Sunday, December 31, 2017

Month in Review: December 2017

How is it that we are not only at the end of December already, but also at the end of 2017??? This year has flown by!!! This month ended up being busier than I anticipated, so the blogging/reading goals I had intended on reaching didn't quite happen - oh well. Life happens, right?

Here are my reading stats for December!
  • Books read: 16

Books I read:
  1. Cold Blood -- Robert Bryndza (audio book)
  2. The Birthday Girl -- Sue Fortin (audio book)
  3. Her Last Day -- T.R. Ragan (audio book)
  4. The Silent Children -- Carol Wyer (e-book)
  5. Hardcore Twenty-Four -- Janet Evanovich (audio book)
  6. Enchantress of Numbers -- Jennifer Chiaverini
  7. The Wife Between Us -- Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen
  8. One Good Thing -- Wendy Wax (audio book)
  9. A Bella Flora Christmas -- Wendy Wax (e-book)
  10. The Night Women -- Sara Blaedel
  11. The Christmas Gate 2 -- T.A. Cline
  12. Christmas in London -- Anita Hughes
  13. Killman Creek -- Rachel Caine (audio book) 
  14. The Running Girl -- Sara Blaedel
  15. A Map of the Darkness -- Karen Ellis (audio book
  16. The Stolen Angel -- Sara Blaedel
Favorite Books of December: 
  • The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen
  • Killman Creek by Rachel Caine

2017 Reading Challenge Update: 
  • You Read How Many Books? Reading Challenge -- Books Read: 207/15- Completed
  • Library Reading Challenge -- Books Borrowed: 21/24 
  • #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks Reading Challenge -- Books Read: 10/15
  • New Authors Reading Challenge -- New Authors Read: 84/45 - Completed
  • E-books Reading Challenge -- E-books Read: 35/25 - Completed
  • Audio Books Reading Challenge -- Books Listened to: 88/50 - Completed

*Kathyrn over at The Book Date has created a Month in Review meme for those who put together these monthly posts. From now on, I'll be linking my post up each month...Thanks Kathryn for putting this meme together!!!


Friday, December 29, 2017

Review: Killman Creek by Rachel Caine (audio)

Title: Killman Creek
Author: Rachel Caine
Series: Stillhouse Lake, #2
Narrator: Emily Sutton-Smith, Lauren Ezzo, Will Ropp, Dan John Miller
Published: December 2017, Brilliance Audio / Thomas & Mercer
Length: 11 hours 55 minutes
Source: Audio - Personal copy via Audible / Print - ARC E-copy via Netgalley via Publisher

Every time Gwen closed her eyes, she saw him in her nightmares. Now her eyes are open, and he’s not going away.

Gwen Proctor won the battle to save her kids from her ex-husband, serial killer Melvin Royal, and his league of psychotic accomplices. But the war isn’t over. Not since Melvin broke out of prison. Not since she received a chilling text…
You’re not safe anywhere now.

Her refuge at Stillhouse Lake has become a trap. Gwen leaves her children in the protective custody of a fortified, well-armed neighbor. Now, with the help of Sam Cade, brother of one of Melvin’s victims, Gwen is going hunting. She’s learned how from one of the sickest killers alive.

But what she’s up against is beyond anything she feared—a sophisticated and savage mind game calculated to destroy her. As trust beyond her small circle of friends begins to vanish, Gwen has only fury and vengeance to believe in as she closes in on her prey. And sure as the night, one of them will die.

My thoughts: I think I might have a new favorite author and series...Rachel Caine has managed to blow things out of the water with her Stillhouse Lake series, and we're only on book 2 so far! But word of caution before reading any further in this review...if you haven't read book 1 of this series, Stillhouse Lake, I highly suggest not reading any further...Killman Creek is a sequel and picks up right where the previous books ends. This second book contains spoilers for what happens in that first book. Read this series in's meant to be read that way!

When I say Stillhouse Lake was only the beginning, I am not kidding. But I loved that while these two books are both incredibly addicting, intense and twisty, they are also different. This time around, we have multiple characters telling the story - partly because the family isn't together the whole time. Now that Melvin has escaped from prison, Gwen is on the hunt to find him before he gets her, so she along with Sam Cade take off, leaving her children in the care of two people she most trusts. So we have Gwen, Sam and the two children narrating parts of the story - I loved this. I loved getting inside all their heads, hearing how they were all handling what was happening. It adds another element to the story.

This book is also more action-packed than the previous one. Again, I liked this distinction and I think it made sense given all that was going on. This story line moves fast - a lot is going on, a lot is thrown at's intense! It really keeps you on your toes as you aren't quite sure what is going to come next. 

I really enjoyed this thriller and liked that for the most part everything is tied up by the end. I'm quite curious to see where book 3 takes's a bit of a wait, but I'll definitely be reading it!!!

Audio thoughts: I loved having multiple narrators for this audio book - I think it made sense since the book was told from multiple points of view and each person had their own narrator. A few of the narrators were new to me - Lauren Ezzo, Will Ropp, and Dan John Miller - and I love when I get to find new narrators. I thought they did a great job, along with Emily Sutton-Smith, who is an old favorite. I really enjoyed listening to this audio book - I thought the pacing was good and each of the narrators added just the right amount of tension to their voices when needed.

Books in this series: 
  1. Stillhouse Lake
  2. Killman Creek
  3. Wolfhunter River - due out October 2018

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Review: Her Last Day by T.R. Ragan (audio)

Title: Her Last Day
Author: T.R. Ragan
Series: Jessie Cole, #1
Narrator: Kate Rudd
Published: October 2017, Brilliance Audio / Thomas & Mercer
Length: 8 hours 50 minutes / 316 pages
Source: Audio - Personal copy via Audible / Print - ARC Paperback via Publisher

In this page-turner of a thriller by bestselling author T.R. Ragan, unlikely partners PI Jessie Cole and crime reporter Ben Morrison search for clues to a mystery buried in their own pasts—only to discover that sometimes the truth is better off buried.

Ten years ago, PI Jessie Cole and reporter Ben Morrison each suffered a tragedy that changed their lives—and now these two strangers are about to share a nightmare.

For Jessie, who makes her living finding missing persons, no case has consumed her more than the disappearance of her younger sister, Sophie. But left alone to raise Sophie’s daughter, she realizes that solving the case has become an unhealthy obsession.

For Ben, a horrific car accident resulted in scars both physical and emotional—and amnesia that has made his life a mystery. But curiously, out of his shattered memories, there’s one person he recognizes without a doubt: Jessie’s sister. He just doesn’t know why. Yet.

But Sophie isn’t the only phantom drawing Jessie and Ben together. An elusive serial murderer known as the Heartless Killer has reemerged from the shadows. His next move will cut even deeper into Jessie’s worst fears. And for Ben, what happens this time is going to be unforgettable.

My thoughts: T.R. Ragan is a new author for me and luckily this is the start of a new series, so it looks like the perfect time to jump in and give her books a try! I always get excited when I find not only new authors but also new series - if you know anything about my reading habits, you know I love my series and I especially love a good mystery thriller series and that's exactly what we have here!

I think this series is off to a great start and I really like Jessie Cole - the main protagonist of the series. A private investigator that has her own demons - mainly that she has never been able to find her own missing sister - you totally have me hooked! I loved the character development that we get in this first book - something that I feel is so important and really the backbone of any good series. Afterall, that is why I am such a stickler for reading series in order whenever I can...for the all the character development that occurs in the subsequent books. And in this first book, I feel we get a pretty good picture of who Jessie is - just enough to want to keep going with the series.

This is such a fast-paced book with lots of twists and turns. Having the book told from multiple points of view also helped keep it interesting, especially since one of the points of view was the serial killer - boy oh boy were those sections quite creepy! It's a bit graphic at times - especially the torture scenes, but luckily those scenes are relatively short and then you move on. Overall, I really liked this book and am looking forward to the next one in the series...I think this is going to be a good, chilling, page-turner of a series!

Audio thoughts: I love listening to Kate Rudd narrate books so when I saw she was narrating this one, I knew it would be a good one to listen to and I was correct - she did a great job with this one! She gives each character their own distinct voice and uses just the right amount of emotion and tension when needed. As this is the start of a new series, I really hope that Kate Rudd continues to narrate it - that's always my hope for a series that I decide to listen to!

Books in this series:
  1. Her Last Day
  2. Deadly Recall - due out March 2018 

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Review: Keep Her Safe by Sophie Hannah

Title: Keep Her Safe
Author: Sophie Hannah
Published: September 2017, William Morrow
Format: ARC Paperback, 352 pages
Source: Publisher

She's the most famous murder victim in America. What if she's not dead?

Pushed to the breaking point, Cara Burrows flees her home and family and escapes to a five-star spa resort she can't afford. Late at night, exhausted and desperate, she lets herself into her hotel room and is shocked to find it already occupied — by a man and a teenage girl.

A simple mistake at the front desk... but soon Cara realizes that the girl she saw alive and well in the hotel room is someone she can't possibly have seen: the most famous murder victim in the country, Melody Chapa, whose parents are serving natural life sentences for her murder.

Cara doesn't know what to trust — everything she's read and heard about the case, or the evidence of her own eyes. Did she really see Melody? And is she prepared to ask herself that question and answer it honestly if it means risking her own life?

My thoughts: Can you believe that this is my first Sophie Hannah book? I guess it's not all the surprising considering that I just recently read my first Agatha Christie book not too long ago. Why do I wait so long to read all these good authors? Well, after having read this one, I can tell you, I won't be waiting too long to pick up another of Sophie Hannah's books - I really enjoyed this one!

This was just a great story and I really think Sophie Hannah is a good story teller. I was mesmerized by the plot and by the interesting and diverse characters that made up this book. Right from the very beginning I found myself hooked and as the book continued, I became more and more engaged. 

I loved Cara - I could totally sympathize with her and her situation. Running away from home to what she hopes is a relaxing spa getaway, she soon finds is anything but. Somehow she ends up seeing something she shouldn't have and winds up in the middle of something that she shouldn't be in the middle of. It's deliciously wicked and twisted and the characters she winds up befriending are just as intriguing as they are hard to like in some instances. Who is to be trusted and who is to be kept at arms' length?

This book moves along at quite a decent pace and will keep you guessing until the very end. It is so well crafted and while it does contain some dark moments, it also contains a bit of humor along the way. I really enjoyed this and will now be searching out more books by Sophie Hannah. If you read her, what do you suggest I read next?


Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Review: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Title: Little Fires Everywhere
Author: Celeste Ng
Published: September 2017, Penguin Press
Format: ARC Paperback, 338 pages
Source: Publisher

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned -- from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren -- an enigmatic artist and single mother -- who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town--and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia's past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

My thoughts: This book was one of the books I was looking forward to picking up at BookExpo this past Spring, especially since Celeste Ng was going to be there signing the books. I was thrilled to meet her, however briefly, as I had liked her first book, Everything I Never Told You, and was really looking forward to reading this one. 

One thing that seems to be a common theme in Celeste Ng's books is family dynamics and the disconnects that can happen without you even realizing it. That was certainly apparent in her debut book, and it absolutely plays a part here in her latest book. This is in no way a fast-moving novel, but rather a slow-paced one that explores the intricacies of family life that Celeste portrays in this novel, most notably exploring the mother-daughter relationship.

What I really find fascinating in this novel is just how rich and well-developed the characters are. I felt pulled into the lives of all the characters in this book - they all just felt so real and life-like. There is such a strong feeling of empathy throughout for quite a few of the characters. And they also seem to have an emotional pull to them - whether it be for good or bad...they just get under your skin and you find them in some way relatable.

This is a very compulsive, compelling read and one that sticks with you long after you've finished reading. I can't wait to see what Celeste Ng writes next!


Sunday, December 24, 2017

Review: Christmas in London by Anita Hughes

Title: Christmas in London
Author: Anita Hughes
Published: October 2017, St. Martin's Griffin
Format: Paperback, 288 pages
Source: Personal copy

A charming, glamourous love story set at Claridge's in London during the magical week before Christmas starring a sweet NYC baker and the Cooking Channel Producer who could change her life.

It’s a week before Christmas and Louisa Graham is working twelve hour shifts at a bakery on Manhattan's Lower East Side. When a young cooking show assistant comes in from the rain and begs to buy all the cinnamon rolls on her tray, she doesn’t know what to do. Louisa is just the baker, and they aren't hers to sell. But the show burned the rolls they were supposed to film that day, so she agrees.

The next morning, Louisa finds out that her cinnamon rolls were a hit, but the star of the show was allergic, and the whole crew is supposed to leave for London that afternoon. They want Louisa to step in for their annual Christmas Eve Dinner TV special at Claridge's. It’s a great opportunity, and Digby Bunting, Louisa’s famous baking idol, will be there. Even if he does seem more interested in her than her food.

And then there’s Kate, the show's beautiful producer. On their first day in London she runs into the skinny boy she jilted at St. Andrew's in Scotland ten years ago. Now he’s a handsome, brilliant mathematician, and newly divorced. Their familiar spark is still there, but so is the scar of how they left things. Kate and Louisa are busy preparing for the show, but old and new flames are complicating their work.

Set during London's most festive time of year and filled with delicious food, Christmas in London is about love and friendship, and the season's most important lesson: learning how to ask for and give forgiveness.

My thoughts: I was fortunate to head to London last year and spend Christmas week there and loved every minute of it. I am hoping to get back there again soon, but in the meantime, I thought this book by Anita Hughes would help me relive some of those fun holiday memories. Anita is a new author to me and I really did enjoy this fun holiday read!

This is definitely a good old holiday romance/foodie type of read. It almost has the Hallmark-type of feel to it - in fact, I think this would be a great Hallmark movie - between the baking and the sightseeing all around London, and of course the two, yes that's right, two romances! - I would definitely love to see all that in a movie!

This book is filled with the sights and sounds and even tastes of the holiday. It could certainly be classified as a foodie-lit book - I was sure drooling over all the recipes that Louisa talked about, especially her cinnamon rolls and I really want to try a croquembouche at some point. This book had me wanting to start baking as soon as I finished reading it!

I liked the two female characters - Louisa and Kate. I thought they were both coming from different points in their lives and careers, and trying to figure out how to balance everything that is important to them was clearly an issue for them. They become sounding boards for each other, despite not really knowing each other, and it is through this that they are able to figure out what it was they wanted.

I really enjoyed this holiday read and loved getting to visit London vicariously through these characters. It really is one of the best places to be during the holidays. 


Saturday, December 23, 2017

Review: The Christmas Gate 2 by T.A. Cline

Title: The Christmas Gate 2
Author: T.A. Cline
Series: The Christmas Gate, #2
Published: November 2017, Create Space
Format: Paperback, 150 pages
Source: Author

“I became paralyzed with fear. Tears started to run down my cheeks as I sat motionless on the bed facing the locked door.”

Patty had slowly opened up to Bob. She thinks she might be falling in love with him. Even so, he has gone back to New York, and she has not heard from him in two weeks. It is another loss for her. First, her mother died when she was young, and then her husband, Matt, was killed in Afghanistan. She has lost all that were close to her. All but her dad and he is her rock. He is the one that gives her strength.

In, The Christmas Gate 2, Patty’s life becomes like a roller coaster, with the ups and the downs. She loses, and then wins, only to lose again. Then Patty is rocked with an emotional bombshell. She tries to gather herself together, then only another heartbreak again.

She resigns herself to wait at the old farm house until Bob returns to her. She unleashes what Bob had uncovered during his earlier stay, and she too is taken on a journey that will bring to the surface the things she has buried deep inside her, things that she has forgotten, things she refuses to confront, and things that could eventually set her free. Patty and Bob’s story continues in, The Christmas Gate 2.

My thoughts: I was so happy to have been sent the second book in this 2-book series...I adored the first book, which came out last year. And this one continues Patty & Bob's story - a story I needed more of!

What I loved about this book is that it has all the feels and, while it once again has that strong religious tone as was present in the first book, the messages and story itself far outweigh everything else. It is a short story to lose yourself in in the midst of all the holiday busyness and stress, to cherish this endearing story and possibly even shed a tear or too. And it once again has the Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" feeling to it, which I really loved.

I highly recommend reading both of these books - you can easily read them in a day or two. They are charming and full of hope. Perfect reads to get you in the holiday spirit.

Books in this series:
  1. The Christmas Gate
  2. The Christmas Gate 2

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Review: A Bella Flora Christmas by Wendy Wax

Title: A Bella Flora Christmas
Author: Wendy Wax
Series: Ten Beach Road, #5.5
Published: November 2017, Berkley Books
Format: ARC E-copy, 87 pages
Source: Netgalley


The ladies of Ten Beach Road are home for the holidays in this brand-new novella.

Although their lives have changed since their first desperate renovation of Bella Flora, friends Madeline, Avery, and Nicole have always been there for each other. Now they're returning to Bella Flora for Christmas—where Maddie’s daughter Kyra isn’t feeling particularly celebratory.

Kyra was hoping for a peaceful holiday at Bella Flora—a last gathering before a wealthy, mystery tenant moves into the home she’s been forced to rent out. Instead, she must make a life altering decision by New Year’s -- a decision that becomes even more difficult when unexpected guests arrive at Ten Beach Road on Christmas Eve. Now Kyra, Maddie, Avery and Nikki will need to pull together to secure Bella Flora’s future, as well as their own.

My thoughts: This is a short, Ten Beach Road novella that is narrated entirely by Kyra, unlike the full-length novels that are narrated by all the women. It picks up right where the previous book, One Good Thing, leaves off and focuses entirely on getting ready for Christmas, but also on the big decision that Kyra has been wrestling with and needs to decide soon.

Christmas Eve is a big celebration at Bella Flora and everyone is there to celebrate. Dustin gets a surprise gift from Santa and if you are a long-time reader of this series, it will melt your heart when he decides on a name for this gift. 

Of course, all is not merry and bright in this short novella. There is some nastiness in the form of Tonya...who has quite a few appearances via phone calls in this little book - I think it's the most we've seen of her in a while! She can be quite nasty trying to get what she wants...and that's Dustin acting in the movie. And she's willing to do just about anything to get her way.

So, is it worth it reading this? I think so. Yes, it was quite short, but it's a complete story. It brings in a new character and gives us a little more history about Kyra and her past with Dustin's father - not necessarily in a good light unfortunately. I always tend to read the novellas that are part of a series...I find that no matter how short they are, they always provide some little extra to the series, whether it be backstory, as in this case, or a way to add depth to a certain character...whatever it is, I enjoy them. 

What's your take on them. Do you read them or skip them?

Books in this series:

      1.  Ten Beach Road
      2.  Ocean Beach
      2.5  Christmas At The Beach
      3.  The House on Mermaid Point 

     4.  Sunshine Beach
     5.  One Good Thing
     5.5  A Bella Flora Christmas
     6.  Best Thing Ever - due out May 2018


Review: One Good Thing by Wendy Wax (audio)

Title: One Good Thing
Author: Wendy Wax
Series: Ten Beach Road, #5
Narrator: Amy Rubinate
Published: April 2017, Penguin Audio
Length: 11 hours 6 minutes
Source: Personal copy via Audible

From the USA Today bestselling author of Sunshine Beach, a story of four women trying to rebuild more than their lives...

Before you can fix it up, you might have to tear it down...

Embroiled in a battle to regain control of their renovation-turned-reality TV show, Do Over, Maddie, Avery, Nikki, and Kyra find themselves holding tight to the frayed ends of their friendship and relationships.

Maddie must face the realities of dating a rock star once again topping the charts and dealing with her hapless ex-husband, while Avery is caught up in family drama even as she attempts to transform a tiny cottage into a home for the newly impoverished heiress who helped bankroll their last renovation. Put on bedrest, a hugely pregnant Nikki can’t quite believe love can last, or trust in her own maternal instinct. And Kyra, who has secretly put Bella Flora at risk in an attempt to salvage Do Over, must decide whether to accept a desperately needed bailout from her son’s famous father that comes with far too many strings attached…

But friendship is made for times like these, to keep each other—and their dreams—from crumbling.

My thoughts: This is the fifth installment in Wendy Wax's Ten Beach Road series and I find that with each book, the bond between the women we've all come to love seems to grow stronger and stronger.

But, as I mentioned in my review of the previous book - this is a series that in order to fully understand the strength of these women's friendship and what is was the pulled them together in the first place - you really need to read this series in order. And especially in this latest book, I find that it relies a bit on what happened in the last book, Sunshine Beach. That's not to say you wouldn't enjoy the book if you picked this one up cold, but I think you would get more out of it had you read the whole series. But, this is obviously just my opinion.

In this latest installment, we find our favorite women at a crossroads...both personally and professionally. While their show, "Do Over" is stalled in legal battles, this book focuses more on the women and their personal lives, which I enjoyed. They are each struggling with what is coming next and some are fighting it more than others. But, as always, there is the usual comic relief always at hand, this time in the form of Bitsy, one of the investors of their last project and of course, there is always Dustin and his adorable sayings. 

I enjoy this series and love that it has continued on for as long as it has. When it first started, I didn't know how long it would last, but I love that with each book, we have truly seen the growth of each character and of the friendship these women have built. And I love their tradition of sharing "one good thing" whenever they are together at Bella Flora - what a great thing to start in the New Year...don't you agree? Why not focus on the positive instead of dwelling on the negative? I think I'm going to make a concerted effort to start writing this down in my journal/planner each good thing for each day.

Audio thoughts: Once again Amy Rubinate shines in her narration of this series. This is the second book I've listened to and I really did enjoy the way she brought these characters to life. She is quite consistent in her voices of the main characters and her tone and pacing were great. This really is a fun series to listen to and I'm glad I made the switch!

Books in this series:

      1.  Ten Beach Road
      2.  Ocean Beach
      2.5  Christmas At The Beach
      3.  The House on Mermaid Point 

     4.  Sunshine Beach
     5.  One Good Thing
     5.5  A Bella Flora Christmas
     6.  Best Thing Ever - due out May 2018   

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Review: The Burning Girl by Claire Messud

Title: The Burning Girl
Author: Claire Messud
Published: August 2017, W.W. Norton Company
Format: ARC Paperback, 247 pages
Source: Publisher

A bracing, hypnotic coming-of-age story about the bond of best friends, from the New York Times best-selling author of The Emperor’s Children.

Julia and Cassie have been friends since nursery school. They have shared everything, including their desire to escape the stifling limitations of their birthplace, the quiet town of Royston, Massachusetts. But as the two girls enter adolescence, their paths diverge and Cassie sets out on a journey that will put her life in danger and shatter her oldest friendship.

Claire Messud, one of our finest novelists, is as accomplished at weaving a compelling fictional world as she is at asking the big questions: To what extent can we know ourselves and others? What are the stories we create to comprehend our lives and relationships? Brilliantly mixing fable and coming-of-age tale, The Burning Girl gets to the heart of these matters in an absolutely irresistible way.

My thoughts: I picked this book up at BookExpo last Spring and actually read it back in August. Since then I've been struggling with putting my thoughts together on how to write this review. It's the first book I've read by Claire Messud and I was so excited to not only read this book, but also to have had the opportunity to have met her at BookExpo.

Sometimes, we go into a book with high expectations and I think that's what happened for me. Never having read a book by this author, but having heard such great things by her, I really wanted to love this book and was definitely intrigued by the synopsis...but I felt it just fell flat for me. It was missing something...I'm not exactly sure what, but I just kept waiting for that something "big" to happen that never really materialized. 

This is a book about two girls whose friendship just falls apart. Sure, it's complicated as to why they stopped being friends, but it's not compelling enough...I wanted more drama, I guess. There is the hint of darkness, but I felt even that fell flat.

In the end, I guess I had higher expectations for this book and so I felt disappointed. Is it because I read more into the synopsis than I should have? I don't know but bottom line is that this book didn't really work for me and that's ok. 


Monday, December 18, 2017

Review: Enchantress of Numbers by Jennifer Chiaverini

Title: Enchantress of Numbers
Author: Jennifer Chiaverini
Published: December 2017, Dutton Books
Format: ARC Paperback, 448 pages
Source: Publisher

New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini illuminates the fascinating life of Ada Byron King, Countess of Lovelace--Lord Byron's daughter, the world's first computer programmer, and a woman whose exceptional contributions to science and technology have been too long unsung. 

The only legitimate child of Lord Byron, the most brilliant, revered, and scandalous of the Romantic poets, Ada was destined for fame long before her birth. Estranged from Ada's father, who was infamously -mad, bad, and dangerous to know, - Ada's mathematician mother is determined to save her only child from her perilous Byron heritage. Banishing fairy tales and make-believe from the nursery, Ada's mother provides her daughter with a rigorous education grounded in mathematics and science. Any troubling spark of imagination--or worse yet, passion or poetry--is promptly extinguished. Or so her mother believes. 

When Ada is introduced into London society as a highly eligible young heiress, she at last discovers the intellectual and social circles she has craved all her life. Little does she realize that her delightful new friendship with inventor Charles Babbage--brilliant, charming, and occasionally curmudgeonly--will shape her destiny. Intrigued by the prototype of his first calculating machine, the Difference Engine, and enthralled by the plans for his even more advanced Analytical Engine, Ada resolves to help Babbage realize his extraordinary vision, unique in her understanding of how his invention could transform the world. All the while, she passionately studies mathematics--ignoring skeptics who consider it an unusual, even unhealthy pursuit for a woman--falls in love, discovers the shocking secrets behind her parents' estrangement, and comes to terms with the unquenchable fire of her imagination. 

In Enchantress of Numbers, New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini unveils the passions, dreams, and insatiable thirst for knowledge of a largely unheralded pioneer in computing--a young woman who stepped out of her father's shadow to achieve her own laurels and champion the new technology that would shape the future.

My thoughts: I have long been a fan of Jennifer Chiaverini for her historical fiction and it should be no surprise that I jumped at the opportunity to read and review her latest novel. I always find I get such a great education while reading her books and this latest one was no exception!

I fully admit that I did not know who Ada Lovelace was before reading this book, but I am so intrigued by her, as I am by every woman who has not been given her rightful due in our history. I love that Jennifer Chiaverini is helping to justify this by bringing Ada's story to light. And what an important role Ada played in history and one I think should be highlighted - especially for our young girls today. The world's first computer programmer...what a feat!

What I love about Jennifer's books is that they are never technical and they are never too bogged done in drivel. She gives what I feel is a good picture of the person's life she is writing about, allowing us as the reader to feel that by the end of the book we have been given intimate access to their thoughts and who they really were.
Ada had a rather complicated relationship with her mother, to say the least, and she never really knew her father until long after he was gone. Jennifer Chiaverini does a wonderful job of bringing these relationships to life, going so far as to making you, the reader, feel sympathy for Ada. Her mother was borderline obsessive at times, basically forbidding her to use her imagination, instead urging her to focus her energies on the maths and sciences. 

Ada was a woman ahead of her time. It is unfortunate that she never lived long enough to see her ideas fully come to fruition. It is also unfortunate that she lived during a time when women's ideas and intelligence were still believed to be inferior to that of men's. She had to fight to get her ideas listened to and even after proving her ideas would work, she was still surrounded by naysayers. 

This is the type of book that I love picking that brings these lesser-known historical figures to life. I really enjoyed getting to know Ada Lovelace, an extraordinary woman.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Review: My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

Title: My Absolute Darling
Author: Gabriel Tallent
Published: August 2017, Riverhead Books
Format: ARC Paperback, 417 pages
Source: Publisher

Turtle Alveston is a survivor. At fourteen, she roams the woods along the northern California coast. The creeks, tide pools, and rocky islands are her haunts and her hiding grounds, and she is known to wander for miles. But while her physical world is expansive, her personal one is small and treacherous: Turtle has grown up isolated since the death of her mother, in the thrall of her tortured and charismatic father, Martin. Her social existence is confined to the middle school (where she fends off the interest of anyone, student or teacher, who might penetrate her shell) and to her life with her father.

Then Turtle meets Jacob, a high-school boy who tells jokes, lives in a big clean house, and looks at Turtle as if she is the sunrise. And for the first time, the larger world begins to come into focus: her life with Martin is neither safe nor sustainable. Motivated by her first experience with real friendship and a teenage crush, Turtle starts to imagine escape, using the very survival skills her father devoted himself to teaching her. What follows is a harrowing story of bravery and redemption. With Turtle's escalating acts of physical and emotional courage, the reader watches, heart in throat, as this teenage girl struggles to become her own hero—and in the process, becomes ours as well.

Shot through with striking language in a fierce natural setting, My Absolute Darling is an urgently told, profoundly moving read that marks the debut of an extraordinary new writer.

My thoughts: I picked this book up at BookExpo last Spring after hearing about it at the Editor's Buzz Panel. It was being touted as one of the upcoming BIG books and I was excited to read it - a debut novel from a talented author...exactly the type of book that I tend to enjoy. The subject matter isn't necessarily what I gravitate towards all the time, but I like to branch out every one in a while and this one sounded good. 

Well...let me just say upfront...this is an incredibly intense and disturbing book. Not that it's a bad book, but for some people it will be a very hard read. I fully admit, there were times I thought about abandoning it, but I was so curious as to how it would all play out that I had to continue. It's graphic, it's disturbing and at times, it's depressing, but Turtle, the main character, will win your heart and she is what kept me going.

Turtle is a survivor. She's fourteen and lives with her father who uses rather unconventional methods to raise her. This is where it gets sticky and will turn people off. He teaches her to shoot and fend for herself. He also feels that since she is the only female in the house, and he has certain needs, she can and should fulfill them. As she is only fourteen, I don't think she fully realizes this is wrong until later on. The hard part with all this is that Gabriel Tallent doesn't shy away from these scenes...he puts us right there in the room as all this is going on. It's raw and it's intense. 

As I said, Turtle is a survivor. But she is also endearing. She will win your heart and this is why I found as hard as it was to read certain scenes, I just couldn't put the book down. Having Turtle narrate the book allows us to see her struggle with understanding her father's abusive and demeaning behavior. This is what makes this book so gripping and hard to walk away from.

I realize this book is certainly not for everyone, but I can see where it would make an excellent book club pick - it is chock full of discussion points. It really is an incredible reading experience with some rather beautiful writing. I definitely will be looking forward to seeing what comes next from this talented author.

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