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Catching up on Mini Reviews - part 1

Since I've been MIA the last few months, I decided the best way to keep my toe in the proverbial water, is to share shorter reviews/opinions about books I'm reading. I think a 10-book-at-a-time method might work, so here's the first of many quick review pages. Hope you find something of interest to you.

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Genre: General Fiction

Published 2018, 273 pages

I listened to this book and the best part was the narrator with her Irish accent. Captivating. The story, however, was just okay. An odd, unpopular girl becomes involved with a popular boy in high school and they agree to keep it secret. An event causes a rift. They go to college and roles reverse and she comes into her own while he struggles to make friends. And so it goes on over the several years this book covers.

There are some uncomfortable scenes as we learn about Marianne's dysfunctional home life and see how it affects her other relationships and life choices, how it colors her perception of love. She's a bit of a lost person. Except when she's with Connell. Together they're both the better for it, but events keep getting in the way and they keep getting in their own way. I kept thinking - "just talk to each other instead of making all those assumptions!" But then, of course, there wouldn't be a story.

Kind of a COA story about the evolution of a difficult romantic and friendship relationship.

Reading Challenge: #Popsugar21 - book everyone has read but me

The Unquiet Dead #1 by Ausma Zehanat Khan

Genre: Mystery

Published 2015, 352 pages

Set in Canada, the tone of this 'cozy mystery' feels similar to Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache series; the inspectors are both very thoughtful, deliberate, smart, and intuitive. The difference is this inspector heads a special unit investigating racial crimes, particularly those involving the Muslim community.

I listened to this story which was helpful with the pronunciations of all the foreign people and place names. The mystery revolves around whether a dead man fell to his death or was pushed. During the investigation, the team discovers he's a war criminal from the Bosnian war so there are lots of names that were challenging to follow. There's lots of history about the war, war crimes, and people/circumstances involved. I had a hard time following it all and while it's horrific to read (again) about the atrocities people commit on each other, I don't feel like the quantity of war info really moved the story forward.

The twist at the end was a little unexpected when what I'd been led toward as the answer wasn't quite the answer......well done there.

The Defense #1 Flynn by Steve Cavanagh

Genre: Thriller

Published 2015, 320 pages

This is certainly an action packed, thrilling ride! Eddie, a conman turned lawyer (another type of conman?), is trying to recover from a legal disaster that took him away from the law. He's forced back to the courtroom when he's forced to defend the head of the Russian mob on a murder charge in order to save him and his daughter. Lots of twists and turns, good dialog, mobsters everywhere, and at the heart of it is Eddie - clever, afraid for his daughter's life, trying to figure out how to double cross the mob, etc.

This kind of flawed good guy is my favorite type of character, always pushing the edge of the law (sometimes crossing it, but always for "good") and a bit of a smart-alec. There's enough courtroom action and shenanigans to be able to legit call it a legal thriller but enough action for Jack Reacher fans too. I'll be reading the rest of the series (I think the popular Thirt3en is the 3rd in the series).

Reading Challenge: #Popsugar21 - book I meant to read last year

Skyward Inn by Aliya Whiteley

Genre: Sci-Fi

Published March 2021, 336 pages

Thanks to #NetGalley and #Solaris/Rebellion for the advance copy - the opinions are my own.

This is a hard book for me to rate. I have mixed feelings - I enjoyed the writing style but I found the bouncing timeline between current life in the Protectorate and Qitan confusing sometimes. A bit surrealistic. There's plenty of angst to go around..... Jem and her regrets on parenting, Fosse (her son) and his feelings of 'apartness', Dom (her brother) and his own issues.

The sci-fi element is that one being from Qitan is living in the Protectorate and from him we get little random hints of his home planet. I could definitely have used more Qitan world building - in a more concrete way. Maybe that sums up my overall feelings - I wanted a more concrete story with defined edges. While the writing is evocative and readable, the story itself was a little too random and vague for me. However, true sci-fi readers who love that sort of slow-burn, quiet paced, introspective story, will love this book.

Who Is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews

Genre: Thriller

Publish date 3/16/21, 324 pages

This debut novel has a bit of an underwhelming start, not much like a thriller at all - almost too slowly paced and basic....kind of learning the personalities of the two main women, Florence (the assistant) and Helen (the author). Stick with it though because about half way through things start to heat up and then I was smacked with twist after twist. A couple of them I saw coming, but some were total surprises.

This is one of those books that it's better to read without knowing much about the plot or characters and discover them for yourself. Don't spoil your reading of the novel by reading too many reviews! :)

"Her sense of self slipped from her as easily as a coat slips off the back of a chair. She'd outgrown the girl she'd been in Florida, but how did one go about building up someone new? She tried on moods and personalities like outfits. One day she was interested in ruthlessness. The next, she wanted to be an object of adoration. She put her faith in the transformative power of new boots, liquid eyeliner, and once - terrifyingly - a beret, as if an identity could seem in from the outside, like nicotine from a patch."

Suffice it to say, I ended up liking it and and the twisty places it took me.

Reading Challenge: #BooklistQueen21: psychological thriller; #52books - surprise ending

Son of a Trickster #1 by Eden Robinson

Genre: General Fiction (COA)

Published 2017, 316 pages

"Jared shut off the phone. He wanted to stay with Sarah, but watching Mr. and Mrs. Jaks slowly dying was brutal. He wanted to believe his mom was sorry, but his dad was always sorry and he still kept doing crap he had to say sorry for. He didn't want to be a sucker, but he didn't want to be alone. Everything ached and all the choices felt wrong."

This is marketed as a coming-of-age story about an young indigenous boy and the year he's just trying to get through 10th grade. Set in Canada, it's a pretty grim portrayal of Native life on the rez with drugs and drinking everywhere. Add to that Jared has a supremely dysfunctional family - a wacko mom with a scary boyfriend, a needy/deceitful dad, a terrible group of "friends" - this poor guy doesn't stand a chance. Then, he discovers he's the son of a 'trickster' of the Native myths. Is he really having magical visions or is it a result of way too much indulgence in mind altering substances? There are a few trigger topics in this story, so approach with caution. I found I liked Jared and felt really sorry for his terrible life, but that's a lot to put on a character.

Reading Challenge: #BooklistQueen21 - COA; #52Books - COA

Piranesi by Susanna Clark

Genre: Fantasy

Published Sept 2020, 245 pages

Nominated for both a Hugo and Nebula (sci-fi) award, I'm more inclined to call it a speculative fiction fantasy, but those designations should always be taken with a grain of salt .... sometimes Goodreads helps me figure out what genre I should use. This is a totally creative and unusual story about a man who lives in a world of a huge labyrinth filled with statues and an ocean with fish, and more surprises. Though there aren't many characters, I found the naming of all the halls and statues SO confusing and when I realized I couldn't map it in my head, I just kind of let go of the "directions" and places. I thoroughly enjoyed the character of Piranesi and his childlike wonder and coping systems, his complex mapping and journaling systems, his logic and simplified scientific thinking. Definitely the star of the book. It's a quick and entertaining read.

The Whisper Man by Alex North

Genre: Thriller

Published 2019, 368 pages

A seriously spooky debut novel about a man and his son moving to a new house where whispers and quiet noises continue to disturb their settling in. The book explores the damaged relationship between father and son and how the dad tries to repair it - all while there's a serial killer in their small town. A few twists and turns keep the story interesting and it moves right along. I listened to it and missed the variety of voices tones or cadences to separate who was speaking....makes it a little harder to follow the story. But, it definitely held my interest as tension built to a satisfying end. Recommended.

Reading Challenge: #Popsugar21 - published anonymously

The Keepers #2 by Jeffrey B Burton

Genre: Mystery

Published June 2021, 288 pages

Received as an advance copy (ARC) from #Netgalley and #MinotaurBooks

A great second installment in this series with a cop, a dog-handler who aids the police, and Vira, a terrific furry character! I had read the first one as an ARC so was happy to get this one early as well (I read it back in April before the book came out). Set in Chicago, the story revolves around political corruption and intrigue. Fast paced (a really quick read evidenced by the fact I couldn't put it down) and a good police procedural with the added benefit of great dog characters. As Kippy (cop) and Mace (dog handler) find themselves up to their necks in danger, again it's Vira and the other dogs that come to the rescue in unexpected ways. Definitely a series worth reading!

Still Life #1 Gamache by Louise Penny

Genre: Mystery

Award: Barry & Anthony awards

Published 2007, 298 pages

I've read several of the later books in this series and decided to start back at the beginning. This debut novel is a good introduction to the characters of Three Pines and a standard Penny twisty cozy mystery with lots of leads and suspects. It introduces the remote location, the small town, the idyllic feeling of the town (until there's a murder), and gives some great characters life - there's a good variety of people, both likeable and not-so-much in this town.....I look forward to getting to know them all better.

Cozy mysteries are usually too "sweet" for me...but Penny keeps a hard edge to her stories and characters that keep them intriguing and more complex than usual cozies. I love her evocative description of place and the complexity of her characters. I'm ready for #2!

I read all 10 of these books earlier in the year and kind of cherry picked them to share with you. Have you read any of them and did you agree with my opinion? Or not? Let me know what you've been reading!

Welcome to Bookshelf Journeys.

It's my goal to provide real reviews of the books I read without totally rehashing every plot. I'll never spoil a story by giving away a plot twist! Hopefully you'll find one or two of interest and will discover a new book or author to add to YOUR TBR list.  Take a moment to explore, read a couple reviews, and let me know what you think.


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The review ratings are based on a 5 star  (1/2 stars sometimes) system with a 3 being an average read for me. I hope you find that helpful. Knowing, of course, that all opinions are just that - my opinion!  Let me know if you agree or disagree - I'd love to hear from you.

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