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Reviews of what you should be reading next.

The Wives by Tarryn Fisher

Imagine that your husband has two other wives.

You’ve never met the other wives. None of you know each other, and because of this unconventional arrangement, you can see your husband only one day a week. But you love him so much you don’t care. Or at least that’s what you’ve told yourself.
But one day, while you’re doing laundry, you find a scrap of paper in his pocket—an appointment reminder for a woman named Hannah, and you just know it’s another of the wives.
You thought you were fine with your arrangement, but you can’t help yourself: you track her down, and, under false pretenses, you strike up a friendship. Hannah has no idea who you really are. Then, Hannah starts showing up to your coffee dates with telltale bruises, and you realize she’s being abused by her husband. Who, of course, is also your husband. But you’ve never known him to be violent, ever.
Who exactly is your husband, and how far would you go to find the truth? Would you risk your own life?

And who is his mysterious third wife?

Thanks to NetGalley for this review copy!

This is the story of Seth and his three wives. The story is told in the voice of (legally married) wife #2; sometimes amorous, sometimes regretful. Seth explains his polygamy with the explanation that he grew up in Utah and with the sentence I love you all differently but equally. One day wife #2 discovers a piece of paper in Seth’s coat and discovers information about wife #3, named Hannah. Wife #2 snoops some more and tracks her down, eventually, ironically, becoming friends with her. They share breakfasts and family stories without discovering they have a husband in common. However, Hannah starts showing up to their meetings with visible bruises, and wife #2 has questions. Lots of them. Seth has never been violent with her before, and she starts wondering more about the man she married. She also continues to snoop, finding wife #1 on Facebook and other social media sites. It’s like she’s addicted to hurting herself with this information.

The author paints a perfect picture of a woman with a polygamous man; insecure one moment and in love the next. Wife #2’s internal monologues are spot-on, just another woman wondering about what her husband is thinking and what he’s doing when he is away from her. The twist here is that none of the narrators are reliable, and you don’t know what is going to happen next. I thought I had the story straight, then suddenly there was a plot twist and it changed EVERYTHING. After that some things made more sense, while others didn’t make sense at all. I was torn between feeling sorry for wife #2 or thinking about her scornfully. Seth is no gem either, despite the fact that wife #2 keeps hanging on to him even though she is crazy jealous of his other two wives.

This book lived up to all the hype – there is drama and psychological suspense galore. Towards the end, all the characters start to decompensate, which provides for an amazing and shocking ending. I literally spent the entire day reading this book, which is something that I don’t normally do. I’m eagerly awaiting Ms. Fisher’s next work. You can pick up your copy of THE WIVES here.

The Only Child by Mi-ae Seo

An eerie and absorbing novel following a criminal psychologist who has discovered shocking and possibly dangerous connections between a serial killer and her stepdaughter.

Criminal psychologist Seonkyeong receives an unexpected call one day. Yi Byeongdo, a serial killer whose gruesome murders shook the world, wants to be interviewed. Yi Byeongdo, who has refused to speak to anyone until now, asks specifically for her. Seonkyeong agrees out of curiosity.

That same day Hayeong, her husband’s eleven-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, shows up at their door after her grandparents, with whom she lived after her mother passed away, die in a sudden fire. Seonkyeong wants her to feel at home, but is gradually unnerved as the young girl says very little and acts strangely.

At work and at home, Seonkyeong starts to unravel the pasts of the two new arrivals in her life and begins to see startling similarities. Hayeong looks at her the same way Yi Byeongdo does when he recounts the abuse he experienced as a child; Hayeong’s serene expression masks a temper that she can’t control. Plus, the story she tells about her grandparents’ death, and her mother’s before that, deeply troubles Seonkyeong. So much so that Yi Byeongdo picks up on it and starts giving her advice.

Written with exquisite precision and persistent creepiness, The Only Child is psychological suspense at its very best.

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

THE ONLY CHILD is a very dark book that explores the mind of a fictional serial killer while contrasting his behavior with Hayeong, the main character’s stepdaughter. Seonkyeong is a criminal psychologist who is summoned to prison to interview the notorious killer Yi Byeongdo. As she delves deeper into his mind through his stories, she notices how his mannerisms mirror that of 11-year-old Hayeong, who has recently come to live with her and her husband after a fire destroys her house.

The story is told from multiple points of view, with a concerted effort to make Byeongdo appear somewhat sympathetic. Hayeong is a manipulative little girl and I disliked her immediately. Seonkyeong’s husband brings his daughter into the house and soon becomes an absentee father, only seeing the “good” side of the girl.

The plot could have used a bit of tightening up, as it takes a while to establish Hayeong’s dark side. There is a longish portion regarding the “punishment” of a cat which could have been shorter yet still convey the latent evil that was lurking that day. There is also a series of dithering by Seonkyeong in which she alternately fears the girl, then feels sorry for her due to the tragedies that have befallen her. She seems almost blind to the danger that Hayeong poses to her family.

Most of the action occurs around the last 15% of the book, as the serial killer escapes jail while the tension between the psychologist and the girl comes to a head. The ending itself is a shocker yet I felt it wasn’t a surprise.

None of these characters are truly given life; I am not sure if it is due to the original work being translated, or if it is the writer’s style. (Click here for information on more Korean mysteries being translated into English.) There is only the briefest of backstory and Seonkyeong is not portrayed as a strong female character. Certainly someone of her background would have better sense regarding Hayeong’s penchant for evil. Again, this could be due to the culture, as Asian women are not known for taking the lead and being dominant. In any case, I wish she had been given more of a backbone, especially as she began discovering Hayeong’s secrets.

I would like to see a sequel to this book to see what happens next with the characters. The ending does leave room for another story, and I can imagine different plot twists taking place. All in all, not a bad read. Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

The Truth About Animals by Lucy Cooke

Mary Roach meets Bill Bryson in this “surefire summer winner” (Janet Maslin, New York Times), an uproarious tour of the basest instincts and biggest mysteries of the animal world

Humans have gone to the Moon and discovered the Higgs boson, but when it comes to understanding animals, we’ve still got a long way to go. Whether we’re seeing a viral video of romping baby pandas or a picture of penguins “holding hands,” it’s hard for us not to project our own values–innocence, fidelity, temperance, hard work–onto animals. So you’ve probably never considered if moose get drunk, penguins cheat on their mates, or worker ants lay about. They do–and that’s just for starters. In The Truth About Animals, Lucy Cooke takes us on a worldwide journey to meet everyone from a Colombian hippo castrator to a Chinese panda porn peddler, all to lay bare the secret–and often hilarious–habits of the animal kingdom. Charming and at times downright weird, this modern bestiary is perfect for anyone who has ever suspected that virtue might be unnatural.

Thanks to NetGalley for this review copy!

This book reads like it was written by the love child of Charles Darwin and Mary Roach. There is humor, pathos, and animal facts aplenty. The author’s writing style is easy to read and captured my attention immediately. The love Cooke has for these beasties is quite obvious from the start. Hopefully, given the facts, others will learn to appreciate these maligned characters that occupy the animal world.

Each chapter is devoted (lovingly) to a misunderstood animal, where we find myths debunked through modern science. The reader will learn about sloths, bats, and hyenas, to name a few. The author will discuss how the animals were experimented on/studied over hundreds of years (Who knew that Aristotle was a proponent of spontaneous creation?) then get to modern times, where myths are debunked and the many reasons to love these animals are revealed.

Some of the experiments detailed can be a bit gory, such as when, in the 18th century, the Catholic priest Lazzaro Spallanzani practiced blinding bats in order to find out how they managed to find their way around in darkness. (He also coated them in varnish for another experiment, but I digress).  Other tales are edifying and satisfying, such as:

It may sound suspiciously like bogus medieval folk medicine, but from the 1940s through the 1960s the world’s first reliable pregnancy test was a small, bug-eyed frog. When injected with a pregnant woman’s urine, the amphibian didn’t turn blue or display stripes, but it did squirt out eggs 8-12 hours later to confirm a positive result.

Cooke’s book is full of factoids like that one. How can you not love this book? You will learn, you will laugh, and you will be full of obscure information. That sounds like a winner to me.

Yes, you want your own copy and can pick it up here.

Call Me Cass by Kelly Stone Gamble

Cass Adams is finally happy. She has a man who loves her, a family that understands her, and a baby on the way. Other than seeing the occasional dead person, Cass feels normal. But pregnancy has an unwelcome side effect. Cass is having visions of the future, just like Grams does. While some are cloudy, Cass knows one thing for certain. Her best friend, Maryanne, is going to die.

Police Chief Benny Cloud has his own problems. His father has been released from prison and is on his way home to surprise Benny’s mother, who’s been keeping time with the county sheriff. Fat Tina’s Gentlemen’s Club is under siege by protestors. And it’s growing dark outside.

A devastating storm is coming to Deacon, Kansas. In its wake, the town must deal with tragic losses that force everyone to reevaluate their lives.

Thanks to the author for this review copy!

One thing about Kelly Stone Gamble is that she is adept at creating character backstory. In CALL ME CASS we see all of our favorites from her previous two books but with more depth. This is accomplished by having each chapter told from a different point of view – something that I usually dislike – but it works here. We are privy to each character’s deepest thoughts and fears and learn who dislikes who (and why). These inner thoughts are both poignant and hilarious at the same time.

In this 3rd book of the series, Cass is ready to give birth while a massive tornado is bearing down on Deacon, Kansas. She is also struggling with one of her visions – her best friend Maryanne is supposed to die. Each character experiences the huge storm in their own way, and no one is unaffected. Deacon is destroyed and we stay with Cass & Co. while everyone picks up the collective pieces.

Gamble’s real talent lies in her ability to create friendships and deep connections in her storytelling. It feels like there are true bonds between Fat Tina, Angus, Clay, and the rest of the Deaconites. Kindness shines through on nearly every page no matter which character is telling the story at the moment. The characters are quirky and fun, and they all show compassion when the situation warrants.

The storm creates serious suspense while also serving as a cleansing for the town, since a few of the characters experience revelations about their life, their relationships, and their dreams. This proves to create a satisfying ending despite the fact that some of the characters did not survive the storm. I felt truly sad for these characters and wish things turned out differently. This shows how strongly the author is able to create lasting emotions in her readers through her writing. Anyone who can make the reader feel for a fictional character is a winner in my opinion.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

Good Girls Lie by J.T. Ellison

Perched atop a hill in the tiny town of Marchburg, Virginia, The Goode School is a prestigious prep school known as a Silent Ivy. The boarding school of choice for daughters of the rich and influential, it accepts only the best and the brightest. Its elite status, long-held traditions and honor code are ideal for preparing exceptional young women for brilliant futures at Ivy League universities and beyond. But a stranger has come to Goode, and this ivy has turned poisonous.

In a world where appearances are everything, as long as students pretend to follow the rules, no one questions the cruelties of the secret societies or the dubious behavior of the privileged young women who expect to get away with murder. But when a popular student is found dead, the truth cannot be ignored. Rumors suggest she was struggling with a secret that drove her to suicide.

But look closely…because there are truths and there are lies, and then there is everything that really happened.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

This book was a conundrum. On one hand, the setting was full of promise: a Gothic prep school filled with overachieving rich girls. On the other hand, we have lots of internal dialogue and chapters that switch POV’s rapidly, causing confusion. There was also a slow start to the book, and it seemed to drag on towards the middle. This was almost a DNF for me, but I kept going.

The last 20% of the book is filled with rapid-fire twists and turns, and all the questions (and there are plenty!) are answered. There are some (more) deaths but I felt the conclusion was satisfactorily drawn. Ellison’s characters are typical boarding-school-with-money types, and there are a lot of familiar tropes (secret societies, girl drama, rich girls behaving badly) that will warm the heart of the reader that loves this type of thing.

I am unsure how to classify this book – is it YA or not? I feel it fits either category; the writing style is easy to read, if a little drawn out. I think each chapter would have benefitted from naming the narrator right at the beginning so the reader would immediately know who is speaking. However, this may have been done deliberately by the author to cause confusion and increase the intrigue.

My favorite character was Becca – she was an apt Head Girl, hiding her loneliness under a harsh and demanding exterior. I also felt sorry for the Dean, who was constantly under the thumb of the previous Dean (who just happened to be her manipulative mother).

All in all – an uneven but mildly pleasant read. Stick with it through the slow portions and you will be happy you did. You can pick up your copy here.

Bloody Genius by John Sandford (Virgil Flowers #12)

Virgil Flowers will have to watch his back–and his mouth–as he investigates a college culture war turned deadly in the latest thriller from #1 New York Times-bestseller John Sandford.

At the local state university, two feuding departments have faced off on the battleground of PC culture. Each carries their views to extremes that may seem absurd, but highly educated people of sound mind and good intentions can reasonably disagree, right?

Then someone winds up dead, and Virgil Flowers is brought in to investigate . . . and he soon comes to realize he’s dealing with people who, on this one particular issue, are functionally crazy. Among this group of wildly impassioned, diametrically opposed zealots lurks a killer, and it will be up to Virgil to sort the murderer from the mere maniacs.

Thanks to NetGalley for this review copy!

No one is getting Virgil’s jokes. This is because he is knee-deep in academia land, investigating the murder of a well-respected but also generally disliked professor. Apparently those who work at the University of Minnesota do not have a well-rounded sense of humor.

Virgil teams up with Detective Trane from the Minnesota police department, a partnership that starts out shaky but solidifies when Virgil proves himself to be an affable companion. Trane is at a dead end until Virgil discovers some evidence that starts the ball rolling, leading to some of the strangest characters ever seen in a Flowers novel.

I felt that the book was slow going until the last third, when the action started to pick up a bit and the loose ends started to come together. There are a lot of characters and subplots, and unless you keep them straight it will end up being confusing.

The plot blurb notes there is an interdepartmental feud going on, but I found that portion of the story a bit underwhelming. There is less going on there than the publisher would have you believe. I feel it would have benefitted the book to have noted there was a murder on campus and Virgil had to deal with a lot of functionally crazy people; after all, the murder does take place in the beginning of the book and the rest is just smoke and mirrors until the end. At times I wanted to skip ahead, looking for more action and less talking, but I was afraid I would miss something.

Flowers novels are like pizza – it may not always be the best tasting, but it’s pizza. Despite the flaws I noted above, it is always good to see what Virgil is doing. Hopefully the next outing will be more suspenseful and action packed.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

Jet Girl by Caroline Johnson

A fresh, unique insider’s view of what it’s like to be a woman aviator in today’s US Navy—from pedicures to parachutes. 

Caroline Johnson was an unlikely aviation candidate. A tall blonde debutante from Colorado, she could have just as easily gone into fashion or filmmaking, and yet she went on to become an F/A-18 Super Hornet Weapons System Officer. She was one of the first women to fly a combat mission over Iraq since 2011, and she was the first woman to drop bombs on ISIS.

Jet Girl tells the remarkable story of the women fighting at the forefront in a military system that allows them to reach the highest peaks, and yet is in many respects still a fraternity. Johnson offers an insider’s view on the fascinating, thrilling, dangerous and, at times, glamorous world of being a naval aviator.

This is a coming-of age story about a young college-aged girl who draws strength from a tight knit group of friends, called the Jet Girls, and struggles with all the ordinary problems of life: love, work, catty housewives, father figures, make-up, wardrobe, not to mention being put into harm’s way daily with terrorist groups such as ISIS and world powers such as Russia and Iran.

Some of the most memorable parts of the book are about real life in training, in the air and in combat—how do you deal with having to pee in a cockpit the size of a bumper car going 900 miles an hour?

Not just a memoir, this book also aims to change the conversation and to inspire and attract the next generation of men and women who are tempted to explore a life of adventure and service.

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

This book is a generally well-written memoir about an F/A-18 Super Hornet Weapons System Officer, who happens to be a woman. The military information is just what you would expect: training, the mental game, and some unclassified deployment details. The part of the book that really hits home is the harassment and treatment Caroline gets from her own squads – the men that are supposed to be supporting her, while they expect her support as well. The Navy wives even vilify her and call her out for wearing a “too revealing” dress to a party.

I admire Caroline for putting up with all the slurs and backbiting gossip. It’s a shame that someone with such drive, talent and patriotism should be dealing with such petty bullshit. Most of her fellow recruits treat her normally; it’s the few bad apples as usual spoiling everything.

JET GIRL skips around from chapter to chapter, telling us Caroline’s story from first days in the Navy all the way up to being deployed in Iraq. The chapters do not proceed sequentially; once you realize that and are ok with the story skipping back and forth, the reading smooths out. The story turns a lot darker when Caroline shares her battle with depression with us. I cannot imagine staying in the Navy as long as she did, nor can I believe how badly she was treated despite excelling in her classes and as a pilot. Unfortunately, she decided to change careers to ultimately save her sanity, which I feel is the Navy’s great loss. She started to realize the stress that her body was under due to the strain of deployment even before her aircraft carrier had left the Persian Gulf. She began isolating herself once she got back to the States and was told by the flight doctor to “man up…and stop being a drama queen”.

At this point the story got very frustrating for me, as I felt Caroline’s pain and wanted to scream at all the men that this was a real issue and deserved the proper attention. I could not believe what she was writing – that she was not properly supported by her commanding officers and her squad. The rest of the book details her downward spiral and her “icing out” by her commanders and crew, along with her guilt and confusion about what she should do with her life – leave the Navy or try to stick it out.

The last section is an excellent example of what depression looks and feels like. Poor mental health carries such a stigma in this country and I am happy Caroline had the courage to bare her soul and share her story. Her message is important on many levels – her depression, the mistreatment she experienced, and her love for the Navy all come together in an illuminating and meaningful way. I can only hope that she has smoothed the way for other female Navy pilots with her no-holds-barred examples of how she was treated. Let’s see if the Navy can make the future better than its past.

You can pick up your copy here.

 

Tracking Game by Margaret Mizushima (Timber Creek K-9 #5)

Two brutal murders, a menacing band of poachers, and a fearsome creature on the loose in the mountains plunge Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo into a sinister vortex.
An explosion outside a community dance sends Mattie Cobb and Cole Walker reeling into the night, where they discover a burning van and beside it the body of outfitter Nate Fletcher. But the explosion didn’t kill Nate–it was two gunshots to the heart.
The investigation leads them to the home of rancher Doyle Redman, whose daughter is Nate’s widow, and the object of one of their suspect’s affection. But before they can make an arrest, they receive an emergency call from a man who’s been shot in the mountains. Mattie and Robo rush to the scene, only to be confronted by the ominous growl of a wild predator.

As new players emerge on the scene, Mattie begins to understand the true danger that’s enveloping Timber Creek. They journey into the cold, misty mountains to track the animal–but discover something even more deadly in Tracking Game, the fifth installment in Margaret Mizushima’s Timber Creek K-9 mysteries.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

This is another winner for the author! I’m a big fan of the series about troubled cop Mattie Cobb and her K9 partner, Robo. The love and respect Cobb has for her dog shines through in each book and this one was no exception.

A twisty murder mystery is the setting for this latest installment, with the backdrop of the Colorado mountains looming large as usual. Unique to this story was a subplot of big game hunting and a ferocious big cat on the loose. Mattie must depend on Robo to keep her safe from both human and animal as they track a killer.

We learn a bit more about Mattie’s past – the author loves to peel back the layers bit by bit in each book, which helps develop the character, as well as adding to the reader’s kinship with Mattie. She is a troubled soul, fiercely independent and devoted to her canine companion Robo. The ways in which Mizushima describes their interactions is both heartwarming and jaw-dropping – this German Shepherd is such a smart dog!

I was also happy to see Mattie’s romance with veterinarian Cole Walker developing some more – there is a lot of chemistry between them and he is so good for Mattie’s wounded soul. In fact, there are a few ways that Mattie overcomes some of her fears in TRACKING GAME – I was proud of her for getting out of her comfort zone.

If you love backcountry mysteries, you will love the Timber Creek series. There is just enough fast-paced intrigue plus a little romance to keep nearly every reader interested. This book could be read as a stand-alone, but some of the references will go over the heads of readers. This will not detract from the plot or outcome, but it is always recommended to start with the first book and go from there. I am anxiously awaiting the next mystery from Mizushima; she is one of my favorite authors and I’m always ready to dive into her next work. Grab your copy here!

Stop Being Reasonable by Eleanor Gordon-Smith

What if you’re not who you think you are?
What if you don’t really know the people closest to you?
And what if your most deeply-held beliefs turn out to be…wrong?

In Stop Being Reasonable, philosopher Eleanor Gordon-Smith tells gripping true stories that show the limits of human reason. Susie realises her husband harbours a terrible secret, Dylan leaves the cult he’s been raised in since birth, Alex discovers he can no longer return to his former identity after impersonating someone else on reality TV. All of them radically alter their beliefs about the things that matter most.

What makes them change course? What does this say about our own beliefs? And, in an increasingly divided world, what does it teach us about how we might change the minds of others?
Inspiring, moving and perceptive, Stop Being Reasonable is a mind-changing exploration of the murky place where philosophy and real life meet.
‘I knew how piercingly smart Eleanor Gordon-Smith is, and what a curious and resolute interviewer. But I was unprepared for how entertainingly she writes! I read this with pleasure.’ — Ira Glass

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

STOP BEING REASONABLE is a dense little book filled with philosophical musings on varied subjects such as why guys catcall, how someone escaped a cult, and if a girl is telling the truth about being abused by her parents. Each chapter starts with a couple of lines from philosophy that sets the tone for the case study, such as this one from Blaise Pascal: People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.

Those who have a background in philosophy will enjoy this book for the anecdotes that illustrate various ways of thinking. My experience with philosophy is minimal, so I am sure a great deal of the material is going over my head. The stories about the people were mildly interesting, just not wholly captivating for me. Perhaps I expected different handling of the subject. This does not detract from the writing itself, just a caveat to potential readers that this is a heavier read than normal.

The author has a background in debate as well, and her skills are apparent in the way she writes and presents her facts. A common theme to all the stories is: examine closely what you expect to be true, for things are not what they seem to be.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

 

The Body by Bill Bryson

In the bestselling, prize-winning A Short History of Nearly Everything Bill Bryson achieved the seemingly impossible by making the science of our world both understandable and entertaining to millions of people around the globe.

Now he turns his attention inwards to explore the human body, how it functions and its remarkable ability to heal itself. Full of extraordinary facts and astonishing stories The Body: A Guide for Occupants is a brilliant, often very funny attempt to understand the miracle of our physical and neurological make up.

A wonderful successor to A Short History of Nearly Everything, this book will have you marvelling at the form you occupy, and celebrating the genius of your existence, time and time again.

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

Did you ever wonder how many times a day you blink? Or who invented the calorie and why we are so obsessed with counting them? These answers and a multitude of others can be found in THE BODY, a wonderfully wry book of facts and stories about, well, the body we occupy. Each chapter is devoted to one of the body’s systems (the gut, the nervous system, as well as sleep and the function of glands, etc) so as to build upon the last chapter’s information. Here’s an interesting factoid from the food chapter: fruits have been genetically manipulated to be sweeter than they were hundreds of years ago. The author purports that apples in Shakespeare’s day were no sweeter than today’s carrots.

I’m trying to decide whether Bryson’s droll wit or the abundance of information about our body is the best part of the book. You will end up learning things without even trying – there isn’t any deep scientific talk so you don’t need a degree in biology to easily read this book.

There isn’t a plot so much as a description of the body part, its function, and then facts and history about it. For example, in the chapter entitled “Gut” we learn how our digestive system works, then we learn about E. coli and other dangerous microbes, there is a bit about food safety, and then it’s 1822 and we are reading about an unfortunate accident that left a hole in a fur trapper’s stomach. This fur trapper eventually became something of a living experiment due to the injury (Google “Beaumont and St Martin” for more details if you wish).

This was an illuminating and droll read – one of the better books I have read this summer. Run, don’t walk to get your copy! You will be thoroughly enlightened and entertained, and even a bit grossed out – in a good way.

You can pick up your copy here.

 

 

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