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.

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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.

Passing Strange, by Emily Klages

19 Apr
passing strange ellen klages

Four of Five Stars

This book was not my favorite, but there were several things I really enjoyed and I think others might like it even more than I did.

THE PLUSES: Let’s be honest – THAT COVER. I rarely actually purchase books, but I saw this cover and had to get it. Even before I got to reading it I had pulled the book out several times just to look at its cover. Who wouldn’t want this framed in their own home? When I finally started the book – Surprise! – it turns out the picture is actually a chalk drawing that plays an important role in the book.
The characters. There is a group of women who are friends who help each other out in any way needed. Each of them were very interesting and I could have read a book about any specific character’s life.
The End. I was only going to give 3 stars (which, to be fair, is “I like it”) until the end. And the end had just enough excitement and drama and love to pull my little heartstrings and add another star.

THE MINUSES: All the characters. These women were so interesting, but the book rarely focuses on any one character long enough to get to know them, and there was confusion on my part as to who the story was about. I wouldn’t mind more books about these characters with maybe a more concentrated focus on one character. I mean, Helen??? That woman led a fascinating life and we only saw a bit of it!
The Magic. This is a fairly realistic story about lesbian life in San Francisco 80 years or so ago. That should have been enough of a story. But then suddenly magic is thrown in, in sort of a major way, and then it’s just dropped. Like “Oh here’s a serious story, here we go, oh and by the way this woman can do major magic but ANYWAY….”
The End. And then of course magic comes along and saves the day…

Now some readers may love that there is magic involved, and if it had figured more into the story as a whole perhaps I would have bought into it as well. But it seemed just sort of tossed in the middle of the story as an unimportant detail, only to be dragged out at the end to save the day. That is what bothered me.

But all in all, should you read it? I say Yes. They are fascinating characters and I hope I can eventually read more about them, and if anything, you need this cover in your life.

The Woman in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware

2 Mar
woman-in-cabin-ten-ruth-ware

3 of 5 stars

I’m not going to gush over this book, but I’m not going to hate on it either. It was fine. I listened to the audio version, and that made it a little difficult to follow all the characters, but overall it was narrated well and I don’t think it had an impact on my review.

But I didn’t love it. I don’t think it really falls into the “Mystery” genre, it was more in the Thriller category. “Gaslit woman terrorized on tiny cruiseship” is basically the plot. I did not like the intermittent sections of news that told what was happening on land at all. It was so bizarrely off from what was happening on board that I thought maybe this was supposed to be a sci-fi book and the ship had cruised into an alternate dimension. But no, it was just a bunch of stuff thrown in to throw you off, way way way off, so off that you don’t have the slightest clue what’s going on, much less understand the mystery.

Well, I guess that veered into “hate on it” territory. I didn’t hate the book. I enjoyed it while I was waiting for it to start making sense. But the problem is that the last third, once you’ve finally figured out what has actually been happening, really doesn’t make any sense – not any logical, realistic sense. And I just didn’t buy anything that was happening in the last few days of Lo’s time on board.

On the plus side…. I understand what the author was going for, which is a great murder mystery surrounded by the extra-legal situation of international waters. I think she had a great idea, and she does come close to a very Agatha Christie type story. She just doesn’t quite get there.

Well if you want a fairly easy read, with a lot of mystery and excitement, or want a modern-day Agatha Christie but don’t care a whole lot about logic and sense, then you might enjoy this. That sounds sort of sarcastic, but it’s not. Sometimes you need a Mission Impossible or a Bourne Identity, and sometimes you need a Woman in Cabin 10.

Let me give it a GIANT thumbs up for one thing: Titling it The WOMAN in Cabin 10, and not The Girl. Thank you Thank you Thank you for that.