Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Audiobook Review: A Good Girl's Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

A Good Girl's Guide to Murder
By Holly Jackson; Read by Bailey Carr and full cast
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Thank you to Penguin Random House for providing a copy of this audiobook for me to review.

Senior Pip (Pippa) has decided to do her Capstone Project on the media's portrayal of a murder that happened in her Connecticut hometown five years earlier. Interested in investigative journalism, Pip sets out to prove that Sal did not murder Andie Bell, that he was falsely accused and convicted by the media and the community. What happens is more than she expects as she is drawn into the murders--yes more than one--at the risk of her, her family, and friends with the help of Sal's brother Ravi. Throughout her investigation, she learns perception is everything and you never know what is lurking behind someone's exterior.

This is a mix media book with snippets of transcripts, agenda entries and more sprinkled throughout the book. While I listened to this book, I did flip to the pages in the book that these items were on. Where this audiobook stands out is during these epistolary pages as the production has added a different narrator for each voice, sound effects such as the echo-y sounds of a tape recording, cars, etc. The prose narrative is performed by Bailey Carr (Anderson's Fever, 1793 and McLemore's When the Moon Was Ours) and her performance gets stronger as the production proceeds through the book, balancing the heightened emotions at the end with poise and grace, without giving into hysterics as would be easy to do. I feel the pacing is spot on in this book, both with the writing and with the narration. As an avid audiobook listener, this is a great one.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes a great young adult mystery, but the obvious recommendation goes to fans of Sadie by Courtney Summers. If you are intrigued with the journalism, the podcast Serial, or even documentaries such as Making of a Murder I would not hesitate to put this in your hands. Other readers I will be giving this to include fans of mysteries as well as those traditionally deemed reluctant readers because this moves at a fast enough clip and sprinkles enough real teen life to be real enough for them. I would caution readers there is talks about teens doing drugs, discussions of sex, and date rape. Overall, this is an excellent debut and I will be sure to check out Holly Jackson's sophomore title as this was only her debut.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Mini Reviews: No Exit by Taylor Adams and Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence

After having what felt like a lackluster reading month in March, I am up to 12 thus far in April. I am wrapping up one more book--perhaps another--before the end of the week. I am writing several other posts currently: one about why I dropped off of blogging for four years and also one about my participation in the Magical Readathon, OWLs edition. So look for those (along with hopefully a few more reviews) over the next week or so. In the meantime, here are two books I have read recently but did not feel so inclined to write a full review. 

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks
By Annie Spence
My Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

This is great but I'm a librarians so perhaps it is a niche market? Seriously, anyone who loves books will get something out of at least one of these essays--at the very least a chuckle. It is a humorous account of one person's experience with helping the public locate books, making book recommendations, and own personal reading experience. Reading can and should be a highly personal experience, with each of us pulling something out books based on what we bring to the table at the time of reading.

Essay collections are one type of book I am not an avid reader of and one thing I am working on adding to my repertoire. This one I sat down and read on a rainy, cold afternoon during quarantine. As I was reading it, I was chuckling to myself and nodding my head. It brought back memories as recollecting about any good books is prone to do. Pick this up if you want something to occupy your time, without committing to a full story.

No ExitNo Exit
By Taylor Adams
My Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars

This one is a miss for me, just too many things I did not like/agree with or had sat well with me. What issues did I have you might ask? I did not like decisions made for the sake of plot and tension building—they seemed unnecessary and predictable way too often. I had issues with the gore—I knew it would be, but it unnecessary at times. For a thriller, I also had issues with the pacing being too slow at times, such as when “circle time” was introduced. I did not really get invested into the characters unfortunately either. With all of these, this one is just a miss for me. Since I am newer to adult thrillers, it could be just this one did not agree with me so I will keep trying.

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Thursday, April 23, 2020

Series Review: The Syrena Legacy: Of Poseidon, Of Triton, and Of Neptune by Anna Banks

I have done series reviews in the past, so really I am just starting them up again. I want to simplify things and sometimes, having all the books from a series review makes it easier to get a feel on whether you want to read the books or recommend them to others. If I am able to read back published series close enough together, then I expect I will continue to do so. The pandemic has been heartbreaking and stressful for us all. What I am trying to do is focus on reading titles that have been sitting on my shelves for years because I know that I am blessed to have a backlog of titles to be able to do this with during this time. Hence, the restarting this feature here on Love.Life.Read.

Book One: 
Of Poseidon (The Syrena Legacy, #1)

Of Poseidon
By Anna Banks
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Pure escapism and more, this was a great read. I could tell reading it now in 2020, it followed the typical pattern from many novels published around this time originally: girl meets boy, boy turns out to be someone with a past, girl falls for boy, boy falls for girl, and there is a complication to them ultimately being together. All of that with the characters ages somewhere in their late teens to early 20s. Despite this, I was still quite content to read it. Is Galen overbearing at times, acting the more mature one, yes. But, Emma is feisty and holds her ground too and does not immediately succumb to him either.

The pacing in this is fitting, there were pockets of action and a bit of romance woven into as well. The main characters are well developed and the chemistry between the two of them builds and feels real. There are some of the minor character I am intrigued by too, in particular Rachel, Rayna and Toraf. I look forward to continuing on in the second book since this ends at a cliffhanger that may or may not be predictable to some readers. I recommend this to readers who enjoy a dramatic, chemistry filled, adventure story that will have you grinning, laughing, and speed reading to the end.

Book Two:

Of Triton (The Syrena Legacy, #2)

Of Triton
By Anna Banks
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

This is a continuation of book one, with Emma finding out her mother is the lost princess of Poseidon and not the ordinary human she believed. Once that gets straightened out the book shifts focus to be more a political detente between the Royal Syrena and the common Syrena. The Royals have to prove their worth and that they are doing what is best for Syrena, while also proving Nalia is really the lost princess of Poseidon.

With this book we get to know Grom and Nalia more and continue learning about Galen, Emma, Rayna, and Toraf. After learning who her mother truly is, Emma goes through a crisis of not wanting to believe her childhood was false--that her parents really did love each other. I believe Emma acted as any teen does when their single parent is in love with someone else after losing a parent. This book does have as much drama as the first book, though at times it seemed like more because of Nalia's past, the political detente, and more coming to head in a relatively short book.

Initially, I was thinking I would do 3 stars but really this is a 4 star book after I have had time to consider it. I was initially disappointed because this book is so short at only 240 pages. I felt at first the story line could have been condensed and woven throughout a duology instead of a trilogy (mind you at the time of writing this I have not started the third book--will be after writing this). Then, I realized that upon reading in 2020, duology are more of a thing now then in 2012-2014, especially in young adult fiction. When I stop and thinking of the time point this book was published, it makes more sense as trilogy were all the rage then. I look forward to continuing on in this series to read the ending of the Syrena Legacy series.

Book Three:

Of Neptune (The Syrena Legacy, #3)
Of Neptune
By Anna Banks
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

Emma learns from her grandfather (the Poseidon King), Antonis that there is another area where Half-Breeds (part human, part Syrena) folks live along with other Syrena and humans. Not giving all the details to Galen, they start off in hopes of having time together to process the events that happen in Of Poseidon. Filled with action, challenges, more political detente and drama, the events will test Emma and Galen, and whether a Half Breed and a Syrena Royal truly can be happy together.

This went in a different direction than expected, but even with that I cannot say I was unsatisfied with the complete wrap up. I felt the middle section dragged, with the two alternating storylines of Emma and Reed and then Galen's and what happens to him (do not want to say because of spoilers). I was not overly fond of Reed, I felt he lacked a maturity for being the same age range as Emma and Galen. One of the things I really appreciated and this could be me, is how history and stories are different depending on who's perspective you are learning it from, which is highly relevant given the way the world is now. Overall, this was a satisfying conclusion to The Syrena Legacy, with most of the questions I had wrapped up.

Final Series Thoughts:

I liked this series and felt overall, though I standby what I said after the second book in that I believe it would do better as a duology than a trilogy. That being said, duologies are much more common now (think of Leigh Bardugo's Six of Crows). While this is not one that has overwhelming stayed in the forefront of popular YA series, it does not seem like it will be one that will stand the test of time. Thinking of my readers in my library: since they do however still like The Selection series, I would not be hesitate to recommend this series to those readers who have finished that series up and want readalikes. Since there are not glaring technology holes, they have cell phones and GPS, but the author does a good job of not mentioning brands of either or mentioning how they work (Siri, Apps, etc) so current day readers will not be thrown by this aspect. Overall, I would still not hesitate to give this to readers, even with it published six to eight years ago. 

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Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Review: White Hot Kiss by Jennifer Armentrout

White Hot Kiss (The Dark Elements, #1)

White Hot Kiss
by Jennifer Armentrout
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I read Storm and Fury last summer, even though I had this series on my bookcase. Needless to say, I enjoyed it enough to want to go back and read this series.

I really like Layla and Roth both. I was pleased to get to know them and Zayne more in this book. I liked that all of them had their own flaws and struggled with them throughout the book. Even with not being able to relate to Wardens and Demons, all of us have struggles and things we do not like about yourselves—especially during teen years. I like the introduction to the world, though there were times I felt I was missing another series of books building to this one.

Other things I like about the story is it is funny and once Roth was introduced, I was hooked into their story. Overall, I think that this book while not perfect, it is a great start to the series and I am interested to keep reading onward.

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Friday, April 17, 2020

Review: Hearts, Strings, and Other Breakable Things by Jacqueline Firkins

Hearts, Strings, and Other Breakable Things
Hearts, Strings, and Other Breakable Things
by Jacqueline Firkins
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Edie has lost her mother and had been living in foster care. Her aunt and uncle decide she can move into their house, finishing up the last few months of high school before she goes to college. While there, she is reunited with her first crush Sebastian and meets Henry, an older guy she is sure is a playboy. All she is trying to do is make it to college and keep her heart from being broken further.

Those concerned with relationship elements and teens drinking need to be aware of this book does contain both. There are some heavy make out scenes, discussions of sex but not in detail. There are multiple episodes of teen drinking as well. It feels authentic and true to the point that characters are at in this book.

A delightful contemporary romance, this is heartwarming, and often times funny, take on Austen’s classic Mansfield Park. I enjoyed the sprinkling of quotes from other books throughout as one of Edie’s quirks is to remember lines from every book she has read. I felt the ending was a bit rushed, that the final moments seemed too rush even if you predicted the ending. Overall, I would recommend this title to anyone who enjoys a young adult contemporary romance.

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Thursday, April 16, 2020

Two Mini Reviews: Past Perfect Life by Elizabeth Eulberg and The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

Past Perfect Life
Past Perfect Life
by Elizabeth Eulberg
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Perfect for the mood I have been in lately, this story pulled me in and I enjoyed it. It is not earth shattering and it is often times predictable, but it was nevertheless enjoyable. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a mystery story and is not disappointed if you can predict the outcome of it.

Other thoughts: I liked the drive of the main character, Ally, and could relate to her need to help her father out by getting scholarships for college. I honestly like the father too, despite knowing he committed a major crime. My biggest concern for this story is that it wrapped up very quickly, it felt anticlimactic and I needed (and wanted) more. 

The Royal We (Royal We, #1)
The Royal We
By Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Fine is the first word that popped into my mind when I finished this...nothing was particularly grabbing about this title. I wanted to like it more because I admit I am drawn to the royals, but this one never drew me in like I wanted.

Perhaps it is because I did not read it right it when it was first published, I just could not get into this one. I had issues with the sister, and I know she redeems herself later in the book, but I just had a hard time with it. 

In my opinion, a more enjoyable set of titles featuring contemporary royals includes:

  • The Royals series by Rachel Hawkins (Prince Charming--originally published as The Royals and the second book is equally as delightful Her Royal Highness)
  • Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston 

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Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Review: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The Nightingale
by Kristin Hannah
My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Two sisters each went down a different road during World War II and along their journey, they discovered who they are as an individual and also what the other meant to them. A war story but is more that just the typical hiding and fighting, this one opens up the eyes to what it means to survive...and thrive when it is all said and done. Not only a war story but what it means to love and be loved, and what sacrifices we will make to keep loved ones safe. And not only what we do to save ourselves, but what it means to take care of others and especially family.

I have intentionally avoided this book as I knew it would be an emotional read. This book has lived up to the hype in my opinion and yes, I am also correct as it did break me in a few parts. I have read some criticisms against this book because of some inaccuracies in representation and historical interpretation, but as I was reading it, I did not get those impressions. Should I look deeper into it, perhaps I could find them but I do not want to. To me, where the beauty in this book lies is in the relationships—the blatant and subtle—not the historical accounts of resistance. If you can let that go, then read this book...but proceed with caution because your heart might just break.

Trigger warnings for abuse, violence, and rape

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Friday, April 3, 2020

Review: Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

Stories of Your Life and Others

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang 

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anthologies are always like a box of chocolates you never know what you're gonna get (to paraphrase Forrest Gump). Usually most anthologies I read are an collaborative effort and because of this, I always find some I like, which means I can find different authors to put on my TBR list. In this case, I had a full book to explore a new to me author, Ted Chiang. I am quite happy this book was selected for my monthly book group as it challenged me to read something differently than I would normally be drawn to (though I wish the world was not falling apart currently while I was reading it). I really enjoyed Chiang's writing style--he engaged my mind and I had to be on my game as I could not read this title too quickly because I would end up having to backtrack what I had just read.

For me, this is definitely a book I could pick up again and get as much if not more out of it on a second read. Side note, those of you not aware, the story in here "Stories of Your Life" is the short story the movie Arrival is based on. I enjoyed it, "Liking What You See: a Documentary," and "Division by Zero" the most of the stories. I will be adding Exhalation onto my TBR list to pick up at another point--hopefully when the world is calmer. Though I think next time I want to try his book as audiobook, I believe his writing would make for a beautiful narration if produced correctly. I highly recommend this to anyone who likes a story that will twist your mind.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Review: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Truly Devious (Truly Devious, #1)

Truly Devious

By Maureen Johnson

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Stevie is heading to her dream location--Ellingham Academy. As a budding detective, Stevie knows that is she gets to the infamous boarding school, she will be able to solve the mystery that haunts the school--the kidnapping and death of Iris Ellingham and the kidnapping and presumed death of Alice Ellingham, the daughter of Albert Ellingham and Iris, the founder and benefactor Ellingham Academy. Once there she meets a cast of interesting people with their own interests and likes that have driven them to Ellingham. What Stevie never picture though is Truly Devious making another appearance, this time killing a current student at Ellingham. Stevie knows she can solve it if she is given the chance.

I heard many recommend this book and I am glad I heeded their advice. I found this is exactly what I needed at this point with being easily distracted by the current headlines happening in 2020. I needed a book that I could suspend disbelief and just go with the flow of the story the author has laid out for me. This one fit that criteria nicely. I truly could be padding my rating simply because I am so happy to get lost in a book now during this insane time period, but it is to the credit of Maureen Johnson that I am able to get lost in her writing. The pacing is smooth and at times it lagged but it quickly popped up and once again hooking me into the story propelling me into staying up way too late to finish the story. I like the ending (who doesn't love a cliffhanger) and I am excited to pick up the next book in this series.

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