Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Sunday, March 27, 2016

(31)All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage

George Clare and his young wife Catherine have bought the perfect farmhouse and moved to the picturesque community of Chosen, New York.  George has taken as job as a Art History Professor at the local college while Catherine stays home with their young daughter, Franny.  The solitude of the farm has only magnified the problems of their marriage. George loses himself in his work and young coeds.  Catherine finds solace in a friendship with one of the young men who used to live in their home.  Until one day George arrives home from work to find that Catherine has been brutally murdered.  George is the prime suspect, but his family gets him and Franny out of there before the small town police can find enough evidence to arrest him.  The murder goes unsolved and the house stands empty.  Decades have passed and the farmhouse has finally sold.  Franny returns to the farmhouse to clear it out and face the demons of her past.  Will she be able reconcile her past and find out who killed her mother?

All Things Cease to Appear is part mystery and part ghost story and completely engrossing.   The farmhouse where George and Catherine moved to in Chosen had a dark history. As the reader, you are given all of the details of the home's history and it is very dark.  The darkness creeped into Catherine and the ghosts of the house soon were her only companions.  Catherine was the kind of woman that everybody liked and George, well George was a complete psychopath.  He gave the heebie-jeebies to most every  grown woman he encountered.   The story mostly takes place during the time that George and Catherine lived in the house, but you do find out how they met and how Catherine came to be pregnant and how they came to Chosen.  You are also well aware of George's psychopathic tendencies and the first time he really exhibits those tendencies it shocks you, because up to that point he was just a jerk, but the shock only adds to the reader's involvement in the story.  You aren't sure if those tendencies are what killed his wife, but you have your suspicions.  The author gives you enough information to speculate, but not enough for you to be sure.  It truly leaves the reader on the edge of their seat.  You are left wondering right up until the last few pages of the book, but then there is no doubt as to who killed Catherine.

Bottom line - All Things Cease to Appear is one of those Gothic novels that will haunt you. Mystery, suspense, and a haunted house.  You can't get better than that in an afternoon read.


Friday, March 25, 2016

(30)A Week at the Lake by Wendy Wax

Emma, Serena, and Mackenzie have been friends for over twenty years.  They met when they moved to New York to attend NYU,  A lot has happened over the last twenty years.  Mackenzie married her college boyfriend, Adam, and moved to Indiana to run a community theater.  Moving out to the hinterlands was was Mackenzie's way to deal with the fact that she can't have children.  Emma got pregnant ended up raising her daughter by herself.  Serena got a job playing a caricature of her southern self on a the most popular animated comedy show ever. She uses humor to hide the fact that her heart was broken twenty years ago and dates only men who are married.  It has been five years since Emma called a halt to their yearly trips to her lake house with no explanation.  Both Mackenzie and Serena are hesitant, but excited to resume their friendship and to hang out with their goddaughter who is on the verge of turning sixteen.  Their Week at the Lake was put on hold though when Emma is in a life threatening accident.  Serena and Mackenzie rush to her side and commit themselves to helping Emma get better no matter what. As days turn into weeks and months the three women have to deal with their own demons.  Serena has to come to terms with her broken heart, Mackenzie comes to realize that her marriage is not as solid as she once thought, and Emma has to reveal the truth about her daughter's father.  Can their friendship survive the secrets revealed while they spend A Week at the Lake?

I am really starting to enjoy Wendy Wax and her friendship themed novels.    The three women in A Week at the Lake were familiar to me.  I could see bits of my own friends in each of the three women.  I loved how even though they had gone radio silent they were willing to drop everything to be there for Emma in her time of need.  Their relationship with Zoe was another enjoyable thing about this book.  Both of her fairy godmothers would have gone to the ends of the earth for her.  I think Serena and her sassiness was my favorite character, even though I disagreed with her penchant for dating married men,  There were many things about the book that were predictable, like the truth about Zoe's father, but it didn't keep me from enjoying the read.

Bottom line - Spring Break is like the "Pre-Season" for Summer Reading and Wendy Wax is a good way to get yourself into shape.  A Week at the Lake is a the perfect book to read during those lazy afternoons on break.


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Monday, March 21, 2016

(29)Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben

War veteran, Maya, was with her husband, Joe,  when he was murdered in the park.  It was a robbery gone bad, but his death has left Maya reeling.  For it wasn't that long ago that Maya's sister was murdered while Maya was still deployed.  Maya is slowly trying to piece her life back together with her young daughter, Lily, when something catches her eye on the nanny cam.  It looked like Joe was there playing with their daughter.   Joe, who was buried two weeks ago.  Maya starts digging into what she could have possibly seen on that camera and realizes that her husband's wealthy family may have had  a part in what she saw on that nanny cam.  Maya realizes that things aren't always what they seem and starts to dig into her in-laws.    What really happened to Joe's brother and what happened at their boarding school all those years ago.  And how is it all connected to her sister's murder?  Maya is soon in the fight for her life, but she is desperate and will do whatever it takes to protect her daughter and find the truth about her sister's death.

I have been reading Harlan Coben's novels for years and I have never been more shocked than I was at the conclusion of Fool Me Once.  Maya is a good lead character and one that you come to like quite quickly.  Not only did she go through hell during the war, she is a recent widow who also has recently lost her sister you really feel for her.  Through her grief and roller coaster emotions, there is one constant thing to note.  Maya is completely and utterly devoted to her family.  Her sister, her daughter, her niece and nephew.  She would do anything for them.  Anything.  Between Maya's PTSD and her grief over her recent losses, it is a wonder that Maya isn't completely unhinged. 

Bottom line -In Fool Me Once,  Harlan Coben did what few authors have ever dared to do.  And he did it with such expertise you never see it coming.  Definitely a beloved author at his best.


Friday, March 18, 2016

(28)The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes by Anna McPartlin

Rabbit Hayes is a funny, intelligent, caring mother, sister and daughter. We meet Mia "Rabbit" Hayes as she is being moved to hospice.  After several years, her battle with cancer is coming to an end.  Rabbit's family is devastated, but they are there to help Rabbit and her twelve year old daughter, Juliet.  Rabbit's parents have been there through it all, but are struggling with the fact that their forty year old daughter will die before them.  Grace, Rabbit's older sister, is heartbroken at the thought of losing her and struggles to hold it together for her own brood.  Davey, Rabbit's brother, is a musician who has been touring in the States with a mega county star for years.  He returns to Ireland heartbroken at the thought of losing his baby sister.   Together the family surrounds Rabbit with love as they try to make her last days as comfortable and peaceful possible.  But underneath the surface of tranquility is a family coming to grips with the pending death of a beloved member.  And one important detail still needs to be dealt with - who will care for Juliet after Rabbit passes?

There is no spoilers involved with saying that Rabbit Hayes is going to die.  After all, the title will give you that much.  From the title you might think that The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes is a book about Rabbit.   And to a certain degree it is, but mostly the book is about her family and how they are coming to grips with her imminent death.  Even when surrounded by heartbreak, the Hayes family is pretty dern funny.  Like the way Rabbit's mom was trying to sneak a priest in for the last rites, which Rabbit had forbidden. I busted out laughing. I felt her heartache the most, she was not going to leave her daughter's side for nothing, not even when she had a minor heart attack herself.  Her dad, oh her dad, he had the hardest time coming to grips with Rabbit's fate. Yet he tries to remain strong for Rabbit and the rest of the family.    Grace handles her feelings by throwing things.  Like coffee mugs - at her husband.   And then there is Davey, the rolling stone of the family who turns out to be the most stable one when it comes to handling Juliet.  The story is told in both the past and the present.  It is in the past that we get to "meet" Juliet's father and you start to understand just how much Rabbit has lost in her life.  The book ends in just the way you would expect, given the title, and it is going to make you cry.  There is no way around it, but you will also find yourself at peace with the end, much like the rest of the Hayes family.  Rabbit had a good life and a good death.

Bottom line - in honor of St. Patrick's Day this week, I wanted to read a book by one of my favorite Irish authors, Anna McPartlin.  The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes will make you laugh and it will most certainly make you cry.  All of those emotions are indicative of a well written book about a wonderful family and the woman they are losing.  Such a good read and worthy of your attention.


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

(27)Broken Promise by Linwood Barclay

David Harwood gave up his job with the Boston Globe to move back home with his parents after his wife died.  He figured that the small town life and positive influence of his parents would help ease the pain for his young son, Ethan.  What he didn't expect to happen was to lose his job at the local paper shortly after the move.  Journalism jobs are scarce in Promise Falls and David is going stir-crazy running errands for his mother.  One day she has him take some food over to his cousin, Marla.  Marla hasn't been right in the head since her baby died in childbirth. So, imagine David's surprise to find Marla with a newborn baby allegedly dropped off at her house by an angel dressed in white.  David has good reason to be skeptical and the blood on the front door is a pretty good indication that something sinister happened.  David gathers up Marla and the mysterious baby and set off in search of his parents.  What they find though is using his investigative skills t to find out what really happened to the baby's mother, but can he find out the truth before it is too late for Marla?

If I can say anything about Promise Falls it is that this little town has had some freaky shit go down.  Marla's mysterious angel is maybe the least freaky thing about Promise Falls.   When 23 squirrels are found dead, there are mannequins found in an abandoned Ferris wheel, and the local college has somebody attacking women after dark.   The town obviously has a history, but it is mostly kept secret to the reader.  As the reader, your mind is all over the place trying to piece it all together and it makes for a wild ride.  Things are not wrapped up nice and neat like a typical Linwood Barclay story, but the good news is that the sequel, Far From True,  just came out last week.   David is one of the only citizens in this weird little town that seems to have his shit together, even though he is unemployed and living with his parents.  I enjoyed watching him hold it all together while everything was falling apart around him.

Bottom line - Broken Promise is a wonderful suspense novel about a town full of quirky characters and a mysterious past.  But,  because the story is building towards a sequel, be aware that a lot of things are left unresolved.


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Monday, March 14, 2016

(26)The Total Package by Stephanie Evanovich

Ella is focused on her education.  She keeps her head down and is skilled at avoiding the distractions that come along with college.  She agrees to tutor a student that challenges all of her beliefs.  Tyson Palmer is a genius on the football field, but he is struggling to maintain the grades necessary to play.  That is where Ella comes in to play.  Ella knows that working with Tyson won't be easy, as he is used to the whole world bowing at his feet. What she doesn't expect is to fall in love with him.  But it isn't until Tyson has graduated and is a rising star in the NFL and is on the verge of self destruction before she gives into his charm. Now it is five years later and they both have been through a rebirth.  Tyson went through rehab and is now back in the NFL.  Ella changed her name to Dani Carr and is a rising star in sports broadcasting.  And she has a five year old son, Brendan.  Even though they now work in the same industry, Dani has successfully avoided Tyson up until now.  He is just as handsome and charming as she remembered, but now the stakes are higher.  She has her son and her heart to protect.

I have enjoyed Stephanie Evanovich's first two books, but The Total Package just didn't strike the same chord with me as the other two books.   Tyson was not somebody that I was enamored with, in fact, I thought he was a bit of a jerk.  And given the way the author described Ella to be bookish and nerdy, I was surprised that she chose a career in sports journalism. Maybe that is a bit of a stereotype, as a bookish girl I love sports, but  it didn't really come across as authentic.  I also found the romantic scenes to be not as steamy as in previous books by the author.  We did get to see a few familiar faces again.  For example, Logan from Big Girl Panties was the one who trained Tyson back into the NFL.

Bottom line - While I didn't  love The Total Package as much as I had hoped, it was still a good read.  If you go into it with low expectations you won't be disappointed and may even enjoy the book, but you have to keep those expectations low.


Friday, March 11, 2016

(25)The Ex by Alafair Burke

Olivia Randall's day is just like any other day until she gets a phone call from a girl begging for help.  Sixteen year old Molly Harris just watched her father being loaded into a police car.  Molly Harris knows that Olivia Randall is a successful defense lawyer and she knows that Olivia Randall is her father's ex-fiance from their college days.    Olivia Randall is shocked to hear the name of Jack Harris.  Not only did Olivia destroy Jack's life all those years ago, but Jack is somewhat of a New York Hero because his wife was killed in a mass shooting at Penn Station.  Now Jack is being accused of shooting three people, including the father of the man who killed his wife.  Jack's case is not one that she would usually take, but she has serious sense of guilt over their past and will do anything to get Jack acquitted of murder.  But the more digging Olivia does into Jack and the years since they were together, the more Olivia discovers that maybe she never really did know Jack Harris.  But did he really kill three people in an effort to get revenge?

The Ex is a fast paced suspense thriller.  Neither Olivia nor Jack are perfect people.  In fact, they are both deeply flawed.  Olivia maybe more so than Jack. She was a bit difficult to even like through out most of the book, which made Jack a very sympathetic character.   But her guilt over the past is keeping her from acknowledging the fact that maybe, just maybe, Jack Harris is a murderer.  I did have the "twist" figured out about three-quarters of the way through the book, but I wasn't sure if I was right.  I may or may not have yelled "I knew it!!" when revealed.

Bottom line - The Ex is one of those books that will suck you in and keep you trapped in it's pages and then spit you out two hours later leaving you speechless.  A fabulous read for someone looking for a good mystery to keep their brain busy.


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

(24)The Admissions by Meg Mitchell Moore

The Hawthorne family of an affluent California neighborhood  appear to have it all.  Nora and Gabe's oldest daughter, Angela, is a senior in high school and is focused on getting into Harvard.  Their younger daughters, Cecily and Maya are busy with things such as dance lessons and play dates.  They really appear to be the perfect family.  If you look deeper though, you see that Nora is stressed about selling a house that could make or break her career, Gabe is stressed because his new intern may have discovered a closely held secret of his that could destroy his career.  Angela is popping Adderall trying to keep up with the pressures of her senior year her effort to get into Harvard. Cecily blew a big dance competition and Maya can't read at the age of eight.  What outsiders can't see is that the Hawthorne family is slowly imploding. The mounting pressures for each of them could have lasting consequences, but collectively the pressures could destroy the family.  Will Nora and Gabe be able to pull it together before there are deadly consequences?

If you were just to read the synopsis for The Admissions you might think that the title refers to the whole family's efforts at getting Angela admitted to Harvard.  I was about a third of the way through the book before I realized that each member, well except for Maya, had something that they were keeping from each other.  Admitting their secrets is what could destroy the family.  The efforts they went through to keep up the appearance of a perfect family was completely exhausting to read, I can't imagine that kind of pressure in my home life.  It obviously was taking a toll on all of them.  The author starts the book out with a bit of a crisis and then flashes back, but you must wait until nearly the end of the book to find out exactly what happened with that crisis and it is a bit shocking.  In the end all of the secrets are revealed and the familial fall-out is not was not as bad as I expected.  I think the author did a great job at giving the Hawthorne's and the readers closure.

Bottom line - The Admissions is one of those books that makes the reader thankful for the life they have.  We all have our different kinds of pressures and stresses, but they seem to be magnified for the Hawthorne's and that is what makes it such a fascinating book to read.  Peeking in their window, so to speak, to see how they handle those magnified pressures.  Lots of fodder for discussion with this one!


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Monday, March 7, 2016

(23)Madam President by Nicolle Wallace

In Madam President we catch up again with President Charlotte Kramer on the day that she has agreed to let a popular morning news team to follow her around for a "Day in the Life" segment.  Her life has been on a pretty even keel, well as much as possible for the President of the United States.   Charlotte and Peter are back together and the twins are off at college.  But the serenity of an ordinary day is shattered when the country suffers five simultaneous terrorist attacks.  The attacks hit close to home for the White House Staff when one of their own is among the casualties.  President Kramer is rocked to her core as she tries to hold the country together and get through the horrific day.  As the day drags on Dale, Melanie, and Charlotte are all forced to evaluate the things that are most important to them.  Will Madam President be able to step up and be the leader the country needs at a time of extreme crisis?

It was comforting to catch up with familiar characters in Madam President.  I really enjoyed Eighteen Acres and was less thrilled with It's Classified, but found myself absolutely mesmerized by Madam President.  One of things about this book was the emotion it evoked in me.  It was easy for me to recall all of the emotions from 9/11 and transfer them to this book.  Obviously it was fiction, but the emotions were real. Seeing some of the behind the scenes stuff during a national crisis was also fascinating.  I am sure most of it was fictional, but I am sure there is a kernel of truth in there somewhere.  But, I was a bit freaked out because one of the terrorist attacks happened on a cruise ship in the Miami harbor. Um, not fun to read while you are on a cruise ship.    The end was quite satisfying, too.  I think the author was fair to her characters and their needs and wrapped things up in a satisfying manner.

Bottom line - Madame President was a great read.  Equal parts heartbreaking, enthralling, and suspenseful.  Definitely worth the read, but don't worry if you haven't read the other two books.  The author does a great job on catching you up on the character's backstory.


Sunday, March 6, 2016

(22)The Passenger by Lisa Lutz

Tanya Dubois comes home one day to find her husband dead at the bottom of their stairs.  Rather than call the police, Tanya takes off, for she knows that if the police start digging into her past they will find that her name is not Tanya.  And she has left behind a past that can never be brought to light.    She crisscrosses the country and with every new state she finds a new identity, trying to out run her past and her memories.  In her journeys she comes across a woman, Blue, who is running from her own past.  Blue steps up to help Tanya/Debra/Jane, but at what cost?  Tanya is just a passenger when Blue takes things to an extreme that makes her extremely uncomfortable and desperate to get as far away from Blue as possible.  She continues her journey across country and encounters some other people less deadly than Blue, but just as unique.   But it isn't until she is almost recognized by a nosy nellie that she decides maybe it is time to face her past.   Will going home set her free or will it be move that ultimately destroys her?

The Passenger was the first book I read on our vacation and I finished it before we even got to our cruise ship.  From the first page the reader is hooked in this weird journey the main character is on.   It takes a while for the reader to trust Tanya.  At first I wondered if she had killed her husband, but then you start to realize that while she may not have killed her husband, she isn't exactly innocent. But it isn't until the end of the book before you realize what exactly why she was running.  Then Tanya meets Blue.   Blue was one of those characters that you want to believe was goodhearted, especially the way she jumped in to help Tanya, but holy cow, she came with more trouble than she was worth. It was almost too much trouble to seem believable, but it was kind of necessary to keep the main character moving. She covers a lot of ground and finds herself in some precarious situations, but it was when she was poaching at a cabin in the East that she decides that she has a line in the sand that she isn't willing to cross.  By that point I was invested in the story that I wanted to see what happened when she went home, not to where her husband lived, but the home she left as a teenager.  I admit that it was not as sinister as I had thought, but I understand her need to "run."

Bottom line - In The Passenger Lisa Lutz deviates from her usually silly mysteries to write something a little more grittier than usual.  The language and violence is some of what makes the story so gritty and so hard to put down.


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Why I Read...

I remember the carefree summer days when I used to ride my bike to the public library to pick out new books. I would go almost daily to find books to read. I read to learn. I read to explore the world. I read to escape. I read because not reading is not an option.

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