Always With a Book

Friday, December 13, 2019

Review: A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill

Title: A Cosmology of Monsters
Author: Shaun Hamill
Published: September 2019, Pantheon Books
Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
Source: Publisher

Noah Turner sees monsters.

His father saw them--and built a shrine to them with The Wandering Dark, an immersive horror experience that the whole family operates.

His practical mother has caught glimpses of terrors but refuses to believe--too focused on keeping the family from falling apart.

And his eldest sister, the dramatic and vulnerable Sydney, won't admit to seeing anything but the beckoning glow of the spotlight . . . until it swallows her up.

Noah Turner sees monsters. But, unlike his family, Noah chooses to let them in . . .

My thoughts: I don't typically read horror books, but when I was given the chance to not only read this, but meet the author and chat with him at Bouchercon this year, I jumped at the could I pass up this opportunity? And let me just tell you...I found this book to be a weird but wonderful book. This is why it's good to step out of your comfort zone every once in a never know when you will be surprised by a really good book!

I loved that this book is not pure horror but rather an interesting blend of horror, fantasy and literary fiction. There is such a compelling storytelling element to this book, with beautiful prose that is balanced with a dark, disturbing tale. It gets under your skin because as much as you become invested with the family, you are equally unsettled by what is going on. 

This is very much a character-driven story and I absolutely loved that. The Turner Family is faced with many horrors - mundane, everyday horrors - and this story is how they deal with that while a supernatural horror lurks on the edge. Both these elements are woven together seamlessly to give us such a fantastic story, one that keeps us glued to the pages. 

This is the type of book that you become totally involved in. When you are reading it, you don't want to put it down, and when you do have to put it down, you can't stop thinking about it. Even after you finish reading it, it's hard to stop thinking about these multi-dimensional characters and this story. I know for sure it's one I will read again, as I think it begs for that second or third read. And I will absolutely be keeping an eye out for what comes next from Shaun Hamill - he is one author I want to read again!


Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Review: The Great Pretender by Susannah Cahalan

Title: The Great Pretender
Author: Susannah Cahalan
Published: November 2019, Grand Central Publishing
Format: ARC Paperback, 400 pages
Source: Publisher

From "one of America's most courageous young journalists" (NPR) comes a propulsive narrative history investigating the 50-year-old mystery behind a dramatic experiment that changed the course of modern medicine.

For centuries, doctors have struggled to define mental illness-how do you diagnose it, how do you treat it, how do you even know what it is? In search of an answer, in the 1970s a Stanford psychologist named David Rosenhan and seven other people -- sane, normal, well-adjusted members of society -- went undercover into asylums around America to test the legitimacy of psychiatry's labels. Forced to remain inside until they'd "proven" themselves sane, all eight emerged with alarming diagnoses and even more troubling stories of their treatment. Rosenhan's watershed study broke open the field of psychiatry, closing down institutions and changing mental health diagnosis forever.

But, as Cahalan's explosive new research shows, very little in this saga is exactly as it seems. What really happened behind those closed asylum doors, and what does it mean for our understanding of mental illness today?

My thoughts: I don't read a lot of nonfiction, but when I saw that this was going to be available at BookExpo this past Spring, I knew I had to get a copy. This was a fascinating look at the mental health system and it brings up a lot of questions.

I actually haven't read Susannah's prior book, Brain on Fire, yet, though I definitely have it on my list. It was all that went on with that, almost being misdiagnosed with a mental disorder, that eventually led to her reading an article called, "On Being Sane in Insane Places" by David Rosenhan, published in 1973. That article sparked a desire to find out who the pseudo-patients were and how they got themselves admitted to different hospitals and then, how they eventually got themselves either cured or released.

I found this all to be incredibly informative, though I will say at times, it is very in-depth and a bit clinical. This book is pure nonfiction and it reads that way. But, I was utterly fascinated by it, and found myself thinking of the book when I had to put it down and I'm not usually a nonfiction reader, so that says something. 

I am hesitant to recommend this as it certainly isn't for everyone, but if you are curious about the mental health system or like Susannah Cahalan's writing, I certainly suggest picking this one up. I will definitely be reading her memoir, Brain on Fire very soon and will absolutely be keeping an eye out for what comes next from this author.


Short & Sweet Review: Cross My Heart by James Patterson

Title: Cross My Heart
Author: James Patterson
Series: Alex Cross, #21
Published: November 2013, Little, Brown & Company
Format: Hardcover, 419 pages
Source: Personal copy

James Patterson raises the stakes to their highest level, ever-when Alex Cross becomes the obsession of a genius of menace set on proving that he is the greatest mind in the history of crime.

Detective Alex Cross is a family man at heart--nothing matters more to him than his children, his grandmother, and his wife Bree. His love of his family is his anchor, and gives him the strength to confront evil in his work. One man knows this deeply, and uses Alex's strength as a weapon against him in the most unsettling and unexpected novel of James Patterson's career.

When the ones Cross loves are in danger, he will do anything to protect them. If he does anything to protect them, they will die.

CROSS MY HEART is the most powerful Alex Cross novel ever, propelled by the ever-ingenious mind of James Patterson, the world's #1 bestselling writer.

***Short & Sweet Reviews are short, quick reviews. These will mainly be used for series books where I have already done full reviews on some of the earlier books or for books that I feel will suffice with a quick review. These will not be used for review requests or blog tours.

My thoughts: As I make my way through the backlog of all my James Patterson books, I'm now on to the Alex Cross books. I've been finding that by concentrating on one series at a time, it makes getting caught up a bit easier.

It's been a while since I've read an Alex Cross book and what a book to pick up...this one was quite the ride! And I will say it's almost a good thing I am so behind in this series that I was able to read the next book right away as the ending to this book was so crazy that had I read this when it first came out and had to wait a full year until the next book...I would have been going crazy! How could James Patterson have done that to his die-hard fans? I usually don't mind cliffhanger endings in series, knowing another book is coming, but this one was a little too drastic for me.

If you read this series, no doubt you have come to love the Cross family and so this book will haunt you as it did me. I could feel Alex's pain as he not only had to deal with the horrors of what was happening to his family but try to keep his cool and not make things worse. This book definitely has a much more emotional feel to it than most of the other books in this series and I liked it. It's still got the non-stop action, but because it involves Alex's family, it hits close to home and the fact that it's not resolved at the end...leaves your mind spinning!

This was probably one of the best books in the series yet!

Books in this series:

  1. Along Came a Spider                    16.  Cross Country
  2. Kiss the Girls                                   17.  Cross Fire
  3. Jack and Jill                                    18. Kill Alex Cross
  4. Cat and Mouse                               19.  Merry Christmas, Alex Cross
  5. Pop Goes the Weasel                    20.  Alex Cross, Run
  6. Roses are Red                                 21.  Cross My Heart
  7. Violets are Blue                              22.  Hope to Die
  8. Four Blind Mice                             23.  Cross Justice
  9. The Big Bad Wolf                            24.  Cross the Line
  10. London Bridges                              24.4  Cross Kill     
  11. Mary Mary                                       24.5  Detective Cross
  12. Cross                                                 25.  The People vs. Alex Cross
  13. Double Cross                                   26.  Target: Alex Cross
  14. I, Alex Cross                                    27.  Criss Cross
  15. Alex Cross's Trial

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Review: Meg & Jo by Virginia Kantra

Title: Meg & Jo 
Author: Virginia Kantra
Published: December 2019, Berkley
Format: ARC E-copy, 400 pages
Source: Netgalley

The timeless classic Little Women inspired this heartwarming modern tale of four sisters from New York Times bestselling author Virginia Kantra.

The March sisters—reliable Meg, independent Jo, stylish Amy, and shy Beth—have grown up to pursue their separate dreams. When Jo followed her ambitions to New York City, she never thought her career in journalism would come crashing down, leaving her struggling to stay afloat in a gig economy as a prep cook and secret food blogger.

Meg appears to have the life she always planned—the handsome husband, the adorable toddlers, the house in a charming subdivision. But sometimes getting everything you’ve ever wanted isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

When their mother’s illness forces the sisters home to North Carolina for the holidays, they’ll rediscover what really matters.

One thing’s for sure—they’ll need the strength of family and the power of sisterhood to remake their lives and reimagine their dreams.

My thoughts: I have a secret...I've never read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Shocking I know! I've seen the movie with Susan Sarandon and Winona Ryder about a zillion times but somehow the book has eluded me. It is sitting on my shelf and one of these days I do play to read it. Of course when I saw Virginia Kantra's latest book, I knew I had to request it and I'm so glad I did...I absolutely enjoyed this one and now I'm more determined than ever to finally pick up Louisa May Alcott's book.

Meg & Jo is inspired by Little Women - it is not a retelling and I loved that. It has a modern edge to it, so if you are familiar with the story at all, you will see shades of it, but it definitely has its own spin on it. The story focuses on the strength of family and the bonds of sisters. Alternating between Meg and Jo's perspective, we see them navigating life, both the ups and downs, and how they handle a challenge they weren't expecting. I definitely felt both characters grew as they dealt with all that was thrown at them.

I loved the relationships between the sisters. I found it real and relatable. Having two sisters myself, I am always drawn to books that delve into family relationships and I feel this one really gets to the heart of it. There were times I felt I could relate to each of the two sisters for one reason or another. 

For some reason, when I think of Little Women, I think of the holidays and so I think this is the perfect book to read around the holidays as well. And, in case you are wondering, there is a sequel in the works for the younger sisters...we will be getting Amy and Beth's story at some point and I could not be happier!!! And of course, let's not forget about the new movie coming out on Christmas Day...will you be going to see that? I will, but probably not the day it comes out.


Sunday, December 08, 2019

Holiday Blog Tour & Review: A Wedding in December by Sarah Morgan

Title: A Wedding in December
Author: Sarah Morgan
Published: September 2019, HQN Books
Format: ARC E-galley, 384 pages
Source: Netgalley via Publisher

From the USA Today bestselling author of The Christmas Sisters comes this funny, charming and heartwarming all new original Christmas novel. This is Sarah Morgan at her festive best!

In the snowy perfection of Aspen, the White family gathers for youngest daughter Rosie’s whirlwind Christmas wedding. First to arrive are the bride’s parents, Maggie and Nick. Their daughter’s marriage is a milestone they are determined to celebrate wholeheartedly, but they are hiding a huge secret of their own: they are on the brink of divorce. After living apart for the last six months, the last thing they need is to be trapped together in an irresistibly romantic winter wonderland.

Rosie’s older sister, Katie, is also dreading the wedding. Worried that impulsive, sweet-hearted Rosie is making a mistake, Katie is determined to save her sister from herself! If only the irritatingly good-looking best man, Jordan, would stop interfering with her plans…

Bride-to-be Rosie loves her fiancĂ© but is having serious second thoughts. Except everyone has arrived—how can she tell them she’s not sure? As the big day gets closer, and emotions run even higher, this is one White family Christmas none of them will ever forget!

My thoughts: Once again, Sarah Morgan proves while she can write a fun, cozy holiday-themed book, she also gives us a story that has substance to it. Last year, I had read The Christmas Sisters, which I absolutely adored and this year, I found myself completely charmed by this story as well. Perhaps I'm just a sucker for a story about the relationships between sisters and families, but this one is definitely one to pick up.

I loved the way this story is told, alternating between the two sisters and the mother. I felt this allows us to really get to know the three women and she their internal struggles. They each seem to be at a bit of a crossroads, though none of the others know this about the other. They just think Rosie is jumping the gun in marrying so soon. But are Katie and Maggie projecting their own issues on Rosie?

Sarah Morgan knows how to create real, relatable characters and I felt that the relationship between the two sisters was spot on. I also could totally empathize with Maggie on how she was feeling now that she had an empty nest, even though I do not have spend your whole life devoting all your time to your kids and then what? I get that. And I could feel how you might be stuck in a job that is not fulfilling...we've all been there at some point in our lives. 

This book has so many endearing, charming moments but it also has those poignant moments, too. And it has quite a few aha moments - points where I found myself pausing to reflect on my own life. 

This is a wonderful, cozy book that would make a perfect holiday read. It's got an amazing setting in the Colorado mountains that just begs you to be all snug and warm under your blankets as you read it.

About the author: USA Today bestselling author Sarah Morgan writes hot, happy, contemporary romance and women’s fiction, and her trademark humor and sensuality have gained her fans across the globe. Described as “a magician with words” by RT Book Reviews, she has sold more than eleven million copies of her books. She was nominated three years in succession for the prestigious RITA® Award from the Romance Writers of America and won the award three times: once in 2012 for Doukakis’s Apprentice, in 2013 for A Night of No Return and in 2017 for Miracle on 5th Avenue. She also won the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award in 2012 and has made numerous appearances in their Top Pick slot. As a child, Sarah dreamed of being a writer, and although she took a few interesting detours along the way, she is now living that dream. Sarah lives near London, England, with her husband and children, and when she isn’t reading or writing, she loves being outdoors, preferably on vacation so she can forget the house needs tidying.

Author links: WebsiteFacebook  | Twitter  | Instagram  | Goodreads | Bookbub

Buy Links: 


Saturday, December 07, 2019

Short & Sweet Review: Vendetta by Iris Johansen

Title: Vendetta
Author: Iris Johansen
Series: Catherine Ling, #5
Published: October 2018, St. Martin's Press
Format: Hardcover, 404 pages
Source: Library

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author Iris Johansen comes a new explosive, compelling thriller.

With his dying breath, Carl Venable, head of the CIA task force on terrorism and Jude Brandon’s final link to terrorist ringleader Max Huber, gives Brandon a mandate: to keep his daughter, Rachel, safe at any cost. But Rachel Venable has a shocking, twisted past of her own, one that comes rushing back after her medical clinic in Guyana is attacked by Huber—the same man who murdered her father and kept her imprisoned for months. Brandon and Catherine Ling, Rachel’s longtime ally and fierce protector, are determined to keep Rachel out of danger, but she knows that it’s impossible to stay hidden when Max Huber wants you dead.

As Rachel and Brandon race against the clock to bring Huber down before he can orchestrate a nuclear explosion that will lay waste to the west coast, they also fight a growing attraction to each other – an attraction that could prove just as dangerous as Huber himself. In this gripping, fast-paced novel full of dark secrets and tangled lies, one thing is clear: everyone has a vendetta, no one will rest until they get their revenge.

***Short & Sweet Reviews are short, quick reviews. These will mainly be used for series books where I have already done full reviews on some of the earlier books or for books that I feel will suffice with a quick review. These will not be used for review requests or blog tours.

My thoughts: This was an interesting installment in the Catherine Ling series as I felt that Catherine really played a secondary role to overall story rather than being in the spotlight as she usually is. That's not to say I didn't enjoy the book, but I found it weird that Rachel and Brandon were front and center. Perhaps Iris is getting ready to start a new series with these characters? It wouldn't be the first time...after all, Catherine was first introduced in the Eve Duncan series.

This book is one of those books where the action starts on page one and really never lets up until the very end. I loved that not only is Catherine involved, though as I already mentioned, it's more on the periphery, so is Hu Chang and Cameron. I love Cameron and his mental abilities. I also love the chemistry between Catherine and Cameron. 

This was a very intense book and I will definitely be curious as to what happens next with these characters. There's a reason I read Iris Johansen's books in order of publication date, going in and out of the different series. She brings her different characters in and out of the series, so it's not uncommon for Eve to appear in these books or for Catherine to appear in the Eve books and everything moves to me, it makes sense to read them as they come out so as to not miss anything character-development wise. I'm such a stickler for not wanting to miss anything what way. Anyone else?

Books in this Series: 
  1. Chasing the Night (Eve Duncan, #11)
  2. What Doesn't Kill You
  3. Live to See Tomorrow 
  4. Your Last Breath 
  5. Vendetta

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Review: Would Like To Meet by Rachel Winters

Title: Would Like To Meet
Author: Rachel Winters
Published: December 2019, G.P. Putnam's Sons
Format: ARC E-copy, 336 pages
Source: Netgalley via Publisher

In this charming, feel-good debut novel, a cynical assistant at a screenwriting agency must reenact the meet-cute scenes from classic romantic comedy movies in order to help her #1 client get his scriptwriting mojo back--but can a real-life meet-cute be in store for someone who doesn't believe in happily ever after?

After seven years as an assistant, 29-year-old Evie Summers is ready to finally get the promotion she deserves. But now the TV and film agency she's been running behind the scenes is in trouble, and Evie will lose her job unless she can convince the agency's biggest and most arrogant client, Ezra Chester, to finish writing the script for a Hollywood romantic comedy.

The catch? Ezra is suffering from writer's block--and he'll only put pen to paper if singleton Evie can prove to him that you can fall in love like they do in the movies. With the future of the agency in jeopardy, Evie embarks on a mission to meet a man the way Sally met Harry or Hugh Grant met Julia Roberts.

But in the course of testing out the meet-cute scenes from classic romantic comedies IRL, not only will Evie encounter one humiliating situation after another, but she'll have to confront the romantic past that soured her on love. In a novel as hilarious as it is heartwarming, debut author Rachel Winters proves that sometimes real life is better than the movies--and that the best kind of meet-cutes happen when you least expect them.

My thoughts: I really don't know why I don't read more rom-coms...I love watching romantic comedy movies and every time I pick up a rom-com to read, I end up loving them! And that is exactly what happened with this one!

This meet-cute rom-com couldn't have been more delightful and even though I had my suspicions as to where it was headed almost from the beginning, I still enjoyed the journey. After all - I think after seeing tons of romantic comedy movies and reading enough romance books in the past, we can all probably figure out who is going to end up with who, right? But for me, it's not really about the ending as much as it is the journey...I love seeing how a couple falls in love and what happens along the way.

This book is filled with some delightful, charming, and quirky characters and some that will get on your nerves and that makes it all the more endearing. It's a book that is full of rom-com references, so if you are like me and have seen many of the popular movies, you are sure to chuckle when they are named - and if you haven't seen them, consider this the list you didn't know you needed!

What sets this one apart from other rom-com books is that this one is all about writing a rom-com movie. It's low on the steam factor - it really only involves a few kisses here and there - and is more about the meet cutes than anything else. But that's not to say that the main characters aren't well-developed, because they are. I felt like I really got to know them and understand what was driving them. 

I really enjoyed this story and will definitely be making a point of reading more rom-coms in the future...especially books like this that are not heavily reliant on the steam factor. Rachel Winters clearly shows that it isn't always needed!

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