Book Review | The Hanging Girl by Eileen Cook

hanging girl cover.jpgDuring Skye’s senior year of high school, a fellow classmate is kidnapped. After popular Paige goes missing, no one suspects tarot card reader Skye could be involved, which makes her the perfect choice of accomplice. Skye’s role is to feed tips to the police under the guise that she’s having visions about the crime. Problems arise when Paige doesn’t stick to their plans and Skye realizes she is in over her head.

As a young adult suspense mystery, The Hanging Girl is successful. The story is easy to follow and has enough plot twists to keep the reader guessing until the very end. Chapter breaks are frequent enough and the book’s length is appropriate. That said, the characters are difficult, in that they are rather unlikable, and the narrator is self-deprecating. Similes are overused and the writing style, at times, is a challenge. Readers who enjoy a book for its story that can overlook the stylistic annoyances will have a winner here. Check it out from a library near you!

I received an advance reading copy of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating.

*Fans of The Hanging Girl, may be interested in The Leaf Reader by Emily Arsenault (2017).

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Book Review | The Leaf Reader by Emily Arsenault

leaf reader cover.jpgProtagonist Marnie is not one of high school’s popular kids, but her hobby of tea leaf reading gets her involved with the in crowd after one of their own goes missing. Matt is attractive and popular, but something seems slightly off about him. As he searches for answers about his best friend’s disappearance, it’s unclear to Marnie whether he knows more than he’s letting on or has an ulterior motive. When Marnie begins having recurring dreams that involve her tea leaf readings and seeing images outside of the tea cups, she realizes she may be the only hope of solving the town’s mystery.

Definitely a YA book, The Leaf Reader was an enjoyable read. The writing is simple and straight-forward, with an easy to follow plot. The cast of characters is manageable, though somewhat flat. The mystery in this book is intriguing and certainly unpredictable. It’s a plot-driven, fast paced, quick and engaging read. Check it out from a library near you!

I received an advance uncopyedited edition of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway.

*If you’ve enjoyed reading The Leaf Reader, you may be interested in The Clairvoyants by Karen Brown (2017).

Book Review | Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry

under the harrow.jpegFeaturing a murder and hunt for the killer in a small town, Under the Harrow is a suspense novel reminiscent of Broadchurch. Nora is off to visit her sister Rachel for a weekend away from London. In place of a hug and a hot home-cooked meal she witnesses a bloody scene: Rachel stabbed to death in her own home. Not trusting the police to find the killer, Nora takes up residence in the town and begins her own search for her sister’s killer. Only this isn’t her first time playing detective for her sister…

Berry has penned a winner in her debut novel. Her writing style is concise and appealing for its easy to consume nature, some readers have referred to it as stream of consciousness. Characters are not exaggerated and UK slang is not overdone. Though I did not find any of the characters very appealing or relatable, their situations were understandable. This suspenseful read continues with plot twists that keep the reader speculating about possible endings. Check it out from a library near you. Disclaimer: I admit that I do not normally read mysteries, crime stories or women’s fiction. This said my opinion of the piece may be much different than a reader well-versed or generally looking to read a book in these genres. 

Best & Worst of the 23 books I read during 2016

My reading selection for 2016 contained 11 novels, three memoirs, four other various non-fiction works, three picture books, a novella and a play. In an attempt to make this post useful to readers, I’ve created sections to group the books based on my overall enjoyment of the texts. Most, but not all of the books I read during 2016 were released in 2016. The overall selection was heavily influenced by copies I received freely from publishers through Goodreads giveaways. A full list of titles appears at the end of the post.

My four favorite books:

Native Fashion Now* – Accompanies the art exhibition Native Fashion Now and honors contemporary Native American fashion throughout the past sixty-five years.

Paradime* – Doppelgänger story about two men trading lives.

Stepmother– A down-to-earth memoir describing the ups and downs of stepmothering.

The Hating Game* – A romantic comedy about two coworkers who make games of mentally torturing each other before entering a relationship.

After those four, my next five favorite books:

Imagine Me Gone* – Uses multiple narrators to trace the story of a family of five dealing with depression in its members.

The Mountains of Parnassus* – A philosophical dystopian novel about a future society without traditional government or religion by a Nobel Prize winner. To be published 2017.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things – A psychological thriller following a schizophrenic who suffers a breakdown.

The Best Possible Answer* – A YA novel about a high schooler dealing with family issues, first love and panic attacks while trying to prepare for college.

The Journey* – An illustrated book for children dealing with the adult theme of emigration caused by war.

Four books that should have been better:

Ajax Penumbra 1969 – The prequel to Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, this short book details the search for an ancient lost text.

How to Ruin Everything – A collection of essays by rapper and poet Watsky about various life experiences.

Tram 83 – Deals with two very different men trying to make it in a country resembling the DR Congo.

Sunless – A novel showing a family’s decline as they deal with a large prescription drug company.

Four books that I wouldn’t recommend to an enemy:

Mr. Bunny’s Adventure* – A picture book with poor grammar about a bunny meeting a giant.

The Mermaid Girl* – A lady who used to be a mermaid in a tank at the circus leaves her transient life to pursue a family of her own.

Only in Naples* – A memoir by a rich girl about her time spent in Italy for an internship.

The Devil’s Dancer* – A play about the production of a play which mocks everything from pop culture to capitalism.

All titles appear below in alphabetical order by author’s last name. Title links above and below are to book reviews I’ve written. Sloan is the only author I’ve read before this year. I’m happy to answer any questions about these books or provide suggestions for further reading if there’s a certain title you’ve particularly enjoyed.

The Story of a Brief Marriage* – Anuk Arudpragasm
A Cure for Suicide – Jesse Ball
Wisconsin Supper Club Cookbook – Mary Bergin
The Devil’s Dancer* – Victor Bertocchi
Sunless – Gerard Donovan
100 Nature Hot Spots in Ontario* – Chris Earley and Tracy C. Read
Paradime* – Alan Glynn
Imagine Me Gone* – Adam Haslett
Happy Hooker – Xaviera Hollander
The Best Possible Answer* – E. Katherine Kottaras

Native Fashion Now* – Karen Kramer
Stepmother* – Marianne Lile
The Mountains of Parnassus* – Czeslaw Milosz
The Storm* – Akiko Miyakoshi
Tram 83 – Fiston Mwanza Mujila
I’m Thinking of Ending Things – Iain Reid
Mr. Bunny’s Adventure* – Alisha Ricks
The Journey* – Francesca Sanna
Ajax Penumbra 1969 – Robin Sloan
The Mermaid Girl* – Erika Swyler
The Hating Game* – Sally Thorne
How to Ruin Everything – George Watsky
Only in Naples* – Katherine Wilson

*These titles were given to me in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review | Paradime by Alan Glynn

Paradime was an enjoyable read for me. This book tells the story of Danny Lynch upon his return back to New York from a contract in a mess hall in Afghanistan. Things are a bit out of sorts between him and his girlfriend Kate and as he tries to readjust to civilian life working a kitchen line job, he happens upon a man who seems to be his identical twin. Doppelgänger Teddy Trager is a tech start-up sensation who seems to have it all: money, fancy car, and a sexy, successful girlfriend. Danny stalks Teddy until lines blur and it’s no longer clear which man is which.

Glynn, author of Limitless, has penned a successful psychological thriller in Paradime. The novel is interesting from the start, easy to follow and well written. Though none of the characters are particularly likable, they are all tolerable and the flow of the story carries the narrative. Check it out from a library near you!

I received an advance reader’s copy of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway.

Book Review | So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood by Patrick Modiano

cover so you don't get lost in the neighborhood by patrick modianoFrom the beginning, this book was an inviting read, but was at times difficult to follow chronologically. Protagonist Jean Daragane is a bit of a hermit in his Paris apartment. He is drawn outside by a strange couple who claims false identities when returning his lost address book. Beyond simple pleasantries, the couple shares documents from a former police investigation and asks for Daragane’s assistance in giving additional background information. At first he is unable to recall any relevant details, but upon closer inspection he realizes just how much of his own past seems to be hidden. 

There are many things to appreciate about So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood. The writing style is very straightforward and concise. Images are depicted fairly well and the main points of the novel are clear. With few characters it is easy to keep them straight during this generously spaced quick read of about 150 pages. If you’re looking for a brief escape to Paris, this will do.

Modiano has chosen three distinct time periods in which this novel’s events occur: Daragane as a child, as a man 15-20 years later, and 40 years later believing himself to be a different person. Without any chapter breaks, I found it hard to tell the exact chronology of events. Characters were not well developed and though this was a conscious choice by the author, I have to question whether the book would have been better served with more text. I found the first half of the book much more intriguing than the second half. Check it out from a library near you. If you really enjoy this book, try The Silence of the Wave by Gianrico Carofiglio

A Summary of the 27 books I read during 2014 – Best & Worst

The titles are listed below and are mostly novels, but also include art and historical fiction, art history, photography and short stories. In an attempt to make this post useful to readers, I’ve created sections to group the books. Not all of the books I read during 2014 were released in 2014. A full list of titles appears at the end of the post.

My four favorite books:

A Marker to Measure Drift – A Liberian refugee in her mid-20’s is starving as she tries to make a new life in the Greek Isles.

Sad Peninsula – A Canadian ESL teacher in South Korea learns about the Japanese occupation during World War II and Korean comfort women.

The Anatomy Lesson – In 1600’s Amsterdam, Rembrandt paints his masterpiece of a human dissection.

Decompression – A German writer and soap star take a vacation to the Canary Islands to learn scuba diving.

After those four, my next five favorite books:

Hikikomori and the Rental Sister – A man has made his room a prison that he will not leave so his wife hires a Japanese rental sister to coax him out.

The Silence of the Wave – An Italian detective has suffered a breakdown after many years undercover, but things look up when he meets a lady.

A Hologram for the King – A failing business man is sent to Saudi Arabia to broker an IT deal with the king.

The Book of You – An English woman is relentlessly stalked by a fellow university employee.

The Year of the Hare – A man quits his job and leaves his wife and life to spend a year wandering Finland with a hare as his companion.

Four books that should have been better:

Shotgun Lovesongs – High school friends are reunited in smalltown Wisconsin for a wedding.

The Last Magazine – An intern watches a journalist’s career being shredded to protect the magazine.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – A Japanese man living a quiet life learns the stories that ripped his high school friends away from him.

October – A South African woman returns home after years abroad to face the trials that have torn her family apart.

Five books that were a waste of my time:

Notes from the Internet Apocalypse – The internet goes out and a man searches for a way to restore it.

Rude Bitches Make Me Tired – A lady rants about habits of others that she considers rude and annoying.

The Transcriptionist – A newspaper transcriptionist becomes obsessed with a story about a blind woman being mauled to death by lions.

Monster’s Chef – An ex-convict is hired as the personal chef for a famous musician.

The Way Inn – A man discovers that his hotel is a gateway to accessing the whole world.

All titles appear in alphabetical order by author’s last name. Title links are to book reviews I’ve written. I’ve placed an asterisk by the names of authors whose work I had previously read. I’m happy to answer any questions about these books or provide suggestions for further reading if there’s a certain title you particularly enjoyed.

Hikikomori and the Rental Sister – Jeff Backhaus
Shotgun Lovesongs – Nickolas Butler
The Silence of the Wave – Gianrico Carofiglio
A Hologram for the King – Dave Eggers*
The Coast & the Sea: Marine and Maritime Art in America at the New-York Historical Society – Linda S. Ferber
Notes from the Internet Apocalypse – Wayne Gladstone
Terms & Conditions – Robert Glancy
The Last Magazine – Michael Hastings
Horrorstör – Grady Hendrix
Fifty Shades trilogy – E.L. James
The Book of You – Claire Kendal
Joyland – Stephen King*
A Marker to Measure Drift – Alexander Maksik
Perimeter : A Contemporary Portrait of Lake Michigan – Kevin J. Miyazaki
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – Haruki Murakami*
The Strange Library – Haruki Murakami*
An English Ghost Story – Kim Newman
The Year of the Hare – Arto Paasilinna
Rude Bitches Make Me Tired – Celia Rivenbark
The Transcriptionist – Amy Rowder
Sad Peninsula – Mark Sampson
The Anatomy Lesson – Nina Siegal
Monster’s Chef – Jervey Trevalon
October – Zoë Wicomb*
The Way Inn – Will Wiles
Decompression – Juli ZehBooks I tried to read, but quit:
Ripper – Isabelle Allende
Cartwheel – Jennifer Dubois
On Such a Full Sea – Chang-Rae Lee