Audiobook: Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter, narrated by Kathleen Early

Audiobook:
Pretty Girls
by
Karin Slaughter

Narrated by Kathleen Early

Rating:

Claire Scott’s older sister, Julia, vanished over twenty years ago. Her disappearance has been largely forgotten, except by her broken family. Pretty Girls is the story of how Claire, her sister, Lydia, and their parents have coped with losing Julia, who is now presumed dead.

Set in Atlanta, the story begins in the present and its main character is Claire, who is celebrating her first day without an ankle monitor, terms of an assault conviction. But Claire considers herself lucky, because Paul, her devoted and highly successful architect husband, supports her, two hundred percent. Tragedy strikes almost immediately, however, and Claire must think for herself to protect and save her family from a sinister and twisted rapist and murderer.

Claire soon discovers that one crime doesn’t mean it’s over and, as she digs, she learns about a sadistic series of crimes and a massive dark web network. Is Julia’s disappearance somehow connected to this current violence? Claire will need to take a hard look at all the people around her and decide whom she can trust. Pretty Girls is a suspense story, but it’s also a story about self-actualization, in which Claire, for the first time in her life, takes control and realizes her strength. In addition, Slaughter includes themes of family, broken relationships and closure to round out the story.

If you choose to read or listen to this dark thriller, be warned. The book includes many scenes of detailed graphic and extreme violence. If it were not for my interest in seeing Claire get revenge, I would have put it down. I felt the violence was over-the-top, and perhaps the audio version made it even more so. The narrator did a great job with voices, and in particular captured the manipulative tone of the killer’s both seductive and evil voices. But at times, she seemed a little too into the crime descriptions. Of course, she was just reading someone else’s words… The author’s surname should have been a warning to me! So that’s why it’s just a 3-bookmark rating for me.

With over thirty-five hundred reviews on Amazon, Pretty Girls has received an average 4-star rating. You can check out these reviews here and decide for yourself.

Karin Slaughter is an award-winning crime writer and has written eighteen novels. Pretty Girls is a New York Times bestseller. Her novels Cop Town, The Good Daughter, and Pieces of Her are all in development for film and television.


I read Pretty Girls as part of my library’s Summer Reading Challenge to listen to an audiobook from our system’s catalog.

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Hope Never Dies: An Obama Biden Mystery by Andrew Shaffer

Hope Never Dies
An Obama Biden Mystery
by
Andrew Shaffer

Rating:

Andrew Shaffer had a very funny idea. Why not write a mystery with Barack Obama and Joe Biden as amateur detectives? If you’ve ever seen some of the Obama-Biden “bromance” memes (click here for a few), you’ll know this pair has plenty of rapport to wrap around a good story line. Who better to solve a mystery than the former President and Vice President of the United States?

The story begins soon after the 2016 election. Obama has adjusted nicely to a new life filled with adventure. He’s windsurfing, kayaking and hanging out with celebrities. But Biden is at loose ends and is a little stung by Obama’s new life and friends. “Why doesn’t Barack ever call me, his best friend?” he wonders.

The pair reconnects when Biden’s favorite train conductor dies under suspicious circumstances. “Amtrak Joe” senses there is more to the story. Biden has been a regular on Amtrak for decades and he knows that Finn Donnelly was a good, family man. But questions arise when Obama shares what police know. Could there be a national security interest at stake? Is Donnelly’s death connected to opioid trafficking?

Biden takes the lead and jumps straight into the case in his full-force, pantser style. And before long, Obama and his cool and calm self are part of the team. As the pair bumbles through their undercover investigation, in caps and shades, it becomes clear that this case is big and that not everyone is on the same team. Can the Obama-Biden team sort it out?

I thoroughly enjoyed imagining Obama and Biden as they adjust to their new lives as regular citizens. And seeing them operate as amateur detectives makes for many hilarious scenarios. Shady characters and a few false leads make the mystery an enjoyable puzzle to solve and, while the crimes and consequences reflect grim problems, the story is light and great fun to read.

I recommend Hope Never Dies to all readers. It is pure entertainment, with a few political jabs and a lot of laughs.


I received a copy of Hope Never Dies from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


I read Hope Never Dies as part of my library’s Summer Reading Challenge to choose a book because I like its cover.

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The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret Garden
by
Frances Hodgson Burnett
Illustrated by Tasha Tudor

Rating:

Classic children’s books don’t get any better than this story about a spoiled, but frail and lonely ten-year-old orphan girl who is sent to live on a vast English moorland manor, with a reclusive uncle she has never met. In a delightful transformation, fresh air, exercise, surprise friendships, returned health and the newfound wonders of a secret and neglected garden are the springtime magic that brings Mary Lennox and her new family together.

Mary has lived a privileged life in India, waited on by her Ayah and knowing nothing about good manners or other people’s feelings. Her parents have died of cholera and now she must learn how to be kind to others and do things for herself. She’s been warned that her uncle has little interest in children. In fact, Archibald Craven is determinedly away when Mary arrives at Misselthwaite Manor and she is left in the care of the housekeeper, Mrs. Medlock, and the young housemaid, Martha Sowerby.

There are many secrets at Misselthwaite, including long corridors, hundreds of unused rooms and strange noises in other parts of the house. She’s told to stay in her own rooms when indoors, so Mary explores the outdoors where she finds many gardens and meets the groundskeeper, Ben Weatherstaff, and a friendly robin. When the robin flies to the top of a tree in an enclosed garden with no apparent door, Mary knows she must find a way in.

Once discovered, it’s a secret Mary longs to share with someone she can trust. And when she meets Dickon, Martha’s younger brother, she knows he is the perfect friend to tell. Dickon knows all about gardens and the creatures on the moor and has a magic about him that makes him glow with happiness. As the two children plant flowers and clear out the weeds, Mary learns about the unbearable unhappiness the garden represents to her uncle. And the alarming cries in the night reveal another secret about the manor.

As Mary befriends the people in her small world who struggle with their own problems, she entrusts them with her secret and learns that the greatest joy comes with helping each other. It’s a delightful story in which goodness rises to the top of much loss and sadness. The author does not shy away from these realities; she tells of them plainly and shows that faith and a little bit of springtime magic are no match for Misselthwaite’s troubles.

There is more to tell, but some secrets are better enjoyed first-hand. I recommend The Secret Garden to all readers, young and old, who enjoy books about children, friendship and the joys of finding a way out of unhappy times. I especially enjoyed this Tasha Tudor Edition, published in 1962 by Harper Collins. The artist’s illustrations are beautiful and give the reader a wonderful picture of Burnett’s story.


I read The Secret Garden as part of my library’s Summer Reading Challenge to read a children’s classic.

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Book Talk – The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Image: Pixabay

Welcome to a new and occasional feature on Book Club Mom called Book Talk, home to quick previews of new and not-so-new books that catch my eye.

I read The Secret Garden many years ago and it’s a book I remember loving as a girl. Written by Frances Hodgson Burnett, it’s considered a children’s classic. First published in 1912, the story has been adapted to many film and stage versions, including a Broadway musical in 1991.

The Secret Garden is the story of Mary Lennox, a young girl living in India, whose family dies of cholera. Mary is sent to England to live with a widowed uncle on his large estate, where she is left by herself much of the time. Lonely and with few friends, Mary discovers a key to an abandoned walled garden and her life begins to change, as secrets about her uncle and his family are revealed.

Frances Hodgson Burnett, Image: Wikipedia

Burnett was a British novelist and playwright and, in addition to The Secret Garden, is the author of Little Lord Fauntleroy (1885-6) and A Little Princess (1905). Burnett wrote constantly, as a young girl, and later to support her family. She was born in England in 1849, moved to America as a young woman, was married and divorced twice, had two sons and lived the last years of her life on Long Island, New York. She died in 1924 at age 74.

One of the BINGO squares on my Libraries Rock Summer Reading card is to read a children’s classic, so I chose The Secret Garden. I remember how good I felt when I first read this story, so I’m looking forward to feeling the same!

Have you re-read any of your childhood favorites?

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Death in a Mudflat by N. A. Granger

Death in a Mudflat
by
N.A. Granger

Rating:

When a dead woman’s body emerges from a mudflat in Pequod, Maine, it doesn’t matter that part-time detective Rhe Brewster and the chief of police are at a wedding across the way. Rhe and her former brother-in-law (and new love interest), Sam Brewster, are more than willing to run over, don a set of hazmat suits and secure the scene.

Sam and Rhe can only initially guess at the whys and hows, but their expert team’s careful attention to detail and Rhe’s nose for making connections take the reader on an investigation that is both cozy and challenging and in which Rhe places herself in many dangerous situations. Is she reckless or is she just an ace detective? Now that they’re a couple, Sam may have trouble working this out.

Death in a Mudflat is Granger’s fourth Rhe Brewster mystery, a fun series set in the fictional coastal town of Pequod. In this small-town setting, Granger has developed a cast of characters and community that reflect New England values and personalities. But just like other small towns and larger communities across the country, Pequod struggles with modern problems, including the east coast’s growing heroin crisis.

As the investigation continues, Rhe and Sam discover possible connections to other deaths, casting doubt on several shady characters. And when a student from Pequod College turns up dead, they must consider an even larger case. Granger does a great job introducing the second case into the story and readers won’t know if they are connected until the story’s exciting end.

These investigations consume a lot of time, while Rhe continues to work as an Emergency Room nurse at Sturtevant Hospital and also raise her son, Jack, an active eight-year-old. But Rhe, Sam and their friends manage to keep the fun going in their own lives. A little romance and a couple fights over Rhe’s risk-taking make the story both realistic and entertaining. In addition, Rhe’s close friendship with Paulette McGillivray adds another dimension to the story when Paulette joins a mystery group dedicated to solving cold cases.

Granger’s extensive medical knowledge shows, as Rhe’s hospital and police life forever overlap. The author also includes details about modern police procedures and technology which greatly enhance the story. Readers will also enjoy how Granger incorporates hot coffee and many tasty foods into her characters’ days, often from the Pie and Pickle, Pequod’s local café.

Themes about love, friendship, helping others and justice over the bad guys make Death in a Mudflat and the whole series great reads and I recommend these stories to mystery readers who like a good puzzle as well as others who enjoy reading about modern life in a small town.

Also by N. A. Granger:

Death in a Red Canvas Chair
Death in a Dacron Sail
Death by Pumpkin
Death at the Asylum (coming 2020)


I read Death in a Mudflat as part of my library’s Summer Reading Challenge to read a book set within the past 20 years.

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The Martian – the book and the movie

   

Who believes that the book is always better than the movie? I usually feel that way, but sometimes the film adaptation of a book removes the storytelling weaknesses, takes the good parts and makes an excellent story even better. That’s the case here with the movie version of The Martian.

I very much enjoyed the book version and the huge success of Andy Weir’s book is something all self-published authors can aspire to. The book was nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read. Here’s his success story:

Andy Weir, Image: Amazon.com

Andy Weir, a software engineer, has always enjoyed studying relativistic physics, orbital mechanics and manned spaceflight. The Martian is his first novel. He started writing it in 2009 and spent a great deal of time researching. It was originally self-published in 2011. He first offered it for free (in serial format) on his website. Weir’s chapters were popular and he developed an enthusiastic fan base. His readers urged him to offer it in Kindle format on Amazon. This 99¢ Kindle version was hugely popular and became an Amazon best-seller, selling 35,000 copies in three months. That got some publishers’ attentions. Weir sold the audiobook publishing rights to Podium Publishing in 2013 and soon after, Crown Publishing bought the print rights. Twentieth Century Fox bought the film rights the same year and the movie, starring Matt Damon, hit the theaters in 2015.

The story is about astronaut Mark Watney, who is stuck on Mars after being separated from his crewmates during a dangerous wind storm. The team thinks he’s dead and they reluctantly escape in their Mars Ascent Vehicle. How will he survive the huge challenge ahead of him, in a NASA habitat, with no communication and only a limited supply of food and water?

I liked both reading and watching how Watney improvises and uses his mighty brain to survive. He overcomes what to a normal person would be impossible challenges and becomes the hero we all want to see. Matt Damon does a great job in the role. His sense of humor and human side make him all the more likable. The movie is directed by Ridley Scott and also stars Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig and Jeff Daniels. Click here for IMDb’s listing of the full cast and crew.

I thought the book was very good, although it was a little heavy on the math and science. And that’s why I think the movie is even better, because the story rises to the top. It’s what we all want in this type of film: action and a feel-good finish. As with all action films, viewers need to let go of analyzing whether or not events could actually happen and just enjoy the story.

I recommend both the book and the movie to science fiction fans and all movie-goers who enjoy action stories about heroes and overcoming adversity. I also recommend reading the book first because I don’t think the story would be as enjoyable if you’ve already seen the movie.

Click here for Book Club Mom’s review of the book.


I watched The Martian as part of my library’s Summer Reading Challenge to watch a movie based on a book.

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And the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction is…no one!

There was no Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2012. Did you know that? I didn’t. There were three finalists, but the word is the eighteen judges couldn’t decide. They have a rule that a two-thirds majority must occur and it didn’t. So the books on the short list stayed there and no one got the award. That’s the first time in thirty-five years no award was given.

A jury of three fiction readers read over three hundred novels and short stories and came up with these finalists:

          

The Pale King by David Foster Wallace

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson

Swamplandia by Karen Russell

Why couldn’t they decide? Well it’s sort of like the “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” rule. The board’s deliberations are sealed, so why they couldn’t agree on a winner, we’ll never know!

What do you think they should have done?

If you want to know more, especially about the process of picking the finalists, check out these articles.

From The Guardian, April 17, 2012: “Pulitzers 2012: prize for fiction withheld for first time in 35 years” by Alison Flood

From The New Yorker, July 8, 2012:  “Letter from the Pulitzer Fiction Jury: What Really Happened This Year” by Michael Cunningham

From The New Yorker, July 10, 2012: “Letter from the Pulitzer Fiction Jury, Part II: How To Define Greatness?” by Michael Cunningham

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Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine

Stillhouse Lake
by
Rachel Caine

Rating:

Gina Royal’s problems are just beginning the day she discovers her husband is a serial murderer. It doesn’t matter that Mel Royal goes to prison and is awaiting execution. The internet haters are making her life miserable because they are certain she was an accomplice, despite a court acquittal. Gina does not want to wait to see if the threats are real.

So she grabs her two kids and runs, with new identities. And by using sophisticated internet tools, she is able to monitor the hate and stay hidden. The trolls are only a few steps behind, however, and that means picking up and changing names again and again. When they finally land at Stillhouse Lake, a former resort in Tennessee, they are Gwen, Lanny and Connor. At fourteen and eleven, Lanny and Connor are tired of being without friends, or roots. Can Gwen let down their guard, just a little?

Letting down their guard still means being on alert and staying sharp with target practice, however. Alarms, security cameras, internet traces and short-term phones are just some of the precautions Gwen takes. A new friendship may be just the thing to make their family feel grounded, something all three desperately need.

When a woman’s body floats to the surface of the lake, however, the murder is shockingly similar to Mel’s sadistic crimes. With Mel behind bars, Gwen becomes a person of interest. New friends and neighbors suddenly seem shady and Gwen can’t separate the good guys from the bad. Readers will watch her make both reckless and wrong decisions, putting herself and her kids in grave danger.

A wild chain of events leads Gwen to a big vigilante showdown, with plenty of twists and mind games. Caine finishes with a surprise cliff-hanger, however, an ending that I didn’t see coming. I didn’t know that Stillhouse Lake is the first in a three-book series and that answers await in the next two books, Killman Creek (2017) and Wolfhunter River (2019).

All in all, however, Stillhouse Lake is a fast-paced and entertaining thriller, with a good scare-factor and limited violence. The best part of the book is deciding whether the characters were good or bad. I got some of them wrong!


I read Stillhouse Lake as part of my library’s Summer Reading Challenge to read a book of my own choosing – the center square of my BINGO card!


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Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen

Miller’s Valley
by
Anna Quindlen

Genre: Fiction

Rating:

Does the land you live on define your family? That question may not be as relevant in today’s world, but there was a time when multiple generations of families were born and raised in the same place. What happens when a family like that is forced to leave the only home they have known for hundreds of years?

That’s the problem Bud and Miriam Miller face when they learn that the government plans to displace an entire town and turn Miller’s Valley into a reservoir. It’s the central conflict in the Millers’ marriage and one which affects their family and neighbors in a multitude of ways. Bud does not want to leave, but Miriam is ready. Some friends sell, others are holdouts.

Miller’s Valley takes place during the 1960s and 70s in a small farming town in Pennsylvania and is narrated by Mimi, the youngest Miller. In addition to a story about eminent domain, it is Mimi’s coming-of-age tale. As a ten-year-old girl, her world is made up of her family and a couple friends, but as she grows and her two older brothers leave, Mimi tries to imagine what she will do. Her brother, Tommy, urges her, “You come up with your own plan, Meems. No matter what happens.”

Despite a promising future, family obligations and loyalty to her father’s beliefs press hard against Mimi’s heart and she becomes more entrenched in life in the valley, despite its doomed future. Mimi’s best friend, Donald, moves to California and her Aunt Ruth hasn’t left her house in years. Tommy and her other brother, Eddie, go off in completely directions and Bud Miller continues to ask, “Who will run the farm when I’m gone?”

I enjoyed reading Miller’s Valley because I had only thought of eminent domain in terms of roads being built, and did not know of the government’s practice of flooding towns in order to build reservoirs. I live near a manmade lake with a very similar story, so this book was interesting to me.

Miller’s Valley had the potential to be a great story, but it is a more of a fast read with characters I seem to have met in other books. In addition, Quindlen finishes fast, with a couple hanging plot lines and a “didn’t see that coming” moment that may frustrate some readers. But as I have many reading moods, this one fit in with a busy week and I enjoyed starting and ending my days with an easy story.

I recommend Miller’s Valley to readers who like light historical fiction about family and conflict.

And for those who are interested in the history, here’s a definition of eminent domain and a couple stories about towns that were flooded:

Merriam-Webster definition of eminent domain: a right of a government to take private property for public use by virtue of the superior dominion of the sovereign power over all lands within its jurisdiction

Ephrata Review: “Cocalico Corner: Two tales of two valleys” by Donna Reed – April 27, 2016

Pleasant Valley Lost by Joseph J. Swope – 2015

The Story of Milford Mills and the Marsh Creek Valley: Chester County, Pennsylvania by Stuart and Catherine Quillman – 1989


Other Anna Quindlen books reviewed:

      

Black and Blue
Good Dog. Stay.
Still Life with Bread Crumbs


I read Miller’s Valley as part of my library’s Summer Reading
Challenge to “read a book you own but haven’t read.”


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The Dry by Jane Harper

The Dry
by
Jane Harper

Genre: Mystery

Rating:

Federal Agent Aaron Falk left his home town of Kiewarra in Victoria, Australia, twenty years ago, right after Ellie Deacon died in the river. Now another of Falk’s childhood friends, Luke Hadler and his family, are dead. Despite the friendship, Falk would rather stay in Melbourne, but when he receives a letter from Luke’s father, he knows he must go back. Gerry Hadler’s words are unsettling: “Luke lied. You lied. Be at the funeral.”

Falk dreads returning to a town that chased him and his father away years ago, all because of an alibi that no one believed. Since then, lies and secrets have crippled the small farming town and a two-year drought has made everyone desperate. Falk wants to get in for the funeral and get out as soon as he can, but at the service, a chilling picture rotates through the slide show. Luke, Falk, Ellie and Gretchen Schoner, a tight teenage foursome and now only two are left. Is there a connection between Ellie’s death and the Hadler murders?

When Luke’s parents ask him to look into the murders, Falk reluctantly agrees. Headed by Kiewarra’s new Sergeant Raco, Falk and Raco follow leads and suspicions as hostility against Falk grows. Nothing is at it seems, however, and Falk will have to dig to the raw core to understand, if he survives the process.

The Dry is a terrific atmospheric thriller in which Kiewarra’s setting on the edge of the bushland and the drought’s devastating effects weigh heavy on the characters. False leads, unclear motives and complex relationships make this story both an entertaining read and a more serious study of human behavior. Why do people keep secrets and what could have been different if the truth were told? Harper may not have the answer, but she shows how lies and secrets can crush.

I recommend The Dry to readers who enjoy mysteries and to anyone who is interested in human behavior. I’m looking forward to reading Harper’s next book, Force of Nature.


I read The Dry as part of my library’s Summer Reading
Challenge to “read a book set in a place you’d like to visit.”


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