Tag Archives: Summer Reading 2020

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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Audiobook Review: The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen

The Rest of the StoryEmma Saylor expected the three weeks following her father’s wedding to be filled with lazy days by the pool with one of her best friends, Gretchen, trying to catch the eye of cute twin-brother lifeguards. But a health emergency in Gretchen’s family leaves Emma and her father scrambling to find somewhere she can stay (their new house is under constructions and her Nana’s apartment is being renovated).

The last place Emma Saylor expected to land was North Lake, the area her mother grew up. Divorced from her father a decade ago and then overdose five years later, Emma has always felt a bit of a hole in her life when it comes to knowing who her mother was and where she came from.

Could three weeks give her some answers or possibly begin to fill in The Rest of the Story? Continue reading

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Review: Camino Winds by John Grisham

Camino Winds (Camino Island #2)John Grisham rarely writes sequels or follow-up novels. But given how wacky 2020 has been so far, it shouldn’t come as a huge shock that Grisham is giving us not one but two sequels this year.

Camino Winds revisits the book-central world of Camino Island and bookstore owner Bruce Cable. As a hurricane bears down on the island, most of the residents flee but a few hearty souls stay on the island. Apparently, a hurricane is an ideal setting for a nearly perfect murder. That’s exactly what happens early on in the story and then things slowly begin to spiral out of control as Bruce attempts to solve the mystery.

As with all things Grisham, there is more going on here than meets the eye. There are a few twists and turns along the way, but I couldn’t help but feel as if Camino Winds existed on island time.

Nelson Kerr is one of the authors that regularly participates in Bruce’s writer dinners on the island. The author of four novels that sold well (this book, like <i>Camino Island</i> pulls back the curtain a bit on the writing industry), and he’s working on his fifth. His latest centers on nursing home fraud and how patients’ lives are possibly being extended for billions of dollars in federal government payments. Nelson’s fiction may have hit too close to home and he’s suddenly the target of several large corporations who want to keep this cash-cow going.

As with a lot of recent Grisham, you do have to wade through a few passages intended to sway you into thinking whatever social injustice is taking place is the worst thing ever and how we could or should be taking steps to fight against it. In a related note, I’m finding it easier to skim these to get back to why I’m here — to have some type of resolution to the central mystery.

If your usual expectation of Grisham is a pulse-pounding, page-turner, odds are you’re going to be disappointed by this one. If you’re looking for a laid back, summer mystery read that is character-driven and doesn’t overstay it’s welcome, give this one a try.

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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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Audiobook Review: Anna K by Jenny Lee

Anna K: A Love Story (Anna K, #1)Literary confession: I’ve never read Anna Karenina. And, honestly, I’m not really tempted to pick it up any time soon.

So, the thought of reading a re-telling of the story with elite, privileged teenagers standing in for Russian nobles of the day seemed like a good way of getting a taste of the story without necessarily having to commit weeks of my life to actually reading it.

Jenny Lee’s Anna K is the potato chip version of reading classic literature — tastes great in the moment, but it doesn’t have any long term nutritional value. Continue reading

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Audiobook Review: It Sounded Better in My Head by Nina Kenwood

It Sounded Better in My HeadEighteen-year-old Natalie’s life is in a bit of turmoil. Waiting on her final exam scores that will determine her future collegiate and possibly professional choices, her parents pick Christmas Day to inform her they’re divorcing. Meanwhile, her best friends Zach and Lucy are dating and Natalie finds herself suddenly attracted to Zach’s “bad boy” older brother, Alex.

Natalie suffers from self-esteem issues from severe acne that has left scars — both physical and emotional.

But as she continues to be drawn to Alex, could it be that he’s drawn to her as well?

Nina Kenwood’s It Sounded Better in My Head is a refreshing entry in the young adult genre. As Natalie tries to come to terms with the vast changes taking place in her life, the first-person narration is always authentic. Natatlie’s confusion and concerns at this crossroads in her life ring true on each page (or in my case, in each minute of the audiobook). As Natalie struggles with her feelings about Alex and her changing world, I found myself rooting for her. And not necessarily for a perfect ending to everything, but one that rings true and works for Natalie.

It Sounded Better in My Head doesn’t find an insta-fix for all of Natalie’s concerns by the final pages. But it find a nice conclusion to the journey she takes over the course of this book. And while I was completely satisfied with where Natalie’s story ends in this novel, I wouldn’t be opposed to future books checking in on her and giving us a bit more of her journey.

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Review: Doctor Who: The Paradise of Death by Barry Letts

Doctor Who: The Paradise of DeathBack before the Internet was for porn, cat memes, and social media, it was for trading bootleg copies of out of circulation pop culture items. In my case, this consisted of trying to track down a watchable copy of the orphaned Doctor Who episodes or other little goodies related to Who fandom.

One item that was fairly easy to trade was a bootleg copy of the 1993’s radio play, “The Paradise of Death.” Since audio didn’t require any conversion process to be useful on both sides of the pond, all you had to do was track down someone who had the time and inclination to dub the episodes off onto cassette and send them to you.

With Doctor Who being pulled off the air, any bit of new Doctor Who was like an oasis in the desert that was the “wilderness years.” Continue reading

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