Monday, November 30, 2020

Review: Mousse and Murder by Elizabeth Logan

by Elizabeth Logan
Release Date: May 5th 2020
2020 Berkley Books
Paperback Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593100448
Genre: Fiction / Cozy / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

When Chef Charlie Cooke is offered the chance to leave San Francisco and return home to Elkview, Alaska, to take over her mother's diner, she doesn't even consider saying no. After all--her love life has recently become a Love Life Crumble, and a chance to reconnect with her roots may be just what she needs.

Determined to bring fresh life and flavors to the Bear Claw Diner, Charlie starts planning changes to the menu, which has grown stale over the years. But her plans are fried when her head cook Oliver turns up dead after a bitter and public fight over Charlie's ideas--leaving Charlie as the only suspect in the case.

With her career, freedom, and life all on thin ice, Charlie must find out who the real killer is, before it's too late.
My Thoughts
Mousse and Murder was a fun introduction to a new Alaskan cozy mystery series.  There are not a lot of mystery series set in Alaska which is why I was interested in this book, and it was fun to learn more about the area and some of the tourist attractions.  I thought the story was interesting, but I did feel like both the characters and the plot line needed a bit more development.
First of all, cozy mysteries are a bit different than your typical police procedural / suspense novel for a reason; they really rely on that connection with the characters and the investment into their lives, so sometimes the build up into the mystery can take a bit longer.  Because Oliver died so early in the book, I didn't get a chance to learn anything about him other than he was a chef.  There was also no connection to him on a personal level so his death really didn't mean anything, other than being sad that someone died in a horrible way.  

The plot was interesting, with plenty of twists and turns, but it was quite easy to figure out who did the actual deed; however, it was a bit more challenging trying to guess the motive, and that I did not figure out.  And I did think the author focused almost too much on trying to create these red herrings, she forgot about developing the characters so they felt almost bland.  And the pace was a bit slow. And while I love cats (and have two of my own), the focus on Charlie's cat became a bit annoying.  How many times do we have to read about Charlie playing with her cat on her phone so the cat doesn't become bored?  Apparently, it can be too many. I did like the role the cat played in the mystery though, and I absolutely loved the cat's name, Eggs Benedict, aka Benny.  So cute!

Mousse and Murder had likeable characters and an interesting setting, but the pace was a bit slow and it was easy to figure out who was the guilty party. I definitely liked learning more about Alaska, and as it's a place I've always wanted to visit, I found the setting quite enjoyable.  I was left with some questions at the end of the book though as not everything was wrapped up as nicely as I would have liked.  This was a pleasant first book in a new series, and I am looking forward to the next book to see what Charlie and the gang get up to next. 

Review: Exile Music by Jennifer Steil

by Jennifer Steil
Release Date: May 5th 2020
2020 Viking
Hardcover Edition; 415 Pages
ISBN: 978-0525561811
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

As a young girl growing up in Vienna in the 1930s, Orly has an idyllic childhood filled with music. Her father plays the viola in the Philharmonic, her mother is a well-regarded opera singer, her beloved and charismatic older brother holds the neighborhood in his thrall, and most of her eccentric and wonderful extended family live nearby. Only vaguely aware of Hitler's rise or how her Jewish heritage will define her family's identity, Orly spends her days immersed in play with her best friend and upstairs neighbor, Anneliese. Together they dream up vivid and elaborate worlds, where they can escape the growing tensions around them.

But in 1938, Orly's peaceful life is shattered when the Germans arrive. Her older brother flees Vienna first, and soon Orly, her father, and her mother procure refugee visas for La Paz, a city high up in the Bolivian Andes. Even as the number of Jewish refugees in the small community grows, her family is haunted by the music that can no longer be their livelihood, and by the family and friends they left behind. While Orly and her father find their footing in the mountains, Orly's mother grows even more distant, harboring a secret that could put their family at risk again. Years pass, the war ends, and Orly must decide: Is the love and adventure she has found in La Paz what defines home, or is the pull of her past in Europe--and the piece of her heart she left with Anneliese--too strong to ignore?
My Thoughts
Exile Music was a fantastic book about the resilience of people who have lost everything and everyone they hold dear as they are forced to flee a country that had changed around them and to adopt a new country and culture that was completely different from what they had previously known in order to survive.  This was a sweeping story that focused more on survival and hope rather than on the war. 

Orly was a young girl who enjoyed a comfortable life in Vienna during the early thirties.  Her parents were well-known musicians, one an opera singer, the other playing the viola for the Vienna Philharmonic.  Her best friend lived upstairs and together they created an idyllic world of fairy tales and stories that depicted their life events.  

Throughout the descriptions of their idyllic life though, you could feel the tension and darkness interwoven throughout through interrupted conversations and events through Orly's eyes she didn't understand but the reader did.  It slowly crept through their lives and introduced a menace that you could just feel. People disappearing, people being hurt, families losing their homes, etc...A brilliant piece of writing by the author.  And then Kristallnacht happened.  The desperation as people attempted to flee to safer areas to protect their loved ones, as people who were friends suddenly turned on you, as people were killed, and so much property destroyed.  It broke my heart to read about Jakob's attempts to get visas for his family to get out of Austria and no one would take them.  I know the history as I teach it, but it still saddens me every time I read about it.  To think so many others could have been saved and nothing was done.  
Bolivia.  The last country to accept Jewish refugees.  High in the Andes Mountains, a very different world from what they knew in Austria. Orly adapted much easier than her parents, but then, she was a child and children do tend to adapt easier than adults.  And the adults were mourning the families they left behind, of whom they had little news, and the news they received was horrible.  Jakob eventually returned to his music and opened up a school to teach young musicians, but Orly's mother refused to sing again, and this made me so sad.  I have read hundreds of books about World War II, but for some reason this touched me so much.  
What I definitely appreciated was the author's touch when it came to the Nazi soldiers who also escaped to Bolivia.  She was just stating the facts and leaving it up to the reader to be judge and jury over the situation; however, using Orly's mother to deal with the situation in the way that she did definitely shows that some things should never be forgotten, nor forgiven.  What happened during the war was atrocious.  I can't even think of a word that is strong enough.

Exile Music is a sprawling book that covers events in Austria before the war actually begins, then heads over the Bolivia and the events that occurred there during the war and afterwards.  While the story is definitely tragic in so many ways, there is also an element of hope, in Orly and in her parents.  I loved the story and I loved the setting, learning so much more about Bolivia and its people.  There is definitely a lot to learn in this book, but it is a beautiful story as well. Highly recommend.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Review: Atomic Love by Jennie Fields

by Jennie Fields
Release Date: August 18th 2020
2020 G.P. Putnam's Sons
Softcover Edition; 368 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593085332
ASIN: B082H2V31P
Genre: Fiction / Historical Fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher
2 / 5 Stars
Chicago, 1950. Rosalind Porter has always defied expectations--in her work as a physicist on the Manhattan Project and in her passionate love affair with colleague Thomas Weaver. Five years after the end of both, her guilt over the bomb and her heartbreak over Weaver are intertwined. She desperately misses her work in the lab, yet has almost resigned herself to a more conventional life.

Then Weaver gets back in touch--and so does the FBI. Special Agent Charlie Szydlo wants Roz to spy on Weaver, whom the FBI suspects of passing nuclear secrets to Russia. Roz helped to develop these secrets and knows better than anyone the devastating power such knowledge holds. But can she spy on a man she still loves, despite her better instincts? At the same time, something about Charlie draws her in. He's a former prisoner of war haunted by his past, just as her past haunts her.

As Rosalind's feelings for each man deepen, so too does the danger she finds herself in. She will have to choose: the man who taught her how to love . . . or the man her love might save?
**** Spoiler Alert. ****
My Thoughts
Atomic Love just did not do it for me.  One of the primary reasons for this is that I was given this book to review with the understanding it was a spy novel, but it turned out to be more of a romance novel, and a ridiculous one at that.  Would it have mattered if I had known it was a romance novel from the first? Yes, as you go in with a different mindset.  I was waiting for this big secret and something more, but all I got was this woman who was asked to spy on her ex, expecting her to do whatever it took to find out what he was up to, including sleep with him if necessary.  Oh, there was a lot of talk about Rosalind not having to do anything she was not comfortable doing, but she was still under the gun to do it anyway. 
I would have liked Rosalind if the author hadn't spend so much time talking about her 'creamy white skin' and the fact she didn't comprehend how beautiful she was. GAG!  So repetitive.  Plus, she pretty much spent the entire book going over which guy she thought would be better for her, the one who ditched her and ruined her career, or the FBI agent with the mangled hand who everyone supposedly has a problem with because of his disability. (I will get to that little problem soon, trust me.)   She is supposed to be this brilliant scientist who worked on the Manhattan Project, but I never once saw that in the way her character was written.  She was described mostly as a woman who needed to be rescued and kept from the horrible things in life by those around her.  I was definitely not impressed.

Now to the FBI Agent Charlie.  We are in the early fifties, just after the end of the WWII. And the author goes on and on about Charlie's disability and how much of crutch it is in his job.  Wow! How many men had disabilities from the war?  I really feel like someone needed to do a bit more research. As someone with a history background, this rankled. A LOT.  And the scenes where Rosalind learns about his history as a war prisoner? That was horrible, yes, but the scene afterwards made me laugh out loud, I couldn't help it.  Read it for yourself.

I will admit it took me awhile to finish this book; I think I read two others while reading this one, and for the life of me I don't know why I kept reading it.  The ending was brutal though, as if the author suddenly realized Rosalind needed to be seen as this strong, independent woman who made her own decisions.  I didn't dislike the ending, but it was so contrary to everything else in the book, it just didn't work.  If Rosalind had been like that throughout the book, I would have liked her a lot more.  
Atomic Love definitely had a lot of promise, but it just didn't work for me.  There are some nice historical moments, such as the descriptions of being a prisoner of war and rare mentions of the Manhattan Project, but that's as far as it goes.  However, the book was very inconsistent, including the character development.  The whole 'damsel in distress' is a huge turnoff and overall, the book was somewhat boring. I'm sorry to say this is one I don't really recommend.  



Friday, November 27, 2020

Review: The Third to Die by Allison Brennan

by Allison Brennan
Release Date: February 4th 2020
2020 Mira Books
Hardcover Edition; 460 Pages
ISBN: 978-0778309444
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher
4 / 5 Stars
Detective Kara Quinn, on leave from the LAPD, is on an early morning jog in her hometown of Liberty Lake when she comes upon the body of a young nurse. The manner of death shows a pattern of highly controlled rage. Meanwhile in DC, FBI special agent Mathias Costa is staffing his newly minted Mobile Response Team. Word reaches Matt that the Liberty Lake murder fits the profile of the compulsive Triple Killer. It will be the first case for the MRT. This time they have a chance to stop this zealous if elusive killer before he strikes again. But only if they can figure out who he is and where he is hiding before he disappears for another three years. The stakes are higher than ever before, because if they fail, one of their own will be next...
My Thoughts
The Third to Die is the first book in the Mathias Costa and Kara Quinn thriller series, and while first books can sometimes take awhile to really get momentum going in terms of both character and plot development, I thought the author did a great job with both.  The plot moved quickly enough and characters were introduced in such a way as to make them interesting and you wanted to learn more about them and their backgrounds as only tidbits were given.  I enjoyed this book a lot more than I was expecting.
I really liked he characters and the character development in this book.  Kara is a police officer on leave from the LAPD, an undercover officer, and she doesn't really know what to do with her free time. I should mention she was on a forced leave and was quite frustrated about the whole thing so she often came across as prickly and cool.  I loved her character however, as the author did a great job slowly peeling away the layers of her personality and background so you understood her better.  While cool, she was also very, very, very good at her job. And while you don't learn everything, you do learn enough to pique your interest and want to learn MORE about her.   Having found the body while on a run in the woods, she was asked to help in the investigation as she was quite familiar with the area and the people.  

The FBI had created something called the MRT, the Mobile Response Team, and Matt had been tasked to head the force that would run it. Basically, the unit would travel to smaller towns that didn't have a FBI presence to tackle those investigations where they were needed and have full support at their fingertips.  The team hadn't yet been assembled when Matt was given this murder investigation, so it was interesting to see it all come together throughout the novel as well as meet some of the different players you know are going to feature strongly in future books.  I was very curious about the profiler, Catherine Jones, as there was definitely a history between her and Matt; a story that really needs to be told, like a short story?  Apparently, Catherine's sister was involved with Matt, but died during a previous case. Again, tidbits given, that's all.  It just leaves you wanting to learn more.  

The plot itself was a little on the drawn-out side, but I did enjoy it a lot.  The reason I think it was a little long is the author was setting up some characters and situations for future books so it needed to be that way.  This is much more of a police procedural type of novel, but I really enjoy those and love seeing the steps that police officers and other agents have to take in order to solve a crime.  I find it rather fascinating.  

The Third to Die was a worthy first book to a brand-new series.  While more of a police procedural, it was smartly written with bursts of action and suspense. And while the ending was satisfying, the characters' past lives and situations were not fully developed or explored which leaves a lot of room for the author to flesh them out in future books.  I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good suspense novel with interesting characters. 

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Review: Shakedown by Newt Gingrich and Pete Earley

by Newt Gingrich
Release Date: March 24th 2020
2020 Broadside Books
Hardcover Edition; 368 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062860194
Genre: Fiction / Thriller
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

When a former Iranian scientist is assassinated in Washington, D.C., the former counterintelligence agent and ex-SEAL are pulled back into the world of clandestine ops—and the fate of the entire East Coast is at stake. Joining ranks with a heralded Mossad agent, Mayberry and Garrett pursue an international killer whose motives remain a mystery.
But he isn’t the only threat. They uncover another planned attack—with too many potential enemies to track down and too little time. When Iran offers to help, the already tense political situation gets more complicated. Operating outside official channels, maneuvering between enemy powers, the two know they must tread carefully to prevent an international incident and keep themselves alive. 

My Thoughts
Shakedown was actually pretty good.  I really wasn't sure what to expect, but I did enjoy a couple of his non-fiction books (mostly historical non-fiction) so I thought, Why not?  Especially when I saw he collaborated with Pete Earley, of whom I am a huge fan.  This book was entertaining, and included some current political strife, but it did have some slow moments in it where I did have to put the book down for a while and pick up something else.

First of all, while I don't have a problem with multiple POV, I do think it can be overused and take away from the tension of a book.  And I do feel this is exactly what happened in this one.  Sometimes focusing on just one character (or two or three) and following their journeys, even if it is confusing and you have no idea what is happening, builds up tension and suspense.  Flipping back and forth through EVERY POV really deflated the tension for me as there was no guesswork you knew exactly what was happening. That made is really predictable and I don't like predictable.  
The plot itself was interesting, and I definitely liked the use of modern day politicking in this book, especially between old school and new school technology.  That seems to be a common topic in suspense novels lately, whether technology is better than old school spying, and I am enjoying the debate that is going on.  Where do I sit on this one? I think there is room for both as I feel that technology can never replace gut feeling and intuition of seeing things for yourself and not through a lens.  Social interaction will always be important, in my view.  Some of the plot was a bit far-fetched for me though, which is why I gave it the rating I did, so I just went along for the ride and enjoyed it for what it is, a thriller.
I like the development of the relationship between Garrett and Mayberry, and I really liked how they supported one another.  Mayberry was nursing a possible career-ending injury and I liked how Garrett was trying to show her that her career can follow a different path from the one she was expecting and still be highly useful in her job.  I think it's important for books to show the negative effects of these jobs and the mental stress that people in these positions go through to protect us from dangers of which we are not even aware half the time.  One of my favourite scenes in this book was Garrett's interactions with the homeless man in front of his building and how he went out of his way to help him.  Such a nice touch in this book.  
Shakedown had an interesting, if not necessarily believable, plot, and I definitely liked Mayberry and Garrett as main characters.  I do wish more of the focus was on them and not the many multiple POV that kind of take away from the overall suspense of the book.  How much influence Pete Earley had on this book is hard to say, but I definitely recognize his style of writing in this book.  Maybe it's time Earley wrote more of his own thriller/suspense series too? I do recommend this book, and I will definitely pick up the next book in this series.


Saturday, November 21, 2020

Review: One by One by Ruth Ware

by Ruth Ware
Release Date: September 8th 2020
2020 Scout Press
Softcover Edition: 372 Pages
ISBN: 978-1501188817
ASIN: B084G9Z5C3
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

1.5 / 5 Stars

Getting snowed in at a beautiful, rustic mountain chalet doesn’t sound like the worst problem in the world, especially when there’s a breathtaking vista, a cozy fire, and company to keep you warm. But what happens when that company is eight of your coworkers…and you can’t trust any of them?

When an off-site company retreat meant to promote mindfulness and collaboration goes utterly wrong when an avalanche hits, the corporate food chain becomes irrelevant and survival trumps togetherness. Come Monday morning, how many members short will the team be?
My Thoughts
I went into One by One with higher expectations simply because I had enjoyed The Death of Mrs. Westaway, and was hoping this book was similar, in writing style, to that one. Unfortunately, this was not the case; I slugged through this one but really it should have been a DNF for me.
**Warning: Spoilers ahead**
First of all, on a positive note, I loved the location and the setting.  As an avid skier, put me in a cozy chalet surrounded by mountains and snow and you have me hooked.  However, this is where my first problem arises with this book.  As an avid skier who has been skiing for a long time, there is absolutely no way a beginner skier would be able to learn enough in one morning to be able to handle a blue hill in these conditions. This is skiing in the French Alps, where you need to take a lift to get to the chalet. This may work on someone who has never skied, or who has only skied small mountains, but when you have skied much bigger mountains and more difficult terrain, we DON'T BUY IT.  Second, when a hill closes, so does the lift.  Any avid skier would know this.  Unless they magically flew up the hill, one scenario would never happen.  They don't keep a lift running if the hill is closed; I have never seen that happen. Which now takes me to the 'gripping chase down the mountain'.  I actually chuckled at the descriptions of that chase.  Not at the death, but over the descriptions.  If you are a skier, when you read that scene, you will understand why.  

Problem #2: The characters. I knew pretty much from the first page who the killer was.  This wasn't a problem of too many characters, this was a problem of an author having too many characters and not using her skill to develop them wisely or not being able to keep track of them all.  There was even a couple of times when the names were wrong in the middle of a conversation and I had to backtrack to take a look and see if I| missed something.  I think if the narrative had been told from one perspective, it would have been a stronger book, but there was absolutely nothing going for one of the narrators and she brought the whole story down. Whiny, annoying as anything, and I couldn't for the life of me figure out why she was even there.  The reason the author gave was so lame it made me smirk.  

Problem #3: The plot. Boring, boring, boring.  Sorry, I hate writing so many negative things in a review, but other than the setting, there really wasn't a lot of positives in this book.  But the story line took forever to get going, there was so much talk about this app, and for the life of me, I couldn't figure out why anyone would even want to purchase this thing.  It had something to do with listening in on playlists of the rich and famous so you could listen to what they were listening to.  Seriously, who cares? It's not the app that was the problem, it was all the senseless info dump that was so unnecessary to the plot and was boring.  Even the ending dragged on and on, and I remember thinking, There are still 4 chapters left? Really? 

One by One was a huge disappointment. The murderer was obvious from the beginning, the plot was boring, the characters were not developed and we didn't really get to know any of them as the author was more focused on how many followers they had, and the ski scenes drove me nuts.  I feel really sad about this as there was huge potential in this book. Definitely not a book I would recommend. 


Friday, November 6, 2020

Review: Lady Rights a Wrong by Eliza Casey

by Eliza Casey
Release Date: June 2nd 2020
2020 Berkley
Kindle Edition; 325 Pages
ISBN: 978-1984803900
Genre: Fiction / Cozy Mystery / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Lady Cecilia of Danby Hall feels adrift. She couldn’t be less interested in helping to plan her brother’s upcoming wedding, nor finding a husband herself. Instead, what excites her most is the Woman’s Suffrage Union meeting she has just attended.

Inspired by the famous and charismatic leader of the group, Mrs. Amelia Price, Cecilia is eager to join the Union—if she can hide it from her parents, that is. But when Mrs. Price is found dead at the foot of the stairs of her home, her Votes for Women sash torn away, Cecilia knows she must attend to a more urgent matter: finding the killer. With the help of her lady’s maid Jane and intelligent cat Jack, she hopes to play her part in earning women’s equality by stopping the Union’s dangerous foe.
My Thoughts
Lady Rights a Wrong is the second entry in the Manor Cat Mystery series, and I definitely liked this entry more than I liked the first one.  The first one wasn't bad by any means, but I think this one was better written and the characters felt more fleshed out with developing quirks that are making them a lot more interesting.  

I really enjoy Cecilia as a main character as she is intelligent and quick-witted, but somewhat bored doing 'lady' things that are expected of her.  After her adventures in the first book, she is no longer satisfied with the mundane tasks of a lady, and is looking for something more fulfilling and challenging; she is just not interested in getting married and becoming lady of the manor, so to speak.  The author did have this tendency to dwell on Cecilia's station and lack of opportunities for women quite a bit, which took away from the overall story at times as it came across as a bit preachy.  I don't have objections to reflections on this type of thing, but it was constant, and I think a tad overdone.  I often think an author can get the same message across through actions and storytelling without so much reflection.  Anyhow, Cecelia was a likeable character, often confused about her place in the world, wanting to experience the world, but caught in a web of expectations for women.  Because of this, she becomes fascinated by the suffragette movement.  And I can see the appeal of this movement for her.

And while I enjoyed Jane as a character, I did feel like the relationship between Cecilia and Jane was a stretch simply because a lady's maid would have been restricted in her freedoms a bit more than in this book.  While Cecilia could depend on Jane quite a bit, and have affection for her, there would definitely be a line between them that neither would be allowed to cross.  

The mystery itself was amusing, but it did take a long time for the mystery to really present itself, and it did get a bit slow in the middle.  There were a lot of suspects, but not too hard to figure out if you pay attention.  I was glad to see the cat actually play a role in this one though.

Lady Rights a Wrong is an enjoyable historical mystery with the suffragette movement front and center this time.  The author highlights some of the tensions that existed within the movement during this time period as well as the traditional roles of women and their struggles to free themselves from those roles.  I enjoyed the characters as they were better fleshed out than in the first book. And while the mystery was amusing, I did think it lacked depth and punch.  Will I read the next book in this series? Yes, I believe so as there was enough development from the first book to this one that I am curious to see what the author will do next. 

Monday, November 2, 2020

Review: The Split by Sharon Bolton

The Split
by Sharon Bolton
Release Date: April 28th 2020
2020 Minotaur Books
Hardcover Edition; 382 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250300058
Genre: Fiction / Psychological
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

The remote Antarctic island of South Georgia is about to send off its last boat of the summer – which signifies safety to resident glaciologist Felicity Lloyd.

Felicity lives in fear – fear that her ex-husband Freddie will find her, even out here. She took a job on this isolated island to hide from him, but now that he's out of prison, having served a term for murder, she knows he won’t give up until he finds her.

But a doctor delving into the background of Felicity and Freddie's relationship, back in Cambridge, learns that Felicity has been on the edge for a long time. Heading to South Georgia himself to try and get to her first is the only way he can think of to help her.
My Thoughts
The Split is a standalone novel by one of my favourite psychological mystery writers, and while it was very well written, there just seemed to be something missing from this one that captivated my attention 
so absolutely in her Lacey Flint series. And while I was expecting there to be a different feel to the novel, I just couldn't seem to empathize or connect with the characters like I usually do. Bolton's books are typically dark, full of twists and turns, and often leave me guessing the truth throughout, often incorrectly.  This one was predictable right from the get-go, and took away some of the enjoyment I usually get from the twisted and complicated plot lines.
The book was separated into four parts, the first part on South Georgia Island, where we meet Felicity and learn about her anxiety over the tourists arriving in such a remote spot as it seems like she is on the run from someone.  I loved the atmospheric setting during this part and couldn't get enough descriptions of the glaciers and the environment, especially as I didn't know you could visit like that.  It was enough to send me to Google and add it to my bucket list of places to visit once COVID finally ends and travelling becomes a normal part of society again.  However, I do have to admit that the first part was not overly exciting in terms of mystery or even with regards to setting up set mystery.  
Parts two and three take place earlier and you learn more about how and why Felicity is actually in such a remote spot.  The action picks up somewhat here, and while it is still atmospheric (it is Cambridge, after all), it was extremely predictable.  Rather than stringing the reader along, she might as well have just told the reader straight out what illness Felicity was suffering from, it was that easy to figure out.  The reader spends the majority of this part dealing with a psychologist and learning about Felicity's past and her marriage.  I felt a bit uncomfortable with the relationship between Felicity and her psychologist as he definitely crossed some lines he should not have crossed, but the author just sort of brushed it off.  I'm not opposed to relationships beginning between a client and a psychologist, but not when he is treating her and has to sign off on her mental health for her to take an important job.  Can we say unethical?
The last part of the book takes us back to South Georgia Island.  I did find this last part to be the most interesting and it's too bad the rest of the book didn't have the intensity of this section as it would have been more exciting otherwise.  
The Split didn't quite do it for me, and as I am a huge fan of her other books, this was a bit sad.  I did struggle to get through the middle sections, and I really felt like I was reading a completely different author.  Bolton can typically write a gripping story, one that grabs your attention from the beginning and doesn't let go until the end, with twists and turns that tear at your gut.  Unfortunately, this one didn't have much of that.  A slow start, a fairly predictable plot, and a lack of intensity made this one a tough go. I would highly suggest you read this one for yourself however, and judge it yourself.  Will I read another book by this author?  Oh, yes, absolutely.    

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Review: How to Disappear Completely by Ali Standish

by Ali Standish
Release Date: April 28th 2020
2020 HarperCollins
Hardcover Edition; 384 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062893284
Genre: Fiction / Juvenile / Contemporary
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

While her grandmother was alive, Emma’s world was filled with enchantment. But now Gram is gone, and suddenly strange spots are appearing on Emma’s skin. Soon, she’s diagnosed with vitiligo—a condition that makes patches of her skin lose their color—and the magic in her world is suddenly replaced with school bullies and doctor appointments.

But when Emma writes one last story in the journal she shared with Gram, something strange happens. Someone writes back to her, just like Gram used to. Who’s writing to Emma? And just what is her story going to be, now that everything is so different?
My Thoughts
How to Disappear Completely is one of those books that I appreciate as I didn't really know what to expect going into it, but enjoyed it so much just because I didn't know much about it.  Emma is a 7th grader who recently lost her grandmother and is grieving her loss.  She spends her time escaping to their special spots, one spot where they shared special stories with each other, and Emma decides to write one last story.  To her surprise, she gets a response.  And the story takes off from there.  I was pleasantly surprised by the character developments, the special bonds that grew between these characters, and the story itself.  
Emma was a great character.  And I just didn't identify with her because we share the same passion for books.  I think I enjoy these books as it brings back that magical time of being twelve years old again and at my age, it is really easy to forget.  And when you throw in a medical condition that affects your skin, this can be quite traumatizing for a pre-adolescent girl.  Emma discovers these white spots on her skin at her grandmother's funeral and doesn't know what they are.  However, they soon spread and can't be overlooked.  She is soon diagnosed with vtiligo and has to now navigate a world where people stare at her as the spots can not longer be covered up.  I thought the author treated the issue with compassion and thoughtfulness for Emma's feelings and concerns as well as highlighted the peer issues she would face. Vitiligo is non-contagious but the author was able to highlight how people can be afraid of things they do not know, which can cause problems for people and set up situations for bullies to come forward.  This story did not steer away from these issues, for which I am glad, as that would be fake in this world we live in.  However, the author did manage to evoke feelings of empathy in me even towards the bullies as they behaved the way they did through misunderstanding and not always because they were mean.  There were definitely a lot of thought-provoking issues in this book. 
The secondary characters were just as interesting as Emma and I was particularly interested in the relationship between Emma and her older sister whom she thought was so perfect.  Her sister was in high school and was dealing with applications for universities and it was sweet how they learned about each other through Emma's diagnosis and bonded.  It's a good lesson that not everything is as it seems and nobody is perfect.  And misunderstandings often happens because of assumptions.   

How to Disappear Completely is a beautifully written story. of friendship, misunderstandings, grief, self-esteem, and family.  And while I appreciated the descriptions of Emma's learning to accept herself as someone with vitiligo and to use that as a source of strength, I wasn't as crazy about the 'fantasy' elements in this book.  I get that they are being used more as metaphors for her life, and the book is written for juvenile readers, but that wasn't my problem with these elements, they just felt like they didn't quite mesh with the rest of the story, that's all.  Otherwise, I loved this book and enjoyed Emma's journey of acceptance.  Highly recommended.