Quickie Book Review: A Murder in Time (Kendra Donovan #1)

Author: Julie McElwain

Published: April 2016

Length: 320 pages, eBook

Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery

Source: Library eBook

My Rating: 2 1/2 Stars

From GoodReads:

A Murder in Time (Kendra Donovan, #1)Beautiful and brilliant, Kendra Donovan is a rising star at the FBI. Yet her path to professional success hits a speed bump during a disastrous raid where half her team is murdered, a mole in the FBI is uncovered and she herself is severely wounded. As soon as she recovers, she goes rogue and travels to England to assassinate the man responsible for the deaths of her teammates.

While fleeing from an unexpected assassin herself, Kendra escapes into a stairwell that promises sanctuary but when she stumbles out again, she is in the same place – Aldrich Castle – but in a different time: 1815, to be exact.

Mistaken for a lady’s maid hired to help with weekend guests, Kendra is forced to quickly adapt to the time period until she can figure out how she got there; and, more importantly, how to get back home. However, after the body of a young girl is found on the extensive grounds of the county estate, she starts to feel there’s some purpose to her bizarre circumstances. Stripped of her twenty-first century tools, Kendra must use her wits alone in order to unmask a cunning madman.

This is the first book in a series.

What I like: I like the premise of this novel. It checks all the boxes for my favorite stories: time travel, Regency England, strong female protagonist. I like that the bulk of the time travel story takes place at a house party. And I like the murder-y, serial killer bits. And I like that the characters we meet in Regency England seem to be good, kind people who take in our main character, Irene, and grow to accept her in their world. And I want Irene to be accepted  because she really inst in her modern world.

What I don’t like: Well. I so wanted to like this book. I checks so many boxes. But I didn’t really like it. Irene, the protagonist,  is an unpleasant character. And I really don’t have a problem with that, but she really is grating. The mashup between a crime procedural novel and a Regency in the style of Jane Austen is awkward. Irene’s motivations are clear in the modern day section, but the why of time travel for her is muddled. And Irene’s behavior is just too, too modern for the time period. She swears like a sailor constantly and the Regency characters seem to ignore it. And that brings me to the other issue. Irene is first is given a position as a lowly maid but becomes a companion of one of guests at the house party before the book ends. And it happens because she claims to be able to solve the murder. Although I’m glad she is accepted by the Duke and his family, I think she is accepted to easily, if that makes any sense. I want them to be a bit more suspicious of Irene.

Would I recommend it: Yes, but with reservations. I plan on reading the next book in the series, A Twist in Time , soon because I do want to like this story. I’ll give it 100 pages and if it doesn’t work for me……..I’ll DNF it.

Here are other blog posts in which I mentioned this book. Click here and here.

Let me know what you think. Have you read A Murder in Time? Did you like it more than I did? If so, let me know why in the comments below. Happy Reading.

 

Quickie Book Review: Vampires in the Lemon Grove

Author: Karen Russell

Published: February 2013 by Alfred A. Knopf

Length: 243 pages

Genre: fiction, short stories

Source: Own it, Hardback

My rating: 2 1/2 Stars. Follow the link for an explanation of my star ratings.

From Goodreads:

Vampires in the Lemon GroveFrom the author of the New York Times best seller Swamplandia!—a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize—a magical new collection of stories that showcases Karen Russell’s gifts at their inimitable best.

A dejected teenager discovers that the universe is communicating with him through talismanic objects left behind in a seagull’s nest.  A community of girls held captive in a silk factory slowly transmute into human silkworms, spinning delicate threads from their own bellies, and escape by seizing the means of production for their own revolutionary ends. A massage therapist discovers she has the power to heal by manipulating the tattoos on a war veteran’s lower torso. When a group of boys stumble upon a mutilated scarecrow bearing an uncanny resemblance to the missing classmate they used to torment, an ordinary tale of high school bullying becomes a sinister fantasy of guilt and atonement. In a family’s disastrous quest for land in the American West, the monster is the human hunger for acquisition, and the victim is all we hold dear. And in the collection’s marvelous title story—an unforgettable parable of addiction and appetite, mortal terror and mortal love—two vampires in a sun-drenched lemon grove try helplessly to slake their thirst for blood.

I read this book as a part of the Dewey’s 24 hour Readathon in April. Reading short stories during a readathon is a solid choice. It’s a good way to break up things and me feel like I’m making progress reading. And I’ve noticed lately that a lot of short story collections are being published at this time. I think the idea is that people don’t have the time or attention span to read full length novels, but they have time or attention span to read short stories. At least that is why I think there are so many short story collections being published lately.

Vampires in the Lemon Grove is an older collection that I have had for about 4 years. I read Karen Russell’s novel Swamplandia! and I like it, so I thought I would give this collection a try. Well, it stayed on the TBR for a while. But in January I decided to use it as a part of the Book Riot Read Harder 2017 Challenge. Because I am so behind on my BRRHC, I decided to read it during the readathon, hoping that it would just be the best. But like most short story collections some of the stories are better than others. In fact, I either really like a story or I hate it in this collection. And there are more hates than likes, and that’s why only 2 1/2 stars.

What I did like:

The theme of this collection is monsters: who is the monster, why they are monsters, and how to move away from being the monster. My favorite story is “Reeling for the Empire.” Girls are taken by a sinister factory manager and turned into silk moths. The horror of the girls at being turned into these creatures is heartbreaking. Russell does a good job of making the reader feel for these young women’s plight. And this sympathy makes the ending satisfying. The other story I quite like is “The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis.” This story is about a group of boys bullying Eric Mutis. He is a pathetic boy who just is horribly abused by the other boys. He disappears from school. Why is never really explained. But soon after a large scarecrow like doll  who resembles Eric shows up in the bullies favorite hangout. One of the boys seems to be most affected by the doll, and his relationship with Eric is revealed. The way that Russell describes the abuse is heartbreaking, especially if you or someone you know have ever been the target of bullies. In fact it’s one of those stories that kids in middle school should read, but the kids who most need this story will probably not read it and get it.

What I didn’t like:

Sadly, the other stories in this collection don’t quite meet the the same standard as the two I mention above. The story lines just are too far fetched or weird to really allow me to make the emotional connection, or the characters are flat and uninteresting.  And one of the stories is just truly awful. “The Barn at the End of Our Term” should be amusing…..but it’s not. In this one a few of the former presidents of the USA are reincarnated as horses living in a barn. Maybe it’s because of the current mess in Washington, but I just have no patience with political stories right now. Maybe in a few years I could read this and enjoy the humor and the fate of certain presidents, but today is not that day.

Would I recommend this book for other readers:

Yes, but borrow from the library or a friend and read to the end only the stories that you enjoy. If you find yourself not enjoying it, stop immediately and move onto the next one in the book. Don’t waste your time trying to find a reason to keep reading it. There are too many books out there that are waiting for you to read and enjoy.

 

Have you read Vampires in the Lemon Grove? Or Swamplandia? Or any other books by Karen Russell? What did you think? Can you recommend other books of hers for me to read? If so, leave a comment below.

And if you would like to read another review, here is a link to The Girls.

 

 

Quickie Review of The Girls

Author: Emma Cline

Published: June 14, 2016 by Random House

Length: 368 pages

Genre: Fiction, Thriller

Source: Library eBook

My rating: 4 1/2 stars

From GoodReads:

The GirlsNorthern 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.

There seems to be a theme in my reading choices in the last couple of months. For whatever reason cults and women’s experiences in cults are really interesting to me right now. The last book I reviewed, Troublemaker, is the true life story of Leah Remini and Scientology. This novel is a fictionalized story of a Manson style cult in the late ’60’s. The story is framed by the adult Evie remembering the events of that summer while staying at a friends isolated cabin in Northern California. She is joined by the friend’s son and his girlfriend which causes her to remember the events of that summer when as a fourteen year old girl she joined the cult.

This novel is intriguing, interesting, and disturbing. I felt a sense of menace and unease as I read the book. So if you are looking for a comforting read, The Girls is not it. So many books that feature women lately have featured women who are unlikable and do awful things. This novel fits into that Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train vibe. But it’s not a mystery or a thriller that needs to be solved. Anyone who is familiar with the Manson cult activities will know what happens in the story. What is different and interesting for me is the relationship between the girls in the cult. How they interact. Why they stay. Russell, the thinly veiled Manson figure, is less important in this story. Evie and Suzanne complicated connection is much more interesting. What is Evie looking for from Suzanne?

“I waited to be told what was good about me. I wondered later if this was why there were so many more women than men at the ranch. All that time I had spent readying myself, the articles had taught me life was really just a waiting room until someone noticed you–the boys had spent time becoming themselves.”

And Evie is seen by Suzanne. I like how this story explores how girls do interact and acknowledge each other. It reminds me of how difficult it is to be a girl in this world. The cult, and more specifically, Suzanne give Evie what she needs as a young girl. And this made me so uncomfortable as a reader because I knew what was coming. And Suzanne’s menace is frightening too. It’s not often that women in a novel are just as menacing as the men. And rather than being fascinated by the bad boy or even Russell, Evie is drawn to the bad girl. The toxic stew of girl crushes, menace, and desire for acknowledgement makes this a fascinating read for me.

But the scenes that take place in the current day are less pleasing. I don’t enjoy reading about the teen characters that show up and prompt Evie’s remembrances. I don’t really like how Evie relates and behaves with those teens. And the ending is frustrating.

Would I recommend it? Yes. If you are interested in female characters behaving badly, cults, and girls struggling  with coming of age then you will probably enjoy this book. I think it will end up in my top ten books of the year.

One more of my favorite lines from the book:

“I knew just being a girl in the world handicapped your ability to believe yourself.”

Have you read The Girls? What did you think of it? Are you planning to read it? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Quickie Review of Troublemaker: Surviving Scientology and Hollywood

Authors: Leah Remini and Rebecca Paley

Published: November 2015 by Ballantine Books

Length: 278 pages

Genre: Memoir

Source: Library eBook

My rating: 3 stars

From Goodreads:

Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and ScientologyLeah Remini has never been the type to hold her tongue. That willingness to speak her mind, stand her ground, and rattle the occasional cage has enabled this tough-talking girl from Brooklyn to forge an enduring and successful career in Hollywood. But being a troublemaker has come at a cost.

That was never more evident than in 2013, when Remini loudly and publicly broke with the Church of Scientology. Now, in this frank, funny, poignant memoir, the former King of Queens star opens up about that experience for the first time, revealing the in-depth details of her painful split with the church and its controversial practices.

The reason I read this book is because I watched her series about Scientology on A&E. I’m not a fan of her work on TV. I’ve never watched an episode of The King of Queens. But I am watching her reality show about what its like to leave Scientology, Leah Remini Sceintology and the Aftermath. And it will be hard to separate my thoughts and feelings about the series from this memoir. But I will try. Leah Remini and her story are intriguing. She seems to be a person who takes no guff from anyone, and that’s why its so interesting that she joined (actually grew up in) The Church of Scientology. The control that Scientology seems to exert on it’s members is appalling.

In the book Leah tells stories of how she rebelled against that pressure and stories about how she also supported their ideas from the time she was a little girl. And that rebellion against and then adherence to the religion becomes confusing and seems to hint at things that happened to her that she isn’t comfortable revealing when she was writing this memoir. I think after telling some of the horrific stories of abuse on her TV show she will eventually reveal more about her unpleasant experiences in Scientology.

She does confront in the book the privilege she had as a celebrity, but also how much time, energy, and the large amount of money she gave to Scientology over the years. She is invited to be a part of Tom Cruise’s inner circle and is invited to his wedding to Katie Holmes. She also is friends with many of the higher ups in Scientology, too. And she donates a large a mount of money to Scientology in addition to buying required courses and traveling to Florida during her work breaks to take courses there as well. And all of the courses and stays in Florida are not free. Scientology expects members to pay for all of these courses.

I could go on recounting everything that happens in the book, but then why would you read it? And I think if you are interested in cults you should read it. It’s not a perfect book, and there are a few things that stand out to me.  Leah writes about how she became an actress, but truthfully that’s not nearly as interesting as her experiences in Scientology. And the the gaps in the stories she doesn’t tell about her experiences in Scientology are obvious, especially after watching the series. Also, the book seems rather chatty in tone, which can be both charming and annoying as you read the book. I think the co-writer, Rebecca Paley, had a time wrangling all of the material into a coherent narrative. Which she does, by the way.

So, if you are looking for information detailing the Scientology and how it works, this book is not the book to read. This book is more focused on Leah Remini’s first months of confronting the cult she has recently left at the time. If you are looking for information, read Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear. But if you are interested in Leah Remini’s experiences in Scientology and how she became a part of it, then this is the book for you.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it and would you/did you watch the TV series? If you haven’t read the memoir or watched the series, would you?  Let me know in the comments below.

Quickie Review: Half-Resurrection Blues

Published: 2015 by ROC (an imprint of Penguin Books)

Length: 326 pages

Genre: Fiction, Urban Fantasy

Source: Book Riot Quarterly Box that I purchased

My rating: 4 stars

From Goodreads:

photo courtesy of me

Carlos Delacruz is one of the New York Council of the Dead’s most unusual agents—an inbetweener, partially resurrected from a death he barely recalls suffering, after a life that’s missing from his memory. He thinks he is one of a kind—until he encounters other entities walking the fine line between life and death.

One inbetweener is a sorcerer. He’s summoned a horde of implike ngks capable of eliminating spirits, and they’re spreading through the city like a plague. They’ve already taken out some of NYCOD’s finest, leaving Carlos desperate to stop their master before he opens up the entrada to the Underworld—which would destroy the balance between the living and the dead.

But in uncovering this man’s identity, Carlos confronts the truth of his own life—and death…

This isn’t a genre that I usually buy or read, but it came to me in my first Book Riot Quarterly Box back in March of 2015 and quickly took up residency on my TBR pile. Last year I participated in the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge and for one of the tasks I needed to read a book that is first in a series by a person of color. This book hits both of the criteria for that task. I finally read it the week before Christmas as one of the last books for the challenge. Much to my surprise, I love this book; I was blown away! What a fun, exciting read. In fact, it could, and maybe should, be on my Top 10 Reads of the year.

The story’s setting is Brooklyn, NY, and it’s haunted streets. The main character, Carlos Delacruz is only half alive making him someone who exists on fringes of the living and the dead. And he thinks he is the only one of his kind in existence: an inbetweener.  He is a member of a squad that “polices” the dead who inhabit Brooklyn. But one day he discovers he isn’t the only  one. There are more out there like him. And that is only the beginning of  the hero’s quest.  And so begins the wild ride through haunted Brooklyn. It’s faced paced and fascinating.The world Older overlays on real world Brooklyn is beautifully rendered. And the characteres that we are introduced to in this story are intriguing. I hope there is more of the teen Kia who works at Baba Eddie’s botánica in future books. Actually more of Baba Eddie, too. I love everyone associated with the shop. And Mama Esther, the house ghost, is interesting as well. I want to know more about her beginnings and why she is attached to that particular house. I’m so glad that there are at least two more of this series because I do want to visit Older’s Brooklyn again.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it and would you/did you read the rest of the series? If you haven’t read it, would you?  Let me know in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

Quickie Review of Good Morning, Midnight

Sasha Jensen has returned to Paris, the city of both her happiest moments and her most desperate. A friend has rescued her from the room in London where she had been trying to drink herself to death. Now her past lies in wait for her in cafes, bars, and dress shops coming to life again as vividly for the reader as it does for her, blurring all distinctions between nightmare and reality.

The past is no all that looms threateningly on Sasha’s horizon. She does not trust the future, even as she knows she must move into it. Whens she is picked by a young man, she begins to feel that she is still capable of desires and emotions. Few encounters in fiction have been so brilliantly conceived, and few have come to a more unforgettable end.   –Goodreads synopsis

Published: 1986 by Shoreline Books (originally published in 1937)

Length: 190 pages

Genre: fiction

Source: my bookcase

My rating: 3 1/2 stars

I read this book as a part of two reading challenges #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks and the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2016. It’s a book I’ve had hanging around my bookshelves since grad school. Jean Rhys is one of those underrated female authors and her books are almost unknown except for one: Wide Sargasso Sea. Wide Sargasso Sea is Rhys’ response to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. And it changed the way many readers understand Bronte’s classic novel.

Rhys is a modernist writer and she tends to write in the stream of consciousness style so it can be a bit difficult to read. So it took a bit for me to get into the book, plus it’s about a woman who is spiraling into madness. And I think I’m overly emphatic because the book just added to my own depression. And spoiler! the book doesn’t have a happy ending. I know that I’m not painting a positive review of the book, but I liked it. I would just say if you are someone who is an empathetic reader, you may want to read this in the summer when the sun is shinning, and it’s maybe easier to find a happy place while reading it.

What do you think? Would you enjoy this book? Have you read it? What did you think about it? Let me know in the comments below.

Review of You Will Know Me

From Goodreads:

You Will Know MeHow far will you go to achieve a dream? That’s the question a celebrated coach poses to Katie and Eric Knox after he sees their daughter Devon, a gymnastics prodigy and Olympic hopeful, compete. For the Knoxes there are no limits–until a violent death rocks their close-knit gymnastics community and everything they have worked so hard for is suddenly at risk.

As rumors swirl among the other parents, Katie tries frantically to hold her family together while also finding herself irresistibly drawn to the crime itself. What she uncovers–about her daughter’s fears, her own marriage, and herself–forces Katie to consider whether there’s any price she isn’t willing to pay to achieve Devon’s dream. 

This is an uncomfortable examination of the toxic mix of a talented, ambitious child, Devon, and her devoted and ambitious parents, Katie and Eric, in the highly competitive world of gymnastics. It begins with the murder of a beloved young man, Ryan, who is a part of the gym community. He’s killed in a hit and run that is not, as it turns out, an accident. This is the  story of how this death exposes all of the secrets of the gym community and Katie’s family. Katie, Devon’s mother, is the first person narrator of the story. She is deeply upset by Ryan’s murder and how everyone in the community reacts including both her daughter and husband. We slowly discover from Katie’s perspective the how the community and her daughter’s place in it as the potential  Olympian is seen by everyone.

Since it is told from Katie’s perspective we discover how little she acknowledges what is really going on in her own home. How she doesn’t really know her daughter. She also is slow to acknowledge how ambitious she is herself. An ambition that everyone else in the novel seems to see and know, except Katie. When we see how she ignores her son in favor of Devon that it starts to become glaringly apparent to the reader. Good grief, the boy comes down with Scarlett Fever and she leaves him home alone or with the neighbor to search out information about Devon more than once.

But what is interesting to me as a mother of a daughter is the relationship she has with Devon. How she takes care of everything for the child, but at the same time doesn’t really know her. Katie thinks to herself at one point “That’s what parenthood was about, wasn’t it? Slowly understanding your child less and less until she wasn’t yours anymore but herself.” Which is true I think for most parents. Even “helicopter” parents such as Katie and Eric.

It’s clear early on who killed Ryan, but it’s the why and how and who knew that makes this story interesting. The story is like an onion. It’s the intensity of high level gymnastics for the entire family, and by extension, everyone at the gym that’s fascinating. I wish I could have read this during the Olympics early this year while I was watching the gymnast competitions,and even the swimming and diving competitions. The girls are so young who are competing as adults (is 16 an adult?). And the gymnast look so young, disturbingly so. But this story would have given me a bit of insight into the world of Olympic competition. Finally, I have to say after reading this story I’m glad none of my children were “talented.” I’m not sure I would have wanted to sacrifice everything  in order for my kid to be “the best.”

I really enjoyed this book. I gave it 4 Stars on Goodreads.

Have you read You Will Know Me? What did you think of it? What other Megan Abbott books would you recommend? Or books about talented children? Let me know in the comments below!