Friday 56, January 13, 2023: Murder Beyond the Grave by James Patterson, Andrew Bourelle and Christopher Charles

Welcome to Friday 56! Hosted by Freda’s Voice, you turn to page 56 or 56% in any book or reading device and pick a sentence that grabs you.

Danny climbs out of the cab and circles around to the back of the van. Inside sits the wooden box he built, the PVC pipe, a cloudy jug of water, an assortment of candy bars, a car battery, and a shovel. Danny reaches for the shovel and circles back to the front of the van, where the headlights illuminate a section of sandy ground”.

Murder Beyond the Grave by James Patterson and Andrew Bourelle, page 56

This book has 2 separate stories, the first called Murder Beyond the Grave. At page 56, Danny, a “reformed” drug dealer, can’t handle the straight life. Where once he had cash to burn, he now has piles of bills with no way to pay them. One day he drives past the house of a rich man with a Ferrari in the driveway and he hatches a plan to kidnap him for ransom money. The passage above is Danny setting up the place where he will bury the man alive in a makeshift wooden box until the ransom is paid. Given the title, I think I know what ends up happening. I cringe just thinking about being buried alive.

It was Bonnie’s parents who’d demanded a traditional service. They had never approved of Jim beyond his finances, especially not his mother-in-law, whose previously snide comments turned downright hostile after her daughter’s death.”

Murder Beyond the Grave (Murder in Paradise) by James Patterson and Christopher Charles, page 184

At page 56 of Murder in Paradise, the victim has already been killed, and we have a suspect, but the killer has not yet been arrested. The author seems sympathetic of the husband, but the above quote also seems to suggest that perhaps the husband isn’t just the grieving widower he is portraying. Could he be acting? Bonnie was cheating, after all. Maybe he suspected, or even knew of her infidelity? Bonnie’s lover had also been shot — he survived, but maybe that was an accident. Let’s see!

First Chapter, First Paragraph, Tuesday January 10, 2023: Murder Beyond the Grave by James Patterson and Andrew Bourelle and Christopher Charles

It’s First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday! Hosted by Socrates Book Reviews this is where you share the first paragraph of one of the books that you are currently reading.

The man gasps for air and claws at the plywood siding of his prison. He’s inside a coffin that is six feet long and three feet wide.”

Murder Beyond the Grave by James Patterson and Andrew Bourelle

A flash of color broke in on her dream and startled her awake.”

Murder in Paradise by James Patterson and Christopher Charles

BOOK REVIEW: Suspicious Minds by Gwenda Bond

Title: Suspicious Minds

Author: Gwenda Bond

Book Length: 304 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Horror, Science Fiction, Thriller

Read Start Date: December 9, 2022

Read Finish Date: December 24, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: A mysterious lab. A sinister scientist. A secret history. If you think you know the truth behind Eleven’s mother, prepare to have your mind turned Upside Down in this thrilling prequel to the hit show Stranger Things.

It’s the summer of 1969, and the shock of conflict reverberates through the youth of America, both at home and abroad. As a student at a quiet college campus in the heartland of Indiana, Terry Ives couldn’t be further from the front lines of Vietnam or the incendiary protests in Washington.

But the world is changing, and Terry isn’t content to watch from the sidelines. When word gets around about an important government experiment in the small town of Hawkins, she signs on as a test subject for the project, codenamed MKUltra. Unmarked vans, a remote lab deep in the woods, mind-altering substances administered by tightlipped researchers . . . and a mystery the young and restless Terry is determined to uncover.

But behind the walls of Hawkins National Laboratory—and the piercing gaze of its director, Dr. Martin Brenner—lurks a conspiracy greater than she could have ever imagined. To face it, she’ll need the help of her fellow test subjects, including one so mysterious the world doesn’t know she exists—a young girl with unexplainable, superhuman powers and a number instead of a name: 008.

Amid the rising tensions of the new decade, Terry Ives and Martin Brenner have begun a different kind of war—one where the human mind is the battlefield.

My Review: I have loved the show Stranger Things since it premiered. I am waiting eagerly for the next season to drop, which by all accounts might not be for a while. When I was in Nashville for a girls weekend, I visited a book shop of course, because well, I am addicted to books. As I was perusing the shelves, I saw Suspicious Minds and was instantly intrigued. I hadn’t known there was a book — actually there are several!

Suspicious Minds is a prequel to the events of Stranger Things. Even though this book is set in the world of the Netflix show, there is a whole new cast of characters (99% of whom we have never met before) and so if you have never seen the show (stop reading this blog and go watch it now!), you will still be able to read the book and enjoy it. The three characters from the show are Dr. Martin Brenner, the head of the highly classified “research” Project at the Hawkins laboratory in Indiana, Terry Ives, the mother of Eleven, and Eight (as a child in the book), one of the test subjects who exhibit special powers. In Eight’s case it is the ability to make people see illusions/what she wants them to see.

It’s 1969 (14 years before Season 1 of Stranger Things) and Terry Ives, a college student and waitress, takes her roommate’s place at a government sanctioned (paid) test program. Terry needs the money — and she is more than a little intrigued. Terry is currently involved in a relationship with another college student named Andrew, who is luckily not eligible for the draft as he falls under the college exception. I liked how Gwenda Bond included the history and politics of the era (namely the Vietnam war), so this book not only takes place at the lab, but also out in the larger world, with all the angst, protests and sentiments of that time in US history.

While the show eludes to the testing that Terry Ives had undergone at the hands of sinister Dr. Martin Brenner, the book really goes into the details of what happened to her, and really showed that the indifference to human life that Brenner exhibited in Stranger Things is a character trait he has been exhibiting for some time. We never learn why Brenner is performing these tests or for what purpose though, so this was a little disappointing.

The show also never mentioned that Terry and Kali (Eight, who we meet briefly in Season 2 of Stranger Things) knew each other or had such a prolonged interaction. However, in the book, the relationship between Terry and Kali is very important to the plot. There was also never any mention of the other test subjects in the show and I liked learning about them in the book.

While I definitely liked this book, I came away from it with more questions than answers. Yes, now we know the origin story of Eleven and how she came to be in the clutches of Brenner. We know the backstory of Terry Ives. However, the book ends with the birth of Eleven, but we don’t really meet Eleven in the Netflix show until she is basically a teenager, and in later seasons, they show her as a young child (maybe around 8 years old?). What happened from her birth until then? What happened to the other test subjects?

We learn in the book that Alice (one of the test subjects) when given LSD and electroshock therapy, could see into the Upside Down (and into the future), and that Brenner becomes aware that such a place exists. However, we never learn whether this was the catalyst for what happened with Eleven, or whether it was merely a coincidence. In other words, what did Brenner actively do with this information?

I guess if you read this book without watching the show first, these same questions may not pop up and your experience of the book might be different. It might just add to the mystery of the story, rather than prompting more questions.

I know there are other Stanger Things books out there, but I don’t think they are a sequel to Suspicious Minds. I want to know what happens between 1970 and the start of the show! We need another book! Universe, please work on this!

At the moment, this book has only a 3.61 rating on Goodreads, which I feel is not a true reflection of my experience. I tried to find other reviews on WordPress, but found only one (and great) review from G does Films.

While I think that anyone can read and enjoy this book, I think that it definitely helps if you are already a fan of the show.

Friday 56, January 6, 2023: Took by Mary Downing Hahn

Welcome to Friday 56! Hosted by Freda’s Voice, you turn to page 56 or 56% in any book or reading device and pick a sentence that grabs you.

They were too busy arguing to pay much attention to either Erica or me. I don’t think they realized how miserable we were. Or how much they’d changed.

Took by Mary Downing Hahn, page 56

At this point in the book, Erica and her brother Daniel have moved with their parents from Fairfield, Connecticut to a small town in West Virginia. The children’s family, a once successful investment banker, has been laid off and is unable to find gainful employment in his chosen career, and since CT is so expensive, they sold their house and move to WV. The kids are outcast, coming from a “fancy” place, and do not make any friends. The parents, obtaining retail jobs, are also unhappy.

I have to say that I am more than a little confused. Why would an investment banker move to WV and take a job at Home Depot? Since this is a children’s middle grade book, maybe that particular detail doesn’t matter (nor would it be picked up by the intended audience?).

Anyway, the set up so far about the girl disappearing from the house Daniel and Erica’s family bought (and that maybe Erica is next) is good and I am interested to find out what happens.

BOOK REVIEW: Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Title: Carrie Soto is Back

Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid

Audiobook Length: 10 hours and 30 minutes

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Contemporary, Sports

Read Start Date: December 9, 2022

Read Finish Date: December 18, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Carrie Soto is fierce, and her determination to win at any cost has not made her popular. But by the time she retires from tennis, she is the best player the world has ever seen. She has shattered every record and claimed twenty Grand Slam titles. And if you ask Carrie, she is entitled to every one. She sacrificed nearly everything to become the best, with her father, Javier, as her coach. A former champion himself, Javier has trained her since the age of two.

But six years after her retirement, Carrie finds herself sitting in the stands of the 1994 US Open, watching her record be taken from her by a brutal, stunning player named Nicki Chan.

At thirty-seven years old, Carrie makes the monumental decision to come out of retirement and be coached by her father for one last year in an attempt to reclaim her record. Even if the sports media says that they never liked “the Battle-Axe” anyway. Even if her body doesn’t move as fast as it did. And even if it means swallowing her pride to train with a man she once almost opened her heart to: Bowe Huntley. Like her, he has something to prove before he gives up the game forever.

In spite of it all, Carrie Soto is back, for one epic final season. In this riveting and unforgettable novel, Taylor Jenkins Reid tells her most vulnerable, emotional story yet.

My Review: Originally introduced to us in Malibu Rising (see my review of that book here) as the girlfriend of Nina Riva’s husband, Carrie Soto Is Back is the story of Carrie Soto, the best female tennis player in the world. The book spans the period of her life, from childhood to her late thirties. Carrie retired from tennis with the record of winning the most Grand Slam titles…a record that is about to be beat by another tennis player, Nicki Chan. The Goodread synopsis does a good job of summing up the story, so I won’t go too much into plot detail here.

Overall, I liked this book. Currently, it has a 4.26 rating on Goodreads (I am giving it 4 stars), so lots of other people feel the same way about it.

There is a lot of tennis in this book, a sport I don’t know too much about — my lack of knowledge didn’t take away from the story so if you’re like me, then you won’t be lost with all the tennis references. The author does a good job of making the actual tennis playing accessible to people who don’t know the rules of the game.

The Candid Cover states “As a reader, I was pulled right into the matches and the intense drama that unfolds. These aspects are really exciting, and I really loved the commentary on the politics of sport and some of its sexism, making for a thought-provoking read.”

I agree regarding the commentary! When you listen to the audiobook, it adds something special because there is typical “sports commentary” music and there are different narrators for the voices of the pundits.

Through the book we see Carrie “The Battle Axe” grow as a human being. Despite being 37 years old, Carrie still has a lot to learn about love and life. Tennis had been her entire life. She wanted to be the best, and she didn’t care who she hurt along the way — even her father, who she fired as her coach because he couldn’t get her to be where she needed to be professionally. At 37, she is alone, never having a serious boyfriend or love interest.

As she reconnects with her father (who is coaching her once again), and with a tennis player she slept with once years before, Carrie slowly begins to learn there is more to life than tennis.

Mrs. B’s Book Reviews says of the father / daughter relationship: ” The most touching part of Carrie Soto is the unconditional relationship that she holds with her father. Reid does a truly excellent job of portraying a realistic, respectful and loving father /daughter relationship.”

I’m not usually a fan of child / parent relationship stories, because often times they come off really sickly sweet, but I have to agree that Reid did a really good job of keeping it touching / sentimental without getting to barf level sap.

I have read a bunch of books by Taylor Jenkins Reid (click on the author tag at the end of the post to see the other reviews) and I am blown away each time. Reid’s books are always well researched, well written and well developed. She is a fantastic writer and weaver of tales and this book was no exception.

I would definitely recommend this book.

BOOK REVIEW: The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake

Title: The Atlas Six

Author: Olivie Blake

Audiobook Length: 15 hours and 59 minutes

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, LGBT, Science Fiction

Read Start Date: November 30, 2022

Read Finish Date: December 9, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: The Alexandrian Society is a secret society of magical academicians, the best in the world. Their members are caretakers of lost knowledge from the greatest civilizations of antiquity. And those who earn a place among their number will secure a life of wealth, power, and prestige beyond their wildest dreams. Each decade, the world’s six most uniquely talented magicians are selected for initiation – and here are the chosen few…

– Libby Rhodes and Nicolás Ferrer de Varona: inseparable enemies, cosmologists who can control matter with their minds.
– Reina Mori: a naturalist who can speak the language of life itself.
– Parisa Kamali: a mind reader whose powers of seduction are unmatched.
– Tristan Caine: the son of a crime kingpin who can see the secrets of the universe.
– Callum Nova: an insanely rich pretty boy who could bring about the end of the world. He need only ask.

When the candidates are recruited by the mysterious Atlas Blakely, they are told they must spend one year together to qualify for initiation. During this time, they will be permitted access to the Society’s archives and judged on their contributions to arcane areas of knowledge. Five, they are told, will be initiated. One will be eliminated. If they can prove themselves to be the best, they will survive. Most of them.

My Review: The synopsis on Goodreads sounded so good that I thought I’d really like this book, but it just fell flat for me. Basically, there is a secret society of “Medians” (those who can cast magic). The ones chosen for the society are the best of the Medians and have special skill sets. While the society has all this knowledge, the book never goes into that really. WHAT kind of knowledge do they have? Like specifically?

With respect to the audiobook version, it is not great. Tristan is supposed to be South African, but the guy narrating for him is British. And the woman narrating for Parisa just makes her sound like this breathy seductress…which maybe the character is, but it got annoying really fast. Plus, since each character has their own narrator, each character sounded different when told from the perspective of the other character. So for example, Parisa sounded breathy in her chapters, but didn’t when having a role in another character’s chapter.

It is my understanding that this book used to be a self-published book before it was picked up by a traditional publisher. I would have thought that the various issues with the book would have been corrected by the publisher’s editors, but I guess not.

Knowing how hard it is to write a book, I try never to give bad reviews. But I couldn’t help it in this case. I read this book because it was on the list of “popular” books at the library, so it wasn’t a recommendation or anything like that.

I gave it only two stars because honestly, I grew a little bored. The book is supposedly taking place over a time span of 1 year, but the time passing by is really disjointed. Not all characters were given the same airtime — e.g. the focus was on certain characters of the “Atlas Six”, and others seemed only to be ancillary characters. The book was basically all character backstory with a sprinkling of magic thrown in. I was always looking for action, for spell casting etc., but there was nothing like that really.

As nothing…literally almost nothing…happens in this book, it’s all character driven; however, I wasn’t invested in the characters. I didn’t care which of them was the one to be eliminated in the end and which 5 were to progress to the next step in the secret society.

In reading other reviews, I am not the only one who picked up on these issues. Serendipity’s blog states as follows regarding the plot: “Yes, the book really didn’t have a plot. Barely anything interesting actually happened, it was mainly the characters playing mind games with each other and being full of themselves. For some reason I was holding out for an amazing plot twist that would save the whole book and give everything that happened some meaning. Then the plot twist came and it was far from amazing- it was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever read. I don’t want to go into spoilers, but I felt extremely cheated as instead of giving the book meaning, the ending made the book even more meaningless than it already was.”

On the other hand, Past Midnight gave the book 4 stars, so the review (which can be found here) was more positive. Down the Rabbit Hole also gave the book 4 stars (the review is here.) All in all, I think that you either love the book or hate it. I have seen both type of reviews, and the book has only 3.75 rating on Goodreads, so this seems to support a mixed reception.

I will not be reading the second book, but you should make your own decision!

First Chapter, First Paragraph, Tuesday January 3, 2024 Took by Mary Downing Hahn

It’s First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday! Hosted by Socrates Book Reviews this is where you share the first paragraph of one of the books that you are currently reading.

The old woman stands on the hilltop, just on the edge of the woods, well hidden from the farmhouse below. Two men and a woman are getting out of a car that has a sign for Jack Lingo Realty painted on the side. The old woman has seen plenty of Realtors in her time. She doesn’t know this one, but she remembers his pa, old Jack Lingo, and his pa, Edward, and the one afore him, back and back through the years to the first Lingo ever to settle in this valley and take up the buying and selling of houses.”

Took by Mary Downing Hahn

BOOK REVIEW: Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

Title: Into the Water

Author: Paula Hawkins

Book Length: 386 pages

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Thriller, Mystery, Suspense, Contemporary

Read Start Date: November 14, 2022

Read Finish Date: December 8, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.

Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother’s sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she’d never return.

My Review:

Beckford is not a suicide spot. Beckford is a place to get rid of troublesome women.”

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins, page 83

I really enjoyed The Girl on the Train by the same author (you can see my review here), so I thought that I’d like this one just as much. I was rather disappointed. While there was certainly mystery and thriller aspects, there was just too many POVs.

In order of first appearance:

Jules: The sister of Nel Abbott, the woman who was killed and found dead of drowning in the river under suspicious circumstances. We also see the storyline of Jules when she is a teenager. Something horrible happens to her for which she blames Nel. At the time of Nel’s death, they haven’t spoken in years.

Josh: The brother of the teenage girl, Katie, who committed suicide, by drowning herself in the river. Josh and Lena share a horrible secret, one which isn’t revealed until later in the book.

Nickie: the town “weirdo” who claims that she can hear the dead speaking to her. Nickie is being told by her dead sister, Jeanie (who used to be a police officer) that something isn’t right with Patrick Townsend.

Lena: The daughter of Nel Abbott. She was best friends with Katie and is completely devastated to have lost both her mother and best friend in short order. Lena is convinced that her mother killed herself, but we don’t find out until later why she is so convinced of this fact. Lena hates Jules because even though Nel called and called over the years, Jules never once returned the call.

Mark: The high school teacher of Lena and Katie. There is a twist to the story involving this character later on in the book.

Louise: The mother of Katie and Josh. Is she a suspect or just a grieving mother?

Erin: a police officer assigned to the case of the death of Nel Abbott.

Patrick: A former police officer and father to Sean. His wife was also found in the river back when his son was a young child. I hated Patrick from the start. He is a real a**hole and that is putting it mildly. I suspected that he killed Nel and his wife from the beginning of the book. Trigger warning here for animal abuse.

Helen: School teacher and wife of Sean. I didn’t really like Helen. There was something weird going on between her and Patrick, almost like a perverted father-daughter relationship. Sean had been unfaithful to Helen and they were having a rough time. They used to live together in the cottage on the main property, but Helen moved into the main house with Patrick when she learned of the infidelity.

Sean: a police officer assigned to work the Nel Abbott case with Erin. He is the son of Patrick and the husband of Helen. We don’t know until later the identity of the woman he was having an affair with, but it changes everything.

In my opinion, having 10 POVs is way too much! Some of the chapters were written in the third person, some in the first person. It took me a while to get into the story because of it.

In the middle of reading the book, my daughter was sent to the hospital for severe bronchitis and I had to stay overnight with her for more than a week. I tried to read this book while at the hospital, but honestly, I was just in the wrong headspace for something so dense and difficult. I had to put it down and read something lighter.

It’s not that it’s a bad book, but I think that it could have been better. I knew who the killer was from the very beginning, so it wasn’t really a mystery to me–it was more about reading to see how the police figured it out.

As of writing this review, this book has a rating of 3.59 on Goodreads with more than 350,000 ratings. My 3 rating is therefore not far from the average opinion. If you are looking for the next best read to start 2023 off right, I might bump this book a little further down the list.

Friday 56, December 23, 2022: Suspicious Minds by Gwenda Bond

Welcome to Friday 56! Hosted by Freda’s Voice, you turn to page 56 or 56% in any book or reading device and pick a sentence that grabs you.

Terry wondered if any of them would talk on the way back home, and if Alice even could be quiet. She hoped not. She wanted to talk, find out how everyone had fared.”

Suspicious Minds by Gwenda Bond, page 56

At this point in the book, we have met the four main characters: Terry, Alice, Ken and Gloria. They are test subjects at the lab in Hawkins in 1969. They have already endured their first test, and are on their way back home.

First Chapter, First Paragraph, Tuesday December 20, 2022: Suspicious Minds by Gwenda Bond

It’s First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday! Hosted by Socrates Book Reviews this is where you share the first paragraph of one of the books that you are currently reading.

The man drove an immaculate black car along a flat Indiana road, slowing when he came to a chain-link gate with a RESTRICTED AREA sign. The guard stationed there peered in the window for the briefest moment, then checked his license plate and waved him through.”

Suspicious Minds by Gwenda Bond