Tag Archives: #20booksofsummer

Review: The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth

The Mother-in-LawWhen Lucy’s mother passed away while she was a girl, Lucy hoped that someday she’d find a mother/daughter bond with her future mother-in-law. But that kind of bond has never really materialized with Diana, who keeps her children at arm’s length and wants to make sure that each of them can stand on their own in this world.

So, when Diana passes away suddenly under potentially suspicious circumstances, each member of her family has a really good motive.

Less a murder mystery and more a domestic thriller, Sally Hepworth’s The Mother-in-Law is a character study of both Lucy and Diana. Told in alternating viewpoints and at various points in their lives of both Lucy and Diana, Hepworth takes time to give us the perspective of all the parties involved and help us to understand their motivations. Several of Diana’s children see her desire for them to stand on their own two feet as a punishment or her being vindictive. But, instead, we are allowed inside Diana’s world to understand how her helping those less fortunate or not allowed the same opportunities as her family has brought her to the point of wanting her children to stand on their own for both good and bad.

And while the stakes aren’t necessarily high ones, they are still compelling ones, especially when the kids find out that Diana has changed her will and that her death won’t be the easy “get of jail free” card some of them were hoping for (or counting on).

A compelling thriller with some great character study, The Mother-in-Law is a very different kind of domestic suspense page turner.

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Review: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

My Dark Vanessa

With cover blurbs from Stephen King and Gillian Flynn and solid on-line buzz from a variety of reviewers, my expectations for Kate Elizabeth Russell’s debut novel, My Dark Vanessa may have been a bit lofty.

Vanessa met Jacob Strane when she was in her teens and he was in his early thirties. At first, Vanessa found the fact that he was twice as old as she was a novelty, something to ponder to herself as she went through life at a private girl’s school. Estranged from her only friend during her first year over a conflict over a guy, Vanessa falls under Strane’s influence and is slowly manipulated into a relationship with the older man. And yet, despite all of Strane’s abuses (and there are many), Vanessa staunchly refuses to see herself as a victim — even years later as Strane’s pattern of behavior becomes public and more and more victims began to go public with their stories. Continue reading

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Review: Follow Me by Kathleen Barber

Follow MeAudrey Miller is the queen of social media, chronicling her life to millions of followers. Her carefully cultivated on-line person is finally opening doors in the real world, landing her a high-profile job at a Washington museum as the queen-bee of their social media presence.

But Audrey’s huge following and thousands of likes come with a downside — it’s left her vulnerable to an on-line admirer who is willing and ready to cross the line from fan to sinister stalker. Moving to D.C., Audrey finds herself in the orbit of her workaholic friend, Cat, and her ex-boyfriend who she keeps finding her way back into bed with.

Kathleen Barber’s Follow Me is a compulsively readable, grim reminder of just how much of our privacy we can willing give up these days in order to gain followers, likes, or comments. The first half of the book is page-turningly fascinating as we jump from chapters from Audrey, Cat, and the stalker’s perspective. There are times when the story reaches chilling heights and there are multiple suspects as to the real identity of the Audrey’s on-line stalker.

It’s once Follow Me reaches the final third and answers start to be revealed that the book goes a bit off the rails. For one thing, Audrey is so self-absorbed that it becomes harder and harder to feel sympathy for her. It also feels as if the final few pages of the novel try too hard to keep us in the dark as to who the stalker really is — and once we get the reveal, it’s not quite as satisfying as it could or should have been.

By the last third of the novel, the most interesting and honest character of Cat is relegated to the sidelines.

And yet, there is still something sinister in the warnings given here. It may make you re-examine just how much of yourself you’re posting in our new digital world.

As a summer read, this one is breezy and light. It feels a bit like the far better You, without necessarily making us root for the anti-hero stalker at its core.

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Reviews:One Step Away by Eric Wilson & The Fine Art of Truth or Dare by Melissa Jensen

One Step Away

Bret and Sara Vreeland don’t have it all — in fact, there are times when they wonder how they’re going to make it through the month. But they have each other and they have their faith.

But what if something were to happen that changed all of that?

Eric Wilson flips the story of Job and instead of having everything taken away to test the faith of the Vreeland, the couple is given everything that could ever dream of (at least from a worldly perspective). But just as with Job, there are trials to come with being blessed beyond measure.

Wilson tells a good story with One Step Away. It’s good to see that Bret and Sara aren’t saints, but instead people with flaws and secrets. There are some secrets from the past that will come back to haunt them (a few I figured out a chapter or two before Wilson let us in on the details). But overall, Wilson keeps the pages turning and kept my interest us for the entire novel.

I also like the fact that while this is apparently the start of a series, the action of this novel is self-contained. I can say I’d enjoy a visit to the world that Wilson has created a self-contained story that can be enjoyed on its own merits. Continue reading

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Review: Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

Black-Eyed Susans

When she was sixteen years old, Tessa was only survivor of the Black-Eyed Susans killer. Dumped in a shallow grave with some of her fellow Susans, Tessa survive to testify against the man authorities believed was the killer. But over the years, Tessa always wondered if she helped convict the right man. As the convicted killer’s execution looms, Tessa is forced to question her role in the conviction and if the real killer is still lurking out there, taunting her with black-eyed Susans planted under her window.

Told in alternating time frames, Julia Heaberlin’s Black-Eyed Susans expertly doles out detail after detail of Tessa’s time in recovery and testifying and now as she tries to help an apparently innocent man avoid a wrongful execution. Heaberlin deftly sews each seed for the truth of what happened to Tessa and who was really behind her disappearance.

I’ll admit this one hooked me in the early stages. Tessa’s doubting of herself and her narrative (as well as her admission of her manipulating certain aspects of her therapy) made me question her reliability as a narrator. But this comes less from an agenda and more from wondering what Tessa is hiding from herself that may eventually come to light.

There are a couple of plausible explanations for what happened to Tessa and just if and how it ties into her family and her friendship with a girl named Lydia, who mysterious vanished after throwing Tessa under the bus on the witness stand. Heaberlin teases these details early and slowly builds up toward the revelation of what happened. Continue reading

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Review: Star Trek: New Frontier: The Returned by Peter David

Note: Peter David’s latest New Frontier entry was published as three e-book novellas.

Part One

The Returned, Part I (Star Trek: New Frontier)

There were several books I was anticipating reading this summer. But I’ll have to admit that few of them packed quite the same level of “can’t wait to read it” -itis that Peter David’s return to the final frontier did.

It’s been four years since our last visit to the universe of New Frontier and the crew of the starship Excalibur. And in my mind, that’s about three years too long a wait — especially given that David left us on a pretty interesting cliffhanger.

Luckily David’s return to the series proves as much a triumph as I was hoping it would be. The first installment picks up three months after the last one ended and finds Calhoun living a hermit’s existence on his destroyed homeworld and plotting his next move. David catches the reader up quickly on what’s happening — not only with Calhoun but everyone else in the New Frontier universe before setting various new plot threads into motion.

As always with David’s Trek entries, the strengths are solid characters and a sense of humor. David takes his stories seriously but he takes the time to find the humor in the characters, universe and situations. The game of who’s fooling who into “tricking” Calhoun to take on a dangerous mission to the pocket universe is superbly done and feels absolutely like pure David.

As I sat down to start reading part one, I told myself I should take my time, savor it and relish every last second of the book. And then I found myself on the final page with David leaving us hanging for the next part and thankful it was only going to be a month’s wait for the next installment. Continue reading

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Review: The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu

The Truth About Alice

Alice Franklin has a bad reputation.

What has she done, you ask.

Well, she slept with two boys at the school year kick-off party. She’s promiscuous — so much so that she’s had an abortion. And she got the star quarterback killed because she was obsessed with him and kept texting him, causing him to become distracted while driving.

But are any of these things The Truth About Alice?

Told from a rotating first-person point of view from four people who interact with Alice, Jennifer Mathieu’s debut novel seeks to fill in some of the details, looking at what is true and what’s been greatly exaggerated. It’s fairly clear from the early moments of the novel that no one could be nearly as awful as everyone says Alice is, but there are some grains of truth in the rumors. But those grains may not always have been planted exactly where you think they were.

I’ll admit some of the revelations seem a bit obvious — but that’s with the benefit of spending a few chapters with each character and finding out that he or she knows more than he or she is telling. The novel doesn’t shy away from the devastation Alice feels or the shame she endures. It also serves as an interesting warning about the power of words and how sometimes people may be protesting too much.

Alice isn’t a saint. But then again, neither is anyone else. And this novel is an interesting way to look at not only how the various characters view Alice but also themselves.

It’s a fascinating read and one that may linger with you a bit after the final page is turned.

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Review: The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

The Heart Goes LastMargaret Atwood’s latest novel The Heart Goes Last has some intriguing ideas but I’m not sure they all necessarily add up to a satisfying reading experience. Like many of her books, the setting is a near future dystopian one with our protagonists Stan and Charmaine living in their car and surviving on the meager earnings Charmaine earns as a waitress. When they’re giving the opportunity to trade in this life for something akin to a romanticized 50’s sitcom version of life, the two agree.

But there’s a price to be paid and a dark side to the agreement. Every other month, the couple spends time separated and locked up in prison. The other month is spent in freedom and doing various jobs within the community based on their skills. The couple is supposed to have little or no contact with the other couple that lives in their house while they’re in prison, but a seemingly change meeting between Charmaine and the other man who lives in their house begins an affair that will begin to change the dynamic of things.

The Heart Goes Last has an intriguing hook and set-up, but the farther I got into the novel, the less I found myself enjoying it. Part of it is that the deeper we get into the novel, the less likeable these characters become. And while there are some interesting twists to the situation that Stan and Charmaine find themselves living in (one early twist finds Stan falling in love with a woman who left a note behind, simply by imagining her, only to late find out that note was written by his wife for her lover), I felt like the novel lost a lot of its early momentum by the mid-point. It does pick up a bit at the end, but that’s not before I felt like I had to wade through a hundred pages that make me care less and less about the characters and what was going on.

Despite all that, Atwood still has a wonderful grasp of language and composes some utterly beautiful and haunting sentences and passages. But that isn’t enough to make this novel live up to its early promise.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received an ARC of this book as part of the Amazon Vine program.

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who: Frontios by Christopher H. Bidmead

Doctor Who: Frontios: A 5th Doctor novelisaton

Christopher H. Bidmead’s adaptation of his third (and final) classic Doctor Who script, “Frontios” restores parts of the script that were dropped either due to budget constrnts or they were considered too dark at the time, making this seem like a glimpse of what could have been on our screens.

Bidmead’s “Frontios” novelization was one of those Target novelizations I missed in my days of collecting them (as a younger viewer, the story wasn’t among my favorites). So coming to it now as an older reader/listener, I must admit I was intrigued by the small flourishes that the adaptation indulges in. (It’s also interesting to have the DVD now with the extended and deleted scenes and get some idea of where those scenes would go in the context of the story).

The TARDIS crew arrive on the edge of the Time Lord’s knowledge of time and space, drug down to one of the last colonies of humans by a mysterious force. In trying to not become too involved in these later days of humanity, the Doctor is drawn into the mystery of the colony on Frontios. Seems that the colony has been enduring attacks from the skies for thirty plus years with no signs of the invaders coming to follow-up. In the course of one attack, the TARDIS is destroyed, stranding the TARDIS crew in this time and place possibly forever.

As far as cliffhangers go, the TARDIS’ destruction is a pretty effective one. It’s also a memorable one that was, to my younger self, the only real highlight of the show. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to appreciate the story a bit more — and Bidmead’s adaptation has helped me see what could have been if they’d had the budget for it. The Tractators who come across on screen as a bit silly are given a bit more menace in the novel. There’s also the grim detail that the mining machine used the monsters of the week uses human parts to tunnel under the ground in Frontios as opposed to having it be all mechanical.

And yet for all of this, the same weaknesses that I see in the story are still on display here. Namely, it’s a bit oddly paced at times. There are times when it feels a bit too much like the old Doctor Who cliche of wandering down a corridor and biding our time as we wait for something to happen.

As with his previous two scripts, Bidmead reads his own adaptation for the audiobook. And once again, he does a solid enough job, though it’s not quite as memorable as some of the other readers we’ve had in the past couple of months.

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Audiobook Review: The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The Naturals

Cassie’s mother taught her a lot of things — including how to read people. But Cassie’s ability is far more than just figuring out clues about a person in order to give them a psychic reading. She has a natural ability as a profiler — something the FBI is aware of and wants to take advantage of.

Recruited to a team of fellow teens with natural abilities (Dean can profile, Lea can read if you’re lying, Sloane is gifted in reciting facts and figures and Michael can really, really read people), Cassie is promised that she’ll get to enhance her abilities and maybe use the FBI resources to finally track down who killed her mother.

The world that Jennifer Lynn Barnes has created for her The Naturals series is a fascinating one. The idea that there would be five teens who would come together as a kind of Criminal Minds for the younger set works very well. It also creates a very bizarre household where there are body outlines in the swimming pool, a test lab in the basement and a library full of cold cases for Cassie to train on.

When The Naturals sticks its procedural aspects, it works very well. I’ll give Barnes a lot of credit — she was able to put in enough red herrings as to who the central villain of this novel was to keep me guessing (wrongly as it turns out) over the entire run of the book. Continue reading

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