Living the Good Death – a review

standalone-sundayTitle: Living the Good Death

Author: Scott Baron

Synopsis:

Wearing nothing but psych ward pajamas and fluffy slippers, the odd girl wasn’t really dressed to kill. Being the Grim Reaper, however, she felt confident she could make it work.

Review:

She thinks she’s Death. Is she right? That’s for readers to figure out as they read the entertaining new book by author Scott Baron. As the girl (she doesn’t have a name for half the book) goes through her new life, she experiences the normal human needs of hunger, fatigue, and going to the bathroom. She also makes enemies and falls in love.

The reader, meanwhile, is never quite sure whether the girl really is Death or whether she’s imagining it all. Sometimes the story makes you think she couldn’t know thar unless she was human. It was a fun idea, but I was really ready for some answers.

I liked the secondary characters in this one a lot. The doctor was a little too evil to be believed though, and the ease at which he’s able to get the girl admitted to a mental hospital without her consent was totally unrealistic. That bugged me enough that I almost quit reading. But the ending was good so I’m glad I stuck with it.

I received this book free in exchange for an honest review, but my opinions are my own.

 

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What Hides Beneath – a Review

standalone-sunday

Standalone Sunday was started by Bookslayer and you can find more here. It’s for titles that are not part of a series.
35833852I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. 

Title: What Hides Beneath

Author: Julie L. Canfield

Setting: Virginia modern day

Synopsis:

Hidden beneath a lump of clay and dirt is a very rare art work crafted by a Japanese warrior. Two museum curators, who specialize in Asian art say it is valuable but renowned appraiser, Annette Williams claims it is worthless and her words carry weight in the art world. So which is it?
Pete White, an insurance investigator disappears from the museum where he is researching the treasure. Did he uncover its true value or find it’s a fake?
Lieutenant Detective Philip Samyn wonders why he is assigned to investigate a low priority robbery from a museum. Is his boss trying to push him to retire? he never thought his last case would be a missing laptop. That’s not how he envisioned leaving the force.
His investigation proves we never see the complete picture. There is always something hidden beneath.

Review: This book was a lot of fun! I don’t check in with Net Galley regularly, but when I saw this one I thought it sounded like one I would enjoy. I liked the description and the setting in an art museum.

I was right. I did enjoy it. I’ve never read anything by this author, but she does a good job setting the scene and drawing the reader into the action. I liked the characters too.

I do have a couple of complaints though. For one thing, she skips around with POV so that I was not sure who the real main character was. I think it was Alison, the curator who discovers a muddy vase. But you could also say it was Annette the appraiser or even the police officer investigating the case. I guess it doesn’t have to have a MC; it could be several people. But I kept expecting one of them to take over more.

Besides that, I felt there were a few plot holes. It takes a while to really build to where I just couldn’t wait to see what happened next. But it was an easy read and I liked the ending. I recommend this one and I’d like to read more by this author. Now I want to go visit an art museum and look for hidden treasures!

The old opened book is christian Psalter
19st century Psalter. Isolated over white with clipping path

Thursday Throwback

This review appeared last year.

electric-sheep

Title: The Android’s Dream

Author: John Scalzi

Format: Audiobook

How did I hear about this book? I liked the author, so I went looking for more

Review:

Let me start by saying that I’ve never read the sci-fi classic Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which inspired the title and the content of this book, as well as the classic film Blade Runner. This one I picked not because of any fondness for the original, but because I love John Scalzi’s unpredictable plots and dense worldbuilding and because it had Wil Wheaton as the narrator. After a couple of Audible duds, this one seemed like a sure bet.

I was so right. It is really hilarious and twisted. It starts with a prolonged bit about flatulence that was very funny but also sophomoric. That was kind of why it was funny. But it’s not your typical fart joke book, so don’t let that discourage you. See, it’s all about aliens and politics and cloning and religion. I don’t really even know how to explain it all, but I really liked it. This book got me through the 2016 election results, and that’s surprisingly appropriate. Completely recommended. 4.6 rating

Newt’s Emerald: Sunday Standalone

Standalone Sunday was started by Bookslayer and you can find more here. It’s for title that are not part of a series.
24737347 (1)

Title: Newt’s Emerald: Magic, Maids, and Masquerades

Author: Garth Nix

Setting: Alternate England 1830s

On her eighteenth birthday, Lady Truthful, nicknamed “Newt,” will inherit her family’s treasure: the Newington Emerald. A dazzling heart-shaped gem, the Emerald also bestows its wearer with magical powers.

When the Emerald disappears one stormy night, Newt sets off to recover it. Her plan entails dressing up as a man, mustache included, as no well-bred young lady should be seen out and about on her own. While in disguise, Newt encounters the handsome but shrewd Major Harnett, who volunteers to help find the missing Emerald under the assumption that she is a man. Once she and her unsuspecting ally are caught up in a dangerous adventure that includes an evil sorceress, Newt realizes that something else is afoot: the beating of her heart.

In Newt’s Emerald, the bestselling author of Sabriel, Garth Nix, takes a waggish approach to the forever popular Regency romance and presents a charmed world where everyone has something to hide. ”

Lady Truthful’s family has guarded the Newington Emerald for generations, using its magic to control the waves. One stormy night, her father displays the emerald to her and her cousins when there’s a violent crash. When everything is cleared up, the emerald is gone. Her father is distraught over the loss of the heirloom. Truthful decides she must recover the jewel on her own.

Garth Nix has done it again. He is such a versatile writer. I just finished a review of Frogkisser! which I really enjoyed. This book was just as much fun. He takes all the conventions of a Regency romance and turns it into something fresh and new. Every romance trope is in here – a heroine in disguise, a masquerade ball – but uses them to gently poke fun at the conventions. The addition of the magic was a fun touch.

The romance in here was a lot of fun too. Major Charles Hartnett – or is it Robert? – is dashing and heroic, but it’s Truthful who manages to rescue him more than once. Their attraction is combined with some nicely managed sexual tension, but it’s all PG rated.

My biggest complaint is that I wanted to see the emerald’s powers used more. There’s some stuff at the end, but it could have been used better. In general though, Nix does a great job of taking a traditional Regency romance and weaving in magic. The fantasy aspect is well thought out and a lot of fun.

This one is recommended for fans of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer or those looking for a romance with something extra.

Standalone Sunday – Trapped

standalone-sunday

I  received this book free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Title: The Scent of Rain ☔

Author: Anne Montgomery

Rose lives in a very strict home. Not like you might expect, but much, much worse. Every aspect of their lives is ruled by what the Prophet wants. He expects complete obedience. Rose didn’t question this when she was young, but she’s beginning to have doubts. Why haven’t they heard from her brothers? Why did the school close? Why do they have to take vitamins ever day? And why is it so bad to think for yourself?

Adan is on the run. His family is gone and he has no one but himself. Now he’s been taken in by a Good Samaritan. He’s got a few questions of his own. Like who can he trust? What’s the story with the weird town? And who is this girl he sees running?

This is a compelling story about a little town in Arizona and the local Flds church. I am Lds, but the difference between my church and this one, which is based on extensive research by the author, is truly sobering. I am free to leave my church at any time without consequences. But when Rose tries to leave, her life is in great danger. It’s a good thing she has a few allies.

Local handyman Trak has grown up next door to the church and he’s too used to it to even notice. Cps case worker Brooke is new and she’s appalled. As soon as she arrives, she’s treated like a pariah. But when Rose and Adan meet, everything in the quiet town is turned upside down.

I wasn’t sure about this book, but like the author said, in some ways, I’m well qualified to review this. I live next door, so to speak, to the Flds Church. I know all the news stories about them. And I do appreciate the careful distinction the author made between the Lds Church to which I belong and the Flds Church. I liked the book and I was really drawn into the story.

I do want to give a Trigger Warning for this book. There are hints of sexual abuse, so be prepared.

Stand Alone Sunday

standalone-sunday

Standalone Sunday is a feature created by Megan over at BookSlayerReads where each Sunday she features a standalone book (not part of a series)! There’s tons of focus on books that are part of a series… It’s nice to focus on some standalone novels, too!

Title: The Master of Ballantrae

Author: Robert Louis Stevenson

Setting: 1740s Scotland

After a couple of dud books that I had been looking forward to, I was really relieved when I picked this one up and was hooked almost from the first page. Maybe it helped that I skipped the long introduction and got right into the story.

This is a retelling of the Biblical story of Jacob and Esau set during the 1745 Jacobite Revolution. Two Scottish brothers, James and Henry Durie, reprise the roles of those scriptural brothers and the conflict could not be more exciting. After a coin toss, James heads off after Bonnie Prince Charlie while Henry fights for the king. James is presumed dead after the Battle of Culloden and Henry marries the girl intended for James. But James is not as dead as all that, and returns to make trouble for his family.

In some ways, this reads like a soap opera. Just when you think things are settled, up pops something horrible. Pirates, duels, a daring escape, buried treasure — it has it all. The only thing that might discourage a modern reader is occasional use of dialect, but it is rare and there are footnotes in case you are really lost. Totally recommended as a great story sure to keep you turning pages.

Standalone Sunday: Into the Heart of Tasmania

Review: Into the Heart of Tasmania: A Search for Human Antiquity

Author: Rebe Taylor

Themes: race, anthropology, class, human evolution, culture

In 1908 it was widely accepted that the last Aboriginal in Tasmania was dead.  Enter Englishman Ernest Westlake, who planned to write about Stone Age implements and tools. Instead he wound up in the middle of a controversy he did not appreciate as he found living history all around him.

I have to admit that I really struggled with this book at first. If I hadn’t agreed to read it for Net Galley, I would have given it up. But I stuck with it, and somewhere around 10% I found it getting interesting. Westlake is not a sympathetic character. He struck me as a rather typical stuffy, pigheaded Victorian gentleman of the time. But the author, Rebe Taylor, was much more engaging when she allowed her personality to come through.

I think this could have been a more interesting book, but as it was I found it difficult to follow and rather dull. I’m not sure who the was intended for, but I doubt it was for average readers like myself. Thanks for the chance to read it.

Stand Alone Sunday: Mars One

Title: Mars One

Author: Jonathan Maberry

Themes: Space, love, terrorism, family, engineering, friends/teamworks

Setting: Near future Wisconsin then space

I really liked Mayberry’s zombie series, the Rot & Ruin series with teen Benny Imura. When I heard he had a new book out, a science fiction one  which was getting great reviews, I couldn’t wait to read it, and then the library had a copy just sitting there with the new books. It was meant for me.

Tristan is a typical high school guy. He has a best friend, he’s kind of a nerd, he’s crazy about his girlfriend Izzy. But maybe he’s not entirely typical. He’s a brainiac, has an entire assembly dedicated to him plus a reality TV show, he has terrorists trying to kill him, he has two bodyguards who go everywhere with him, and oh yeah, he’s going to Mars. His whole family is going. His dad is a botanist and Tristan and his mom are both mechanical engineers.

His family was accepted a couple of years ago, but time is running out and they’re finally ready to leave earth. Now he has to say goodbye to his girlfriend Izzy, then say goodbye again for the cameras, and make his way to mission control. It’s time to leave for Mars.

I really liked this book, so much that I finished it in a day. I keep saying I’m done with YA, but books like this are the reason I read it. It takes all the same issues that an adult book would have but condenses them down to the essentials so that what’s left is the central story, no political subplots, no sex (usually), no gloomy angles, just the story. And it’s a good story.

My family has actually discussed this–would you go to Mars, knowing that for now at least, it’s a one way trip? Knowing that you’d never see your family again, that life would be completely unpredictable and that you’d die on an alien planet? Knowing that you’d be doing something no one else in the history of life has ever done? We’re divided. I wouldn’t do it, but I have one kid who absolutely would. (That one is also the hugest Star Trek fan, which is no coincidence, I think.)

Reading this book would make you think about what choices you would make and why. It’s a fast read and a compelling one. I’m giving it an easy 4.3 stars and I recommend it for anyone who likes space or well-written YA.

Standalone Sunday: Cakes and Ale

Standalone Sunday is created by Megan at Bookslayer Reads, for all those great books that are NOT a part of a series.

Title: Cakes and Ale

Author: M. Somerset Maughm

Setting: 1930s England, but also full of flashbacks

Themes: writing, class, sex, relationships

Format: ebook

Source: book club

Plot: Sycophantic writer Alroy Kear is delighted to be asked to write a biography of another (much better) recently deceased novelist Edward Driffield. He’s got most of the stuff from his widow, and has prepared a suitably reverent draft. But he’s missing the stuff about Driffield’s first wife, Rosie the barmaid.

Rosie (the barmaid) had a big impact on Driffield’s writing. All his best stuff was written while they were together. But only a few will admit to knowing her, including ANOTHER writer named Ashenden, and he is the POV character for the book. Ashenden, like many others, was in love with Rosie, and he remembers them both from when he was young.

I hope that’s not confusing, but it makes sense when you read it.

Review: This is not a book I ever would have picked up on my own. I like books about writers, but I wouldn’t have even heard of this one if not for book club. The woman who picked it is a fan of Maughm’s, but she hadn’t read this one, so she thought maybe it would be fun. Well, she didn’t love it, but I thought it was very good. Maybe you have to be a writer to really appreciate it, but there are so many sly comments about writing, publishing, readers, about the fans of famous writers, etc, that I found myself smiling as I read.

The biggest theme of the book, besides writing, is really about class. Rosie, as a barmaid, is a definite cut below the widow, who was a nurse. And two classes below Driffield, a gentleman, who was looked on as a definite eccentric for marrying such an “unsuitable” woman. As an American, I didn’t understand that completely, but even in the US, we judge people by their social status and economic status. If a lawyer married a cocktail waitress, his colleagues would talk, no matter what she was like.

Finally, sex and relationships were a big theme in this one. Rosie was pretty amoral – she loved whom she loved, and she didn’t see anything wrong with that. Surprisingly, it didn’t seem to bother her husband. I know that open relationships are growing in popularity, but I am pretty darn conservative, and I have trouble believing that there wouldn’t be more consequences to her love life.

I found this a pretty easy read. There were some passages where Maughm gets to talking about writing and the writing world that went on too long, so I skimmed ahead. And there’s one romantic encounter described in more detail than I enjoyed. Otherwise, it was a fun book and I think I’ll check out more by this author. 3.8 stars out of 5.

**A Note here about Own Voices – M. Somerset Maughm was a bisexual, but to me at least, I didn’t pick up on a lot of LGBT themes in this book. The POV character Ashenden is supposed to be based on him, but like I mentioned, he was in love with Rosie and has a brief affair with her. She is his only lover referenced in the book. Maybe it’s because of my straight bias, but I didn’t really pick up on any other undercurrents. It’s possible that Ashenden has romantic or sexual feelings toward Driffield, but I didn’t pick up on it. I think it’s more of a theme in some of his other works.

 

Stand Alone Sunday #2 – Passage

Title: Passage

Author: Connie Willis

Genre: Science fiction/speculative fiction

This one is on my TBR list for this year, in a stack of books in my bedroom. Here’s what it says about it on Amazon:

“One of those rare, unforgettable novels that are as chilling as they are insightful, as thought-provoking as they are terrifying, award-winning author Connie Willis’s Passage is an astonishing blend of relentless suspense and cutting-edge science unlike anything you’ve ever read before.

It is the electrifying story of a psychologist who has devoted her life to tracking death. But when she volunteers for a research project that simulates the near-death experience, she will either solve life’s greatest mystery — or fall victim to its greatest terror.

At Mercy General Hospital, Dr. Joanna Lander will soon be paged — not to save a life, but to interview a patient just back from the dead. A psychologist specializing in near-death experiences, Joanna has spent two years recording the experiences of those who have been declared clinically dead and lived to tell about it.

It’s research on the fringes of ordinary science, but Joanna is about to get a boost from an unexpected quarter. A new doctor has arrived at Mercy General, one with the power to give Joanna the chance to get as close to death as anyone can.

A brilliant young neurologist, Dr. Richard Wright has come up with a way to manufacture the near-death experience using a psychoactive drug. Dr. Wright is convinced that the NDE is a survival mechanism and that if only doctors understood how it worked, they could someday delay the dying process, or maybe even reverse it. He can use the expertise of a psychologist of Joanna Lander’s standing to lend credibility to his study.

But he soon needs Joanna for more than just her reputation. When his key volunteer suddenly drops out of the study, Joanna finds herself offering to become Richard’s next subject. After all, who better than she, a trained psychologist, to document the experience?

Her first NDE is as fascinating as she imagined it would be — so astounding that she knows she must go back, if only to find out why this place is so hauntingly familiar. But each time Joanna goes under, her sense of dread begins to grow, because part of her already knows why the experience is so familiar, and why she has every reason to be afraid….

And just when you think you know where she is going, Willis throws in the biggest surprise of all — a shattering scenario that will keep you feverishly reading until the final climactic page is turned.”

Sorry, that was kind of long, but doesn’t it sound good? I love Connie Willis’s books. This one is not rated as high as some of her other books, but I’m excited to read it anyway. Even when I don’t LOVE her books, I find them interesting reads. She has such a unique way of looking at the world, and every books is different from each other. So I really don’t know what to expect from this one, but it should be fun!