Books Read in 2019: Three-Star Reads

Marilyn's comment - that giving one star seems "too mean" - is interesting. I do often wince a little internally when I'm writing something critical about a book, because I am very much aware that there is an author behind it. This is especially true now that there is Twitter where you can actually watch authors talk about how it feels to be reviewed, and even interact with them. Sometimes I actually feel like a one-star rating is less mean than a two-star, though. One star on Goodreads simply means "I didn't like it". This can easily be interpreted as "it wasn't for me", whereas two stars, or "it was okay" seem a bit like damning with faint praise. In any case, I'm always trying to be honest, not mean, and I do realize it is only my opinion. I think if I ever published anything I would follow the example of the authors who don't read their reviews, at least not non-professional ones. It's a thorny subject, though. 

Fiction (sort of)

The Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain. Synopsis from Goodreads: From bestselling author Diane Chamberlain comes an irresistible new novel.
When Caroline Sears receives the news that her unborn baby girl has a heart defect, she is devastated. It is 1970 and there seems to be little that can be done. But her brother-in-law, a physicist, tells her that perhaps there is. Hunter appeared in their lives just a few years before—and his appearance was as mysterious as his past. With no family, no friends, and a background shrouded in secrets, Hunter embraced the Sears family and never looked back.
Now, Hunter is telling her that something can be done about her baby's heart. Something that will shatter every preconceived notion that Caroline has. Something that will require a kind of strength and courage that Caroline never knew existed. Something that will mean a mind-bending leap of faith on Caroline's part.
And all for the love of her unborn child.
A rich, genre-spanning, breathtaking novel about one mother's quest to save her child, unite her family, and believe in the unbelievable. Diane Chamberlain pushes the boundaries of faith and science to deliver a novel that you will never forget.

I feel like an asshole giving this three stars (really more like two and a half), considering the plethora of high-starred reviews and how many books this author has written, but I just really didn't think the writing was anywhere near as good as the plotting here. It was a great story with some good narrative energy, but the characters were incredibly flat and the writing did nothing but outline the events. People in love were just in love, without any details that really brought home why. Hunter's mother is repeatedly described as "efficient rather than compassionate", but it's not really illustrated how that feels to Caroline. The scene that stands out most in my mind was Caroline saying she was about to undergo surgery to repair her daughter's heart that might not work, "so I'm pretty nervous". Um? Too much telling, not enough showing. I get the feeling Chamberlain is a book factory, which works for some readers I guess, but I won't be reading anything else by her unless it's by mistake, which, let's be frank, is highly likely.

YA Fiction

I'm Not Dying With You Tonight by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal. Synopsis from Goodreads: Lena and Campbell aren't friends.
Lena has her killer style, her awesome boyfriend, and a plan. She knows she's going to make it big. Campbell, on the other hand, is just trying to keep her head down and get through the year at her new school.
When both girls attend the Friday-night football game, what neither expects is for everything to descend into sudden mass chaos. Chaos born from violence and hate. Chaos that unexpectedly throws them together.
They aren't friends. They hardly understand the other's point of view. But none of that matters when the city is up in flames, and they only have each other to rely on if they're going to survive the night.

I really wanted this to be good, it was such a cool concept - a black author and a white author writing a novel about a white teenager and a black teenager caught up in a race riot, and the publishers allowed the ebook to be borrowed without restriction for a certain period of time. It's just that it's about teenagers, not children, and for a YA novel it's very simple, maybe too simple. As a middle-grade novel it might work, but racialized themes are in a lot of YA right now, and at a higher level and with some better writing, in my opinion. I didn't hate it, I wanted to see what happened, but I felt a little let down. 

YA Fantasy

Three Sides of a Heart: Stories About Love Triangles, edited by Natalie C. Parker. Synopsis from Goodreads: 
You may think you know the love triangle, but you've never seen love triangles like these.
These top YA authors tackle the much-debated trope of the love triangle, and the result is sixteen fresh, diverse, and romantic stories you don’t want to miss.
This collection, edited by Natalie C. Parker, contains stories written by Renee Ahdieh, Rae Carson, Brandy Colbert, Katie Cotugno, Lamar Giles, Tessa Gratton, Bethany Hagan, Justina Ireland, Alaya Dawn Johnson, EK Johnston, Julie Murphy, Garth Nix, Natalie C. Parker, Veronica Roth, Sabaa Tahir, and Brenna Yovanoff.
A teen girl who offers kissing lessons. Zombies in the Civil War South. The girl next door, the boy who loves her, and the girl who loves them both. Vampires at a boarding school. Three teens fighting monsters in an abandoned video rental store. Literally the last three people on the planet.
What do all these stories have in common?
The love triangle.

Three and a half stars. This was quite interesting. The term 'love triangle' was interpreted very loosely in some cases, which seems to have annoyed some readers, but I actually loved it. Sometimes the choice was between two lovers, of the same or different genders. Sometimes it was a choice between two different possibilities. There was diversity and LGBTQ inclusion. The stories I liked I really liked, and I didn't hate any of them. Favourites were Riddles in Mathematics by Katie Cotugno, Vim and Vigor by Veronica Roth, Unus Duo Tres by Bethany Hagen and then Work in Progress by E.K. Johnston on the one hand annoyed me because I wanted to understand it more, but on the other hand it seemed right on the verge of something catastrophically brilliant, and The Historian The Garrison and the Cantankerous Catwoman by Lamar Giles totally shocked me. I was a little sad that I didn't love the stories by Natalie C. Parker and Brenna Yovanoff, since I love their longer fiction (okay I was a lot sad, in my mind we are Book BFFs and I feel like I failed them).

Impostors (Impostors #1) by Scott Westerfeld. Synopsis from Goodreads: 
Frey and Rafi are inseparable . . . but very few people have ever seen them together. This is because Frey is Rafi’s double, raised in the shadows of their rich father’s fortress. While Rafi has been taught to charm, Frey has been taught to kill. Frey only exists to protect her sister. There is no other part of her life. Frey has never been out in the world on her own – until her father sends her in Rafi’s place to act as collateral for a dangerous deal. Everyone thinks she’s her sister – but Col, the son of a rival leader, is starting to get close enough to tell the difference. As the stakes grow higher and higher, Frey must decide whether she can trust him – or anyone in her life.

Funny side note: I am a really good speller, but impostors is one of the few words that trips me up - I am always wavering on whether (ha ha, that's another of the words) the second 'o' should be an 'e'). I picked this up in my Monday library - I was aware of the author but hadn't read anything before this. I think it's sort of a piggy-back on an earlier series, but that doesn't seem to have been entirely necessary to read this. I enjoyed it, honestly more than I expected to given what I'd heard from fellow readers about Westerfeld. The secret twin device and seeing Frey learning to navigate the political landscape instead of merely being a weapon is quite engaging, and the characterization is solid. I will look up the next entry in the series, which we have to get now because I recommended this to a few of my students and they are all chomping at the bit for the next book.

The Golden Yarn (MirrorWorld #3) by Cornelia Funke. Synopsis from Goodreads: Jacob Reckless continues to travel the portal in his father's abandoned study. His name has continued to be famous on the other side of the mirror, as a finder of enchanted items and buried secrets. His family and friends, from his brother, Will to the shape-shifting vixen, Fox, are on a collision course as the two worlds become connected. Who is driving these two worlds together and why is he always a step ahead?
This new force isn’t limiting its influence to just Jacob’s efforts – it has broadened the horizon within MirrorWorld. Jacob, Will and Fox travel east and into the Russian folklore, to the land of the Baba Yaga, pursued by a new type of being that knows our world all to well.

I enjoyed the first two entries in this series quite a lot, and this one not so much. I'm not sure it wasn't just down to my mood, so I'm not trashing it. It just seemed to drag on forever, and the uncertainties about the love interests seemed contrived and, in some cases, really off-putting. The world-making is still pretty great, but I'm annoyed that this wasn't the final book - it's getting to be like Supernatural, where everybody trades places being the dying person or the person sacrificing themselves so the dying person won't be dying anymore, but then the now not-dying person sacrifices him or herself in turn... you get it, right?

When the Sky Fell on Splendor by Emily Henry. Synopsis from Goodreads: 
Almost everyone in the small town of Splendor, Ohio, was affected when the local steel mill exploded. If you weren’t a casualty of the accident yourself, chances are a loved one was. That’s the case for seventeen-year-old Franny, who, five years after the explosion, still has to stand by and do nothing as her brother lies in a coma.
In the wake of the tragedy, Franny found solace in a group of friends whose experiences mirrored her own. The group calls themselves The Ordinary, and they spend their free time investigating local ghost stories and legends, filming their exploits for their small following of YouTube fans. It’s silly, it’s fun, and it keeps them from dwelling on the sadness that surrounds them.
Until one evening, when the strange and dangerous thing they film isn’t fiction–it’s a bright light, something massive hurdling toward them from the sky. And when it crashes and the teens go to investigate…everything changes.

I checked this ebook out and was halfway through it before I realized I had already read The Love That Split the World by the same author (it's becoming ever more clear that clocking and remembering authors' names is NOT my forte). I read A Million Junes right after this and then reread The Love That Split the World. I'm a bit surprised that this is the most recent book. It's not bad, but it reads slightly more like a first novel and the others seem a little more assured. This was interesting and I enjoyed it for the most part. Something about it seemed a little disjointed, and although things started happening right away, there then seemed to be a long period where nothing progressed and people just ran around keeping secrets from each other and talking about how much their stomachs hurt. And then the ending was quite lovely.

The Echo Room by Parker Peevyhouse. Synopsis from Goodreads: Rett wakes on the floor of a cold, dark room. He doesn’t know how he got there, only that he’s locked in. He’s not alone—a girl named Bryn is trapped in the room with him. When she finds a mysterious bloodstain and decides she doesn’t trust Rett, he tries to escape on his own—
Rett wakes on the floor of the same cold, dark room. He doesn’t trust Bryn, but he’ll have to work with her if he ever hopes to escape. They try to break out of the room—
Rett and Bryn hide in a cold, dark room. Safe from what’s outside.

But they’re not alone.

A bit of a poor man's Maze Runner. I know that doesn't really make sense, but here we are. I actually found her first book better, more ambitious at least, although it didn't quite succeed in my mind. This was just derivative. At least it seems to be a standalone - thank goodness for small blessings.

City of Ghosts (Cassidy Blake #1) by Victoria Schwab. Synopsis from Goodreads:
 Cassidy Blake's parents are The Inspecters, a (somewhat inept) ghost-hunting team. But Cass herself can REALLY see ghosts. In fact, her best friend, Jacob, just happens to be one.
When The Inspecters head to ultra-haunted Edinburgh, Scotland, for their new TV show, Cass—and Jacob—come along. In Scotland, Cass is surrounded by ghosts, not all of them friendly. Then she meets Lara, a girl who can also see the dead. But Lara tells Cassidy that as an In-betweener, their job is to send ghosts permanently beyond the Veil. Cass isn't sure about her new mission, but she does know the sinister Red Raven haunting the city doesn't belong in her world. Cassidy's powers will draw her into an epic fight that stretches through the worlds of the living and the dead, in order to save herself.

My reading experience with Schwab is all over the place. Vicious is one of my favourite books ever, I adored the first Archived book and hated the second, I liked the first Darker Shade of Magic book but it didn't make me NEED the next one. This was a really good middle-grade dark fantasy that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to anyone who likes the genre. Good characters, great atmospheric setting, interesting plot.


The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air #1) by Holly Black. Synopsis from Goodreads: 
Of course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.
And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.

Jude was seven when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.
To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.
As Jude becomes more deeply embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, she discovers her own capacity for trickery and bloodshed. But as betrayal threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

Well this was a bit of a blow - a Holly Black book I didn't love. Actually, now that I think about it, I think I didn't love the first book of hers that I read, but since then she's always been a sure thing for me - The Darkest Part of the Forest is in my Top Ten YA Reads. This was customarily great for world-building and characters, but it was just so ... suffused with meanness (which yes, I get it, fairyland is without pity, that's most likely the point). If I'm right about where the series is going with regard to Jude and Cardan, I'm really not okay with that. I haven't decided if I'm going to continue the series (that's being unnecessarily coy, I probably will, but under a bit of protest). 

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey. Synopsis from Goodreads: Ivy Gamble has never wanted to be magic. She is perfectly happy with her life—she has an almost-sustainable career as a private investigator, and an empty apartment, and a slight drinking problem. It's a great life and she doesn't wish she was like her estranged sister, the magically gifted professor Tabitha.
But when Ivy is hired to investigate the gruesome murder of a faculty member at Tabitha’s private academy, the stalwart detective starts to lose herself in the case, the life she could have had, and the answer to the mystery that seems just out of her reach. 

This was not a bad book by any description, and if I was a little disappointed it's only because I saw the description on Kindle and pre-ordered it with very high hopes. The world-making was fine, and I liked Ivy as a flawed character, but the plotting left a little to be desired. Things that should not have seemed obvious seemed, well, obvious, and for an investigator, Ivy seemed to miss some pretty big red flags, as did other characters. The descriptions of how Ivy felt about being the non-magic sister were interesting. I just hoped for more. I will still check out Gailey's other work, which apparently involves... hippo cowboys or something? Because, duh.

A Thousand Pieces of You (Firebird #1) by Claudia Gray. Synopsis from Goodreads: Marguerite Caine's physicist parents are known for their groundbreaking achievements. Their most astonishing invention, called the Firebird, allows users to jump into multiple universes—and promises to revolutionize science forever. But then Marguerite's father is murdered, and the killer—her parent's handsome, enigmatic assistant Paul— escapes into another dimension before the law can touch him.
Marguerite refuses to let the man who destroyed her family go free. So she races after Paul through different universes, always leaping into another version of herself. But she also meets alternate versions of the people she knows—including Paul, whose life entangles with hers in increasingly familiar ways. Before long she begins to question Paul's guilt—as well as her own heart. And soon she discovers the truth behind her father's death is far more sinister than she expected.

Magnificently cheesy and fun. I stumbled on this browsing my library's ebooks, and the lack of hype and therefore low expectations were beneficial to my reading experience (why yes, I do remember stating earlier that I should not be choosing my books this way, and this is, in fact, completely inconsistent and illogical. I'm complicated). It's not that I disagree with some of the negative comments here. I just didn't care. I enjoyed seeing Marguerite deal with the different iterations of herself and other people in her life. It was a fun concept and written well enough to carry it off. I was annoyed by the love triangle, but whatever. I will take a break before looking for the next book in the series, but I'm pretty sure I'll read it eventually.

Kingdom of Needle and Bone by Mira Grant: We live in an age of wonders.
Modern medicine has conquered or contained many of the diseases that used to carry children away before their time, reducing mortality and improving health. Vaccination and treatment are widely available, not held in reserve for the chosen few. There are still monsters left to fight, but the old ones, the simple ones, trouble us no more.
Or so we thought. For with the reduction in danger comes the erosion of memory, as pandemics fade from memory into story into fairy tale. Those old diseases can’t have been so bad, people say, or we wouldn’t be here to talk about them. They don’t matter. They’re never coming back.
How wrong we could be.
It begins with a fever. By the time the spots appear, it’s too late: Morris’s disease is loose on the world, and the bodies of the dead begin to pile high in the streets. When its terrible side consequences for the survivors become clear, something must be done, or the dying will never stop. For Dr. Isabella Gauley, whose niece was the first confirmed victim, the route forward is neither clear nor strictly ethical, but it may be the only way to save a world already in crisis. It may be the only way to atone for her part in everything that’s happened.
She will never be forgiven, not by herself, and not by anyone else. But she can, perhaps, do the right thing.
We live in an age of monsters.

Unggggghhhhhh (sound of me trying to figure out my rating and review). In all honesty, maaaybe if this was written by anyone else who is NOT one of my very favourite authors I would have rated it higher (does that seem unfair? I feel like she can take it). But given that I read Down Among the Sticks and Bones and Into the Drowning Deep fairly recently and they were so fucking good, I can't help but rate this against those, and it just didn't pack the same punch for me. Her plotting was flawless, as usual, and the science was solid, and the bones of a great story were there, but the length didn't really allow enough room for her characters to stretch out and become fully realized (although Sticks and Bones was fairly short too and I didn't feel the same way there - ungggghhh). It just felt a little truncated. Call it three and a half, because I don't think she can really write a bad book. Just amazing ones and ever so slightly less amazing ones.

The Two Lila Bennetts by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke. Synopsis from Goodreads: Lila Bennett’s bad choices have finally caught up with her. And one of those decisions has split her life in two. Literally.
In one life, she’s taken hostage by someone who appears to be a stranger but knows too much. As she’s trapped in a concrete cell, her kidnapper forces her to face what she’s done or be killed. In an alternate life, she eludes her captor but is hunted by someone who is dismantling her happiness, exposing one secret at a time.
Lila’s decorated career as a criminal defense attorney, her marriage, and her life are on the line. She must make a list of those she’s wronged—both in and out of the courtroom—to determine who is out to get her before it’s too late. But even if she can pinpoint her assailant, will she survive? And if she does, which parts of her life are worth saving, and which parts must die? Because one thing’s for certain—life as Lila Bennett knew it is over.

I loved the movie Sliding Doors, so I was intrigued by the split/parallel storyline. I also enjoyed the fact that the female protagonist is seriously flawed - that's not something that I find is terribly common in mainstream mystery fiction. The narrative is satisfyingly twisty and keeps the reader guessing, although the fact that all Lila's secrets are being revealed in both timelines takes away a little of the tension - I would have been interested to see what she would do if she had a choice between owning her bad decisions or escaping them. The prose is pretty workmanlike. This was good for a beach read.
I was given a reader's copy by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Recursion by Blake Crouch. Synopsis from Goodreads: 
Memory makes reality.

That’s what New York City cop Barry Sutton is learning as he investigates the devastating phenomenon the media has dubbed False Memory Syndrome—a mysterious affliction that drives its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived.
That's what neuroscientist Helena Smith believes. It’s why she’s dedicated her life to creating a technology that will let us preserve our most precious memories. If she succeeds, anyone will be able to re-experience a first kiss, the birth of a child, the final moment with a dying parent.
As Barry searches for the truth, he comes face-to-face with an opponent more terrifying than any disease—a force that attacks not just our minds but the very fabric of the past. And as its effects begin to unmake the world as we know it, only he and Helena, working together, will stand a chance at defeating it.
But how can they make a stand when reality itself is shifting and crumbling all around them?

Wavering between three and four stars. The concept was really fascinating and well done. The writing was not bad, but not really good enough to carry the story to a higher level (a recurring complaint for me with this author). The way emotions and relationships were described was pretty flat. The first half was immensely entertaining, the second half dragged a bit. There was some good musing on the nature of memory and reality, and the dilemma of whether humankind is wise or judicious enough to be trusted with hugely powerful technological advances (I mean, generally we're not, but it has to be discussed, right?) Overall it was an enjoyable summer read.

UnHappenings by Edward Aubry. Synopsis from Goodreads: 
When Nigel Walden is fourteen, the unhappenings begin. His first girlfriend disappears the day after their first kiss with no indication she ever existed. This retroactive change is the first of many only he seems to notice.
Several years later, when Nigel is visited by two people from his future, he hopes they can explain why the past keeps rewriting itself around him. But the enigmatic young guide shares very little, and the haggard, incoherent, elderly version of himself is even less reliable. His search for answers takes him fifty-two years forward in time, where he finds himself stranded and alone.
And then he meets Helen.
Brilliant, hilarious and beautiful, she captivates him. But Nigel’s relationships always unhappen, and if they get close it could be fatal for her. Worse, according to the young guide, just by entering Helen’s life, Nigel has already set into motion events that will have catastrophic consequences. In his efforts to reverse this, and to find a way to remain with Helen, he discovers the disturbing truth about the unhappenings, and the role he and his future self have played all along.

Three and a half stars. Brilliant concept, probably needed slightly more merciless editing so the unhappenings didn't get overused and start to weigh down the narrative. The constant waiting to see what might unhappen added great narrative tension, though. The romantic relationship was a little more telling than showing. Good story, an original take on time travel (which doesn't come along often) and competent writing. Beautiful cover.

The Last Conversation by Paul Tremblay. Synopsis from Goodreads: What’s more frightening: Not knowing who you are? Or finding out? A Bram Stoker Award–winning author explores the answer in a chilling story about identity and human consciousness.
Imagine you’ve woken up in an unfamiliar room with no memory of who you are, how you got there, or where you were before. All you have is the disconnected voice of an attentive caretaker. Dr. Kuhn is there to help you—physically, emotionally, and psychologically. She’ll help you remember everything. She’ll make sure you reclaim your lost identity. Now answer one question: Are you sure you want to?
Paul Tremblay’s The Last Conversation is part of Forward, a collection of six stories of the near and far future from out-of-this-world authors. Each piece can be read or listened to in a single thought-provoking sitting.

On its own, it kept my interest and was well done for what it was. Considering that it was supposed to be kind of a Black Mirror-type piece of a series, it's maybe not quite as avant garde as it might be?

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado. Synopsis from Goodreads: 
In Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado blithely demolishes the arbitrary borders between psychological realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and fabulism. While her work has earned her comparisons to Karen Russell and Kelly Link, she has a voice that is all her own. In this electric and provocative debut, Machado bends genre to shape startling narratives that map the realities of women's lives and the violence visited upon their bodies.
A wife refuses her husband's entreaties to remove the green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity. A salesclerk in a mall makes a horrifying discovery within the seams of the store's prom dresses. One woman's surgery-induced weight loss results in an unwanted houseguest. And in the bravura novella Especially Heinous, Machado reimagines every episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a show we naively assumed had shown it all, generating a phantasmagoric police procedural full of doppelgangers, ghosts, and girls with bells for eyes.
Earthy and otherworldly, antic and sexy, queer and caustic, comic and deadly serious, Her Body and Other Parties swings from horrific violence to the most exquisite sentiment. In their explosive originality, these stories enlarge the possibilities of contemporary fiction.

I feel like I have to read this again. I have loved Machado's short fiction in every anthology it's come up in. I loved The Husband Stitch in this, but the rest didn't really grab me. Especially Heinous sounded really cool to me, as a long-time Law and Order SVU viewer, but it needed some serious editing to avoid being just a really long collection of phrases that sounded like they were going somewhere interesting but then...didn't. 


The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides. Synopsis from Goodreads: 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..

Three and a half stars, I think. Pretty good for a first novel. The prose is a little unimaginative, but the plotting is solid and I was surprised a couple of times in a way that I hardly ever am in mystery novels anymore. A good enough way to spend an afternoon hiding from the heat. Sasha (HI SASHA) did NOT agree with me.

Kill the Next One by Federico Axat. Synopsis from Goodreads: An audacious psychological thriller where nothing is what it seems.
Ted McKay had it all: a beautiful wife, two daughters, a high-paying job. But after being diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor he finds himself with a gun to his temple, ready to pull the trigger. Then the doorbell rings.
A stranger makes him a proposition: why not kill two deserving men before dying? The first target is a criminal, and the second is a man with terminal cancer who, like Ted, wants to die. After executing these kills, Ted will become someone else's next target, like a kind of suicidal daisy chain. Ted understands the stranger's logic: it's easier for a victim's family to deal with a murder than with a suicide. However, after killing his targets, Ted's reality begins to unravel. KILL THE NEXT ONE, an immersive psychological thriller from an exciting new voice.

A little bit of a strange reading experience. "An audacious psychological thriller where nothing is what it seems" sums it up pretty well, actually. Didn't go where I was expecting, which was mostly good. I enjoyed the way it sort of veered away from the obvious enough to finish it, but there were still quite a few loose ends and red herrings. It reminded me a bit of The Watcher by Charles Maclean, but I feel like that one was done a little more deftly, and I read it first so it seemed fresher. 

Lie in Wait (Canaan Crime #1) by Eric Rickstad. Synopsis from Goodreads: From the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Silent Girls comes another unforgettable thriller set in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, featuring Detective Sonja Test. Even in a quiet Vermont town, unspeakable acts of the past can destroy the peace of the present In the remote, pastoral hamlet of Canaan, Vermont, a high-profile legal case shatters the town's sense of peace and community. Anger simmers. Fear and prejudice awaken. Old friends turn on each other. Violence threatens.So when a young teenage girl is savagely murdered while babysitting at the house of the lead attorney in the case, Detective Sonja Test believes the girl's murder and the divisive case must be linked.However, as the young detective digs deeper into her first murder case, she discovers sordid acts hidden for decades, and learns that behind the town's idyllic fa├žade of pristine snow lurks a capacity in some for great darkness and the betrayal of innocents. And Sonja Test, a mother of two, will do anything to protect the innocent.

I borrowed a later book by this author based on a recommendation, then realized this was the first in the series so read it first. From what I hear, the later one is better. This wasn't bad, and I can see the seeds of something great. There were a few really unconvincing twists - I try not to quibble on the givens, but there are some things you can make a character do and I just cannot follow you based on what information there is about that character. Sonja Test is pretty cool. I am going to try the next book. 

The Darkest Secret by Alex Marwood. Synopsis from Goodreads: Apologies for the general email, but I desperately need your help.My goddaughter, Coco Jackson, disappeared from her family's holiday home in Bournemouth on the night of Sunday/Monday August 29/30th, the bank holiday weekend just gone. Coco is three years old.When identical twin Coco goes missing during a family celebration, there is a media frenzy. Her parents are rich and influential, as are the friends they were with at their holiday home by the sea.But what really happened to Coco?Over two intense weekends - the first when Coco goes missing and the second twelve years later at the funeral of her father - the darkest of secrets will gradually be revealed...

I read this because of a Book Bingo square for an author with the same initials as you. I learned that this is not a good reason for choosing a book. It was a low-to-medium quality mystery, and a slightly better study of horrible people and how they justify their selfishness and bad behaviour. A couple of characters were allowed a little room to grow and evolve. I have a couple of her other books on my to-read list and I can't decide if I should try another one.

City of Windows (Lucas Page #1) by Robert Pobi. Synopsis from Goodreads: During the worst blizzard in memory, an FBI agent in a moving SUV in New York City is killed by a nearly impossible sniper shot. Unable to pinpoint where the shot came from, as the storm rapidly wipes out evidence, the agent-in-charge Brett Kehoe turns to the one man who might be able to help them--former FBI agent Lucas Page.
Page, a university professor and bestselling author, left the FBI years ago after a tragic event robbed him of a leg, an arm, an eye, and the willingness to continue. But he has an amazing ability to read a crime scene, figure out angles and trajectories in his head, and he might be the only one to be able to find the sniper's nest. With a new wife and family, Lucas Page has no interest in helping the FBI--except for the fact that the victim was his former partner.
Agreeing to help for his partner's sake, Page finds himself hunting a killer with an unknown agenda and amazing sniper skills in the worst of conditions. And his partner's murder is only the first in a series of meticulously planned murders carried out with all-but-impossible sniper shots. The only thing connecting the deaths is that the victims are all with law enforcement--that is until Page's own family becomes a target.
To identify and hunt down this ruthless, seemingly unstoppable killer, Page must discover what hidden past connects the victims before he himself loses all that is dear to him.

This was pretty good as far as the mystery went, and the character is interesting. I've read and enjoyed two other books by this author, and it feels a little like this was going backwards in quality. I enjoyed the descriptions of Page's family life and the way he handled his disabilities. I was slightly turned off by the weird inconsistencies in his relationships and interactions with his wife and the female cop that he was working with - I'm not even sure I can articulate why. Thinking back on the book I feel like I'd go to three and a half stars, but at the time of reading I know I was annoyed slightly at various points.

The Chain by Adrian McKinty. Synopsis from Goodreads: You just dropped off your child at the bus stop. A panicked stranger calls your phone. Your child has been kidnapped, and the stranger explains that their child has also been kidnapped, by a completely different stranger. The only way to get your child back is to kidnap another child within 24 hours. Your child will be released only when the next victim's parents kidnap yet another child, and most importantly, the stranger explains, if you don't kidnap a child, or if the next parents don't kidnap a child, your child will be murdered. You are now part of The Chain.

"'Do this or we'll murder your child'. 'I can't', Rachel protests meekly." Rachel protests meekly? Really? Sigh. Another summer eread, another book where the concept sounded interesting and the writing veered between a bit lacking and so bad it made me angry at times. The concept got weak pretty fast too, I though - I find it hard to believe one person can keep a secret, let alone hundreds of people with kidnapping and murder involved. It wasn't terrible. The author's explanation for why he decided to write the book was interesting. I certainly believe that a case can be made for people to do the most extreme things when their children or loved ones are involved. I just wanted it to be done a little bit better.


Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton. Synopsis from Goodreads: The highly anticipated new memoir by bestselling author Glennon Doyle Melton tells the story of her journey of self-discovery after the implosion of her marriage.
Just when Glennon Doyle Melton was beginning to feel she had it all figured out—three happy children, a doting spouse, and a writing career so successful that her first book catapulted to the top of the New York Times bestseller list—her husband revealed his infidelity and she was forced to realize that nothing was as it seemed. A recovering alcoholic and bulimic, Glennon found that rock bottom was a familiar place. In the midst of crisis, she knew to hold on to what she discovered in recovery: that her deepest pain has always held within it an invitation to a richer life.
Love Warrior is the story of one marriage, but it is also the story of the healing that is possible for any of us when we refuse to settle for good enough and begin to face pain and love head-on. This astonishing memoir reveals how our ideals of masculinity and femininity can make it impossible for a man and a woman to truly know one another - and it captures the beauty that unfolds when one couple commits to unlearning everything they’ve been taught so that they can finally, after thirteen years of marriage, fall in love.
Love Warrior is a gorgeous and inspiring account of how we are born to be warriors: strong, powerful, and brave; able to confront the pain and claim the love that exists for us all. This chronicle of a beautiful, brutal journey speaks to anyone who yearns for deeper, truer relationships and a more abundant, authentic life.

I expected to like this a little more based on shorter forms of her writing that I've come across. I was skeptical of another reviewer who said sometimes blogs don't translate well to books, but I think that was actually correct in this case. I had a lot of sympathy for Doyle, who was seemingly born with an addictive personality and a tendency towards depression that made for a really rough path. I'm really happy that she's found happiness and helped others to do the same, and I love her inclusive brand of Christianity. It's just that a lot of her revelations as detailed in the book felt a little facile - she sat on the shore of the ocean for two days and had an epiphany, she drove to a church and felt a yearning to go inside, etc. The good parts are really good, but the connective tissue was just a little too neat. I still liked it, just didn't love it. And I wish the phrase 'authentic life' would be struck from the English language and burned away in some kind of metaphorical word-fire. 


Ernie said…
I am not all of the way done reading this (almost but basketball ended and praise the Lord!) - but HOLY TOLEDO! Between you and Nicole at Girl in a Boy House I feel downright illiterate. The number of books you people read is STAGGERING! Reading your reviews of these books gave me a similar feeling as the one I get when I walk in the library. INADEQUATE. The library reminds me that real people wrote those books and got them published and I live in fear that all of my work on my little memoir will lead to a big NOTHING. Because what publisher would ever even look at it.

But, um, carry on - I do anxiously await the 4 star book list because in my dream world where I read books and my incessant diving loops ends, I will need some good recommendations.

I now get why you work in a library. Nothing gets past me!
I’ve had a couple of authors ‘like’ or comment on my reviews on GoodReads so giving a one star really is something I think about. I actually felt stressed out that I only gave four stars to a book that an author commented on...and then I got over that. I know GoodReads says 2 stars is an “ok” but I’m not sure the general world thinks that. Do they? To me 3 stars is ok, and 2 stars means nope, and 1 star means how did this get published?
Ernie said…
Marilyn- I clicked on your name to check out your blog and it linked up with Walmart. What in the world? Does Walmart know you blog from their isles? Do they give you decent lunch breaks, cause I read Nickel and Dimed . . . ;)
StephLove said…
Interesting take on one v. two star reviews. I've actually never given a book one star. I think when I started on GR I mentally set the benchmark for one star as "something as bad as Ayn Rand" and I never voluntarily subject myself to anything like that. It's possible most of my two-star rating were books were from awful books I read to North, back when we still did that.
I put a couple of those on my list! Sometimes I just like a meh kind of read.

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