Friday, July 21, 2017

Review: The Lying Game



Title: The Lying Game
Author: Ruth Ware
Publication Date: July 25, 2017
Genre: Psychological Suspense
Recommended If You Like: Ware's previous books, secrets from the past, explorations of female friendship

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review itself.

The Book:

When Isa gets a text from Kate, simply saying I need you, it takes her right back to her painful past. Isa and Kate, along with Fatima and Thea, were a clique of four at a boarding school, playing a game that seemed to be all for fun. But the Lying Game had consequences, consequences that are still reverberating in the present, threatening to blow apart their lives.

What I Liked:

This was such a suspenseful book! I couldn't put it down once I picked it up.

Ware is the master of the slow build. You know something is coming, as you watch the characters try to pretend everything will be fine--but there is always something (or someone) lurking around the corner, another shoe just waiting to drop. She plays that skill up once again in this book. You can't help but keep turning pages.

The reveals in this book almost entirely caught me completely by surprise. A few times I had inklings of what could be coming, but I was never able to figure out the full picture.

Ware also does a great job of examining what friendships are like between teenage girls. She perfectly captures the intensity of those bonds that can make you do anything for each other, that can linger even into adult lives.

Anything I Didn't Like?

It's really hard to find anything not to like about Ware's books. I don't think either this book or the previous one are as strong as her first book, but that doesn't mean I don't still really enjoy them.

So...?

I would absolutely recommend this book for anyone who loves a great book full of suspense and lots of twists and turns.




Thursday, July 20, 2017

True Crime Thursday: Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood


This is a fantastic, gripping, brilliant true crime book.

What I noticed about Tinseltown right from the start is that it reads like a novel. It felt like I had picked up a whodunit, and was completely sucked in. Mann has this great writing style that is so easy and fun to read.

This is also an absolutely fascinating story, one that has remained unsolved for decades. Mann tells the true tale of William Desmond Taylor, a director and actor in the Roaring Twenties, whose murder remains a mystery to this day. Books have been written, webzines have been crafted, and conspiracy theories have been spun, but Mann has what he believes to finally be the true solution.

And Mann backs his solution up with lots and lots of impeccable research. He paints a living, breathing picture of Hollywood in the 1920s, from the movies, to the people who strove to not only create them, but to create their own destinies as famous and beloved stars. Mann focuses on three of these female stars and their personal and professional struggles, but also weaves in so many other important Hollywood figures of that time, and makes them all come alive for readers.

This is a wide-reaching book of non-fiction. Mann manages to not only discuss and attempt to solve a murder, but writes of all the scandals, backstage dealings, and politics that surrounded and enfolded Hollywood at that time.

This is a book I would definitely recommend. It's one that will be joining my other true crime favorites on my bookshelves.

Monday, July 17, 2017

ALA Review: If I Was Your Girl



Title: If I Was Your Girl
Author: Meredith Russo
Publication Date: May 3, 2016
Genre: Young Adult/LGBTQ
Recommended If You Like: timely and relevant reads, books that hit you in the heart, protagonists to root for, strong female protagonists

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review itself.

Note: Nothing in this review is a spoiler. Anything I discuss in this review is either general, or is stated in the book summary on the inside cover, Amazon, etc.

The Book:

Amanda moved in hopes of finding that typical teenage life. But when she makes friends, and begins to fall in love, she fears the secret she's carrying might tear all that apart-that she used to be Andrew.

What I Liked:

This is a book that feels important.

With everything going on in the world today, let alone in the United States, I think this is a book people need to read.

Amanda is a strong, smart, and brave girl, who I feel everyone can relate to, regardless of their own personal circumstances. The supporting characters surrounding her feel real, like people you might have gone to high school with. The book feels immediate, and the story will suck you in.

Anything I Didn't Like?

 I completely understand why Russo ended the book where and when she did, but I definitely was left wanting more. I would love to know about the next chapter of Amanda's life.


So...?

Russo has created a world and characters that feel so very relevant and important, wrapped up in a gripping story written beautifully. I definitely recommend this book.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Review: Bring Her Home


Title: Bring Her Home
Author: David Bell
Publication Date: July 11, 2017
Genre: Psychological Suspense/Mystery
Recommended If You Like: twists and turns, family drama, explorations of how well we can ever truly know someone

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review itself.

The Book:

Bill lost his wife less than two years ago, and now he fears he has lost his daughter, Summer, too. But when the police tell him Summer has been found after being missing for days, it seems too good to be true. As Bill sits by Summer's hospital bed, he has to wonder if he could be this fortunate to truly get his daughter back--and how well he really knows his own flesh and blood. What happened to Summer and her friend? And who exactly made them disappear?

What I Liked:

This is a book full of twists and turns, which I always love! Just when you think you have everything figured out, Bell throws another curve ball at you. The mystery is definitely a suspenseful one that kept me guessing.

Anything I Didn't Like?

I found it hard to like the character of Bill. I suspect at least a part of this was the author's purpose, but I think I was supposed to end up liking him more than I did. I of course was rooting for him to be safely reunited with his daughter, but he had a lot of major character flaws that didn't really seem to be counterbalanced or resolved in any way.

I also was able to predict one of the twists almost entirely, which did take away a bit of the surprise.

So...?

While I prefer other writers' psychological suspense, I always enjoy Bell's books. He spins a good mystery. I'm just always left wanting a little bit more.




Sunday, July 9, 2017

Review: A Girl Called Vincent



I received a copy of this book from the publisher at ALA in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review itself.

Title: A Girl Called Vincent
Author: Krystyna Poray Goddu
Publication Date: April 1, 2016
Genre: Non-Fiction/Middle Grade/Biography
Recommended If You Like: biographies of strong smart women, poetry (especially Edna St. Vincent Millay's)

The Book:

Goddu tells the true story of the fascinating life of renowned female poet Edna St. Vincent Millay.

What I Liked:

This book flew by! I finished it in just a few hours. It's absolutely fascinating and really well-written. I closed the book feeling I had learned so much, and had a lot of fun doing so.

Anything I Didn't Like?

There's really nothing not to like about this book. It is aimed towards middle schoolers, but I  feel adults can and should read it too.

So...?

I would definitely recommend this book. It's a great, fun way to learn about a fascinating women and be introduced to her poetry.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

Review: Watch Me Disappear




Title: Watch Me Disappear
Author: Janelle Brown
Publication Date: July 11, 2017
Genre: Psychological Suspense/Mystery
Recommended If You Like: secrets from the past, family dramas

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review itself.

The Book:

When Billie, wife and mother, disappears while hiking alone, it leaves her husband and daughter in heartbreaking turmoil. One year later, they are struggling to move on, Jonathan writing a memoir about his life with Billie, Olive attempting to find her place in school and the world.

But when Olive starts having visions of her mother, she believes Billie is telling her to come find her, that she is still alive somewhere. As she brings Johnathan into her plan to locate her mother, father and daughter learn things about Billie they might not ever have wanted to know.

What I Liked:

This is a book that kept me constantly engaged and interested--it absolutely flew by. The characters are compelling and complex, as are the central mysteries. Brown carefully doles out revelations that keep readers guessing, and excerpts from Johnathan's memoir influence and also mirror back the way readers are feeling at that moment. And the revelation in the last chapter is amazing! It's one of those that completely got me, and made me gasp out loud.

Anything I Didn't Like?

I did call the other big revelation a couple chapters before it happened. I also felt that the side character of Billie's best friend didn't necessarily serve a key purpose, and was a bit irritating as a character.

So...?

I really enjoyed this book, and would definitely recommend it. It's gripping, clever, and surprising, with complex characters and an in-depth exploration of just how well we can ever really know those we love.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Two ALA Reviews: The Day I Died, and The Mesmerist

I received copies of these two books from the publishers at ALA in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the books or my reviews itself.





Title: The Day I Died
Author: Lori Rader-Day
Publication Date: April 11, 2017
Genre: Psychological/Suspense/Mystery
Recommended If You Like: strong female protagonists, mysteries centered around secrets from the past

The Book:

Anna Winger lives an isolated existence, keeping herself and her son as separate from the world--and her past-- as she can. She makes a living from analyzing other people's handwriting, searching for clues about who they truly are. When the police call on her to help with the case of a missing boy, her past begins to bleed into her present in all the ways she had fought so hard to prevent.

What I Liked:

Anna is a fantastically strong, complex, and fascinating character. She feels so real, and I was rooting for her the entire book.

Her profession as a handwriting analyst was also fascinating. I loved the way Rader-Day weaved it into the book, and loved learning more about how handwriting analyst works and is used.

The dual mysteries, of the missing boy and of Anna's past, were very intriguing. Rader-Day uses flashbacks and small clues to keep readers guessing and intrigued.

Anything I Didn't Like?

I was able to figure out the solution to one of the main mysteries pretty early on. This was a bit disappointing, as I prefer it when, with a book centered around secrets from the past, the secrets come as a big surprising twist to me.

So...?

Rader-Day has a good writing style that lends itself well to this genre. She has created a strong complex protagonist in Anna, and weaved a compelling story around her. The solution to the second of the two mysteries caught me completely by surprise, and made for a gripping read.



Title: The Mesmerist
Author: Ronald L. Smith
Publication Date: February 7, 2017
Genre: Middle Grade/Horror/Supernatural/Paranormal
Recommended If You Like: strong female protagonists, spooky supernatural middle grade reads, kids being the heroes

The Book:

Jessamine Grace and her mother make money off playacting at spiritualism, but never off truly communicating with the dead--until one day, when a mysterious message appears on a slate Jessamine is holding. This leads Jessamine to a group of children like her, who may be the only hope to save their city from supernatural foes.

What I Liked:

This was a really fun read! It moves quickly, and has a lot of (age-appropriate) scares. The supernatural elements were well-done and definitely creepy.

Jessamine is a strong, smart, female character that I was definitely rooting for, and I really liked the characters of the other children as well.

Anything I Didn't Like?

On occasion, the language felt a bit stilted. I think this might have been because of the author working to capture the spirit and signature of the age, but it did take me out of the book a bit.

So...?

This book will take you little time to read, and is a lot of fun. This has the potential to continue on as a good series that kids and adults can both enjoy.



Tuesday, July 4, 2017

ALA Children's Book Roundup

At the most recent ALA, I was lucky enough to get to combine my love of teaching, books, and blogging! I received ARCs of some really fantastic children's books I can't wait to use in my Pre-K classroom this coming school year!


This is a really fun read that teaches kids about what it means to be a nocturnal animal, and what it means to find and be a friend. There's some great vocabulary in here that students might not already know, and some great moments of humor as well.


This is a great book to teach kids about the rainforest, and introduce them to poetry. The book contains poetry by the children's poet laureate that is short and fun, and full of information about the rainforest. There is also a section in the back of facts and vocabulary.


I cannot wait to use this book in my classroom! What I especially love about is that it does not label a talkative child as a problem. Rather, it uses a clever story to show children the importance of being a good listener as well. It offers concrete tips for children, parents, and educators about ways to encourage a child's curiosity and desire to share, while helping them balance truly listening to others as well.


This is a beautifully written, beautifully illustrated book that tells the story of Harriet Tubman, taking readers back through her life. What I really enjoyed was that this book uses such lyrical writing, and explains this piece of history in a way younger children can understand. I would hope reading this to students would lead them to seek out more information and books on Tubman.


I'm a big fan of this publisher for books that tackle social emotional topics, and this new series does not disappoint. I think this book would be a great one to read to get children talking about being scared, and how to overcome their fears. It has a positive ending, also covers ways to be a good friend, and has tips for parents and teachers in the back.


Sorting is probably my favorite math concept to teach! I'm always looking for ways to combine math and literacy, so finding this book made me so happy. This would be a great way to introduce my students to different ways of sorting-and they could use the pictures to guess how Sam sorted. I also like that this book brings in other concepts such as shapes, colors, and rhymes.


This is a great introduction to pre-writing, and how much fun making up your own story can be. I would love to use this to inspire my students to start writing their own stories, even if they are simply starting with a squiggle. 


I love that this book encourages children to try, and not worry about perfection. I would love to use this book to start having my students sound out their names, with whatever letters they hear, as a way to introduce letter sounds and writing, and have fun doing it!



Monday, July 3, 2017

Review: The False Friend



Title: The False Friend
Author: Myla Goldberg
Publication Date: August 23, 2011
Genre: Psychological Suspense
Recommended If You Like: psychology with your suspense, books examining childhood, reverberations from the past, the questioning of memories

The Book:

Celia's childhood best friend went missing two decades ago, something Celia has tried her hardest to accept and move on from. But suddenly, she starts remembering what truly happened that day so many years ago. The only problem is, no one believes her-and she's beginning to wonder if she can trust her own mind.

What I Liked:

This is such a great concept. I love books centered around secrets from the past, the questioning of the reliability of memories, and the examination of the stories we tell ourselves and others.


Anything I Didn't Like?

While I am okay with ambiguous or open-ended endings when they serve a purpose, this just felt unfinished. The last page feels tacked on and almost renders meaningless everything that came before.

It was also hard to connect with any of the characters, especially the main characters. Despite Goldberg's attempt to highlight how our present selves might not even recognize (or admit to) who were as children, her characters felt somewhat one-dimensional and stuck in place.

Also, just as a warning for readers, there are some very descriptive paragraphs of childhood bullying that can be very difficult to read. These are actually where Goldberg's writing really comes alive, as she makes these scenes painfully vivid and heartrendingly real.

So...?

I had such high hopes for this book, but I just didn't love it. It was good enough to hold my interest and keep me flipping pages, but I think that was from holding out hope that the fascinating concept would come to fruition. In the end, I just felt unsatisfied.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Review: Ten Dead Comedians



Title: Ten Dead Comedians
Author: Fred Van Lente
Publication Date: July 11, 2017
Genre: Mystery/Humor
Recommended If You Like: unique homages to And Then There Were None, the killer is one of us, comedy with your mystery

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review itself.

The Book:

A group of stand up comedians is brought to a mysterious isolated island, seemingly to be part of a new project by the most famous comedian in existance. But they quickly discover not all is what it seems, as they begin to be killed off one by one.

What I Liked:

I'm immediately in for any book that is an homage to And Then There Were None, one of my top three favorite books of all time. I loved all the little touches that referenced the mystery great, whether it was the island setting, or the headshots on the wall (instead of little statues), or the video accusation (instead of a record). What also drew me to this book is that it promised to be a decidedly unique take on a classic with the cast of characters Van Lente presented.


This was a mystery that definitely kept me guessing! There were a lot of great twists and turns, especially a well-done big twist at the end.

Anything I Didn't Like?

I felt the motivation behind the killings rang a little thin. It didn't seem enough necessarily within the context of the book for the murderer to have gone to such great lengths to kill this specific group of people.

It was also sometimes hard, I felt, to translate stand up comedy to the written page. There were a lot of transcripts of monologue performances that didn't always work for me.

So...?

If you are looking for a quick mystery read that is a fun, unique take on one of the best mysteries of all time, I would recommend this book. I had fun reading it, and it flew by.