Friday, July 29, 2016

Review: Stormswept (Wales #1) by Sabrina Jeffries writing as Deborah Martin

Blurb from Goodreads:
New York Times bestseller Sabrina Jeffries reignites a daring love affair in this intriguing tale of desire and deception—originally written as Deborah Martin and newly revised for today’s audience.

The first wedding night that Lady Juliana St. Albans spent with the dark and daring Rhys Vaughan was intoxicating, the heady culmination of her new husband’s driving hunger and her own awakened sensuality. When he mysteriously disappeared the next morning, she waited for him in hope and desperation. And when he was finally proclaimed dead in a shipwreck, she bitterly mourned the loss of her love.

The second wedding night that Juliana spent with Rhys Vaughan was six years later, after he returned to claim her just as she was about to wed another. This Rhys was different—bolder, harder, and convinced that she’d betrayed him. Only their blazing passion remains from their years apart. But is it enough to light their way through the maze of mystery, menace, and mistrust—to the love they once shared and would have to find again? 
My Review:
I believe this is an older book, written by Sabrina Jeffries as Deborah Martin and revised to be re-released since SJ has had such success.  Unfortunately, however, I didn't love this.  I will say that I really have to be in the mood to read and love HR but I did read another SJ release earlier this year and really enjoyed it.  This one was definitely not as successful -- while I did like Rhys and Juliana as characters, this one just seemed a bit cheesy and over the top with its never-dying conflict.  That is, a large portion of the book is dedicated to Rhys believing Juliana has lied and is lying to him about loving him and marrying him for love. While I liked that this was not a marriage of convenience (so often used in HR) but was a marriage of love -- that seemed so overshadowed by Rhys not believing Juliana despite her word and all the evidence that supported her word.   Truly, most of the book was dedicated to Rhys' anger and wanting Juliana to admit something that wasn't true and submit to him more than the the building and strengthening of their relationship.  Ultimately, this didn't work for me because of that focus but I do plan on reading more by SJ in the future.

Stormswept came out last month on June 28, 2016, and you can purchase HERE.
What a fool he was.  He thought he'd shown his feelings for her, but women liked words-- and he's never said them.  "I could say I want to marry you because I want to make love to you, and that would be true."   
She colored prettily, though she didn't turn away.   
"And I could say I want to marry you because you and I both love poetry and Wales.  That would be true, too." Taking her face in his hands, he stared into her eyes. "But the main reason I want to marry you, Juliana St. Albans, is because I love you.  With all my heart."

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Review: The Last One by Alexandra Oliva

Blurb from Goodreads:
Survival is the name of the game as the line blurs between reality TV and reality itself in Alexandra Oliva’s fast-paced novel of suspense.

She wanted an adventure. She never imagined it would go this far.

It begins with a reality TV show. Twelve contestants are sent into the woods to face challenges that will test the limits of their endurance. While they are out there, something terrible happens—but how widespread is the destruction, and has it occurred naturally or is it man-made? Cut off from society, the contestants know nothing of it. When one of them—a young woman the show’s producers call Zoo—stumbles across the devastation, she can imagine only that it is part of the game.

Alone and disoriented, Zoo is heavy with doubt regarding the life—and husband—she left behind, but she refuses to quit. Staggering countless miles across unfamiliar territory, Zoo must summon all her survival skills—and learn new ones as she goes.

But as her emotional and physical reserves dwindle, she grasps that the real world might have been altered in terrifying ways—and her ability to parse the charade will be either her triumph or her undoing.

Sophisticated and provocative, The Last One is a novel that forces us to confront the role that media plays in our perception of what is real: how readily we cast our judgments, how easily we are manipulated.
My Review:
This is a book where, even by the end, I'm not sure I was really into it -- I had a lot of moments of considering a DNF but I kept reading.  Although I had a hard time being engaged, I do think this was well done and it will appeal to a certain reader (more on that below).  I was hoping for a bit more tension but it only came in spurts -- the survival part was interesting to me and this was also told intercalary so what actually is happening is only hinted at and you're left to figure it out (which you will).  I just don't have a lot to say about this book -- the premise is good, the ideas were interesting, it had the ability to be compelling and seemed accurate, I just didn't love it.  Sometimes why you didn't ultimately love a book is something that's hard to articulate, especially when there is nothing glaring in terms of plot or writing but that was just the case here.

This is a mash-up between the TV show Survivor, the actual Hunger Games and Station Eleven.  Certain fans of any of those could really like this! The Last One came out earlier this month on July 12, 2016, and you can purchase HERE.
For a moment, I'll just stand there, looking.  Taking in the sight of so many familiar faces, the face of the man I love.  The person who taught me what it was to be honestly generous, to give without expectation or resentment.  Whose steady demeanor and realism helped me to learn that attempting to achieve perfection with every decision is a sure path to unhappiness; that when it comes to choosing a house or a car or a television or a loaf of bread, good enough really is good enough.  Whose cereal-slurping helped me learn that being irritated at someone isn't the same as ceasing to love him, a distinction that I know should be obvious but which has always troubled me.  Who taught me that together is better than alone, even if it's sometimes harder, even if I sometimes forget.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday: Gem & Dixie by Sara Zarr

 "Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that you are eagerly anticipating.

Today, I am waiting on:  
Gem & Dixie by Sara Zarr

From Goodreads:
Gem & Dixie is the new novel from renowned young adult author and National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr—a deep, nuanced, and gorgeously written story about the complex relationship between two sisters from a broken home.

Gem has never known what it is to have security. She’s never known an adult she can truly rely on. But the one constant in her life has been Dixie. Gem grew up taking care of her sister when no one else could: not their mother, whose issues make it hard for her to keep food on the table; and definitely not their father, whose intermittent presence is the only thing worse than his frequent absence. Even as Gem and Dixie have grown apart, they’ve always had each other.

When their dad returns for the first time in years and tries to insert himself back into their lives, Gem finds herself with an unexpected opportunity: three days with Dixie, on their own in Seattle and beyond. But this short trip soon becomes something more, as Gem discovers that to save herself, she may have to sever the one bond she's tried so hard to keep.

National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr has written her most personal and affecting book yet—an unforgettable story of breaking apart and of coming together again.
This sounds kind of great!  Gem & Dixie is scheduled to be released on April 4, 2017, and I can't wait!

What books are you waiting on this Wednesday??

Review: Monterey Bay by Lindsay Hatton

Blurb from Goodreads:
A beautiful debut set around the creation of the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium—and the last days of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row.

In 1940, fifteen year-old Margot Fiske arrives on the shores of Monterey Bay with her eccentric entrepreneur father. Margot has been her father’s apprentice all over the world, until an accident in Monterey’s tide pools drives them apart and plunges her head-first into the mayhem of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row.

Steinbeck is hiding out from his burgeoning fame at the raucous lab of Ed Ricketts, the biologist known as Doc in Cannery Row. Ricketts, a charismatic bohemian, quickly becomes the object of Margot’s fascination. Despite Steinbeck’s protests and her father’s misgivings, she wrangles a job as Ricketts’s sketch artist and begins drawing the strange and wonderful sea creatures he pulls from the waters of the bay. Unbeknownst to Margot, her father is also working with Ricketts. He is soliciting the biologist’s advice on his most ambitious and controversial project to date: the transformation of the Row’s largest cannery into an aquarium. When Margot begins an affair with Ricketts, she sets in motion a chain of events that will affect not just the two of them, but the future of Monterey as well. 
My Review:
This really is the year of debuts for me!  I've read so many debuts and many of them have been really great!  It's exciting to read such a diverse mix of debuts and to imagine what each author will come up with next. In this vein, Monterey Bay is a gorgeous historical fiction novel about the last days of Steinbeck's Cannery Row but the book mostly focuses on Margot Fiske.  Alternating between 1940, 1948 and 1998 -- Margot's days in Monterey -- from a life and road-weary 15 year old to one of the most powerful and known persons in Monterey.  The first scene is probably the most vital to the story -- you won't know how bittersweet it is until the end and you will be filled with such hope when you read it; you have no chance to predict what will happen.  This is one of those books that took me awhile to find a rhythm in reading it -- I had to concentrate on each sentence -- but it ended up worth such work at the end.

Monterey Bay came out last week on July 19, 2016, you can purchase HERE, and I definitely recommend this one to fans of historical fiction and fans of John Steinbeck.  Or, if you've ever had that desire to be a marine biologist, this one might pique your interest as well.
She lets the kelp crabs pinch her on purpose.  She siphons the pistol shrimp exhibit and leaves her lips on the tube for a second too long so that some of the ocean gets in her mouth. She picks parasites from the accordion folds of a leopard shark's gills and wonders, for what seems like the millionth time, if breathing water is better than breathing air.  She fees the sea nettles a cup of bright green rotifers and marvels at the orange embrace of the world's most elegant killer.  She sees something hovering in the distance, huge and terrible and tentacled and white.   

Monday, July 25, 2016

Monday Musts: Natalie Ross' Narration, Sonic Youth & Catching up on Links!

Monday Musts is a weekly event, started and hosted by Jessica @ Lovin' Los Libros, which asks you to highlight your must read, must listen and must see!


From Goodreads:
Bailey Wingate's scheming adult stepchildren are surprised when their father's will leaves Bailey in control of their fortune, and war ensues. A year later, while flying from Seattle to Denver in a small plane, Bailey nearly dies herself when the engine sputters --- and then fails.

Cam Justice, her sexy Texan pilot, manages to crash-land the aircraft. Stranded in the wilderness, and struggling to douse her feelings for the ruggedly handsome man by her side, Bailey begins to wonder whether this was a mere accident. Who tampered with their plane? Who's trying to reunite Bailey and her husband in the afterlife? Cut off from the world, and with little hope of rescue, Bailey must trust her life --- and heart --- to Cam, as they battle the harsh elements to find a way out of the unforgiving wilds and back to civilization ... where a killer may be waiting to finish the job.
So I have never been a big audiobook fan but I have been (slowly since my commute is short) listening to audiobooks on my drive to and from work since I got a new car in April. So far, I've listened to four of Linda Howard's books but this was the first narrated by Natalie Ross -- I  her and just purchased a bunch more books she's narrated!!


Sonic Youth - Superstar

This will sound familiar to you if you saw my latest This & That but I remembered how great this cover is after finding the trailer for High/Haute Tension to post!

This space is dedicated to my favorite book blog posts every week since I don't do weekly recaps (I don't have the patience) and there are always posts that I LOVE!  I am, once again, several weeks behind but I've found fewer discussion posts this month?  Maybe it's vacation?
What are your Monday Musts??

Friday, July 22, 2016

Review: Hot Milk by Deborah Levy

Blurb from Goodreads:
I have been sleuthing my mother's symptoms for as long as I can remember. If I see myself as an unwilling detective with a desire for justice, is her illness an unsolved crime? If so, who is the villain and who is the victim?

Sofia, a young anthropologist, has spent much of her life trying to solve the mystery of her mother's unexplainable illness. She is frustrated with Rose and her constant complaints, but utterly relieved to be called to abandon her own disappointing fledgling adult life. She and her mother travel to the searing, arid coast of southern Spain to see a famous consultant--their very last chance--in the hope that he might cure her unpredictable limb paralysis.

But Dr. Gomez has strange methods that seem to have little to do with physical medicine, and as the treatment progresses, Sofia's mother's illness becomes increasingly baffling. Sofia's role as detective--tracking her mother's symptoms in an attempt to find the secret motivation for her pain--deepens as she discovers her own desires in this transient desert community.

Hot Milk is a profound exploration of the sting of sexuality, of unspoken female rage, of myth and modernity, the lure of hypochondria and big pharma, and, above all, the value of experimenting with life; of being curious, bewildered, and vitally alive to the world. 
My Review:
This was easily one of the strangest books I've ever read.  Unless hard pressed, I would find it very difficult to even tell you what the book is about; not that the GR description is necessarily inaccurate but it doesn't mean that it's about anything.  I guess this book is about Sofia's sexual awakening although it is a bit haphazard and circuitous.  At first, we think it's a book about Sofia traveling to Spain with her mother for her mother to seek diagnosis and treatment to explain why she woke up one day unable to walk and why Sofia is exhibiting some of her mother's symptoms as well . . . We meet an interesting cast of characters but they all, including Sofia, seemed a bit one dimensional.  I also found all of the characters' motivations hard to read -- there were so many threads started but not finished.  And, I don't think this is a spoiler, but there are a few chapters that end in a narrative of someone actively watching Sofia -- almost like a serial killer -- and that thread is never flushed out.  It was beyond bizarre.  This is another book that I'm not even sure how to recommend -- you could say it's more introspective than plot driven but I didn't even find it very introspective.  

Hot Milk came out last week on July 12, 2016, and you can purchase HERE.
Blue is my hear of failing and falling and feeling and blue is the August sky above us in Almeria.  Her helmet has slipped over her eyes.  Blue are her tears and the struggle to live in all the dimensions between forgetting and remembering.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

This & That #3: Movie Edition

This & That – Movie Edition!!

This and That” is a feature created by Megan @ Reading Books Likes a Boss and borrowed here with permission. Megan created this feature and I owe this post to her brilliance.  Not only should you check out her blog, generally, but her This & That recommendations are utterly perfect! Megan created this feature to showcase books that either sound similar or have similar themes, and thus I am recommending that you read the "that book" because you are a a fan of the “this book.” 

About the Media:

I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid
I’m thinking of ending things. Once this thought arrives, it stays. It sticks. It lingers. It’s always there. Always.

Jake once said, “Sometimes a thought is closer to truth, to reality, than an action. You can say anything, you can do anything, but you can’t fake a thought.”

And here’s what I’m thinking: I don’t want to be here. 

In this deeply suspenseful and irresistibly unnerving debut novel, a man and his girlfriend are on their way to a secluded farm. When the two take an unexpected detour, she is left stranded in a deserted high school, wondering if there is any escape at all. What follows is a twisted unraveling that will haunt you long after the last page is turned. 

In this smart, suspenseful, and intense literary thriller, debut novelist Iain Reid explores the depths of the human psyche, questioning consciousness, free will, the value of relationships, fear, and the limitations of solitude. Reminiscent of Jose Saramago’s early work, Michel Faber’s cult classic Under the Skin, and Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is an edgy, haunting debut. Tense, gripping, and atmospheric, this novel pulls you in from the very first page. 

Haute Tension / High Tension
Best friends Marie and Alex set off to Alex's parent's secluded homestead in the country to relax and study. Come nightfall, Hell pulls up at the front door. Alex, bound and gagged, is taken away, with Marie left eluding the intruder. Can she save her friend's life in time? Or is everything all that it seems?

The Why:

I recently read and loved I'm Thinking of Ending Things --  I think in the foreword of this book you are warned that you will be terrified and uneasy from the beginning of the book and you're not even sure why.  Well, when I started reading it, I kept remembering one of my favorite movies, Haute/High Tension (it's French but you can either watch it dubbed or with subtitles (definitely my preference).  They both involve remote, rural locations and not everything being what it seems.  If you've seen or read either of these, you will get the twist right away but I was still blown away by both of these, independently.  The ultimate in psychological thrillers!

So, what do you think?  Have you read I'm Thinking of Ending Things or seen High Tension?  Isn't this a perfect pairing?! 
Do you have a favorite This & That pairing?  Let me know!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday: The Apartment by S.L. Grey

 "Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that you are eagerly anticipating.

Today, I am waiting on:  
The Apartment by S.L. Grey

From Goodreads:
A high-concept psychological chiller about a troubled married couple on a house swap from hell. An Anchor Original.

Mark and Steph live an idyllic life with their young daughter in sunny Cape Town until one day when three men in masks violently break in. Traumatized but physically unharmed, Mark and Steph are unable to return to normal and are living in constant fear. When a friend suggests they take a restorative vacation abroad via a popular house-swapping website, it sounds like the perfect plan. They find a nice artistic couple with a charming apartment in Paris who would love to come to Cape Town. How could Mark and Steph resist the idyllic, light-strewn pictures, and the promise of a romantic getaway? But once they arrive in Paris, they quickly realize that nothing is as advertised. As their perfect holiday takes a deadly turn, the cracks in their relationship grow ever wider and dark secrets from Mark’s past begin to emerge.

Deftly alternating between two complex and compelling narrators, The Apartment is a terrifying tour de force of horror, of psychological thrills, and of chilling suspense. 
Bring on the horror; this one sounds terrifying! The Apartment is scheduled to be released on October 4, 2016, and I can't wait!

What books are you waiting on this Wednesday??

Review: Dancing with the Tiger by Lili Wright

Blurb from Goodreads:
When 30-year-old Anna Ramsey learns that a meth-addicted looter has dug up what might be the funerary mask of Montezuma, she books the next flight to Oaxaca. Determined to redeem her father, a discredited art collector, and to one-up her unfaithful fiancé, a museum curator, Anna hurls herself headlong into Mexico’s underground art world. But others are chasing the treasure as well: the shape-shifting drug lord no one can really describe; the enigmatic American expat, who keeps his art collection locked in a chapel; the former museum director who traffics stolen works, and his housekeeper—deeply religious, a gay woman in a culture of machismo, dependent on a patron she loathes; the painter Salvador on his motorcycle, complex, sensual—but with secrets of his own. 

Anna soon realizes that everyone is masked—some literally, others metaphorically. Indeed, Dancing with the Tiger is a splendid reminder that throughout human history, cultures have revered masks: whether in the theater or in war, for religious purposes, or to conceal identity, masks are as universal as our desire to transform ourselves, to change. Anna, without an ounce of self-pity despite traumatic losses, stands out as a heroine for our times as, traveling alone, she finds the courage to show her true face.
My Review:
I will admit that I was initially drawn in by this cover!  I love(d) the colors, the imagery and then I read the description and I NEEDED this book in my life.  First, I love Mexico; I always have since visiting as a baby and then again in middle school, high school and college -- I've been to Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, Baja, Quintana Roo including Tulum, Cancun and various other places along the border and the coasts.  Second, I loved how this sounded -- kind of like a caper for ancient artifacts in Mexico. So I didn't necessarily have expectations for this book -- I was unfamiliar with this author because it's her fiction debut -- but I had hopes for this book and all of them were met if not exceeded!  You know when you start a book and you immediately know it will be good?  That was this one!  I loved the whole thing -- there was no let down with the ending, no inconsistency with the characters, no predictions or obvious turns in the plot.  It truly is a fun caper told in multiple POV and you don't necessarily understand how all the POV will merge but they do, effortlessly, in this great hunt for an ancient and priceless mask around Mexico.  It was thrilling and exciting and beautiful and fun.  It makes me want to go and see the masks dance during carnival and to traverse all over the country -- it didn't end where it started but I loved how it got there.

What an amazing fiction debut!  I can't wait for more from this author but in the meantime, I am longing to go to Mexico.  Dancing With the Tiger came out last week on July 12, 2016, you can purchase HERE, and this is one instance where the cover is as good as the book!
I've worn a mask most of my life.  Most people do.  As a little girl, I covered my face with my hands, figuring if I couldn't see my father, he couldn't see me. When this didn't work, I hid behind Halloween masks: clowns and witches and Ronald McDonald.  Years later, when I went to Mexico, I understood just how far a mask can take you.  In the dusty streets, villagers turned themselves into jaguars, hyenas, the devil himself.  For year,s I thought wearing a mask was a way to start over, become someone new. Now I know better.   

Monday, July 18, 2016

Review: The Invoice by Jonas Karlsson

Blurb from Goodreads:
Hilarious, profound, and achingly true-to-life, Jonas Karlsson’s novel explores the true nature of happiness through the eyes of hero you won’t soon forget

A passionate film buff, our hero’s life revolves around his part-time job at a video store, the company of a few precious friends, and a daily routine that more often than not concludes with pizza and movie in his treasured small space in Stockholm. When he receives an astronomical invoice from a random national bureaucratic agency, everything will tumble into madness as he calls the hotline night and day to find out why he is the recipient of the largest bill in the entire country.

What is the price of a cherished memory? How much would you pay for a beautiful summer day? How will our carefree idealist, who is content with so little and has no chance of paying it back, find a way out of this mess? All these questions pull you through The Invoice and prove once again that Jonas Karlsson is simply a master of entertaining, intelligent, and life-affirming work.
My Review:
When the GR description calls a book hilarious, I expect some big time laughs!  Sadly, that was not the case here.  This was wry and sarcastic about the world in general but, for me, it wasn't laugh out loud funny.  Also, I should point out that this is novella length -- super short and probably should have been labelled as a novella or even a short story.  There isn't a lot of development -- we are essentially supposed to accept the invoice -- that all of us must pay to breathe the air, to live -- basically and the book instead focuses on how they calculated the figure for each person; happiness = higher invoice.  I would probably skip this one -- it was an interesting premise but there wasn't much more to it.

The Invoice came out last week on July 12, 2016, and you can purchase HERE.
I looked at all the familiar things in my life.  The buildings, streets, trees.  The ice-cream kiosk and shops.  The lunchtime crows in restaurants. The posters on the walls and the newspaper flysheets.  My fingers toyed with the note in my pocket.  Of all the people around me, only I knew that I was probably the happiest person in the country.  And at absolutely no cost.  I took a deep breath of the mild summer air.  It occurred to me that I could have some ice cream. Mint chocolate and raspberry, my two favorites.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Review: The Sister by Louise Jensen

Blurb from Goodreads:
Grace hasn't been the same since the death of her best friend Charlie. She is haunted by Charlie's words, the last time she saw her, and in a bid for answers, opens an old memory box of Charlie's. It soon becomes clear there was a lot she didn't know about her best friend. 

When Grace starts a campaign to find Charlie's father, Anna, a girl claiming to be Charlie's sister steps forward. For Grace, finding Anna is like finding a new family, and soon Anna has made herself very comfortable in Grace and boyfriend Dan's home. 

But something isn't right. Things disappear, Dan's acting strangely and Grace is sure that someone is following her. Is it all in Grace's mind? Or as she gets closer to discovering the truth about both Charlie and Anna, is Grace in terrible danger? 

There was nothing she could have done to save Charlie ...or was there?
My Review:
I regret not DNF'ing this -- it got so ridiculous half-way through that I am sorry I even finished it.   The first 40% felt eerily similar to The Girl on the Train, which I didn't love but at least was well thought out if predictable, but the last 60% was pretty much awful. When I say ridiculous, I mean it -- the MC/narrator Grace starts having a lot of shitty things happen to her at once -- someone frames her to lose her job, her cat goes missing, she has two severe allergic reactions in one day to food that her new friend has given her, someone starts moving in on her boyfriend, someone hacks her email and starts a social media smear campaign against her and more -- what a coincidence that this all starts happening when she meets a new "friend" that is curiously the half sister of her best friend Charlie who has just died and who she never knew about?  And yet, she is not suspicious at all?  I don't know, it got super contrived and the ending was just a let down by the time it happened.  There was also a lot of size/fat shaming in this book, which I didn't care for.

I really would skip this one -- there have been so many other recent and amazing thrillers lately - I'm Thinking of Ending Things, Just FallI Let You Go, All the Missing Girls - that this one seems rather poorly done.  The Sister came out last week on July 7, 2016, and you can purchase HERE.
Grief is crushing, isolating, lonely.  We have both lost Charlie, but Dan doesn't know how I feel, not really, and how can he? At first I was mute with shock, unable to contemplate the simplest of tasks, to operate appliances I'd used a thousand times before.  My toast was burned, clothes wrinkled.  I lost my ability to communicate.  Words knotted themselves on my tongue until I swallowed them, and they collided with the mass of emotions swirling inside me.  If I couldn't pinpoint how I felt myself, how could I express it to him?
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