Thursday, April 28, 2016

"The Girls:A Novel" by Emma Cline

Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.
This book is told through the eyes of Evie in both past and present day. I usually like alternating timelines, but this one seemed disjointed. It seemed to take away from the overall feel, way too choppy. While it was interesting to see what Evie's future held, it didn't bring any significant part to the meat of the story. 

The synopsis made the book seem like it would be a compelling read about a girl who joins a Manson-like cult. Very intriguing and sounded like an amazing read, but I think that's the reason I was a bit disappointed. This is more of a coming-of-age story. A curious teen with a bit of rebellion in her. The pace is slow in the beginning. I honestly wasn't sure if I would continue reading because for the first 
25% I was simply reading about her day to day life as a horny, rebellious, angry teen. The summary didn't seem to be everything it said the book would be.

Misleading summary aside, the writing itself is beautiful and imaginative. Very easy to read and get swept up in the novel. I enjoyed reading, but overall it seemed to be missing the "wow factor". It was entertaining, at times, but I felt that specific parts should have been explored more. I have mixed feeling on how to rate this book. I hated Evie by the end and just couldn't feel any empathy for her when it was all said and done. 

There has been a lot of buzz about this book. While it was interesting and a wonderful story, it was just not what I was expecting. Had I known beforehand it wasn't full of the "behind the cult" workings mixed with the crime aspect I probably would have held off reading it until my TBR list was less busy. Not my typical genre, but a solid 3.5 stars.

"The Girls" by Emma Cline is due to be released on June 14, 2016. Thanks to Netgalley and Random House UK, Vintage Publishing for allowing me the eARC to read and post my honest review.
Happy Reading! 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

"Crash Alive" by Christopher Kerns

What an adventure! This is easily one of the best YA thrillers I have read in awhile! I found myself turning on my Kindle any chance I had to read this page-turner! 

I get quit a few requests to read and review ebooks by authors. With my busy life and never ending stack of books to read I can't say yes to all of them, but when Christopher Kerns emailed me with the request for me to read and review Crash Alive I just couldn't turn it down after reading the synopsis! I knew I had to work it into my reading schedule. I am so glad I did!

A code that has never been broken.

A secret society with an unthinkable plan.

A hacker that has had enough.

The only comfort teenager Haylie Black knows is in the world of technology—coding late into the night, building cool gadgets, and occasionally breaking into places where she doesn’t belong. But Haylie’s world is turned upside down when she learns shocking news: her brother has vanished attempting to solve an Internet puzzle known as “Raven 2309.” 

To find him, Haylie must enter an unknown world, circling the globe and uncovering the dangerous group behind Raven’s design, to outsmart a puzzle that has never been solved; the puzzle called “The Greatest Mystery on the Internet.” 

Crash Alive is a next-generation thriller, featuring hacking techniques ripped from today’s headlines, real-world secret societies, and puzzles that will keep readers turning the next page, trying their best to stay one step ahead. 

I loved the female protaganist, Haylie. She is young, sassy, and smart. Her personality mixed with the cool tech, mysterious secret societies, and a scavenger hunt makes for one exciting read. Buckle up, because this book will keep you on edge with every page you turn. 

This book is very well researched. All hacks and exploits referenced are based on real-world technology. Christopher Kerns has spent more than 20 years advising top companies worldwide on technology strategies and has worked his tech knowledge into this book flawlessly. Kerns starts out by telling the reader about two secret societies that actually do exist. From the get-go and throughout then entire story I found myself toggling back and forth between the book and the internet to research and discover along with Haylie. 

The pacing of the plot is great. I was never bored while reading, nor were there situations that were under explained and left me wondering "what just happened". Kerns did an excellent job of keeping me interested and the story moved along at a steady pace. Plot twists were thrown in at the perfect times, keeping me guessing throughout this entire book. 

I have to admit that technology and hacking is something that interests me, though I do not consider myself "tech savvy". I was afraid that explanations of hacks and computer programs would leave me confused and scratching my head. That was not the case at all. All hacks and computer procedures were clearly and easily explained. Never once did I feel lost or confused. 

I will leave you all with that small tidbit of information because if I keep talking about this I will likely give away spoilers. This is the first book in a series and I very much look forward to reading more from Christopher Kerns. 

The Kindle and paperback version of Crash Alive is available now on Amazon. I suggest getting your preferred version now! This is a book you don't want to miss! 

Thank you, once again, to Christopher Kerns for allowing me a review ecopy. I loved every second of it! When you are finished reading dont forget to check out his website where he shares pics and info about how he researched for this book. Very interesting! 

Happy Reading! 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography

Wow! This was another autobiography I listened to via digital download from my library, and I was not disappointed! I am so glad I went the audio route with Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris. This was narrated by Neil himself, so I got to hear every sarcastic, witty tone of voice during the stories he told.

Neil's life story is told through the borrowed writing style of the Choose Your Own Adventure books, which happened to be books he loved as a kid. If you aren't familiar with these books, they are children's game books that let the reader choose the story line to determine the main character's outcome. The stories are formatted so that, after a couple of pages of reading, the protagonist faces two or three options, each of which leads to more options, and then to one of many endings. In this audio version of NPH's (Neil Patrick Harris) autobiography, he says things like "if you would like to try out for the school musical keep listening. If you would like to star in a tv show about a high school doctor, wait a bit longer". Very clever and engaging.

I just can't imagine not loving everything about NPH. Back in his Doogie Howser, MD tv days I thought he was sooooo cute! I am pretty sure I had his Tiger Beat poster hung on my wall as a tween. Now in his "grown-up" days he is a vibrant, caring, funny guy, and I can't help but be entertained by his comedic style of story telling. 

NPH tells his story in his amazing NPH story-telling way. He is funny and witty, and you can't help but be excited when you hear him talk about the things he loves.He takes us through all the chapters of his life so far. From his early childhood growing up in New Mexico, to how he got bit by the acting bug, to his times on screen and stage. He talks about celebrity friendships and feuds, and even his love of magic. I loved when is husband, David, came on to talk about him. 

All in all this was a wonderfully entertaining autobiography. Done in an engaging, playful way. He even is so kind as to throw in some how-to card tricks and a couple food and cocktail recipes. He knows how to please the reader! Nothing seemed to be off limits, and he tells his complete story from the start of his life to the time the book was published. 

If you need something good to listen to on the commute to work, a fun listen while tanning poolside, or are just interested in the life of NPH then give this audio version a go. Or the actual physical or ebook. It's your choice. Believe me, you will laugh out loud and be entertained.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

"Burying The Honeysuckle Girls" by Emily Carpenter

Look at that cover! It's gorgeous and alluring. It is exactly what initially drew me to this novel. The second thing that made me want to read, of course, was the description.

Althea Bell is still heartbroken by her mother’s tragic, premature death—and tormented by the last, frantic words she whispered into young Althea’s ear: Wait for her. For the honeysuckle girl. She’ll find you, I think, but if she doesn’t, you find her.
Adrift ever since, Althea is now fresh out of rehab and returning to her family home in Mobile, Alabama, determined to reconnect with her estranged, ailing father. While Althea doesn’t expect him, or her politically ambitious brother, to welcome her with open arms, she’s not prepared for the chilling revelation of a grim, long-buried family secret. Fragile and desperate, Althea escapes with an old flame to uncover the truth about her lineage. Drawn deeper into her ancestors’ lives, Althea begins to unearth their disturbing history…and the part she’s meant to play in it.
Gripping and visceral, this unforgettable debut delves straight into the heart of dark family secrets and into one woman’s emotional journey to save herself from a sinister inheritance.

Multi-generational family secrets set in the deep south, a very damaged main character, and a mystery to be solved with limited time to unravel the truth. These are things I love in a mystery. This book did not disappoint! I swallowed it up and couldn't stop thinking about it when I wasn't reading.

I loved how the author, Emily Carpenter, switched back and forth between present day and the 1930s. As a reader I got to experience the mystery and hear the story from two different points of views simultaneously. Reading about the mystery of this family's past from the beginning and how it affected the family through the years up to present day added a depth to the novel that, I think, was presented perfectly.

There was a point in the story that I had to put the book aside and make a family tree. I was getting confused with all the names and dates and writing out a family tree really helped me get a visual picture of who was who. Because I received this ebook from Netgalley as an eARC I am not sure if the final print will have a family tree graphic somewhere between its pages, but if not it might help if you draw out your own. 

(Family Tree Chart drawn by me) 

This is a fast paced mystery and its twist and turns left me guessing right up until the very end. Character development was simple, yet complete, and I really felt like I got to know Althea and her great-grandmother, Jinn. The scene descriptions of The South were perfect and drew me into the story while adding more mystery.

This was a quick, exciting, and mysteriously haunting read. From the first page when Althea pulled up to her southern family mansion I was hooked. I liked the ending- it solved "the mystery" yet still kept me thinking about other aspects that were apart of Althea's life... was it circumstances of a horrific family past or were mystical southern family curses at play? One may never know... 

This novel just really took hold of me. I loved all the connections and similarities between generations of Althea and the women of her family. The circumstances surrounding her family mystery really hit home and left me thinking about my own family past. Does history repeat itself? I recently started digging into my own family history and found that 100 years ago my 3x great grandmother lived an eerily similar life to me. She was a stay at home mother of 3 kids whose husband was an electrician on the railroad- exactly like my life now! Even if you already know about your family tree, or havent ever thought about it, I think this book will bring out interest regarding every reader's family tree. Are there any buried secrets in your family's past? 

I look forward to seeing other books published by this debut author. Thanks to Netgalley and Lake Union Publishing for allowing me to read and review this 5 star book. It is due to be released April 26, 2016 so preorder now and add it to your TBR list! You can order it on Amazon here. 

Happy Reading!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Chris Cleave's "Everyone Brave Is Forgiven"

My very first Chris Cleave novel, though definitely not my last. This author has a couple books that have been on my TBR list for ages. Despite the fact that a few friends have told me I HAVE to read Little Bee, it wasn't until I read the description for Everyone Brave Is Forgiven that I knew it was time to try this author out and request the ARC from Netgalley

London, 1939.

The day war is declared, Mary North leaves finishing school unfinished, goes straight to the War Office, and signs up.

Tom Shaw decides to ignore the war—until he learns his roommate Alistair Heath has unexpectedly enlisted. Then the conflict can no longer be avoided.

Young, bright, and brave, Mary is certain she’d be a marvelous spy. When she is—bewilderingly—made a teacher, she finds herself defying prejudice to protect the children her country would rather forget.

Tom, meanwhile, finds that he will do anything for Mary.

And when Mary and Alistair meet, it is love, as well as war, that will test them in ways they could not have imagined, entangling three lives in violence and passion, friendship and deception, inexorably shaping their hopes and dreams.

Set in London during the years of 1939–1942, when citizens had slim hope of survival, much less victory; and on the strategic island of Malta, which was daily devastated by the Axis barrage, Everyone Brave is Forgiven features little-known history and a perfect wartime love story inspired by the real-life love letters between Chris Cleave’s grandparents. This dazzling novel dares us to understand that, against the great theater of world events, it is the intimate losses, the small battles, the daily human triumphs that change us most.

If you have been reading my reviews for awhile you know that I love historical fiction books that are set in and around WWII in Europe. So this seemed like the perfect novel for me to get to know the writings of Chris Cleave. I was slightly weary since there was the aspect of the love triangle. I am not a fan of romance novels and was worried that this book would solely focus on that aspect, but I was not disappointed!

Told from alternating points of views, this story is primarily set in London during the start of WWII. I liked that the story was told primarily through dialog and the inner thoughts of the characters. For some reason my reading flow and the imagery in my mind run smoother when I am getting the point of view of the character(s) instead of a third person point of view. 

Cleave's writing is exquisite, and made me feel all the horrors of both life in the city during the bombings and the horrors on the battlefield during WWII. The scenes are graphic, haunting and will stay with you long after you have turned the page. 

The grammar used at times was hard for me to read. Being half African-American and the parent of a special needs child, repetitively reading the words "mongrel, nigger, and retard" during dialog like it was no big deal was hard for me.  I do understand that this was the accepted wordage used in that time. It made the story more real, but it did break my heart and make me a bit upset every time the words floated by on the page.

A mixed pace of slow and steady reading, the beginning seemed to move extremely slow paced for me. Not to the point were I was bored, but to the point were I was hoping that something exciting would happen soon. I am a very patient reader but there were times when I was a bit antsy for something more to happen.  

When the reading pace picks up you have to be alert. The dramatic turns seemed to happen in a fast paced, nonchalant way. Reading while I was in bed and tired made me stop and think "wait, did I read that right? Did I miss something?". I would have to go back and re-read parts. I recommend being fully awake when reading because there is a good chance that if you are sleepy you will miss something important! 

The ending was perfect, but not. Part of me wanted the cheesy, expected ending. I wanted to see what happened in an unrealistic way. However, Cleave was so thoughtful to end it the way he did. 

This is a story of love, friendships, and family during a horrific part of our world history. It takes you through feelings of angst, faith, dread, and hopefulness. Solid and detailed writing with some very clever humor written in. Even during the lighthearted scenes, there was always that gloomy feeling of being in the midst of a war looming in the background. Exactly how one would feel if they were in that situation of war and despair. Such masterfully written I felt like I was the characters at times. Wonderfully detailed scene description throughout. 

I am so thankful to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for allowing me to read the eARC. A 4 star read for me and I will definitely read other books by this author, sooner rather than later! Pre-order this novel now because you will want to start it the very day it is released, which is May 3, 2016. 

Happy Reading!  

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

"The Witness Wore Red" by Rebecca Musser

I know, I know... another audio-book about a cult. It's one of my guilty pleasures. My last audio-book review was for "The Sound of Gravel" by Ruth Wariner which you can read here if you missed it. Like Wariner's memoir, The Witness Wore Red is also about life as a child in an FLDS community. Rebecca Musser's story is a more well-known, highly publicized account.

Rebecca Musser, aka Becky as referred to in the book, was born into a polygamist family. Her mother was the second wife of her father. The families shared the same house and her and her siblings were often abused by her father's first wife. Receiving an education at Alta Academy, the FLDS's prestigious school headed by Warren Jeffs, she was brainwashed into believing that everyone from the outside world was a danger to her and her people.   At age 19 she became the 19th wife to Rulon Jeffs, the 85 year old prophet.

This lengthy book goes into the exquisitely detailed account of Rebecca's life growing up in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, her escape from the community, and her life thereafter. The title of the book relates to her many court appearances, wearing the forbidden color red, as she testified against leaders of the church.

While listening to the author herself read the book I couldn't help but take note about all the things that just seemed too much. She seemed to over simplify the explanation of religious aspects of her church. These are things that I felt needed to be explained more, since most people have no clue the religious ceremonies and beliefs she is referencing. At the same time, she went into great detail about court proceedings and how the court system works, something most people know the basics of and long explanations aren't needed. 

There were also times when she used 3 or 4 multi syllable words in the same sentence. I had to roll my eyes because it seemed as if she had a thesaurus on hand at all times when writing. At other times it seemed like she was writing poetry rather than a memoir. Let me give you an example of a sentence:

"In the burning colors of dawn the simmering Texas sun suddenly burst out of the thinning clouds. The rays seemed to caress my skin little by little, with prickles of warmth and light filling me like I had never been filled before."

It was just too much description than what I felt a person was able to remember from years ago. She gives VERY detailed accounts of conversations she and law enforcement had during the investigation also, which seemed impossible to remember from such a long time ago. 

During her description of the raid and her helping Texas Rangers walk through the FLDS temple she went off into long, rambling religious memories and intricate details of FLDS beliefs. It seemed like an inappropriate time to take away from such an important part of the story.

Long after her escape from the community and even long past her marriage and the birth of her kids she continued to play a victim. She made such a huge deal to her husband, and to the reader, about helping out and doing what she could to help her sisters, mother, and other family members who were still apart of the FLDS community, yet her reasons always ended with stories about her. It was just off-putting. It made it really hard to fully sympathize with her. 

The beginning of the book about her childhood years and her marriage to Rulon Jeffs was the most interesting. She quickly glosses over her escape which was an event that seemed to warrant more than a couple pages of description. As she helps investigators prepare for the raid and later approaches the trial the story becomes her just arguing with her inner self and her husband over personal feelings. It was like listening to a Hallmark movie of the week. 

This was a 2 star read for me. I did learn new things about the inner workings of FLDS, but the interesting facts were few and far between. This read more like a self-praise book written solely for the author to bask in her greatness. Don't get me wrong, her story is brave and inspiring. I just feel her approach to tell the story seemed to glamorize herself instead of informing others about the inner workings of the FLDS.

Happy Reading!