Beth’s Book-Nook Blog

Reviews of What I’ve Been Reading….

YA Review: HOW TO FALL by Jane Casey

I love a good, creepy YA mystery. This one I read in the spring, though it publishes in late summer. It appears to be the first of a series.

In HOW TO FALL, British teen Jess Tennant goes with her family to stay with relatives on the coast for the summer. Jess’ cousin Freya has tragically died in a recent accident, but Jess’ arrival brings memories and information to light. Remarkably, Jess looks just like her cousin, and the various teens of the village are drawn to her — both in a good way and in a mean, bullying way. Jess is tough, though, and she’s not going to be scared off by some tough girls. She begins to suspect that there might have been something more to Freya’s death – it wasn’t just a tragic accident – and Jess will not stop until she has discovered exactly how and why her  cousin died.

I enjoyed reading this mystery! I look forward to more in this series, too. I haven’t read much by Ms. Casey, but I will look for her stories. As you know, I love YA!

I got mine from Net Galley, but you can see it on Amazon where I am an Associate:

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Review: I’ve Got You Under My Skin by Mary Higgins Clark

I had missed the fact that Mary’s written another mystery lately, and I was surprised to see it out on the new release shelf at the library (usually there are about 300 people in the queue ahead of me for a MHC new release!). I read the book over last weekend, then had a thought: Am I saying the same thing about all these latest MHC mysteries? It feels like my gut reaction: “It was all right – rather far-fetched – not my favorite MHC” has been the same for the last several books. A quick glance through my blog showed me I was right: my theme of “it was okay, I like her older stuff better” runs throughout my reviews. And this is coming from someone who has read all of Mary’s adult books, including the Mount Vernon love story (which I enjoyed!).

This latest installment has two plot lines which intersect: a young doctor is shot and killed while playing in a NYC park with his 3-year-old son. The killer threatens to kill the little boy and his mother. The 3-year-old can only say: “Blue eyes killed my daddy!” (Time out for  second — to anyone who’s read this story – is it just me, or do you picture the killer looking like Frank Sinatra “Old blue eyes killed my daddy!” Anyway, I digress…). Five years later the widow is making her living as a reality television show producer and pitches the idea of re-enactment of cold cases with the original people involved (not really a new idea, right?). She chooses the “Graduation Gala” murder: a socialite is suffocated during the night of a gala given at their estate for their daughter and her three close friends as they graduate from college. Basically, EVERYONE had a means and a motive for murdering this woman (who is revealed to be only one step better than a purely evil harridan). Will the killer strike again to protect his/her identity? Will old Blue Eyes surface and kill off the little kid and his mother? Will I be able to read until the end??

Sometimes I have to stop and say, “WHY do I read this stuff??” This book was not well-written (too many characters and way too much exposition by the characters to fill in back story; the chapters are very short and choppy and jump around; the premise is far-fetched; a few reveals at the end seemed to come out of left field, etc.); in fact, it almost seemed like the writing at the beginning and end was different from the writing in the middle (just my observation). But here’s the thing: I’ve read MHC since I was in high school. I loved her books and I just have these happy memories of finishing one after being up half the night reading and thinking, “Wow! That was great!” I keep hoping/wishing that I will rediscover the MHC of old. To be honest, I think I’m not alone in this. MHC has a legion of loyal fans. We know she can turn out a book that will keep up all night and keep us guessing until the final reveal. Unfortunately, this one wasn’t it for me.

So – going forward, I’m not sure I will read MHC’s latest. I may instead REread her older books (like “Where Are the Children?”). Or at the most, I will be sure it get it from the library.

PS – Did I miss something? Where did the title come from? Usually it’s from a song or something in the story. No clue. Please comment if you know.

Stop the presses — I just saw this book on Amazon. It is the first in a series? MHC will be co-authoring a series spinning off on the reality tv show idea and these characters. It comes out in November.

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Review: THIS IS THE WATER by Yannick Murphy

I had heard some chatter about this book while I was at BEA this spring, but I couldn’t find an ARC around, thus I pre-ordered it for my kindle. It downloaded last week when it was published and I started it on the plane ride home from California.

Wow! What a read this was!

THIS IS THE WATER focuses on a New England swim team and the parents of the girls on the team. One of the parents is struggling in her lackluster marriage. Another parent is sure her husband is having an affair. A third parent is an annoying and interfering mother. Along with the daily intricacies of life, a serial killer is stalking one of the girls and when he strikes, their whole swim team world is temporarily turned upside down.

This was the type of book that once I started, I could not put it down. Not only was there a lot of information on the main characters and their trials and tribulations, but the focus on the murder and the killers’ motives and actions served as a subplot. I wanted to see if he would be caught. I wanted to see if Annie’s marriage could be saved. Was Paul having an affair? Would the killer strike again? Would annoying Dinah ever stop being annoying?

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how this book is written in a unique and innovative style. The entire book is written in the present tense (hence, “this is the water”). The style is almost that of a children’s book: “This is the water” etc. While some may find this different (or even annoying), I found it almost lulling, similar to a gentle lapping of (wait for it!) water. And while we are onlookers throughout,  at times we are Annie, and the story switches to second person:”You go the pool.” etc. I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel written in second person. Somehow, reading it that way made me identify very closely with Annie. It was almost uncomfortably creepy. While I’m sure this style wouldn’t work for some readers, I absolutely loved it and found it quite brilliant.

So – I highly recommend this book (one of fave summer reads so far!) for those who want the suspense and intrigue and the distinct writing style of Ms. Murphy.

You can see this book on Amazon where I am an Associate:

 

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Review: THE CITY by Dean Koontz

I’ve always been a fan of Dean Koontz. I particularly like his creepy, supernatural work. I was thrilled to see his latest book on Net Galley, and was happy to receive an ARC (I also was one of the many bloggers hosting a Pub Day giveaway earlier this month). THE CITY was a bit different from Dean’s earlier works, which just shows his versatility.

In THE CITY, Jonah Kirk tells the story of a strange experience from his youth that shapes and guides his future. The story starts when Jonah is eight. He is a precocious child, and a musical prodigy, living with his divorced mother and near his beloved grandparents in “the city”. An odd woman appears to him and tells him strange information, which later plays a role in his life. This woman, we come to learn, is the heart of the city itself, a metaphor made human. She also magically procures a piano for Jonah. This woman, Pearl, appears to Jonah through the story, to guide and protect him as he comes in contact with several nefarious characters (including his estranged father) who threaten his livelihood and that of the city at large. Throughout the story (again, told by Jonah as an adult looking back) we come to know his hard-working mother, their widowed Italian neighbor, his feisty grandparents, best friend Malcolm, and – my favorite – their sensitive and intelligent neighbor, a survivor of the Japanese internment camps.

I enjoyed this book! I really loved the character of precocious Jonah. This book builds to a dramatic and violent climax, which was fairly upsetting, but Jonah’s spirit and tenacity shines through all the darkness. The ending was one of hope and resiliency.

I noticed that a prequel, “The Neighbor”, by Koontz was only 99 cents for kindle, so I purchased that as well. This story was creepy and highly disturbing, while it introduced us to Jonah’s best friend and neighbor, Malcolm. You can certainly read The City without reading it, but it does add a bit to character development.

You can see these books on Amazon where I am an Associate:

 

 

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Review: The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent by Susan Elia MacNeal

Maggie Hope is at it again!

I’ve loved all the books in this series and was so excited to see that a new one was out this month (and doubly excited that I got it from Net Galley!).

In this installment, Maggie is dealing with depression and trying to decide what further paths to take with her life. She adopts a rather unique cat. She tries to get out more. She throws herself into her job as a trainer at her spy training camp. Something is just missing. Then mystery finds her again when three ballerinas, including her dear friend Sarah, are taken ill and two die. Who or what has poisoned them? Added to this are interspersed chapters of Maggie’s mother, German spy Clara Hess, who is being interrogated and whose execution is planned. Also, there is a subplot following the planning for and bombing of Pearl Harbor.

A lot is going on in this book, though I didn’t find that overly confusing. My favorite chapters, though, were the ones with Maggie in them. I want her to have her adventures, but also to find happiness. When the book ended, I could see where the next one would start up, so this book seemed less like a separate story than part of a larger work in several volumes.

I love reading about WWII and I really enjoy Maggie’s character, so I’ve recommended these books to several friends. I look forward to the next book in this series, which I’m pretty sure is in the works!

You can see this book on Amazon where I am an Associate:

 

 

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Review: COLD SHOT by Mark Henshaw

I received a copy of COLD SHOT from the publisher in late spring for me to review. I love a good CIA/espionage/government bad guys thriller, and this one was a great read, reminding me of Jack Higgins novels from my  past.

In COLD SHOT, a boat is discovered floating in the ocean, with a dead (tortured) Somalian man in it, thought to be a pirate. Two CIA analysts begin the hunt to figure out who he is, why he was tortured, and what is being covered up. What they find is of huge consequence: Iran’s secret attempts to create nuclear weapons.

I loved the pacing of this book, which was action packed and quite thrilling. Sometimes when I read books like this, I think “Really? That’s pretty implausible”, but not this time. In fact, author Mark Henshaw is a former CIA employee, and his novel is quite believable and realistic. Henshaw’s previous book, RED CELL, occurs before this one, and with the same characters. While you wouldn’t have to read that one first, I felt like I would have enjoyed it and gotten an intro to these characters as well, as sometimes back story was discussed.

If you like Jack Higgins, Robert Ludlum, or similar authors, you will probably enjoy COLD SHOT. I hope to get RED CELL to read, too!

You can see this book on Amazon where I am an Associate, and thank you, Simon and Schuster, for my copy!

 

 

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YA Review: WATCHED by Cindy M. Hogan

I recently got this book free for my kindle as it was on sale. WATCHED is a YA suspense novel, telling the story of 15-year-old Christy, who wins a scholarship for a trip to D.C. While there, Christy and her friends witness terrorist activity, and the story becomes a big chase and escape until the end (when we discover that this is the first book in a trilogy).

Here’s the thing: I probably would have loved this book when I was 13. Christy is a smart girl, supposedly quite brilliant, but she is socially awkward. She has two boys attracted to her, for the first time in her life. She is trying to shake off her “really smart and not rich”  persona to blend with her new friends. All the time, however, scary terrorists are looking for her and her friends and the FBI is protecting her. I would have lapped this up as a young teen!

To be honest, in the here and now I found Christy’s story rather boring and far-fetched. Christy’s angst over which boy to like went on for so long that it dragged the book down and bored me. There was a great deal of time and space devoted to “I can’t date until I’m 16 and that’s not until next month. How do I handle my emotions? What shall I do? What shall I do???” The whole terrorist/FBI piece was unbelievable and too incredible to be plausible. Personally, as a parent of two children, if my minor children were involved with terrorist plots etc etc while on an educational trip to DC and I was never told about it or notified?? Well, you get my point. The fact that this is book one in a trilogy made the reading feel prolonged, in my opinion; and I have a personal pet peeve about lack of resolution at the end of a book.

So I finished the book (thus the review), which is a good thing (if I really dislike a book I don’t finish it, and thus don’t review it), but I was rather disappointed. I think my younger self, though, would have looked past the shortcomings I found and enjoyed Christy’s story.

You can see this book on Amazon where it’s currently free for kindle and where I am an Associate:

 

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Quick Review: The Murder Farm by Andrea Maria Shenkel

I recently received THE MURDER FARM by Andrea Maria Shenkel through Net Galley. The synopsis of this book sounded similar to IN COLD BLOOD — true crime, murdered family on a farm, etc. This book takes place in the 1920’s and has been translated from German into English.

I had mixed feelings about this short novel. In one respect, it held my attention and kept me guessing. The chapters were told from all different viewpoints and perspectives, which, while slightly confusing, was creative. A prayer was interspersed throughout chapters (I’m sure it was relevant, but – full disclosure – I found myself skimming it in order to get back to the story).

When I reached the end of the this short novel, I was struck by the fact that perhaps the murder mystery wasn’t really the point of the story, and instead maybe it was a bit of a discourse on human nature, set within a nonfiction framework. Or maybe it was a murder mystery written in a new way.

Wish I had something more insightful and intelligent to add to this, so I’d welcome input from readers!

Have you read THE MURDER FARM? What did you think?

You can see it on Amazon where I am an Associate:

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YA Review : WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart

I had heard some buzz about this book, so I ordered it from Amazon for my Kindle for when it was released earlier this month. This is the kind of book that people say, “I can’t talk about it without giving it away”. Okay – that’s true, but I can say this: this was one of those books that you start to read and can’t put down. I read it almost entirely straight through as I was trying to figure out what was going on. It’s memorable and heart-breaking and just really, really good – all at the same time.

In WE WERE LIARS, Cadence Sinclair has grown up as the eldest grandchild of the wealthy and well-known Sinclair family. They spend their summers together on an island off the coast of Massachusetts. They play, they argue, they exist as a big sprawling family. Cadence spends her long summer days with her cousins Johnny and Mirren, and their friend Gat. Then one summer, while they are in their teens, things change. Decisions are made and actions follow which have devastating consequences.

Loved loved loved this book. I’d suggest it for older teens (and adults – if you read YA, and you should!).

Can’t say more without spoilers, but I’ve added a You Tube clip of the author reading from the novel:

See it on Amazon where I got mine and I am an Associate:

 

 

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Review: THE BOY WHO STOLE FROM THE DEAD by Orest Stelmach

This book takes up where THE BOY FROM REACTOR 4 leaves off (reviewed here: http://drbethnolan.wordpress.com/2013/09/02/review-the-boy-from-reactor-4-by-orest-stelmach/ ). Bobby Kungenook is accused of murder and his guardian, Nadia Tesla, is 100% sure that Bobby is not a killer. Bobby, though, is not talking to anyone and refusing to see Nadia, so she goes on a quest to prove his innocence. Travelling to the Ukraine with her brother, Nadia tackles some tough Russian mobsters, all the while learning more about her new employer. Did Bobby really kill an English businessman? Who exactly was he? What is the connection to Russia and Chernobyl? Will she be able to save Bobby?

I thought this book did a great job picking up right where the last book left off (and apparently there is another book on its way at the end of the year). I often don’t enjoy sequels as it feels like they are just pulling out the action and are almost an afterthought, but this novel continues the action started in the first book, does a full plot, and then sets up the next story in the saga.

I also love the character of Nadia because she’s so smart and strong – a great combination!

Thanks, Net Galley, for my copy! If you enjoy mysteries and action, you will most probably enjoy these books.

You can see it on Amazon where I am an Associate:

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