The Suicide House, by Charlie Donlea

22 May
suicide house charlie donlea

FIVE of 5 stars

Five stars for an extremely difficult-to-solve mystery, five stars for the return of Rory Moore, five stars for the return of another surprise character, five stars for always having a plethora of women both good and bad, weak and strong.

Charlie Donlea again goes back-and-forth in time to tell this story, and because we’re now in the Time of Corona, it was sometimes difficult for me to keep track of where we were. But the book should (in “normal times”) hold your complete attention, and if you can just read through in a few days you should have no difficulties. There’s a complicated, well-woven plot with a solid red herring thrown in, and no major holes that I noticed.

I love a great story, a gruesome murder, and interesting characters, but I *really* love the game of guessing Who Done It. In this book I was so sure I had guessed the twist, I was SO SURE I had at least narrowed it down to two characters… I mean I was POSITIVE I had figured it out early… but nope, the rug was pulled out from under me again and Charlie Donlea surprised me with a very creepy, terrifying culprit. And Donlea avoids the “Culprit confesses all at the end” by just stirring the confession into the story from the beginning. Splendid!!

If you’ve never read a Charlie Donlea book, know that even with reappearing characters each book stands on its own and can be read in any order. A special thanks to Netgalley and Kensington Publishers for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I’ve honestly given 5 stars to all but one of Charlie Donlea’s books, and I look forward anxiously for his next one!!

Jubilee, by Toni Tipton-Martin

10 Apr
jubilee toni tipton

FIVE of 5 stars

This book is absolutely scrumptious, and has been a godsend during quarantine. I’ve cooked and baked my way through a good portion of this book already and I have the extra five pounds to prove it. What made it great for quarantine was the fact that most all ingredients are things you have in your cupboard already, and many are long-lasting staples such as beans, rice, and root vegetables. I got my supplies three weeks ago, have cooked almost exclusively from this cookbook, and still have at least two more weeks of supplies before I have to leave the house again.

What a time for book reviews, eh?

I’ve made the following in just the last few weeks:

Gingerbread Waffles – SO delicious. I might add some chopped bacon in the batter next time.
Spanish Cornbread – Fed me for a week. Thick and delicious.
Apple Fritters – Oh lordy, these are to die for. I single handedly ate half a dozen of these the first day and have been snacking on them ever since.
West African Groundnut Stew – I’ve made this TWICE already. A simple chicken stew with a bit of peanut butter stirred in.
Wilted Mixed Greens with Bacon – This had everyone on my Instagram salivating.
Baked Barbecued Beans – Another recipe to die for, I might make this again before quarantine is over.
Biscuit Topped Chicken Pot Pie – Easier than I expected, and definitely something I might do again next week since I still have all the ingredients. DELICIOUS comfort food.
Pineapple Upside Down Cake – This cake is covered in sugared pecans and soaked in rum. I brought a large slice over to my neighbor, and the next time he delivered a load of cut wood to me he said “No charge, just bring me another slice of cake some time!!” I guess that slice of cake was worth $80!

Next on my list to make before quarantine is over:

Sweet Potato Biscuits with Ham – This is on my list to make next week!
Nigerian Black Eyed Pea Fritters – I’m a sucker for a fritter
Rice and Peas with Coconut – I love adding coconut to any “regular” foods
Collard Greens with Cornmeal Dumplings – The only reason I haven’t made this yet is the store was out of collard greens.
Sweet Potato Mango Cake – I’m getting mangoes delivered today, so this is next on the list!

There are also many recipes for seafood/shellfish, beef & pork, and an amazing above-average beverage chapter that I haven’t had time to get into yet, but the Ginger Punch is top of my list.

This is five full stars from me, and there is something for everyone in this book. I’m so grateful I got this in time for quarantine, but this will be a favorite for decades to come.

The Herd, by Andrea Bartz

9 Apr
the herd andrea

FIVE of 5 stars

Sometimes loving or hating a book depends on what is going on in your own life at the time.

I loved this book. I loved it mostly because it completely held my attention during this crazy time in quarantine.  It’s not a perfect mystery, there are a few moments that are head scratchers or don’t make sense. That stuff usually drives me up the wall, but overall this was a twisty-turny-twisty-again story that never lets you know for sure what happened until the very end.

But it was an unintentionally bittersweet story as well. It takes place during the month of December 2019 up until New Year Eve, and how could the author have known that would be the last normal month we would ever have? If she’d set the story in April 2020 we would have been constantly distracted by the alternate reality in which we are living. For me, even more so. A friend of mine was killed in a murder-suicide on New Year’s Eve, and we found out on January 3. 2020 was forever changed from then on. And now here we all are locked in our houses away from the entire world. So in many ways, reading this book felt like it was the last story written in Before Quarantine times.

The book breaks a few of my rules, but I loved it anyway. The original crime is only a crime because people didn’t behave appropriately after an accident, and the killer confesses everything at the end. But there was just enough of an explanation for both that I accepted these. I think the main complaint I really have is that Eleanor is a complete enigma to the reader, so it’s hard to understand why she is so completely worshiped.  And there is an instance of blackmail that makes no sense because the blackmailer had much more to lose.

And yet I’m giving it 5 stars and I don’t regret it. This book held my attention, my brain was completely immersed trying to sort out everyone’s secrets, and I LOVED a lot of the writing. Solving the mystery was a twist on every other page toward the end of the book, and the epilogue was outstanding.  I mean: Outstanding.

I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review, and I’m so thankful I had it to read during this lockdown. Would I have given it 5 stars outside of this time? Doesn’t matter, because times are what they are, and in my opinion this was a great book: entertaining, attention holding, complicated, and well written.

Saint X, by Alexis Schaitkin

3 Apr
saint x

Five of 5 stars

So this may be a season of very thought-scattered reviews. I bet ten years into the future when I look back on the books I read this Spring the stories will forever be tied to the pandemic in my mind.

And so here we go with this review for a book I think I totally loved. I just found out this is the author’s debut and that is AMAZEBALLS. Because right away you will fall in love with the writing. And then as the book continues you realize the book is even more than you thought, and eventually you’ll realize this could be assigned reading in university and you could have written thousands of words on Claire’s psychological journey.

What I did not like:
I hate the cover. I delayed reading this book because the cover and even the title did nothing to excite me, and I don’t feel they give any clues to the great stuff inside the book.
Some parts dragged for me, but how can we know if that was the book, or my pandemic attention span?
I’m not sure I liked the ending, but the worst I can say is I’m not sure I agree with how it was done.

What I loved:
The writing.
Reading about life on Saint X.
The surprise character stories at the end.
The writing.

So this is the best constructed review I am capable of at the moment. Should you read this book? Absolutely! It’s the first book that was able to capture my attention for any length of time during the Time of the Pandemic. And that is pretty high praise. Thanks so much to NetGalley and Celadon Books for the ARC. I’ll have my eye out for books by Schaitkin in the future, for sure.

Dead to Her, by Sarah Pinborough

25 Mar
dead to her sarah pinborough

Four of 5 stars

This was a last minute 4 stars. I loved Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes, especially for the solid unseen twist at the end. So I really wanted to finish this one to see what she had done here.

To be fully honest, I’m writing this review in the middle of Quarantine Lock Down, so while we have a ton of time to read in theory, the reality is there are 1000 more distractions than usual, such as, Have I Lysoled my Kindle yet today? Did I touch my Kindle before I Lysoled it, and then touch my face? I just sneezed, am I going to die?

So keep that in mind when I say the first half of this book was slow for me. It took me a really long time to get through… like the first 70% of it. And I probably would have dropped it if not for Pinborough being the author. But finally, the last quarter came through. We have twisty turns on very page, all the side characters I wasn’t paying attention to suddenly became possible suspects, and overall I thoroughly loved it. The last 25% only.

So we have 70% that just goes pretty much nowhere, with every character an unreliable narrator and no real plot direction, and then a solid 25% that enthralled me. But it was such a great 25% I almost gave it 5 stars. I took the one off because we have the culprit just out of nowhere sit and confess to every single thing??? I HATE THAT.

If you can pull your attention away from the germies outside, try this book and pay attention to all the characters. Know you’ll be rewarded at the end. I’m going to stand by 4 stars, although if I’d given up early it would have received 2.

Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC. I will always be happy to try a Sarah Pinborough book.

Lady in the Lake, by Laura Lippman

9 Jan
lady in the lake laura lippman

Four of 5 stars

This book is pretty fantastic, but I feel the book cover combined with the title kind of misleads what the book is. Yes, it’s a murder mystery, but it’s also an historical fiction and it’s way above the usual mystery genre in writing quality. Having read the book now I get what the cover is doing, but I wish it looked less average mystery paperback book-y.

I’ve always adored stories that are narrated by several characters, as it gives you a much better picture of what is actually going on, and insights into how certain character’s views are shaped. I know it annoys some readers of this book, and this book does go all the way into letting us hear from every single minor character. But what that does here is give us many more pieces of the puzzle of what Baltimore was like in the 1960s. In this book the murder just serves as a reason to (attempt to) understand the racial and class issues of that time and place, the gender roles and expectations of that time and place, and the pretty sorry state of marital match-ups of the time. Men and women are so forced into their gender roles that they have nothing in common and no way to communicate with each other. I’m generalizing, but the limitations forced onto all genders, races and religions, the expectations of behavior, they hurt just about everyone. In the end, in this case, it led to murder.

My young self from the 1980s related completely to Maddie in this book. Bursting against all the restrictions and expectations, yet still feeling unwilling to break certain rules. She’s a complicated character who ends up hurting several people to achieve her own happiness, and accidentally hurts even more as she tries to do what she feels is the right thing to do.

I wanted to give the book 5 stars, but the end felt a little flat to me. The reveal was shocking and took me completely off guard, but the end of Maddie’s story, the telling of it, just didn’t excite me at all.

I’ve never read anything by Laura Lippman before, but I would absolutely try another book from this author. I really loved this one.

Save Yourself, by Cameron Esposito

30 Dec
save yourself cameron esposito

Five of 5 stars

Yes, this book is laugh out loud funny, but it is also incredibly sad in parts. You won’t laugh through this entire book, you will feel pain and heart break and disappointment and frustration. And then you turn the page and laugh again. Just like real life.

I am a big fan of Cameron Esposito, and because her career is centered around talking about her (often amazing) life, I was already familiar with many of the stories. In this book she fleshes the stories out and gives more of her emotions, and the experiences that shaped those emotions, and the events that helped her understand what happened. Much of the book is about her experience in the Catholic church and how her feelings about the church evolved, and how her experience with the church shaped her life and still has repercussions in many ways. We follow along as she understands her sexuality, and how coming out affected her and those around her. She talks about first girlfriends, and later girlfriends, and heart break and loss. I have a greater understanding of her family, and the love they all share, and I’m glad that even though her coming out was rough, they managed to get back to that amazing family eventually. We learn all about how her career started and grew, and I have even more respect for her now that I understand how hard she has worked, and all the amazing things she has done for women in comedy from behind the scenes.

What we don’t hear about (other than some casual mentions) is Rhea. There is a one paragraph note at about the 70% mark where she explains that that loss is just then happening and therefore too fresh and painful to include in this book. That one paragraph just ripped my heart out. I had to finally put the book down at that point to resume the next morning. Cameron has been very open about 2019 being such a painful year for her, and I hope she understands we have all hurt for them both and wish them healing as quickly as Life will allow.

I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review, and I’m so thankful for it. I was a fan before, I’m a bigger fan now. Cameron is so very intelligent, and her book is written very well. I definitely recommend it and I look forward to her next (even though I’m sure it will make me cry).

Such a Fun Age, by Kiley Reid

18 Dec
such a fun age kiley reid

FIVE of 5 stars

Kiley Reid is a gift to readers, and everyone should put this book on their reading lists and pre-order it now.

Reid is an amazing writer. She fleshes these characters out, gives them complete, flawed stories, and does dialogue phenomenally well. I loved the interactions between Emira and her friends, they felt like home. Even the toddler voices were spot on.

Then, she flips the plot all over. For the first half of the book, every time you think you understand what this story is about she adds another aspect that changes everything. I absolutely loved the beginning chapters where new parts of the plot are introduced every few pages.

I have not shouted out loud at a book so much in a long time. When I wasn’t shouting, I was cringing. There is a character in this book who goes from batsh*t loony, to gross and disgusting, to psychotic, and then at the end we find out they’re downright evil.

It was a joy to read not because the story was happy (it’s not really) but because the writing is fantastic. It was a *pleasure* to consume the pages, even to the very bittersweet end.

I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I’m honestly so impressed at this author’s first book. I will read absolutely anything she writes in the future.

Conviction, by Denise Mina

15 Dec
conviction denise mina

Four of 5 stars

I feel very confused, but I think the book is excellent.

First of all, I did NOT see that ending coming. The twist and “bad guy/gal” reveal was totally unexpected. Barring major plot holes, what more can you ask of a mystery/thriller?

Second, I listened to the audiobook. While it was excellently narrated, I don’t recommend it unless you have some time to really listen. Because this book is COMPLEX. It is complex, complicated, and has story within story within story. It is done so very well, but you have to pay attention.

It is exciting and perplexing and actually interesting, and has complicated characters and it’s centered around a podcast, or rather podcasting. And it’s often FUNNY in between the scary. I loved the conclusion, which might signal a second book (which I would most definitely read!), and I’m still reeling from the reveal.

The only downside I found was that meeting the character of Gretchen* did not match at all with how she had been described during the book. However it might be that I was just so gobsmacked by the reveal that my brain couldn’t wrap around the narrator’s portrayal. Also, I don’t really buy that Anna had to hide her identity from everyone, even her husband. I won’t say why she’s hiding, since it’s not revealed for a bit, but it feels like life could have been easier if she just explained to her husband why she couldn’t fly or drive.

This is a book I would read again, or even listen to again (and hopefully pick up some more answers), and I’m old enough now that I almost never do that. Life is too short, and there are too many books to read. But this one would be worth it.

I most definitely recommend it. If I listen again and get a better understanding of Gretchen*, I will change this to 5 stars.

* Because I listened to the audiobook, I’m not sure how names were spelled in the printed book.

A Madness of Sunshine, by Nalini Singh

14 Dec
madness of sunshine nalina singh

Four of 5 stars

Wow, I really loved this book. It only had one flaw and I wish it didn’t because it so deserved 5 stars.

It’s a mystery/thriller set in a tiny Maori village in New Zealand. The best part of the book is getting to know this tiny place and the people in it. I loved learning a little about Maori culture, and the landscape of New Zealand. The characters are plentiful, and we get to know them all and their back stories and history and their good parts and their bad parts. You absolutely cannot be sure who the bad guy/girl is until all is revealed.

I loved the main character of Anahera, and I was pretty fond of Will the town cop as well. Their characters meshed so well together, and their backstories made them incredibly interesting. I would VERY happily read another book with either of them starring. Both characters have so much more to explore.

Going into the book blind, I was not expecting the sudden disappearance of one of the villagers who we had met. The mystery is complicated, with several intertwining plot lines, and a village full of interesting people you know are suspects but you hope none of them are the actual culprit/s. The story is very dark, and the reveals even darker, but at the end I was left with this magical feeling, a love of the wild New Zealand landscape, and a desire to read and know more. A madness of sunshine indeed.

I loved the book from the beginning, and barring a terrible ending I was sure it was going to get 5 stars from me. Unfortunately, there was a jarring sudden confession that didn’t make much sense to me, and I wish that wasn’t how the reveal came about. I just can’t believe that this bad guy/girl would have taken so much time to confess like that. There is a second confession from another character that – although more believable – I also just… wish… I wish writers would find a way around this. I don’t want characters just suddenly confessing everything. The confessions here did not ruin my enjoyment of this book, and I would *eagerly* read the next book from this author, but I also believe the author’s talent belies the need for sudden and unnecessary confessions.

I was given an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I honestly wish I could give it five stars, but I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone and everyone. It is a GREAT read.