Sunday, October 19, 2014

After Visiting Friends: A Son's Story by Michael Hainey

Author: Michael Hainey
Publisher: Scribner
Date of publication: February 2013

Michael Hainey had just turned six when his uncle knocked on his family’s back door one morning with the tragic news: Bob Hainey, Michael’s father, was found alone near his car on Chicago’s North Side, dead, of an apparent heart attack. Thirty-five years old, a young assistant copy desk chief at the Chicago Sun-Times, Bob was a bright and shining star in the competitive, hard-living world of newspapers, one that involved booze-soaked nights that bled into dawn. And then suddenly he was gone, leaving behind a young widow, two sons, a fractured family—and questions surrounding the mysterious nature of his death that would obsess Michael throughout adolescence and long into adulthood. Finally, roughly his father’s age when he died, and a seasoned reporter himself, Michael set out to learn what happened that night. Died “after visiting friends,” the obituaries said. But the details beyond that were inconsistent. What friends? Where? At the heart of his quest is Michael’s all-too-silent, opaque mother, a woman of great courage and tenacity—and a steely determination not to look back. Prodding and cajoling his relatives, and working through a network of his father’s buddies who abide by an honor code of silence and secrecy, Michael sees beyond the long-held myths and ultimately reconciles the father he’d imagined with the one he comes to know—and in the journey discovers new truths about his mother.

So, I did it, I tried another memoir type book. After Visiting Friends is the story about the author's attempt to find the true story behind his father's death.  As an adult he notices inconsistencies in the obituaries and the explanation given to his mother by his uncle for how his father died.  Over the next few years, Michael uses his investigation skills to get to the truth.

The book ended up being just an OK read for me.  For one, I thought it was a little longer than it needed to be.  The author's tends to ramble on about the his childhood often switching gears abruptly.  I was hoping for something more intriguing than what I got in the book.  The truth of what happened the night he died was kind of underwhelming and I guessed it about halfway through the book. That was disappointing.  I did feel bad for Mr. Hainey though.  I thought his father's newspaper friends took loyalty a little too far in hiding the truth from the family, especially after so many years had passed.

I think fans of books like this one will enjoy it.  But, don't go into the book expecting a major mystery.  Instead you will find a book about a man who lost his father too soon and his trying to reconcile that man he though his father was with the man he turned out to be.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Nightmares! by Jason Segal and Kirsten Miller

Authors: Jason Segal & Kirsten Miller
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers 
Date of publication: September 2014

Sleeping has never been so scary. And now waking up is even worse!

Charlie Laird has several problems. 

1. His dad married a woman he is sure moonlights as a witch.
2. He had to move into her purple mansion, which is NOT a place you want to find yourself after dark.
3.He can’t remember the last time sleeping wasn’t a nightmarish prospect. Like even a nap. 

What Charlie doesn’t know is that his problems are about to get a whole lot more real. Nightmares can ruin a good night’s sleep, but when they start slipping out of your dreams and into the waking world—that’s a line that should never be crossed.

And when your worst nightmares start to come true . . . well, that’s something only Charlie can face. And he’s going to need all the help he can get, or it might just be lights-out for Charlie Laird. For good.

In the spirit of Halloween, I thought it would be fun to listen to Nightmares!, a middle grade "scary story".  While it wasn't really scary for me, I think it will be just spooky enough for any middle grade reader who is looking for a little scare.  The story involves Charlie whose mother died three years before.  His father has since remarried and moved the family into his step-mother's house.   That is just the beginning of his problems.  His dreams seem to be happening during his waking time.  Soon it spreads to his friends and the entire town.  

There are a couple of themes running through the book that make it a great read for this age group.  One of the things that Charlie and his friends learn is that in facing your fears, it isn't knowing what you are afraid of.  It is knowing why you are afraid if it.  Once you figure that out, you can conquer anything. It is also a coming of age story about loss and dealing with the extreme grief of losing a loved one.  Charlie's inability to say goodbye to his mother and move on with his new life is the cause of the negative energy that starts all of the nightmares in the town. I have to say the scene in which he faces his own fear was very touching.

The book was co-authored by Kirsten Miller and Jason Segal.  You probably know him from "How I Met Your Mother" I thought he and Ms. Miller make a great writing team and I look forward to reading more from them in the future!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Joint Review:The Farm by Tom Rob Smith

Author: Tom Rob Smith
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Date of publication: June 2014

If you refuse to believe me, I will no longer consider you my son.

Daniel believed that his parents were enjoying a peaceful retirement on a remote farm in Sweden. But with a single phone call, everything changes. 

Your mother...she's not well, his father tells him. She's been imagining things - terrible, terrible things. She's had a psychotic breakdown, and been committed to a mental hospital. 

Before Daniel can board a plane to Sweden, his mother calls: Everything that man has told you is a lie. I'm not mad... I need the police... Meet me at Heathrow.

Caught between his parents, and unsure of who to believe or trust, Daniel becomes his mother's unwilling judge and jury as she tells him an urgent tale of secrets, of lies, of a crime and a conspiracy that implicates his own father.

This is the first book I have read by this author.  Autumn told me that she enjoyed his other books, so I'll have to look them up to try out for myself.  The Farm ended up not being anything like I expected it to be.  I ended up really liking the story.  I was totally taken by surprise at the ending and that always makes me like a book even more. 

The story that Daniel's mother tells is believable, yet unbelievable at the same time.  I felt like the author did a good job of misdirection and building suspense. For a while you really don't know who to believe.  That is all I will say about the plot because it would ruin it if I said more.  I highly recommend this one!

I read Tom Rob Smith's 3 books in the Leo Demidov series.  I liked that series.  I thought Child 44 was the best.  I think what I like about his writing is that he is an English speaking writer but writes about foreign countries.  It's not translated writing, where there's the possibility of something lost along the way.  Sometimes it feels that way when I'm reading some of the translated works, I'm reading it and I'm thinking either this writer is totally messed up in the head or something just didn't get translated right.  

I thought The Farm was pretty good.  The first 2/3 of the book was kinda plodding along.  Kari assured me there was a really good twist and that was the thing that kept me going.  It was, but it was really far along in the book.  It took a long time to get there.  Yes, I would recommend Tom Rob Smith, but I might recommend Child 44 over this book.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

by:  Matthew Quick
published by:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux
publish date:  September 2, 2008

Meet Pat. Pat has a theory: his life is a movie produced by God. And his God-given mission is to become physically fit and emotionally literate, whereupon God will ensure a happy ending for him -- the return of his estranged wife Nikki. (It might not come as a surprise to learn that Pat has spent time in a mental health facility.) The problem is, Pat's now home, and everything feels off. No one will talk to him about Nikki; his beloved Philadelphia Eagles keep losing; he's being pursued by the deeply odd Tiffany; his new therapist seems to recommend adultery as a form of therapy. Plus, he's being hunted by Kenny G!

I've read several Matthew Quick books now and I've liked them all.  I had been putting off Silver Linings Playbook because I think I was worried I was going to be disappointed.  It seems like I always am when there's a books that's hyped big time.  I succumbed, obviously.  And I wasn't let down.  I really liked it.  I think Matthew Quick handles mental illness in a wonderful way.

When I read the book, I had not seen the movie.  I was like the only person in my peer group that hadn't seen the movie, but still.  The whole time, I kept wondering "how in the world is this book going to translate into a movie??"  Much of the book is narration in Pat's head.  How do you get that out in to the big screen?  When I finished the book, I watched the movie and the answer is: you don't.   I felt like so much of this book was lost in the movie.  

I would definitely recommend the book over the movie!  It was a fantastic book and I really loved all the characters in it.  It might be a throwback, but worth seeking out.  I also recommend all of Matthew Quicks other books.  Excellent writer!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

5th Annual Spooktacular Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the 5th Annual Spooktacular Giveaway Hop.  For the full list of participating blogs go here.

Today we have 2 packs for you.  Just fill out the Rafflecopter below to enter.  2 lucky winners will be chosen at random.  US only please.

Pack #1

 Pack #2

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Butternut Summer by Mary McNear

Author: Mary McNear
Publisher: William Morrow
Date of publication: August 2014

Caroline’s life is turned upside down the moment her ex-husband, Jack, strides through the door of her coffee shop. He seems changed—stronger, steadier, and determined to make amends with Caroline and their daughter, Daisy. Is he really different, or is he the same irresistibly charming but irresponsible man he was when he left Butternut Lake eighteen years ago? Caroline, whose life is stuck on pause as her finances are going down the tubes, is tempted to let him back into her life . . . but would it be wise?

For Caroline’s daughter, Daisy, the summer is filled with surprises. Home from college, she’s reunited with the father she adores—but hardly knows—and swept away by her first true love. But Will isn’t what her mother wants for her—all Caroline can see is that he’s the kind of sexy “bad boy” Daisy should stay away from.

As the long, lazy days of summer pass, Daisy and Caroline come to realize that even if Butternut Lake doesn’t change, life does. . . .

I was hoping I would enjoy Butternut Summer as much as I did Up at Butternut Lake (my review). While I liked the first one more, I still found this one enjoyable.  This is really a story about forgiveness and second chances.  But it's also explores the mother/daughter relationship as the daughter becomes an adult. I thought the author navigated this struggle very realistically.  Caroline and Daisy both have unexpected summers. Not only is Caroline's ex-husband back in town, but she is faced with a daughter who is in love for the first time.

Between the two, I enjoyed Will and Daisy's story the best.  It was very sweet watching them fall in love. The timing felt just right for me as they took their time to get to know each other.  Daisy is able to look beyond Will's past and really see the person he is and who he can become.  Their HFN ending was a bittersweet, so I hope that in the next book, they are revisited.

While I liked Jack and thought his life change was genuine, I thought the forgiveness from Caroline came a little too fast for me.  I kind of felt like they didn't spend enough time together for her to really see a change in him.  I would have liked to see more of Jack trying to get her back. I did love what he did for her in the end, I just felt the whole thing was a bit fast.

There is one other "romance" in that I kind of felt cheated on.  I won't name who, but I would have loved to see how the romance played out.  Maybe in a novella?  It was nice to revisit the town of Butternut.  I do look forward to the next book in the trilogy!

About Mary McNear

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Mary McNear is a writer living in San Francisco with her husband, two teenage children, and a high-strung, minuscule white dog named Macaroon. She bases her novels on a lifetime of summers spent in a small town on a lake in the northern Midwest.

Connect with Mary on Facebook.

Purchase Links

Mary’s Tour Stops
Thursday, September 25th: Ms. Nose in a Book
Friday, September 26th: Reading Reality
Wednesday, October 1st: A Chick Who Reads
Thursday, October 2nd: Tina Says…
Monday, October 6th: Bibliotica
Tuesday, October 7th: Fuelled by Fiction
Monday, October 13th: Rockin’ Book Reviews
Tuesday, October 14th: From the TBR Pile
Tuesday, October 14th: Jorie Loves a Story
Thursday, October 16th: View from the Birdhouse

Friday, October 17th: Peeking Between the Pages

Monday, October 13, 2014

Ghost Horse by Thomas McNeely

Author: Thomas McNeely
Publisher: Gival Press
Date of publication: September 2014

Set amidst the social tensions of 1970’s Houston,Ghost Horse tells the story of eleven-year-old Buddy Turner’s shifting alliances within his fragmented family and with two other boys—one Anglo, one Latino—in their quest to make a Super-8 animated movie. As his father’s many secrets begin to unravel, Buddy discovers the real movie: the intersection between life as he sees it and the truth of his own past. In a vivid story of love, friendship, and betrayal, Ghost Horse explores a boy’s swiftly changing awareness of himself and the world through the lens of imagination.

Ghost Horse is going to be a hard book for me to review.  The story of  his parents relationship is told through the eyes of an 11 YO boy.  I wanted to like this book because it seemed like one I would enjoy.  But, after I finishing it, I can't say that I really liked the book. I'm not saying it's badly written.  I know that there will be a lot of people who will enjoy this style of  writing.  It just didn't work for me.

Having everything told through Buddy's point of view didn't work for me.  I felt like I was muddling my way through most of the book.  At times, I really had no idea what was going on.  The ending left me confused and felt unfinished.  I'm still not too clear on what Buddy's father or mother did that was so wrong. Maybe having some of the grown-up's point of view would have helped round out the story better.  I'm not sure what the significance of setting the book in 1975 as I'm not really familiar with what was going on in the country at the time.  I was only 4 in 1975, so I don't remember much.  I do think that some of the racial and religious tensions that we see in the story are still relevant to the present.

This is one of those book that I would recommend reading and seeing for yourself if you like it.  It just wasn't my style.

About Thomas McNeely

A native of Houston, Texas, Thomas H. McNeely has received fellowships from the Wallace Stegner Program at Stanford University, the Dobie Paisano Program at the University of Texas at Austin, and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well from the MacDowell Colony, the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, and the Vermont Studio Center. His fiction has appeared in The Atlantic,PloughsharesThe Virginia Quarterly Review, and Epoch, and has been anthologized in Algonquin Books’ Best of the South and What If?: Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers. His non-fiction has appeared in Ninth Letter and The RumpusGhost Horse, winner of the 2013 Gival Press Novel Award, is his first book. He teaches in the Emerson College Honors Program and the Stanford Online Writing Studio, and lives with his wife and daughter in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Find out more about Thomas at his website.

Thomas’ Tour Stops
Monday, October 13th: From the TBR Pile
Tuesday, October 14th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Wednesday, October 15th: Bookie Wookie
Thursday, October 16th: Fuelled by Fiction
Monday, October 20th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Tuesday, October 21st: Book Loving Hippo
Wednesday, October 22nd: Walking With Nora
Thursday, October 23rd: Readers’ Oasis
Monday, October 27th: Mom in Love with Fiction
Thursday, October 30th: Priscilla and Her Books

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Homecoming by Robyn Carr

Author: Robyn Carr
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
Date of publication

At the age of nineteen, Seth Sileski had everything. A superb athlete and scholar, handsome and popular, he was the pride of Thunder Point. Destined for greatness, he lost it all in a terrible accident that put an end to his professional football career when it had barely begun. The people in his hometown have never forgotten what might have been. 

Seth has come to terms with the turns his life has taken. But now he's been presented with an opportunity to return home and show his father—and the people of Thunder Point—he's become a better, humbler version of his former self. 

Winning over his father isn't the only challenge. Seth must also find a way to convince his childhood neighbor and best friend, Iris McKinley, to forgive him for breaking her heart. With his homecoming, will Seth be able to convince the town, his family and especially Iris that he's finally ready to be the man who will make them all proud?

The Homecoming is the latest in the Thunder Point  series.  I have really been enjoying the series.  I think this is going to be one of my favorites.  I know I have said it before, but I love long lost love stories.  Seth and Iris's story was so sweet.  Seth and Iris were best friends for years until one night changed everything. 

The truth of what happened late one night in the delivery van between Seth and Iris was heartbreaking.  At least for Iris.  I felt so bad for her after what happened.  I couldn't blame Iris for walking away from Seth for a little while, but she kind of dragged it out for a little longer than necessary. Despite that I loved how Seth set out to win Iris back.  They were perfect for each other.  I will admit that their "morning after" was hilarious!

Even thought it's book 6, you could read this one as a stand alone.  I think that Troy and Grace's story is next.  I can't wait!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Skin Collector by Jeffery Deaver

by:  Jeffery Deaver
published by:  Grand Central Publishing
publish date:  May 14, 2014

They call this butcher The Skin Collector: a tattooist with a chamber of torture hidden deep underground. But instead of using ink to create each masterpiece, the artist uses a lethal poison which will render targets dead before they can even entertain the prospect of escape . . .

The Bone Collector was one of those books that made a profound impression on my reading habits when I was a younger adult.  I was so happy to finally have found the type of writer that I really enjoyed and kind of books that I wanted to read.  Not to mention, the movie was awesome in my opinion.  

The Skin Collector is sort of a bringing back of that book.  The Skin Collector is using some of the crimes of the Bone Collector to incite terror throughout the city of New York.  I thought it was a clever book full of crazy twists and turns that one would expect from Jeffery Deaver.   

I had stopped reading this series for a while because I just sort of got tired Lincoln Rhyme.  However, this book was sort of like coming back to a good friend.  I felt like the series got a little out of control for awhile, but I was glad to see that in this book everybody was sort of back to their roots and things were back to where it started.  

Friday, October 10, 2014

2 in 1: Deeper Than Need & Sweeter Than Sin by Shiloh Walker

Today, I have the first two books in the Secrets and Shadows series by Shiloh Walker.  There are actually 3 novellas that came out earlier this year that introduce the town.  You can read my reviews here.

The first book, Deeper than Need (St. Martins Press, 2014) is the beginning of what looks to be a story arc that will span at least the next three books.  I'm not sure if this series is more than just a trilogy.  While it is a romantic suspense, the subject of the story arc is pretty dark.  I won't say much more because it would ruin the ending of the book.  

But, I can tell you that Trinity has just moved to town with her son and is trying to build a new life away from the mess her ex-husband got himself into.  She has bought the one house that Noah hates more than any other place.  It is the place that his girlfriend disappeared from 15 years earlier.    When the renovations on the house unearth a horrific secret in the house, there is a domino effect that rocks the entire town.

As I said before, the mystery part seems to span a few books, so there isn't too much resolution to that in this book.   But, the romance is very sweet.  I loved watching Noah and Trinity fall in love.  It was a lot of fun to watch them finally find a deep connection with another person.  

I found the second book, Sweeter than Sin (St. martins Press, 2014), really hard to put down.  There
is a lot going on in this book.  Much of which I can't talk about because it would mean some major spoilers. Let's just say a mystery woman is back in town and she may know something about the body found in the basement of Trinity's house in book 1.

One of the most shocked residents to see her is Adam.  He is elated and needs to figure out how to help her and get her to stay this time.  I did feel like their relationship was a bit rushed, I know he has been pining for her, but I wasn't so sure I bought her side of the romance. I'll have to see how it plays out more in book 3.

I don't recommend reading this book before you read Deeper than Need.  To me, it was not a stand alone book.  There was a cool twist in this one.  But there are still a lot of secrets that have yet to be revealed. There is a killer still on the loose.  I thought I had it figured out, but I was wrong.   I can't wait for book 3, Darker Than Desire to come out later this year.  Hopefully, we can get some answers!