Category Archives: books

Review: Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Behind Her Eyes

Have you ever got to the end of a book and wondered — what the heck did I just read?!?

If not, then you might want to pick up Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes because it’s got one of the most WTF endings I’ve read in quite some time. In fact, the ending is so WTF, that any conversation about the book is going to naturally have to go into detail about it. You are suitably warned.

When single-mother Louise meets David in a bar, the chemistry between them is electric. But, he’s married, so Louise ends up not pursuing more than a semi-drunk flirtation with him. Things get a bit more awkward when it turns out that David is the new doctor at the counseling clinic where Louise is employed part-time. Despite a conversation in which both of them declare that seeing each other is a bad idea, the chemistry continues to be there.

Things get even more complicated with Louise runs into Adele, David’s wife. The two strike up a friendship, though Louise conveniently omits that she flirted with Adele’s husband and that she and David have started an affair (apparently behind Adele’s back, though the first-person chapters from Adele’s point of view make it clear that she not only knows about this, she’s also manipulating both sides for….well, more on that later).

If you’re thinking we’ve even reached the depths of the WTF, we aren’t even in the same zip code yet.

Through flashbacks, we find out that Adele has an interesting past — her parents died in a fire, she’s wealthy but she’s signed over all her money to David, and she spent time getting mental help while David was in college. It’s at the institution that she meets Rob, who she gets close to during her time. They get so close that Adele invites him to come to stay with her should Rob’s family kick him out if and when he backslides from his drug habit.

If you’re wondering who Rob is and why Behind Her Eyes keeps flashing back to him and turns over a good bit of the novel’s real estate to him, the answer becomes clear in the final pages. And it’s once the answer becomes clear that the question of whether or not you love the novel or want to throw it against the wall in frustration will be answered. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under book review, books, review

Some Quick Reviews: All Systems Red, The Thursday Murder Club, All Creatures Great and Small

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries, #1)All Systems Red by Martha Wells

I’ve been hearing a lot about the Murderbot Diaries from people I trust within the literary community, so I decided it might be finally time to get the series a try.

Murderbot is a half-human/half-cyborg creation that has hacked its own software to give itself freewill. Murderbot turns around and uses that free will to begin binge-watching daytime television. Quite frankly, Murderbot would rather watch TV than help the human survey team explore the planet they’ve been assigned.

Turns out that in the future, the government still goes with the lowest bidder and may not always be upfront about the dangers involved. So, the human team is facing some unusual dangers out there.

The premise of a killing machine gone rogue to binge-watch TV seems uncannily relevant as we continue to face the pandemic. Murderbot’s snarky sense of humor and first-person narration are well done. The novella suffers a bit when it comes to giving us a fully realized crew — there are only about two crew members who get any character development. And the novella is just long enough so the fun doesn’t wear off.

I’m intrigued enough to want to read the second installment and see what happens next. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under book review, books

Review: Trial and Error by Robert Whitlow

Trial and Error

When I first read Robert Whitlow, I was impressed by the authenticity of his novels — not just the legal thriller aspect, but also the journeys and arcs he put his characters through. Over the last two decades, I’ve read just about everything Whitlow has written. While I’ve enjoyed watching him stretch himself as a writer, there’s still something comforting about him returning to his roots with his latest novel. Trial and Error.

Seventeen years ago, Buddy Smith became a father. He got to spend a few days with his daughter before she and her mother vanished. Buddy’s spent the last seventeen years trying to find his daughter, all while building a legal career in his home of Milton County. Buddy’s passion is renewed when he finds evidence his father was supporting the mother of his child financially for years but kept it a secret from Buddy and his mother.

Clerk of the court and local softball team coach, Gracie Blaylock is on her own journey. She’s been Buddy’s friend since high school and she’s been praying for Buddy and his family for years. With the introduction of a new sheriff’s deputy who specializes in missing persons, could Gracie’s prayers be finally answered in ways she does and doesn’t expect?

Whitlow’s early legal thrillers centered on good people who have to make difficult choices. The one thing that always stood out about Whitlow’s novels was the authentic journey his flawed characters go on during the course of the novel. Whitlow does feature the story of a person’s conversion, but it’s not presented as a moment in which all of that person’s problems are swept away. There may be a peace that comes over that person and a new perspective, but it’s not like waving a magic wand to make all the issues and problems go away. (I’m looking at you LeftBehind novels).

Of course, part of the secret is that Whitlow gets you to invest in his characters so when the pivotal moment comes, you feel it along with the character. Whitlow also doesn’t have everyone magically gets saved on the same timeline. There’s a character of a visiting judge who is challenged by Gracie and begins to examine his life, but we don’t see a conversion from him. (It may happen off-screen, but Whitlow doesn’t tell us one way or the other)

Whitlow’s characters shine through as do his legal storylines. There are multiple stories going on and Whitlow expertly weaves them together. I found myself turning the last page of this one feeling fully satisfied with Trial and Error as a stand-alone story but that I wouldn’t mind going back to the world of Buddy and Gracie again, should Whitlow be so inclined.

This is one of the best novels Whitlow has written in a long time. Highly recommended.

I received a digital ARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Leave a comment

Filed under ARC, book review, books

Review: Is This Anything by Jerry Seinfeld

Is This Anything?In his introduction to Is This Anything?, Jerry Seinfeld tells us that question is what comedians ask each other when trying out new material.

Given that this is a collection of five decades of Seinfeld’s material, it’s safe to assume that this book is something.

As a fan of Seinfeld, largely thanks to his classic sit-com, there are large chunks of the material included in the sections for the ’70s through the ’90’s that I could recite from my multiple viewings of Seinfeld. These portions of the book are like a warm security blanket and I may have smiled a bit more, simply hearing Seinfeld do these bits in my head.

Since he retired all of his routines after Seinfeld came to a close (I imagine it would be easy for him to sell out arenas just to hear him do the familiar bits in person), Seinfeld has been building up his act again with new material. That makes up the final third of this book and it was what caught my interest the most this time around. Seinfeld’s observational humor is still fully intact, but seeing him observe on marriage, kids, and growing up was a lot of fun. It also made me wish that I could see Seinfeld up on stage doing these bits, instead of just reading them on the printed page. (I did dabble with the audiobook but it felt a bit off for him to do his routine without an audience laughing. I don’t necessarily think a laugh track is essential, but hearing the swells of laughter in the crowd is something I missed).

In short, if you’re a fan of Jerry Seinfeld, this one is a no-brainer. Pick it up, read it, enjoy it and then dust off your Seinfeld DVDs for one more journey through the classic sitcom. If you’re not a fan, I’m not sure there’s as much for you here — unless you want to watch Seinfeld “evolve” over the decades in the types of bits he does (I did notice a lot of his bits now are longer than they were when he started out). There are a few introductions in which Seinfeld talks about humor, comedy, and his relationship with it. I did find myself wishing we’d got a bit more of his self-reflection in the book.

And if you want to know if he’s included your favorite bit, there’s a handy index in the back. All-in-all, not a bad thing.

Leave a comment

Filed under book review, books

An Open Letter to J.K. Rowling on Why I DNF Troubled Blood

Troubled Blood (Cormoran Strike, #5)

Dear Ms. Rowling,

I’ve been a fan of yours since the earliest days of the Harry Potter franchise, reading everything you’ve written — yes, I even waded through all of The Casual Vacancy. And I appreciate that you want to write a more “adult” mystery series under a pen name. I’ve read and enjoyed each of the previous installments of the Cormoran Strike series, though I have to admit each one has come with diminishing interest. That could be that each volume in the series seems to have grown in length over time.

I’m not necessarily complaining about investing my time and attention into a longer mystery story. I’ve read everything Elizabeth George has written and loved just about every second of it — yes, even that one in the S&M club that a lot of fans tend to place low on the list of favorites.

But, I have to confess that when it comes to the latest Strike book, Troubled Blood, I’ve had a difficult time becoming and then staying invested. Like George’s books, I look forward to checking in on the latest developments in the lives of your detective protagonists. But, in between the checking in on my old friends, I’d like there to be some kind of mystery and/or investigation going on. And after two-hundred and fifty pages of this tome, I’m starting to feel like you forgot that crucial element of the mystery novel.

I get that Strike and Robyn are taking on a cold case and it’s not going to be nearly as exciting as following-up on a recently committed crime. But, hey, my guy Michael Connelly has turned his protagonist Harry Bosch into a cold-case investigator and I’ve been able to not only enjoy those books but also stay engaged with them. Honestly, there are only so many times I can hear the internal monologue from Strike or Robyn about being attracted to each other but not acting on it before I want to fling the book aside in frustration. (Not that this would be easy to do mind you because this thing weighs in 900 plus pages).

I know that you’ve taken a lot of heat over some of the elements of the mystery — and I’d love to say I saw what all the controversy was about and could form my own opinion. Certainly in the quarter of the novel I did read, I saw elements creeping in that bothered me a bit but, again, I couldn’t finish this one, so I can’t speak to whether the allegations are valid or not.

And to be honest, I was so underinvested in this one that I just couldn’t even bring myself to skim it to find out.

Part of me wants to know if and when Robyn and Strike will or should act on their simmering attraction to each other. But that wasn’t quite enough to continue to invest effort into a book that I found tedious and without a significant hook.

In fact, it makes me sort of feel like I may be done with this series unless the next installment shows evidence of better editing. And before you get started, let me also point out that Stephen King, one of the biggest selling writers in history, has repeatedly stated that his books got better when he found a publisher who wasn’t afraid to edit him.

Sincerely,
Michael

Leave a comment

Filed under book review, books

Review: This Will Be Funny Someday by Katie Henry

This Will Be Funny SomedayOne of my great literary pleasures of 2020 was discovering Katie Henry’s works. Henry’s young adult novels feature quirky teenage protagonists facing issues and dilemmas that most of us would struggle with as adults. The characters are all frustratingly relatable because, as readers, we can see how they could and should change themselves to make interacting with the world a bit smoother and easier. But, like all of us, they can’t or aren’t ready to make that change just yet.

Henry’s third novel This Will Be Funny Someday may be her best offering so far, which is high praise given how much I enjoyed her first two novels.

Sixteen-year-old Izzy has always felt a bit out of place. In her family, she sees herself as the odd person out when it comes to the matched pairs — her parents and her older twin siblings. At school, Izzy is protected by her relationship with her boyfriend, though even that has come at the cost of alienating her best friend. Izzy has deep-rooted issues when it come to assigning herself value — whether it’s the (misconception) that she ruined her mother’s career when her mom discovered she was pregnant with Izzy or the emotionally abusive nature of her relationship with her boyfriend. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under ARC, book review, books, digital arc, favorite, netgalley, review

Review: Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

Then She Was Gone

Driven to raise her math grade from a B+ to an A, Ellie begs her mother, Laurel, to hire a tutor for her. The tutor does her job, but Ellie begins to get an odd vibe off her and decides to end the lessons. A few weeks before her exams, Ellie mysteriously vanishes.

A decade later, Laurel is beginning to piece her life back together. Divorced, she’s met a new suitor who seems like the perfect guy. He has two daughters and one of them, Poppy, is the spitting image of Ellie. Is Laurel seeing a ghost or is there something more sinister going on here?

All of that sounds pretty exciting, right?

This is why I’m a bit sad to report that Lisa Jewell’s Then She Was Gone isn’t nearly as exciting or thrilling as a whole as the individual components make it sound like it should or could be. Part of the issue is that once Jewell puts all the pieces into play, there aren’t any huge shocks or revelations to come. I’d figured out a large part of what was going on long before the book begins to pull back the curtain on where Ellie went, who Poppy really is, and just how the math tutor ties into all of it. I kept waiting for something darker or more sinister to come of the story and nothing really did. Maybe I’m too conditioned by other suspense thrillers with a dark streak to really fully enjoy this one. But I did find myself reading more to see if my suspicions were correct than because I was fully invested in the story unfolding.

That’s not to say this is necessarily a bad book. It’s just one that disappointed me a great deal, especially after hearing positive reviews from other readers who share my tastes.

Leave a comment

Filed under book revierw, book review, books, mystery

July Reading Wrap-Up

We’re in the home-stretch for 2020!  Here’s what I read last month.

And yes, I know one of my photos above has two books in it that I haven’t quite finished yet.   I got a bit too zealous in the photo taking.

Physical Books

  1.  I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
  2. My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
  3. The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James
  4. The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth
  5. The Dilemma by B.A. Paris

Ebooks:

  1.  A Good Marriage by Kimberly McCreight
  2. Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone
  3. The Wife Who Knew Too Much by Michelle Campbell

Audiobooks:

  1.  Doctor Who: Revelation of the Daleks by Eric Saward
  2. Not That Kind of Guy by Andie J. Christopher
  3. The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen

Leave a comment

Filed under #20booksofsummer, 20 Books of Summer 2020, books, Summer Reading 2020

Shelf Space

Author Fonda Lee took to Twitter recently, lamenting the lack of shelf space in her local Barnes and Nobel for new fantasy authors. In the post, Lee points out that J.R.R. Tolkien had “3.5 shelves worth of space” and Robert Jordan had “2.5 shelves.”

Putting aside that 2.5 shelves of space for Jordan probably adds up to a total of four books (cause man, that guy wrote some huge tomes!), I find Lee’s comments interesting.  I understand her point about new authors trying to find a way to break into the publishing ranks and even her point that it was difficult to find novels that had either been recently nominated for or won genre awards.

When Barnes and Nobel opened a store that was convenient to where I shopped and did my errands, I was excited.  I frequented the store regularly and enjoyed browsing the aisles to find something new that may not have necessarily been on my radar at the time.  These days, it’s been months since I darkened the door of that local Barnes and Nobel.   And a large part of it ties into Lee’s lament.

In the past five years, I’ve noticed that more of the floor space of Barnes and Nobel has been given over to items that may or may not necessarily be related to the reading experience.  Everything from toys and games to collectible figures to things associated with reading.  I’ve also noticed that the amount of room for actual books has decreased dramatically.  At first, it was a shrinking of the shelf-space for new releases, then slowly the aisles for each genre seemed to become smaller.  What was first two and a half aisles for sci-fi and fantasy has become one and a half.  Same thing for mystery novels.  And while we get a bit of space given over to new releases, I find that what whoever deems a book worthy of such a spotlight has very different tastes than I do.

Insert rant about how much shelf space in the SF/F aisle paranormal romance gets these days here.

I understand what Lee is saying about the limited shelf space being given to older books by authors who may or may not necessarily be still around.  And while I share her concerns, I feel certain if we asked the buyers at Barnes and Nobel why this was, it would go back to the old adage that things like Tolkien and Jordan move product.

Look, I’m all for the classics getting shelf space.  Certainly, they’ve a proven track record and that fact that they keep finding Tolkien to publish (I expect his grocery lists to be published at some point) means he and other authors are always going to take up some shelf space.  I just wish that the experience of going to Barnes and Nobel was closer to what it was when my local store first opened and not what it is today.  I feel like the stores have become more about book adjacent items and less about the books themselves.

And that’s a shame.

Leave a comment

Filed under books, fantasy, Uncategorized

The Great American Read

PBS begins a quest this evening to find “America’s Best Loved Novel” with the Great American Read.

The series will look at 100 books with conversations with their ardent fans and scholars.  I took a minute to look over the list of the top 100 books and I’ve got to admit I’ve got a couple of exceptions with it (as will most readers, I assume).

I wasn’t honestly expecting one of my favorite books, Lake Wobegon Days, to make the list.   And while it’s nice to see Stephen King represented with his tome, The Stand, I’ve always felt like The Shining is a stronger novel. (And it’s also about six-hundred pages shorter).

I will admit I’m perplexed by some of the more recent choices on the list.  Look, I’ll admit that Gone Girl was a great read, but I’m not quite sure it’s been around long enough to declare it one of the best 100 books ever written.  Sure, it’s ignited new interest in a the unreliable narrator niche, but I’m still not sure it’s one of the best books ever published.

I’m not quite sure how The Twilight Saga or Ready Player One made the list, unless it’s an ardent fan base that voted a lot for them.  Look, I fully accept that the Twilight novels aren’t for me, but I did read them a couple of years ago (OK, I listened to the audiobooks) and, quite frankly, I found them to be less than stellar. The first half of Twilight is a good book, but once Bella falls for Edward and she sublimates her entire personality and world to worshiping the sparkly ground he walks on, I lost interest quickly, wanting to reach into the audiobook and smack some sense into her.

And while Ready Player One was fun eight years ago, re-reading it for a book group showed it hadn’t really stood the test of time (at least for this reader).

All that said, I’m curious to watch this series and find out more about all the books.  But if the Twilight novels win the best book ever, I may have to call shenanigans on this whole thing.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under books