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review 2020-01-25 02:17
Review: Lies She Told by Cate Holahan
Lies She Told - Cate Holahan

This is definitely one of the harder mysteries that I have to review, or maybe I'm spoiled by the engrossing experience of the last mystery I read. The TL, DR version of this review: parts of it I really liked, and parts of it I didn't.

This is the first book I've read from Cate Holahan, and I can say from the get go that I want to read more from the author in the future for sure. I'm just not certain what side of the fence I fall on in reacting to "Lies She Told". It's a dual perspective story, though not in the way that you would typically find in a mystery of this scope. It's largely the story of a writer whose star has dimmed over the years (Liza Jones) and who struggles to write her next bestselling novel. But Liza throws herself into her work to distract from the fact that her life is falling apart - she wants to have a baby, but her husband is distracted by the sudden disappearance of his work partner, Nick.

The dual perspective is from the viewpoint of Beth, the heroine of Liza's story. Beth is a jilted wife who realizes her husband is having an affair as she's struggling to care for their newborn child. Beth becomes immensely jealous and wants to carve her own path to vengeance against her husband, but ends up murdering her husband's mistress with some complexities to face in the aftermath of that.

Fiction somewhat mirrors truth when Nick turns up dead in a river and Liza's husband is investigated for the disappearance/murder. The aim of the book makes it clear that the reader should question what is fiction and what is truth to Liza's life as details from Nick's murder surface. The aim of the book is fascinating and definitely something that intrigued me as I went through the story. However, there are some caveats that detracted from my experience a bit. The pacing in the story often lulled in moments where it switched between the perspectives of Liza and Beth. For a time, I found myself more immersed in Beth's perspective because she had the more compelling strength of grief and rage associated with her story (cheated lover, new mother, seeking to fill the void her husband left with his frequent departures and keeping her sanity together).

Liza's story wasn't as compelling to start (basically wanting a baby, husband more preoccupied with Nick's disappearance, and Liza wondering why she should care since Nick was a douchecanoe, though Nick and her husband lawyers who won a transgender rights case. I think as Nick's backstory came to light and the inference that his disappearance/murder possibly might've centered on a hate crime, I found myself more intrigued. Too bad it fizzled a little after that.)

As the story wove its way towards the end, the goalposts shifted a bit in terms of the whodunit to keep the reader guessing. The climax was very intense, particularly in the confrontation between Liza and her husband. However, the ending to Liza's story left me feeling unsatisfied from the experience, wanting a bit more meat than it provided for the set up. It tied up some loose ends, but not in a way that I really felt attached to. Beth's ending was a suitable one given the framework of the story and knowing where Liza's mind was by the end of the book, as well as her authorial choice to end Beth's story the way she did. But I still was like "Ehhh, that could've been a little more fulfilling."

In the end, I'm glad I read it. The writing had strong, compelling moments where it hooked me, yet the conclusion made it so the one-time read was enough for me. Definitely curious to see what else Holahan has in her bibliography.

Overall score: 3/5 stars.

Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley from the publisher.

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review 2020-01-24 02:42
Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein by Fadhil al-Azzawi & Jennifer Roy
Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein: Based on a True Story - Fadhil al-Azzawi,Jennifer Roy

Audience: Middle School

Format: Hardcover/Library Copy

 

The afternoon the bombs start falling, I get my highest score ever on my favorite video game.

 

Eleven-year-old Ali Fadhil lives in Basra, Iraq. He loves American television, Superman comic books, and playing soccer with his friends. When an international coalition initiates military action to stop Saddam Hussein from invading Kuwait, Ali’s life is turned upside down. Ali’s father is serving with a medical unit and his older brother (Shirzad) is left in charge of the family. Everyone in the village is depending on government rations for food and supplies. Ali’s mother even burns his comic books for fuel to cook with. 

 

The book is based on co-author Fadhil’s childhood and doesn’t shy away from depicting the war. There are some pretty violent scenes in this book, including when Ali witnesses a firing squad that kills a bunch of people (even a child his age). At one point, Ali thinks his father may be dead and he often worries about his own safety.



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review 2020-01-24 02:33
Knock Out by K.A. Holt
Knockout - K.A. Holt

Audience: Grades 5 & up

Format: Hardcover/Library Copy

 

Who am I?

I am Levi.

I am small

but fast

I am smart

but dumb.

If you move the letters of my name around

you get live.

So here it is.

This is my life

This is what it's like

minute by minute

match by match

to live a Levi Life.

- first page

 

This novel is written in verse and tells the story of 12-year-old Levi. Levi was born weighing 2 pounds and went through some serious medical operations as a young boy. His older brother and mother are very overprotective and Levi feels trapped and longs to experience more of life. Levi’s dad encourages him to start boxing, without his mother or brother’s knowledge. Levi channels his energy and emotions into boxing and it makes him feel strong and in control. But, he is lying to his mom and brother and eventually to his dad too. 

 

The story is touching and has no real objectionable language or violence. Levi just wants a chance to experience life and doesn’t know how to explain this to his mom and brother. This story originated in the book House Arrest which tells the story of Levi’s brother trying to help out when Levi was an infant.



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review 2020-01-24 02:23
Elephant Secret by Eric Walters
Elephant Secret - Eric Walters

Audience: 5th grade & up

Format: Hardcover/Library copy

 

I lay on my back on the inflatable raft.

- first sentence

 

Sam is 14 and she has spent her life living and working at her family’s elephant sanctuary. Some of the kids at school even call her “elephant girl.” Sam (and her father, Jack) likes the elephants more than people and the elephants are their family. The elephants consider Sam and Jack part of their herd. Sam never knew her mother and she feels uncomfortable with her dad’s new girlfriend. When a rich donor (James Mercury) pays a great deal of money to have three of the elephants artificially inseminated, he also becomes a “silent” partner. But only one elephant carries to term, and when the baby is born Mercury becomes much more involved. 

 

During the book, Sam grapples with her feelings about her dad’s new girlfriend and her own identity. Sam is a strong girl and she stands up for what she believes in. There are some sad parts (as there always are in animal stories) and some dangerous situations, but no real violence. Overall the book is a well-written family drama that kids will love because of the suspense and the adorable elephants.



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review 2020-01-24 02:12
Ethan Marcus Stands Up by Michele Weber Hurwitz
Ethan Marcus Stands Up - Michele Weber Hurwitz

Audience: 3rd Grade & Up

Format: Hardcover/Library copy

 

The thing about this, and what I seriously don't get here, is that it was Ethan.

- first sentence

 

Ethan is a 7th grader who has difficulty sitting still in school all day. One day, during his last period (Language Arts), he stands up and refuses to sit down despite repeated warnings from his teacher. As a result, he receives two days of after school reflection (aka detention). This begins a series of events that ends with Ethan and his sister (Erin) both competing in the Invention Day fair. The story is told from 5 different points of view - Ethan, his best friend Brian, Erin, her best friend Zoe, and troublemaker Wesley (who may not be as bad as he seems). 

The story is a quick, easy read that is appropriate for kids even in 3rd grade - nothing too heavy or serious and a lot of humor will appeal to students who enjoy books like James Patterson’s Middle School series. 



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