Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Jenn's Review: Peter Pan Must Die

Author: John Verdon
Series: Dave Gurney #4
Publication Date: July 1, 2014
Publisher: Crown
Pages: 448
Obtained: purchased
Genre:  Crime/Suspense
Rating: 5.0
Bottom Line: Another Captivating Crime Novel in the Series
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 Blurb:  In John Verdon’s most sensationally twisty novel yet, ingenious puzzle solver Dave Gurney brings his analytical brilliance to a shocking murder that couldn’t have been committed the way the police say it was.

The daunting task that confronts Gurney, once the NYPD’s top homicide cop: determining the guilt or innocence of a woman already convicted of shooting her charismatic politician husband -- who was felled by a rifle bullet to the brain while delivering the eulogy at his own mother’s funeral. 

Peeling back the layers, Gurney quickly finds himself waging a dangerous battle of wits with a thoroughly corrupt investigator, a disturbingly cordial mob boss, a gorgeous young temptress, and a bizarre assassin whose child-like appearance has earned him the nickname Peter Pan.

Startling twists and turns occur in rapid-fire sequence, and soon Gurney is locked inside one of the darkest cases of his career – one in which multiple murders are merely the deceptive surface under which rests a scaffolding of pure evil. Beneath the tangle of poisonous lies, Gurney discovers that the truth is more shocking than anyone had imagined.

And the identity of the villain at the mystery’s center turns out to be the biggest shock of all.

Review:  There are very few mystery writers that keep me in suspense, and John Verdon is one of them.  I discovered John Verdon through a publicist and he has proven himself to be one of my must read authors.  His novels are layers of puzzles and I love that about them.

It is interesting to see Hardwick out of his element, and just a little scary.  He's always been a cynical cowboy, but now he's bitter, vengeful loose cannon.  The addition of Esti Moreno, his girlfriend, is a surprising one, perhaps because I don't view Jack Hardwick as someone who is emotionally or romantically avaible.  She may be a bit of a plot device, giving Harwick and Gurney inside police access, however, Esti acts as a nice buffer between and helps keep the story flowing as well.

Gurney's single-mided determination to catch the uncatchable has become an obsession,  Usually, I find Madeline's desire to push Dave out of his comfort zone and psychoanalyze him to be annoying.  I understand hyperfocus, and introversion, and Madeline is finally starting to accept that about her husband.  But on one point, for once, I agree with Madeline: Gurney has a recklessness in the face of danger that is going to get him killed.  This is honestly the first time I've ever questioned his judgement.

The solution to the cold case is quite simple once you know it, but getting there was an incredible journey.  Honestly, I was surprised that I didn't see it sooner, but the case has been so obscured by tainted investigation and inaccurate assumptions, that it was difficult to see through the murk.  Once again, John Verdon had me completely captivated.

If you appreciate a good crime novel, you must check out the Dave Gurney series!  


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Julie's Review: All the Light We Cannot See

Author: Anthony Doerr
Series: None
Publication Date: May 6, 2014
Publisher: Scribner
Pages: 544
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: A beautifully written story about two very young adults experiencing the same war very differently.
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Summary: From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, a stunningly ambitious and beautiful novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II. Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks (there are thousands of locks in the museum). When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure’s agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall. In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure. Doerr’s gorgeous combination of soaring imagination with observation is electric. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, All the Light We Cannot See is his most ambitious and dazzling work.

Review: There is no doubt that All the Light We Cannot See is a gorgeous story in prose, in characters and in plot. It switches between the earlier years of the war and then the siege of Paris and France by the Germans. We are introduced to Werner, a young German orphan and Marie-Laure, a young French girl. It is quickly apparent that their stories intersect, but how is slowly revealed throughout the book. The horrors of war are seen through very different experiences. Werner gets sent to Hitler's Youth because of his talent with transister radios. He skates by during this time in his life and only makes it through because of his time in the laboratory learning how to put together radios for the field. Marie-Laure experiences the war through the eyes of her father, Mademoiselle Manec and her great-uncle Etienne. Her life is uprooted quickly when her father moves them from Paris to Saint Melo due to the invasion of Paris.

I loved the characters in this book. They were so vivid and well-written. You truly felt their struggles, feelings and experiences. You could visualize the house in Saint Melo. Perhaps the descriptions of the structures and streets are so vivid because that is how Marie-Laure functions. It is by studying her father's models that she begins to understand her surrounding in Paris and then in Saint Melo. There is so much to experience in this novel that my review wouldn't do it justice. It really should be a personal journey with the characters.

While I do feel that the novel could have use a bit more editing at times, it is well worth the time I invested reading this. Mr. Doerr took 10 years to research and write this novel and it shows in the details. I don't say this often, but All the Light We Cannot See would make a wonderful movie, although casting would have to be just right.

For those of us who love historical fiction and particularly World War II novels, then All the Light We Cannot See is one not to be missed. It is gorgeous, vibrant and terrifying. It pulls at your heartstrings and breaks your heart a few times over. I enjoyed reading about different aspects of the war that I haven't read about previously.


Monday, August 18, 2014

Julie's Review: The Winds of War

Author: Herman Wouk
Series: The Henry Family #1
Publication Date:October 18, 2011; original publication of hardcover - 1971
Publisher: Audible Services
Narrator: Kevin Pariseau
Length: 45 Hours and 53 Minutes
Obtained: Audible;Mine
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.75/5
Bottom Line: A must for fans of historical fiction
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Summary: A Masterpiece of Historical Fiction-The Great Novel of America's Greatest Generation Herman Wouk's sweeping epic of World War II, which begins with The Winds of War and continues in War and Remembrance, stands as the crowning achievement of one of America's most celebrated storytellers. Like no other books about the war, Wouk's spellbinding narrative captures the tide of global events-and all the drama, romance, heroism, and tragedy of World War II-as it immerses us in the lives of a single American family drawn into the very center of the war's maelstrom.

Review: Holy Cow! I now know why The Winds of War holds up over decades. It is a sweeping family saga set with the beginning of World War II as it's backdrop. You could even say that the war is it's own character that allows the rest of the characters to exist. There are a lot of characters to follow since the book follows the Henry's and the Jastrow's. You quickly figure out who is important and who isn't. There are a lot of them that come and go throughout the story.

As with any family, each member ends up annoying you at times. Rhoda was the one that got on my nerves the most. She was truly all about appearances and status. She came from old money and still wants to act like she's old money. Truth is, while being a Navy Officers wife is prestigious, it definitely doesn't pull in the cash like Rhoda would like to think.

The Henry's boys, Bryon and Warren couldn't be more different.  Bryon is more of a free spirit trying to find his way in life; whereas Warren is more career driven. As they are different, they both marry two completely different women. For me, Janice, who marries Warren, is a lot similar to Rhoda. She is all about climbing the career ladder through her husband. I'm not so sure she's cut out for the Navy life. Natalie, while at times I thought she made poor decisions, is probably my favorite character in the whole novel. She is bright, resourceful and stubborn. She also falls for Byron while having other plans of marrying another man.

I really wish that they would have focused more on the Henry's daughter, Madeleine. I would have liked to have gotten the perspective of the war from her vantage point in NYC working in media.  It would have been interesting to see how she was fairing not going back to school and working in the Big Apple.

Mr. Wouk does a fantastic job of getting in the details of war and the effects of it. What astounded me was the amount of research that must have gone into getting the details right. I loved the "behind the curtain" view of it all.  Pug Henry's correspondence with President Roosevelt are so interesting and add a whole different dimension to the storyline.

There is a lot of ground covered in The Winds of War but it leaves off just as the attack on Pearl Harbor has occurred. I look forward to continue this family saga in War & Remembrance to see how what happens to the Henry's and Jastrow's. If you are a WWII novel addict, then you must read or listen to The Winds of War, while it might take a bit to read all of it, you won't regret it.

Jenn's Review


Friday, August 15, 2014

Author Feature: Ellen Hopkins

Ellen Hopkins has a new novel out next week that is going to make teens think.  While her books are too serious for me now, Ms. Hopkins's work is something that was certainly missing when I was a young adult ...and something I would have enjoyed then.

She explores all sorts of explosive topics and I love that.  In some circles that makes her controversial, but well, I'll put it like this:  In one of my all time favoirte films the character of Stephen Hopkins, signer of the Declaration of Independence, is quoted as saying, " all my years I ain't never heard, seen nor smelled an issue that was so dangerous it couldn't be talked about. Hell yeah! I'm for debating anything!"   Now I have no idea whether the man actually said it, but I agree with him whole heartedly.  That's how I feel about Ms. Hopkins's books; they make you think and what could possibly be wrong with that?  I'm glad they're out there and when my daughter is ready to read them, I will love reading discussing them with her.

Here's a little bit about her latest, Rumble:

Can an atheist be saved? The New York Times bestselling author of Crank and Tricks explores the highly charged landscapes of faith and forgiveness with brilliant sensitivity and emotional resonance.

“There is no God, no benevolent ruler of the earth, no omnipotent grand poobah of countless universes. Because if there little brother would still be fishing or playing basketball instead of fertilizing cemetery vegetation.”

Matthew Turner doesn’t have faith in anything.

Not in family—his is a shambles after his younger brother was bullied into suicide. Not in so-called friends who turn their backs when things get tough. Not in some all-powerful creator who lets too much bad stuff happen. And certainly not in some “It Gets Better” psychobabble.

No matter what his girlfriend Hayden says about faith and forgiveness, there’s no way Matt’s letting go of blame. He’s decided to “live large and go out with a huge bang,” and whatever happens happens. But when a horrific event plunges Matt into a dark, silent place, he hears a rumble…a rumble that wakes him up, calling everything he’s ever disbelieved into question.

A Conversation with Ellen Hopkins
Author of RUMBLE

Q:  The idea for RUMBLE came about after an exchange with a teenager on Facebook. You must get hundreds of messages from teens daily. What was so striking about this particular post?

A: In response to a mosque bombing in the news, I posted, "We all serve one Creator." This young woman, 16, responded, "It's awfully arrogant of you to think I have to believe in anything." That struck me because my own teen years were all about asking big questions: "What if God isn't what I've been taught he is?" "Can there be life after death without a God?" "Could the energy physicists describe in fact be our souls?" "How do we reconcile faith with science?" To have no belief, and be satisfied with that, seemed counterintuitive to being a teen.

Q: To build on that last question, you believe that teens should be asking big questions rather than cutting themselves off from possibilities. Why do you think it is so crucial, particularly for teens, to constantly consider “what if”?

A: Without "what if," where would we be? Still living in caves, eating grubs? The human intellect requires "what if" to move forward. Teens are the near future. They must question the status quo, and what they've been taught as "absolute truth" or condemn the future to the same mistakes their parents and grandparents made.

Q: What do you think of adults trying to censor teens either through what they read or what they write (as we see in RUMBLE)?

A: For the same reason they try to censor anything—fear.

Q:  You’ve said that the voice of your main character, Matt Turner, is the strongest and most unlike your own that you’ve ever created. Why? Did this make it more challenging to write?

A: Matt is able to channel the immense pain he holds inside through dark humor and sarcasm, not that everyone appreciates it. I'm more straightforward, including in my storytelling. It was actually fun to write a "sneak up from behind" kind of kid.

Q: Both extremes—atheism and fundamentalism—are represented in RUMBLE and interestingly enough they are represented by a boyfriend and girlfriend. Why did you choose to have Matt (the atheist) fall in love with Hayden (the evangelical)?

A: Love often operates outside of boundaries, doesn't it? I think there is a drive in some people to challenge boundaries, climb over (or knock down) obstacles, experience discomfort. And sometimes chemistry trumps intellect.

Q:  Bullying and suicide are major issues in RUMBLE. Matt’s brother, Luke, takes his own life after a group of teens discover he is gay and “out” him in the most humiliating way on social media. Does the internet make it easier for people to taunt and bully? What kind of research did you do on these issues and did you discover anything surprising?

A: Social networking is a weapon for kids who might not otherwise bully because they don't have to measure the pain they're inflicting by looking into their victims' eyes. Plus, "friends" can join in so easily. Rarely is it one person bullying in this fashion, and that is where the bullied kid begins to feel like there's no way out. It's a pack mentality. I did a lot of research, and it was the sheer number of kids who have been bullied that surprised me. Plus, the reason most of those who resort to suicide is they suffer from depression beyond that caused by the negative behaviors.

Q: PTSD is a topic you’ve written about in the past with your debut adult novel Collateral. Why did you choose to revisit it in RUMBLE?

A: PTSD continues to be a growing problem in this country, as more of our soldiers have returned home from war and are trying to assimilate. It's no secret that many veterans aren't getting the help they seriously need, and I think it's important to remind people of that. PTSD doesn't always manifest itself immediately. It can happen years down the line, and resources must be kept available well into the future.

Q: What do you hope people will take away from reading RUMBLE?

A: That forgiveness and redemption are only possible if you accept them, and that's all about accepting yourself.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: Tangled, my next adult novel—in prose!—is finished and in production, to release Summer 2015. I'm currently writing the next YA—not in prose! Traffick is the sequel to Tricks, and will publish Fall 2015.


Want to win a copy of Rumble before it comes out?  Click here:


Giveaway: Rumble by Ellen Hopkins

In RUMBLE, we meet Matthew Turner, a young man who doesn’t have faith in anything—not in his family still reeling from tragedy after his younger brother, who was gay and bullied into suicide; not in his friends who desert him when things get tough; not in an omnipotent and supreme Creator. Yet he’s in love with Hayden, an evangelical Christian girl deeply grounded in her beliefs, and no matter how she counsels him, Matt can’t seem to find a way to forgive. He’s decided to “live large and go out with a huge bang.” But when another terrible event thrusts Matt into a dark place, he’s moved to call everything he’s ever disbelieved into question. 

Now is your chance to win an ARC of Rumble by Ellen Hopkins before it is published August 26th.  The form is below.  You know what to do...

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Want to read more about Ellen Hopkins and Rumble?  Here's our post with her Q & A:  Author Feature: Ellen Hopkins


Monday, August 11, 2014

Alice's Review: Butternut Summer

Author: Mary McNear
Series: Butternut Series #2
Publication Date: August 12, 2014
Publisher: William Morrow and Company
Pages: 400
Obtained: Publisher
Genre:  Women's Fiction
Rating: 4
Bottom Line: Wonderful story about a mother and daughter each finding love in unexpected places.
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Summary: Every summer on Butternut Lake the tourists arrive, the shops open, and the waves lap its tree-lined shores, just as they have for years. But this season everything changes for one mother and daughter who've always called the lake home. . . .

Caroline's life is turned upside down the moment her ex-husband, Jack, strides through the door of her coffee shop. He seems changed, stronger, steadier, and determined to make amends with Caroline and their daughter, Daisy. Is he really different, or is he the same irresistibly charming but irresponsible man he was when he left Butternut Lake eighteen years ago? Caroline, whose life is stuck on pause as her finances are going down the tubes, is tempted to let him back into her life . . . but would it be wise?  For Caroline's daughter, Daisy, the summer is filled with surprises. Home from college, she's reunited with the father she adores but hardly knows, and swept away by her first true love. But Will isn't what her mother wants for her, all Caroline can see is that he's the kind of sexy "bad boy" Daisy should stay away from.  As the long, lazy days of summer pass, Daisy and Caroline come to realize that even if Butternut Lake doesn't change, life does. . . .

Review:  Butternut Summer is the much awaited second installment of Mary McNear’s Butternut Series. I am so glad it is finally here because I really enjoyed Up At Butternut Lake. Truth be told, Butternut Summer had some pretty big shoes to fill and, although I didn’t think it was possible for the series to get better, Ms. McNear definitely delivers. Thankfully, there was no sophomore slump here.

Butternut Summer delivers two tremendous stories. We were introduced to Caroline in the first novel. As the owner of Pearl’s, the best diner in town, Caroline is the mother hen of Butternut Lake. She’s the one you can always rely on and everyone’s confidant. I’m so happy Ms. McNear gave Caroline another chance at love and romance in this novel. Daisy, Caroline’s daughter, is home from college for the summer and she is ready for some adventures of her own.

Both Daisy’s and Caroline’s arcs were engaging. It was wonderful reading about a 21 year old’s first go at love. I loved that Daisy has her mother’s moxie. She’s level headed and wise. She trusts her judgement and understands exactly who she is. She’s not afraid to take chances. There is so much possibility for Daisy in the future. Caroline’s story was an amazing read as well. She was one of my favorite character’s in Up At Butternut Lake. I’m so glad she gets her own novel where I can watch her be the star of her life, instead of a supporting role in everyone else’s.

This time Ms. McNear handled the issue of alcohol and gambling addiction with such grace. Jack was a wonderful character, a man with too many flaws to count. The best part about him was he knows he’s flawed and that knowledge makes him so tangible and human. There’s just something about a man named Jack and this one was no exception. As the woman Jack betrayed all those years ago, Caroline is hesitant to trust and forgive him. She stayed true to her character. It was incredible to read.

Mary McNear is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. In the first two novels in this series, she took real life situations and incorporated them in such ways that the characters who faced them handled them in realistic ways. It was authentic and it makes reading her novels a true joy.

I was expecting Allie and Jax to have much bigger supporting roles in this novel, but Ms. McNear kept their involvement at a minimum. Nearly every page was focused on Daisy and Caroline. It was a great idea to do that. I can’t wait for the final installment in this series. I can’t imagine it getting any better than this.

Read my review of Up At Butternut Lake here.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Julie's Review: Katwalk

 photo Katwalk_zpsc563c5f5.jpg
Author: Maria Murnane
Series: None
Publication Date: August 12, 2014
Publisher: Lake Union
Pages: 284
Obtained: Amazon Vine
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Chick-Lit
Rating: 4.25/5
Bottom Line: An enchanting story about coming into your own
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Summary:Katrina Lynden has always walked a straight line in life, an approach that has resulted in a stable career and pleased her hard-nosed parents but that has also left her feeling unfulfilled—and miserable. When her best friend suggests they quit their Silicon Valley jobs and embark on two months of adventure in New York City, Katrina balks at the idea but ultimately agrees, terrified yet proud of herself for finally doing something interesting with her life. But when her friend has to back out at the last minute, Katrina finds herself with a tough decision to make. Much to her surprise, she summons the courage to go alone, and the resulting journey changes everything. Along the way she makes new friends, loses others, learns what is really important to her, and finds a way to grow up without leaving herself behind.

Review: If you read this blog with any regularity (hopefully you do) then you probably already know that I'm a big fan of Maria Murnane. I've reviewed all her books here on the blog and just love her style. So when I read that she had a new book coming out in August, I knew I had to get my hands on it. I'm so happy I did.

Since we are starting beach/pool read season, Katwalk would be the perfect one to read while sipping on a nice cold drink by a body of water. Katrina is a bit of a stick in the mud. She's a bit vanilla. She's stuck in a rut. Her best friend, Deb convinces her to quit her job and move to NYC for a couple months as an adventure. There's just one problem, instead of quitting her job, Deb gets a promotion. Katrina decides to back away from her normal reaction and go to NYC by herself.

Once she gets to NYC, Katrina meets all kinds of people and bonds with two girls who live in her building, Grace and Shana. Katrina, now adapting Kat as her name, bonds with each of them uniquely and quickly. I loved how Kat started to come out of her shell. She started seeing herself as other people did and that opened her eyes to who she really could be. It wasn't a major overhaul into changing herself it was little things that made her gradually change and become a better her. It was the belief in herself that she could change, that caused her to change the most.

Now, are there parts of the novel that are predictable? Yes, but I didn't mind them because they were the direction I wanted the characters to go in. Plus, Ms. Murnane puts so much heart into Kat, that you want things to work out well for her.

If you haven't read Maria before then Katwalk is a great place to start but I am still partial to her Waverly Bryson series.


Monday, August 4, 2014

Julie's Review: All Fall Down

Author: Jennifer Weiner
Series: None
Publication Date: June 17, 2014
Publisher: Atria
Pages: 400
Obtained: purchased
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction/Women's Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: A truly brilliant depiction of modern marriage, parenthood and addiction
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Summary: Allison Weiss got her happy ending—a handsome husband, adorable daughter, a job she loves, and the big house in the suburbs. But while waiting in the pediatrician’s office, she opens a magazine to a quiz about addiction and starts to wonder…Is a Percocet at the end of the day really different from a glass of wine? Is it such a bad thing to pop a Vicodin after a brutal Jump & Pump class…or if your husband ignores you? The pills help her manage the realities of her good-looking life: that her husband is distant, that her daughter is acting out, that her father’s Alzheimer’s is worsening and her mother is barely managing to cope. She tells herself that they let her make it through her days…but what if her increasing drug use, a habit that’s becoming expensive and hard to hide, is turning into her biggest problem of all? With a sparkling comedic touch and a cast of unforgettable characters, this remarkable story of a woman’s slide into addiction and struggle to find her way back up again is Jennifer Weiner’s most masterful work yet.

Review: All Fall Down is truly Jennifer Weiner at her finest. I've been a huge fan for a long time but this book blows her previous works out of the water. Not that Ms. Weiner hasn't always dealt with serious issues in her books but All Fall Down is perhaps in a different league; addiction and recovery.

While I don't have an addiction (ok except for books), I found myself easily identifying with Allison. The weight of her family's world is on her shoulders. Her husband is slipping away,  her dad is sick, her mom can't handle anything and her daughter is a bit on the difficult side. You don't have to be married with kids to identify with her because we all have burdens that can come at us during all stages in life. 

What I found to be real was how quickly and easily Allison slipped down the rabbit's hole. How she could justify it in her head all the time. How it really wasn't affecting her daily life. Heck it made her more productive and more alert. It smoothed the edges out for her. It made her relax and not be so high strung.

I found myself profoundly aching for Allison. As an outsider looking in, I could see where she was headed and wanted to help her. I was also a bit ticked off at her husband for not helping her sooner. Maybe he couldn't have helped but if he would have been around more and helped out more, perhaps this addition wouldn't have happened.

While the recovery part of the novel was short, anyone with any kind of knowledge of addiction will know that this will be a daily fight for the rest of her life. There are tons of novels out there about recovery but what I liked was how Ms. Weiner highlighted the descent into addiction. How it isn't always illegal drugs but can easily be prescription. How prescription addiction is the quickest growing addiction in the U.S and how it's not always easy to spot at first.

Ms. Weiner takes addiction and makes it seem like it could be about your best friend, sister, mom, cousin, etc. It hits home even if you haven't had personal experience with addiction because you can see how easily this could happen. Life is stressful, we all have to figure out how to deal with it. Some people deal in healthier ways.

There are so many good tidbits in this novel that would take up too much space to write down. I truly feel that my review doesn't do it appropriate justice.

All Fall Down is a taut story with characters that could easily be people in your circle of friends or family. Ms. Weiner is always a sure bet with me but this book should elevate her to another league. If you've never read her, now is the time to start.