The String // by Caleb Breakey

A sociopath known to his victims as the Conductor is blackmailing various individuals into doing his bidding.  He calls his victims knots in his string.  As the Conductor says to one of his knots-

Think of the string as one long sheet of music, with notes of all shapes and sizes, tones, and pitches.  You’re a note … am your conductor … I lift my baton and the string goes up.  I dip it, the string goes low  …  So here are the rules of the string  …  Rule one: Each person gets a positive and negative reason to play their part … the negative: Don’t do what I say, and something horrible is going to happen to you.  …  Rule two: dictator decision … but I’m not the dictator.  You are.  You have the power to destroy not only your own life but the lives of every knot in the string.  Reminds me of my first solo.  I played and sang with all my heart, see, and brought down the house in beautiful fashion.  Everyone succeeded because I succeeded  … Oh, but if I had frozen… if I had failed… if I had so much as kissed off one note, every last person on stage would have suffered.  We’d have turned beauty into a mockery.

I’ve struggled to write this review because I’ve struggled a bit to summarize the story.  Basically the Conductor finds his victims and somehow manages to access their cell phone numbers/email/etc. and is able to send them messages, showing them how much he knows about their lives and their loved ones.  He tells them that they must do what he tells them, and that if they do, they will earn a reward (such as a promotion), but if they don’t, they will be severely punished (threats to loved ones), and that everyone else in the string will also be punished – which means the other members of the string will also be out to get whichever “knot” didn’t obey.  He then has his knots doing seemingly random tasks that are all, theoretically, building towards some sort of climax.  One knot is sent out to take photographs of people.  Another knot works for the college and has access to various sensitive records.  One knot is sent to deliver a package.  Etc. etc. etc. None of the knots technically know who any of the others are, unless one of them disobeys and the Conductor sics them on the rebel.

//published 2019//

The story’s main focus is one of the Conductor’s latest knots – Markus Haas, who works as a campus cop at the college where all of the events are centered.  Markus is a pretty regular guy, trying to do his job and live his life, dating a single mom of two.  Despite the threats the Conductor makes towards Markus’s girlfriend and her daughters, Markus is determined to fight back against the Conductor.  He finds a few other knots who are also trying to break free, and they begin to work together to unravel the string.

All in all, I enjoyed this book and it kept me turning the pages, but it went just a little too far for me to find it plausible.  I was left with too many questions at the end about the viability of the Conductor and his power.  How exactly was the Conductor able to find out so much information on so many people? – because it turns out that like a jillion people are entangled in his string, which was part of what felt a bit ridiculous.  From the beginning, it’s obvious that the Conductor is using people’s cell phones to track them – so why don’t the people who are fighting against him, I don’t know, stop at Walmart and get some new phones???  But I was especially confused by the grand finale – in the end, the Conductor’s motivation didn’t match up with the elaborate setup.

The story was told partially in Markus’s first person narration, and partially in third person of different perspectives.  This was another reason that the story didn’t flow as well as I wanted it to – I think it would have worked much better if the entire story was third person.

For me, this was a 3.5* read.  I definitely enjoyed it and wanted to see where everything was going, but I spent a little too much time feeling skeptical to become fully immersed in the story.

NB: This book was provided to me free of charge by the publisher, Revell, in exchange for an unbiased review.  Thank you!

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June Minireviews – #20BooksofSummer Kickoff!

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Turns out that this month’s minireviews are also my first few #20BooksofSummer reads!!  Of course, I ended up posting the review for Swallows and Amazonsmy fifth read, first, so I’m out of order as usual!

Cliff’s Edge by Meg Tilly – 3*

//published 2019//

A while back I read Solace Island, which I found to be a decent, if not stellar, read.  It was good enough to intrigue me to read the second book, Cliff’s Edge, which was just published this spring, mainly because I really liked Maggie’s sister, and she was the main character of this book.

All in all, I had a lot of the same problems with Cliff’s Edge that I did with Solace Island.  Both books are labeled as romantic thrillers, but both were a lot more romantic than thrilling.  And, in my mind, both would have been a lot better if they had been written as straight romances.  In this book especially, the thriller aspect of the story definitely brought down my overall enjoyment and rating of the book, as it always felt clunky and stilted, and mostly consisted of brief chapters of Eve’s stalker lusting after her and being sexually aroused by the thoughts of what he would do once she was in his power… ugh.

The romance part, however, was great fun.  Eve and Rhys have great chemistry (although I could have done without the sexy scenes) and it felt like they each had a lot to offer the other.  But while I enjoyed that part of the story, it just wasn’t enough to bring the overall rating of the book any higher.  I don’t really see myself pursuing any other books that appear in this series.

Book #1 for #20BooksofSummer!!

Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills – 4*

//published 2017//

My second read for #20BooksofSummer, Foolish Hearts was everything I’ve come to expect from an Emma Mills book.  The characters were likable and snarky, the angst level felt realistic, and the main character had a family that loves her, with parents who actually like each other!  I really liked Claudia overall.  In some weird way she reminded me of Lincoln from Attachments, I think because Mills did a great job of letting Claudia’s character growth be natural.  In the end, Claudia still was playing her goofy video game and still had her awkward sense of humor, yet she had matured as a person.  It was the same with some of the other characters, Iris in particular – like Iris didn’t suddenly turn into this warm, bubby person.  Instead, she simply began to acknowledge that sometimes showing love means stepping outside our comfort zones for the person we love.

This wasn’t a perfect book by any means, but honestly I think Emma Mills is everything YA ought to be – funny, gently thoughtful, and not full of sex.  She creates characters – even secondary ones – that I like and care about.  She hasn’t written very many books, so I think First & Then is sadly the only one I have left to read.  Hopefully she has something else in the works.

Stephanie’s reviews are the ones that first brought Emma Mills to my attention, and you can read her review of Foolish Hearts here.

Dreamology by Lucy Keating – 3*

//published 2016//

This was a YA story that had a fun concept, but it just didn’t play out well at all.  For Alice’s entire life, she’s had a constant character who has appeared in all of her dreams – a boy named Max.  Alice feels like she knows Max better than anyone, after all of the adventures they’ve shared.  When Alice and her dad move to Boston, Alice is stunned to see Max – a real, live, actual Max – at her new school.

The premise presented this as a thing where other parts of the dream worlds were starting to merge in the real world and all this stuff blah blah blah, but what followed was a really disjointed story that didn’t seem to know where it wanted to go, and didn’t do a particularly good job of getting there.  Max himself was completely annoying, since he couldn’t seem to decide if he wanted to acknowledge Alice or not, plus he was dating someone else in real life, so he basically is cheating on this other girl with Alice, which I found completely unacceptable.  Meanwhile, Alice makes friends with another guy at school, Oliver, who was like a thousand times better than Max on every level, but Alice kind of treats him like trash because she’s so obsessed with Max.

The actual dream-part of the book is just SO poorly done, to the point that it makes no sense.  For instance, Alice and Max both act like they aren’t in charge of what happens in their dreams, just like real dreams.  So they don’t control where they go or what happens, yet apparently they DO control what they say?  Alice goes on and on about how she knows Max is funny and adventurous and thoughtful because that’s how he is in her dreams – except I thought they had no control over what happened in dreams??  So why would dream-Max be the “real” Max? There were just a LOT of logic-loopholes in a book that was overall very disjointed and uneven.

This was my #3 read for #20BooksofSummer.

A Noise Downstairs by Linwood Barclay – 3.5*

//published 2018//

My fourth #20BooksofSummer read was my first Linwood Barclay book, and actually is another book I added to the TBR because of Stephanie’s recommendation!  Her minireview of this title really captures a lot of how I felt about it – the rather unexpected ending wasn’t exactly what I wanted to have happen, but it was ballsy and Barclay more or less made it work.  However, there are times that I am reading a thriller and the book just goes what I consider to be one twist too far.  A twist really only works if it makes sense, but sometimes authors want to add just one more “What?!??!” moment, and are willing to sacrifice credulity to get there.  This was one of those times – while it mostly made sense, it felt like a lot more of a stretch than I wanted it to.  I felt the same way when I read Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson earlier this year.

Still, I would definitely be into trying out another of Barclay’s books, especially since there are about a million of them.  Any suggestions on which one should be next??

May Minireviews – Part 2

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Bibi the Baker’s Horse by Anna Bird Stewart – 4*

//published 1942//

This is one of those books that I have had for so long that I no longer remember where I picked it up, and for some reason neglected to write on the flyleaf – very unusual for me.  This particular copy is a first edition and has actually been signed by the author, so that’s quite fun.  Apparently Bibi isn’t a very popular book, as it isn’t even listed on Goodreads, but I found it to be absolutely charming.  Set in France before World War I, Bibi is a small Corsican horse purchased by a baker named Jules.  The story is really more about Jules and his family than it is about Bibi, and they live a happy, peaceful life.  The biggest excitement in the story is a huge flood.  In the afterword, the author says that the entire story is true as told to her by a friend about the friends mother (or maybe grandmother, I can’t remember right now).  While not a book that strikes me as an instant classic, it was still a delightful little read.

The Treasure is the Rose by Julia Cunningham – 4*

//published 1973//

At only 105 pages, this is more of a novella than a full-length story, yet Cunningham manages to pack a great deal of thoughtfulness into her slim story.  My particular copy is an incredibly battered paperback that belonged to my mom and her sister when they were girls (frankly, the ownership has been challenged for many years between the two of them, so I solved their problem by taking it for myself).  Set in England in what I’m guess are the Middle Ages (I’m never very good at remembering the distinguishing characteristics between eras – they’re living in a crumbling down castle and the main character’s husband was killed in a crusade), the story is about Ariane, a kindhearted young widow who is determined to stay in her husband’s home, despite the fact that they are running out of money.  When three robbers stop at her house and demand food and shelter, she gives to them freely – but when the robbers hear rumors that Ariane is concealing a treasure somewhere in her castle, they decide they want more than food and are willing to do whatever it takes to get it.  The story is somewhat simplistic, and the ending is perhaps a bit too easy, but it is still a beautiful story about love and kindness conquering anger and hate.

Mr. Bennet’s Dutiful Daughter by Joana Starnes – 4*

//published 2016//

I actually really liked this version, although it was a bit more angsty than I usually prefer.  In this version, Mr. Bennet is struck ill while Elizabeth is at Hunsford, before Colonel Fitzwilliam tells her that Darcy separated Jane and Bingley, and before Darcy proposes.  When they receive the news about Mr. B., Darcy basically takes control of the situation, apologizing to Elizabeth for proposing at an awkward time, but wanting her to be under his protection and care should the worst happen.  Of course, he assumes that Elizabeth is going to agree, which fills Elizabeth with rage – but with the possibility of her family being put out on the streets, she reluctantly accepts.

While this wasn’t a very lighthearted variation, it was done really well, and the majority of the drama between Elizabeth and Darcy felt realistic to their situation.  However, at the end the drama goes a bit over the top, and then is magically solved after dragging on for way too long.  I also didn’t like the way that Mr. Bennet’s death was dealt with.  Still, overall this was a solid retelling, as I found myself very attached to the characters and wanted things to work out for them.

The Undertaker’s Widow by Phillip Margolin – 3.5*

//published 1998//

I’ve read quite a few of Margolin’s books at this point, and have found him to be a pretty solid crime/law thriller writer.  This one wasn’t my favorite, but did have a lot of fun twists and turns.  My usual mild aggravation with Margolin’s work was at play here – he simply introduces too many characters, ignores them for chapters, and then reintroduces them without reminding the reader of who they are.  He’s the only author I have to consistently write down the names of characters and their connections in order to keep them straight.

This particular book also lost a half star because of another pet peeve of mine – where we are specifically told that a character has information necessary to figure out what is going on with the mystery, but not allowed to actually know that information.  So it would be something like, “Once he told the detective about his suspicions concerning the blood splatter, they both knew they had to do something” – but I don’t get to know what those suspicions are until literal chapters later during a courtroom scene when the evidence is introduced.  This happened a LOT in this book and was really annoying.

Indiscretion by Jude Morgan – 5*

//published 2005//

I hadn’t read this book in several years, and it was an absolute delight to delve back into it again.  The main character, Caroline, is just so funny and nice, and I really appreciate the way that she wants to be a better person.  I also liked that when she ended up in the country living a quite life, she didn’t get bored and irritated with her life, but instead was able to appreciate the stability and restfulness of it, even though it was very different to what she was used to.  The dialogue is hilarious, and the plot just convoluted/coincidental enough to keep things lively.  I’ve read this book a few times, so you can read earlier reviews here and here if you are interested in more of a synopsis-type review, but for here suffice to say that this book is just as happy and funny as I remember.

May Minireviews

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

The Indiscretions of Archie by P.G. Wodehouse – 3.5*

//published 1921//

This was another early Wodehouse that I hadn’t read before, and while enjoyable (as all his books are), this wasn’t particularly one of my favorites.  This particular book was created when Wodehouse combined several short stories he had written that all centered around Archie, so while the end result is cohesive, it still feels rather episodic in nature.  Archie is a very likable character who starts off on the wrong foot with his father-in-law and continues to accidentally do random things that keep their relationship strained (at least on the father-in-law’s side – Archie is invariably good-humored), which I think was part of the reason that I didn’t enjoy this book as much – most of the humor was based on Archie trying to do something nice and then it all backfiring and ending up with the father-in-law dealing with the disaster.  In the end, everyone ends up happy together, but that also felt a little contrived.  Still, there were plenty of humorous moments in this one, and while it wasn’t my favorite Wodehouse, it was still an enjoyable read.

Holiday Havoc by Terri Reed & Stephanie Newton – 3.5*

//published 2010//

This book is actually two short stories, one by each author.  Both were similarly unremarkable, with some serious instalove, but entertaining nonetheless.  It’s another book off the Love Inspired pile, which is really whittling down since I took most of them to Goodwill without actually reading them haha

The Villa by Nora Roberts – 3.5*

//published 2001//

Speaking of boxes of books, someone also gave me a box of Nora Roberts books at random a while back, so I’ve been sifting through those as well.  The Villa was definitely more novel than romance, a sweeping drama centered around two families who both own wineries.  I wasn’t completely sure it was going to be “my kind” of book, but I found myself drawn in almost against my will.  While I personally felt like this book could have done with more humor and less sex, it was still a very engaging story.  Despite the fact that there were a lot of characters, they felt like individuals.  The main female lead was a little too “strong independent woman” type for me (read: basically obnoxious but gets away with because she’s a woman), but I still ended up liking her.  This book followed one year of time, and the changing of the seasons was a big part of the story and really added to the overall epic feel.  Not a book I’ll ever reread, but surprisingly interesting for a one-time go.

Carousel of Hearts by Mary Jo Putney -3.5*

//published 1989//

This is yet another book from a box of books – a while ago I purchased a box of regency romances on eBay because the box included several Heyer titles I didn’t own.  Now I’m working my way through the non-Heyer titles, all of which, prior to this one, ended up being DNFs.  Carousel was an entertaining little read that was a bit strong on coincidence but was enjoyable nonetheless.  I really liked all four characters in this story, although they did need a stern talking-to.  It would honestly have been a 4*, except the ending got completely out of hand.  Still, this one ended up being a fun read.

The Legend of Luke by Brian Jacques – 4*

//published 1999//

The next installment in the Redwall series, Luke is really two stories in one.  The book begins with Martin and a few companions heading north to see if they can find out what happened to Martin’s father, who left on a quest when Martin was a child.  (As we learned in Martin the Warrior, Martin and the rest of his tribe were kidnapped and enslaved while Luke was gone.)  The first part of the book recounts Martin’s journey, which concludes when Martin finds several animals who knew Luke and know what happened.  The second part of the book is the story of Luke, pursuing vengeance on the high seas.  The third, and final, part of the book is Martin’s journey back to Redwall, which is still being constructed at this time (the Martin part of the story takes place chronologically after the events in Mossflower).

I actually enjoyed this book, which felt more focused than a lot of the other installments in this series.  It was also nice to have a story where the shrews aren’t just disposable extras!  And, thankfully, there weren’t that many scenes with the youngsters being obnoxious, which has been a theme in the last few books.  Overall, I’m still enjoying and planning to finish the series, but it’s working well to read them one at a time a bit spread out.

April Minireviews – Part 3

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

More minireviews… apparently I’ve been reading a lot of books that don’t inspire strong feelings.  Or the weather is so perfect that I’m spending way more time outside in the garden than I am inside blogging.  :-D

Solace Island by Meg Tilly – 3.5*

//published 2017//

In my mind this was going to be more thriller than romance, but it’s more romance than thriller.  There are also several scenes of sexy times, which I wasn’t expecting either.  The romance part was pretty happy, and I liked both of the main characters, although they were pretty instalovey – and in some ways it wasn’t even the instalove that bothered me as much as Maggie just telling Luke everything about her horrible ex-fiancé on basically their first date.  The thriller part kind of spiraled from the realm of slightly unbelievable to completely unbelievable, but it did move everything along.  All in all, not a book I want to reread, but I enjoyed it enough to read the sequel about Maggie’s sister, which is coming out sometime this spring.

Six Months Later by Natalie Richards – 3.5*

//published 2013//

Chloe, an average student with an average life, falls asleep in study hall one May afternoon.  When she wakes up, it’s November and she can’t remember the last six months.  But somehow, during that time she’s started dating one of the most popular guys in school, has turned into a star student, and scored ridiculously high on her SAT, meaning that she’s being courted by several fancy colleges.  Unfortunately, Chloe’s best friend is no longer her friend, Chloe likes the resident bad guy more than her perfect boyfriend, and nothing about the missing six months seems to match Chloe’s personality…

This book had a really fun premise and was overall done well, but there were some clunky parts that left me feeling like this book could have used one more round of ruthless editing to really make it shine.  There were some parts where the motivation of various characters stuttered a bit, and the ending seemed very rushed.  But overall I really liked Chloe and I also appreciated when she frequently told people about her problems instead of just trying to do everything/figure everything out by herself.  I think a little more time spent before she falls asleep and loses time would have helped to emphasize how different her life was when she woke up, especially regarding Adam, the “bad boy” – like I know nothing about this guy, so I couldn’t figure out why she wouldn’t just dump the other guy and start dating Adam.  One sentence about him being a troublemaker isn’t really enough to give me a feel for the relationship Chloe and Adam had before all this started.

If you’re looking for a quick, fun thriller-esq read, Six Months Later fits the bill.  But if you’re looking for a story where everything is polished and flows perfectly, you may want to give this one a pass.

The False Princess by Eilis O’Neal – 3.5*

//published 2011//

This wasn’t a bad story, but it never really felt magical to me.  I liked the concept – basically, just after her sixteenth birthday, the princess is told that she isn’t actually the princess.  Instead, the real princess has been hidden in a convent her entire life because of a prophecy that said she may be murdered before she turned 16.  So the girl who has thought she was the princess is now just plain Sindra.

I think part of the problem was it never really felt like this book knew what it wanted to do.  Sindra herself wasn’t particularly coherent, and she really exasperated me a lot.  She had a bad habit of just saying mean things to people whenever she was feeling frustrated with life, and frequently had a very woe-is-me attitude about things.  So while this was a perfectly pleasant one-time read, it wasn’t one that made me want to dash out and see what else O’Neal has written.

Better Than Chocolate by Sheila Roberts – 3*

//published 2012//

I really enjoy fluffy chick lit series that focus on a group of people or place, where I can get to know and enjoy different characters, so I’m always on the lookout for new ones.  I can’t remember when Icicle Falls came to my attention, but the premise of the first book is that three sisters are putting on a chocolate festival in their small town to help save their business, and it sounded like fun.  However, the execution was very choppy and scattered.  I found the main character, Samantha, to be alright at best – most of the time she was just plain obnoxious, and literally only cared about the business and not her family.  And while she spent time thinking things like “Oh I’m a terrible person who only cares about this business and not my family,” I never really felt like she changed at all.  Like in the end, the business was still the most important thing to her.

There was also supposed to be an enemies-to-friends aspect in the romance, which I usually really enjoy, but it was done quite poorly here, with basically no conversation between the two other than “You suck” and yet in the end I’m supposed to buy not just that they are happily ever after, but that the dude is loaning Samantha a crapton of money with no ulterior motives, despite the fact that she immediately falls into his arms after that…????  It felt really weird that he gave her the money to save her business and then suddenly she started dating him.

At first I was going to go ahead and try the next book in the series, but I honestly realized that I didn’t really feel that attached to anyone in this story enough to see how things go for them next.  Plus, I was really put off by the way this book ended, which lowered the entire book to a 3* rather than 3.5*.  There are a lot of chick lit series out there, so I don’t think I’m going to bother finishing this one.

Miss Lucas by A.V. Knight – 3*

//published 2018//

Those of you who have been with me for a while know that I go through random, arbitrary times in life where the only thing I want to read are terrible Pride & Prejudice variations.  I just started one, and I’m here to assure that the overwhelming majority of P&P variations are, in fact, terrible.  Still!  So addictive!

This one actually focuses entirely on Charlotte Lucas – Elizabeth’s story, in the background, is following canon almost completely.  In this story, Mr. Collins doesn’t quite bring himself to propose to Charlotte – at the last minute he decides that he ought to have Lady Catherine’s permission first, since technically she sent him to propose to one of his cousins, not some random woman in Hertfordshire.  A few months later, instead of Elizabeth and (Charlotte’s sister) Maria going to visit the already-married Charlotte, Lady Catherine via Mr. Collins invites Elizabeth, Charlotte, and (Elizabeth’s sister) Mary to stay basically so she can look them over and decide who Mr. Collins should marry.  This means that Charlotte is still single when she meets Colonel Fitzwilliam…

While I did enjoy this story and really liked the overall idea (I’ve always shipped Charlotte and the Colonel), the execution was rather mediocre.  I never quite bought the romance between Charlotte and the Colonel, and the ending of the story felt very rushed.  There were also instances where it felt like the author was trying to shoehorn Charlotte into Elizabeth’s story so that we would still know what was going on with that part of the action, even implying that Charlotte and Elizabeth were closer than Elizabeth and Jane, which I think is categorically false.  So a decent little story, but one that really lacked some spark.

March Minireviews – Part 2

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

The Rose Bride by Nancy Holder – 3.5*

//published 2007//

This story started strong, but got rather muddled.  It also honestly seemed really lame to me because basically different mothers beg the gods (and goddesses) to show their children that they’re loved, and the way the goddesses complete this task is by killing off basically everyone in those children’s lives and making them suffer horrifically until they finally find each other…!??!  I’m just never a fan of stories where the main character is very Job-like in that they just keep getting hit with one tragedy after another.  It gets old and same-y after a while.

So while this one wasn’t bad for a one-time read, it wasn’t so amazing that I yearn to read it again and again.

The Shut Eye by Belinda Bauer – 3*

//published 2015//

This was one of those books where I honestly probably only got 2* of enjoyment out of it, but because it did keep me glued to the pages I feel like it deserves the added star.  This wasn’t a bad book, per se, but it incorporated a plot device that I always feel is cheating, because it means that the author doesn’t have to actually explain anything or even make any of it make sense.  So not a bad book, and I definitely wanted to find out what was going to happen, but in the end not really my type.

Compass American Guides:  Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks by Brian Kevin – 4*

//published 2009//

So we are actually planning two big trips this year and I am super excited about both. In May we are heading south to Great Smoky National Park, and in September we are heading west to Yellowstone and Grand Teton.  In some ways, Yellowstone is kind of stressing me out because it is SO huge that I know there is absolutely no way that we can begin to see even a fraction of all there is to see, so I want to make the best of our time there, which, for me, means loads of research!  Luckily I have quite a bit of time to learn as much about these two gigantic, beautiful parks as I can.  (And yes, I’m the kind of person who actually reads travel guides cover-to-cover.  Not sure exactly what that says about me as a person haha)

This Compass guide was a fantastic place to start, and I’m super disappointed that there aren’t more of them for more parks (like Great Smoky for instance…).  It’s a great blend of a traditional travel guide with lots of photos, tips, and information.  The guide is divided into three main chapters, two for Yellowstone (one each for the south and north loops) and one for Grand Teton.  This book really helped me to get my head around the different areas of the parks and what they have to offer.  There was also a lot of information about places to stay and eat, which could be useful when we’re closer to the actual trip.  My one complaint about this book is that the maps are infrequent and not that great.  I’m very visual and way into maps, so that would have really helped increase my understanding of the parks.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park:  Adventure, Explore, Discover by Amy Graham – 3*

//published 2009//

One thing that I learned back when I was doing lots of different research projects and papers for various projects in college was that if there is a children’s book on the subject, it can be a great place to start to get a basic overview.  Nonfiction children’s books tend to strip a subject down to its basic essentials, which are then presented in layman’s terms.  I have found it to frequently be a great way to help me get a simple overview of a topic.

This book is part of a series that is obviously for children who are writing a report on a topic, as it focuses on providing a lot of other resources, like websites, throughout the book.  In and of itself it’s a pretty simple, rather unexciting, presentation of the park’s natural and social history.  I honestly felt like this book could have said a lot more about what the park is about today, as the chapters on the history make up the bulk of the book.  Still, as I had hoped, this book did provide a decent overview that helped me get my head around some of the basics of the most-visited national park in the country.

Over the Moon by Natalie Lloyd – 3*

//published 2019//

This was an enjoyable middle-school read with a likable protagonist and an imaginative setting.  While I enjoyed this story, it didn’t really hit that MAGIC chord deep inside, although it was still a really fun story that I would recommend for middle readers.

Gone, But Not Forgotten // by Phillip Margolin

//published 1993//

A man comes home from work, and his wife is missing.  On their bed is a rose, dyed black, and a note that says, “Gone, But Not Forgotten.”  She’s the third woman to disappear in this manner, and the Portland police still have no idea where they are.  The crime scenes are clean.  No bodies have been found.  There are no real clues or leads… until one evening a woman, claiming to be a detective from Hunter’s Point, New York, shows up at the home of Portland’s DA with an incredible story.

This is the third of Margolin’s stand alone books that I’ve read.  My first introduction to his writing was through the fantastic Amanda Jaffe series.  Margolin has a knack for writing addictive crime thrillers that keep me turning the pages even during the courtroom scenes, which I frequently find dull in the hands of less talented authors.  Margolin was a criminal attorney, so those parts of his story always ring true, and I love the way that he is unafraid to discuss the moral complexity of defending criminals.

My main consistent frustration with Margolin’s books is the way that he starts them: by introducing about 57 people in the first 20 pages, with no particularly indications as to which characters are going to be important in the future.  Like yes, a few of them are obvious, but some not so much.  Here are the people we meet, by name, in the first couple of pages of Gone, But Not Forgotten (in order of appearance):

  • Alfred Neff, judge
  • Betsy Tannenbaum, attorney
  • Walter Korn, retired welder and jury spokesperson
  • Andrea Hammermill, defendant
  • Randy Highsmith, prosecutor
  • Martin Darius, jerk
  • Russ Miller, regular dude
  • Vicky Miller, wife of Russ
  • Frank Valcroft, Russ’s boss
  • Stuart Webb, account executive at Russ’s job

Those people are all in chapter one, fifteen pages.  Chapter two is still introducing people/threads.  It’s super fun to see all these apparently not-connected individuals and see how their lives start to come together, but it is also a confusing information dump, and I almost always end up getting a scrap of paper and writing notes, because if Margolin mentions Russ Miller on page 128, he doesn’t do a particularly good job reminding you who he is.

But once I get through the initial introductions, and people start to slot into place, Margolin’s books always pick up the pace and drag me along, and this one was no different.  This is one of those crafty novels where you get a lot of the information, so it’s more of a how than a who… sort of.

This book was more violent than some of Margolin’s others that I have read.  The main bad guy was a genuine creepy psychopath, and this really wasn’t the best book to stay up until midnight finishing, because then I just laid there with mind going in circles and also feeling completely creeped out by this guy.  On the other hand, I literally couldn’t just go to bed and stayed up late finishing this one, so even though in many ways this was only a 3.5* read for me, I bumped it up to a 4* in the end because it was so addictive.

While Gone, But Not Forgotten wasn’t my favorite Margolin book, and it’s not where I would start if you’re new to his writing, it was still an intense, engaging thriller that had me completely engrossed.  I’m still working my way through Margolin’s backlog, and so far he hasn’t disappointed me.