on simultaneously. Lots of death, murder and mayhem with some titillating scandal involving some of the members of this small community. The opening features a giant drive-in movie screen exploding and falling on a couple of cars in the lot. Once the dust settles from that event, we move on to situations involving a tragedy or two from the previous book and a current shocker of "spouse sharing" that might lead to a murder or two. And that's just the beginning.

I had read #1 also as an ARC (in June of 2015) so it had been awhile, and my memory of that book was resurrected as events evolved so there was some familiarity with several of the characters. I thought at least ONE of the crimes would have been solved by this one's end, but no joy. I enjoyed the writing and the stories and would have rated this higher had it actually had a definitive conclusion giving some resolution or answers. Of course I'll read the third one having already come this far, but I don't like having to wait for it and I do not like it when authors do this to fans.

I'd describe it as a mystery thriller involving domestic issues. Thank you to the publisher for the e-book ARC to review.

PS The reader gets a sneak peek into the beginning of the next and last book in this trilogy and, whoa, now those poor folks in Promise Falls have a really big problem!

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Considerate Killer by Lene Kaaberbol (#4)

This is the 4th and final installment of the Nina Borg series set in Denmark.

3.0 out of 5 stars -- Fitting conclusion to a very enjoyable series of 4 books featuring Red Cross nurse Nina Borg. I would definitely recommend that any reader start with the first, THE BOY IN THE SUITCASE, my favorite, as Nina is a very complex character whose motivations and drive provide the rationale for how she ends up in some of her predicaments.

Although Nina is Danish, her adventures and escapades take her to various other far-flung destinations. She has a difficult time with relationships, given her history, and she can be quite stubborn and single-minded. She's emotionally and physically tough, and those traits serve her well.

When she is assaulted while out grocery shopping and comes to consciousness with a skull fracture in a local hospital, she has no clue of who might have wanted to harm her, or why. For this time, she has not run off to a dangerous situation but was simply "being there" in Viborg after her mother was diagnosed with cancer. From there, the narrative goes back in time to set up the story to explain the reasons for the attack and how Nina innocently got involved in a calamity in the Philippines 4 years previously that has led to someone wanting her silenced. It takes quite a long time for the set up.

Except for the fact that Nina does the almost impossible and manages to escape death yet again -- the story was complex and even a bit far-fetched -- but I enjoyed the pace and the personal growth that Nina experiences. This was not a medically oriented thriller despite Nina being a nurse, though her occupation is generally what gets her into the situations.

I've liked all the books in the series and will miss Nina -- with hope that she is finally happy and at peace with herself and her life!

Thank you to Edelweiss and the publisher, Soho Crime, for the e-book ARC to review.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Passenger 19 by Ward Larsen

What can I say -- I like books about airplanes and I'm in disaster mode...please suggest more titles in this vein...

4.0 out of 5 stars -- Entertaining and fast-paced, this action adventure novel featuring Jammer Davis kept me guessing almost to the very end!

Jammer (Frank) Davis is an investigator for the NTSB. Ex military (Air Force and Marines) and a private pilot, he has the necessary experience to investigate the crash of a regional jet in Columbia. The situation is complicated by the fact that Jammer's daughter, Jen, was meant to be on that plane.

When he arrives in Bogota, Jammer and the other investigators are confounded by some irregularities in the flight and astounded by the dawning realization that this was not a typical plane crash. The local authorities are not as helpful as they could be and the language barrier is also a bit of a problem.  What brought down this plane and what happened onboard? The clues point to a deviously plotted event.

Once I got past the character's name and got into the book, I really enjoyed the story. Of course it was a bit over-the-top stretching credulity due to Jammer's simply amazing talents, skills and abilities for a mere man, but I'd definitely read more books by Ward Larsen. The author obviously knows planes and I definitely will check out his previous books featuring this character and any future novels he writes.

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

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.