Saturday, May 31, 2014

That Night

Book 27 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

I received an ARC from the author/publisher and would like to thank them for the opportunity to read and honestly review this book.  The expected publication date is June 17, 2014.

That Night by Chevy Stevens

Summary (via the book jacket)
Eighteen-year-old Toni and her boyfriend, Ryan, were wrongly convicted for the murder of her younger sister.  Seventeen years later she returns home, ready to move on with her life, but she can't.  Ryan is convinced he can uncover the truth; her mother still doesn't believe Toni's innocent; and the former high school girls who made Toni's life miserable may have darker secrets than anyone can imagine.  Before Toni can move forward, she must take a terrifying step back to her past to find out the truth and clear her name, before it's too late.

My Opinion
Why oh why did I think it would be a good idea to start a book by Chevy Stevens at 10 p.m.?  I couldn't put it down and stayed up until 3:15 devouring the entire thing.
Nobody writes tension like Chevy Stevens and my favorite thing about her writing is her ability to seamlessly alternate between past and present as she constantly moves the story forward to the big reveal.  
This book didn't reach the level of love I have for Still Missing because I saw the "twist" coming pretty early on but reading is about the journey, not the destination, and I enjoyed the ride from beginning to end.
Mystery readers should take note of this author.

Quote from the Book


**Note: I read an uncorrected proof of this book and the following quote may have been altered in the final copy.

"Death isn't the hard part, living is."





Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Bright Young Things

Book 26 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

Bright Young Things by Scarlett Thomas

Summary (via the book jacket)
Bright Young Things Wanted for Big Project.

They're in the prime of their lives but these bright young things are all burned out.  Six sparky twenty-somethings just past university and working dead-end jobs, they are bored to tears with their lives and looking for a way out.  When a mysterious job is advertised in the newspaper, they all apply.
What they least expect is to find themselves prisoners on a deserted island.  There's food in the fridge and they have a bedroom each, but there's no telephone, no television - and no way to escape.

My Opinion
I didn't realize until I started reading the foreword that this isn't a new book but a reprint of a book originally published in 1999.  What would appear to be nostalgic references to tv shows and video games from that time were real-time references when it was written, and the author mentioned that part of the fun of reading this reprint was seeing what was still relevant and recognizable.  Unfortunately for me the answer was very little.  Part of the issue may be that this book is from the UK; maybe I would've missed the references if I'd read it in 1999 as well.
No problem, the nostalgia would've been an added bonus but I don't need it, I'll just read the story because the premise is so interesting.  Unfortunately for me that didn't go so well either.  Reading each chapter as a separate piece was interesting because the author writes dialogue and backstory really well but looking at the book as a whole, I had trouble keeping the characters straight from chapter to chapter.
And the ending?  Not satisfactory.  That would've been cute if this were a short story but when I invest in 342 pages of buildup, I expect it to lead somewhere.  I don't need everything tied up with a pretty bow (in fact, I've liked books less when something inauthentic happens to wrap up the ending) but I do expect some sort of story arc.  Buildup = great, resolution = not so much.
If she wrote short stories, I would read them but I don't expect to read any more of her novels.  

Quote from the Book
Here is where I would normally write a quote from the book but for the first time ever, I have nothing.  While I liked the dialogue, there wasn't a sentence or paragraph that could be removed from its context and still give a flavor of the story.


Saturday, May 24, 2014

Killing Jesus

Book 25 of my 2014 Reading Challenge.

Killing Jesus: A History by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard

Summary
By the authors of Killing Lincoln and Killing Kennedy, this book details the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth.

My Opinion

First, the response I've given everyone that was surprised that I loved Killing Lincoln, look forward to reading Killing Kennedy, and just finished Killing Jesus...while I believe Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard wrote the book together (O'Reilly's personality seems too strong to allow others to speak for him), you wouldn't know he was the co-author based on the writing itself.

If you read this book solely because you're an O'Reilly fan and have no interest in the subject, you'll be disappointed...there are no politics, opinions, or modern day comparisons.  If you're interested in the subject but avoid this book because you're not an O'Reilly fan, you'll be disappointed...the material is well-researched and presented in an engaging way.

I learned new things but the parts that interested me the most weren't specifically about Jesus but about the methods of "justice" used at the time.  The ways Romans tortured their enemies were horrendous and reading about the crucifixion process was gut-wrenching. 

Personally, religion is my least-read subject (fiction or non-fiction, I just don't have much of an interest) but I would definitely recommend this book to those with an interest in Jesus and the times he lived in.
  
Quote from the Book
"Jesus will never write a book, compose a song, or put paint on canvas.  But two thousand years from now, after his message has spread to billions of people, more books will be written about his life, more songs sung in his honor, and more works of art created in his name than for any other man in the history of the world."



Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Secret Rage

Book 24 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

A Secret Rage by Charlaine Harris

Summary (via the book jacket)
Nickie Callahan is full of optimism when she moves to the sleepy college town of Knolls, Tennessee, to live with her best friend Mimi.  At twenty-seven, her career as a New York City model may be over, but she plans to go back to college and become a writer.  She hopes that Mimi, who works at Houghton College, can use her influence to get her a last-minute enrollment.  Nickie's looking forward to using her brain after years of using her looks to make a living.
Nickie feels safe and happy in the small Southern town, and as if she's come home.  But the women of Knolls are not safe.  There's a violent incident at the college - and then another.  And as Nickie gets swept up in a string of brutal crimes, she must take matters of justice into her own hands if she is to keep hold of her new, promising life...

My Opinion
First, a note to the marketing/publicity crew.  I specifically looked for this book at the library because I like the author but when I got home and looked more closely, the blurb on the cover was a strange choice to draw in readers.  The quote "Recommended for public libraries" isn't a glowing review, especially when it wasn't even for this book (it was for the author's book From Dead to Worse).  It made me laugh and luckily for me, the read was better than that blurb indicated.  
If you are a person that is triggered by rape, this isn't the book for you.  The descriptions of the traumas aren't graphic but they are very emotionally charged, especially concerning the aftermath as the victims attempt to put their lives back together.
Neutral recommendation.  This would be fine to pick up if you're looking for a quick mystery, especially since it appears to be a stand alone book (seriously, how rare is it to find a mystery that isn't part of a series?) but I wouldn't rush out and buy it either.  

Quote from the Book
"In thirty-odd minutes we'd manage to establish that our assailant was one of ten men.  In making those sweeping eliminations we were able to do what the police could not, because we both were convinced that the man who raped us knew us.  Now we couldn't even try to persuade the detectives who were handling our cases.  One of them was on the list."

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Murderer's Daughters

Book 23 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

The Murderer's Daughters by Randy Susan Meyers

Summary (via Goodreads)
Lulu and Merry's childhood was never ideal, but on the day before Lulu's tenth birthday their father drives them into a nightmare.  He's always hungered for the love of the girls' self-obsessed mother; after she throws them out, her troubles turn deadly.
Lulu's mother warned her to never let him in, but when he shows up, he's impossible to ignore.  He bullies his way past Lulu, who obeys her father's instructions to open the door, then listens in horror as her parents struggle.  She runs for help and discovers upon her return that he's murdered her mother, stabbed her sister, and tried to kill himself.
For thirty years, the sisters try to make sense of what happened.  Their imprisoned father is a specter in both their lives, shadowing every choice they make.  Though one spends her life pretending he's dead, while the other feels compelled to help him, both fear that someday his attempts to meet parole may meet success.

My Opinion
The book started with a page of interesting backstory from the author.  Although thankfully a fiction novel, the idea came from a similar situation in her childhood.  Her father convinced her older sister to allow him in and he tried to kill their mother; the book came from her reliving the memories and wondering what would have happened if the police hadn't arrived in time.  Add that to her experience working with batterers and their victims and you have the makings of a very authentic read.
Fair warning: this is not an "I'll just read a chapter or two before bed" kind of book.  I was hooked from the first chapter and stayed up until 4 a.m. to finish it, plus the subject matter doesn't induce sweet dreams.
Despite its compulsive readability, I didn't completely love the book.  While the characters were fascinating, I wasn't as invested in them as I expected to be.  Part of it was because spanning 30 years in a book led to the reader accessing pivotal events through the years but not much of the overall progression that led them to the end.  I also thought Lulu and Merry were given roles of "good sister/bad sister", "successful sister/failing sister", "responsible sister/drunk sister" and although they were very well-written concerning those characteristics, they also felt a little one-dimensional.
Recommended even though I liked, not loved, it.

Quote from the Book
"Adults should be able to offer themselves up for adoption.  I'd find a family who gathered at every holiday ever invented - quick, get out the Columbus Day tree! - offering ourselves immeasurable occasions to use our in-family jokes and us-only references.  A family that celebrated birthdays in some way other than sending homemade birthday cards from prison."

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Book 22 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Summary (via Goodreads)
Charlie is a freshman.
And while he's not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular.  Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it.
Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mix tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite.  But he can't stay on the sideline forever.  Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective.  But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor. 

My Opinion
As I read this book I wondered...is it me, am I too old for YA?  I certainly hope not but I know I would've enjoyed reading this more if I had read it in high school.    
The choppiness of Charlie's sentences bothered me at first but as I settled into his rhythm, he turned out to be a very compelling narrator.  I read quickly and didn't predict the ending at all.   
My brain recognizes why others would love this book but my heart just wasn't in it, leaving me with an "it's not you it's me" neutral recommendation.

Quote from the Book
"I don't know how much longer I can keep going without a friend.  I used to be able to do it very easily, but that was before I knew what having a friend was like.  It's much easier not to know things sometimes."

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Life Classic Photographs

Book 21 of my 2014 Reading Challenge.

Life Classic Photographs: A Personal Interpretation by John Loengard

Summary
A collection of photographs published in Life between the years of 1936 - 1985, along with explanations of why the author chose them.


My Opinion
This book, published in 1988, was fascinating to page through.  Some of the people and events were famous, most were not, but all are historical gems.  
The descriptions of how laborious early photography was, especially concerning lighting, was very interesting and made them even more impressive.  


Quote from the Book
"Our Earth was quite colorful, pretty and delicate compared to the very rough, rugged, beat-up, even boring lunar surface.  We'd come 240,000 miles to see the moon, and it was the Earth that was really worth looking at." ~ William Anders, photographer of Earthrise, a photo of Earth from the moon's surface.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Mimi Malloy At Last

Book 20 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

I received this book through a Goodreads First Reads giveaway and would like to thank them for the opportunity to read and honestly review this book.

Mimi Malloy At Last by Julia MacDonnell

Summary (via the book jacket)
Forced into an early retirement, Mimi Malloy enjoys the simple things in life: True Blue cigarettes, her apartment in the heart of Quincy, and an evening with Frank Sinatra on the stereo and a Manhattan in her hand.  Born into an Irish Catholic brood of seven, with six beautiful daughters of her own, she knows that life isn't just a bowl of cherries - that, sometimes, it's the pits.  An when an MRI reveals that Mimi's brain is filled with black spots - areas of atrophy, her doctor says - the prospect of living out her days in an "Old Timer's Home" starts to look like more than just an idea at the top of her eldest daughter's to-do list.
Yet as Mimi prepares to take a stand, she stumbles upon an old pendant, and her memory starts to return - specifically, recollections of a shockingly painful childhood, her long-lost sister, Fagan, and the wicked stepmother she chose to forget.


My Opinion

4.5 almost perfect stars!
I could listen to elderly people tell me their life stories all day so it was very easy for me to get lost in this book.  I love Mimi.  She's quirky, spunky, and even a little flirty.  The interactions between her and her super, Duffy, were absolutely adorable.
This was a deceptively light read.  Mimi's memories were very heavy but while I felt sorrow and regret for her, I didn't walk away with a melancholy feeling and wouldn't classify this as an overall sad book.
I love the journey Mimi took but thought the ending, particularly the way everyone and everything came together so well after years and years of secrecy and resentment, was a little too quick and neat to completely mesh.  It made me happy but kept this from being an unequivocal 5 star read. 
I highly recommend this book and will definitely read anything else by the author. 



Quote

**Note: I read an uncorrected proof of this book and the following quote may have been altered in the final copy.

"Black spots.  My brain is full of them.  Maybe that's where, neatnik that I am, stashed away all of my bad memories."