Don’t Believe It, by Charlie Donlea

29 May
dont believe it charlie donlea

3 Stars

I love Charlie Donlea and I absolutely love his first two books. I love them so much that I was a little mad at this one, that it did not live up to my expectations. I give it three stars (“I liked it”) but if this was my first Donlea book I might not care about the next one.

But it’s not his first, and I know that he can write spectacular mysteries. As usual, this book starts with a murder. There are several suspects and many twists and turns. The difference with this book is I didn’t find any of the suspects to be “likely”. There were no real or logical motives. Unlike his other books I was never certain any person did it because none of them made complete sense.

Discussion of suspects/motives without revealing the killer but with mild spoilers: (view spoiler)The involvement of Gus and Livia (Yay for the return of Livia! More Gus next time too!) makes the whole ending make no sense when they both have scientific evidence.

I’m also skeptical of the ability to put together the documentary in the way it was done, but I can easily overlook that if Donlea had come through with another fantastic mystery.

Now look, the book is okay, it’s just not up to par. If you’ve read Donlea’s other books, go ahead and give this one a try, I see the other reviews don’t seem to mind this one as much as I did. But if you’ve never read Donlea, I recommend you read at least one of his previous books first, Summit Lake or The Girl Who Was Taken. Then you, like me, will still eagerly await his next book.

Thank you so much to Kensington books for sending me an ARC to review. Thank you to Charlie Donlea for continuing to write. I can’t wait to read the next great mystery from him.

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Tiny Fox and Great Boar, by Berenika Kolomycka

24 May
tinyfox big boar there

5 STARS

This is a DARLING story of friendship and adventure and caring for each other.
I thought it was terribly sweet, and my six year old granddaughter said she loved it.
She approved of their friendship, and asked questions about why Tiny Fox was afraid to cross the road. The book has great messages about being a good friend, and working together, and being there for one another. My granddaughter kept talking about how Big Boar always came back for Tiny Fox, and how Tiny Fox should have known that Big Boar would always return. I loved the theme that both a simple life and unknown adventures are always better with a friend.

I definitely recommend this book, and feel happy from reading it to her.

Many thanks to NetGalley for the chance to read this book in exchange for a review.

A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, by Jill Twiss, Marlon Bundo (Inspiration), E.G. Keller (Illustrator)

19 May
day in the life of marlon bundo

5 SOLID Stars

One of the sweetest books I’ve ever read.

My 6yr old granddaughter is already a BIG READER, and I couldn’t wait for her to come home so I could read this to her (she can read, but I wanted to read it to her). When I finished, she closed the book and studied the cover with a big smile on her face. “I REALLY like this book!” she said to me.

It’s the cutest of stories. What it is not is a political or social message. The story isn’t about understanding when someone is different, or even that who you love shouldn’t matter. The real message was that being different is normal, and that it’s abnormal to think otherwise.

Being different is NORMAL. That is the very simple message in the story. It’s told so simply, and the book is so full of happiness, that you don’t feel weighted by a Big Message in the story. You just want to open back to page one and read it all over again.

The Wife Between Us, by Greer Hendricks, Sarah Pekkanen

19 May
wife between us greer sarah pekkanen

2 stars

This is hard because I absolutely loved the beginning of this book with its unreliable narrator and the complete mystery of who the characters were. And the book has its 5-star moments. Some of the terror at the end was well done, and the twists were great if they had been fleshed out or part of a more fleshed-out story.

But my main issue is that the book sort of falls apart after the initial character question is answered. At that point we are left with one unreliable narrator who continues to behave as if she’s batshit crazy yet it seems that we are supposed to now believe everything she says. But what do you do with a character who (view spoiler)

If the main character pops up in the middle of a book and exclaims “Surprise! I was never crazy, it was HIM all along!!” yet continues to behave in a really really crazy way, it can make a book difficult to follow. Like at some point a sane person, even one who’s been through trauma, says “Forget it,” and leaves to go live her own life.

But we have other character issues. Although the main character is somewhat fleshed out in a completely bizarre way, almost none of the other characters are anything but cardboard cutouts. The husband is less menacing villain than he is a boring prop. I have no idea why any woman would fall in love with him, and I still don’t understand the reason behind his behavior.

In short, the book just falls apart after the reveal in the middle. I had thought the beginning was brilliant, and I have faith that the writer has the talent and ability to write some really great thrillers, but it feels like either this was too much to deal with at once, or there wasn’t enough time to flesh it out and make the entire book brilliant.

The 2-stars reflect my honest feeling of “It was okay” and I’d never steer anyone away from trying it. I just don’t feel it’s a winner. Thanks so much to Bookish First for the ARC and chance to review.

Sour Apple, by Jerzy Szyłak, Joanna Karpowicz (Illustrator)

19 May
Sour apple jerzy

4 STARS

Sour Apple is a graphic novel about a husband who beats his wife, there’s no polite way to put it – or there’s no polite way that should be used. It’s a graphic story, there are graphic pictures. Catholicism is an ever present background character. If these subjects are triggers for anyone, beware.

There is a dark twist toward the end, one that I gleefully absorbed with only a small voice in the back of my head wondering if I *should* be enjoying it… but alas, the twist was a trick and the story ends (or continues) as most abusive relationships do.

How do you rate a book like this? It is a graphic novel depicting a battered wife, with only a few insights into her mind. It’s a story that’s been told before, it’s a story that will never be told enough until there are no more stories like this. Perhaps if a battered wife happens to pick up this book and sees herself in the pages, actually SEES the illustrations of her life, perhaps that will have a positive effect on someone. So for that, and for the pure dark enjoyment I got from the short twist in the story, I will give this 4 stars.

Thank you to NetGalley for giving me the chance to review this book.

The Girl Who Was Taken, by Charlie Donlea

25 May
the girl who was taken charlie donlea

FIVE of Five Stars

Charlie Donlea has done it again, and now deserves to have his name out as one of the top thriller/suspense/mystery writers out there.

In only his second thriller, Donlea again drops us immediately into the middle of the action, and takes us through a roller coaster ride of likely suspects and red herrings. We go back and forth in time from before the “taking” and then to the present as Megan struggles to understand what happened to her, and Livia searches for her sister… or her sister’s body.

I loved Donlea’s first book, Summit Lake, because it gave a plethora of suspects but I was never able to clearly know Who-Done-It. In that book there were several people who had a clear motive to kill, and though I had guessed the correct person, I also guessed several other people, and we are never sure until the last moment who the real killer is.

That’s the fun of mystery/thrillers, right? You get a good scare, and then you see if you’re smarter than everyone else in the book. It’s always a letdown if you guess the killer right off, or (worse) if the killer is someone it would have been impossible to figure out at all. In Summit Lake Donlea presented person after person who could have done it, and he was masterful at drawing us in and giving red herrings that made sense. The mystery was intricate and it was enjoyable trying to solve.

In this book Donlea does it again. But now we have an even creepier story because we’re not necessarily looking for people with motives, but possibly a madman who could be anyone at all. Once again I did guess the real bad guy (along with many others), and even though this time the person was actually in my top 3 suspects, there was no way in the world to be sure until the very end. We are also treated to several strong female characters, and for the few who are unlikable we are given a psychological basis and history for the actions, along with some redemption. I did not see any simple stereotypes in this book.

At the end we do have some wrap up, and we do get answers, but do we get a happy ending? This may be one of the most realistic thrillers I’ve read, as finding a killer doesn’t really end the suffering of the victims and their friends and families. Donlea is starkly realistic and DARK about the survivors and the likelihood of being a survivor. There may be some closure for a few people, but there will still be a lot of difficult darkness ahead for most.

Many thanks to Kensington Publishing for asking me to be a part of their book blog tour, and thanks to Charlie Donlea for the wonderful book. He is an amazing author and has upped his game with this second book. I cannot wait for the third to arrive.

Buy The Girl Who was Taken.

Buy Summit Lake

Visit Kensington Publishing.

Woman No. 17, by Edan Lepucki

20 May
woman no 17 edan lepucki

Five of Five Stars

I wouldn’t be surprised if this book gets some negative reviews because of the unlikable characters – and make no mistake, there’s not much to like about any of them. But generally I find unlikable characters more interesting and more realistic. I mean, I feel like I’m pretty well liked in my life but I also related to some of the selfishness these women exhibit. Maybe we don’t like the mirror held up to our own souls, but I love to see how other (characters) deal with the stupid situations I sometimes get myself into.

The book switches between Lady, recently separated and living in the Los Angeles hills with her two sons, and “S” (for Esther), a Berkeley transplant recently graduated and trying to find herself. S gets a job as nanny to Lady’s youngest son while also getting a little too close to the teenage, mute son. Both women have mommy issues, both likely also have daddy issues, both are thoughtless, selfish, narcissistic and neurotic, and did I mention they have issues?

Seriously, these people are not very likable, but I was fascinated anyway. I think the fantastic writing is what keeps the reader hooked. The author is just a couple steps away from a great piece of contemporary literature, and I’m very excited to see where her future writing goes.

Not everything about the book was perfect. Lady and S live such parallel lives that I sometimes got confused with who was telling the story when they went back in time. S’s “artistic plan” feels like a bit of bullshit, but having known several artistic people I can’t quite say its unrealistic or implausible. I wish we got some real answers about the mute son. And in what I consider a better way to end books, nothing is really tied up with a nice bow.

Yeah, I know, this is a bit all over the place and I seem to be giving five stars to several unlikable characters and a problematic story. But the writing brings this book to another level. It’s also kind of a fascinating look into mother/daughter relationships, and how complicated they can be. I don’t want to say anything else about the story, just go into it blind and enjoy it.

Many thanks to NetGalley for allowing me an advance copy in exchange for a fair review.