Three Reviews: Terminal Secret by Mark Gilleo, Improvement by Joan Silber & Imagine That by Mark Fins

Terminal Secret by Mark Gilleo

Publication Date: September 26th, 2017

Rating: 3 ¾ Stars

My New Year resolution consisted of FINALLY tackling my “to-be-read” pile that has begun to get worryingly large.  By happenstance I plucked this book off the top of my pile first and boy did it set a high bar!  I was looking forward to this read as I had not heard of the author and it promised to get me back to my love for police procedurals.

A private investigator and Washington D.C. Detectives working seemingly disconnected murder cases come crashing together in an unexpected way in this new novel by Mark Gilleo.  Without giving away any of the entertaining details, Gilleo perfectly merges the intricacies of the crime while constantly piquing the readers’ interests.

Admittedly, this book included some obvious history between two of the main characters, Dan and Wallace.  While this does not seem to be a sequel, the history between the two is not thoroughly elaborated on within the pages of this book.  Despite this, Terminal Secret provided an intensely entertaining read.  Any fans of police procedurals, such as Harlan Coben and Michael Connelly that seek a light hearted read should definitely pick this one up!

*Disclaimer:  I received a copy of this book via Goodreads Giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

Improvement by Joan Silber

Publication Date: November 14th, 2017

Rating: 4 Stars

A single mother in Harlem, an independent aunt with a youthful past in Turkey, and the decisions they’ve made including the implications that result.  A story of that ties each of us has to one another, whether we are aware of it or not.

Like the rugs Kiki sold in Turkey, each of author Joan Silber’s characters are intricately woven into one another.  Improvement establishes itself to be an incredible work of fiction as Silber skillfully ensnares the reader by lending each character a writing style and voice of their own, successfully connecting us more deeply to the characters within.

This novel gave glimpses of recognition to a beloved favorite, The Heart’s Invisible Furies, despite its comparatively less satisfying ending.  Ultimately, Improvement held more story within its 250 pages than many of the books currently in circulation.

*Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book via Goodreads Giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

Imagine That by Mark Fins

Publication Date: October 3rd, 2017

Rating: 3 ¼ Stars

A heartwarming story set in the imagination of an eight-year-old, gifted child.  I picked up this book as I felt a loose relation to my own brother, based on the book’s description.  My brother grew up gifted and skilled in the art of entertaining himself, not unlike Mark Lenard, the main character of this book.  I vividly remember how easy it was to bring my younger brother out shopping with my mother and me, as we knew he would be easily entertained with something as simple as a clothes hanger, playing for hours on end in his own mind.  I was so unlike him in this respect it always entranced me to watch him play, wonder what exactly was really happening in the world he’d created for himself.  The similarities ended there however, as Mark struggled to find friends, finding them in unusual places and wondering into trouble as he acts out his imaginations.

Imagine That teaches us all a little more about love and the important things in life, uniting us emotionally and humbly to the characters created within.  I loved the inclusion of Jewish culture and religion throughout this book, it combined in teaching me above and beyond the obvious themes of the book.

*Disclaimer:  I received a copy of this book via Goodreads Giveaway in exchange for an honest review.


Blog Tour: Into the Air by A.K. Downing

BE SURE TO PICK UP A COPY OF THIS BOOK: FREE on Kindle January 11-13th

Links:  Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Summary: When Mia Bryn escapes her underground compound and travels into the air, she never imagines her world will explode. Separated from her father and attacked by creatures she never knew existed, Mia flees into the forest. Within hours, she finds an abandoned girl, discovers a link to her missing mother, and meets beautiful, golden-eyed Archer. But why is an ordinary girl from a compound being hunted? And how can Mia survive in a world she knows nothing about?

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About the Author

a.k. downing

A.K. Downing’s young-adult novel, Into the Air, is a 2017 National Indie Excellence Award Finalist. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the story follows the adventure of teenager Mia Bryn as she leaves the safety of her underground compound and tries to survive in a world no one has inhabited for more than a hundred years. Growing up in the hills of southwestern Pennsylvania, Aimee spent her summers exploring the fields, woods, and orchards of her grandparents’ farm. She was inspired by prepper shows and survivalist websites to create a story that weaves together the best aspects of young adult fiction – adventure, teenage angst, and a hint of romance. Aimee studied graphic design at Kent State University and currently works as a Creative Director. She enjoys history and camping and feels there is no better way to see the world than from the top of a horse.

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Into the Air by A.K. Downing

Publication Date: September 29th, 2016

Rating: 4 ¼ Stars

Into the Air by A.K. Downing is book 1 of The Air Series, a new dystopian series you didn’t know you NEEDED. Think Hunger Games mixed with Allegiant as Mia Bryn hungers to go above ground into the air after living her life in the underground communities safe from the radiation levels above ground. But, when her invitation to join the City Site above ground comes, her world is quickly ripped apart. Suddenly, Mia must learn to survive on her own, in a world above ground, as she struggles to unravel her family’s mystery. Love, loss, deception and friendships bubble to the surface in this not to be missed series by A.K. Downing.

The reader quickly falls for Mia as you can’t help but feel alongside her as she experiences air, sky, trees and sunsets for the very first time. Mia’s descriptive encounters of each new experience certainly make you want to wander outside and re-experience it for yourself. But beyond Mia’s encounters, Downing has created a surreal experience of radioactive destruction above ground, in a seemingly plausible storyline, making you want to befriend the “dooms day preparers” next door.

*Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided to me as part of this tour, in exchange for an honest review.

The Ones Who Got Away by Roni Loren

Publication Date: January 2nd, 2018

Rating: 3 Stars

“There’s something to be said for being around people who knew you before you were a grown-up, before everything changed” (p. 124). This romance goes beyond that of a love story as the reader is thrown into the actionable life of an undercover FBI agent coming off assignment and a group of people (FBI agent included) who survived a horrific high school shooting as they are suddenly thrown back together 12 years later for the filming of a documentary on the subject.

The news, as of late, is sad and painful. Shootings and gun fueled massacres seem to dominate the news waves. Gun control has taken a front seat in political debates and yet this book beautifully and tragically allows us to see the effects of the people so deeply affected and traumatized without the making it politically charged. In fact, The Ones Who Got Away, shifts the focus from the negative outcomes of guns to create a beautifully painful love story of two survivors and the friendships that arose from the ashes.

This isn’t a book focused on gun control. It isn’t a book focused on the families of lost children, but rather a book on the happiness that can still result in life despite horrific experiences.

*Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review.

2017: My Year in Books

For those that have been asking, I wanted to provide an easy reference to all the books in 2017 that I rated 5 stars! Across 2017, I read 96 total books or 29,303 pages.  These books were read across many platforms including hardback, paperback, Kindle ebooks and pdfs.

I am horrible at making decisions, but dare I say my favorite book(s) of the year were:

  1. Non-Fiction: The Mole People by Jennifer Toth (unfairly this will always be a favorite of mine, I just happened to re-read it this year)
  2. Fiction: This was a harder decision so I’ve chosen three
    1. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid – This one fed into my unhealthy addiction to Hollywood Gossip mag
    2. The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney
    3. The Heart’s Invisible Fury by John Boyne
  3. Young Adult Fiction: Another tough category to pick a favorite in
    1. Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan – although I’m told this must be listened to in an audiobook for its incredible music
    2. Being Fishkill by Ruth Lehrer
  4. Young Adult Non-Fiction: The Voices from the Second World War: Stories of War as Told to Children of Today by Candlewick Press – Unfortunately this doesn’t publish until March 2018 so be sure to pick up your copy then

All books read in 2017 given 5 Star ratings (in no particular order) include:

  1. Artemis by Andy Weir
  2. House on Foster Hill by Jaime Jo Wright
  3. The Voices from the Second World War: Stories of War as Told to Children of Today by Candlewick Press
  4. When Hope Calls by David Lui
  5. Fire on the Track: Betty Robinson and the Triumph of the Early Olympic Women by Roseanne Montillo
  6. The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
  7. Among the Living and the Dead: A Tale of Exile and Homecoming on the War Roads of Europe by Inara Verzemnieks
  8. Being Fishkill by Ruth Lehrer
  9. The Mountains Between Us by Charles Martin – although please do not let the movie persuade you into not reading the book as I was not a fan of the movie
  10. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
  11. The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City by Jennifer Toth
  12. The Gatekeepers by Jen Lancaster
  13. Slider by Pete Hautman
  14. A Million Junes by Emily Henry
  15. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
  16. The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
  17. The Circle by Dave Eggers – another case of the book being better than the movie
  18. The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich
  19. A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro – fed into my unhealthy Sherlock Holmes addiction
  20. The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
  21. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
  22. All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood
  23. Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Actor to Author: Why We Don’t Suck by Denis Leary

Publication Date: October 24th, 2017

Rating: 2 ¾ Stars

Admittedly this is not a book I would typically be drawn to. I try at all costs to avoid negative, politically charged books as I see a plethora of this every day on the news, at work, etc. but when the opportunity presented itself to read a book by Hollywood Actor Denis Leary, regardless of its subject, I thought “why not?”

You may know Denis Leary as the actor in TV Series Rescue Me or as the voice of Diego in Ice Age. You may even know his wife Ann Leary as New York Times bestselling author of The Good House or The Children. But, you most likely do NOT know Denis Leary as an author. As an author, he has written ten books, one of which is Why We Don’t Suck.

Why We Don’t Suck is written as a stream of conscious. As thoughts presented themselves, regardless of the subject, Leary wrote them down within the pages of this book (and maybe even the pages of 10 other books…). The subject matter of this particular book ranges from the political climate of Trump, Clinton and yes even Bernie, to Denis’ own celebrity encounters, while rounding out with discussion on the future as run by the millennial generation.

I found that I actually enjoyed much of what he had to say, it was certainly entertaining if nothing else. The most powerful of all subjects addressed regarded political affiliation. One story on said topic involved Leary’s ramblings surrounding twelve different people in his life. Two such people discussed were friend, Michael J. Fox, and a firefighting cousin. All twelve of the people Leary touches upon faced or continue to face adversity, like that of the two identified above. From being diagnosed with Parkinson’s at the age of 29 to perishing in the line of duty, Leary’s point remains the same: these twelve individuals possess strength and remain heroes in their own right, regardless of who they voted for. The moral presented is all too often forgotten as we bicker about “Trump this” or “Hillary that.”

While Leary’s ramblings often seemed just that…ramblings…he did have moments of eye opening remarks that brought the spotlight back on ourselves as we are forced to reflect on the America we’ve become, or maybe always were. Nevertheless, the writing WAS entertaining, albeit random and wandering at times, it is clear Denis would definitely be fun to have around the dinner table and maybe even your bookshelf.

*Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided in exchange for an honest review.

Candlewick Coming in 2018: My Year in the Middle by Lila Quintero Weaver, Racing Manhattan by Terence Blacker & Relative Strangers by Paula Garner

My Year in the Middle by Lila Quintero Weaver

Publication Date: July 2018

Rating: 3 ¼ Stars

My Year in the Middle provides the reader a look at segregation in the south, during the 1970’s, from the view of a sixth grader. As a child it is hard not to be influenced by the political views of your parents. Author, Lila Quintero Weaver, does a great job of showcasing this parental influence while also introducing us to Lu’s classmates and their political and racial opinions.

Lu Olivera is particularly confused, she is not black, and not white, but rather a girl from Argentina. She’s literally stuck in the middle as her classroom is divided by black and white. Lu doesn’t see color though, she sees her dreams, dreams to be the fastest female track star at her school. She befriends her African American challenger and together they train to dominate the track. But, others aren’t as friendly to Lu’s new best friend, as Lu sees firsthand the prejudices African Americans are up against as the senate elections heat up.

My Year in the Middle maintains the childhood innocence while exposing the reader to segregation of the 70’s. Throughout the book, you cannot help but feel like you are living through the prejudicial events yourself as Lu loses friends to her new alliance, classmates transfer to the all-white public schools and TV’s are tuned to the election results. Weaver has detailed it all, even down to the campaign volunteering and election rallies in this mild, young adult, politically charged read.

*A review copy of this book was provided to me via the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Racing Manhattan by Terence Blacker

Publication Date: May 22nd, 2018

Rating: 4 Stars

Racing Manhattan is a young adult novel mixing the underdog story of Seabiscuit with hints of a modern Cinderella.

Jay Barton is forced to live with an uncle she barely knows upon losing her mother to cancer. Her wealthy uncle introduces her to the sport of horse racing, where she quickly begins spending all her time amongst the horses. Feeling like the outsider, Jay runs off to become a “lad” taking care of the horses and learning the ropes of becoming a jockey. One horse in particular, Manhattan, draws Jay in. Manhattan is an untamed beast, towering over the other horses. Kept separate from the others, one lad impatiently attends to Manhattan. Quickly, Jay forms a bond with the wild horse as she fights to save Manhattan’s life and show her owner she’s every bit the strong bloodline he first envisioned her to be.

I was apprehensive to picking up a horse racing book as I personally know NOTHING about the sport. I have only once been to a race track and throughout my experience I failed to bet a single penny on the races, but rather spent my time praying the horses were treated right and taken care of long after their racing careers expired. So you can imagine my horror when Jay arrived in Manhattan’s life after she had been cast aside for termination and treated brutally by her assigned lad. I was pleasantly surprised how much I learned about the sport of racing, jockeys and ownership through reading this book. As an added bonus I loved the female twist on a predominately male sport. Blacker pens a modern Seabiscuit, Cinderella story perfect for horse fans or non-horse fans alike.

*A review copy of this book was provided to me via the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Relative Strangers by Paula Garner

Publication Date: April 10th, 2018

Rating: 3 ¾ Stars

A coming of age story with the perfect blend of sadness, longing, love and hope. Relative Strangers gives the reader a bit of everything.

Jules just needs a baby picture for her high school’s yearbook as she prepares to graduate. She doesn’t understand why her single-mother continues to drag her feet on providing her one. Jules has always been aware of the lack of pictures her mother has laying around, but then again her mother travels light, preferring to rid herself of any material items deemed unnecessary. One afternoon Jules decides enough is enough and begins digging around in her mother’s closet for any photo albums she can find. This decision turns out to be one that gives Jules the love and stereotypical “family” she always seemed to be missing.

Throughout Relative Strangers the reader is led on an emotional journey as Jules learns of another childhood that “could have been.” It is through Jules’ journey that we learn families aren’t always conventional and love comes in many forms. Author, Paula Garner, offers readers a unique perspective through the eyes of a teenager as we experience hope, love, loss and new beginnings alongside Jules.

*A review copy of this book was provided to me via the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Goodbye, Good Girl by Renee Blossom

Publication Date: October 3rd, 2017

Rating: 2 ¼ Stars

From the very first sentence the reader is thrown into Kandace’s life. We quickly learn she is without her father (as he is a “chef” away travelling for work…for the last two years) and her mother has suffered some extreme medical issues relating to a car crash. Kandace is clearly upset by the fact she has not seen her father in some time and is unable to reliably reach him. There are clear undertones steering the reader to assume Kandace’s father is more likely an undercover federal contractor rather than a “chef,” but the utter lack of character development makes it difficult to comfortably wrap one’s arms around Kandace’s family life.

Regardless, given her father’s lack of communication, Kandace decides to travel to LA to find him…why she waits two years to finally track down her father’s whereabouts is outrageous to me…the “aggressive stranger” showing up at Kandace’s door does little to persuade me of this. As the author has now “developed” Kandace’s need to travel across country the reader is taken to St. Louis as a stranger on a bus convinces her to become a stripper. Admittedly, as Kandace is yanked into the stripping underworld the level of detail and development the author creates kept me engaged through the middle bulk of the book, reminding me a bit of a female Magic Mike.

The timeline and story of this book are rather under cooked for my taste, as I am unconvinced by Kandace’s overnight best friendship with the stranger on the bus, convincing her to become a stripper. Her father and the strange man that appears on Kandace’s doorstep did little to draw me in the book, and had the stripper storyline been less well-crafted I may not have finished the read.

*Disclaimer: a review copy of this book was provided in exchange for an honest review.

Book of the Month Club Reviews: Artemis by Andy Weir & The Child by Fiona Barton

Artemis by Andy Weir

I loved author, Andy Weir’s, strong female characters and healthy mix of trouble as he tones down the science and makes a “better than The Martian” story on the moon!

Publication Date: November 14th, 2017

Rating: 4 ½ Stars

I picked up this book wanting to see what all the “hub bub” was about. Artemis is Andy Weir’s second novel after the crushing success of The Martian, which was adopted for the big screen staring Matt Damon.

I had listened to The Martian on audiobook and of course saw the movie in theaters. My initial impression was the detail to science significantly weighted the reader down. Weir is undoubtedly brilliant as he weaves plausible science concepts into yet implausible atmospheres, but as a reader for enjoyment purposes it was hard to wade through it all. On top of that, the character cast of The Martian is incredibly limited…one guy trapped in space right? So when I saw Artemis gave us not only a magnitude of cast, but a female lead to boot I moved it to the top of the to-be-read pile.

Artemis follows Jazz, a Saudi Arabian raised on the moon from the age of six. Her father is a welder as the book does an excellent job incorporating a variety of trade positions into the storyline. Jazz is talented, smart and creative, but has a habit of using these traits for mischievous deeds. She is known as the city’s top smuggler and is open to most trouble if it pays her well enough. This combination of character traits, mixed with a mob on the moon and Andy Weir’s plausible science lends to an engaging read, better than his last!

The Child by Fiona Barton

Publication Date: June 29th, 2017

Rating: 3 ¾ Stars

The Child presents for a quick read following three distinct women:

  1. Kate, a reporter for the Daily Post
  2. Angela, a mother whom had her baby stolen from her at the hospital days after its birth
  3. Emma, a seemingly mental ill women with secrets of her own.

Each women led entirely separate lives until Kate stumbles across a small blurb in the paper about a newborn’s body discovered at a construction site. Kate runs with this story as it brings Emma and Angela into her life.

I am a sucker for books, like this one, that provide the reader multiple converging story lines from the view of several different characters. It is an easy way for the author to connect the reader with numerous individuals without having to separately develop backstory for each. I also enjoyed that Barton kept the number of narrators to a minimum, inserting new narrations as necessary, it allowed the reader to easily keep track of each separate woman. Barton also hinted to the reader to the role each woman was to play in Kate’s reporting. The undertones Barton provided aided in further solidifying the reader’s engagement.

In typical millennial #humblebrag style: I personally pride myself in accurately guessing many books’ twist endings, but The Child took me about 75% of the read to correctly guess, and Barton’s writing style kept me glued to the page to see my plot guess through.

The House on Foster Hill by Jaime Jo Wright

Publication Date: November 21st, 2017

Rating: 4 ½ Stars

The House on Foster Hill gives readers a little bit of everything: romance, suspense and mystery in this story of two women, tied together by a house on Foster Hill, more than a century apart.

Two years after losing her husband to a suspicious car accident, Kaine leaves California for a new start. In an attempt to finish her husband’s dream of buying and renovating an old home in the Midwest, Kaine buys an ancient home on Foster Hill sight unseen. Kaine quickly learns this house has a mysterious past, a past including an unsolved murder and ties to her great-great grandmother. Parallel to Kaine’s present day search for the truth, Ivy is working to solve the Foster Hill murder as it happens, in 1906.

Author, Jaime Jo Wright, shows seasoned talent in her latest book The House on Foster Hill. Wright seamlessly navigates between the past in present, leaving the reader at a constant cliff hanger as Ivy and Kaine rush to solve Foster Hill House’s secret. Prepare to lose sleep as you promise yourself “one more chapter,” only to be left hanging in suspense NEEDING to read on. The House on Foster Hill was a quick and satisfying read, to the very last page, as Jaime Jo Wright is definitely an author to watch.

*Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided to me by Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Lola by Melissa Scrivner Love

Publication Date: March 21st, 2017

Rating: 3 Stars

The Crenshaw Six, of South Central LA, are a small, six person gang roaming their street corners selling drugs. What most don’t know about the Crenshaw Six gang though, is that Lola, a female, actually calls the shots. When “The Collector” comes to tell them of a job needing done, Lola jumps at the chance put her gang in the big time. However, as things go south, Lola is forced to put the pieces back together before the clock on her own life runs out.

I LOVED the female spin on gang life portrayed throughout this book. Lola kept ahead as no one expected a female to be running a south central LA gang, she was a constant underdog proving her keep, using her gender as an advantage. I especially loved the author’s dynamic between Lola and Lucy, a young child running away from her addict mom whom continuously sold her for drugs (consider this a warning to the graphic depictions within the pages of Lola). The relationship Lola forms with Lucy as she cares for her, humanizes the ghetto world of the cartels represented.

While Lola’s gender and relationship with Lucy rooted me to this book, I struggled through each chapter as I constantly re-read passages. Author, Melissa Scrivner Love, is undeniably talented. Lola is Love’s first novel, but Love is previously known for her writing on CSI: Miami  and Person of Interest . Perhaps, it is because of Love’s writing on these shows that her novel often over describes scenes. I found I was re-reading pages at a time making sure I didn’t miss anything of value as Love set the scene. This, coupled with the navigating of the several minor characters, detracted from the overall great story hidden within Lola’s pages.

*Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided to me via Blogging for Books, in exchange for an honest review.