Book Review: The Day I Died

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Day I Died by Lori Rader-Day

From the publisher:
From the award-winning author of Little Pretty Things comes this gripping, unforgettable tale of a mother's desperate search for a lost boy.

Anna Winger can know people better than they know themselves with only a glance—at their handwriting. Hired out by companies wanting to land trustworthy employees and by the lovelorn hoping to find happiness, Anna likes to keep the real-life mess of other people at arm’s length and on paper. But when she is called to use her expertise on a note left behind at a murder scene in the small town she and her son have recently moved to, the crime gets under Anna’s skin and rips open her narrow life for all to see. To save her son—and herself—once and for all, Anna will face her every fear, her every mistake, and the past she thought she'd rewritten.

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I love this concept. I'm always on board for a smart psychological thriller, and this one had a great story to make it stand out. The main character Anna, as a handwriting expert and analyst is unique from more "typical" character profiles in books like these. The concept of using a handwriting analyst with a mysterious past as a storyline is great. The writing and plot are intelligent and engaging, and draw the reader in very easily. This is a solid pageturner, even in the slow moments. 

I didn't love the constant slow gifting of information in the beginning of the book. I'm okay with a protagonist having secrets in their past, but it starts to frsutrate me when they feed the reader tiny tidbits of information one at a time throughout 100 or 200 pages before you can get a clear idea of this mysterious story. This book definitely does this. I got a bit fed up with Anna so slowly and painstakingly revealing her dark history. It affects so many of her thoughts and actions and is a major part of the story, so I know it's an interet-building technique. But it can only go on so long before I get tired of it and really want full answers. 

That being said, the character development here is great, as is the full cast of supporting characters. They're complicated, like real people. The main mystery of the book is also an interesting one, and does the concept of a suspense novel justice. This story sucked me in and kept me interested. So while I didn't enjoy the withholding of information about Anna, that's a consistent personal pet peeve of mine, and didn't do much to detract from my enjoyment of this book. 
This thriller is definitely worth your time. 

I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review through TLC Book Tours. Check out the rest of the tour here
Book links: GoodreadsAuthor website
Buy it on Amazon: The Day I Died: A Novel

Book Review: The Illusionist's Apprentice

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Illusionist's Apprentice by Kristy Cambron

From the publisher:
Harry Houdini’s one-time apprentice holds fantastic secrets about the greatest illusionist in the world. But someone wants to claim them . . . or silence her before she can reveal them on her own.

Boston, 1926. Jenny “Wren” Lockhart is a bold eccentric—even for a female vaudevillian. As notorious for her inherited wealth and gentleman’s dress as she is for her unsavory upbringing in the back halls of a vaudeville theater, Wren lives in a world that challenges all manner of conventions.

In the months following Houdini’s death, Wren is drawn into a web of mystery surrounding a spiritualist by the name of Horace Stapleton, a man defamed by Houdini’s ardent debunking of fraudulent mystics in the years leading up to his death. But in a public illusion that goes terribly wrong, one man is dead and another stands charged with his murder. Though he’s known as one of her teacher’s greatest critics, Wren must decide to become the one thing she never wanted to be: Stapleton’s defender.

Forced to team up with the newly formed FBI, Wren races against time and an unknown enemy, all to prove the innocence of a hated man. In a world of illusion, of the vaudeville halls that showcase the flamboyant and the strange, Wren’s carefully constructed world threatens to collapse around her. 

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First off, the setting of this book is amazing. I'll give any book a try if it takes place in the 20s and this one drew me in even more with the promise of illusions and magic and murder and vaudeville. The book is enchanting. The story begins with no hesitation, and you're immediately thrust into the mystery and the lives of the characters. This is not a book you'll struggle to get into. 

Cambron's descriptions are really beautiful. She makes the simplest things sound extremely interesting. The characters and settings are all fully explored and developed, making for a more reader oriented book. 

The plot is so intriguing and unlike anything else I've read. Though there are books out there about the 20s or illusionists or vaudeville, none seem to combine all of these elements quite so impressively and with quite as much fun. This is a very entertaining book. 

Book links: Goodreads, Author Website
Buy it on Amazon here: 
The Illusionist's Apprentice
I received an advanced copy of this book from TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review. Check out the rest of the tour here!

Book Review: The Women in the Castle

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

From the publisher:
Three women, haunted by the past and the secrets they hold

Set at the end of World War II, in a crumbling Bavarian castle that once played host to all of German high society, a powerful and propulsive story of three widows whose lives and fates become intertwined—an affecting, shocking, and ultimately redemptive novel from the author of the New York Times Notable Book The Hazards of Good Breeding.
Amid the ashes of Nazi Germany’s defeat, Marianne von Lingenfels returns to the once-grand castle of her husband’s ancestors, an imposing stone fortress now fallen into ruin following years of war. The widow of a resister murdered in the failed July 20, 1944, plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Marianne plans to uphold the promise she made to her husband’s brave conspirators: to find and protect their wives, her fellow resistance widows.
First Marianne rescues six-year-old Martin, the son of her dearest childhood friend, from a Nazi reeducation home. Together, they make their way across the smoldering wreckage of their homeland to Berlin, where Martin’s mother, the beautiful and naive Benita, has fallen into the hands of occupying Red Army soldiers. Then she locates Ania, another resister’s wife, and her two boys, now refugees languishing in one of the many camps that house the millions displaced by the war.

As Marianne assembles this makeshift family from the ruins of her husband’s resistance movement, she is certain their shared pain and circumstances will hold them together. But she quickly discovers that the black-and-white, highly principled world of her privileged past has become infinitely more complicated, filled with secrets and dark passions that threaten to tear them apart. Eventually, all three women must come to terms with the choices that have defined their lives before, during, and after the war—each with their own unique share of challenges.

Written with the devastating emotional power of The Nightingale, Sarah’s Key, and The Light Between Oceans, Jessica Shattuck’s evocative and utterly enthralling novel offers a fresh perspective on one of the most tumultuous periods in history. Combining piercing social insight and vivid historical atmosphere, The Women in the Castle is a dramatic yet nuanced portrait of war and its repercussions that explores what it means to survive, love, and, ultimately, to forgive in the wake of unimaginable hardship.

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This was a stunningly written book. Not only is the cover gorgeous, but the story inside is as well. I was immediately drawn in to this historical world. I don't know how much of this story was based on real events, real situations, or real people, but I do know that Shattuck makes them feel incredibly real. It's difficult to realistically portray the reactions and emotions of someone who has been through a horrible experience, but it is done incredibly well here. 

These characters have lost so many people, have been abused or have starved, and have lived in fear for years. They're all incredibly broken in different ways, but they continue to love deeply and to fight for their lives to return. Shattuck's choice to zoom in on the lives of these three women is a great one. It takes a story with huge scope and gives it some clarity and incredible depth. Her descriptions are beautiful and moving, and this book is absolutely heart wrenching. 

It's very rare that I come across a book written about WWII in the perspective of our "enemies" in that war. In this case the German perspective is fascinating; to see how these women, all German but all resistors of Hitler's leadership and atrocities, think about Americans, fellow Germans, Russians, and so on. It says so much about the mindset of the other side of a story that we've heard so many times. American history books tell the story from our side and our side only. Reading books like this is so important because it presents a much needed shift in our thoughts about the most documented war of all time. It's so crucial to expand horizons to other perspectives as an American student who gets very little of the other side of the story. And Shattuck writes so well that it's really impossible not to love this book. 
It's amazing, and you should read it. 

I received an advanced copy of this book from TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review. Check out the rest of the tour here!

How I Get Free Books

Monday, April 10, 2017

In the past few months and even the last year, I've gotten a ton of books for free. This post will talk about how, why, and what some of those books are.

How I Get Free Books:

  1. Because I have an established book blog, I was able to apply to be added to a list called The Book Blogger List. It's essentially a huge database for bloggers. Authors are able to view the list, see who prefers or specializes in their genre, and then click to view your blog. Since I was added to this list, I've received dozens (probably around 50 or more) of emails from authors and agents asking me to review their books. I don't accept most of them because I want to be able to follow through on these reviews and I don't have enough time to read everything. (though I wish I did!) While these aren't bestsellers or huge releases, I love getting these copies because the authors are extremely generous and helpful, and they have all been great books (plus you get signed pre-release copies)! It's awesome to have the chance to support self-published or small press authors with great writing and fun books. 
  2. I am a reviewer for TLC Book Tours. I applied almost a year ago to be a reviewer with TLC and heard back several months later when they sent a couple of book options for me to give book touring a try and see how it went. When they liked my reviews I was added to their list of consistent bloggers. I now choose from lists of books every month or two and do about 1-4 tours every month. These are larger name authors and publishers, and often bestsellers. You've probably seen plenty of these on my blog. Being a reviewer for a tour company is a ton of fun, and gives me the chance to pick great new books that I want to read and review. 
  3. Finally, I receive a daily email from a website called ShelfAwareness. They have options for the emails you can receive from them. If you're a book professional (meaning book blogger, publisher, or bookstore employee) you can get their "Pro" emails. These are filled with book news, but the best part is that they advertise ARCs that you can request or win in giveaways. I enter all of these, and have won quite a few already. This is the easiest way to get free books without having a reviewing expectation or deadline. 

Some of the Books I've Received Via These Methods:

Buy the Tearling series on Amazon here:
The Queen of the Tearling (3 Book Series)

Very Specific Playlist #1

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Welcome to a new post series where I will create perfect 10-song playlists for very specific common experiences you may also have. [Disclaimer: I have super varied music tastes so these may be very eclectic playlists]

Playlist 1: Walking to Work 
You're not excited, but you need to hype yourself up to make it through. These songs will make you keep walking even if you don't want to.

1. Happy With Me by HOLYCHILD

2. Run Boy Run by Woodkid

3. Gold Rays by Vinyl Pinups

4. Treasure by LEON

5. Raise Hell (feat. ChurchPeople) by Sir the Baptist

6. Naked by Elin Bergman

7. Put the Gun Down by ZZ Ward

8. Monster 2.0 by Jacob Banks

9. ROW by Smith & Thell

10. Evil Twin by Krrum

11. Runnin' by Pharrell Williams (from Hidden Figures)

12. Knock on My Door by Faouzia

Book Review: The Swap

The Swap by Nancy Boyarsky

When Nicole Graves arranges a summer-long swap of her Los Angeles condo for a London couple’s house, she thinks it’s the perfect arrangement. She’s always dreamed of seeing the real London; she’s also hopeful the time away with her husband Brad will be good for their troubled marriage.

But things don’t turn out the way Nicole expects: The Londoners fail to arrive in L.A. and appear to be missing. Then people begin following Nicole and making threats, demanding information she doesn’t have. Soon, Nicole realizes she’s in serious trouble––but she can’t get Brad or the police to believe her.

When the confrontations turn deadly, Nicole must either solve the case or become the next victim.

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I'm so glad I decided to pick this one up. It was sent to me by the author before it's release, but I wasn't able to get to it until after the release. Definitely worth it though, because this book was so fun and entertaining. It's a classic style of mystery, but with plenty of interesting characters and twists. I love that it takes place in London and Scotland (because I'll be there soon), and I loved some of the elements I didn't see coming.

Nicole was a character I'd definitely continue reading about in further books. I was impressed by her willingness to leave her bad marriage, and by her ability to kick ass and be fearless. Sometimes the fearlessness did come off as stupidity, because there's no way some of the things she does would be safe or smart, but I think that's a necessary element because a character who refused to do anything would be boring and wouldn't do anything for the story. 

I really enjoyed the pacing of this book, which helped me cruise right through it. I also appreciate that the ending doesn't go the super cliche way it could have gone. The ending also leaves it open for a sequel, which I think it set to be released soon. 

Some of the dialogue in this book was a bit forced sounding, and there were a few things I could see coming, but plenty of the mystery was a total surprise to me. I also thought a few elements didn't quite add up. Some were explained or sort of explained later, but I still didn't get why some things would have happened. 

Overall, this was a great mystery book. It's a quick read and a fun ride. Definitely recommended for people who like international mysteries.

Goodreads link
Get it on Amazon: The Swap (Nicole Graves Mysteries)