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Little Darlings

⇒”Lauren will risk the unthinkable. But if she’s wrong about what she saw… she’ll be making the biggest mistake of her life.”⇐

**Many thanks to NetGalley, Crooked Lane Books, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Author: Melanie Golding

(4.03 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Thriller

Format: Kindle Version

Expected Publication Date: April 30, 2019, by Crooked Lane Books

Pages: 315 (Kindle version)

#LittleDarlings


She’ll have to put them in the water, if she wants her own babies back … Right under the water. Hold ’em down.

Fairy tales. As children, we love them. They’re the stories of magic and happy endings. Sometimes they can be a little twisted, but we love them for their power to convey simple messages in otherworldly ways. As an adult, I learned that most of the fairy tales I heard as a child were not how they were originally written. They were dark, scary, and didn’t always have a happy ending. And I love them!

Right now my podcast subscriptions are filled with those same types of dark stories. Podcasts like Lore and Tales entertain us with the scary side of folklore; and just like them, Little Darlings will have you guessing about what is real and what is imagined.


Here’s a portion of the book summary…. Everyone says Lauren Tranter is exhausted, that she needs rest. And they’re right; with newborn twins, Morgan and Riley, she’s never been more tired in her life. But she knows what she saw: that night, in her hospital room, a woman tried to take her babies and replace them with her own… creatures. Yet when the police arrived, they saw no one. Everyone, from her doctor to her husband, thinks she’s imagining things.

A month passes. And one bright summer morning, the babies disappear from Lauren’s side in a park. But when they’re found, something is different about them. The infants look like Morgan and Riley- to everyone else. But to Lauren, something is off. As everyone around her celebrates their return, Lauren begins to scream, These are not my babies.

A book of scary stories about twins, for a woman who’s just had twins? How inappropriate can you get?

Let me say that identical twins are creepy enough all on their own. Add in a stinky old river lady, an ancient book of unsettling tales, and a disinterested police force, and you have great ingredients for a harrowing mystery. And in Little Darlings, Golding keeps you guessing from the maternity ward to the psych ward.

The characters are unreliable; yes, nearly all of them. The story development is well-paced – going to from a banal baby birth to a creepy child abduction in short order, building from there all the way up to possible infanticide.

There was a darkness to this, something unknown, the tang of evil.

Soon to be a motion picture, I can guess that the imagery on screen will be as haunting as it is on the page: a traumatized new mom, infant twins that just may be something a little less than human, and more life and death in one town’s rivers than should legally be allowed.

Read his book if you love folklore that crosses the line into creepy. Read it if your favorite Disney characters aren’t the princesses, but the witches. Read it if you get excited just by seeing the word “changelings”. And read it if you want to see what magic one debut novel author can make with one dark little fairy tale.


Melanie Golding

Melanie Golding grew up in a village in Leicestershire. She has been employed in may occupations including farm hand, factory worker, childminder and music teacher. Throughout all this, because and in spite of it, there was always the writing. In recent years she has won and been shortlisted in several local and national short story competitions. In 2016, she graduated from the MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, with distinction. Little Darlings is her first novel.


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Audible Originals (x3)

⇒I binged a couple – or three – Audible Originals last week. Let’s see how they stacked up to my usual audiobook reads.⇐


Last week was slower than usual at work (thanks spring break), so I popped in my earbuds and binged a few Audible Original audiobooks to see what all the fuss is about.

What fuss? Audible members now have access to at least two free original audiobooks per month. And we get to choose which two from a variety of genres.

These were my picks last week (three because I’m just now getting around to reading them), and a short review of each.

Author: Bryan Burrough

Narrator: Steve White

(3.32 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Nonfiction / True Crime

Published 2019by Audible Originals

Format: Audiobook

Length: 2 hrs 45 mins

#DemonNextDoor


The small town of Temple, Texas, where Bryan Burrough grew up, had harbored a dark secret. One of his high school classmates, Danny Corwin, was a vicious serial killer who had raped and mutilated six women, murdering three of them. Yet the town had denied all early signs of the radical evil that was growing within Corwin. -Adapted from Goodreads

As a true crime junkie, I was immediately drawn to this title. How much better can a crime story get than when it’s being told from someone close to both the victims and the criminal? Although I enjoyed exploring this story about a serial killer I’ve never heard of before, I think the choice of narrator for the audiobook was a curious one. Steve White’s voice, although perfect for book narration, did not convey the serious and grave tones the subject matter deserved. The story is tragic and graphic at many points, but White’s “Mr. Rogers”-style tone forced me to remove a star from my rating.


Author: John Woolf, Nick Baker

Narrator: Stephen Fry

(3.75 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Nonfiction / History

Published: First published October 20, 2018

Format: Audiobook

Length: 7 hrs 33 mins

#VictorianSecrets

Step right up, step right up and don’t be shy—welcome to Victorian Secrets. Over 12 fascinating episodes, Stephen Fry explores the weird and worrying ways of Victorian Britain through true accounts delving deep into a period of time we think we know, to discover an altogether darker reality. –Goodreads description

This book is only available as an audiobook and once you hear it, you’ll understand why. Stellar audio production combined with superbly perfect narration by Stephen Fry make this a book standout effort. And if you’re into spicy British secrets, then this is definitely the book for you! While I found the beginning of the book very intriguing, as it progressed, my interest steadily waned all the way down to the somewhat “unfinished ” ending.


Author: John Scalzi

Narrator: Zachary Quinto

(4.02 stars – Goodreads rating)


Genre: Fiction / Science Fiction

Published: 2019 by Audible Originals (First published October 4, 2016)

Format: Audiobook

Length: 2 hrs 18 mins

#TheDispatcher

Tony Valdez is a Dispatcher – a licensed, bonded professional whose job is to humanely dispatch those whose circumstances put them in death’s crosshairs, so they can have a second chance to avoid the reaper. But when a fellow Dispatcher and former friend is apparently kidnapped, Tony learns that there are some things that are worse than death and that some people are ready to do almost anything to avenge a supposed wrong.
It’s a race against time for Valdez to find his friend before it’s too late…before not even a Dispatcher can save him. -Goodreads description

Easily my favorite of the three audiobooks, The Dispatcher is sufficiently sci-fi enough and thrilling enough to satisfy my reading needs on both fronts. I could easily see the action playing out in my head, and I’d pay for a full-price ticket to see it on the big screen. Plus, let me ask in super-kudos for Quinto’s narration on this one – I’d listen to anything he reads!


Verdict? If you’re an Audible member, give the Originals a try – after all, with everyone else creating original content, why shouldn’t Audible as well? Happy Reading!


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Fifty Things that Aren’t My Fault

⇒Witty essays about the crossroads of life, and how to celebrate each twisty turn.⇐

**Many thanks to NetGalley, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Author: Cathy Guisewite

(4.06 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Nonfiction / Humor / Essays

Format: Kindle Version

Publish Date: April 2, 2019, by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Pages: 336 (Kindle version)

#Fiftythingsthatarentmyfault


There’s absolutely no direction I can look without making eye contact with the fact that life as I knew it is over.


Let’s face it – adulting is difficult. There are taxes and bills and insurance and whatever you’re really supposed to know about changing the battery in your home’s fire alarm or changing your car’s oil. This is not easy stuff. I mean, even as I sit here, I’m struggling. I was supposed to have finished writing this blog days ago (when I finished reading the book), instead, here it is, 10:00 at night and I’m pecking away furiously at my phone (because my laptop is now officially toast), trying to write this review before my eyes involuntarily shut for the day.

I spent my whole weekend spring cleaning – only getting one room completely done – and work looms tomorrow like a big ugly Monday morning ogre. And I’m thinking about all the random things I need to accomplish this week. Is this being an adult? Cuz I don’t think I’m doing it right, and I seem to have a friend in Cathy Guisewite.

Here’s an abbreviated blurb from Goodreads…

From the iconic creator of the “Cathy”comic strip comes a collection of funny, warm, and wise essays… centered around the particular challenge of caring for aging parents and growing children, all while trying not to lose oneself in the process… Her deeply funny and relatable look at the life of a frazzled career woman became a touchstone for women everywhere, and now, in her debut essay collection, Guisewite returns with her signature self-deprecating wit and warmth, this time taking a look at her own life.

There’s no honor in mentioning what happened last night with nine “100 Calorie Packs” of Mini Oreos.

Even if you don’t immediately recognize Cathy Guisewite’s name, you probably are instantly familiar with the image of her beloved comic strip character, Cathy, especially if you grew up in a certain generation (mine!).

And while cartoon Cathy certainly had her fair share of bumpy roads, Fifty Things is about flesh and blood Cathy’s all too real life challenges, triumphs, and tripping points. Relatable? Yes. Uplifting? Enh.

Life is overflowing with expectations and obligations that use up our time, energy, and spirit and leave us feeling exhausted, insecure, and alone.

If you can get through the first couple of chapters while maintaining a positive attitude, you just might end up liking this book. I was nervous at first- it had the potential to become one big 300-plus-page gripe fest. But she saves it by being entirely candid and displaying all her jagged faults- even the ones we’ve tried to hide in ourselves.

Ok, so why should you read this book? If you’ve ever spent 37 minutes getting ready for bed, using magic face creams, special hair curlers, under eye brighteners, etc., etc. only to wake up the next morning looking exactly the same, you might relate to Cathy. If you are so excited to go shopping and come home only with a pair of earrings or a pair of shoes because they were the only things that fit, you might relate to Cathy. And if you’re in the middle of releasing adult children and corralling aging presents, you’ll definitely relate to Cathy.

Now I know what that lump is that’s still stuck in my throat- it’s What Comes Next.

As I still battle with trying to also love nonfiction, I have found that humor does help (Bill Bryson- winner, winner). So when Guisewite finds the funny in ordering takeout or trying on swimsuits, I think, “Hmmm, maybe both adulting and nonfiction aren’t that bad after all. “

Maybe.


Cathy Guisewite

Cathy Lee Guisewite is the cartoonist who created the comic strip Cathy in 1976. Guisewite was born in Dayton, Ohio and grew up in Midland, Michigan. She attended the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor where she was a member of the Delta Delta Delta sorority. Guisewite received her bachelor’s degree in English in 1972. She also holds seven honorary degrees. –Bio adapted from Goodreads.


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Sharp Objects

⇒When you shake the family tree and more than a few rotten apples fall out.⇐


Author: Gillian Flynn

(3.95 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Psychological Thriller

Published 2006by Broadway Paperbacks

Format: Paperback

Pages: 254 (Paperback)

#SharpObjects


I like checking days off a calendar — 151 days crossed and nothing truly horrible has happened. 152 and the world isn’t ruined. 153 and I haven’t destroyed anyone.


About one fourth of the way into this book, I had parts of my review already written. In my head, it was complimentary and mostly lighthearted. Then I kept reading.

While I knew Sharp Objects would be telling a dark story (hellooo, murder), I wasn’t prepared for this next-to-hell level of depravity. Ummm, Gillian, Gone Girl, Dark Places, Sharp Objects? Your therapist is working overtime, sweetie. But I’m glad for it because this book was terribly fantastic.

Here’s the Goodreads blurb: Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, reporter Camille Preaker faces a troubling assignment: she must return to her tiny hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. For years, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed in her old bedroom in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Dogged by her own demons, she must unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past if she wants to get the story—and survive this homecoming.


I’m almost afraid to write this review because I don’t want to give anything away. This is when I could use a little of Flynn’s skill because she gives NOTHING away. Reading Sharp Objects is like lifting off the top of the first Matryoshka doll and finding a rotten egg in there instead of another doll. And then a cockroach inside the egg. And then Ebola inside of the cockroach. Not exaggerating. This story is all kinds of messed up.

They always call depression the blues… Depression to me is urine yellow. Washed out, exhausted miles of weak piss.

Our first-person perspective comes from Camille Preaker, who pretty much proves she’s unreliable and dangerously flawed before we’ve even made it out of the first chapter. But this is the ticket we paid for, so buckle up ’cause it’s gonna be a bumpy ride. As the layers of Camille’s past are peeled away during her visit home to Wind Gap, Missouri, the murders of two young girls almost take a back seat to Camille’s personal family drama. Who are these weirdly damaged people?! Once you meet her mom, stepdad, and half-sister, you start to understand why Camille did a stint in the psych ward; you really can’t blame her. After reading this book, I’m thinking that checking out the Talkspace app may not be such a bad idea.

How do you keep safe when your whole day is as wide and empty as the sky? Anything could happen.

So the book’s subject and events are dark, but I didn’t find it gloomy or depressing. Flynn wraps up all the impending danger and distress like a little present and then stands back like a sinister villain to watch us unwrap it. It’s like watching Black Mirror on Netflix when you think you know what’s going on, but then all of a sudden you’re like, “Wait, what the heck happened just now?!” Same feeling.

Readers of Gone Girl will love Sharp Objects – if they haven’t already read it (I know I’m behind the crowd on this one). It’s suspenseful, gritty, mysterious, and strange. There are almost too many triggers to list for sensitive readers, and if I did try to list them, some might spoil the cleverly crafted plot development.

There isn’t much pretty or clean about it, but it is, in fact, a masterpiece. From the first few paragraphs, I knew Flynn was going to be a force to be reckoned with, and I love her now for that.

To refuse has so many more consequences than submitting.

Camille’s family portrait should be the top-right-corner graphic on the Wikipedia page for “dysfunctional”. (Is dysfunction-in-denial an entry?) As this book ended, I wanted to go hug my family and tell them thank you for always being good to me even if every single one of them is cuckoo-crazy! Oh, and I also kept touching my teeth with my tongue too. Read it, you’ll get it then.


Gillian Flynn

Gillian Flynn is an American author and television critic for Entertainment Weekly. She has so far written three novels, Sharp Objects, for which she won the 2007 Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for the best thriller; Dark Places; and her best-selling third novel Gone Girl.


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The Forbidden Door (Jane Hawk, #4)

⇒Jane Hawk’s adventures continue in Book 4, The Forbidden Door. When Jane’s son’s safety is threatened, she pulls out all the stops to keep him safe.⇐


Author: Dean Koontz

Narrator: Elisabeth Rodgers

(4.19 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Thriller

Format: Audiobook (CDs)

Published September 11, 2018by Bantam (Brilliance Audio)

Pages: 480 (Hardcover) ; Audible Audio (14:57)

#TheForbiddenDoor #JaneHawk


This is a world of lies and always has been. We live in a time of even greater deceptions than in centuries past.


You’ve read the books where the hero – and even the bad guy – is highly motivated to do what they do because of their love for their kids. This is that, but on steroids.

This is a gritty story with some really brutal and insane bad guys, some intensely damaged victims, and a “she-ro” who has to be really tired by now.

Not familiar with this series? Here’s a blurb of this book: She was one of the FBI’s top agents until she became the nation’s most-wanted fugitive. Now Jane Hawk may be all that stands between a free nation and its enslavement by a powerful secret society’s terrifying mind-control technology. She couldn’t save her husband, or the others whose lives have been destroyed, but equipped with superior tactical and survival skills- and the fury born of a broken heart and a hunger for justice- Jane has struck major blows against the insidious cabal. But Jane’s enemies are about to hit back hard. If their best operatives can’t outrun her, they mean to bring her running to them, using her five-year-old son as bait. Jane knows there’s no underestimating their capabilities, but she must battle her way back across the country to the remote shelter where her boy is safely hidden… for now.

We’re rewriting the play, and the play is this country, the world, the future. We break Jane’s heart, we’ll also break her will.

OK, in this one, lots of people are crazy. And I don’t say that word lightly. I mean, certifiable. Book #4 has a lot going on: chases, subterfuge, tech-talk, nano bites, hand-to-hand battles, and… oh yeah, zombies. Yes, you read that correctly. Zombies.

The bad guys are worse and they seem to have even more resources. However, Jane isn’t lacking in that department either, and when the battle comes to a head with Jane’s son in the cross hairs, all her friends and supporters (those who are still alive, that is) come together to help her save yet another day.

Beware actors who can be anyone they wish to be; they are in fact no one at all, cold and empty, though they can be pied pipers to the masses.

This series feels a little different from your standard Dean Koontz fare, even though it is still action-centered, has that other-worldly element, and – oh yes – it has dogs. So if you’re a Koontz purist, this isn’t a departure by any means. And with a more satisfying “ending” than book #3, The Forbidden Door still leaves readers waiting with baited breath for Book #5, The Night Window (releasing May 14, 2019).

Readers should be aware, though, that there is gratuitous violence of several types, discussion of rape, murder, etc. Sensitive readers won’t get a reprieve until the last page. Fair warning.

Other books in the series include The Silent Corner, The Whispering Room, and The Crooked Staircase.

Dean Koontz

Acknowledged as “America’s most popular suspense novelist” (Rolling Stone) and as one of today’s most celebrated and successful writers, Dean Ray Koontz has earned the devotion of millions of readers around the world and the praise of critics everywhere for tales of character, mystery, and adventure that strike to the core of what it means to be human. -Bio from Goodreads


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Past Tense (Jack Reacher, #23)

⇒NEW RELEASE REVIEW: What happens when a hunt for living relatives turns into a deadly manhunt.⇐

**Many thanks to NetGalley, Delacorte Press, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

by Lee Child

SmellRating5

(4.31 stars – Goodreads rating)

Publish Date: November 5, 2018, by Delacorte Press

Genre: Fiction / Thriller / Mystery

Format: Kindle Edition

Pages: 382 pages (Hardcover)

#PastTense  #NetGalley

Past Tense (Jack Reacher, #23)What kind of bad things could happen at a motel with a roadblock?

If you follow me on Goodreads, or Instagram, or if we are irl friends, you may already know about the not-so-secret love affair I have with the character Jack Reacher. And if this is the first you’re hearing about it, don’t worry. It’s not a mushy, annoying type of love where I am crushing on him and desperately hoping to meet a flesh and bone replica and make him my future Mr. PSquared. Although…

Ok, ok, back to reality. I just really do love Jack Reacher. He is so imperturbable, even in the middle of insurmountable odds and danger that would crumple a lesser man. He is an everyday hero (like Batman sans utility belt), and those are the kinds of dudes I love to see heading up my mystery/thrillers.

Hope for the best, plan for the worst

If you have never read any of Lee Child’s Reacher series where have you been? , here’s what you can expect: an unencumbered man hitchhiking through the country (often just trying to get somewhere warm), he mainly minds his own business, but trouble always finds him. He’s big, he’s not handsome in any movie star or romance novel kind of way, and he’s strong – like hella strong. He’s smart. He’s a strategist. He fights for the underdog and he hates to see injustice in any form. He’s the working man’s hero.

So, in Past Tense, Reacher has hitched as far as New Hampshire from Maine and finds himself near the little town where his father grew up. The pull of family ties leads him to visit and try to learn more about his dad and search for any possible relatives still in the area. But we’ve all heard that old adage about being careful what you ask for and, in this case, it couldn’t be more true.

The Goodreads blurb:

Jack Reacher hits the pavement and sticks out his thumb. He plans to follow the sun on an epic trip across America, from Maine to California. He doesn’t get far. On a country road deep in the New England woods, he sees a sign to a place he has never been: the town where his father was born. He thinks, What’s one extra day? He takes the detour.
At the same moment, in the same isolated area, a car breaks down. Two young Canadians had been on their way to New York City to sell a treasure. Now they’re stranded at a lonely motel in the middle of nowhere. The owners seem almost too friendly. It’s a strange place, but it’s all there is.

The next morning, in the city clerk’s office, Reacher asks about the old family home. He’s told no one named Reacher ever lived in town. He’s always known his father left and never returned, but now Reacher wonders, Was he ever there in the first place?

As Reacher explores his father’s life, and as the Canadians face lethal dangers, strands of different stories begin to merge. Then Reacher makes a shocking discovery: The present can be tough, but the past can be tense . . . and deadly.

Surprise was always a good thing. A wise man never counted all the way to three.

You probably have a favorite series. Even if you love it beyond what’s socially acceptable (for non-readers), you’re aware that there are certain books in that series that are substantially better than others. It’s unavoidable – especially for the number of books that Lee Child has racked up with Jack Reacher. I mean 23 books! There’s bound to be some duds in there (not really, but I felt obligated to say it). But Past Tense is not that dud.

Child’s latest release is easily one of my favorite Reacher books to date. It has everything I love about this character inside a taut, mystery-cloaked thriller. It also has excellent pacing, nail-biting tension, equally likable and despicable characters, and Jack Reacher as his usual unflappable, unintentionally heroic self in the midst of it all.

And Patty and Shorty being unwilling co-stars in this sadistic drama don’t come off too badly themselves. I rooted for them and waited with bated breath for their first encounter with our intrepid traveler. And when they did, it was well worth the wait!

If I’ve got you on the hook and you really want to experience this book (because it is an experience!), but you’re wondering if you’d have to read 22 books before you could enjoy this one, let me ease your mind. There are some Reacher books that do have a certain flow as he journeys back and forth across the country getting into and out of different life-threatening situations on his way to a specific destination. However, each one is its own adventure and you will not miss anything by reading Past Tense as a standalone. My bet is, that when you do, you will want to pick up Killing Floor (Jack Reacher, #1) to see how all this started. And then, my friend, you are hooked!

She looked back at him. There was a man right behind him. A giant.

I’ve said this before – on Goodreads and Instagram – but it bears repeating: If you have watched tiny Tom Cruise on the big screen starring as Jack Reacher in those two films, just know that book fans abhor that casting. (Insert all the frowny face, angry face, squoosh face emojis here).

Tom Cruise is 5’7″ tall and is less than 150 pounds. Some people would say he is handsome (not me, personally), and he has a small, college-kid-turned-older-man frame.

Let’s see how Lee Child describes Jack Reacher: “He was a tall man, more than six feet five in his shoes, heavily built, all bone and muscle, not particularly good looking, never very well dressed, usually a little unkempt.”

Does that sound like great casting to you? Nope. It’s like casting Linda Hunt as Olympe Maxime. But I digress…

So, please do not picture little, wimpy T.C. while you’re reading this action-packed thriller. Think of that massive, ruggedly-dressed dude that sat in the corner of your high school classroom facing the door. He didn’t say much, but he was respected. Not mean, not aggressive, but just edging on this side of threatening. Not one to be messed with. Definitely, the one you want on your side. Cast your own Reacher as you read because I have my own, and I absolutely am enamored with him!

Read the first chapter of Past Tense (courtesy of LeeChild.com) HERE.


About the Author

Lee ChildLEE CHILD

Website

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Lee Child is the author of twenty-two New York Times bestselling Jack Reacher thrillers, with thirteen having reached the #1 position, and the #1 bestselling complete Jack Reacher story collection, No Middle Name. All of his novels have been optioned for major motion pictures – including Jack Reacher (based on One Shot) and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. Foreign rights have sold in one hundred territories. A native of England and a former television director, Child lives in New York City.

(Bio courtesy of Delacorte Press)


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New or Old – That Smell is Incredible

Welcome to my book review blog. Thanks for dropping in!

The only important thing in a book is the meaning that it has for you.

–W. Somerset Maugham

Whenever I get a new book, or mooch an old book, or borrow a book from the library, for that matter, I bring it close to my nose… and inhale.

Sometimes the smell is crisp and warm, almost woodsy. Other times it’s ancient and musky, like well-worn furniture. Either way, it’s a great smell. Remember that episode of Gilmore Girls where Rory is showing Anna (future Yale student) around the library and she picks up a book and smells it? Yes, just like that: #bibliosmia.

So now you know I read old books and new – and I love them both equally. So if you’re here to just see reviews on all the hot new releases that everyone else is reading and blogging about, then you’re not in the right place. Sorry.

I do read selective New Releases, but I also have a lot of “Dusty Bookshelf” reads that I am committed to getting through in this upcoming year (I said that last year too), and a lot of books that people have recommended to me that I will finally get around to. The books I read/review won’t always be current, but they’ll always be interesting.

I prefer reading hardcovers or trade-sized paperbacks (there’s nothing like the feel of a book in your hands), but I also read several e-books and listen to a few audiobooks each month, so you’ll likely see reviews for publications in those formats as well.

Occasionally, when she lets me, my daughter and I will read her books together. She’s in 5th grade and has a bookcase full of chapter books that we work our way through whenever she’s not bogged down with school-assigned stories. When our read-along books are especially good, I’ll review those too.

I’ll also occasionally be featuring my favorite authors, book events in Georgia, upcoming new releases, links to free e-book deals, and throwback looks at my favorite childhood reads.

I’m a Goodreads member and belong to several groups there. The book cover pics I post will most often come from Goodreads along with mentions of their overall rating of each book. However, I do not – I repeat, NOT – allow the rating from “the masses” influence my personal opinion of any book I read. Reviews are my own individual thoughts and I am absolutely not receiving any compensation for anything I post here.

As you may have guessed, this is my first foray into blogging so I’m sure I have some kinks to work out. If something isn’t working or posting correctly, just bear with me and I’ll get it worked out. Eventually. ♥

Enjoy!

booksniffing

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

⇒And eventually there is no one left in the world except people who don’t look at each other people’s faces… and these people are all special people like me.⇐


Author: Mark Haddon

(3.87 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Mystery

Format: Paperback

Published July 31, 2003by Vintage Books

Pages: 226 (Paperback)

#CuriousIncident


This will not be a funny book. I cannot tell jokes because I do not understand them.


As Socrates said, “Know thyself.” Please know that I have this advice in mind when I evaluate this book. I am not a patient person. I know this about myself; I own it. There are certain pet peeves I have that will immediately set me off. Becoming a parent cooled my hot temper by several hundred degrees, but impatience still lingers beneath the surface of my otherwise sunny disposition! And now I’ll pause so all my friends can write sarcastic comments refuting that last statement. I’ll wait…

OK, moving on! The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was not an easy book for me to read. It was frustrating, sad, maddening, and at the same time fascinating, poetic, moving, and victorious. I have never read a book like it before, and maybe I hope to never again. Not in a bad way, but because I found it to be so eccentric that anything similar might only be seen as a copy cat.

Here is what Curious Incident is all about: “Despite his overwhelming fear of interacting with people, Christopher, a mathematically gifted, autistic fifteen-year-old boy, decides to investigate the murder of a neighbor’s dog and uncovers secret information…”

Everyone has learning difficulties, because learning to speak French or understanding relativity is difficult.

I left off the end of the book’s summary. I found that description on the copyright page and thought it was a perfect summary… until the last three words. Talk about a spoiler alert! I’m glad I didn’t run into that summary snippet until after I finished reading the book. In those three words is one of the best twisty plot points, and not knowing those three words going into the book makes the development of the story even better.

I haven’t done my reviews like this in a long time, but, for this book, it seems appropriate…

WHAT I LIKED: The story was entirely absorbing. You just have to know what this kid is going to do next. Christopher is quirky and unpredictable and unreliable to his core, so it’s a trippy ride to keep up with him. The humor is so subtle that it leaves you wondering if you really should be laughing (but you do anyway, and you definitely should be because it’s funny!). And finally, it’s a really fast read. Both the writing style and the under-300 page count made it possible for me to read this book in just two days, and I do not consider myself a speedy reader at all.

I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE: Curious Incident left me feeling like a bad person! There are people naturally gifted with patience and compassion who are brilliant at relating to and caring for relatives, students, and/or friends who are on the spectrum. That’s not me. Just reading about the way they approach life makes me frustrated and angry because of my frustration. The book is chock full of behaviors that had me screaming and groaning almost as much as Christopher did. I could not relate to him as the main character on any level, and that inability to connect made reading his story more than a little irksome.

Oh, and just one other little thing: Math! I.loathe.math. It makes me sad and confused and bitter. I see numbers in an equation and I get “brain burn”. If you enjoy math, I’m truly happy for you. No, I am, seriously. The world needs people like you because of people like me – people who despise math and wish that the whole world just worked off of words and pictures instead.

I came very close to not owning this book at all. I was browsing through books at a giant library sale and I picked up Curious Incident and glanced at the unique cover. I was about to place it back on the stack when a man beside me said, “You should buy that one. It’s good. It’s different, and weird, but it’s good.” So I bought it. And even though Christopher Boone took me on a bumpy ride through Swindon and London and back again, it was totally worth the trip.


Mark Haddon

Mark Haddon is a British novelist and poet, best known for his 2003 novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. He was educated at Uppingham School and Merton College, Oxford, where he studied English. – Bio from Goodreads


Crazy Rich Asians

⇒There’s rich, there’s filthy rich, and then there’s Crazy Rich.⇐


Author: Kevin Kwan

(3.83 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Contemporary Fiction / Romance

Format: Trade Paperback

Published June 11, 2013by Anchor Books

Pages: 527 (Paperback ), 403 (Hardcover)

#CrazyRichAsians


This is Singapore, and the idle rich spend all their time gossiping about other people’s money.

Nick, Crazy Rich Asians

In elementary school we used to make cootie catchers. You know, the folded paper fortune teller games that would most definitely determine your future. In less than 30 seconds, you and your best friends could find out which superstar you would marry, what ultra-chic luxury car you would drive, and how many bedrooms your multi-million dollar mansion would have. These flippy, folded pieces of paper carried our dreams of being rich, and – for most of us – they are the closest we’d ever come to all that extravagance.

Reading Crazy Rich Asians is what it would look like if someone’s insanely decadent cootie catcher choices actually manifested in real life.

In Crazy Rich Asians, Rachel Chu discovers that there is more to her boyfriend Nick Young than she has discovered in the year that they’ve been dating – a few billion dollars more, in fact. Here’s the cover summary: When New Yorker Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home and quality time with the man she hopes to marry. But Nick has failed to give his girlfriend a few key details. One, that his childhood home looks like a palace; two, that he grew up riding in more private planes than cars; and three, that he just happens to be the country’s most eligible bachelor. On Nick’s arm, Rachel may as well have a target on her back the second she steps off the plane, and soon her relaxed vacation turns into an obstacle course of old money, new money, nosy relatives, and scheming social climbers.

You can’t really blame your parents. They were born that way – it’s just not in their DNA to associate with anyone who isn’t from their class, anyone who isn’t born rich or royal.

Michael Teo, Crazy Rich Asians

My most coveted cootie catcher choices always included a Ferrari Testarossa (red, of course), a three-story mansion with a pool and stables, and two kids with sexy singer El Debarge. I never considered that a future like that would be considered small potatoes to these crazy, filthy rich characters in Singapore. The decadence and absurdly irresponsible spending only increases with every chapter. It’s a label-dropper’s dream come true!

So, if you’re not a billionaire (sadly, I am not), not really into fashion or labels (not me either), and you have no plans to visit Singapore or marry one if its rich bachelors or bachelorettes, why should you read this book? Simply because it was a really good read. Kevin Kwan gives his characters the attention they deserve by dedicating chapters to each of them in order to tell a complete story. They are each romantic, hilarious, arrogant, ridiculous, and tragic – giving the book a layered and engaging narrative throughout. I laughed, I got frustrated, I envied, I laughed again (I mean really, Kitty Pong?!). These are the types of reading experiences I really look forward to each time I pick up a new book.

Mark’s not white, he’s Jewish- that’s basically Asian!

Sylvia Wong-Swartz, Crazy Rich Asians

It is instantly apparent why Crazy Rich Asians was turned into a movie. Kwan makes every scene so visual. There is glitz and glamour depicted with such detail and color, presented in a way that never feels tiresome or long-winded. I haven’t watched the movie yet, but I’m looking forward to seeing if that imagery matches the opulence of the world I built in my head.

Read this book for the romantic story of two young people falling in love and facing some hard truths. Read it for the vivid depictions of lavish lifestyles. Read it for the hilarious antics of the trashy soap opera-star fiancée and the neurotic clothes horse of a son for whom perfection is just out of reach.

I’ve had enough of being around all these crazy rich Asians, all these people whose lives revolve around making money, spending money, flaunting money, comparing money, hiding money, controlling others with money, and ruining their lives over money.

Rachel, Crazy Rich Asians

If I had a gripe about his book, it would be that reading it forces you into the next book and then the next. The ending isn’t the comforting conclusion where all loose ends are neatly tied. Instead, it’s a lurching race to get a few thing settled before the final page is turned. The questions left lingering demand a sequel. Good thing Kwan provided one in China Rich Girlfriend and a third in the series, Rich People Problems. While Nick and Rachel are romantic and cute, I want more of glamorous Astrid Leong’s story. I want to know how Eleanor Young is made to pay for her dirty deeds. And I want to know if Eddie Cheng ever gets the picture-perfect family he wants so badly. So, yes, I’m sucked into the crazy richness of the story and I want more Crazy in my life!

Kevin Kwan

Kevin Kwan was born and raised in Singapore. He currently lives in Manhattan. Crazy Rich Asians is his first novel. – Bio from book cover.


Beautiful Bad

⇒”… a beautiful marriage turns beautifully bad.”⇐

**Many thanks to NetGalley, Park Row Books, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Author: Annie Ward

(3.81 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Suspense / Psych Thriller

Format: Kindle Version

Publish Date: March 5, 2019, by Park Row Books

Pages: 384 (Kindle version)

#BeautifulBad


Are you hiding something? It’s so simple. It’s so direct. It’s almost uncanny. As if someone out there knows I’m not supposed to be thinking the things I’m thinking.


One of the things that can easily ruin a suspenseful book for me is if I can figure out how the book is going to end even before I get too far into it. I’m not omniscient nor do I have any form of ESP, but sometimes plots are so cookie-cutter you can predict the conclusion long before you read the final chapter.

Thankfully, Beautiful Bad was not one of those books. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads…

Things that make me scared: When Charlie cries. Hospitals and lakes. When Ian drinks vodka in the basement. ISIS. When Ian gets angry… That something is really, really wrong with me. Maddie and Ian’s romance began with a chance encounter at a party overseas; he was serving in the British army and she was a travel writer visiting her best friend, Jo. Now almost two decades later, married with a beautiful son, Charlie, they are living the perfect suburban life in Middle America. But when a camping accident leaves Maddie badly scarred, she begins attending writing therapy, where she gradually reveals her fears about Ian’s PTSD; her concerns for the safety of their young son, Charlie; and the couple’s tangled and tumultuous past with Jo. From the Balkans to England, Iraq to Manhattan, and finally to an ordinary family home in Kansas, sixteen years of love and fear, adventure and suspicion culminate in The Day of the Killing, when a frantic 911 call summons the police to the scene of a shocking crime.

Ian was a damage junkie, and I was out of order in a way that got him off.

This book is ideal for lovers of suspense, drama, and twisted love triangles- it has it all, plus an underlying love story between some seriously damaged people.

It’s hard to talk about this trippy book without giving some meaty tidbits away. I refuse! I want you to have the same experience I had while reading it- picking through the landmines of drama and subterfuge that Beautiful Bad has to offer.

I adored him, as damaged as he was. I found him all the more fascinating for the chunks that had been torn out of him.

Written in a multi-perspective style that counts down to “The Day of the Killing”, readers end up jagging back and forth in time and in and out of locales foreign and domestic, including the Balkans, New York, England, and Kansas. And if the time travel and relocations don’t keep you on your toes, the messy love triangle and intense personal dramas will.

Have I said it yet? This is a good book. Almost none of its main characters are damage-free, so they’re entirely unreliable. There is no one to trust with this story, least of all the ones telling it! However, the story is only made better by all of its uncertainty.

I don’t just say whatever pops into my head. I may be glitchy, but I’m mostly in control.

Beautiful Bad is a gritty thriller that doesn’t appear that way at first. There are a few triggers that sensitive readers should be aware of: PTSD is a big one, alcoholism, domestic abuse, and miscarriage. The violence isn’t gratuitous, but there is some brutality- this ain’t a romance novel, folks.

Annie Ward, thank you for this deliciously suspenseful novel with an unpredictable ending that’s one step beyond twisted; it’s warped!


Annie Ward

During Annie’s five years in the Balkans she received a Fulbright Scholarship, taught at the University of Sofia, and script doctored eight screenplays for Nu-Image, an Israeli/American film company that produced a number of projects in Bulgaria for the SyFy Channel. She was later the recipient of an Escape to Create artist residency. –Bio adapted from Goodreads.


A Spark of Light

⇒A hostage negotiation gets extremely personal when a dad has to save his daughter from a madman bent on revenge.⇐


Author: Jodi Picoult

Narrator: Bahni Turpin

(3.68 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Thriller

Format: Audiobook (CDs)

Published October 2, 2018by Random House (Random House Audio)

Pages: 384 (Hardcover) ; Audio Discs (14:30)

#ASparkofLight


Laws are black and white. The lives of women are a thousand shades of gray.


I cannot tell a lie. I am attracted by what is bright and shiny and new – especially when it comes to books! Social media and advertising does such a good job of putting new releases and pretty covers in front of us. And they are soooo enticing!

I have told myself countless times to stop being swayed by books that ride happily along on the social media popularity wave, but somehow I keep letting myself get dragged along on the bandwagon of new-release hype. A Spark of Light is one of those books that pulled me in when I should have just let it pass me by.

The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love?

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Here’s the abbreviated synopsis: The warm fall day starts like any other at the Center – a women’s reproductive health services clinic… Then, in late morning, a desperate and distraught gunman bursts in and opens fire…. Told in a daring and enthralling narrative structure that counts backward through the hours of the standoff, this is a story that traces its way back to what brought each of these very different individuals to the same place on this fateful day.

Violence, from one angle, looked like mercy from another.

What pulled me in to this latest Picoult novel? Hostages! A great hostage story is usually a sure bet. Usually. Unfortunately for Spark, the tension that should naturally build and escalate during a hostage situation didn’t get that same opportunity because of the unique narrative setup of this book.

What do I mean by that? Remember Memento – the movie told in reverse? This was Picoult’s version. I say that and then I instantly feel disloyal to Memento because I really like that movie, but this book… not so much.

We are all drowning slowly in the tide of our opinions, oblivious that we are taking on water every time we open our mouths.

Ok, here is my bad-rating disclaimer for this book: Abortion is an important topic. No matter which side of the debate you fall on, you should have the right to your own opinion. My dislike of this book is in no way directly related to my opinions about abortion.

More accurately, I wasn’t happy with the development of the story, it’s lack of true action, and the lackluster ending (beginning?) and epilogue. The feeling was more akin to sitting through a lengthy pro-life vs. pro-choice college debate with some sad backstories mixed in.

Die hard Picoult fans will rate this book highly, talk about how much they love her and all her work, and say how well she represented both sides of the argument. A Spark of Light will fare well despite my poor rating here. However, I will definitely be more wary of bandwagon book picks from now on.


Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult is the author of 24 novels. She lives in New Hampshire.


Restoration Heights

⇒He was the last person to see her alive and he has to find out what happened to her, but why doesn’t anyone else seem to care? ⇐

**Many thanks to NetGalley, Hanover Squre Press, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Author: Wil Medearis

(3.44 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Thriller

Format: Kindle Version

Published January 22, 2019, by Harlequin Enterprises / Hanover Square Press

Pages: 336 (Hardcover)

#RestorationHeights


Because Restoration Heights had a bottomless appetite… [it] craved, finally, a murder, if not hers then yours, anyone, a body to consecrate the ground.


I have visited New York as a tourist: wide-eyed, with a camera, trying to see everything, eat everything, and learn everything that a born-and-raised southerner should know about the Big Apple (including that it’s really lame to still call it the Big Apple). Although I left NY generally unimpressed and wondering what all the hype is about – we have great Italian restaurants in Atlanta too! – I do respect the energy of that city and of the people determined to survive there.

Main character, Reddick’s, mysterious run-in with a female stranger and how distinctly that one night changes his life and perception is one of those “New York minutes” that will drag you – willingly – into the depths of a city and lifestyle the travel agent wouldn’t dare include on the brochure.

Here’s the blurb (courtesy of Goodreads): Reddick, a young, white artist, lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a historically black Broooklyn neighborhood besieged by gentrification. He makes rent as an art handler hanging expensive works for Manhattan’s one percent, and spends his free time playing basketball at the local Y rather than putting energy into his stagnating career. He is also the last person to see Hannah before she disappears. When Hannah’s fiance, scion to an old-money Upper East Side family, refuses to call the police, Reddick sets out to learn for himself what happened to her. The search gives him a sense of purpose pulling him through a dramatic cross section of the city he never knew existed. The truth of Hannah’s fate is buried at the heart of a many-layered mystery that, in its unraveling, shakes Reddick’s convictions and lays bare the complicated machinations of money and power that connect the magisterial town houses of the Upper Eat Side to the unassuming brownstones of Bed-Stuy.


The truth exists, but your ability to perceive it depends upon the assumptions you begin with.

I am being totally honest when I say that this book surprised me. Frankly, I didn’t expect it to be good. That was just my first impression, “Ugh, another book about a missing girl in New York. Blah blah, blah.” Thank you for proving me wrong, Wil Medearis!

Instead of the same-old same-old, I was treated to an evenly-paced mystery that stealthily wraps commentary about gentrification, racial bias, and inexcusable economic gaps around a thrilling plot that is not a bit cookie-cutter.

The story is headlined by a likable, imperfect, and complex protagonist whose ping-ponging grit and naivete equally made me cheer and cringe throughout. And this, dear “other authors”, is how you make a character who, in general, has absolutely nothing in common with me personally, relatable in a more personal way. Take notes.

…if I didn’t think this was important that a life was at stake, I wouldn’t be here right now.

I also noticed that Wil Medearis can really write! OK, see this as a blatant generalization, but often male authors’ prose lacks poetry! There is no true rhythm to it – no ebb and flow. They state facts and describe action, but there’s often no scenery, no scene-setting, and no reference to the “emotions” of the space around the characters’ actions.

Not so with Mr. Medearis. And who would actually expect poetry in a novel based in Bed-Stuy? But check out this short excerpt – this is exactly how an artist would view his city:

He put his coat on and left. The afternoon was already darkening, the day spent before he could use it. The sky and the hardened snow were an identical humming lavender, the townhouse windows seeped orange like cracks in the shell of winter.

Just that one sentence makes my little reader’s heart all kinds of happy!

There was meaning in the contours, the outlines a unity of shape and intent, facts that could be shimmied into being by proximity, by the tug of two-dimensional gravity. If he could just get the shapes right he could find her.

Thank you, Wil Medearis, for writing this book, for making it a captivating read, for not being preachy while you taught me about gentrification, and for naming your main character Reddick (enough Jacks and Maxs and Duncans, thank you). And for giving me a story that I can both rate and recommend highly to all of my reader friends and family.


Preview this book here: Restoration Heights (courtesy of Google Books)

Wil Medearis

Wil Medearis holds an MFA in painting from the University of Pennsylvania. His artwork has been featured in galleries in Richmond, Philadelphia and Manhattan’s Lower East Side. He has worked as an adjunct professor, tended bar at a country club, refinished furniture for an antiques dealer and hung art inside the homes of some of the wealthiest art collectors in Manhattan. Restoration Heights is his first novel. –Bio from Google Books