Tuesday, November 3, 2015

My take on: Then No One Can Have Her

TV shows like Snapped, 48 Hours, Lockup, and just about anything on Investigation ID are extremely addicting for me. True-crime novels are right up my alley. Although, I must confess that books by the late Ann Rule were always at the top of my list. But.....Caitlin Rother has become one of my favorites too.

Rother's latest book, Then No One Can Have Her, is a deep dive into the July 2008 murder of Carol Kennedy, a divorced mother of two. The obvious suspect was her ex-husband Steven DeMocker.

Why him? Isn't that a little too easy? Sometimes the most obvious answer is the correct one. I don't think I'm spoiling anything by saying that Steve DeMocker is a murder. This book is a detailed, well-researched account of the events leading up to Carol's murder and the years after that it took to bring him to trial.

Some parts of this book were so hard, and at the same time so infuriating to read. Carol was bludgeoned to death. The details were stomach-churning. This woman suffered in her final moments. The infuriating part was Steve's behavior after the fact. His narcissism comes through loud and clear in the book. There wasn't a whole lot of empathy on his part, even for his own daughters Katie and Charlotte. He showed no emotion while his grieving daughters eulogized their mother. Steve's own speech at the funeral was not about Carol but himself. His "alibi" was also just a little too convenient, a sudden bike ride on the night of the murder. A bike ride on a trail which no one saw him. A bike ride that resulted in scratches on his body. A bike ride that was suspiciously near Carol's home. A bike ride that resulted in a flat tire. A bike ride in which his cellphone was mysteriously turned off for several hours. 

There's so much that pointed to Steve's guilt. He owned a set of golf clubs, which were consistent with the suspected murder weapon. Yet it would take years before a trial got underway. Changes in Steve's defense team and changes behind the bench led to delay after delay. Where's good old Steve these days? I think everyone can guess.

Where do people like Steve DeMocker come from? Why do they do what they do? What gives them the right to be judge, jury, and executioner over innocent people? It's hard to know or even comprehend. But writers, like Caitlin Rother, are doing a good job to bring light to these cases. This one is worth a read.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Kensington Publishing) as part of a blog tour.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Martian: The book vs. the movie

Ok, The Martian by Andy Weir has been out for more than a year. The movie The Martian has been out for a little more than two weeks.

Why am I saying this?

Because I don't know how to talk about both without some spoilers. Sooooooooooo if you haven't read the book or seen the movie, I suggest you come back later.

Here comes a really big picture of the book, just in case.

Still here? Ok, lets dive in. I think most people know the basic story. After a disastrous sandstorm, the Ares 3 crew must abort their mission on Mars. In the race to get to the ship and off the surface of Mars, astronaut Mark Watney is hit by flying debris and presumed dead. Commander Lewis doesn't want to leave Mars without Watney, but has to make the difficult decision to do so. The Ares 3 crew lifts off the surface of Mars and heads back to Hermes, the ship that will take them back to Earth.

Of course Watney isn't dead. Just knocked out. He's left to fend for himself. The communications equipment is damaged, how will he contact Mission Control? How can he stretch his food to last until the next Ares crew comes in four years? How long before he loses his mind listening to Commander Lewis' endless supply of disco music? That last one is source of comic relief throughout the book and the movie.

I don't normally read science fiction, but I jumped on the bandwagon after reading so many good reviews. I have to say this is one of the funniest books I've read in a long time.

How can you not like a book when the first line is this, "I'm pretty much f*****."

Use your imagination on that last word.

There is a lot to like about this book. The fighting and funny banter at Mission Control as they try to work out a plan to save Watney. Commander Lewis getting over her guilt about leaving Watney behind. But.....this does read like a first book. Andy Weir self-published this book before signing a deal with Crown (an imprint at Penguin Random House). This could have used just a little bit more editing. The prose is very straightforward, but it's also awkward at times. It's very heavy on the science. I appreciate Andy Weir's need to be authentic, but it got a little boring at times.

Which now brings me to the movie. I LOVED the movie. Probably a little bit more than I liked the book. It's not as heavy on the science, the balance was just right. Occasionally, Matt Damon annoys me with his politics but I think he was the perfect choice to play Mark Watney. He portrayed Mark with the right amount of dry humor and vulnerability. The movie is pretty faithful to the book. Some of the lines are straight from the book. There are some slight tweaks to the movie. After regaining contact with Mission Control, Mark never loses it. Which is weird to me because that was a major plot point in the latter half of the book. Mark's trip to the Ares 4 ascent vehicle is drama-free, no sandstorm to avoid, no craters, no overturning of the rover. Commander Lewis takes control of Watney's rescue at the end. I won't tell you how, but if you've read the book you know what I mean. Overall, this is a book worth reading and a movie worth watching.

Book rating: Superb
Movie rating: O.M.G. !!!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

My take on: Liar Temptress Soldier Spy

Narrative non-fiction is usually a tough one for me. I've given it a try many times only to not finish. Thankfully, that's not the case here. Liar Temptress Soldier Spy by Karen Abbott is the tale of four women, each of whom played a pivotal role in the Civil War.

Teenager Belle Boyd boldly shot a Union soldier, eventually becoming a spy for the Confederate army.

Emma Edmonds became a master of disguise, enlisting as a Union soldier named Frank Thompson.

Widowed Rose O'Neal Greenhow was a well-connected Southerner who used her own daughter to deliver messages to the Confederate army.

Elizabeth Van Lew is so repulsed by slavery, she's become a staunch abolitionist--even against the beliefs of her some of her family members.

The Civil War was not America at it's finest. I find books on this time period to be dry and boring. But Karen Abbott manages to make this topic interesting with a hint of mystery. I found Emma's story the most compelling. I'm not trying to be mean, but she didn't look overly feminine or overly masculine. I can see how she managed to fool people. Imagine trying to keep a secret like that. President Lincoln put out the call for volunteers. Emma felt it was not just her patriotic duty but her religious duty to serve. She believed in helping others. No mission was too big or too small, even becoming a Pinkerton spy.

This whole book reads like fiction. Each chapter you want to know more. Each chapter you want to know how these women inserted themselves into history. At the time, they were doing things that went against what was considered normal for women. Rather than being ladies of leisure, they become ladies of espionage. Rather than waiting for the men to come home from war, they jumped into the fray. Rose openly hide coded messages in her home, clothing, and many other places. Even in prison, still found a way to spy on her Union captors--using her daughter as a courier. Elizabeth built a large network of spies, even planting a former slave, who could read, at the Southern White House. She proved to be a valuable piece, relaying information from top secret documents. Each woman played a part. Whether they were right or wrong, each of these women were very passionate about their causes and that shines through in Karen Abbott's engrossing narrative.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Harper Perennial) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours.

Monday, August 31, 2015

My take on: The Girl on The Train

Ok, this is take two for this review. Blogger was going through some growing pains last night. I worked on my post for more than an hour, saved several times, hit post.....only to lose everything I had written. I just didn't feel like starting from scratch last night. I'm giving it another go today.

Onto the business at hand!

I jumped on the bandwagon. I read another popular book that is setting the publishing world on fire. The last time I read a popular book, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, I was deeply disappointed. I loved the movie adaptation of Gone Girl, but I hated the book. I thought the same thing would happen with The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. While the movie won't be out for at least another year, I was pleasantly surprised by the book.

After reading more than half of the book, I was debating giving up on it. Why? This is a book full of unreliable characters. But ..... as a whole this was a good book.

Rachel Watson is the girl on the train. Everyday Rachel rides the early morning train. Everyday she rides the train to escape from reality. Everyday she rides the train past her old neighborhood. Everyday she rides the train she is reminded of her failed marriage, and of her ex-husband's new life. But everyday she rides the train, Rachel gets a glimpse into the lives of a young couple. A young couple she doesn't know, but wishes she could. In her head, this young couple is happy. Their names are "Jess" and "Jason." Rachel lives vicariously through this young couple. But one day "Jess" shatters the fantasy. She has an affair. How can "Jess" do this to "Jason?" Weeks later things take a turn for the worse when "Jess" disappears. Did Jason have something to do with it? No, that can't be. The man "Jess" was having an affair with has to be at fault! Rachel has to go to the police. She has to tell the police what she saw. But will they believe her? Highly unlikely. Why? Rachel is a hopeless alcoholic.

When she's not riding the train, Rachel is drowning herself in alcohol. She's been fired from job. Her roommate/landlord is on the verge of evicting Rachel. Her ex-husband, Tom, and his new wife, Anna, think Rachel is a pathetic, drunk, stalker. When Rachel is coherent enough, she phones Tom constantly and shows up at his home, frightening Anna. The deck is stacked heavily against Rachel. Who would believe anything she says? I certainly didn't. I found Rachel to be extremely annoying and whiny. I wanted her to just grow a backbone. Every chapter was just more of the same. Every time I thought she got her act together, Rachel would just get drunk all over again.

Fortunately the book offers more than just Rachel's perspective. We also get to hear from Anna and Megan Hipwell a.k.a "Jess." Anna isn't the greatest character. She had an affair with a married man, leading to the end of Tom and Rachel's marriage. She's in constant fear of Rachel, but I didn't really care. Morally, Anna just didn't have a leg to stand on. Megan on the other hand, was a slightly interesting character. We learn that Megan and her husband, Scott a.k.a. "Jason," have a troubled marriage. Scott thinks therapy for Megan will save their marriage. It works and it doesn't work, if that makes sense. Megan was hiding big secrets, she lets some of those out. She feels better about herself but not her marriage. She doesn't know what to do with her life. When she disappears, suspicion falls on Scott. But reading the book, you know that's just too easy. 

Rachel alone almost made me give up on this book. But I kept going. I wanted to know what happened to Megan. There had to be more to the story. None of the characters has any redeeming qualities, but there was just enough to hold my attention. If you're struggling with this one, keep reading. The ending will be worth it. Hopefully, the movie will be even better!

Rating: As a whole, Superb! The first 60-70 percent, Meh.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Mini review: The Nightingale

According to my Goodreads account, I started reading The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah on January 19 and finished on August 10. Seven months to finish a book? It shouldn't take that long. But I made the mistake of starting this book the week before my final semester of grad school. Once school started, reading for pleasure took a backseat.

Although.....I did manage to finish other books because of blog tours. I picked up The Nightingale, put it down, picked it up, put it down, picked up, put it down. It's not because I didn't like the book. From January until the end of April, my free time was scarce. After that, I was catching up on sleep and the mountain of shows on my DVR! But I was determined to finish this book. It takes place during World War II and I love historical fiction.

Two sisters, one conservative and controlled the other a free spirit who won't be contained. At the height of the war, both will be put the test, risking not just their freedom but their lives. Viann's husband, Antoine, is a soldier, fighting against the Germans trying to take over France. In Antoine's absence, Viann has to be both a mother and a father to their daughter, Sophie. She doesn't have time to deal with her wayward sister, Isabelle. The Nazi's are overtaking the small town of Carriveau. Food is scarce. The town is in shambles. Not a good time for Isabelle to get kicked out of yet another school, or to bring her ideas of a "Free France" to town.

Viann is forced to house a Nazi soldier in her home. It's the only way Viann can keep her home and her family safe. Isabelle disagrees. Isabelle wants to do more than just sit back and live according to the rules set by the Nazis. There has to be a way to fight back. But fighting back can put her life at risk. She has to leave Viann and Sophie. She has to help others. Neither sister believes in what the other is doing. Both sisters believe that the other is wrong. Neither sister wants to back down.

While this is a fictional story, The Nightingale is based in reality. It's well-researched. The book shows that Isabelle is more than just a wayward, fly-by-the-moment woman. She has a good heart. Viann is stronger than she realizes. She does whatever it takes to hold her family together. It's a story of love and family and the ties that hold us together. Definitely a book worth reading!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (St. Martin's Press) in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Mini hiatus!

I know.....I have not posted in a while. I was away on vacation. But I'm back now and will start posting reviews again this weekend.

What reviews are coming up?

Yes, I have jumped on the bandwagon. I'm reading The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Halfway through the book, this is falling in the Gone Girl category. What do I mean? I'm not liking the book. Rachel, the main narrator, is getting on my nerves. But....I hear this is going to be made into a movie. Like Gone Girl, I think this will make a better movie. I have a little more than 100 pages left. If the ending knocks my sock off, I might change my mind but I don't have high hopes.

I finished The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah two weeks ago. and it was great. But my review might be short. I started it in January....when I was still in grad school. So, I put it down, picked it up, put it down, picked it up, read other books. You get the picture. But I was determined to finished The Nightingale. My memory of the book from start to finish might be a little fuzzy, that's why my review will be short.

Time to step out of my comfort zone! I'm reading a graphic novel, Blankets by Craig Thompson. As an intern for a children's publisher, I did read a short one. But Blankets is the first graphic novel I'm reading on my own.

Stay tuned!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Time for a giveaway!!

It's summertime! It's time to stock up on some great books!

Make sure to put The Idea of Love by Patti Callahan Henry on your reading list. Thanks to Sullivan and Partners, I have one finished copy available for giveaway. This is open to U.S. and Canada residents only. Simply leave a comment below and that's it! One winner will be selected at random on July 31. Happy reading!

Book description:
The Idea of Love is a duplicitous and compelling story of love lost and found in unexpected places and is praised by New York Times bestselling author Dorothea Benton Frank as "so wonderful I wish I had written it myself...This is a huge winner--no lie!"
A Nicholas Sparks-esque screenwriter lacking inspiration in the wake of his divorce, Blake is desperately in search of a love story beautiful enough to translate into big screen success. Disguising himself as a travel writer, he treks down the east coast to sleepy southern Watersend in search of a love story he can borrow. When he speaks with the young and beautiful Ella Flynn, he's convinced he has his screenplay: Ella's beloved husband died saving her life. It's the perfect love story for his audiences...and it's also a lie. 

Reeling from the shock of her very much alive husband's affair, Ella is lost. When she speaks to Blake and dismisses him as a stranger she'll never see again, she creates the life she wants and paints herself as a successful wedding dress designer recovering from her saintly husband's sacrificial death.

Drawn to each other's lies and grappling with their flawed understandings of love, Ella and Blake's chance meeting gradually leads to more encounters and a larger web of deceit. As Blake and Ella bind themselves tighter with the lies they tell, the inevitable unraveling of their stories will end as neither imagined.
Patti Callahan Henry is a New York Times bestselling storyteller of eleven books, including The Stories We Tell, Between the Tides, and Driftwood Summer. Patti lives in Mountain Brook, Alabama with her husband and three children, where she is crafting her next story.

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