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The Clockmaker’s Daughter

⇒A story spoken with multiple voices across the centuries that simultaneously warms your heart and freezes your bones. ⇐


Author: Kate Morton

(3.80 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Historical Fiction / Mystery

Format: Audiobook

Published October 9, 2018, by Atria Books (Bolinda Audio)

Pages: 485 (Hardcover) ; Audio: 14 discs (17:03 hrs)

#TheClockmakersDaughter #ClockmakersDaughter


Human beings are curators. Each polishes his or her own favoured memories, arranging them in order to create a narrative that pleases. 


I have other hobbies besides reading. GASP! What?! No, I really do. One of them just happens to be putting puzzles together. I like the challenge, the repetitive motions, the feeling of satisfied accomplishment once it’s completed. A challenging puzzle soothes my anxiety and clears my headspace.

The Clockmaker’s Daughter is like a 485-page puzzle. It has characters coming at you from the left and right – from different centuries, in fact – and more than one mystery needs to made clear before the book can successfully end. It is a challenge. But if you’re up for it, Kate Morton rewards you with a rich story and a heady feeling of accomplishment once you’re done. Here’s the Goodreads blurb:

In the summer of 1862, a group of young artists led by the passionate and talented Edward Radcliffe descends upon Birchwood Manor on the banks of the Upper Thames. Their plan: to spend a secluded summer month in a haze of inspiration and creativity. But by the time their stay is over, one woman has been shot dead while another has disappeared; a priceless heirloom is missing, and Edward Radcliffe’s life is in ruins.
Over one hundred and fifty years later, Elodie Winslow, a young archivist in London, uncovers a leather satchel containing two seemingly unrelated items: a sepia photograph of an arresting-looking woman in Victorian clothing, and an artist’s sketchbook containing the drawing of a twin-gabled house on the bend of a river.
Why does Birchwood Manor feel so familiar to Elodie? And who is the beautiful woman in the photograph? Will she ever give up her secrets?


…the truth depends on who it is that’s telling the story.

There are a lot of moving parts to this book; the timeline jumps around from the 19th century to the 21st. Plus, it is told from multiple perspectives and in first and third person depending on whose side of the story you’re exploring in each chapter. That’s a lot to keep track of.

Reading a book that has a large cast and an equally large timeline can be a daunting task. An author can either do it successfully or botch it up miserably. Botching it isn’t hard to do, but getting it right is infinitely harder. Morton got it right. It is a puzzle, make no mistake, but in the end, the pieces fit so well together that you have to just sit back and appreciate the symmetry.

I think it would be a mistake (and terribly confusing) to discuss all the characters and their motivations here – plus, it would take up too much of your time because there are a lot of them. A lot. But the main protagonists are worth a mention: Elodie, who is an archivist in London, discovers the sketch of Birchwood Manor – the house that becomes a character all unto itself – and goes in search of the answers to why that house seems so familiar to her. Elodie, besides having an annoying name, is like a dog with a bone – she just won’t let it go, and that type of personality always makes for a good mystery-seeker.

Edward Radcliffe also deserves a mention because he’s definitely a linchpin to all the happenings. He’s passionate and headstrong, a character to be envied and pitied all at the same time. It is because of Edward that the story has as many players as it does, and because of him, too, that it is equally tragic and beautiful.

And now we come to Birdie Bell, the actual Clockmaker’s Daughter for whom the book is named. It is her part of the story that Morton chooses to relay in first person. It is her point of view that looms over several of the other characters’ tales. She is the one who knows the most because she has seen the most, but she still does not know everything – there are mysteries waiting to be revealed to her as well.

One generation passes to the next a suitcase filled with jumbled jigsaw pieces from countless puzzles collected over time and says, “See what you can make out of these.

So I’ve told you that this book is long, it has a huge cast of characters, and that it jumps around in time. So, why should you read it? Read it because it’s a love story. The deepest kind of love. The kind that takes over your whole life and ends up affecting everyone around you. Without Edward’s falling in love, there would have been no story.

You should also read it because it’s not just a love story. It’s a story of war and loss. Survival and fortitude. Music and artistry. Abuse and neglect that is conquered by strong wills and lively spirits. Good and evil. Plus, there are ghosts and fairies, magic, demons, treasure-hunters and princesses. No, really. I’m not kidding. It’s all in there!

The Clockmaker’s Daughter is a well-written book, with rich imagery and masterfully fleshed-out characters that will each draw you into their stories as easily as picking up one more piece to place into a puzzle.

Did I have questions at the end? Yes. Did I have to go back and re-read (replay) some parts? Yes. Was it worth it? Oh, yes. This wasn’t my first Kate Morton book, but so far it is her most memorable.


Kate Morton

Kate Morton is the author of five novels, all of which have been New York Times bestsellers, Sunday Times bestsellers, and #1 bestsellers around the world. Kate’s books are published in 42 countries, in 34 languages. – Bio adapted from katemorton.com


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An Anonymous Girl

⇒Knowing whom you can trust is a valuable life skill – because “uncertainty is an excruciating state in which to exist.” ⇐

**Many thanks to NetGalley, St. Martin’s Press, and the authors for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Authors: Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

(4.15 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Thriller

Format: Kindle Version

Published January 8, 2019, by St. Martin’s Press

Pages: 375 (Hardcover)

#AnAnonymousGirl


Every lifetime contains pivot points — sometimes flukes of destiny, sometimes seemingly preordained — that shape and eventually cement one’s path.


You’ve probably heard of the philosophy of eating your dessert first. The premise behind that is that life is unpredictable, so make sure you’re enjoying as much of it as you can, while you can. And while I certainly agree with that idea, I have never really put it into practice with my dinner.

However, as a younger person, I did employ that philosophy in my reading. If I was reading a book that was particularly suspenseful or scary, I would skip to the end of the chapter or to the end of the book to make sure that my beloved characters survived whatever current crisis the author was subjecting them to. I had no qualms with “skipping ahead” in my books or even skipping entire chapters if the writing started to drag. It never came back to haunt me and I never felt like I missed out.

So why is it that, as an adult, I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt if I even consider not finishing a book or skipping ahead in it if it starts to become dull or disengaging? I’m not sure why I imagine the book police coming for me if I don’t force myself to slog through even the worst plots and excruciatingly banal writing styles in order to say that I, in fact, did read the whole book.

I should take advice from my younger self and erase the guilt because this was a book that I think I could have enjoyed more if I had skipped ahead.

Sometimes an impulsive decision can change the course of your life.

I was convinced that An Anonymous Girl was going to be a great book because of this line in the summary: “Seeking women ages 18–32 to participate in a study on ethics and morality. Generous compensation. Anonymity guaranteed.” You know what that means to me? Secrets!!! And who doesn’t love a good mystery book involving a secret psychological study? It guarantees that somebody is going to be crazy – usually, the one hosting the study – and that some young innocent is going to find themselves in danger pretty quickly. True and true.

Here’s the Goodreads summary to get you acquainted with the story:
“When Jessica Farris signs up for a psychology study conducted by the mysterious Dr. Shields, she thinks all she’ll have to do is answer a few questions, collect her money, and leave. But as the questions grow more and more intense and invasive and the sessions become outings where Jess is told what to wear and how to act, she begins to feel as though Dr. Shields may know what she’s thinking…and what she’s hiding. As Jess’s paranoia grows, it becomes clear that she can no longer trust what in her life is real, and what is one of Dr. Shields’ manipulative experiments. Caught in a web of deceit and jealousy, Jess quickly learns that some obsessions can be deadly.

Sometimes a test is so small and quiet you don’t even notice it’s a test.

So I was set up to love this book, I was all set to love it, but after I got about 40% into it, I knew that it wouldn’t be a 5-star read for me. That was disappointing for me – especially after seeing so many 5-star reviews for it. And although I never let other readers’ reviews sway my own opinions, I wonder what the 5-star raters interpreted in this book that was the exact opposite from what I experienced while reading it.

Let’s look at the good first: The book is engaging. The premise immediately draws you in, and almost from the first chapter you’re off and running with Jess, the main character, headlong into uncertainty and sketchy adventures. Readers who enjoy this book will appreciate the underlying current of danger at every turn, and the authors did a good job with that sense of impending danger.

Another good: At first the character of Dr. Lydia Shields is masterfully creepy and commanding. Readers get the sense that she is powerful and manipulative – both of which are valid assumptions made stronger by the authors’ use of dual perspectives (Jess’s and Dr. Shields’) to control the tone of the story and build it to its ultimate denouement.

Sometimes a therapist who coaxes out all of your secrets is holding the biggest one in the room.

OK, now on to the bad – or should I say instead, what could have made the book better for me. I didn’t feel connected to any of the main characters. Jess seems too gullible and moon-eyed over the specter of Dr. Shields, without sufficient evidence as to why she should be so enamored.

Plus, maybe it’s just part of my innately distrustful personality, but almost immediately my hackles were raised at how much information Jess gives away so freely within the study. Hasn’t she ever heard of holding something back?! I blame her friends because it seems like she just needs someone to talk to other than Leo, her dog.

Another that felt like it was missing was that I needed the book to be a little more layered. We were exposed only to the basic information about each character and then only given additional information that related only to the action at hand.Was Jess really isolated? Other than her family did she only have 1 or 2 other friends? Did she not socialize with any of her coworkers? Neighbors? Former classmates? We’ll never know because none of those relationships was ever explored. And the second-tier characters that are included are treated more like pawns instead of people with personalities and backstories.

A secret is only a secret if one person holds it.

But the main point that could have made this book a bit more thrilling for me is that Dr. Shields should have remained more of a mystery for a longer period of time. The authors did a great job initially of setting her up to be enigmatic and influential. However, once we “see” who she is, her mystery-quotient is diminished significantly and she just appears more desperate instead of cunning. Dr. Shields as “The Great and Powerful Oz”.

Although I do like how readers are not sure about whether or not to trust Thomas – without spoiling anything – I can say that the authors could have used his character to much better advantage, especially at the end.

Self-preservation is a powerful motivator, more reliably so than money or empathy or love.

The best parts of An Anonymous Girl are the opening and closing chapters. And although the middle is necessary for the plot and all the pertinent details, I felt best served by the first and last.

I have The Wife Between Us by these same authors as a TBR waiting on my bookshelf, but after reading An Anonymous Girl, that book can wait a while longer.

Greer & Sarah

Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen are the co-authors of the blockbuster New York Times bestseller, THE WIFE BETWEEN US, as well as just-released, AN ANONYMOUS GIRL.

-Bio adapted from Goodreads

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The Witch Elm

⇒Secrets and lies color a life on the verge of incalculable change. This is the Butterfly Effect on Xanax.⇐


Author: Tana French

(3.64 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Mystery

Format: Audiobook (CDs)

Published October 9, 2018, by Viking

Pages: 509 ; 18 Audio Discs (22 hours)

#TheWitchElm


What if I never got another day in my life when I was normal again?

Toby

In middle school, my friends and I (how I wish I could put it all on them, but I can’t) decided to prank our classmates. Just a certain few of them who we thought were a bit too big for their britches. We did the usual obnoxious phone calls – which worked back then because no one had caller ID yet (I’m dating myself) and everyone still used landlines. It was the perfect way for some bored pre-teens to spend Friday nights while also watching network TV and being housebound (no internet or social media back then).

One such prank went just a little further than the rest. We called one of our classmates and threatened to fight her (insert dramatic music and loads of judgment right here). She was a “mean girl” and totally deserved a good thrashing (Not really, but I’m trying to justify my 12-year-old mind). We told her to meet us by the water fountain on the red hall after lunch the next day – if she wasn’t scared. It was maddening to wait all those hours to see if she would actually show up!


So what in the world does this have to do with The Witch Elm? Spoiler Alert: this book is about questionable life choices. Well, it’s about a lot of things, but making bad life choices is key among them – bad choices that get justified along the way and then accepted as harmless or inconsequential. But let me let you read the Goodreads blurb to see what else it’s about:

Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who’s dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life – he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family’s ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden – and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed.


…one gets into the habit of being oneself. It takes some great upheaval to crack that shell and force us to discover what else might be underneath.

I’ve managed to get this far into the review without saying that I really didn’t like this book. Why? Well, I didn’t want to start out my fresh new year of reading with a dud. OK, let me be fair, it wasn’t a “dud”, but it wasn’t for me.

This book was a long, slow march to the death of everything I thought I loved about long reads and audiobooks. I started feeling like I was being punished around disc 5 and from there (all the way to disc 18) I was sure I had angered the literary gods somewhere along the way for them to steer me towards this dark, vice-riddled study in depravity. Then I started criticizing myself for being too critical! Maybe I just needed to get past Toby’s seemingly endless inner monologue and focus on the deeper meaning of the story: self-discovery, balancing perceptions with reality, etc. And I honestly tried to do that. But I still felt like getting through the whole thing wasn’t enjoyable – it was just drudgery.

There are plenty of people who 5-starred this book. It has been well-recognized and earnestly reviewed. And I should have left them to it.

To be fair, Tana French is a good author. Her prose is classically descriptive, and at some points reads like poetry. But… did there have to be so MUCH of it?! Half of the book takes place in Toby’s head (not a comfortable place to be, btw) and the best action only happens when he looks outside into the world for a change. What’s most troublesome about that is that he is not a likable character. You want to like him, but he doesn’t allow it. He’s unreliable for many reasons, not the least of which is that he’s wishy-washy. First, the answer is A, but then it could be B. Nope, back to A, I’m sure of it. Wait… but now C is looking interesting… But I can’t discount B again because remember that time back in high school… Arrrrgggghhhhhhh!!!!!!!!

…it was me, wronged innocent, white knight, cunning investigator, killer, selfish oblivious dick, petty provocateur, take your pick, what does it matter? it’ll all change again.

Toby

High praise to Paul Nugent, the audiobook narrator, however, whose lilting Irish brogue was my only salvation as we both slogged through this 18-disc, 22-hour behemoth of a book. Twenty-two hours! That’s almost a full day of tainted introspection, Xanax-influenced rants, and the tiniest bits of truth tossed in here and there about guarded explorations into the weight of our perceptions of the world around us.


So by now you may be wondering whatever happened with the water fountain fight threat. Can you believe that she actually showed up? And with a group of her “mean girl” friends too! My friends and I stood just close enough in the midst of the gathering crowd to hear their heated conversation about what they would do if “whoever” showed up. We didn’t want any of what they were promising! Plus, we had no real intentions of fighting anyone anyway. Even though it was great middle school drama, it was ultimately a waste of everyone’s time and energy, and I stopped pranking after that. Life lesson learned. And another one learned years later: be very wary of 500+ page Tana French books.


Tana French is the New York Times bestselling author of In the Woods, The Likeness, Faithful Place, Broken Harbor, The Secret Place, The Trespasser, and The Witch Elm. Her books have won awards including the Edgar, Anthony, Macavity and Barry Awards, the Los Angeles Times Award for Best Mystery/Thriller, and the Irish Book Award for Crime Fiction. She lives in Dublin with her family.


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2018 TNBS Year-End Wrap Up

>>Wrapping up the year that was, but wait… wasn’t it just January?<<

2018 sure did go by in a blur! Currently, it’s the season for celebrations, family and friends, and reflections on the year as a whole. And I’m glad to add my bookish reflections along with other bloggers as we look back on our literary lives in 2018.

Tomorrow, is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one.

Brad Paisley

This was one of the best years of reading for me. I read a total of 130 books in 2018! That included hardcovers, paperbacks, Kindle versions, audio CDs, Google Play books, audio versions on YouTube, and Audible audiobooks. I bought a lot of books this year (mostly used), but I also took advantage of my local libraries more than ever.I was able to get several popular, new-release titles fairly quickly through my library’s hold system, which really is an excellent resource. And the best part about that? It’s free!

Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries.

Anne Herbert

Most significantly, in 2018 I started my blog! That New Book Smell celebrated its first birthday on December 29th and I’m so proud of my achievements over the past 365 days. I[‘ve joined a community that is friendly, inclusive, and dedicated to one of the things I love best – Books! I am looking forward to seeing what new things 2019 brings my way for TNBS. I already know that somethings will definitely be different. For one thing, I got a job! So, posting new reviews every Monday like I did this year may not be as feasible as it was this year. But I will be posting as often as I am able to finish books. Hopefully, this will help me to become a much faster reader!

In 2018, I used September to clear several books from my bookshelves at home and that worked really well for me. I ‘m hoping to add at least one more month of “shelf-discipline” so I can make more room for monthly book hauls!

I’m discontinuing the monthly events and book deals sections of the blog – nobody ever looked at them anyway, so no loss there. But I will continue posting my seasonal and mini-hauls, and any reviews my daughter wants to contribute. She read a lot of books this year too, and I love to hear how a ten-year-old reviews what she reads.

It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.

Oscar Wilde

Five-star books seemed hard to come by this year. I’m not sure if that was because I was less generous with my reviews, or if my picks were just less than perfect in 2018. But some of the following books made my list of best reads, even if all of them didn’t get the coveted 5 stars:

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

(Pub Mar 2018) This book changed a lot of my opinions about YA Fantasy books, and when I got to meet Tomi Adeyemi in October, I became a fan for life.

Dracul by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker

(Pub Oct 2018) The perfect spooky prequel to the classic Dracula. This one kept me up late at night!

Not Her Daughter by Rea Frey

(Pub Aug 2018) This book surpassed my expectations and ended up being one of my favorites. Taut, suspenseful, and captivatingly conflicted.

Past Tense by Lee Child

(Pub Nov 2018) I love this series and Past Tense is easily one of the best books in it. Jack Reacher is in perfect form and the action is perfectly paced.

Hunting Annabelle by Wendy Heard

(Pub Dec 2018) Sean, the quintessential unreliable narrator, won me over in this suspenseful whodunit.

Spinning Silver

(Pub July 2018) Loved, loved, loved this re-imagining of the classic tale of Rumpelstiltskin. The only problem with this book is that I wanted it to last longer.

I read other highly-rated books this year that were released prior to 2018:

  • Station Eleven (2014)
  • Beanstalker (2017)
  • Court of Mist and Fury (2016)
  • Pride an Prejudice and Zombies (2009)
  • Little Fires Everywhere (2017)
  • Silver Sparrow (2011)
  • Cold Flat Junction (2001)
  • Illuminae (2015)

In 2018, I also received a surprisingly large number of requests from authors and reps alike to read new books. And, no, I didn’t get through most of them, but still, it was nice to be asked to review someone else’s work.

Along that same line, I joined Netgalley his year. It has been a great resource for new releases and for discovering new authors. Even though some of the denials were frustrating, I’ll stick with it for 2019 because many of the approvals were well worth the effort. My feedback ratio is at 84%, so hopefully, that will mean more request approvals in the upcoming year.

I hope your year of reading was a great one and that you’re looking forward to 2019 as much as I am. Happy New Year and Happy Reading!

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Hunting Annabelle

⇒A thriller that tests what you do when you can’t trust your own mind, or heart, or anyone and anything else…⇐

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


Author: Wendy Heard

(3.96 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Mystery / Psychological Thriller

Format: Kindle

Published December 18, 2018, by MIRA

Pages: 304 (Kindle)

#HuntingAnnabelle


I know what happened. Whether anyone believes me or not, I know.


This book won me over because of two words: Unreliable Narrator! I have read plenty of books where the narrator is untrustworthy, clinically mad, or is operating under certain delusions that cause readers to question the veracity of their storytelling. Since I’ve read so many, you’d think I wouldn’t get excited about one more. Well, you’d be wrong.

Hunting Annabelle is different. It grabbed my interest immediately. Yes, Sean Suh is a shady lead character with a dark and dangerous past (that is craftily revealed over time throughout the book), but he’s still an intriguing young man whose magnetic personality pulls in close to everything he does. He’s unique in his appearance (partially shaved head, goth-dark clothing, and black jelly bracelets crawling up his arms), but he’s also still vulnerable in so many ways. It’s easy for readers to care for him and stand in his corner even though – with every added chapter – Sean shows us all the reasons why we shouldn’t put any faith in him. At all. But before I get too far ahead of myself, here’s the Goodreads blurb…

Sean Suh is done with killing. After serving three years in a psychiatric prison, he’s determined to stay away from temptation. But he can’t resist Annabelle—beautiful, confident, incandescent Annabelle—who alone can see past the monster to the man inside. The man he’s desperately trying to be.  
Then Annabelle disappears.
Sean is sure she’s been kidnapped—he witnessed her being taken firsthand—but the police are convinced that Sean himself is at the center of this crime. And he must admit, his illness has caused him to “lose time” before. What if there’s more to what happened than he’s able to remember?
Though haunted by the fear that it might be better for Annabelle if he never finds her, Sean can’t bring himself to let go of her without a fight. To save her, he’ll have to do more than confront his own demons… He’ll have to let them loose.


What I have can’t be treated. It’s just what I am. I am a predator.

On the surface, Sean is just a man in love trying to solve a mystery about an enigmatic, beautiful young woman he meets. But the story’s undercurrent involves so much more.

There’s the overbearing mother who resents Sean and his sketchy past and seems to think that the perfect combination of medication will cure a multitude of sins. And then there are the skeptical police officers who have made Sean their number one suspect in Annabelle’s disappearance, even though he’s the one that reported it. Finally, Annabelle’s own eccentric grab-bag of acquaintances and relatives lead Sean through some of the most harrowing experiences along his covert amateur investigation, only adding more layers of unpredictability to this already dubious tale. Could Sean, the corrupt ex-con end up being the only true hero in this book?

I have no plan. I’m no hero. I suppose every villain is the hero of his own story.

Wendy Heard tells Sean’s story at a steady pace. There are very few slow sections, which I greatly appreciate. Sean’s prescription drug-addled personality and his sketchy past are revealed in bits and pieces, not just regurgitated in one anticlimactic fact-finding paragraph, which readers have been made the victims of far too many times in the past in mysteries and thrillers.

And now we come full circle back to the number one reason why I enjoyed this book so much – Sean is a perfect unreliable narrator. Any time you read a book written in the first person, you have to ask yourself – even subconsciously – how much do I trust the person who is telling me this story? Well, in this case, you know you’re not supposed to trust Sean. He’s a predator, a bad dude struggling to be good, but not really making it 100% of the time. You know that you should keep him and his “truth”at arm’s length, but he just keeps pulling you back in until, eventually, you just end up buying what he’s selling. Lock, stock, and barrel.

Maybe I was confused about more things than I’d been willing to admit. Maybe I’m crazier than I want to believe.

Read this book for the magnetism of Sean’s mercurial personality and for his unique way of seeing people through synesthesia (a psychological condition through which you can see other people’s auras). Read it for the twisty parts, that don’t all bunch up at the end of the book. And read it to find out who the monsters really are.

Listen to an excerpt of Hunting Annabelle HERE  (Courtesy of Soundcloud)

And if you end up reading and enjoying Hunting Annabelle, look forward to Heard’s next release – as yet untitled – in December 2019 that will feature a female protagonist who is “scrappy, a hopeless smartass, and is covered in tattoos. More importantly, she’s kind, strong, and warm.” – Wendy Heard.


Wendy Heard

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Wendy Heard was born in San Francisco and has lived most of her life in Los Angeles. When not writing, she can be found hiking the Griffith Park trails, taking the Metro and then questioning this decision, and haunting local bookstores.


Before We Were Yours

⇒A true-life crime gets a novel treatment in a poignant story about the strong ties of family and the persistent pull of the truth.⇐


Authors: Lisa Wingate

(4.37 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Historical Fiction

Format: Audiobook

Published June 6, 2017, by Ballentine & October 16, 2018 (audio) by Random House Audio

Pages: 342 (Hardcover) ; 12 Discs / 14 1/2 hrs (Audio CDs)

Audiobook performed by Emily Rankin and Catherine Taber

#BeforeWeWereYours


Everything I wanted my life to be, it won’t be now. The path that brought me here is flooded over.


True Crime. How many of us are instantly captured by those two little words? They’re an instant draw for me, and you can also easily win me over with the phrase, “Based on real-life events.” Surely that’s one of the most intriguing phrases in all of entertainment.

Before We Were Yours is just such a story. Based on real-life events, it’s a story of tragedy and hard-fought survival. Told in dual perspectives, Lisa Wingate tosses us back and forth from the past (1939) and the present to tell the story of every parents’ worst nightmare. Here’s the Goodreads blurb…

Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize the dark truth. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together in a world of danger and uncertainty. 
Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions and compels her to take a journey through her family’s long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or to redemption.


So what about this story relates to true-life crime? Back in Depression-era Memphis, Tennessee, a real witch of a woman named Georgia Tann presided over an organization responsible for kidnapping and selling over 5,000 children from 1924-1950 in black market adoptions. She was a Robin Hood in reverse, stealing children from poor families in Memphis and selling them to rich families in and out of state. Over 500 of those children died while under the care of workers from the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. Tann died before facing prosecution, but her crimes were revealed and later served as a catalyst for adoption reform in Tennessee.

The book is written from the perspective of one of those stolen children, 12-year-old Rill Foss. She and her river gypsy siblings, Camellia, Fern, Lark, and Gabion, are stolen from their boathouse and taken to the orphanage after their extremely fertile parents, Queenie and Briny, are deceived into signing away their rights to their own children. In a painful chain of events, Rill – renamed May – watches as her sisters and brother are taken away one by one – some to be adopted by wealthy families, and some to darker things.

Together, we travel the living river. We turn our faces to the sunlight and fly time and time again home to Kingdom Arcadia.

The story is a dark one, sad, with several triggers for sensitive readers: child abuse, molestation, human trafficking, kidnapping, and cancer. The hopeful moments are few and far between and happen mostly in the present day story where Avery Stafford is hunting down the mysterious tendrils of her family’s darkest secret.

I’ve found in life that bygones are a bit like collard greens. They tend to taste bitter. It’s best not to chew on them overly long.

Wingate’s writing is captivating and brings humanity to the facts of the true tragedy of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. Reading Before We Were Yours pushed me through the gamut of emotions – anger, fear, heartache, and mourning. The small victories Rill experiences aren’t enough to bring a sense of triumph to the story, despite its Hallmarkian ending.

Read this book for the lure of a historical event coming to life. Read it for its profound emotional effect and for the pull of its provocative characters, both past and present. And read it if you like stories about secrets revealed and all the repercussions that result from their exposure.

Read an excerpt of Before We Were Yours HERE  (Courtesy of LisaWingate.com)


Lisa Wingate

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Lisa Wingate is a former journalist, an inspirational speaker, and the bestselling author of more than twenty novels. Her work has won or been nominated for many awards, including the Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize, the Oklahoma Book Award, the Utah Library Award, the Carol Award, the Christy Award, and the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award. 


Obsidio (The Illuminae Files #3)

⇒An exhilarating journey is about to end, but before it does, new heroes and new dangers emerge. Battle lines are drawn and the die is cast.⇐


Authors: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

(4.58 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: YA / Science Fiction

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 615 (Hardcover)

#Obsidio #Illuminae #Illuminaefiles


I am clarity, I am necessity. I am inevitability. But am I evil?

AIDAN

If you are a series reader, and if you enjoy some YA sci-fi tossed into your reading list, then do not skip this series. It is clever, inventive, fresh, and masterfully written. I read a lot of series – some that have gone on past their Use By date – but the Illuminae Files is one that I wouldn’t mind starting over again (if I ever get to a point in my life when my TBR pile isn’t so massive.

Obsidio is the third book in the Illuminae series and it is as intense and exciting as both the first and second releases. More characters, a different spaceship, but the same dark, evil threat looming over them all: BeiTech. Here’s the Goodreads blurb…

Kady, Ezra, Hanna, and Nik narrowly escaped with their lives from the attacks on Heimdall station and now find themselves crammed with 2,000 refugees on the container ship, Mao. With the jump station destroyed and their resources scarce, the only option is to return to Kerenza—but who knows what they’ll find seven months after the invasion? 
Meanwhile, Kady’s cousin, Asha, survived the initial BeiTech assault and has joined Kerenza’s ragtag underground resistance. When Rhys—an old flame from Asha’s past—reappears on Kerenza, the two find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict. 
With time running out, a final battle will be waged on land and in space, heroes will fall, and hearts will be broken.


Before I launch into a glowing review of how good I think Obsidio is, Here are links to my reviews on both Illuminae and Gemina just in case you’re curious about the series and haven’t quite committed to checking it out yet. Hint: You should. Seriously.

I should say first, do NOT let the size of these books scare you off. They are actually really quick reads. There are pages that read like comics. So even if your regular reading material is closer to the 200-250 page range, you’ll feel comfortable with this even though Obsidio‘s page count is 615. Trust me on that.

The book is written in a series of Audio Visual transcripts and Instant Message screenshots — there are even some personal scribbled notes tossed in there too — and fascinating illustrations that put you right in the thick of the action. The layout of these books is one of the best things about the series. Any time I find myself turning a book in circles in order to read it, I know the author has me hooked and could do basically anything on those pages. And Kaufman and Kristoff do just that.

Live a life worth dying for.

Kady Grant

Obsidio plays out on the page like a movie plays out on the screen. One hundred moving parts and yet all of them gel into a violent, deadly, animated, touching story of resilience and grit. Sure, it’s teenagers running around doing amazing things to save their part of the universe, but I feel sucked into their world and I don’t want to know anything other than their reality — it’s just that compelling.

The two “stars” in Obsidio are girl-next-door Asha Grant and her ex-boyfriend (now turned to the dark side), BeiTech soldier Rhys Lindstrom. Both of them are in situations that they didn’t choose, but to survive they have to learn to trust each other all over again. And that’s not easy to do in the midst of a forced enemy occupation that leads to a space war right over your head.

Every story needs its monster. <error> And the monster is me.

AIDAN

One thing that kept pulling me into this serious is the presence of the mad/mad genius AI supercomputer, AIDAN. I definitely have a love/hate relationship with this thing (entity?). Is it that AIDAN has no conscience? Or is that he has more conscience than a computer should have, and therefore creates chaos? Read the books and you decide. But one thing is sure, AIDAN is the catalyst for most of the action in all three books. And if action is what you like in your reading (along with questionable moral decisions and awkward computer romance), then this is the series for you.

I’m sad that it ends with Obsidio, but I feel that this book wrapped everything up nicely – no pretty bows or shiny paper here, but a solid ending that puts a bold period where the previous two books left question marks. I’m satisfied after this series, and that’s not something that I get to say a lot when reviewing other books in a series. The Illuminae Files does not disappoint.


Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Kaufman Website

Kristoff Blog


Artemis

⇒The author of The Martian takes us to a bubble city on the moon where a smuggler just might become a savior.⇐


Author: Andy Weir

(3.67 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Science Fiction

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 305 (Hardcover)

#Artemis


Hey, if you want to play life safe, don’t live on the moon.


I have had Artemis on my TBR for some time now, and I am glad to say that I finally added it to my “Read in 2018” pile because it was a really good book! In recent years I have shifted away from Sci-Fi novels. I called myself branching out into other genres after almost exclusively reading horror, thriller, and sci-fi for many years thanks to my Dad’s reading influence (and the free books he was lending me!). But I’m so glad I picked up this little gem of a book from my local Goodwill store and made it one of my November reads.



Check out the Goodreads blurb for Artemis:     Jazz Bashara is a criminal. Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent. 
Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she’s stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.


After reading this book, I read other reviews on Goodreads – which is often my habit. I just want to know if any number of people felt the same way I did about the book. Surprisingly, many of them said that this wasn’t the book that they were expecting. Those comments seemed to point to the fact that they didn’t want the sci-fi in this sci-fi novel. Hmmm… As for me, it was exactly the book that I was expecting: a science fiction novel.

He’s right, Dad. I am an asshole. But Artemis needs an asshole right now and I got drafted.

Artemis is the type of book that I read sci-fi for – it’s taut, smart, and still manages to weave saucy humor into every situation – no matter how life-threatening. 
Sci-fi can get technical and often it involves advanced science and math. Those weren’t my favorite subjects in school, but I love to see how those advanced concepts can be incorporated into a thrilling novel such as this one. Plus, it had maps! And who doesn’t love a great story with maps! Extra points!
Jazz Bashara, the protagonist, is brilliant but in an entirely underrated way. She is strong-willed and smart-alecky, but it only makes her more likable. If you’ve read other some of my other reviews, you know how much I appreciate an “average joe” hero. Her cohorts were varied and interesting, especially her Ukrainian super-hacker friend (what? Every hero needs one), Svoboda.

Artemis was intriguing, action-packed, and big-screen worthy. Four moon-sized stars for this genuine sci-fi story by an author who understands what the genres fans really need to make them happy!

Read an excerpt of Artemis here

(courtesy of andyweirauthor.com)


Andy Weir

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ANDY WEIR built a career as a software engineer until the success of his first published novel, The Martian, allowed him to live out his dream of writing full time. He is a lifelong space nerd and a devoted hobbyist of subjects such as relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight. He also mixes a mean cocktail. He lives in California.


Look Alive Twenty-Five (Stephanie Plum, #25)

⇒Apparently, Cinderella isn’t the only one leaving shoes behind and disappearing anymore. Trenton has a new kidnapper and, unfortunately, Stephanie Plum is on the case!⇐


Author: Janet Evanovich

(3.99 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Humor

Published November 13, 2018, by Putnam Pub Books

Format: Audiobook

Pages: 320 (Hardcover)

#LookAliveTwentyFive


Once again, the key to true happiness is lowered expectations.


What do you love about your favorite literary characters? Are they intrepid travelers? Ultra-genius spies? Are they strong-willed detectives? Beautiful romantics?

Why does that particular character stand out to you? Are they creative problem-solvers? Handsome mavericks? Are they earthy survivalists or alien wise men/women? Are they powerful and heroic or freaky and flawed? Lovers or fighters?

Most consistent readers have at least one lit character that they label as a favorite for one reason or another. One of my faves is Stephanie Plum. Steph is the protagonist of Evanovich’s Plum series that began with the book One for the Money (You may have accidentally seen the 2012 movie adaptation of that book starring a brunette Katherine Heigl – if you did, I won’t judge you because I’ve seen it more than once). The reason I like Stephanie Plum is that she is quirky, energetic and ultimately average, but – when pushed – she becomes brave and heroic. Maybe I see a lot of who I am and who I’d like to be in her.

I’ve been following this Evanovich character from Book 1, so I feel like she and I are friends. I’ve made decisions on love and doughnuts for her (we agree on Boston Cream doughnuts, but she’s stubbornly resistant to my plans for her long-term hookup with Ranger), and her family and friends are as familiar to me as my own. That is why each time one of the Plum books is released I eagerly devour every chapter. Although my anticipation for Look Alive Twenty-Five was no different, my overall opinion at the end of the book definitely was.


Here’s the Goodreads blurb for Look Alive…
There’s nothing like a good deli and the Red River Deli in Trenton is one of the best. World famous for its pastrami, coleslaw and for its disappearing managers. Over the last month, three have vanished from the face of the earth, the only clue in each case is one shoe that’s been left behind. The police are baffled. Lula is convinced that it’s a case of alien abduction. Whatever it is, they’d better figure out what’s going on before they lose their new manager, Ms. Stephanie Plum.


Some readers characterize themselves as “mood readers”. When I’m not under blog or release-day deadlines, I’d say I fit into that category.  One of the reasons I look forward to these Plum books is because I can always count on them for genuine LOL comedy. That’s the feel-good mood that I want to be able to always count on. I want those actual, literal laugh-out-loud moments.

Stephanie’s antics and those of her friends and family – particularly Lula and Grandma Mazur – have sent me into side-splitting spasms. I mean happy tears rolling down my face and everything! I kept waiting for that moment to happen in LA25, but it never came. I was underwhelmed.

I’m like an inept pet, beloved but pretty much a disaster.

The story started off well enough – favorite characters in their true forms doing wackadoodle things and actually achieving little or nothing. Usually, that formula is hilarious; however, in this book the wacky seems more nonsensical than usual, and the buildup to action goes on for far longer than necessary.

So what could have made it better? Here are some of my unprofessional but I’m-seriously-invested suggestions:

  • More, more, more Grandma Mazur. She’s the sole source of so many LOL moments and this book needs more of them and her.
  • Less Wulf. Correction, no Wulf. He is annoying and even though I do get the Wicked series tie-ins, Wulf’s paranormal presence in all-too-real Trenton, New Jersey feels like too much of an incongruent twist when compared with the rest of the action.
  • Pacing. The daily grind for Stephanie and Lula at the deli feels too much like reading about someone’s whole day at a real job. That’s not why I read these books. In fact, that’s the exact opposite of why I read these books.
  • No car explosions! Did I miss a chapter? Usually, I can count on someone blowing up one of Stephanie’s cars in some dramatic fashion. But not in book #25. So disappointing.

Normally, I would be the very last person to have even one critical thing to say about one of Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books; however, her latest effort left me wanting more (or less). Even so, I’m not yet soured on the series, and I am still looking forward to Book #26.

Read an excerpt of Look Alive Twenty-Five here.

(courtesy of evanovich.com)


Janet Evanovich

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Janet Evanovich is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Stephanie Plum series, the Lizzy and Diesel series, twelve romance novels, the Alexandra Barnaby novels and Trouble Maker graphic novel, and How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author, as well as the Fox and O’Hare series with co-author Lee Goldberg. 
(Bio from Goodreads)


Mirage (Mirage, #1)

⇒Daud’s debut doesn’t disappoint! A coming-of-age cautionary tale about preserving one’s own identity in the midst of great oppression.⇐


Mirage Cover

by Somaiya Daud

Author: SOMAIYA DAUD

(3.79 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: YA / Fantasy / Science Fiction

Published August 28, 2018, by Flatiron Books

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 311

#Mirage


The blood never dies. The blood never forgets.

Sabé. Do you know that name? Maybe you do if you’re a die-hard Star Wars fan. I had to look up her name, but I remember her character well. Sabé was Queen Padmé Amidala’s handmaiden and body double. She swore allegiance to the queen and vowed to protect her no matter the threat. Not only did she look like her queen, but she also loved and admired her and willingly served her.

Why am I talking about Star Wars – a classic Sci-Fi story when I’m supposed to be reviewing Somaiya Daud’s new debut YA novel, Mirage? Well, because they have several things in common: body doubles, droids, TONS of politics, and very determined rebels.

Happiness is rebellion.

Furat

Amani, a common farmer’s daughter, has a general sense of the political unrest around her, her loving family, and the villagers she loves. After all, they have lived under alien rule for all of her life. But it is only after she is kidnapped by royal droids and forced to become a body double for the evil Princess Maram that she becomes truly aware of the tenuous plight of her people and their planet. Vathek imperial rule has attempted to subdue everyone, but there are some that are willing to fight it until the end — will Amani be among them?

So the Vathek are the bad guys. They ruined the atmosphere on their own planet, now they’re invading and taking over everywhere else – planets, moons, everywhere. Bullies. They forced their rule, language, and beliefs on everyone in their star system and their main focus now is crushing any opposition to their empire. As with any planetary takeover, there’s a buttload of politics in this story: Alliances, allegiances, appropriation, and autocracy. But there are also lots of fantasy elements, especially in terms of the native people’s belief systems and lore. The story is brimming with symbolism and traditions that marked the rich history of the people before Vath occupation. But that history is slowly fading from minds and hearts as Vathek ways permeate all nuances of life. Amani’s capture only emphasizes this: no one has their own free will – you live or die all at the whim of the Vathek King Mathis.

Which brings us back to Amani. She is kidnapped (against her will), forced to live in seclusion in the royal palace (against her will), forced to alter her appearance and personality (against her will) all to serve a cruel princess who loathes and despises her. So, yeah, the opposite of Sabé in almost every sense. So why the comparison? Because Sabé was a handmaiden, but she made herself indispensable, earned respect, and became powerful even in her service to her queen. Amani will need to learn those same traits in order to survive as Maram’s double. But could there be some kind of humanity left in Maram? Amani plans to find out.

I wanted something else, something more tangible and immediate. I wanted the world.

Amani

Somaiya Daud’s debut novel blends several lit genres into a fast YA read that will leave fans wanting more. The book is packed with rich sci-fi elements including crafty technology and space travel. You won’t find faeries or trolls here, but there are direct references to mythical and supernatural beings and animals alike. And for readers who like a side of romance with their YA, Daud has you covered there too with a sticky little love triangle that almost seems inevitable even from early on.

You are not responsible for the cruelty of your masters.

Amani

Although the “cliffhanger” fell a bit flat for me, the draw towards book #2 is clear. Budding world-building and steady character development are certain lures for readers, even if constant language immersion and inconsistent action are a bit draining (hello, Kushaila/Vathekaar translator app, anyone? If you’ve ever tried to learn Quenya or Dothraki, you’ll love this book!). The primary draw is all the rich, non-traditional characterization and imagery. There’s lots of color and texture here, and as we all know, variety is the spice of life!
All-in-all I’d say there’s a little something for everyone in this suspenseful YA debut. And if you read it and are on the fence about eagerly awaiting book #2, Court of Lions, let the blurb from this back cover convince you:

The crown of Dihya had been stripped from me,

My face changed, my body broken.

But I was not a slave and I was not a spare.

I was my mother’s daughter,

And I would survive and endure.

I would find my way back home.

Amani

Read an excerpt of Mirage here.

(Courtesy of EW.com)


Author's pic: Somaiya Daud

Somaiya Daud

Like most writers, Somaiya Daud started writing when she was young and never really stopped. Her love of all things books propelled her to get a degree in English literature (specializing in the medieval and early modern), and while she worked on her Master’s degree she doubled as a bookseller at Politics and Prose in their children’s department. In 2014 she pursued a doctoral degree in English literature. Now she’s preparing to write a dissertation on Victorians, rocks, race, and the environment. Mirage is her debut.

(Bio adapted from Goodreads)