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review 2018-04-16 03:15
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
The Great Alone - Kristin Hannah

A special thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

Kristin Hannah's newest book takes place in Alaska in the 70s and 80s.  The land is wild, unpredictable, and harsh.  The Allbrights think Alaska will be their salvation, but for a family in turmoil, it will become the ultimate test of survival.

 

Ernt Allbright has returned from the Vietnam war a broken and volatile man.  After losing another job, he makes a rash decision to move his little family north, to Alaska, where he has been left property by a fallen soldier.  Here they can make a fresh start, live off the land and by their own rules.

 

Leni is thirteen and is the voice of reason in her parents' passionate and tempestuous marriage.  She hopes that the new opportunity will lead to a better life for her family.  Her mother Cora would follow Ernt anywhere, even at the cost of a relationship with her parents.

 

They seem to be adjusting well to life on the great frontier.  They have forged relationships with some men and women in the community that show them the ropes and how to survive.  Winter is coming and they need to learn how to prepare and survive the wrath of Mother Nature.  When winter arrives with dark days, Ernt's mental state suffers and he turns just as dark.  Life outside is nothing compared to life inside their small cabin.  The women are isolated—they are on their own with no one to save them so they must save themselves.

 

Hannah explores the resilience of the human spirit juxtaposed against the beauty of Alaska.  This is a story of love, loss, survival, and man against nature and himself.  I was completely caught up in the the story, it was absolutely riveting.  Hannah's writing is such a gift.  Her descriptions of Alaska were sweeping and vivid.  Alaska becomes a character and at times is the hero and other times is the villain.

 

The theme of survival dominates the story—the family are surviving the harsh winter and the women are surviving the harsh realities of living with a POW with post-tramatic stress.  Cora and Leni must carefully navigate Ernst's outbursts that lead to his explosive rage and violent outbursts.  Hannah does an incredible job in her execution—you hate Ernst for his abuse and yet you feel sorry for him because he is living with an undiagnosed mental illness.  The reader also flip flops with their loyalty to Cora—there is a level of frustration for staying with Ernst and exposing Leni to his violence, but on the other hand you pity her because she is a victim of domestic abuse.  

 

Hannah pens some dynamic supporting characters.  I just wish she would've come up with something more original than 'Large Marge'.  She creates a whole town of interesting personalities that are integral to the plot.  This is no small feat.             

 

The difference between 4 and 5 stars is because of the last part of the book.  There was a disconnect and I wasn't as invested in their journey by that point.  Without spoiling the ending, it didn't work for me.  I wonder if her editor made her rewrite it?  That being said, Hannah fans are going to love this book.

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review 2018-04-15 18:07
Bring Me Back by B.A. Paris
Bring Me Back: A Novel - B.A. Paris
A special thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

A young British couple are in France on a vacation.  When they stop for gas, Finn goes in to pay and Layla stays in the car.  When he returns, her car door is ajar and she is not inside.  Layla vanishes without a trace.

Ten years later, Finn has put the past behind him and is engaged to Ellen.  When he comes home from work to find his fiancée sitting on the sofa with an object in her hand, he quickly realizes something is amiss.  This object would mean nothing to most people, but Finn and Ellen know what it is—it is a Russian doll that belonged to Ellen when she was a child.  Only three people know about the Russian dolls: Ellen, Layla, and Finn.

As more questions surface, fractures form in their relationship.  Has Layla returned?  And why after all this time?

Paris' debut Behind Closed Doors was great and I loved The Breakdown.  Unfortunately, after reading this, I was left both wanting and expecting more.  Make no mistake, it was definitely a page-turner, and did ultimately hold my interest but there was nothing new and just simply felt old hat.

The alternating perspectives between past and present worked well.  I was hooked from the beginning which I found was the best part of the book.  The middle slowed and I was left struggling to connect with Finn and wasn't vested in his relationships.  At first the Russian dolls were interesting, and then I just found the whole thing incredibly repetitive.  And then the ending...  Well, if you can suspend your disbelief, than you will love this book.

I'm hopeful that this is a one-off since her other books were so good.  This one was simply not as clever or developed.  
 
 

 

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review 2018-04-15 17:47
Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen
Alternate Side: A Novel - Anna Quindlen Alternate Side: A Novel - Anna Quindlen

A special thank you to NetGalley and Random House for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Tension permeates a close-knit neighbourhood and happy marriage after an unexpected violent act.

Nora and Charlie Nolan seem to have it all.  They live on a dead end street in a lovely home in a New York City neighbourhood.  Their twins are away at college and all is well.  Nora has always loved the city and Charlie loves it even more now that he has secured a highly coveted parking spot.  One morning, Nora returns home from her run only to discover a terribly tragedy has occurred that has shaken her once tight community.  Cracks start to appear in her seemingly charmed life, not only on the block, but at her job, and her marriage.

In Anna Quindlen's latest book, she explores motherhood, being a wife, and a woman in the stages of unravelling.      

Quindlen is a fantastic writer, and this book is no exception.  However, it took me a long time to get into the book and by time the story really started to develop (after the "incident"), I had checked out.

I liked the parallel between Charlie and Nora's dead-end marriage with them living on a dead-end street.  But, the parking space and a mundane marriage seem to eclipse the rest of story.  Or maybe because the first part of the book is so drawn out that the reader is just not as vested in any of the issues.  Maybe it's because I live in the burbs, but I couldn't relate to the parking issue and felt that it had too much presence in the story.  Perhaps because NYC was so integral, the city was almost a character in itself, that Qindlen dedicated so much to the parking space.

Unfortunately for me, this one is a pass.  It was just okay.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-04-06 20:37
Contains Spoilers
Hamish Macbeth: Death of an Honest Man: Hamish Macbeth, Book 33 - M. C. Beaton,David Monteath,Audible Studios
Why did I read it? I adore the Hamish Macbeth series, and this was the latest edition.
 
What's it about? An income arrives in Cnothan, and town on Hamish Macbeth's beat. Paul English considers himself an honest man, but on calling on the incomer to welcome him to the community Charlie, Hamish's constable, lands them both in trouble at headquarters. Paul English works his way around the communities, spouting his views on the shortcomings of the locals directly to their face, causing hackles to rise. "I could kill that man," could be heard from Lochdubh to Cnothan. And, so ...
 
What did I like? Honestly, the soothing tones of David Monteath were perhaps the only lovely thing about this particular episode of life in Lochdubh.
 
What didn't I like? Oh dear. It seemed to me that the author, M.C. Beaton 'phoned it in'. There were so many errors in the book.
 
(1) Lucia Lament was noted as the daughter of Mr. Ferrari; however, in earlier books, we learn Lucia is a distant relative of Mr. Ferrari brought over from Italy to work in the restaurant in Lochdubh, after Mr. Ferrari's immediate family took over the running of his first restaurant.
 
(2) Initially, it is said Silas' father died when he was two, then, later, it is said his father died 10 years previous. So, either Hamish's new constable is 12 years old, or this is yet another error in the narrative.
 
(3) It seems the forensics team has been re-populated with boozy blokes, who I thought had been replaced a few books back.
 
There are many more inconsistencies like this that regular readers/listeners might pick up on.
 
How many constables can Hamish get through in one book? Charlie Carter, who has been with Hamish through a few books, seems to have been unceremoniously pushed out of the series. Larry Coomb appears, and is gone within a few short paragraphs. Enter Constable Silas Dunbar. Exit Constable Silas Dunbar. Enter Freddie Ross. Exit Freddie Ross. Then, at the very last, enter a WPC, Dorothy MacIver.
 
Why bring Elspeth back into Sutherland at all? Her contribution to the narrative was negligible, with the low level rivalry between her, and Priscilla for affections of Hamish becoming increasingly tedious in its repetition. And, the rivalry between the two of them, and Sonsie is reignited upon the cat's incomprehensible return.
 
The storylines featuring Colonel Halburton-Smythe, and Chief Inspector Blair were so far beyond believable, and extremely disappointing. Yes, this is fiction, which often strays from reality as it is set in an idyllic version of the highlands, but these narratives were just too far-fetched, and stretched far beyond the known behaviours of these long-term characters formed through the previous 32 books. These tangential stories seemed ill formed, and very ill judged. It's almost like they were padding for the scant murder mystery, which, itself, seemed poorly thought out, and too closely related to other victims, and plots in the series.
 
There are other disappointments, but I have listed only what I see as the the major faults here. Overall, the book felt disjointed, the main narrative was thin, and the side stories not as believable as in the past. At times, the superstitious and supernatural elements felt more real than anything else.
 
Also, having listened to this audio series in its entirety several times now, I have begun to notice mistakes in the text, e.g. the wrong character having said a line. Unfortunately, this is also true of “Death of an Honest Man” having listened to it three times now.
 
Would I recommend it? Honestly, no. Not even to fans of the series. I sincerely hope the next two books in the series, which M.C. Beaton has confirmed she is contracted to write, are not so badly composed as this one. I want a return to the Hamish Macbeth and inhabitants of Lochdubh I have grown to love.

 

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review 2018-04-06 18:56
Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier
Jar of Hearts - Jennifer Hillier

A special thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

At sixteen, Anglea Wong, one of the most popular girls at school, disappeared.  She left behind wonderful parents, and two best friends, Georgina Shaw and Kaiser Brody.

Fourteen years later, Angela's remains are found in the woods right near the house that Geo grew up in.  Her father, a respected physician still lives in the family home.  Nobody ever suspected that Geo, now an executive at a pharmaceutical company owned by her fiancé's family, had anything to do with Angela's disappearance.

Kaiser, now a detective with the Seattle PD, learns that Angela was a victim of Calvin James a.k.a. the "Sweetbay Strangler" who is also responsible for the murders of at least three other women.  To Geo, Calvin James is something else—he's her first love.  It was an instant attraction that grew into an intense, obsessive, and abusive relationship.

For the past fourteen years, Geo has carried the secret of what really happened to Angela until all comes to light with her arrest.  Or is there more to the story?  Geo is sent to prison while James has escaped from prison.  Past and present collide when a string of copycat murders start happening.  Did Geo set in motion a new chain of events or is she the missing piece to catch the killer?

This is my first book by Jennifer Hillier and I was impressed.  Her writing is sharp and the pages flew by.  Hillier developed the characters enough to not be predictable or stereotypical, but I did want more from Kai.

Told by alternating points of view between Geo and Kai, past and present, this style really served the story well and helped lay the ground work.  I felt that their particular relationship in the backstory wasn't fleshed out enough.  It seemed like a harmless little crush versus any kind of relationship that gave Kai the emotional baggage that he brought to any of his other relationships.  I also thought that Geo was a user—she used Kai when they were friends, knowing he'd always be there for her because he was attracted to her, used her fiancé for a title/career, used people in prison for protection, and uses Kai's loyalty to protect her outside of prison.  Relationships in this story seemed to always be a struggle of power, especially between Angela and Geo.  Neither of the girls could stand it when the other one was receiving attention.  I also found that Geo (even though she went to prison), always came out on top—without giving anything away, I'm sure when you are finished you will have the same musings as I did.        

Hillier does a great job with the pace of the story.  She doesn't show her hand, she plays her cards one at a time and lets the story unfold naturally.  Sometimes with this genre, I feel that plot twists are forced and I didn't get that sense here.  I was intrigued right off the bat when Calvin hands Geo a note in court that says "You're welcome", welcome for what?

The difference between three and four stars is for a couple of reasons.  First, for a detective, Kai is incredibly daft.  Is it because he was too close to the case, and actually, he shouldn't have even been on this case.  Is it not a conflict of interest?  He knows both the victim and the perpetrator—I guess you have to suspend your belief on that front.  Second, the story was a little bit gruesome for me.  If dark and twisty is your bag, you will love this book.  

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