Sunday, April 26, 2020

Review: The Easy Part of Impossible by Sarah Tomp

The Easy Part of Impossible 
by Sarah Tomp
Release Date: April 21st 2020
2020 HarperTeen
Kindle Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062898289
Genre: Fiction / YA / Contemporary
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Ria Williams was an elite diver on track for the Olympics. As someone who struggled in school, largely due to her ADHD, diving was the one place Ria could shine. But while her parents were focused on the trophies, no one noticed how Coach Benny’s strict rules and punishments controlled every aspect of Ria’s life. The harder he was on her, the sharper her focus. The bigger the bruise, the better the dive. Until a freak accident at a meet changes everything. Just like that, Ria is handed back her life, free of Benny.

To fill her now-empty and aimless days, Ria rekindles a friendship with Cotton, a guy she used to know back in elementary school. With Cotton, she’s able to open up about what Benny would do to her, and through Cotton’s eyes, Ria is able to see it for what it was: abuse. Then Benny returns, offering Ria a second chance with a life-changing diving opportunity. But it’s not hers alone—Benny’s coaching comes with it. The thought of being back under his control seems impossible to bear, but so does walking away. How do you separate the impossible from the possible when the one thing you love is so tangled up in the thing you fear most?

The Easy Part of Impossible definitely hit a little close to home having been involved in competitive swimming, and I definitely read this book with a sense of dread wondering what was coming, but the author treated the subject with great sensitivity putting the focus on Ria and her mental health.  I really enjoyed this book and thought the author did a great job with Ria's realization of how much the abuse over the years has affected her and how much she really wanted to continue diving.

First of all, I read some of the comments about the book not being realistic because there was no way that people around Ria would not realize the extent of the abuse that was going on.  My reply would be: Have you been paying attention to the gymnastics scenario and what is happening there? Thirty plus years of abuse by one man and it's only now coming to the surface, so my answer would be, yes, it's entirely possible for an abuser, especially in elite sports, to get away with it.  If you have never been an elite athlete, this is very difficult to understand, as a coach has so much power over your life.  Practices are often closed, even to parents, and even if they aren't, an athlete spends so much time training, it is very difficult for a parent so be at the training facility all of the time.  My daughter was just a provincial level gymnast and she trained upwards of 25 hours per week; who has time to be at the gym all those hours, especially when you have other kids at home?   

The author did a great job revealing Ria's toxic relationship with her coach, slowly unveiling just enough to make you realize how bad it probably was, and to what an extent Ria herself covered it up but at the same time hoping that someone would realize the bruises were something more than just from hitting the water the wrong way.  I also liked how the author showed Ria defending her coach, placing the blame on herself, which is not that unusual in abuse situations.  Sometimes it takes an outsider, like Cotton, to make you realize when something is not right.  Cotton was my favourite aspect of this book.  On the spectrum, he was a wonderful character and I loved the parts where they went caving as they were a lot of fun.  Plus, there was plenty of opportunity for the author to get philosophical there as well, which I enjoyed, without going overboard.  I've gone caving myself, when I was younger, and it just made me want to go again, although I think I'm getting too old for that kind of stuff.  

The plot was very good, although I did feel like the ending was rushed.  I'm guessing the author wanted to focus more on Ria's realization of how much the abuse has affected her current life, and how much diving actually meant to her.  Outside of the pool, Ria struggled with severe ADHD, taking medial classes, but in the pool, she was one of the best.  Through flashbacks, we are given glimpses of some of Ria's training, plus some of the abuse she suffered, although the author really only showed a bit of what she must have suffered, leaving the rest to our imagination.  There is enough though, that there is a trigger warning included with the book.  However, that being said, Cotton said it the best when he stated that no one should be hitting you, period.  Her coach had abused her so much emotionally that I think she figured she couldn't make it without him, she was useless otherwise.  A bit of Stockholm syndrome?  

Did I mention how much I loved Cotton?  What a dear, sweet boy!  He made me smile and I loved how he treated Ria. I'm not much for romance, especially in YA books, but this one was sweet and lovely.  And it didn't take over the book, for which I was grateful, as the book was about Ria and her emotional nightmare.  I'm so glad the author didn't let the romance gloss over what Ria was going through.

The Easy Part of Impossible was a sweet surprise about a young elite diver who was being physically and emotionally abused but managed to find the strength to deal with her abuser and take back what she loved.  I thought the author did a fantastic job balancing the normal things a teenager does with the much heavier topics of abuse and elite level training.  To be honest, I didn't want the book to end. And while I tend to steer clear of many YA books because of their annoying romance plots, this one was sweet. And did I mention how much I loved Cotton?  The only two things that gave me pause were the ending, which was really rushed, and the subplot, you'll know what I'm talking about when you read the book, didn't really go anywhere (I wasn't necessarily expecting a happy reunion, but something would have been nice, I guess).  Highly recommended! 
Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Review: The Lies we Tell by Debra Webb

The Lies we Tell (The Undertaker's Daughter, Book #2)
by Debra Webb
Release Date: September 17th 2019
2019 MIRA
Kindle Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-1488085802
Genre: Fiction / Suspense / Murder
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Doctor Rowan Dupont knows a serial killer is coming for her. Julian Addington has been waiting. Watching. And it’s only a matter of time before he strikes. But what Julian doesn’t know is that Rowan is ready for him. And more than anything she wants answers. How well did the depraved killer actually know her mother? And how many lies have been spun in the years since she took her own life?

Working alongside her childhood friend Police Chief Billy Brannigan, Rowan is determined to get to the bottom of her mother’s puzzling suicide once and for all—even if it means exposing an unsettling past. It certainly seems like her family’s Victorian funeral home has borne witness to more than one dark secret, but when a recent double homicide leads to an even grislier discovery, separating the truth from the lies might be the last thing Rowan does.

My Thoughts
The Lies We Tell was somewhat more intriguing than the first book in this series, The Secrets We Bury.  While the first one dealt with Rowan's return to her hometown after years of working with the Nashville police as a psychological profiler, this one deals more with her sorting through the past and buried secrets as she copes with living a different life than the one she thought she would live.  Personally, I liked this one better, except for the silly murder that got in the way of what would have been a really good book.

While I was not a big Rowan fan in the first book, she kind of grew on me in this one: first of all, she didn't do as many silly and dangerous things, and secondly, there was a lot less repeated introspection that went on and on.  And while Rowan was still dealing with the fallout from the first book as well as the terror she felt every time she thought about Julian being free, it didn't hold her back as much and she was willing to do more things.  I guess you could say she was getting her backbone back, something I would have expected her to have after working all of those years with the police.  This Rowan who fought back was a bit better, even if she could be annoying as heck at times.  But Billy, I adore. Who wouldn't want a chief of police who is strong enough to stand up to anyone, but who also has a sense of humour?  

Luckily, I had read both the first book in this series as well as The Undertaker's Daughter so I had no problem being dropped right into the story line which pretty much picked up right after the events in the first book ended.  Unfortunately, if you started with this one, you would know who did what in the first book as the author couldn't really hide it.  What I liked about this one was the secrets. I am a sucker for the word 'secret' and there are plenty going around in this town.  The plot moves rather quickly from one thing to another, but Julian and Rowan's mother are definitely still at the center of things.  The only thing that jarred, which is why the rating is the way it is, was the murder mystery in this book.  I was not opposed to the murder itself, but I really wish its execution had been a bit better as it seemed forced and contrived, just to add another mysterious twist.  Not a fan of how it was done.

The Lies We Tell was more intriguing to me than the first book, and I definitely liked Rowan a lot better.  The plot moves quite quickly and there is definitely a lot happening, building to the last book in this trilogy.  I do recommend you read the first book first however, as well as the prequel book, as it will give you a better understanding of what is happening.  I am looking forward to reading The Darkness We Hide.
Sunday, April 19, 2020

Genesis by Layton Green

Unknown 9: Genesis (Genesis Trilogy, Book #1)
by Layton Green
Release Date: March 13th 2020
2020 Reflector Entertainment Ltd
Epub ARC: 432 Pages
ISBN: 978-1999229702
Genre: Fiction / Suspense
Source: Review copy from author

5 / 5 Stars

Strange hallucinations have plagued PhD student Andie Robertson throughout her life. After years of consulting doctors, she decided the visions were a glitch in her own mind until her mentor, the famous physicist Dr. James Corwin, is murdered in Italy, and Andie finds a stack of ink drawings in his office that bear a remarkable resemblance to her hallucinations.

Determined to find answers, Andie follows a trail of clues placed by Dr. Corwin, for reasons unknown, in museums and cultural sites around the world, highlighting human achievement as well as a tapestry of secret knowledge woven into the threads of history.

Yet Andie is not the only one searching. Powerful forces know of her mentor's invention, including a mysterious elite society that spans borders and will stop at nothing to find the device. Now a target herself, Andie and a disgraced journalist embark on a perilous journey that might hold the key to a new frontier of knowledge-and which also promises to unlock the doors of her past.

My Thoughts
I was thrilled to be offered Genesis to review as I have been a huge fan of this author since I first read his Dominic Grey series ages ago, and I was curious as to the subject matter he would present next in his novels.  I was definitely not disappointed; a puzzle thriller with mathematics and physics, and some conspiracy theories, at the heart, this book starts off with a bang and doesn't really let up until the end. 

Now, this book is quite deceptive as the author actually throws quite a lot at the reader; you've got everything from conspiracy theories about aliens, to government coverups, to mathematical and scientific theories, to secret societies.  I loved the scientific and mathematics concepts in this book and was thrilled to meet Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Paul Dirac***, and one of the characters, Ettore Majorana, plus some mathmaticians from the Ancient World.  Anyone with any knowledge of mathematics/physics will be familiar with those names, even Einstein was mentioned although he hasn't appeared as of yet.  And while you non-scientific people may be quailing at the thought of math and science, do not despair, as the author has this amazing ability to explain the concepts in layman's terms so it is easily understood, or as easily understood as possible.   

Like all of Layton's books, while the action can be pulse-pounding, the strength always lies in his characters and in their development.  Andie (Andromeda) and Cal come from completely different worlds, she is a physics doctoral student while Cal is an investigative journalist fired for digging into things he shouldn't have, and the two have crossed paths in their struggle against an organization known only as LYS. Andie's mentor and close family friend was murdered while on a business trip in Bologna, leaving some cryptic clues for Andie to figure out, telling her to trust no one, not even her family, thrusting her into a political struggle that has existed for a long time. Having little experience in evasion, I like how both of them rely on their wits to evade the people chasing them, plus a little bit of luck, but the luck doesn't seem forced or fake.  Having read this author before, I know not to take for granted anything in his books, so I am always paying attention to everything, even if I don't understand, as I know it will be explained later on.  

The plot of the book can be quite intense, in particular the second half of the book as Andie and Cal race after clues trying to evade people who are after them (and I am still trying to sort out who are the bad guys and who are the good guys in these rival factions).  Keep in mind, this is the first book of a planned trilogy, so the author is setting up characters and events for future novels, so the first half of the book does exactly that.  However, I find it all fascinating and intriguing; having both a science and history background, this was right up my ally.  The story does split into different POVs, even going back to the 1930s, told from Ettore Majorana's POV, giving us a plausible reason for his disappearance before WWII.  The multiple story lines are flow quite seamlessly together and I enjoyed the back and forth as it advanced the story without giving too much away.

Genesis does a great job making the story and the characters compelling and interesting. I have always loved puzzle element story lines so this was right up my alley, and I am thrilled there are two more books to come in this trilogy.  The author gives the right balance between explanation, description, and action without overwhelming; I particularly loved his descriptions of Egypt and Venice.  I highly recommend this book (and his other ones too), and am looking forward to the next book in this trilogy.
Monday, April 13, 2020

Review: The Prized Girl by Amy K. Green

The Prized Girl
by Amy K. Green
Release Date: January 14th 2020
2020 Dutton Books
Kindle Edition; 384 Pages
ISBN: 978-1524745103
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Days after a young teenager named Jenny is found murdered, her small town grieves the loss alongside her picture-perfect parents. At first glance, Jenny’s tragic death appears clear-cut for investigators. In the murder of a former pageant queen from a safe and loving family, the most obvious suspect is a fan who got too close for comfort. But Jenny’s sarcastic, older half-sister Virginia isn’t so sure of his guilt and takes matters into her own hands to find the killer.

But for Jenny’s case and and Virginia’s investigation, there’s more to the story. Virginia, still living in town and haunted by her own troubled teenage years, suspects that a similar darkness lay beneath the sparkling veneer of Jenny’s life. Alternating between Jenny’s final days and Virginia’s determined search for the truth, the sisters’ dual narratives follow a harrowing trail of suspects, with surprising turns that race toward a shocking finale.

My Thoughts
The Prized Girl is one of those books where a review is really difficult to write: I liked the writing style of this author but really did not connect with any of the characters and thought the plot line could have used some work.  

The story is told through two POVs, the murdered Jenny, and her sister, Virginia. While I thought using the two points of view was interesting, and the author definitely did a credible job meshing the two, unfortunately, I just could not connect with either of their stories.  Jenny just came across as spoiled and Virginia, well, I just couldn't empathize with her at all.  I get that Jenny was dealing with a mother who seemed to have some issues of her own (I don't want to say too much as it will give away some parts of the story, but she was just thirteen years old), and I know that 13-year-olds can definitely be rebellious and try to act much older than they are, but these girls seemed to be at a level much older than their years.  And I've seen a lot of stuff teaching high school for almost 30 years.  The author seemed to be really focused on the sexuality of these girls as if it is the only thing that is running through their adolescent brains.  So, basically Jenny's time line gives us an insight into what she was into leading up to her death, while Virginia's gives us insight into the investigation after Jenny's death.

The formula to this story definitely isn't original: the picture-perfect life of a beauty-queen superstar isn't perfect nor does she have the perfect family, despite outward appearances.  First predictable check.  Young perfect girl begins to rebel against her mother because she decides to quit the pageant scene. Predictable check two. Young girl begins to try different things and starts sneaking out of the house at night. Predictable check three. Parents don't get along and have another rebellious daughter. Predictable check four.  And the list goes on.  And naturally, perfect younger daughter doesn't get along with rebellious older daughter.  Yup, we've seen this formula many times before.  The author did make a lot of it interesting, until I learned about Virginia's past and why she was the way she was; NOPE, nope, nope, nope.  I am definitely not going to be sympathetic whatsoever to that scenario, it is abuse.  So now you're probably wondering why I finished the book? I got curious as to how the author was going to finish the book.  And was I satisfied?  Not at all, but was I surprised, no.

The Prized Girl for the most part was well-written, although I do have to say the last part seemed to be quite a bit messier than the rest as if the author didn't quite know how she was going to end the book.  Now, the book did have a lot going for it, and there are probably a lot of readers who may like this book, but it was not for me.  To be honest, I think readers who are not as familiar with this genre may like this book better than those who read this genre extensively.  I just couldn't connect with the characters, and really disliked Virginia throughout the book so that didn't help.  Would I read another book by this author? Yes, I would give her another chance as I really liked her writing style and there were some really clever moments in here.  
Friday, April 10, 2020

Review: The Grace Kelly Dress by Brenda Janowitz

The Grace Kelly Dress
by Brenda Janowitz
Release Date: March 3rd 2020
2020 Graydon House
Kindle Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-1525804595
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

In Paris, 1958, Grace Kelly’s royal wedding dress is still all the rage in fashion circles. Rose, a seamstress at a famous atelier, has just been entrusted with sewing another gown in its image. An orphan, she needs her job to survive. But when Rose finds herself in love with the bride’s handsome brother, she must decide what matters most: love or security.

Sixty years later, Rocky is thrilled to be marrying the love of her life. He truly is her perfect fit. But there’s just one problem: her family’s heirloom wedding dress isn’t. Rocky knows this admission will break her mother’s heart. What she doesn’t know is why her mother is so set on the dress—or about the shocking secret that changed her mother’s life decades before, as she prepared to wear the dress herself. As the wedding day approaches, the mother-daughter pair will finally confront long-buried heartaches, and it might just be the dress that brings them closer than ever.

My Thoughts
The Grace Kelly Dress is one of those books that I needed to read during this self-isolation phase; something light, interesting, multi-generational, predictable, but sweet.  The deep secrets were quite easy to figure out, there wasn't a lot of depth to the characters, although the overall style of the novel gave you the warm and fuzzies.

While I enjoyed this novel, I think I resonated quite a bit with Rocky as I'm not really the sentimental type, and while I do value tradition to a certain point, I definitely like to do things my own way and I definitely am not sentimental over objects and knickknacks (in fact, can't stand them), so perhaps I was a little jaded while reading this book.  However, I can relate to the mother/daughter relationships in this book as well as to the excitement of a wedding and the fears and joys of an approaching nuptials.  And while I definitely connected with Rocky and her independence, I also liked the story about Joan as we got to see her both when she was young and as a mother of the bride. It is so hard for young women to realize that their mothers were once young and crazy, and often did things and made decisions that were not always the best, and had to learn from their mistakes too.  This is one of the things that I did like about this book.  That awareness.  

Told in three alternating POV, the story focuses on a dress created by Rose inspired by Grace Kelly's wedding dress, and to be honest, I thought the design of the dress was the most interesting part of the book.  While the story moves along quickly, it is very predictable, and I don't really feel like the characters were developed fully.  In fact, I feel like all three stories just kind of abruptly ended because we were getting close to the ending of the book and everything just wrapped up nicely.  Sweet and sentimental, but not my thing. And while there was supposed to be a plot twist, it was really nothing, and as soon as you read about so-and-so's death, you could kind of figure it out by reading between the lines.

The Grace Kelly Dress was definitely sentimental and almost had this lectury feel about tradition and the importance of tradition in family.  I know at one point, I was really annoyed at Rose for the way she approached weddings and her views towards those who didn't like a big, showy wedding as if that was the only thing that mattered.  I guess it's just  perspective and what you think is important on that big day.  And while I enjoyed the book, I did think the characters were not fully developed, and the plot was quite predictable.  For those of you who like sentimentality, this book is definitely for you. It's just not for me.
Thursday, April 2, 2020

Review: King of Ashes by Raymond E. Feist

King of Ashes (Firemane Saga, Book #1)
by Raymond E. Feist
Release Date: May 8th 2018
2018 Harper Voyage
Kindle Edition; 499 Pages
ISBN: 978-0061468452
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

For centuries, the five greatest kingdoms of North and South Tembria, twin continents on the world of Garn, have coexisted in peace. But the balance of power is destroyed when four of the kingdoms violate an ancient covenant and betray the fifth: Ithrace, the Kingdom of Flames, ruled by Steveren Langene, known as "the Firemane" for his brilliant red hair. As war engulfs the world, Ithrace is destroyed and the Greater Realms of Tembria are thrust into a dangerous struggle for supremacy.
As a Free Lord, Baron Daylon Dumarch owes allegiance to no king. When an abandoned infant is found hidden in Daylon’s pavilion, he realizes that the child must be the missing heir of the slain Steveren. The boy is valuable—and vulnerable. A cunning and patient man, Daylon decides to keep the baby’s existence secret, and sends him to be raised on the Island of Coaltachin, home of the so-called Kingdom of Night, where the powerful and lethal Nocusara, the "Hidden Warriors," legendary assassins and spies, are trained.

Years later, another orphan of mysterious provenance, a young man named Declan, earns his Masters rank as a weapons smith. Blessed with intelligence and skill, he unlocks the secret to forging King’s Steel, the apex of a weapon maker’s trade known by very few. Yet this precious knowledge is also deadly, and Declan is forced to leave his home to safeguard his life. Landing in Lord Daylon’s provinces, he hopes to start anew.

Soon, the two young men—an unknowing rightful heir to a throne and a brilliantly talented young swordsmith—will discover that their fates, and that of Garn, are entwined. The legendary, long-ago War of Betrayal has never truly ended . . . and they must discover the secret of who truly threatens their world.

My Thoughts
King of Ashes is the first book in a new saga by Feist and to say I was looking forward to this book is an understatement.  I have been reading his books since I was 14 years old, and to see something published that is separate from the Riftwar Saga is quite exciting.  It reminded me of the first time I read Magician; new characters, new worlds, new developments, new magic systems, and so on. It was exactly what I expected from this author.

This story focuses on Hatu and Declan, both from very different worlds, but you realize very quickly their worlds are destined to join, the question is more how and why.  After a very explosive first chapter, which leads me to believe there will be a lot of this in future books, things kind of settled down and Feist does what he does so well, builds up his characters and his worlds.  Hatu is an orphan being raised by a legendary group of assassins whose very mystery keeps people in check and afraid, while Declan, also an orphan, is being raised by a legendary swordmaster, former slave of a Baron who played a pivotal role in the destruction of one of the Five Kingdoms.  Hatu trains to be one of those legendary assassins but never feels like he fits in anywhere, and constantly deals with anger issues that he doesn't understand and has difficulty controlling.  One of the things I love about the Feist book is his imaginative magic systems, so I can't wait to see what will come of Hatu as he learns more about the 'fire' that burns within him; in this book we were only given hints and suggestions, but no answers, so I am really curious as to what will happen.

Feist definitely demonstrates his mastery of world-building through clever story intrigue as his characters sail around the world, or move from city to city.  Just when I thought I was in for more introspection, suddenly something would happen and it would catch me off guard.  You get a pretty good idea of the political culture and tensions surrounding a lot of these Kingdoms, churches, and baronies, which will probably play a huge role in future books.  I've learned never to underestimate anything that Feist does in any of this books; there is usually a reason he points out something to the reader which may not necessarily be apparent at that moment.  I am also appreciative of the fact that, so far, there are no elves or dwarves, in this book, the standard fantasy trope.  Don't get me wrong, I loved his use of those fantasy elements in his previous works but it is nice to see something different in this book. That there will be fantastical elements is no doubt, they are just hinted at for the moment.

King of Ashes did a great job introducing new characters and new worlds to its readers, and it definitely set up something big to come.  Except for the first chapter, there are no great battles or anti-climatic endings, but you could feel the tension easing through the pages as the main characters dealt with issues and you can feel the tension building up through the chapters.  I am definitely looking forward to reading the next book in this saga, Queen of Storms, when it is released on July 20th.