Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Sara Shepard's "The Amateurs"

As soon as Seneca Frazier sees the post on the Case Not Closed website about Helena Kelly, she's hooked. Helena's high-profile disappearance five years earlier is the one that originally got Seneca addicted to true crime. It's the reason she's a member of the site in the first place. 
So when Maddy Wright, her best friend from the CNC site, invites Seneca to spend spring break in Connecticut looking into the cold case, she immediately packs her bag. But the moment she steps off the train in trendy, glamorous Dexby, things begin to go wrong. Maddy is nothing like she expected, and Helena's sister, Aerin Kelly, seems completely hostile and totally uninterested in helping with their murder investigation.

But when Brett, another super user from the site, joins Seneca and Maddy in Dexby, Aerin starts to come around. The police must have missed something, and someone in Dexby definitely has information they've been keeping quiet. 
As Seneca, Brett, Maddy, and Aerin begin to unravel dark secrets and shocking betrayals about the people closest to them, they seem to be on the murderer's trail at last. But somewhere nearby the killer is watching . . . ready to do whatever it takes to make sure the truth stays buried.
First in a new series by the #1 New York Times best-selling author of the Pretty Little Liars series, Sara Shepard, The Amateurs 
is packed with the twists and turns, steamy romance, and stunning revelations that her fans have been waiting for. ~taken from Netgalley

This is not my first Sara Shepard book. I have read the entire Pretty Little Liars series, twice. I've also read and enjoyed The Heiresses and The Perfectionists series. I was super excited about her latest book The Amateurs due to be released here in the U.S. on November 1, 2016. I am so grateful to Netgalley and Disney Book Group for allowing me the egalley in exchange for my honest review. 

I really enjoyed this book! Just like other books by Shepard, this book starts out with secrets, murders, gossip and lies! While other books had female lead characters, this book has 2 male main characters in addition to the females. It was a change that I really enjoyed. The Amateurs also took on a slightly older feel with main a main character being at the end of high school and in their early 20's.

Though I was very excited to read this, it was a bit of a slow start. Once I eased into the book and learned about the characters and story I was hooked! There were so many twists and turns that it kept me engaged and excited to open the book and read every chance I got. I was kept guessing throughout the story and in typical Sara Shepard fashion I was left guessing right up until the end!

This book, of course, has some romance to it. There were a few times I rolled my eyes during some romance scenes, but nothing that made me hate the book. I did feel during all the romance scenes that I just wanted to get back to the mystery at hand! With party scenes that involved alcohol, drugs and sex this is definitely not a book for the younger reader. 

All in all, I really enjoyed this and look forward to the next one! I need to know what happens next! This may turn into Shepard's best series yet! A 4-star read for me.

The Amateurs is due to be released Nov 1, 2016. At the time of this blog post publishing it is currently on sale at 39% off for the Kindle Edition  and 41% off for the Hardcover on Amazon!!! Pre-order it now!

Once again, thanks again to Netgalley and Disney Book Group for allowing me to read and review!

Happy Reading!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Carolyn Parkhurst's "Harmony"

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Dogs of Babel, a taut, emotionally wrenching story of how a seemingly "normal" family could become desperate enough to leave everything behind and move to a "family camp" in New Hampshire--a life-changing experience that alters them forever.

How far will a mother go to save her family? The Hammond family is living in DC, where everything seems to be going just fine, until it becomes clear that the oldest daughter, Tilly, is developing abnormally--a mix of off-the-charts genius and social incompetence. Once Tilly--whose condition is deemed undiagnosable--is kicked out of the last school in the area, her mother Alexandra is out of ideas. 

The family turns to Camp Harmony and the wisdom of child behavior guru Scott Bean for a solution. But what they discover in the woods of New Hampshire will push them to the very limit. Told from the alternating perspectives of both Alexandra and her younger daughter Iris (the book's Nick Carraway), this is a unputdownable story about the strength of love, the bonds of family, and how you survive the unthinkable. ~taken from Goodreads

I have to say, as a parent of a special needs child, I was very excited to read this book. Parents, Alexandra and Josh, are willing to do whatever they can to help oldest daughter, Tilly, who has been diagnosed as being on the Autism spectrum. She has been kicked out of all the schools she has attended for "being disruptive", and her parents feel that uprooting the entire family, including younger sister,  Iris, and moving to Camp Harmony is the only option they have left.

Harmony (the camp) is a place where families with special needs children can come and stay for a week and Alexandra and her family are one of the families that live there permanently to help run the camp. Camp Harmony director, Scott Bean, believes that families need to "detox" which means no cellphones, computers, televisions, etc.. 

As the book progresses we see that Scott's cool and calm manner diminishes and his rules become stricter and are more based on his personal preferences rather than reason. This book reaches its climax when parents Josh and Alexandra are forced to confront Scott about his actions and whether this is actually helping their daughter.

This was an interesting, funny, and dark read. The characters are presented in what I felt was "real life" characters. No sugar coating- the good and bad thoughts and feelings of how it is to live with an autistic child. This story is told in alternating perspectives (some flashbacks also) between mother, and younger sister with a few little chapters told from Tilly's perspective. 

At this book's core it is the story of a desperate family willing to try anything they can to help their daughter and sibling. Like I mentioned before, this was real life. There are parts that made me angry, parts that made me laugh, parts that made me cringe and parts that made my heart hurt with sadness. Though I didn't always agree with the parents choices and actions, I could understand that they did what they thought they had to. Who was I to judge a parent when I have never been in the situation they were presented with? I think Parkhurst did an excellent job portraying the challenges of raising a child on the autism spectrum.  

The ending seemed abrupt and unfinished. Perhaps a bit unrealistic. The ending left me wanting more- I felt I needed to know the long term impact that communal living left on the family. 

Overall, this was a 4 star read for me. This plot was well-paced with characters that were interesting and well developed. Though I had a somewhat personal connection to the story, being a special needs parent myself, I think anyone will finish this book and wonder how they can better help family or friends who are raising a child who is "not typical". 

Happy Reading!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

"The Telling" by Alexandra Sirowy

 Lana used to know what was real. That was before, when her life was small and quiet. Her golden stepbrother, Ben was alive. She could only dream about bonfiring with the populars. Their wooded island home was idyllic, she could tell truth from lies, and Ben’s childhood stories were firmly in her imagination.

Then came after.

After has Lana boldly kissing her crush, jumping into the water from too high up, living with nerve and mischief. But after also has horrors, deaths that only make sense in fairy tales, and terrors from a past Lana thought long forgotten. Love, blood, and murder. ~taken from Amazon

I am so all over the board with this book and what I want to rate it. I liked parts of it, but there were definite parts that I really, really disliked. This will be a short, quick review because it's really hard to go in depth without spoilers.

The overall plot to this story is very intriguing. There's just such a scary aspect about a murderer running loose on a small island community. Is it a stranger or someone they know? Though it took a little bit to get into this book, once I understood what happened before I was hooked. Then things started to go downhill...

So here is what just didn't "do" it for me: the characters. There were a couple that I really liked but most of them were shallow, annoying, and very predictable. The characters are all in high school and I feel that the author took a group of generic high school stereotypes and added them to the book. Their words and actions were so predictable. It got boring fast.

Lana, the main character was interesting at first. Her inner thoughts and dialog about the loss of her step brother and the relationship between her and her best friend were deep and interesting. It added to the story. But once the group of friends started getting murdered and dropping like flies our first person narrator quickly became repetitive. It's like her personality plateaued and she had nothing left to give to the story. The constant inner dialog of how much she loved and missed her stepbrother simply interrupted and took away what was happening with the story. 

That leads me to the length of this book. Half this book is Lana's inner dialog. We get it, she loves and missed her stepbrother. "I miss Ben... I loved Ben. Ben once told me ____. I wish Ben were still here with me." I understood that from the beginning. No need to reiterate it over and over again. I could have done without reading half the book and still understood the depth of love she has for Ben. 

The predictability of the plot is laughable. The murders are very specific to the weird stories her step brother Ben used to tell her. Lana seems so smart. Why did it take her so long to realize this? Why then does she decide not to go to the police with this info and her and her friends attempt to find the murderer themselves? Too much, just too much. It was like reading a bad 90's teen slasher film. 

I give this book 3 stars. It did suck me in at first and seemed to really be going somewhere. Then it turned predictable and boring. Just because I didn't exactly love it, doesn't mean other readers won't. It's a fast, easy read so if you like YA thrillers with major teen drama then give it a try!

Thanks to Netgalley and Simon and Schuster Children's Publishing for allowing me to read and review this egalley. 

Happy Reading! 

Friday, August 12, 2016

"Under Then Banner of Heaven..." by Jon Krakauer

I honestly don't know where to start. I guess I should preface this review by saying this was a 5 star read for me. I listened to the audio book version, and I listened every chance I had. I will also start by telling you a little about my religious background. I grew up DEEPLY involved in a branch-off of the Assemblies Of God Church, a non-denominational Christian sect. You know, the crazy TBN network of pastors that beg for money on tv and claim to know what ailments watchers are suffering from? I no longer go to church, mostly due to realizing what a bunch of hypocrite, self-indulgent, backstabbers the leaders of my church were.

 I also was born and raised in Mesa, Arizona. Arizona is home to 6 LDS temples. 90% of my classmates in school were of the LDS faith. Once I began listening to this book I realized I barely knew anything about the religion that I grew up around. I had so many questions. Luckily I had a few current LDS friends I trusted and knew I wouldn't offend if I asked questions about their faith. 

This book starts out with the murder of Brenda Lafferty and her infant daughter, Erica. A gruesome murder committed "in the name of God" by her husband's brothers. In this nonfiction best seller I listened to the details of the murders and the reasons behind them. The killers were FLDS followers. They planned the murders months prior, claiming it was a revelation from God. That they had to do what God told them. Even to this day they are sticking to their beliefs. It then goes into all of the similarities and differences between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) and the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS). 

I honestly loved hearing about the creation and history of Mormonism. Prior to this book I knew just the basics. Though when listening I had quite a few questions, this book does a great job detailing the past. Jon Krakauer, the author, doesn't white-wash the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. At times, the stories were unbelievable and even for me, a non-Mormon, were hard to listen to because of the cruelty and hatred described.

Talking to some of my Mormon and ex-Mormon friends I learned that the LDS church has not always been so forthcoming in embracing and teaching the true history of their religion. I get that the LDS church's past is freckled, but so are other mainstream religions. The reason there are so many FLDS branch-offs is because modern LDS teachings and practices bear little resemblance to its beginning beliefs and practices. FLDS beliefs are radical, theocratic, and full of hatred towards non-believers. This drastic difference between the two needs to be embraced and celebrated instead of vilified and swept under the rug. They should be proud that they have found a way to balance religious beliefs with modern day society.  

I have read a lot of reviews stating that this book is an anti-Mormon book. I just don't see their point of view. Denying history doesn't make it go away. It may be a sad, hate-filled, embarrassing past, but the modern LDS church has overcome and adapted. The fact that Krakauer has caused such a stir with LDS leaders makes me believe he speaks the truth. I think he did an excellent job describing the differences between FLDS and Modern LDS beliefs. He cannot change the fact that both sects stemmed from the same belief system and even share ancestors. Denying polygamy was practiced and even preached, denying and omitting facts about The Mountain Meadows Massacre, denying the blatant racism that once existed within the church, and flip flopping between who and who cannot receive revelations from God simply makes the church look bad. 

I admit it was a struggle to write this review due to the fact I have so many Mormon friends. In no way do I want to offend them. Who am I to judge or criticize someone's beliefs? I mean, I grew up with teachings of God speaking through burning bushes, a man's superpower strength stemming from his long hair,  and even the fact that God gave a mere mortal the ability to part the Red Sea. It is, however, hard for me to look at LDS and FLDS as anything other than a cult. I do, however, see most organized religions with a cult aspect since leaving the church I grew up in. I admire my Mormon friends' faith in their beliefs and love to see all the family and togetherness practiced. I love that they (the LDS church) teach to serve and help others.

Krakauer ends the book with a blurb about his writing process. Krakauer states his intent was to write about the anarchy surrounding the LDS church and it's past. To try and understand why transparency about the religion's past is not taught in the LDS church. Upon researching he stumbled upon all the acts of violence the church's members committed in the name of God. Which then lead him to researching the differences between LDS and FLDS. I think he did an excellent job.

Happy Reading!