Aug 22, 2015

Descent by Tim Johnston (Unabridged Audio)

This debut novel by noted writer Tim Johnston made a big splash when it came out in January. I immediately added it to my list of books to read this year. The story involves the Courtland family from Wisconsin.  The parents, Grant and Angela, are working through some troubles in their marriage while their daughter Caitlin prepares to start college in a few months and their younger son, Sean, struggles with being overweight and all of the stigma that goes along with that. 

For their family vacation, Caitlin, a competitive runner, chooses the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. so she can condition her body in the rough terrain offered there. Early one morning Caitlin and Sean leave their parents at the motel and set out for the trail. Sean, on a mountain bike and Caitlin on foot, ascend the mountain but decide to veer off of the main trail just a bit.

Back at the motel, Grant and Angela are trying to rekindle their fractured marriage. They receive an urgent call from the local Sheriff explaining that their son has been involved in an accident and is the hospital. When asked about their daughter, Caitlin, the Sheriff is confused and informs them that Sean was found alone and there was no sign of Caitlin.   

My Thoughts:

Tim Johnston doesn't make you wait long for things to start happening in this gripping debut. Right away I had a good grasp on the dynamic of this family so my connection to them came easily. The Courtland family is a likable group although my least favorite family member was Angela. She is not a strong person and when her story was being told through a lot of flashing back to earlier times, it was confusing to me. She not only was dealing with a missing child but still grappling with a tragedy that had happened to her as a teen. 

There is a big sub plot revolving around Grant that kept the story moving and helped to develop Grant's character. At first I thought I knew where that story was going to lead but fortunately, it took another turn, totally removing the predictability factor altogether. Needless to say, that was a welcome surprise. 

When I chose the audio version of this book, I didn't realize the male narrator was R.C. Bray so when I heard that voice I was really happy. Bray was the unforgettable voice of astronaut Mark Watney in THE MARTIAN, one of my favorite audios ever. This was a much different character and he pulled it off brilliantly. I admit, in the beginning I was afraid I wouldn't be able to get the astronaut out of my subconscious, but that turned out not to be a problem at all. He was Grant Courtland, emotionally tortured and heartbroken father. The female narrator, Xe Sands also did a good job but didn't blow me away. Admittedly, I sometimes have difficulty with female narrators, especially during the vulnerable side of a character, so the reason I didn't enjoy her interpretation as much is probably solely on me. 

 The bottom line is I found this to be a great debut novel worthy of the buzz it created. It told a tragic story from different perspectives, allowing the reader to fully understand each character. Is is a perfect book? No, but as a debut I think it was really good and I would recommend it. I enjoyed the audio a lot but I can see where the printed version would also be a great experience. This is not a complicated suspense thriller, it's simply a well-told mystery with great characters. Tim Johnston is now on my radar so I'll be anxiously awaiting his next book. And by the way, look at that cover! I love it! 

Author: Tim Johnston
Narrator: Xe Sands and R.C. Bray
Publisher: HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books
Published: January 6, 2015
Length: 11 hrs 31 mins
Source: Purchased (Audible)

Aug 20, 2015

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The first thing that comes to mind when I think about THE GOLDFINCH is Why did I wait so long to read this book?! I initially started reading it last year, set it aside (for no good reason) then finally picked it up again in June.  At almost 800 pages, it is a chunkster and my first impression was that it was a bit 'wordy' for lack of a better term, but I knew at some point I would return to it. I just didn't know how incredibly glad I would be once I did finally finish it. Donna Tartt has written one heckl of a book and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2014 thus confirming the awesomeness of this book.

The story centers around Theo Decker, a teenage New Yorker living with his mother after his father left them both behind a yar or so earlier. Though Theo has a lot of mixed feelings about his Dad's abandonment, he and his mom are adjusting to the changes fairly well. They are very close and she is the center of his world. Tragedy strikes and Theo is thrown into yet another different world but this time he feels totally alone and not sure what his future will hold. I won't even try to write my own synopsis for this literary treat because I wouldn't do it justice but you can read one from Goodreads here.

I'll start off saying that not everyone will agree with my opinion of this book. Clearly there have been many mixed reviews.  I believe this is one of those books that you either love ot hare for whatever reason. And I hope that if you haven't read it, you will give it a try and see where you land.

Theo's story is a complex, adventure that is heartrendingly sad and chaotic and very well developed.  Now that I've finished the book, I realize that the 'wordiness' of the book that I previously found annoying, was necessary in order to give the reader a full and complete picture of Theo and his life. It made me so very connected to the story - like I was right there as he was living his life. Although there were some parts that were hard to take and I felt they sort of dragged on, it certainly didn't diminish my experience. I know it took Ms. Tartt awhile to write this book and after reading it you can see why. There are so many details that simply couldn't have been left out, in my opinion. No doubt it is a deeply interwoven story that sucked me in further with every single page.

Now to the characters...Ah, the characters!  I found them fascinating and they will remain in my mind for quite some time. Some more than others obviously. They were remarkable - some in a good way and others not so much but they were all memorable.

Boris, Theo's long time friend is one of my two favorite characters, though some who've already read the book may think that is a odd choice considering what kind of person he turned out to be. Personally, I felt dawn to him and even though some of his actions were extremely questionable, I found him endearing and loyal to those he cared for. Boris will stay with me for a long time. My other favorite was Hobie, who obciously loved Theo as a son. I'm purposely not going into any detail about why I loved these two characters so much because I don't want to spoil anything for those who haven't read it. There is a host of other wonderful characters that are so original and they all have a part in making this a wonderful story.

This book is not for the faint of heart.  It is disturbing at times but it is an amazing story that I found totally engrossing. I don't think I've felt this moved or connected to a novel since maybe The Kite Runner. It enveloped me, entertained me, shocked me and awed me. Maybe that sounds a bit much to some but that is how I feel about it. I'm so grateful I finally got off my butt and read it. It was a fantastic reading experience, easily making it my favorite read so far this year.  In a nutshell, this book is the reason I read: To be moved and I certainly was moved.

THE GOLDFINCH (Kindle Edition)
Author: Donna Tartt
Publisher: Little Brown and Company
Published: October 2013
Length: 760 pp
Source: Purchased

Jul 30, 2015

Throw Back Thursday: My Introduction to Magical Realism

Today I'm continuing my monthly feature of going back in time to 2008, my first year of blogging. It's interesting to see how my blog has changed, along with the books I read and the way I write reviews and other bookish posts.

In the summer of 2008 I was introduced to a new author who's first book had come out the previous year (August 2007). It was a fellow blogger who raved about this book and since it was a new genre for me I wanted to give it a try. The author was Sarah Addison Allen and the book was GARDEN SPELLS! At that time I didn't read any fantasy or paranormal type of books and honestly, I had never heard the term 'magical realism' before. I was so curious! 

Once I began reading I was instantly captivated by the story of the Waverly sisters and their special apple tree and all the family secrets that came out in their 'magical' recipes and concoctions. I flew through that book and so began my first adventures into an intriguing genre of books. 

From that moment on, I was a fan of Sarah Addison Allen. Her latest, FIRST FROST, which came out earlier this year is a sequel to GARDEN SPELLS  and though I haven't read it yet, it is on my list. I've read all of her other books and I've loved them all. 


If you enjoy a lighter touch of  the paranormal and great stories of family and friends you must try Sarah Addison Allen's books if you haven't already. They are charming, entertaining and fun. For my review of GARDEN SPELLS from 2008, click here



Jul 26, 2015

Sleep Tight (DCI Tom Douglas #3) by Rachel Abbott - Kindle Edition

(As with all my reviews, this post contains no spoilers)

Robert Brookes gives a whole new meaning to the term 'controlling'. Olivia Brookes met her husband at a very difficult time in her life and he seemed to be the knight in shining armor she needed at that time. The young single mother had had a couple of difficult years and then she was dealt another devastating blow with the loss of her parents.  She was totally overwhelmed and barely able to function so when Robert stepped in and took control she accepted his help without much resistance. Soon he was indispensable and eventually a romance developed between them. Now, years later, with three small children, Robert is even more oppressive and Olivia basically is watched 24/7.

After arriving home from a two-week business trip, Robert comes home to find Olivia and the children gone. He calls the police who come to investigate and alarm bells go off almost immediately. Tom Douglas, the chief inspector, remembers Olivia from the case he worked years previously when her parents had died. There's something not quite right but Tom can't put his finger on it.

What ensues is a painstakingly difficult investigation into the disappearance of this mother and her children but the police don't quite know if they're investigation a missing person's report or possibly even a murder at the hands of Robert Brookes. Inspector Douglas  must be careful not to tip his hand and make the situation even more dangerous, especially for the children.

My Thoughts:

At first I didn't realize this book was part of a series, Book 3 in fact, but I decided I would read it anyway.  Though there was some back-story with a few of the characters I wasn't privy to, I don't think it took too much away from the story. The book started off strong so it didn't take me long to get into the story. I felt that way through most of the book but a little more than half way I began to sense a redundancy, like the police were a step behind me in figuring things out when I thought they'd already done so. It wasn't real bad but enough to make me wish things would move on quicker.

As with any series there were a few sub-plots, one that involved a complicated relationship Inspector Douglas has with a woman he's been seeing and another incident that centers around his recently deceased brother.  I'm hoping these two story lines will be addressed further in the next book. This story was a bit dark, which doesn't bother me and there was a good amount of mystery. I do intend to continue on with the next installment, called STRANGER CHILD and I'm hoping my connection to the characters will continue to develop.

Since I'd never read anything by this author, I'm glad I now have some sort of reference to her and as I mentioned, I will give the next book a try. I can't say I loved this book but it was a good, fast read (under 300 pages) that held my attention so I'm glad I took the time to read it. The bottom line is it wasn't one of my favorites but certainly worth the time in reading.

SLEEP TIGHT (DCI Tom Douglas #3) Kindle Edition
Author: Rachel Abbott
Publisher: Black Dot Publishing
Sold By: Amazon Digital
Published:  February 24, 2014
Length: 284 pp
Source: Purchased thru Kindle Daily Deals

Jul 5, 2015

The Sunday Salon: Enjoying the Holiday Weekend

It's been a fairly quiet Fourth of July weekend but I actually like it that way. Yesterday I was at my mom's and we feasted on pulled BBQ pork sandwiches that she made along with potato salad, coleslaw and, at the last minute, deviled eggs, because it's just not a holiday meal in our family without them. For dessert I surprised my mom with a coconut cake. My mom is the most selfless person I know and she's always going out of her way to please others and since not many of us like coconut, she rarely enjoys her favorite cake so I made one for her. Before dinner, we drank a couple wine coolers and munched on spinach dip and crackers while we played a game of Hawaiian Rummy. We started playing this card game this Spring and now we're addicted to it. It's a lot of fun, especially when you want to get away from the TV for awhile and when it's just too hot to be outside. We actually try to play a couple times a week.

Today I get the benefit of one of my favorite parts of a holiday: the leftovers! I even had a deviled egg as part of my breakfast this morning and there'll be BBQ sandwiches for later! No cooking today! Yesterday on BBC America they ran a marathon of Star Trek: The Next Generation so, being the geek I am, I recorded them while I was gone. I started watching them last night and continued on this morning. I'll be watching on and off today. When I'm not watching TNG, I've decided to pick up THE GOLDFINCH and read it today. I began this book about a year ago but it's a chunkster and I only got about 100 pages in before stopping. I hate to leave books unfinished and I really do want to read it so while I'm in between audios and books, I'm going to put a big dent into it. I just finished Rachel Abbot's SLEEP TIGHT on Friday and I am about to start Tim Johnston's DESCENT on audio this week, after finished MR. MERCEDES last week. (Review here).

Along with THE GOLDFINCH I'll probably start another book this week. Either Rachel Abbott's STRANGER CHILD or something else....I haven't really made up my mind yet. I'm trying to read books I already have on my Kindle before buying anymore.

On a personal note, it's been a rough few weeks for me for a couple of reasons. My shoulder, though it is still bothering me, has gotten slightly better. At least I am able to lie down to sleep now. The really hard thing is that a few weeks ago my best friend of more than 25 years moved to Ohio to be near the rest of her family who'd moved up there about 7 years ago. Brenda is a big part of my life and was always very helpful with my vision issues (she was often my chauffeur and my personal shopper). We've been through a lot together and it was so difficult to say good-bye to her. Thankfully, with all the technology today, she doesn't seem that far away but it's taken getting used to not having her right around the corner. The upside is that she's living in my home state and I have a lot of relatives that don't live far from her. It goes without saying I'm really looking forward to going up for a visit!

For now, I'm off to watch one more episode of TNG then I'm sinking my nose into THE GOLDFINCH for at least a few hours before stopping for lunch and more space exploration! Tonight is the NASCAR race over in Daytona but we're supposed to get more severe storms this evening so I don't know if the race will be affected or not. Fingers crossed that it doesn't get rained out.

Hope you all are enjoying this beautiful weekend! Happy Birthday, America!!!

I hope you all are enjoying this wonderful holiday



Jul 2, 2015

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King (Unabridged Audio Version)

OK, so it's been a while since I've read Stephen King. Twenty-one years in fact. That's right - the last King book I read was INSOMNIA way back in 1994 and I really did like it. I don't have an excuse for not reading him after that, only that I started getting into legal thrillers around that time.

MR. MERCEDES begins with a terrible act of violence against innocent people waiting in line at a job fair. King doesn't keep the identity of the assailant a secret, rather he allows the reader to get to know him quite well. His weapon of choice is a classic Mercedes sedan that he had stolen from an unsuspecting older woman. After mowing down and killing several people (this is not a spoiler), he simply drives away, parks the car and slips into the darkness.

Bill Hodges is the detective from the case who is now retired and who has never gotten over the fact that the case remains unsolved. It nags at him daily to the point that he fantasizes about ending his own life. This line of thinking is halted when he receives a taunting letter in the mail presumably from the killer.

My Thoughts:

Admittedly, I am not a reader of horror novels and I don't really know all that much about Stephen King but when I became aware that he had written a detective novel, that intrigued me. Then I learned that it would become a trilogy and I was really interested. I do know that King doesn't normally write detective stories and with my affection for crime novels, I knew I couldn't pass this up.

With the attack at the job fair happening at the very beginning, you don't have to wait long to get sucked into the story. I liked that King doesn't hide who the killer is from the reader. Knowing who he is and also that he could be any Joe Blow down the street is actually more frightening than wondering who he is. On the outside he seemed like a normal guy but as more and more of his life and personality were revealed, he became more and more sinister. Although I didn't love the ending of the book, it was easier to accept knowing there are more books to come.  It seems kind of weird to go on about a book with such a disturbing story but Stephen King takes us to a place where we would never go and that's what's so exciting about his work. .

Bill Hodges is a no nonsense type of guy who is wracked with guilt over not being able to solve this case. He's a bit rough around the edges but a very smart and likable man. I developed an affection for him right away. He's flawed but he's a good man and I think he's a great character for the focus of this new trilogy.The supporting characters in this book were diverse and very unique and I look forward to reuniting with them in FINDERS KEEPERS, the second book that was just released last month.

I would rate the story 4 stars but I easily give the audio performance 5 stars. That is due to the incredible job by actor Will Patton. I can say without hesitation he is my very favorite narrator. His interpretations of these characters were so meticulously done. He didn't just read the story, he acted it out with his voice. Simply put, he was amazing. I don't know if he received an Audie for his work or not, but he certainly deserved one. He's the main reason I chose this book in audio form and why I'll be listening to the next two installments as well. So overall, I would rate this book a 4.5 and I would recommend it highly, especially to readers who've never read Stephen King before.

MR. MERCEDES (Unabridged Audio Version)
Author: Stephen King
Narrator: Will Patton
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Published:  June 3, 2014
Length:  14 Hrs 22 Mns
Source: Purchased from Audible

Jun 29, 2015

A Week at the Lake by Wendy Wax

Wendy Wax's latest novel centers around three women who became best friends in their early twenties while living in New York City. Now, Emma, an actress from a well known successful acting family, is a single mother to sixteen year old Zoe. Serena, originally from Charleston, South Carolina, is the star of an popular animated show in which she plays the vivacious and sexy Georgia Goodbody. Mackenzie and her husband, Adam run a theater in a small, family-oriented city in Indiana. For one week every summer the three women would retreat to Emma's family lake house in upstate New York, however the invitations stopped abruptly five years ago without explanation. And now, after five years of no contact, Emma has once again invited them.

The day before they are all to meet in city and make their way together to the lake, Emma is caught in a terrible accident which puts all their plans in a tailspin.  Pushing hurt feelings and all sorts of emotions aside, Mackenzie and Serena, along iwth Emma's daughter Zoe, keep vigil at her bedside. They all have so much to tell each other and it seems that Emma had a reason for bringing them all together. This is a story of old friends, secrets and loyalty with deep emotions and life-long implications.

My Thoughts:

Believe it or not, this was my first Wendy Wax book. I'm familiar with her other novels since so many of my fellow bloggers have read and praised them. This story appealed to me mainlyt because of the long running friendships the three women share. I can relate to that because most of my own close friendships are decades old as well. That is a special bond so naturally it piqued my interest.

Emma, Serena and Mackenzie were each good characters and likable, though I did feel a little distant from Mackenzie who I thought came actross a bit judgmental.  Serena, on the other hand, was the character I liked the most. I enjoyed her free spirit and playfulness, even though some of her choices were not always what was best for her.

A lot of times when I'm reading women's fiction, I get frustrated by the predictability of the story. so it was a pleasant surprise when the beginning didn't start off the way I imagined it would. The accident caught me off guard and took the story in a direction I wasn't expecting. 

Though there was a lot of history between these women that needed to be explained, I felt Ms. Wax kept the story moving without getting bogged down in the details but still painted a clear picture of where each woman had come from and also her present self.  The secondary characters, especially Nadia, the nurse, was a bright spot and I enjoyed her immensely. That was another unexpected element for me. 

So, for me, A WEEK AT THE LAKE was win. I can say now that I was prepared for another predictable story of friendship gone awry, but it turned out to be more than I was expecting.  I'm glad I can now say I've read a Wendy Wax novel and  I did enjoy it.  I will definitely read more from her in the future. This is the perfect book to add to your summer reading list.

Author: Wendy Wax
Publisher: Berkley
Published: June 23, 2015
Length: 432 pp
Source: Joan Schulhafer Publishing & Media Consulting via NetGalley