19 March 2018

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: 3 Good Books

My eye is on the start of spring, which is coming up in a few days. I'm going to ignore the temperatures and the snow flurries and pretend that deck season is right around the corner.

My busy work time is slowing down, and I plan to take advantage of my break by getting in some long walks and reading more in the evenings.

Other than that, nothing much going on around here. We're catching up with Homeland on Showtime and the new David Letterman show (My Next Guest Needs No Introduction) on Netflix.

What I read last week

Review: Only Killers and Thieves by Paul HowarthOnly Killers and Thieves by Paul Howarth (Harper, Feb. 6): Put this book on your must-read or must-listen list right now. Set in rural Australia in the 1880s, this is the story of two brothers caught up in something they are too young and too unprepared to understand. Tommy (15 years old) and Billy (16) turn to their unscrupulous neighbor for help in the aftermath of a family tragedy; he gives the boys help but not without a price. From the haunting descriptions of the stark Australian landscape to the fully realized characters and heartbreaking, horrifying action, this book took over my life right from the first sentences:

They stalked the ruined scrubland, searching for something to kill. Two boys, not quite men, tiny in a landscape withered by drought and drenched in unbroken sun.
I know the novel has been described as a kind of western, which might throw some of you off. It’s really a coming-of-age story, and although there is plenty of action, it’s a very character-driven story. My heart went out to the boys, especially Tommy, and I understood their different reactions to what they witnessed and what they did. The unfolding of Only Killers and Thieves will be stronger if you go into the book blind. Try to avoid reading the summary or spoilery reviews. The unabridged audiobook (Harper Audio; 11 hr, 29 min) read by David Linski is so, so good. Linski embodied the characters and helped bring them alive for me. His varied pacing and volume matched the text perfectly, and I was completely won over by his performance. In print (which was my husband’s choice) or in audio, this book will be on many best-of 2018 list. Don’t miss out.

Review: Conspiracy in Death by J. D. RobbConspiracy in Death by J. D. Robb (Brilliance Audio; 12 hr, 27 min) read by Susan Ericksen. Seeing as this is the 8th entry in the long series (I think Robb’s up to book 46 now), I don’t have much new to say about these futuristic sci-fi, police procedural, romance mashups except that I really like them. In this outing our homicide detective hero, Eve Dallas, is searching for who or what is behind a series of murders involving organ harvesting. The technology of Dallas’s world is always fascinating, and this book focuses on medical issues as well as a unique lie-detector test. Although the In Death books are gritty, Robb always manages to keep Dallas’s marriage steamy, and the main characters continue to grow and change. The audiobooks are always a treat and are short enough to squeeze in between more recently published books.

Review: Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi (Disney Hyperion; March 27): If you’re a Rick Riordan fan, you’ll love this new Pandava series, published under his imprint, Rick Riordan Presents. The style of Aru Shah is very much in line with the Percy Jackson books, but this time the story is set in the Hindu universe: the tales, the ancient books, and the gods are Indian and so is our heroine. Twelve-year-old Aru Shah lives on the grounds of a cultural museum in Atlanta, Georgia, where her archaeologist mother is the curator. Aru has free run of the museum, but is told never, ever to light the Lamp of Bharata—if she does, the world will end. Of course, on a dare from snotty classmates, Aru lights the lamp. The world doesn’t end right away, but time freezes. This is when Aru learns who she really is: a reincarnated Pandava warrior and thus a demi-god. With help of Mini (a sister Pandava) and a talking pigeon sidekick, Aru must solve riddles, find the keys to the land of death, fight off demons, and save the world. Humor, fast action, great characters, and tricky puzzles make this a lot of fun to read. Aru and Mini are flawed and sometimes scared; they bicker a little but are ultimately loyal. In the end, they find their inner strengths. Highly recommended for middle grade readers and for diversifying your reading list. I really loved meeting Aru and can’t wait for her next adventures.

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17 March 2018

Weekend Cooking: Nailed It! (on Netflix)

Nailed It! on NetflixConfession: I totally stole the idea for this post from my long-time blogging friend Marg from Adventures of an Intrepid Reader. On Facebook this week, she mentioned she had watched a funny new baking series on Netflix, and I knew I had to watch it too.

Nailed It! is hosted by Nicole Byer, with Jacques Torres as star judge. This, however, is not your mother's bake-off show. The premise seems tame enough: three home bakers try to win $10,000 by re-creating beautifully decorated desserts designed by a guest judge. Much hilarity ensues.

If you don't laugh out loud in the first show, you can safely bag the rest; Nailed It! won't be for you. But if you have a good sense of humor, you'll have almost as much fun as the judges and contestants--except you won't have to taste the cakes or get food dye all over your hands and face.

Season 1 consists of 6 half-hour episodes, and I bet you'll end up watching them all in one go, like I did. My husband hates baking contest shows, but he was laughing right along with me. Thank you, Marg, for brightening up my week; I'm passing along the joy.

Here's the trailer for Nailed It!, which really doesn't do the series justice. Just trust me on this one.

Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.comWeekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page.

NOTE: Mr. Linky sometimes is mean and will give you an error message. He's usually wrong and your link went through just fine the first time. Grrrr.

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16 March 2018

10 New Thrillers Written by Women

I love a good thriller, mystery, suspense, or crime novel, and I'm not too picky about subgenres. I'll take a fun cozy mystery, a creepy domestic thriller, or an intense suspense novel. Once I've settled into a comfy chair and opened to the first page, I'm ready for an afternoon of escape reading. Here are 10 good thriller/mysteries, all written by women and all new this month.

  • 10 new thrillers written by womenThe Broken Girls by Simone St. James (Berkley, March 20; supernatural thriller): Murder, ghosts, and secrets that won't rest are all connected to an event that took place at a boarding school for unruly and unwanted girls. Set in Vermont. Opening lines: "The sun vanished below the horizon as the girl crested the rise of Old Barrons Road. Night, and she still had three miles to go."
  • Let Me Lie by Clare Mackintosh (Berkley, March 13; psychological thriller): A new mother feels the loss of her parents, whose deaths were considered suicide. As she digs into her family's past, she feels danger closing in. Set in East Sussex. Opening lines: "Death does not suit me. I wear it like a borrowed coat; it slips off my shoulders and trails in the dirt."
  • If I Die Tonight by Alison Gaylin (William Morrow, March 6; suspense): A teen is accused of a carjacking and hit-and-run murder, but when the case hits social media the facts don't look that simple. Set in New York state. Opening lines: "By the time you read this, I'll be dead. This isn't Jackie. It's her son Wade."
  • Death Comes in through the Kitchen by Teresa Dovalpage (Soho Crime, March 20; mystery/detective): After a Cuban food blogger is found dead in her bathtub, her fiancé--newly arrived in the country for the wedding--becomes the prime suspect. Can he clear his name and find the true killer? Set in Havana. Opening line: "The Cuban customs officer lifted an eyebrow at the bridal gown--a white satin bodice with tulle appliques, sheer sleeves, and a two-foot train--and took a long, suspicious look at the couple."
  • Crimson Lake by Candice Fox (Forge, March 6; suspense): A private investigator and ex-police detective meet in an isolated Australian community, each hiding from their past. In this first of a new series, the two team up to find a missing person. Set in Queensland. Opening lines: "I was having some seriously dark thoughts when I found Woman. The only company I'd had in a month was my gun, and they can start to talk to you after a while, guns, if you're alone with them long enough."
  • 10 new thrillers written by womenDipped to Death by Kelly Lane (Berkley, March 6; cozy mystery): Eva Knox is surprised when her ex-boyfriend shows up at her family's olive farm and inn, claiming he's in town to do some bird watching. After he's found dead in her pond, poisoned by olive oil, she must scramble to find the murderer and save her family's reputation. Set in rural Georgia. Opening lines: "Given the bizarreness of the night before, all in all, it'd been a pretty ho-hum September day in Abundance, Georgia. Right up until the moment Dolly and I spied that odd mop of brown stuff bobbing in the pond."
  • Time Bomb by Joelle Charbonneau (HMH Books for Young Readers, March 13; thriller / suspense): A diverse group of six teens are trapped in their school after a series of bombs goes off. Their survival may depend on how well they can work together, especially when they learn the bomber is still inside the building. Opening lines: " 'Don't fight,' Cas said from the doorway that Frankie and Z had just disappeared through. Tears glistened in her eyes. 'Can we turn the radio back on? Maybe they'll tell us help is finally coming.' "
  • Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney (Flatiron, March 13; domestic thriller): A woman is in a coma, able to hear but unable to speak or move. She listens and thinks while her family talks, remembering her past and beginning to suspect that her husband might be a bad, bad man. Set in England. Opening lines: "My name is Amber Reynolds. There are three things you should know about me: 1. I'm in a coma. 2. My husband doesn't love me anymore. 3. Sometimes I lie."
  • The Woman Left Behind by Linda Howard (William Morrow, March 6; romantic suspense): Can a woman with a military desk job and a high security clearance transform herself into a valuable member of a field-op team? Maybe with the help of the man who trained her. Set in Syria. Opening lines: "Congresswoman Joan Kingsley moved quietly through the deep night-shadows of her home, not turning on any lights because darkness suited her these days. She resented the sun for shining, people for laughing, the days for passing."
  • The Other Mother by Carol Goodman (William Morrow, March 27; Gothic thriller): Taking her infant daughter and running from a controlling husband, a woman assumes a new identity and starts a job as an archivist in a remote mansion in the Catskills. A new friend, a decades-old mystery, a creepy mental asylum, and a bout of postpartum depression threaten to pull her under entirely. Opening lines: "She's crying again. I don't know why I say again. Sometimes it seems as if she's done nothing but cry since she was born. As if she'd come into this world with a grudge."

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14 March 2018

Wordless Wednesday 488

Small Barn, 2018

Click image to enlarge. For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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12 March 2018

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: The Mixed-Reviews Edition

4 book reviews, 3 book listsYawn! I hate the spring change to Daylight Savings Time. The fall doesn’t bother me, but it will take me all week to get used to waking up an hour early. I am happy about extra light at the end of the workday, but it’s so hard to adjust!

We’re slowing catching up on all the shows we missed during the February sports/speical events. Fortunately, neither of us is a basketball fan, so we’re spared March Madness.

Coming up this week I have a fun post over at the AudioFile Magazine blog in celebration of Pi Day. If you’re an audiobook fan, be sure to click on over on Wednesday afternoon.

What I Read Last Week

Review: The Hunger by Alma KatsuThe Hunger by Alma Katsu (Putnam, March 6): I’ve always had a fascination with the Donner Party story; people do desperate things in desperate situations. In this reimagining of history, Katsu provides a paranormal/spooky element to explain the wagon train’s misfortunes. You don’t have to know anything about the facts to enjoy the story, but if you’re familiar with the names and places (such as Jim Bridger and Chimney Rock) then the novel will be just that much more fun. I really loved the way Katsu mixed the facts with a good dose of creep factor. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I was particularly impressed with the way she provided an explanation for why only some of the survivors admitted to cannibalism. The unabridged audiobook (Penguin Audio; 10 hr, 34 min) was nicely read by Kirsten Potter. Her expressiveness added to the undercurrent of forboding and picked up on the characters’ personalities. Even better, I was grateful she didn’t give the ending away. Recommended in print or audio. (review copy)

Review: The Spring Girls by Anna ToddThe Spring Girls by Anna Todd (Gallery, January 2) I love modern-day retellings of beloved classics. It’s fun to see what favorite characters would be like if they could be transported a century or two into the future. Thus I was eager to read Todd’s version of Little Women. In this story the Spring sisters live on an army base near New Orleans while their father is deployed overseas. Their mother, renamed Meredith, has a hard time coping, and Meg, Jo, and Beth pitch in to help; Amy is too young to contribute much. That’s about where the similarities end. I found it very hard to connect the Spring sisters to the March girls, and it had nothing to do with the contemporary issues young women faced, such as social media, sex, and high school. Instead, this retelling just seemed to lack all the charm of the original. Amy is a spoiled brat, Beth is basically the family servant, the mom is emotionally absent, Laurie wears a man-bun and is half Italian, Meg is boy crazy, and Jo is clueless. Ugh. If I hadn’t had to listen to the audiobook for a freelance assignment I would have quit early on. The unabridged audiobook (Simon & Schuster Audio; 11 hr, 25 min) was read by Cassandra Campbell, Joy Osmanski, Erin Mallon, and Madeliene Maby. Their performances were fine (except Laurie is given a stilted and weirdly accented voice) but couldn’t save this retelling. (more on the audiobook at AudioFile magazine)

Review: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi and read by the fabulous Bahni Turpin (Macmillan Audio; 18 hr, 9 min): I don’t know why, but I ended up bailing after about 90 minutes. I love Turpin’s performance, and I usually enjoy anything in the fantasy genre, but I just wasn’t getting swept into the story. I decided not to return the audiobook to Audible because I may give it another chance. I think part of my issue may have been one of language—the book contains quite a few non-English words and without a glossary and without seeing the words in the print, I think I simply kept getting lost; I was even having trouble remembering who the bad guys were. This book may be a good candidate for a print and audio combo read or maybe I’m simply better off reading this one with my eyes. I provided a short description of the book last week. (personal copy)

Review: Brazen written and illustrated by Pénélope BagieuBrazen written and illustrated by Pénélope Bagieu (First Second, March 6): I loved this collection of short biographies of 29 women who bucked tradition, expectations, or the law to fulfill their potentials and/or to make a difference in the world. The audience for this fabulous graphic / comic book is adult, though I wouldn’t hesitate to share it with teens or even middle grade readers (your own boundaries for young readers may differ from mine). I was familiar with some of the women, such as Temple Grandin (a scientist who is on the autism spectrum), Nellie Bly (fearless investigative journalist), and Josephine Baker (singer / dancer and French spy), but there were many other women who were new to me, such as Annette Kellerman (polio survivor, swimmer, feminist), Wu Zwtian (a Tang dynasty empress), and Sonita Alizadeh (an Iranian rapper). The artwork is expressive, colorful, and easy to follow. You may want to read this book all in one or go (as I did) or read only a biography or two at time. Perfect for Women’s History Month and a volume you’ll want in your permanent collection. (review copy)

Book Lists

I love themed lists of books (which comes as no surprise to those of you who read my weekly round-ups). Here are three that caught my eye last week.

  • Esquire magazine’s “25 Best True Crime Books Everyone Should Read”: I’ve read only a handful of the books on this list, but most of the others were already on my radar. Two of the recommendations (Helter Skelter and I’ll Be Gone in the Dark) were among the scariest books I’ve ever read—these are true stories (yikes!).
  • Bustle’s “21 Sci-Fi Books to Read after You Watch Annihilation”: Although I’m not quite sure I’d call them all science fiction (Welcome to Night Vale is on the list), most of the recommended titles look good to me. I’ve read very few of them.
  • Southern Living magazine’s “50 Books from the Last 50 Years That Everyone Should Read at Least Once”: There are some awesome, amazing books on this list (A Thousand Acres is one of my favorites), but there are also books that I know everyone loved but me (for example, Let the Great World Spin). Still this is a solid list, and I’d like to read many of the titles I’ve missed.

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