Always With a Book

Friday, December 15, 2017

Review: My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

Title: My Absolute Darling
Author: Gabriel Tallent
Published: August 2017, Riverhead Books
Format: ARC Paperback, 417 pages
Source: Publisher

Turtle Alveston is a survivor. At fourteen, she roams the woods along the northern California coast. The creeks, tide pools, and rocky islands are her haunts and her hiding grounds, and she is known to wander for miles. But while her physical world is expansive, her personal one is small and treacherous: Turtle has grown up isolated since the death of her mother, in the thrall of her tortured and charismatic father, Martin. Her social existence is confined to the middle school (where she fends off the interest of anyone, student or teacher, who might penetrate her shell) and to her life with her father.

Then Turtle meets Jacob, a high-school boy who tells jokes, lives in a big clean house, and looks at Turtle as if she is the sunrise. And for the first time, the larger world begins to come into focus: her life with Martin is neither safe nor sustainable. Motivated by her first experience with real friendship and a teenage crush, Turtle starts to imagine escape, using the very survival skills her father devoted himself to teaching her. What follows is a harrowing story of bravery and redemption. With Turtle's escalating acts of physical and emotional courage, the reader watches, heart in throat, as this teenage girl struggles to become her own hero—and in the process, becomes ours as well.

Shot through with striking language in a fierce natural setting, My Absolute Darling is an urgently told, profoundly moving read that marks the debut of an extraordinary new writer.

My thoughts: I picked this book up at BookExpo last Spring after hearing about it at the Editor's Buzz Panel. It was being touted as one of the upcoming BIG books and I was excited to read it - a debut novel from a talented author...exactly the type of book that I tend to enjoy. The subject matter isn't necessarily what I gravitate towards all the time, but I like to branch out every one in a while and this one sounded good. 

Well...let me just say upfront...this is an incredibly intense and disturbing book. Not that it's a bad book, but for some people it will be a very hard read. I fully admit, there were times I thought about abandoning it, but I was so curious as to how it would all play out that I had to continue. It's graphic, it's disturbing and at times, it's depressing, but Turtle, the main character, will win your heart and she is what kept me going.

Turtle is a survivor. She's fourteen and lives with her father who uses rather unconventional methods to raise her. This is where it gets sticky and will turn people off. He teaches her to shoot and fend for herself. He also feels that since she is the only female in the house, and he has certain needs, she can and should fulfill them. As she is only fourteen, I don't think she fully realizes this is wrong until later on. The hard part with all this is that Gabriel Tallent doesn't shy away from these scenes...he puts us right there in the room as all this is going on. It's raw and it's intense. 

As I said, Turtle is a survivor. But she is also endearing. She will win your heart and this is why I found as hard as it was to read certain scenes, I just couldn't put the book down. Having Turtle narrate the book allows us to see her struggle with understanding her father's abusive and demeaning behavior. This is what makes this book so gripping and hard to walk away from.

I realize this book is certainly not for everyone, but I can see where it would make an excellent book club pick - it is chock full of discussion points. It really is an incredible reading experience with some rather beautiful writing. I definitely will be looking forward to seeing what comes next from this talented author.


Thursday, December 14, 2017

Review: The Silent Children by Carol Wyer

Title: The Silent Children
Author: Carol Wyer
Series: DI Robyn Carten, #4
Published: December 2017, Bookouture
Format: ARC E-book, 360 pages
Source: Netgalley via Publisher

The boy studied the bruise turning yellow at the base of his neck. With quick fingers his mother tightened his tie, and pulled his collar high above it. Her eyes alone said, We will not speak of this...

Years later, a man is found shot dead in a local park. On his phone is a draft text: I can’t keep this secret any longer. The recipient is unnamed.

Detective Robyn Carter knows this secret is the key to the case, but his friends and family don’t offer any clues, and all her team have to go on is a size-ten footprint.

Then a woman is found in a pool of blood at the bottom of her staircase, and a seemingly insignificant detail in her stepdaughter’s statement makes Robyn wonder: are the two bodies are connected, and has the killer only just begun?

When another body confirms Robyn’s worst fears, she realises she’s in a race against time to stop the killer before they strike again. But just as she thinks she’s closing in, one of her own team goes missing.

Buried in the past is a terrible injustice. Can Robyn uncover the truth before another life is lost?

An absolutely heart-stopping and compelling serial killer thriller that will keep you up all night. Perfect for fans of Karin Slaughter, Rachel Abbot and Robert Dugoni. 

My thoughts: Wow...this series just keeps getting better and better with each new installment! This is the fourth book in Carol Wyer's DI Robyn Carter series and it was so good. Between the cases, which are so twisted and dark that you can't help but get caught up in, and the top-notch character development - this is one crime-thriller series you don't want to miss!!!

What I love most about this series is just how complex and clever the stories are. Interspersed throughout the book we get snippets from the past of a little boy telling about the horrors he and his sister lived through - full of abuse and more. It's not until the very end that we find out just who this brother-sister pair is...and let me tell you - that revelation is quite the eye-opener! The present storyline has DI Robyn Carter and her team trying to solve murders that just keep piling up...and trying to somehow connect them. But to make matters more complicated, Robyn's team is forced to share their office space with DI Tom Shearer's team...for the time being.

The twists and turns this case takes are truly mind-boggling. It's a dark and gritty case and those short snippets from the past really up the tension and know that person is somehow connected to the present, but figuring out who and then why is the big question! This book is definitely intense and moves at lightning speed. It keeps you engaged and wanting to know how it's all going to play out.

Now, if you've read the previous book, you know that it ended with a rather big curveball of an ending and that thread was picked up and carried on throughout this installment. A few more incidents happened so that Robyn ends up getting her cousin Ross involved to do some private investigating, and yet while some is explained - one of which caught me quite by surprise! - we are once again left with another ending that has me desperate for the next book!  I'm being a bit vague here so as to not give anything away, but also because if you haven't read this series yet - I highly recommend you start at book 1. There is so much character development that really carries through from book to book.

So, bottom line...this series is one of my favorites and with each book, the series gains strength. I hope the wait to book 5 isn't too long!

Books in this series: 
  1. Little Girl Lost
  2. Secrets of the Dead 
  3. The Missing Girls 
  4. The Silent Children

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Short & Sweet Review: No Easy Target by Iris Johansen (audio)

Title: No Easy Target
Author: Iris Johansen
Narrator: Elisabeth Rodgers
Published: April 2017, Recorded Books
Length: 13 hours 8 minutes
Source: Personal copy via Audible

New York Times bestselling author Iris Johansen returns with another thriller, No Easy Target

Margaret Douglas has worked hard to put her painful past behind her. Raised off the grid in an abusive home, her only escape was the nearby forest where she sought refuge whenever she could. There, in the peaceful woods, she discovered a strange gift: the ability to understand animals and to communicate with them. And so those creatures became her only friends, her only joy during a desolate childhood. Now Margaret wants nothing more than to live a quiet life, close to the animals and under the radar. But her abilities have not gone unnoticed and there are those who would use them for their own purposes. Determined not to be a pawn in anyone’s game, every time someone gets too close, Margaret uproots her life and outruns them.

When John Lassiter breaks into Margaret’s apartment, she vanishes again, but Lassiter has good reason to be persistent. As a CIA operative, he owes his life to his men , one of whom is being held captive by an unrelenting enemy—an enemy who has set his sights on Margaret. Which means that Lassiter must control her to use her as bait.

With danger in hot pursuit, Margaret finds herself matching wits with a man who refuses to stop or be stopped. Turning from the hunted to the hunter, Margaret must use everything she has ever learned to not only survive, but to defeat a great evil. And to prove once and for all that she’s no easy target.

***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: I've been a fan of Iris Johansen's books for quite some time now, falling in love with her Eve Duncan series. Since then, she has started creating new series for some of the secondary charaters that she has developed for that original series and I love seeing these lesser characters being developed more fully. This book in particular is the result of that...and while it is not as of yet part of a never knows if it will be. 

Margaret Douglas is quite a unique character in that she can communicate with animals - like an animal whisperer extraordinaire. A bit hokey, I know, but if you've read any of the other books where she part of the story, it's actually kind of neat. I was intrigued to learn more about her and I wasn't disappointed. She's being hunted because of her talents - but not for good use, of course. 

This book was jam-packed with action and danger and really kept me on my toes from start to finish. The characters are all well-drawn, both the good guys and the bad guys. I would so love to see this book be the start of a series for Margaret, but if not, I do hope we see in again in some of the future Eve Duncan books. She really is a great character!

Audio thoughts: I love listening to Elisabeth Rodgers narrate books, especially the Iris Johansen books...she just gets them. She's pretty consistent with the voices and does well with the action/tension in the different scenes. I've listened to quite a lot of Iris Johansen books so far and Elisabeth Rodgers has narrated just about every one of them and I have enjoyed every single one of them.

My only complaint with this audio book is more of a production complaint - the recording itself was recorded at too low a volume so even when I had the volume on my phone (what I typically listen to my audio books on) at it's highest level,  I still had trouble hearing the book. I had no issues when listening in the car, which is what I ended doing - saving the audio and only listening when I was in the car - but just using my phone was not an option this time around and I've never had that problem before.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Book Spotlight & Excerpt: The Wake Up by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Title: The Wake Up
Author: Catherine Ryan Hyde
Published: December 2017, Lake Union Publishing
Format: Paperback, 332 pages

From New York Times bestselling author Catherine Ryan Hyde comes a hauntingly emotional novel of how one man’s life changes forever when he rediscovers his ability to feel the pain of others.

Something has been asleep in forty-year-old cattle rancher Aiden Delacorte for a long time. It all comes back in a rush during a hunting trip, when he’s suddenly attuned to the animals around him, feeling their pain and fear as if it were his own. But the newfound sensitivity of Aiden’s “wake up” has its price. He can no longer sleepwalk th
rough life, holding everyone at arm’s length. As he struggles to cope with a trait he’s buried since childhood, Aiden falls in love with Gwen, a single mother whose young son bears a burden of his own.

Sullen and broken from his experiences with an abusive father, Milo has turned to acting out in violent and rebellious ways. Aiden can feel the boy’s pain, as well as that of his victims. Now he and Milo must sift through their pasts to find empathy with the innocent as well as the guilty, to come to terms with their deepest fears, and to finally discover the compassionate heart of a family.


Advanced Praise: 
An Amazon Best Book of the Month: Literature & Fiction Category

A POPSUGAR Winter Must-Read Selection

“Memorable and well-plotted…The heartfelt latest from Hyde (Allie and Bea)…shows how trust can eventually help to heal trauma.” —Publishers Weekly

“Like Hyde’s bestselling Pay It Forward, this novel casts light into the dark recesses of human emotions, offering the welcome balm of romance.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Prolific novelist Hyde, author of Pay it Forward (1999) [and] Allie and Bea (2017), delivers another touching story of resilience and hope that feels cinematic in scope.” —Booklist


Brief Extract

Chapter 1 :
Clouds and Shadows 

The phone jangled Aiden out of sleep. His heart raced, and he knocked over a plastic drinking glass and the alarm clock while reaching to grab the receiver. 

His panic didn't last. The voice on the other end of the line soothed him on contact. It felt like a drink of cold water, its relief spreading down through his gut on a hot and dusty day.

It was one word. But it repaired everything.


It was feminine and smooth, that word. It felt like everything in the world Aiden had found to love. Or maybe that's genuinely what it was. He could feel his heart expand, or at least the sensation of it filling. Swelling. It ached. It was painful in a very real way, but Aiden wouldn't have traded it for anything.

"Oh," he mumbled, still mostly asleep. "Gwen. Hey."

"I'm sorry. I know it's late. I know I woke you up. I knew I would, but..."

Aiden sat up on the edge of the bed. He was wearing only boxer shorts, and the air in the room felt blissfully cool against his bare chest and back.

"But what? Are you okay?"

In the silence that followed, he watched shadows cast by the branches of scrub oak trees sway on his bedroom wall. He looked through his window to see the dark shapes of his sleeping brood mares in the nearest pasture.

"I guess so," she said. "I guess I just needed some reassurance."

"About what?"


"What about it?"

"You're not worried about it?"

"No. Not at all. Why would I be? I'm looking forward to it."

" know." There was a lot that could be read into her voice. Aiden knew that. He listened as hard as he could to every word she didn't say. "You meeting the kids and all." 

"You worried they won't like me?"

"More that you won't like them. It's hard. You know. When you have kids and you meet somebody new."

"I'm going to love them. I like kids. I told you."

"I know," she said. But she didn't sound as thought that settled much. "I should have had you meet them sooner. I was a little surprised you didn't press the issue."

For a moment nobody said anything more.

"What can I say to reassure you?" he asked.

"Nothing, I guess. Tomorrow just has to get here. I'm sorry I woke you up for no real reason."

"No, it's okay."

"Go back to sleep."

"I will."

He didn't, though.  He thought he would but he didn't. Something about her tone. About the subtext of her words. She was worried. Not just mildly insecure. Genuinely worried. 

Maybe she was worried about nothing. But Aiden couldn't shake the thought that maybe she knew something he didn't.



The Wake Up  by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Lake Union Publishing
December 5, 2017 
Trade Paperback Original ISBN: 9781542047951
Kindle E-book ASIN: B0711B67D3



Monday, December 11, 2017

Review: Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine (audio)

Title: Stillhouse Lake
Author: Rachel Caine
Series: Stillhouse Lake, #1
Narrator: Emily Sutton-Smith
Published: July 2017, Brilliance Audio / Thomas & Mercer
Length: 10 hours 4 minutes / 300 pages
Source: Audio - Personal copy via Audible / Print - Paperback via Publisher

Gina Royal is the definition of average—a shy Midwestern housewife with a happy marriage and two adorable children. But when a car accident reveals her husband’s secret life as a serial killer, she must remake herself as Gwen Proctor—the ultimate warrior mom.

With her ex now in prison, Gwen has finally found refuge in a new home on remote Stillhouse Lake. Though still the target of stalkers and Internet trolls who think she had something to do with her husband’s crimes, Gwen dares to think her kids can finally grow up in peace.

But just when she’s starting to feel at ease in her new identity, a body turns up in the lake—and threatening letters start arriving from an all-too-familiar address. Gwen Proctor must keep friends close and enemies at bay to avoid being exposed—or watch her kids fall victim to a killer who takes pleasure in tormenting her. One thing is certain: she’s learned how to fight evil. And she’ll never stop.

My thoughts: I'm not really sure why I waited so long to pick this one up, except that it actually worked in my favor considering the I don't have to wait to start the next book  - it comes out tomorrow! And as I mentioned below, having decided to go the audio route for this book, I may follow suit and continue in that fashion...but either way - this series is off to a rocking start!

If you know anything about me at all, you know I love a good mystery/thriller and this one kept me on my toes from start to finish. It has probably one of the most dramatic beginnings I've read in quite a while - so I knew right away I was in for quite a treat - and it really held up all the way through to the ending which very nicely sets up for the next book in this series. And that leads me to a side you have to continue on? No...just about everything in this book is tied up and resolved with one loose thread hanging on that will carry over to the next book. So the choice to read book 2 is totally up to you...but I think once read this book, you will definitely want to read more!

The writing really pulls you in...there were so many times that I felt as if I was in Gina/Gwen's head. I felt her paranoia as everything started happening all over again. I felt her anxiety as the bodies start surfacing in the lake and fingers starting pointing at her. And having to constantly be on alert and be at the ready to relocate if she ever got word that her location had been comprised...I could feel that stress that she was feeling, that she constantly felt. As the book progresses you are always wondering who is trustworthy and who is not. 

There are quite a few twists and turns throughout this book that really keep you on your toes and just when you think you have it all figured out - think again! This is a highly addictive read and really gets under your skin. I am so looking forward to seeing how this series progresses and cannot wait to start the next book. 

Audio thoughts: One of the reasons I decided to listen to this book despite having a print copy was because I saw that Emily Sutton-Smith was narrating it...I love her narrations and she definitely didn't disappoint with this one! She did such a good job with the voices and adding just the right amount of tension and suspense to her voice as needed. She really helped bring the characters to life and I'm glad to see that she is one of the narrators of the next book!!!

Books in this series:
  1. Stillhouse Lake
  2. Killman Creek - due out December 12, 2017
  3. Wolfhunter River - due out October 2018

Review: The Birthday Girl by Sue Fortin (audio)

Title: The Birthday Girl
Author: Sue Fortin
Narrator: Penelope Rawlins
Published: November 2017, HarperCollins / HarperImpulse
Length: 10 hours 23 minutes /  364 pages
Source: Audio - Personal copy via Audible / Print - ARC E-copy via Netgalley

Dear Carys, Zoe and Andrea
Come and join me for my fortieth birthday adventure weekend, full of mysteries and surprises the like of which you can’t imagine.

When Joanne’s friends reluctantly accept an invitation to her birthday party, it quickly becomes clear that there is more to this weekend than they are expecting.
One of them is hiding a secret.
And Joanne is planning to reveal it…

A weekend away in a cottage in the woods sounds like fun – until no one can hear your cries for help.

Four friends.
A party to die for.
Who will survive?

My thoughts: I have been a fan of Sue Fortin for a while now...knowing that her books are twisty and dark and this latest one is no exception. In fact, I had to re-listen to the last few minutes of the book 2 times to make sure I heard the ending was so out of the box crazy - but in a twisted, good way. I loved it! 

What starts off as a surprise getaway weekend for the girls - and really had me thinking of Ruth Ware's In a Dark, Dark, Wood - was sort of creepy from the get go - and then only got more so. I think this is where Sue Fortin really shines. She has such a creative mind...where she gets these ideas from, I'd love to know.

The story is mainly told from Carys's point of view and she is quite a complicated character. She has issues! But there are also these little sections interspersed that are voiced by an unknown character and these take on quite an eery tone as the book proceeds and it's not until the very end that you realize just who this person really is. I loved the final reveal and this is the part that I had to re-listen to to make sure I had out all the pieces together correctly. I thought I had figured this unknown person out early on but was totally wrong...and now that I do know the true identity am really considering rereading this book under that lens to see if I can pick up any clues along the way!

This book is such a riveting, gripping psychological thriller. It's one of those books that gets under your skin the further along in the book you get. From the games that Joanne has the girls playing to the secrets that each of the carry to the secluded setting of the cottage itself, you know nothing good is going to come from this birthday getaway weekend. Sue Fortin definitely knows how to build tension and suspense and this book is filled with both, so much so that you find yourself on the edge of your seat as you race to the conclusion. 

If you like the unexpected and intense reads...this book is for you! Sue've done it again and I cannot wait to see what comes next. You are definitely an author that cannot be missed for this reader!

Audio thoughts: This is the first time I've listened to Penelope Rawlins and I thought she did a good job with this audio book. I thought she did a good job with the different voices and her pacing and tone were spot on. I enjoyed listening to this audio book. 


Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Review: Close to Me by Amanda Reynolds

Title: Close to Me
Author: Amanda Reynolds
Published: December 2017, Quercus
Format: ARC Paperback, 384 pages
Source: Publisher

Jo Harding can't remember the last year of her life. And her husband wants to keep it that way.

When Jo falls down the stairs at home, she wakes up in the hospital with partial amnesia. In fact, she finds that she's lost an entire year of memories. She can't remember what she did, or anything that happened the night she fell. A lot can happen in a year, and she begins to discover that she may have been leading a double life before the accident.

As she questions the details of the past year and why her family wants her to stay in the dark, she begins to realize she might not be as good a wife and mother as she might have hoped . . . 

My thoughts: This debut novel from Amanda Reynolds is addictive, twisty, and kept me guessing right up til the very end. As many of these types of books as I read, it seems I cannot get enough of them!

I loved the way this story was structured - told from Jo's point of view from before and after the fall as she tries to regain her memories from the last year. I felt this was a brilliant way to tell the story and added to the tension and suspense, especially as the timelines start to intersect. It seems, though, that as desperate as Jo is to regain these memories, her family, most especially her husband Rob, would prefer she did not. What is it that he does not want her to know? Is it that she is not the perfect wife and mother she thought she was?

As much as I loved the mystery of this book - was Jo pushed down the stairs or was it an accident - I loved the family dynamics that make up this book. This is especially true as she is trying to recover her memories - their reactions and hers are really what make this book stand out as you really aren't sure who you can trust and who was telling the truth. I love stories like this and this one really kept me glued to the pages. There is the sense of unease at times, there is a sense that things just aren't right...but is it that Jo did something wrong in the past or someone else?

This is such a great debut novel - it's addictive and fast-paced and the whole time you are wondering just what is going on. It's jam-packed with drama and full of twists and turns and filled with just the right amount of creepiness to make you weary of everyone. I definitely didn't see all the pieces fitting into place the way they did - but I loved the way it all came together and I definitely will be keeping an eye out for what comes next from Amanda Reynolds!

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