Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Clockmaker's Daughter

Book: The Clockmaker's Daughter
Author: Kate Morton

My real name, no one remembers. The truth about that summer, no one else knows.

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?-Goodreads

Review: The Clockmaker's Daughter is a very descriptive (beautifully at times) novel that follows several characters and their relationships with Birchwood Manor, a house in the English countryside. There were so many different narrators it was difficult at times to keep everyone straight. I'll attempt a summary here with general timelines:

*Early/mid 1800's: Young Birdie and her father 
*Early/mid 1800's: Birdie/Lily rebirth and life with her 'adoptive' mother
*Mid 1800's: Lily modeling for Edward Radcliffe
*Mid 1800's: Birchwood Manor tragedy resulting in Edward's fiance's death and Lily's disapperance
*Mid 1800's-early 1900's: Lucy Radcliffe's, Edward's sister point of view
*Early 1900's: Ada living at Birchwood Manor 
*Mid 1900's: Juliet and her children living at Birchwood Manor after/during the war
*Present Day: Elodie, an archivist who finds a satchel with a photograph she obsesses over and sketches by Edward Radcliffe
*Last but not least, a ghost residing at Birchwood Manor

Told in alternating narratives and timelines, just when a storyline got interesting we were swept away into someone else's narrative. I really loved all of the Birdie, Lily and Ada sections. Way too much time was devoted to Elodie, who was written as such a boring character with no backbone. Ultimately, when we finally find out what happened that one tragic summer at Birchwood Manor, everything seemed really rushed. This was a 17+ hour audio book and the events at the Manor are maybe 20min. I am happy that we, the readers, know what happened but there was a distinct lack of closure for so many characters. 

This wasn't bad per say, I did enjoy certain sections but I think a good editor could have trimmed this significantly.  The first 25% of the book (not sure on the exact percentage but it felt like 25%) is focused on Elodie and it was a struggle to get through it. There are only so many descriptions and feelings one photograph can elicit and yet they were described so many times. Way too much time was dedicated to her mother and Elodie's wedding. 

My favorite part of the book? Discovering who 'Pale Joe' turned into. 

Grade: 2.5/5

Lost Girls

Book: Lost Girls
Series: DI Kim Stone #3
Author: Angela Marsons

Two girls go missing. Only one will return.
The couple that offers the highest amount will see their daughter again. The losing couple will not. Make no mistake. One child will die.

When nine-year-old best friends Charlie and Amy disappear, two families are plunged into a living nightmare. A text message confirms the unthinkable; that the girls are the victims of a terrifying kidnapping.

And when a second text message pits the two families against each other for the life of their children, the clock starts ticking for D.I. Kim Stone and the squad.

Seemingly outwitted at every turn, as they uncover a trail of bodies, Stone realises that these ruthless killers might be the most deadly she has ever faced. And that their chances of bringing the girls home alive, are getting smaller by the hour…

Untangling a dark web of secrets from the families’ past might hold the key to solving this case. But can Kim stay alive long enough to do so? Or will someone’s child pay the ultimate price? -Goodreads

Review: Angela Marsons, I am so happy my Goodreads friend (thanks Ann!) recommended this series. You know how to craft an addictive read and keep me turning the pages until the very end!

In the 3rd installment of the DI Kim Stone series, Kim and her team are tasked with an abduction case. Two young girls have been kidnapped-the case is eerily similar another kidnapping from a year ago where one child came home and the other has not been found. Kim and her team set up operations in one of the parents homes (who Kim has a history with) while they deal with a press blackout and increasing pressure from all sides. 

The story was great-I figured out one of the main 'bad guys' and Kim seemed slightly out of character compared to the prior 2 books, but I am extremely excited to finish this series this year. 

Grade: 4/5

Stef Soto, Taco Queen

Book: Stef Soto, Taco Queen
Author: Jennifer Torres

Estefania "Stef" Soto is itching to shake off the onion-and-cilantro embrace of Tia Perla, her family's taco truck. She wants nothing more than for her dad to get a normal job and for Tia Perla to be put out to pasture. It's no fun being known as the "Taco Queen" at school. But just when it looks like Stef is going to get exactly what she wants, and her family's livelihood is threatened, she will have to become the truck's unlikely champion.-Goodreads

Review: This was another selection for my daughter's 5th grade book club. A cute, extremely fast read, we follow Stef and her over-protective parents as her father tries to save his taco truck from pending government regulations and Stef tries to help her school raise funds for art supplies while navigating friendships and the rumor mill. I enjoyed this-I just wish it had been longer. It felt too rushed. 

Grade: 3/5

Evil Games

Book: Evil Games
Series: DI Kim Stone #2
Author: Angela Marsons

The greater the Evil, the more deadly the game…

When a rapist is found mutilated in a brutal attack, Detective Kim Stone and her team are called in to bring a swift resolution. But, as more vengeful killings come to light, it soon becomes clear that there is someone far more sinister at work.

With the investigation quickly gathering momentum, Kim finds herself exposed to great danger and in the sights of a lethal individual undertaking their own twisted experiment.

Up against a sociopath who seems to know her every weakness, for Detective Stone, each move she makes could be deadly. As the body count starts to mount, Kim will have to dig deeper than ever before to stop the killing. And this time - it’s personal.

The rising star of the British thriller scene returns with a novel that enthrall fans of Rachel Abbott, Val McDermid and Mark Billingham.-Goodreads

Review: Wow-what a fantastic book #2 in a series. I absolutely loved this from start to finish. Kim goes head to head with a sociopath psychiatrist and the doctor was such a delicious adversary. Great read!

Grade: 5/5

Silent Scream

Book: Silent Scream
Series: DI Kim Stone #1
Author: Angela Marsons

Even the darkest secrets can’t stay buried forever…
Five figures gather round a shallow grave. They had all taken turns to dig. An adult sized hole would have taken longer. An innocent life had been taken but the pact had been made. Their secrets would be buried, bound in blood …

Years later, a headmistress is found brutally strangled, the first in a spate of gruesome murders which shock the Black Country.

But when human remains are discovered at a former children’s home, disturbing secrets are also unearthed. D.I. Kim Stone fast realises she’s on the hunt for a twisted individual whose killing spree spans decades.

As the body count rises, Kim needs to stop the murderer before they strike again. But to catch the killer, can Kim confront the demons of her own past before it’s too late?-Goodreads

Review: This is book #1 in a series introducing DI Kim Stone (tough as nails, doesn't like to get close to anyone) and her team. Kim reminded me of the British version of Detective DD Warren-albeit Kim has a more tragic backstory. They are both hard as nails and willing to do whatever it takes to solve a case. I think this was a strong start to a series and I liked the mystery although it was predicable. 

Grade: 3/5

The Silent Patient

Book: The Silent Patient
Author: Alex Michaelides

Alicia Berenson’s life is seemingly perfect. A famous painter married to an in-demand fashion photographer, she lives in a grand house with big windows overlooking a park in one of London’s most desirable areas. One evening her husband Gabriel returns home late from a fashion shoot, and Alicia shoots him five times in the face, and then never speaks another word.

Alicia’s refusal to talk, or give any kind of explanation, turns a domestic tragedy into something far grander, a mystery that captures the public imagination and casts Alicia into notoriety. The price of her art skyrockets, and she, the silent patient, is hidden away from the tabloids and spotlight at the Grove, a secure forensic unit in North London.

Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist who has waited a long time for the opportunity to work with Alicia. His determination to get her to talk and unravel the mystery of why she shot her husband takes him down a twisting path into his own motivations—a search for the truth that threatens to consume him....-Goodreads

Review: Alicia murders her husband and stops speaking. She does not speak in her defense, does not speak when she is sentenced-she literally never says a word after the police find her over her husband's dead with a gun in her hands. Did she actually kill him? Why don't she speak? Years later, Theo Faber, a psychotherapist is convinced he can help Alicia. He gets a job at the facility she's being held at and they begin their sessions. 

I will refrain from spoilers but this book kept me turning the pages to see what happened. The story is told in alternating narratives between Theo and a diary of Alicia leading up the crime. I was never bored-even though I didn't 'like' any of the characters this was great read!

Grade: 4.5/5

King of Scars

Book: King of Scars
Series: Nikolai Duology #1
Author: Leigh Bardugo

Nikolai Lantsov has always had a gift for the impossible. No one knows what he endured in his country’s bloody civil war—and he intends to keep it that way. Now, as enemies gather at his weakened borders, the young king must find a way to refill Ravka’s coffers, forge new alliances, and stop a rising threat to the once-great Grisha Army.

Yet with every day a dark magic within him grows stronger, threatening to destroy all he has built. With the help of a young monk and a legendary Grisha Squaller, Nikolai will journey to the places in Ravka where the deepest magic survives to vanquish the terrible legacy inside him. He will risk everything to save his country and himself. But some secrets aren’t meant to stay buried—and some wounds aren’t meant to heal.-Goodreads

Review: Fans of Bardugo's Grisha series will be thrilled to see this new spin-off featuring Nikolai, Zoya and Nina, as well as others. This was so, so good! Nina is working undercover with a team focused on rescuing Grisha. Nikolai and Zoya are on a mission to expel the dark magic living in him. They all face obstacles and find strength within themselves to do things they never thought possible. And who knew that Zoya would end up one of my favorites?

If you haven't read the Grisha series, I highly recommend reading that first. 

Grade: 4/5

The Light Between Oceans

Book: The Light Between Oceans
Author: ML Stedman

Australia, 1926. After four harrowing years fighting on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns home to take a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day's journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby's cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.

Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom's judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.

M. L. Stedman's mesmerizing, beautifully written debut novel seduces us into accommodating Isabel's decision to keep this "gift from God." And we are swept into a story about extraordinarily compelling characters seeking to find their North Star in a world where there is no right answer, where justice for one person is another's tragic loss.-Goodreads

Review: This is a beautifully written yet tragic tale of Tom and Isabel in the 1920s. Tom, a veteran suffering from PTSD who now works on a remote Australian island and Isabel, his wife, long for a child. After multiple miscarriages, a dead man and infant seemingly appear out of nowhere. What they do next changes everyone's lives forever. 

I listened to an audiobook of this and the narrator was fantastic. Stedman really captured the remoteness of the island and island life. The first half of the book was the stronger half for me while I found several parts of the second half extremely boring and tough to get through. 

Grade: 3/5

The Wednesday Wars

Book: The Wednesday Wars
Author: Gary D Schmidt

Meet Holling Hoodhood, a seventh-grader at Camillo Junior High, who must spend Wednesday afternoons with his teacher, Mrs. Baker, while the rest of the class has religious instruction. Mrs. Baker doesn’t like Holling—he’s sure of it. Why else would she make him read the plays of William Shakespeare outside class? But everyone has bigger things to worry about, like Vietnam. His father wants Holling and his sister to be on their best behavior: the success of his business depends on it. But how can Holling stay out of trouble when he has so much to contend with? A bully demanding cream puffs; angry rats; and a baseball hero signing autographs the very same night Holling has to appear in a play in yellow tights! As fate sneaks up on him again and again, Holling finds Motivation—the Big M—in the most unexpected places and musters up the courage to embrace his destiny, in spite of himself.-Goodreads
Review: When I signed up to be a mentor to my daughter's 5th grade book club, I had no idea I would so many fantastic middle grade books. 'The Wednesday Wars' is set in 1967 and follows Holling Hoodhood, a 7th grader. This book was fantastic-I loved Holling, his relationship with his sister and most especially Mrs. Baker. A big 5 stars, loved this. 

Grade: 5/5

Kingdom of Ash

Book: Kingdom of Ash
Series: Throne of Glass #7
Author: Sarah J Maas

The final battle is here.

Aelin Galathynius has vowed to save her people―but at a tremendous cost. Locked within an iron coffin by the Queen of the Fae, Aelin must draw upon her fiery will as she endures months of torture. The knowledge that yielding to Maeve will doom those she loves keeps her from breaking, but her resolve is unraveling with each passing day…

With Aelin captured, friends and allies are scattered to different fates. Some bonds will grow even deeper, while others will be severed forever. As destinies weave together at last, all must fight if Erilea is to have any hope of salvation.

Years in the making, Sarah J. Maas's New York Times bestselling Throne of Glass series draws to an explosive conclusion as Aelin fights to save herself―and the promise of a better world.-Goodreads

Review: This was a satisfying conclusion to the Throne of Glass series. Like the previous book, Manon and Dorian were my absolute favorite characters while I could have done with much less Chaol (he and his wife are so, so boring). I really enjoyed how Maas brought everything together at the end. 

Grade: 4/5

The Terrible Two

Book: The Terrible Two
Series: The Terrible Two #1
Author: Mac Barnett, Jory John, Kevin Cornell (Illustrations) 

Miles Murphy is not happy to be moving to Yawnee Valley, a sleepy town that’s famous for one thing and one thing only: cows. In his old school, everyone knew him as the town’s best prankster, but Miles quickly discovers that Yawnee Valley already has a prankster, and a great one. If Miles is going to take the title from this mystery kid, he is going to have to raise his game.

It’s prankster against prankster in an epic war of trickery, until the two finally decide to join forces and pull off the biggest prank ever seen: a prank so huge that it would make the members of the International Order of Disorder proud.

In The Terrible Two, bestselling authors and friends Mac Barnett and Jory John have created a series that has its roots in classic middle-grade literature yet feels fresh and new at the same time.-Goodreads

Review: This is a cute middle grade book about a boy who moves to a new town and tries to establish himself as a prankster, only to discover one already exists. This was a book selection for my daughter's 5th grade book club and there where some good discussions around reinventing ones self. 

Grade: 3/5

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Catwoman: Soulstealer

Book: Catwoman: Soulstealer
Series: DC Icons #3 
Author: Sarah J. Maas

When the Bat's away, the Cat will play. It's time to see how many lives this cat really has.

Two years after escaping Gotham City's slums, Selina Kyle returns as the mysterious and wealthy Holly Vanderhees. She quickly discovers that with Batman off on a vital mission, Gotham City looks ripe for the taking.

Meanwhile, Luke Fox wants to prove that as Batwing he has what it takes to help people. He targets a new thief on the prowl who has teamed up with Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn. Together, they are wreaking havoc. This Catwoman is clever--she may be Batwing's undoing.

In this third DC Icons book, Selina is playing a desperate game of cat and mouse, forming unexpected friendships and entangling herself with Batwing by night and her devilishly handsome neighbor Luke Fox by day. But with a dangerous threat from the past on her tail, will she be able to pull off the heist that's closest to her heart?-Goodreads

Review: Selina is 'rescued' as a teen by a league of assassins and comes back to Gotham City years later as wealthy socialite Holly Vanderhees. She's on a mission and wreaking havoc wherever she goes but can her neighbor Luke, who secretly moonlights as Batwing, stop her?  

I liked Selina's backstory and the way she reinvented herself into Holly. Luke was not a formidable foe in any way, shape or form so that was disappointing. I had a hard time imaging Selina/Holly hanging out with her "friends" (I'll avoid spoilers) wearing her helmet so keep her anonymity. I just kept picturing someone sitting down on the couch with a motorcycle helmet watching TV and....yes, it seemed ridiculous. 

This was a solid 2 stars for me until the end, which was quite strong. 

Grade: 3/5


Book: Slider
Author: Pete Hautman

David can eat an entire sixteen-inch pepperoni pizza in four minutes and thirty-six seconds. Not bad. But he knows he can do better. In fact, he'll have to do better: he's going to compete in the Super Pigorino Bowl, the world's greatest pizza-eating contest, and he has to win it, because he borrowed his mom's credit card and accidentally spent $2,000 on it. So he really needs that prize money. Like, yesterday. As if training to be a competitive eater weren't enough, he's also got to keep an eye on his little brother, Mal (who, if the family believed in labels, would be labeled autistic, but they don't, so they just label him Mal). And don't even get started on the new weirdness going on between his two best friends, Cyn and HeyMan. Master talent Pete Hautman has cooked up a rich narrative shot through with equal parts humor and tenderness, and the result is a middle-grade novel too delicious to put down.-Goodreads
Review: After accidentally charging $2k to his mother's credit card, David decides to use his talent to win the $ back. His talent? Eating. David enters a pizza eating competition. 

As someone who loves pizza and used to joke about entering a competition like this in college, I really enjoyed this book. In addition to learning about competitive eating (the preparation was fascinating), this book explored friendship and families. This was a very enjoyable read and I loved David, especially his relationship with his younger brother. 

Grade: 4/5

The Murderer's Son

Book: The Murderer's Son
Series: DI Jackson & DS Evans
Author: Joy Ellis

Twenty years ago: a farmer and his wife are cut to pieces by a ruthless serial killer.

Now: a woman is viciously stabbed to death in the upmarket kitchen of her beautiful house on the edge of the marshes.

Then a man called Daniel Kinder walks into Saltern police station and confesses to the murder.

But DI Rowan Jackman and DS Marie Evans of the Fenland Constabulary soon discover that there is a lot more to Daniel than meets the eye. He has no memory of the first five years of his life and is obsessed with who his real mother is.

With no evidence to hold him, Jackman and Evans are forced to let him go, and in a matter of days the lonely Lincolnshire Fens become the stage for more killings and Daniel has disappeared.

In a breathtaking finale, the truth about Daniel’s mother comes to light and DI Jackman and DS Evans race against time to stop more lives being destroyed.

The detectives: DS Marie Evans lost her husband in a motorbike accident and has personal connections to the case. DI Rowan Jackman leads the investigation. He is extremely smart and has a knack for bringing out the best in his diverse team, which includes the mysterious computer specialist Orac. -Goodreads

Review: After a woman is stabbed, a man goes to the police station and confesses to the crime. The catch? He doesn't remember doing it and the police don't believe him. After he's released, he disappears and more crime takes place. Is he the culprit? Or is something else at play? 

This was an enjoyable first book of this series. I enjoyed the pacing and the police force although it was a tad predictable. I'll continue with the series. 

Grade: 3/5

Good Girl Gone Bad

Book: Good Girl Gone Bad
Series: DI Kane Barnett #1
Author: Emmy Ellis


Trapped inside by a man who refuses to allow her freedom—unless it’s on his terms—Charlotte has reached the point where she wants to leave him. Problem is, he’s always said he’ll find her no matter where she goes. But she can no longer stand living inside their beautiful house with limited contact with the outside world, and freedom beckons…


Desperate to grow up, to become a woman, Debbie has dreamed of him being her lover, her forever, but he hasn’t got the same desires—no, his are nothing like she imagined, and her night out at his place turns into the worst of her life…


DI Kane Barnett didn’t bank on three more cases landing on his desk—a death by bonfire, a murder, and a kidnap. He’s already got a huge case, damn it, bringing down Jez Pickins, the local drug dealer. The thing is, Kane meeting up with Jez’s girlfriend isn’t exactly a coincidence, and now he’s realizing just what a mess he’s in. With four cases on his hands, he’s strapped for time—and that time is running out. -Goodreads
Review: This was a good opening book to a series, introducing DI Kane Barnett who was both likable and intelligent. I found Charlotte to be a tad grating but the ending was a surprise. I'll definitely read the next book in the series. 

Grade: 3/5


Book: Restart
Author: Gordon Korman

Chase's memory just went out the window.

Chase doesn't remember falling off the roof. He doesn't remember hitting his head. He doesn't, in fact, remember anything. He wakes up in a hospital room and suddenly has to learn his whole life all over again . . . starting with his own name.

He knows he's Chase. But who is Chase? When he gets back to school, he sees that different kids have very different reactions to his return.

Some kids treat him like a hero. Some kids are clearly afraid of him.

One girl in particular is so angry with him that she pours her frozen yogurt on his head the first chance she gets.

Pretty soon, it's not only a question of who Chase is--it's a question of who he was . . . and who he's going to be.-Goodreads

Review: Another excellent read in our 5th grade book club. Chase was a star athlete and popular until he fell off a roof, hit his head and lost his memory. He doesn't remember anything, not even his own parents. His football teammates love him, his own sister seems afraid of him. Who was/is Chase?

A fantastic middle grade book that explores bullying, forgiveness, expectations, friendship and second chances. I loved it. 

Grade: 5/5

Friday, March 29, 2019

Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction

Book: Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction
Author: David Sheff

What had happened to my beautiful boy? To our family? What did I do wrong? Those are the wrenching questions that haunted David Sheff’s journey through his son Nic’s addiction to drugs and tentative steps toward recovery. Before Nic became addicted to crystal meth, he was a charming boy, joyous and funny, a varsity athlete and honor student adored by his two younger siblings. After meth, he was a trembling wraith who lied, stole, and lived on the streets. David Sheff traces the first warning signs: the denial, the three a.m. phone calls—is it Nic? the police? the hospital? His preoccupation with Nic became an addiction in itself. But as a journalist, he instinctively researched every treatment that might save his son. And he refused to give up on Nic. -Goodreads
Review: Beautiful Boy is a companion book to Tweak. BB is written from David's (Nic's father) perspective. David reflects on his own life, their family and his son's spiral into addiction. What could he have done differently as a parent? How did his beautiful, sweet, kind loving son become a drug addict? David Sheff is an exceptional writer and I was immediately drawn into his story. Even though I knew how it would end (and it's harrowing reading about a father's hope that rehab would stick 'this time' knowing from Tweak that it wouldn't time and time again) I couldn't put this down. I recommend this to all parents to read. 

Grade: 5/5

Tweak: Growing Up On Methamphetamines

Book: Tweak: Growing Up On Methamphetamines
Author: Nic Sheff

Nic Sheff was drunk for the first time at age eleven. In the years that followed, he would regularly smoke pot, do cocaine and Ecstasy, and develop addictions to crystal meth and heroin. Even so, he felt like he would always be able to quit and put his life together whenever he needed to. It took a violent relapse one summer in California to convince him otherwise. In a voice that is raw and honest, Nic spares no detail in telling us the compelling, heartbreaking, and true story of his relapse and the road to recovery. As we watch Nic plunge into the mental and physical depths of drug addiction, he paints a picture for us of a person at odds with his past, with his family, with his substances, and with himself. It's a harrowing portrait—but not one without hope.-Goodreads
Review: Nic Sheff is from an upper-middle class family. He was a good student, a good athlete and an all-around nice guy. Nic was drinking by age 11, smoking pot by age 12, experimenting with coke and ecstasy before finding himself addicted to meth by age 17. Meth eventually lead to heroin. How does this happen? Tweak is Nic's story-raw, harrowing and frightening on every level. 

This book has extremely detailed sections about drug use and is not for the faint of heart. It is extremely disturbing. It's a tad repetitive at times (thus the 4 stars instead of 5) but a very good read. 

Grade: 4/5

What Have You Done

Book: What Have You Done
Author: Matthew Farrell

When a mutilated body is found hanging in a seedy motel in Philadelphia, forensics specialist Liam Dwyer assumes the crime scene will be business as usual. Instead, the victim turns out to be a woman he'd had an affair with before breaking it off to save his marriage. But there's a bigger problem: Liam has no memory of where he was or what he did on the night of the murder.

Panicked, Liam turns to his brother, Sean, a homicide detective. Sean has his back, but incriminating evidence keeps piling up. From fingerprints to DNA, everything points to Liam, who must race against time and his department to uncover the truth - even if that truth is his own guilt. Yet as he digs deeper, dark secrets come to light, and Liam begins to suspect the killer might actually be Sean ...

When the smoke clears in this harrowing family drama, who will be left standing?-Goodreads

Review: This book had it all. A vicious murder, a broken marriage, infidelity, amnesia, and two brothers trying to clear one of their names for the crime. This was fast paced, engaging and kept me turning the pages until the very end. 

Grade: 3.5/5


Book: Deceptions
Series: Cainesville #3
Author: Kelley Armstrong

Olivia Taylor Jones’s life has exploded. She’s discovered she is not only adopted, but her real parents are convicted serial killers. Fleeing the media frenzy, she took refuge in the oddly secluded town of Cainsville. She has since solved the town’s mysteries and finds herself not only the target of its secretive elders but also her stalker ex-fiancé.

Visions continue to haunt her: particularly a little blond girl in a green sundress who insists she has an important message for Olivia, one that may help her balance the light and darkness within herself. Death stalks both Olivia and the two men most important to her, as she desperately searches to understand whether ancient scripts are dictating the triangle that connects them. Will darkness prevail, or does Olivia have the power to prevent a tragic fate?-Goodreads

Review: I liked book 1, really liked book 2 and then...was sorely disappointed with this book. Maybe I should have taken a break between these books but Olivia continued to get on my last nerve throughout almost every chapter. I didn't care about Ricky, I didn't care of Olivia and Ricky and I was frustrated by the love triangle being set up between Olivia, Ricky and Gabriel. I think the mystery and supernatural element of this world was strong enough to not deal with a romance. 

Grade: 1.5/5


Book: Visions
Series: Cainesville #2
Author: Kelley Armstrong

Omens, the first installment in Kelley Armstrong’s exciting new series, introduced Olivia Taylor-Jones, daughter of notorious serial killers, and Gabriel Walsh, the self-serving, morally ambiguous lawyer who became her unlikely ally. Together, they chased down a devious killer and partially cleared her parents of their horrifying crimes.

Their success, however, is short-lived. While Olivia takes refuge in the old, secluded town of Cainsville, Gabriel’s past mistakes have come to light, creating a rift between the pair just when she needs his help the most.

Olivia finds a dead woman in her car, dressed to look like her, but the body vanishes before anyone else sees it. Olivia’s convinced it’s another omen, a sign of impending danger. But then she learns that a troubled young woman went missing just days ago—the same woman Olivia found dead in her car. Someone has gone to great lengths to kill and leave this young woman as a warning. But why? And what role has her new home played in this disturbing murder?

Olivia’s effort to uncover the truth places her in the crosshairs of old and powerful forces, forces that have their own agenda, and closely guarded secrets they don’t want revealed.-Goodreads

Review: In the 2nd installment of Cainesville, Olivia and Gabriel have teamed up and are working together. Like Omens, this book was heavy on the mystery aspect but this did have more of an urban fantasy flare to it (not a lot). I enjoyed Olivia more in this book and I like her friendship with Gabriel. I was engaged in the plot and felt this was an overall more enjoyable book than #1. 

Grade: 4/5

NERDS: National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society

Book: NERDS: National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society
Series: NERDS #1
Author: Michael Buckley, Ethan Beavers (Illustrator)

A group of unpopular students are part of a spy network inside their school. With the help of cutting-edge science, their nerdy qualities are enhanced and transformed into incredible abilities. They battle the Hyena, a former junior beauty pageant contestant turned assassin, and an array of James Bond–style villains, each with an evil plan more diabolical and more ridiculous than the last.-Goodreads
Review: Jackson is a popular 5th grader when tragedy strikes-tragedy in the form of braces. He quickly sees his social status change from king of the mountain to reject in record time. Soon afterwards, Jackson stumbles upon an elite team of secret agents in his school. Amazingly, they are a bunch of the 'nerds' Jackson used to make fun of. Jackson joins their ranks as they hunt the Hyena, a master criminal with an evil plan. 

I thought this was a cute, fast read. In our book club, we had good discussion regarding what it means to be popular, bullying and parent expectations. I'd say this was the kids favorite book we're read and most of them have finished the entire series. 

Grade: 3/5


Book: Omens
Series: Cainesville #1
Author: Kelley Armstrong

Twenty-four-year-old Olivia Taylor Jones has the perfect life. The only daughter of a wealthy, prominent Chicago family, she has an Ivy League education, pursues volunteerism and philanthropy, and is engaged to a handsome young tech firm CEO with political ambitions.

But Olivia’s world is shattered when she learns that she’s adopted. Her real parents? Todd and Pamela Larsen, notorious serial killers serving a life sentence. When the news brings a maelstrom of unwanted publicity to her adopted family and fiancé, Olivia decides to find out the truth about the Larsens.

Olivia ends up in the small town of Cainsville, Illinois, an old and cloistered community that takes a particular interest in both Olivia and her efforts to uncover her birth parents’ past.

Aided by her mother’s former lawyer, Gabriel Walsh, Olivia focuses on the Larsens’ last crime, the one her birth mother swears will prove their innocence. But as she and Gabriel start investigating the case, Olivia finds herself drawing on abilities that have remained hidden since her childhood, gifts that make her both a valuable addition to Cainsville and deeply vulnerable to unknown enemies. Because there are darker secrets behind her new home and powers lurking in the shadows that have their own plans for her.-Goodreads

Review: Olivia's life is turned upside down when she discovers she was adopted-and her birth parents are serial killers. Overwhelmed with publicity and feeling shunned by her adoptive mother, Olivia sets off on her own to find out the truth about her birth parents. 

Okay, when you hear the name Kelly Armstrong you assume 'urban fantasy' type book with a dash of romance. This was definitely more of a mystery with a very light (light) magical element. It was a little slow at times and Olivia is not my favorite main character, but overall I enjoyed it. 

Grade: 3/5

The Loyal Wife

Book: The Loyal Wife
Author: Natalie Barelli

Tamra never dreamed she would marry someone like Mike Mitchell: handsome, rich, a wonderful husband... until she finds out that Mike is having an affair.

But Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and Mike Mitchell should have remembered that before he made a fool of her.
Because Tamra knows something about Mike. Something he did. Something evil. And she was prepared to carry the secret to her grave.

Not anymore.

To make matters worse, Mike’s daughter Madison has come to visit for a few days, and Madison doesn’t like Tamra. Well, that's too bad, because Tamra doesn’t have time to argue. She’s too busy ruining Mike’s life while remaining, on the surface at least, the perfect, loyal wife.

But when Tamra's plan spirals out of control, she finds that things are not what they seem.
And now, it's too late.-Goodreads

Review: Meet Tamra. Tamra is a loving and dedicated wife to her husband, Mike. Did Tamra meet Mike while he was married? Yes. Did they have sex their first day together? Yes. Did she exaggerate her education and work experience to Mike? Yes. Did he leave his wife for Tamra? Yes. Does Mike's daughter like Tamra? No. What does Tamra do when she discovers Mike is having an affair? Well...hell has no fury like a woman scorned and Mike should not mess with her. 

Fast paced, deviously fun and I didn't guess the ending!

Grade: 4/5

That Guy

Book: That Guy
Author: Kim Jones

He’s That Guy.

You know, the hero in almost every romance novel.

The super-rich, powerful CEO who is beyond sexy. Lives in a penthouse. Is wicked in bed. Has massive…feet. Is kind of a jerk, but really he’s not because he harbors some major secret that, once revealed, explains why he is the way he is—therefore completely redeeming himself and making all the readers who hated to love him swoon….

Yeah. That one.

Well, I found him.

I’m a writer who has spent years searching for the perfect muse.

Now that I know he exists, I have a mission.

To make him fall in love with me.

This should be easy. I mean, I have issues, but above all, I’m a great catch.

Problem is, I did a stupid thing.

And now he hates me.

Unfortunately for him, he’s my That Guy.

And he’s going to love me….

Whether he wants to or not.-Goodreads

Review: Penelope is an extremely annoying narrator. Imagine my surprise when I found myself chuckling at her antics and realizing I didn't hate her....and then eventually routing for her. Now that's some good writing! 

If you are looking for a light, funny read, give this one a try. 

Grade: 3/5

Emma In the Night

Book: Emma in the Night
Author: Wendy Walker

One night three years ago, the Tanner sisters disappeared: fifteen-year-old Cass and seventeen-year-old Emma. Three years later, Cass returns, without her sister Emma. Her story is one of kidnapping and betrayal, of a mysterious island where the two were held. But to forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winter, something doesn't add up. Looking deep within this dysfunctional family Dr. Winter uncovers a life where boundaries were violated and a narcissistic parent held sway. And where one sister's return might just be the beginning of the crime.-Goodreads
Review: This was a thoroughly engaging psychological read and a reminder that abuse isn't always physical. The Tanner sisters disappeared years ago and Cass appears 3 years later with a seemingly crazy story involving kidnapping and a remote island. Is she telling the truth? 

A story is more than the recounting of events. The events are the sketch, the outline, but it is the colors and the landscape and the medium and the artist’s hand that make it what it is in the end.

The narcissist loves a child only as an extension of herself at first, and then as a loyal subject. So she will tend to the child only when it makes her feel good.

Grade: 4/5


Book: Lies
Author: TM Logan

What if you have the perfect life, the perfect wife and the perfect child—then, in one shattering moment, you discover nothing is as it seems? Now you are in the sights of a ruthless killer determined to destroy everything you treasure.

It’s the evening drive home from work on a route Joe Lynch has taken a hundred times with his young son. But today, Joe sees his wife meet another man—an encounter that will rip two families apart. Raising the question: Can we ever really trust those closest to us?

Joe will do whatever it takes to protect his family, but as the deception unravels, so does his life. A life played out without any rules. And a cunning opponent who’s always one step ahead.-Goodreads

Review: Joe Lynch is driving his son home when he sees his wife pull into a parking garage. He makes a spur of the moment decision to follow her and it changes the course of his life forever. 

This book was such a fun surprise. I really liked Joe, our protagonist, regardless of his sometimes stupid decisions. I was engaged in the story and didn't guess the ending. Very enjoyable!

Grade: 4/5

Magic Trumphs

Book: Magic Triumphs
Series: Kate Daniels #10
Author: Ilona Andrews

Kate has come a long way from her origins as a loner taking care of paranormal problems in post-Shift Atlanta. She's made friends and enemies. She's found love and started a family with Curran Lennart, the former Beast Lord. But her magic is too strong for the power players of the world to let her be.

Kate and her father, Roland, currently have an uneasy truce, but when he starts testing her defenses again, she knows that sooner or later, a confrontation is inevitable. The Witch Oracle has begun seeing visions of blood, fire, and human bones. And when a mysterious box is delivered to Kate's doorstep, a threat of war from the ancient enemy who nearly destroyed her family, she knows their time is up.

Kate Daniels sees no other choice but to combine forces with the unlikeliest of allies. She knows betrayal is inevitable. She knows she may not survive the coming battle. But she has to try.

For her child.

For Atlanta.

For the world.-Goodreads

Review: Magic Triumphs was an enjoyable, satisfying finish to the amazing Kate Daniels series. I'm a huge Hugh fan and he was my favorite part of this book. The final showdown with Roland was a tad disappointing and a few characters that died didn't get the sendoff I think they deserved, but overall I really enjoyed this. I can't wait for the Julie spin-off!

Grade: 4/5

Wedge & Gizmo

Book: Wedgie & Gizmo
Series: Wedgie & Gizmo #1
Author: Suzanne Selfors

When a bouncy, barky dog and an evil genius guinea pig move into the same house, the laughs are nonstop! Wedgie is so excited, he can’t stop barking. He LOVES having new siblings and friends to protect. He LOVES guinea pigs like Gizmo! He also LOVES treats!

But Gizmo does not want to share his loyal human servant with a rump-sniffing beast! He does not want to live in a pink Barbie Playhouse. Or to be kissed and hugged by the girl human. Gizmo is an evil genius. He wants to take over the world and make all humans feel his wrath. But first he must destroy his archenemy, Wedgie, once and for all!-Goodreads


Absolutely adorable from start to finish. A fantastic read for 2-5th graders. Wedgie is a happy dog and loves his new human brother Elliot and Elliot's furry potato (aka guinea pig), Gizmo. Gizmo is not happy about...anything. He doesn't like his new living situation (Barbie playhouse). He doesn't like the canine. And he especially doesn't like Elliot's new Abuela who wants to eat him. Gizmo decides to execute an evil plan to get life back to normal.

Grade: 5/5

We Were the Lucky Ones

Book: We Were the Lucky Ones
Author: Georgia Hunter

Inspired by the incredible true story of one Jewish family separated at the start of World War II, determined to survive—and to reunite—We Were the Lucky Ones is a tribute to the triumph of hope and love against all odds

It is the spring of 1939 and three generations of the Kurc family are doing their best to live normal lives, even as the shadow of war grows closer. The talk around the family Seder table is of new babies and budding romance, not of the increasing hardships threatening Jews in their hometown of Radom, Poland. But soon the horrors overtaking Europe will become inescapable and the Kurcs will be flung to the far corners of the world, each desperately trying to navigate his or her own path to safety.

As one sibling is forced into exile, another attempts to flee the continent, while others struggle to escape certain death, either by working grueling hours on empty stomachs in the factories of the ghetto or by hiding as gentiles in plain sight. Driven by an unwavering will to survive and by the fear that they may never see one another again, the Kurcs must rely on hope, ingenuity, and inner strength to persevere. -Goodreads

Review: We Were the Lucky Ones is an incredible story about a Polish family who survives WWII. Engaging, engrossing, absolutely fantastic. One of the best books I read in 2018 and one I'm already recommending to friends. 

Grade: 5/5

Class Dismissed

Book: Class Dismissed
Author: Allan Woodrow

Class 507 is the worst class Ms. Bryce has ever taught. And she would know -- she's been teaching forever. They are so terrible that when a science experiment goes disastrously wrong (again), Ms. Bryce has had it and quits in the middle of the lesson. But through a mix-up, the school office never finds out.

Which means ... Class 507 is teacher-free!

The class figures if they don't tell anyone, it'll be one big holiday. Kyle and his friends can play games all day. Samantha decides she'll read magazines and give everyone (much needed) fashion advice. Adam can doodle everywhere without getting in trouble. Eric will be able to write stories with no one bothering him. And Maggie ... well, as the smartest kid in the class she has an ambitious plan for this epic opportunity.

But can Class 507 keep the principal, the rest of the students, and their parents from finding out ... or will the greatest school year ever turn into the worst disaster in school history?-Goodreads

Review: I read this book with my daughter's 5th grade book club. This was an enjoyable read about a class that finds themselves without a teacher. Seeing the characters break out of their stereotypes was my favorite part and made for great discussion. 

Grade: 4/5

The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Book: The Tattooist of Auschwitz
Author: Heather Morris

In April 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a Tätowierer (the German word for tattooist), tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners.

Imprisoned for more than two and a half years, Lale witnesses horrific atrocities and barbarism—but also incredible acts of bravery and compassion. Risking his own life, he uses his privileged position to exchange jewels and money from murdered Jews for food to keep his fellow prisoners alive.

One day in July 1942, Lale, prisoner 32407, comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to have the number 34902 tattooed onto her arm. Her name is Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her.-Goodreads
Review: This is the incredible story of Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew who becomes a tattooist at Auschwitz. Lale not only survives the camp, but he also finds his future wife there. 

This is based on a true person and simply remarkable. While I enjoyed the story the writing was rather dry and the characters never came to life for me. The book failed to elicit any real emotion while I was reading it. 

Grade: 3/5

Not Her Daughter

Book: Not Her Daughter
Author: Rea Frey

Emma Townsend. Five years old. Gray eyes, brown hair. Missing since June.

Emma is lonely. Living with her cruel mother and clueless father, Emma retreats into her own world of quiet and solitude.

Sarah Walker. Successful entrepreneur. Broken-hearted. Kidnapper.

Sarah has never seen a girl so precious as the gray-eyed child in a crowded airport terminal. When a second-chance encounter with Emma presents itself, Sarah takes her—far away from home. But if it’s to rescue a little girl from her damaging mother, is kidnapping wrong?

Amy Townsend. Unhappy wife. Unfit mother. Unsure whether she wants her daughter back.

Amy’s life is a string of disappointments, but her biggest issue is her inability to connect with her daughter. And now Emma is gone without a trace.

As Sarah and Emma avoid the nationwide hunt, they form an unshakeable bond. But what about Emma’s real mother, back at home?-Goodreads

Review: I don't even know where to start with this book. I had high hopes, believe me, I did, but this was a huge disappointment with a lot of eye rolling and constant disbelief. Let's dig in:

Sarah is a beautiful, successful entrepreneur who decides to kidnap a 5-year old after she see the child's mother treating her poorly on a few occasions. Now, was the child being mistreated? Yes. Was she abused? Based on Amy (the mother's) POV, seems like it. But from what Sarah witnessed she would not have known this. A rational person who have called CPS but if she did that, we wouldn't have a book. So Sarah kidnaps this child: 
*they make some changes to their appearances
*they don't change their names
*they tell people Emma is her niece but Emma doesn't even call her 'Aunt Sarah'
*they get along perfect (some stranger kidnaps a 5-year old ....I"m sorry. I don't care how poorly a 5-year was mistreated. She's taken away from everything she knows, there would have been some resistance)
*Sarah is supposedly living off the grid but I think she booked an AirBnB or something along those lines which can only happen online
*Sarah is reported to the police by name, car, etc and not caught. Very implausible.
*Sarah is written as an absolute angel (crazy kidnapping angel I guess) while Amy is very one-dimensional 'bad.' I would have liked more layers to both of them. 

I think we, as readers, were supposed to be cheering for a happy ending with Sarah and Emma while I kept waiting for her to be arrested. I did keep reading because I couldn't wait to see how it would unfold. One word: Implausibility. There is no way any parent would take the action Amy did. 

I am definitely in the minority with this book. I think setting this book in the mid-80s before cell phones would have made the entire 'Sarah on the run with Emma and not getting caught' much more believable. 

Grade: 1.5/5

Girl Vindicated

Book: Girl Vindicated 
Series: The Girl Trilogy #3
Author: Mark Bailey

Three young women attend a sex romp at the home of a wealthy Perth businessman and get more than they bargained for. One of them moves away to the U.K. to build a new life in a place where nobody knows her. But the past has a way of resurfacing in surprising ways. A rare congenital genetic disorder, family associations, and friendships in seemingly unrelated places are linked by two common threads. Solving a murder seemingly reveals all, but settles little as it raises more questions.

From Perth, Western Australia, to a love story in Scotland and a revealing stay in Brooklyn, the U.S.A. How could they all be related to one vicious murder in a cheap motel in London? No relationship is safe, most are troubled as lies and half-truths are told, the truth seemingly, far away. Murder, drugs, prostitution, organized crime and a police investigation were not part of her plan, but someone must see it through — someone must pay. -Goodreads

Review: In the final installment of The Girl Trilogy, we finally find out what happened to Siobhan. I'm thrilled to report that I didn't figure it out! I liked how Bailey tied everything together but Milly's interactions with the police did not seem believable at all. 

This trilogy reads more like 1 long book published in 3 segments instead of 3 books with distinct plot lines. Mark Bailey, if you are reading this-I think this series could be an excellent mini-series. If you aren't already shopping this around, please do so! This could be fantastic. 

Grade: 3/5

Girl Changed

Book: Girl Changed
Series: The Girl Trilogy #2
Author: Mark Bailey

Three young women attend a sex romp at the home of a wealthy Perth businessman and get more than they bargained for. One of them moves away to the U.K. to build a new life in a place where nobody knows her. But the past has a way of resurfacing in surprising ways. A rare congenital genetic disorder, family associations, and friendships in seemingly unrelated places are linked by two common threads. Solving a murder seemingly reveals all, but settles little as it raises more questions.

From Perth, Western Australia, to a love story in Scotland and a revealing stay in Brooklyn, the U.S.A. How could they all be related to one vicious murder in a cheap motel in London? No relationship is safe, most are troubled as lies and half-truths are told, the truth seemingly, far away. Murder, drugs, prostitution, organized crime and a police investigation were not part of her plan, but someone must see it through — someone must pay.-Goodreads

Review: 'Girl Changed' picks up right where 'Girl With No Fingerprints' ended with Milly trying to determine who murdered Siobhan. There are still a lot of information dumps and stilted language but Bailey knows how to weave an interesting plot. Milly is a strong (albeit damaged protagonist) and she's never dull!

Grade: 3/5

Girl With No Fingerprints

Book: Girl With No Fingerprints
Series: The Girl Trilogy #1
Author: Mark Bailey

Milly McTaggart leads a double life: competent doctor of psychology by day, deluded hedonist by night. A drug bust at a sex orgy forces a life change and a chance to start again in a new place where nobody knows her. But will her inner demons drive her back on a path of self-destruction? Like Milly Siobhan Russell is pretty and smart. Unlike Milly, she has all the advantages of a loving family. But is she too about to risk everything?

From Perth, Western Australia, to a love story in Scotland and a vicious murder in a cheap motel in London; no relationship is safe, most are troubled. Lies and half-truths are told, the truth often far away, until a startling revelation reveals everything. You will never see it coming. -Goodreads

Review: Milly is a psychologist with a penchant for cocaine and risky sex. Siobhan is a dedicated medical student whose relationship with her boyfriend ends up in drug addiction. Two women in two different countries who end up connected in ways they never did. 

The overall writing style was not my favorite-there were a lot of information dumps and the dialogue didn't seem realistic. The storyline was pretty good though and I was really drawn into Milly's perspective. I could absolutely see her being successful in her professional life while living on the edge in the evenings. I had to suspend disbelief with Siobhan. She is extremely straight laced, breaks up with a boyfriend because he does drugs...and yet has no issues when her new boyfriend essentially drugs her without her knowledge. It didn't jive. Her downward spiral into addiction was sad and difficult to read and I could not believe for one minute she would be able to finish medical school and work with the amount of drugs she was consuming. 

Overall, I liked it. 

Grade: 2.5/5