Friday, December 4, 2015

Review: "Missing Pieces" by Heather Gudenkauf

Disclosure: This ARC ebook was provided to me via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Title: Missing Pieces
Author: Heather Gudenkauf
Publisher: MIRA
Pub. Date: February 2, 2016

I have read all of Heather Gudenkauf's previous novels and have really enjoyed them all.

This one not so much.

The story's premise is a good one. Jack and his wife are summoned to Jack's hometown when his aunt is in an accident. After they arrive, the aunt dies and the police suspect that it was no accident after all. Then Jack's wife Sarah begins to learn all of Jack's family secrets, including the fact that Jack's mother was murdered and his father disappeared. Why has Jack kept his history a secret for all these years from her? Why would someone want his elderly aunt dead?

The main problem I had with this book were the characters. Jack comes across as completely phony, and he and Sarah seem more like strangers than husband and wife. I understand that that is part of the plot (the idea that he has been keeping secrets from Sarah), but even before she finds this out, they seem distant. The whoel family is thrown into a murder investigation, but all Sarah can worry about is that Jack used to date Celia. Really? That's her main concern?

Finally, the execution of the plot was weak. I figured out the murderer pretty quickly. The red herrings that the author included were not convincing at all. It seemed as if Gudenkauf wanted to just throw a lot of ideas out there and hope that something stuck.

"Missing Pieces" was a quick read and fairly entertaining, but if you are looking for a good mystery, look elsewhere.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Review: "Depraved Heart" by Patricia Cornwell

Disclosure: This ARC ebook was provided to me via HouseParty in return for an honest review.

Title: Depraved Heart
Author: Patricia Cornwell
Publisher: William Morrow
Pub. Date: October 27, 2015

I have read all of Patricia Cornwell's 22 previous Kay Scarpetta novels so I was excited about being chosen to be a Chatterbox for this book. I eagerly awaited my free advanced reader's copy, and when it arrived, I dove right in.

Depraved Heart opens with Kay and Marino investigating the death of a young woman named Chanel Gilbert. It looks accidental, but Kay soon realizes that the death is suspicious. But her attention is quickly turned elsewhere when she receives videos on her phone showing her niece Lucy and Scarpetta's arch-nemesis, Carrie Grethen. Scarpetta is convinced that Grethen is responsible for attacking her on a scuba dive (as told in Cornwell's last novel Flesh and Blood), and she believes that Grethen is continuing to taunt her using these old videos.

Leaving the Gilbert crime scene behind suddenly, Scarpetta rushes to Lucy's estate to find out what is happening. There she finds that the FBI has swarmed the estate with search warrants, looking for anything to put Lucy behind bars. Is this part of Grethen's evil plan? How are the videos coming from Lucy's phone? And what does this have to do with the Gilbert murder?

These questions are answered, but unfortunately not in a smooth, satisfying way. The novel seems to just try to establish Grethen's return without much real action or tension. There's no excitement or horror present, as in previous Scarpetta novels. There's just the vague shadow of Carrie Grethen in the background, echoing the shadow she is casting over Scarpetta and Lucy's lives. I kept waiting for a scary or shocking moment, but sadly it never came. The plot itself was fairly weak and didn't hold my interest which was disappointing.

I understand that some novels have to set the stage for future stories, but I still hoped for more action from Cornwell.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Review: "Pop Goes the Weasel" by MJ Arlidge

Disclosure: This ARC ebook was provided to me via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Title: Pop Goes the Weasel
Author: M.J. Arlidge
Publisher: NAL/Penguin Group
Pub. Date: October 6, 2015

The second installment of the DI Helen Grace series is, in one word, amazing. I think I like this book even better than the first book in the series (Eeny Meeny), and I loved the first!

In this book, DI Helen Grace is back in all of her complicated, damaged glory. This time, she is on the trail of a killer posing as a prostitute who is luring men to their deaths. Not only are the men murdered, but then the killer sends gruesome tokens through the mail to their familes and coworkers. 

This is another book that I like to call a "one sitting" book: you sit down and finish it all in one go because you just can't wait to find out what happens. DI Grace is as compelling a character as I have encountered in a while. After the events of Eeny Meeny, she comes across as even more vulnerable, a trait she hates, but we as readers love. In this book, the author gives us deeper insight into the other characters as well, especially DI Grace's fellow cop Tony. He is flawed and really makes you feel empathy for his situation. The action in this book is top-notch: short, flashy, visceral violence that makes you wince yet greedily read more. 

Hooray for M.J. Arlidge! He has given us yet another winner in the mystery/thriller genre, and he is rapidly becoming one of my favorites.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Review: "Eeny Meeny" by MJ Arlidge

Disclosure: This ARC ebook was provided to me via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Title: Eeny Meeny
Author: M.J. Arlidge
Publisher: Penguin Group
Pub. Date: June 2, 2015

As a die-hard fan of British mystery/thriller/police procedurals, I couldn't wait to read "Eeny Meeny". Let me say up front that it did not disappoint! This book hooked me from the very start and begged - nay, forced - me to read it in one sitting.

"Eeny Meeny" introduces us to DI Helen Grace, a fiercely good cop whose past has left her severely emotionally damaged, leading her to some questionable lifestyle choices. She is tough, she is complicated, she is damn near perfection in a character. She is on the hunt of a psychopath who kidnaps pairs of people and forces them to make the ultimate decision of which one will live and which one will die.

The author's television background is apparent in his writing style: the scenes are visual and gruesome and the chapters short and fast-paced. You will catch yourself reading faster and faster just to find out what happens, much as you would impatiently fast-forward through commercials.

M.J. Arlidge has a winner here with this new series and I can't wait for the other installments!

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Review: "The Truth According to Us" by Annie Barrows

A special thank you to The Dial Press and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. 

Title: The Truth According to Us

Author: Annie Barrows
Publisher: The Dial Press
Pub Date: June 9, 2015

"The Truth According to Us" is one of those novels. You know, the kind that you either breathlessly anticipate or read grudgingly. I have to admit I viewed it as the latter. While I liked the authors last book ("The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society"), I wasn't really fired up about this one. Set in Depression-era West Virginia, this book tells the story of Willa, a 12-year-old girl who is starting to wonder about herself and the goings-on of her once-powerful family. Add in a young woman who has come to town as part of the WPA to write a town history, some eccentric family members, and some "family secrets", and you have the basic gist of the book. 

First, the pros of "The Truth". It definitely has some shades of "To Kill a Mockingbird." Willa shares a lot of the same motherless waif characteristics with Scout Finch. This book would also be a good book club book as it covers lots of topics: the Depression-era south, the WPA (part of the New Deal), family tragedy -- basically, a little something for everyone.

Now, unfortunately, the cons. First and foremost, the length. This whopper clocks in at over 500 pages. Way. Too. Long. And it seems even longer given that there is no real climax of the story. It just shambles along, alternating between letters and actual chapters of narration. Another issues is that there are entirely too many characters in this book, making it hard to keep track of who everyone is. It also makes it hard to care that much about any of them. A third problem is the characters themselves. Felix has no redeeming qualities, Layla is shown as funny and sharp in her letters, but as a simpering romance novel character in her everyday life, and Jottie is this sort of woman-child who just shuffles through life. 

I really enjoyed "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" (also by this author), but if you think you will be getting more of that, you are mistaken. While both books are about life in a small town, the books are completely different, and not in a good way. 

Thank you to Net Galley and The Dial Press for providing this ARC for the purposes of review.

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Review: "House of Echoes" by Brendan Duffy

A special thank you to Random House Publishing Group/Ballantine, and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. 

Title: House of Echoes
Author: Brendan Duffy
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group/Ballantine
Pub Date: April 14, 2015

In this debut thriller, Ben and Caroline Tierney have bought the Crofts, an old stone mansion near the village of Swannhaven in the mountains of remote upstate New York. They plan to turn it into a destination inn. They think that remodeling the house will provide their family with the stability they all need. Ben is a novelist, Caroline recently lost her banking job and has been battling her bi-polar disorder. Their older son is Charlie, who was being bullied in his school. After a bullying incident in which Charlie was missing, the family decides to get out of the city.

At first, the move seems like a good idea. Caroline's bi-polar symptoms are under control and she is throwing herself into the renovations on the inn. Charlie is enjoying exploring the woods surrounding the home, and Ben has found a topic for his next book. However, things began to turn quickly. Ben is finding dead animals left on their door step. Charlie isn't telling his parents about the "Watcher" mysterious person that he thinks he sees in the woods. Caroline is hiding the fact that she is going off her meds. This soon leads to tension that is set to tear everything apart.

Ben starts to interact with townspeople and begins to explore the history of the house and the Swann family. He discovers that the house has been the site of mysterious events like deadly fires, missing children, and even a winter of starvation. But what does this have to do with his family?

Overall, this book was good. It definitely felt like a gothic thriller, and more than once, I found myself comparing the feeling of the book to "The Shining" by Stephen King. But that is a generous comparison. This book is definitely not scary, and I had the "secret" of the house and town figured out in the first 100 or so pages. I was not a big fan of any of the characters either; Caroline was an over-the-top paranoiac and Ben comes across as "poor pitiful me -- I have to put up with a wimpy kid and a crazy wife." The story was good, but I felt that the inclusion of the "letters" from residents of the house back in the 1700's didn't really add anything to the book (whereas normally, I love details like that). I also felt that the "relationship" between "The Watcher" and Charlie was farfetched. I don't think that a child this young would do the things that Charlie does and keep secrets about it. Lastly, I didn't think that the very graphic descriptions of the dead animals was necessary. 

With summer coming, this could be a good beach read: fast, without too much thinking involved.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Review: "Exhuming Mary McCarthy" by Jessica Lamirand

Disclosure: I was provided with this ebook via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Title: Exhuming Mary McCarthy
Author: Jessica Lamirand
Publisher: Ambient Light Publishers
Pub. Date: Mar. 10, 2015

I had really high hopes for Exhuming Mary McCarthy. I was a college student in the 90's just like the author so I was looking forward to reliving that experience by reading this book. However, the pleasure of reading about experiences that were so similar to mine were overshadowed by the sheer volume of this memoir. 500 pages? Seriously? After a short while, the retelling of her story became tedious. Every party, every outfit, every random boy that the Group had a crush on -- all of these were told in excruciating detail. I feel like all of the minutia got in the way of what could have been a really good book.

I could relate to a lot of the college experiences that Jessica writes about. The unrequited crushes, the group of friends that you feel like will last forever, the unsure feeling you have about your classes, and all of this against the grunge soundtrack of the 90's-- I felt like this book could have been my story. But again, it was just too much. Even if the book was cut by a third, she could have told the story (which boils down to "The Group" of friends and how they change over the four years of college) in a more concise and more engaging memoir. As it is, this book just felt like a long slog through a whole lot of nothing.

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Friday, April 10, 2015

Review: "The Sham" by Ellen Allen

Disclosure: I was provided this ebook via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Title: The Sham
Author: Ellen Allen
Publisher: Ellen Allen
Pub. Date: Dec. 4, 2014

From the publisher --
Eighteen-year-old Emily Heath would love to leave her dead-end town, known locally as "The Sham", with her boyfriend, Jack, but he's very, very sick; his body is failing and his brain is shutting down. He's also in hiding, under suspicion of murder. Six months' ago, strange signs were painted across town in a dialect no one has spoken for decades and one of Emily's classmates washed up in the local floods.

Emily has never trusted her instincts and now they're pulling her towards Jack, who the police think is a sham himself, someone else entirely. As the town wakes to discover new signs plastered across its walls, Emily must decide who and what she trusts, and fast: local vigilantes are hunting Jack; the floods, the police, and her parents are blocking her path; and the town doesn't need another dead body.

I am at a loss as to how to review The Sham. Based on the publisher's description, this book sounded like it was right up my alley. Mystery, strange characters, missing girls -- sounds like a winner. But it wasn't.

My first problem with the book came right in the beginning. There is a very violent and disturbing scene involving teens and violence against a child and an animal. I am not a prudish reader by any stretch, but I am vehemently opposed to writers explicitly describing child abuse and animal abuse. I believe that there were other ways that the writer could have shown the bullying and hateful nature of the teen girls without resorting to a scene like this. Just based on the first chapter alone, I am surprised that this book is considered a YA novel.

The rest of the book was difficult as well, not for the content, but the writing. The writing style was choppy and made the story hard to follow. While I liked the character of Emily (she was well-written and actually came across as a real teenager), the character of Jack is another story. His odd behavior, his disjointed memories -- basically everything about him -- is not believable at all. I realize that Jack's characteristics are a big part of the story, but I felt like he was more of a cartoon than a character. After just a little while, I didn't really care what happened to the characters in the story.

I really, really wanted to like this book. While the elements that I normally love in a story were there, they just didn't come together in a way to make it enjoyable. Did the explicit violence color my opinion? Maybe, but even without that scence, I still don't think The Sham would have my cup of tea.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Review: "The Sound of Glass" by Karen White

Disclosure: This ARC ebook was provided to me via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Title: The Sound of Glass
Author: Karen White
Publisher: NAL
Pub. Date: May 12, 2015

The Sound of Glass is the latest from southern author Karen White, author of previous bestsellers including The Color of Light and Sea Change. Set in South Carolina, this book explores family secrets that will forever change a young widow's life.

Merritt Heyward has recently lost her firefighter husband when she is notified that she has inherited a house that belonged to her husband's grandmother. Merritt, looking to start a new life, moves from Maine to coastal South Carolina. This already difficult situation is made even worse by the arrival of her hated stepmother and her 10 year old half brother she has never known.

As Merritt begins to renovate the house, she uncovers numerous secrets about her husband's family that will have numerous long-reaching effects on her already complicated life. Will she ever be able to heal?

I have read and enjoyed most of White's previous novels, but this one completely blew me away! The Sound of Glass is not your average no-brainer "beach read" -- it deals with serious issues like domestic violence, phobias, and life-threatening illness, and death. However, it's not all gloom and doom. There is love, redemption, and hope, mystery, and even a hint of romance. The characters are likeable and the setting of Beaufort, SC is described in beautiful, luscious detail. White seemlessly weaves all of these elements into one amazing story.

As a southerner, I am a big fan of southern literature. I feel like Karen White is one of the best modern southern authors. She does a fantastic job of bringing her love of the coastal regions to life for her readers. She fully develops her characters, making them as real as possible, avoiding cliched southern stereotypes. There's no redneck guys with shotguns or delicate southern belles. She actually shows the people of the south as we truly are: educated, modern, and resilient.

The Sound of Glass is a perfect example of White's writing expertise and I highly recommend it!