Predictable and a bit of a disappointment

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The Suspect by Fiona Barton

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star rating

18-year-old Alex and Rosie are taking a trip of their lifetime to Thailand.  They don’t know each other very well but hope to be good traveling companions.   They promise to keep in touch with their families but now a week has gone by and no word from them.  Kate Waters is a journalist who tries her best to always be the first reporter to nab any news relating to this disappearance.  She’s a bit distracted because she hasn’t seen her son, Jake, in two years when he left to travel the world.

Maybe I’ve just read too many books of this type.  Or maybe I’ve become a psychic or something.  I just always seemed to be one step ahead of this author and knew exactly what was coming each step of the way.  That’s not to say that this book didn’t have quite a few “big reveals”.  I just knew what they would be before they were revealed.  If I didn’t know this book wasn’t published yet when I read it, I would have thought that I’d read it before.  I really have no explanation as to why I knew what would happen as I don’t think the author spoiled things in any way.

The book is rather long for a thriller at over 400 pages.  I can’t say I raced through it.  I did care about the journalist Kate, but the young girls and their parents could be aggravating at times.  Unfortunately, my commitment to the book did start to wane by the end.  The ending was a bit ambiguous, too.  While it wasn’t a bad book, I didn’t feel it was as good as the author’s first book, “The Widow”.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

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Compassionate, moving dystopian novel

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The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

A mysterious epidemic starts with a young college girl falling asleep and no one can wake her.  Then another student falls asleep and then another.  Panic begins to spread.  What could be causing this strange occurrence and how far will it spread?  Doctors notice heightened dream activity in these sleepers.  People are falling asleep in dangerous places, behind the wheel of a car, out in a drifting boat or alone and forgotten.  The caretakers of the sleeping are now falling asleep and there are too many sleepers for those awake to help.

What I really liked about this book were the individual stories of the families in this town.  Mei, the roommate of the first student to fall asleep, was a favorite character.  She was a bit of an outcast before the epidemic struck, never quite fitting in.  She teams up with another student as they attempt to be of help to the most people that they can and their affection for each other starts to grow.  A young baby may have been exposed to the virus through donated breast milk.  A survivalist finds he’s not as prepared for such an emergency as he had thought he was and his young daughters are left to fend for themselves.  One of the college students became pregnant the night before she succumbed to this unusual sleep, the growing baby unknown to her.

As much as I enjoyed these characters and their private battles with the virus, the book grew even more interesting when it was revealed what the dreamers were dreaming about.  Thought-provoking questions about consciousness and time are opened up.  Which is reality and which is the dream?  The book is written in a dreamlike way that was quite fascinating.

The only negative thing I can say about the book is that I felt like I was reading a YA book at first since it dealt with the college students and life on campus.  But it soon grew into something much deeper.

This is a well written, compassionate and moving dystopian novel.  Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

 

Compelling tale of a piano and the two women who loved it

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The Weight of a Piano by Chris Cander

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

In 1962, 8-year-old Russian Katya receives a piano, which is bequeathed to her by her elderly neighbor, who recognizes the music in Katya.  The piano is a German Bluthner. Katya becomes a gifted pianist and she brings the best out of the piano.  But her piano is lost to her when her husband decides to leave Russia with high hopes of starting a new life in America with Katya and their son.

In 2012, Clara is torn about whether she should sell her Bluthner piano, which was given to her by her beloved father as an early 12th birthday present.  She never learned to play it and has had to have it moved every time one of her relationships ends.  But the piano is special to her since her father gave it to her shortly before he and her mother died in a fire.  When she impulsively decides the piano must go, the buyer brings a connection with the piano that completely takes Clara off guard and brings her on a unique road trip through Death Valley.

I loved how this book begins with the building of this particular piano.  The details in this chapter are fascinating, from the slow choosing of the right tree to the long drying out of the wood to the final building of the exquisite piano in a factory in Leipzig.  It made the piano come alive in my mind and immediately built a connection with it.  In alternating chapters, the author introduces the two women who have such a love for this piano – Katya and Clara – and carefully weaves their stories together.  Their stories are beautifully told, with a slow and careful intent towards the brilliant ending.

Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

Memorable story of a haunted family

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Old Newgate Road by Keith Scribner

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Cole Callahan is returning to his home town after thirty years.  He needs some chestnut wood from an old tobacco shed they’re tearing down there to use in his home restoration business.  He hasn’t been back since his father killed his mother in an angry rage.  When he stops by the old house, he couldn’t be more surprised to find his elderly father living there.  His father, Phil, has been released from prison and has returned home.  Phil is showing signs of dementia so Cole feels obligated to stay and help him out for a while.  He’s also avoiding some problems at home.  He and his wife, Nikki, have separated and his son, Daniel, has become a dedicated freegan but keeps running into problems with school and the police due to his high principles.

This is a very dark, deep, layered book about abuse in a dysfunctional family and how that abuse continued to work its evil in the lives of those who had previously endured it.  There’s a lot going on in the plotline of this book but it never gets confusing or muddled.  The only reason why I’m not giving this one 5 stars is that I had quite a bit of trouble understanding the touching scenes between Cole and his father and the affection and care he sometimes showed his father.  This is the man who killed his mother and who made his children’s lives miserable before that.  These scenes seemed to conflict with other things that were said in the book, how much Cole hated his father and never got over the death of his mother.  But I guess family is family, plus Cole was dealing with so much guilt that he wasn’t able to save his mother, which would cause conflicting feelings in him.

Memorable story of a haunted family.  Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

An addictive read about obsession, betrayal and morality

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An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

It sounds like an easy way to make some much-needed money to make-up artist Jessica Farris.  Just answer a few questions for Dr. Shields’ psychology study, what could be difficult about that?  But some of the questions are tough to answer and cause Jessica quite a bit of discomfort.  But she tries to be honest and do what she’s being paid for.  Then she meets Dr. Shields and is asked to expand her participation in the study and quite a bit more would be asked of her.  The excellent pay pulls Jessica in further and further until she doesn’t know who to trust or just what to think about Dr. Shields’ strange study.  What will Dr. Shields do with the information she’s gathering and why does she need it in the first place?

I was immediately pulled into this book and was completely intrigued.  I couldn’t read fast enough wondering just what was going on and what this study was all about.  I have to admit that when I found out the “why”, I was a bit disappointed.  But I was hooked by that point and had to know more.  This is a book that has a surprise around each bend in the road.  Like Jessica, you won’t know who can be trusted or what’s next in store for this very likeable character.  Try not to read too many reviews about this one because you want to go in blind and not know too much.  Let these excellent authors tell the story the way only they can.  An addictive read about obsession, betrayal and morality.

Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

Self-acceptance is at the center of this well-written guide

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Living Reiki by Melissa Tipton

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

This isn’t the type of book that you can sit down and read through and have a complete understanding of it.  This is the type of book that I know I will return to again and again along my Reiki path.  The book is chock full of meditation exercises to use in breaking down the energy blockages within us.

In reading the book through once, I know there were areas that just didn’t sink in so I’ll have to return to them again.  One thing that really stood out for me is how we can contaminate Reiki by using our own personal energy (which may well be messed up yet) or if we impose our ego on the energy.  We need to spiritually heal ourselves in order for healing energy to flow well.  Self-acceptance is at the center of this well-written guide.

While I’ve been thinking of the five precepts of Reiki on a daily basis for almost a year now, Ms. Tipton gave me new insight into those precepts.  There’s even a Divine Scavenger Hunt that I’m looking forward to embarking on.

Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

Mesmerizing historical novel revealing the layered life of Hedy Lamarr

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The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star review

Hedwig Kiesler is a young wealthy Jewish girl living in Vienna.  She longs to be a famous actress but also is interested in science.  Her father encourages her to pursue both.  She is just gaining respect as an actress when she meets her biggest fan, Fritz Mandl.  Mandl has quite a reputation with women and as an Austrian arms dealer.  But Hedwig’s parents are concerned about the developing hatred for Jews and believes a marriage between Hedwig and Fritz will save them all.  Once Hedwig marries Fritz, she realizes she made a terrible mistake and is imprisoned and abused by her controlling husband.  She begins to listen in on conversations at their dinner parties and learns military secrets that she passes on to her husband, hoping to use those secrets to escape from him.  Those secrets lead her to become an inventor of a unique radio-communication devise that may help win the war.

I was completely riveted by this book and found it fascinating.  I well remember the actress Hedy Lamarr, having watched many of her old movies on TV when I was young.  I also knew that this beautiful actress was also the inventor of a radio guidance system that was eventually used in the development of Bluetooth and Wi-fi.  But this book opened up her world to me in such a mesmerizing way.  The author has a talent for bringing her characters to life.  Parts of this book read like a suspenseful thriller and I couldn’t put it down.  Most impressive was the focus the author gave to the difficulties Hedy encountered when she presented her invention to the navy and it was refused simply because they said it would be hard for them to sell their soldiers and sailors on a weapons system created by a woman and that they weren’t even going to try.  And this was decided when they had a faulty torpedo system in place.  She was told that she would do better selling war bonds.  I was so glad to read in a postscript that many years later, in the 1990’s, she was finally given recognition and awards for her invention.

Most highly recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

Grit-lit with heart

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Sugar Run by Mesha Maren

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Jodi McCarty is out of jail, after having spent 18 years imprisoned for manslaughter.  She has only two things in mind – rescue her old lover’s brother, Ricky, from his abusive father and then go home to the land in West Virginia that her grandmother, Effie, left her.  As she sets out to do that, she meets and falls in love with Miranda.  Miranda has her own problems.  She’s estranged from her husband, a washed-up singer, who has taken her three sons from her.  Jodi and Miranda help each other and before long, she and now grown-up Ricky and Miranda and her three sons are living at Effie’s old home.  Jodi is determined to build a better life for them all here on her grandmother’s land.

Ms. Maren is quite an accomplished writer and immediately pulled me into this intriguing story.  A lot happens in this book and the plot covers small town bigotry, the awful destruction brought on by fracking, substance abuse, poverty, the love of land and the shifting of love.  The language can be tough at times but that’s the type of book it is – gritty and raw and earthy.  The language can also be stunningly beautiful.  I admit that I was often turned off and angered by the decisions made by these characters, especially since children were involved.  But then I’d see glimpses of the hope in Jodi’s heart and wanted things to work out for all of them.

I found this one hard to put down and am looking forward to seeing what’s next from this author.  Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

This one had potential to be much better but failed

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Hunting Annabelle by Wendy Heard

Book Review:  2 out of 5 star rating

Sean Suh doesn’t do much with his days other than sitting in a park and drawing people he sees.  He was in a psychiatric prison for three years and is considered rehabilitated but he’s not at sure he has been.  He still has thoughts and urges that he shouldn’t have and his meds make him feel terrible.  When he meets beautiful Annabelle, he has hopes that he hasn’t felt in years.  But when Annabelle is kidnapped right in front of his eyes, the police give Sean a hard time and have difficult believing anything he says.  Sean’s determined to find Annabelle before it’s too late.

I initially was pulled into this book.  The main character, Sean Suh, reminded me of Norman Bates in The Bates Motel TV series.  Both were characters with psychiatric problems with controlling mothers but they were trying so hard to get better and redeem themselves for past deeds.  That was enough to keep me reading though I don’t think the book was very well written.  I did have sympathy for Sean.  Then I hit the last fourth of the book.  That’s when the author completely lost me.  The book ended up going in the direction I thought it would but I thought it was done in a very silly, cheap and gory way.  I don’t want to ruin anything for anyone who wants to give this book a try but the last part of this book just turned me off and ruined anything of substance that I thought I had found in the rest of the book.  It may well just be me but this isn’t one I can recommend.  It had potential to be much better.

Not recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.