BOOK REVIEW: Captives by Jarrod Shanahan

60801761._SY475_Title: Captives: How Rikers Island Took New York City Hostage

Author: Jarrod Shanahan

Audiobook Length: 13 hours

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, History

Read Start Date: May 8, 2022

Read Finish Date: May 12, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Captives combines a thrilling account of Rikers Island’s descent into infamy with a dramatic retelling of the last seventy years of New York politics from the vantage point of the city’s jails. It is a story of a crowded field of contending powers—city bureaucrats and unions, black power activists and guards, crooked cops and elected leaders—struggling for power and influence, a tale culminating in mass incarceration and the triumph of neoliberalism. It is a riveting chronicle of how the Rikers Island of today—and the social order it represents—came to be.

Conjuring sweeping cinematic vistas, Captives records how the tempo of history was set by bloody and bruising clashes between guards and prisoners, between rank-and-filers and union bosses, between reformers and reactionaries, and between police officers and virtually everyone else. Written by a one-time Rikers prisoner, Captives draws on extensive archival research, decades of journalism, interviews, prisoner testimonials, and firsthand experience to deliver an urgent intervention into our national discussion about the future of mass incarceration and the call to abolish prisons. The contentious debate about the future of the Rikers Island penal colony rolls onward, and Captives is a must-read for anyone interested in the island and what it represents.

My Review: I received this audiobook from Netgalley as an ARC in exchange for an honest review. In general I am interested in the history and present day situation surrounding prisons, not only regarding the theory behind incarceration, but also the implementation.

The author, having spent some time in prison himself, brings a unique perspective to the history of Rikers Island, which probably another author on the same subject would have lacked.

I found the book to be well researched, highly informative, and at times infuriating — the prison policies of the US are just atrocious!

I think that this is an important book as it shows the inequality of a system that was not built for “rehabilitation”, despite everyone’s protestations to the contrary. That most of the prison population is not white, is not an accident and is a symptom of the racism which runs rampant in America.

I highly recommend this book, even for people who are not usually into nonfiction or history books.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: Beach Read by Emily Henry

52867387._SY475_Title: Beach Read

Author: Emily Henry

Audiobook Length: 10 hours and 13 minutes

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Romance, Women’s Fiction

Read Start Date: May 15, 2022

Read Finish Date: May 19, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: A romance writer who no longer believes in love and a literary writer stuck in a rut engage in a summer-long challenge that may just upend everything they believe about happily ever afters.

Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast.

They’re polar opposites.

In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they’re living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer’s block.

Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She’ll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he’ll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really.anted. Unable to trust the police, he begins to suspect a cover-up. It’s only when he meets a young Inuit woman, Tupaarnaq, convicted of killing her parents and two small sisters, that Matt starts to realise how deep this story goes—and how much danger he is in.

My Review: This book was a fun and easy read. I listened to the audiobook version mostly while doing chores around the apartment, which made such mundane tasks seem almost delightful.

January Andrews (was it just me or was anyone else reminded of the poem from It by Stephen King “January embers, my heart burns there too”?) is a romance writer with writers block. In her personal life, she is dealing with the death of her father (who she finds out was cheating on her mom) and the break up of a long term relationship. These two failed relationships have her questioning whether romance exists in the world.

Enter Gus Elliot, her rival / arch nemesis / secret crush from college. He is also a writer, but his books are much darker.

They enter into a bet, where each has to write a book in the others’ normal genre. Each weekend they go on outings to learn about the others’ genre for research. E.g., January takes him out on “romantic” outings. And, duh, they fall in love. Who could have seen that coming??

Despite the obvious ending, the journey was fun. The only thing I didn’t like, however, was the bit about the father. It just got really sappy toward the end and made me want to barf. January finally reads the letters her father left for her (at the beginning of the book we find out he died suddenly) and we the readers have to endure the barftastic sap that are the contents of these letters.

Plus, did anyone else feel NOT sympathetic to the mistress or the father like, at all?? I felt that they were VERY selfish!

Mistress: Oh January, you must let me tell you / listen to the explanation of why your father and I were together. I feel so bad and you have to make me feel better.

Father: Please understand why I cheated and forgive me.

NOPE!

But anyway, despite this little part of the book coming mostly at the end, this was a delightful read that I think readers of the genre will like.

BOOK REVIEW: Dancing With Bees: A Journey Back to Nature by Brigit Strawbridge Howard

46040332Title: Dancing With Bees: A Journey Back to Nature

Author: Brigit Strawbridge Howard

Audiobook Length: 12 hours and 32 minutes

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, Science, Environment, Autobiography

Read Start Date: May 5, 2022

Read Finish Date: May 14, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: A naturalist’s passionate dive into the world of bees of all stripes–what she has learned about them, and what we can learn from them.

Brigit Strawbridge Howard was shocked the day she realised she knew more about the French Revolution than she did about her native trees. And birds. And wildflowers. And bees. The thought stopped her quite literally in her tracks. But that day was also the start of a journey, one filled with silver birches and hairy-footed flower bees, skylarks, and rosebay willow herb, and the joy that comes with deepening one’s relationship with place. Dancing with Bees is Strawbridge Howard’s charming and eloquent account of a return to noticing, to rediscovering a perspective on the world that had somehow been lost to her for decades and to reconnecting with the natural world. With special care and attention to the plight of pollinators, including honeybees, bumblebees, and solitary bees, and what we can do to help them, Strawbridge Howard shares fascinating details of the lives of flora and fauna that have filled her days with ever-increasing wonder and delight.

My Review: I received this audiobook from Netgalley as an ARC. Although I am a little scared of being stung by bees, I am also intrigued by them, so I was excited to read this book.

The author certainly knows a lot and is passionate about bees, and nature in general! Her enthusiasm is both inspiring and catching! I already noticed on my walk yesterday, that I could spot that an insect was a hover fly vs. a bee.

Renting an apartment without a garden or balcony, I am now rather sad that I won’t be able to plant any flowers for pollinators, like the author does in her allotment in the UK.

Well written and chalk full of information about bees (I never knew there were so many species!) and plants, this book is definitely worth the read!

My only critique about the audiobook is that I would have liked to be able to see the actual pictures of the bees. I resorted to google — if I had to do it over again, and I had a choice between the audiobook and the written book, the written book would have been my preference.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: Still Life by Louise Penny

338691Title: Still Life

Author: Louise Penny

Book Length (Audiobook): 14 hours and 54 minutes

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Thriller, Mystery, Crime,

Read Start Date: March 20, 2022

Read Finish Date: March 21, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: The discovery of a dead body in the woods on Thanksgiving Weekend brings Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his colleagues from the Surete du Quebec to a small village in the Eastern Townships. Gamache cannot understand why anyone would want to deliberately kill well-loved artist Jane Neal, especially any of the residents of Three Pines – a place so free from crime it doesn’t even have its own police force.

But Gamache knows that evil is lurking somewhere behind the white picket fences and that, if he watches closely enough, Three Pines will start to give up its dark secrets…

My Review: This is the first book in a series of books about Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. This book takes place in French Canada, in the small village of Three Pines. It was interesting to read a book about this location, as I don’t really know much about it. I generally liked the character of Gamache (although in one review I read it was pointed out that he spends a lot of time in cafes, eating pastries, or discussing them — I hadn’t thought of this while reading, but with hindsight this is so true!)

The murderer was not obvious, or at least not to me, so this kept me guessing the whole book. The clues were not so obvious that a monkey could figure it out (no disparagement to monkeys meant of course), and the discovery of the said clues were organic (following the pace and plot of the book), rather than forced. In other words, I could see that this investigation would actually unfold as it did in real life, with one piece building upon the previous.

The one thing that I did not like was the portrayal of the only female officer — she was portrayed as an arrogant upstart who thought the whole world was out to get her, that life was unfair, that Gamache was unfair etc. Basically, she was depicted as a whiny little fly, who only messed up the investigation but never furthered it. Way to throw your fellow woman under the bus, Louise Penny!

Other than that it was an entertaining read and one that I would definitely recommend.

BOOK REVIEW: The Paper Wasp by Lauren Acampora

42360844Title: The Paper Wasp

Author: Lauren Acampora

Book Length: 289 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Thriller

Read Start Date: March 5, 2022

Read Finish Date: March 20, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: An electrifying debut novel from the acclaimed author of The Wonder GardenThe Paper Wasp is a riveting knife-edge story of two women’s dark friendship of twisted ambition set against the backdrop of contemporary Hollywood. In small-town Michigan, Abby Graven leads a solitary life. Once a bright student on the cusp of a promising art career, she now languishes in her childhood home, trudging to and from her job as a supermarket cashier. Each day she is taunted from the magazine racks by the success of her former best friend Elise, a rising Hollywood starlet whose life in pictures Abby obsessively scrapbooks. At night Abby escapes through the films of her favorite director, Auguste Perren, a cult figure known for his creative institute the Rhizome. Inspired by Perren, Abby draws fantastical storyboards based on her often premonitory dreams, a visionary gift she keeps hidden.

When Abby encounters Elise again at their high school reunion, she is surprised and warmed that Elise still considers her not only a friend but a brilliant storyteller and true artist. Elise’s unexpected faith in Abby reignites in her a dormant hunger, and when Elise offhandedly tells Abby to look her up if she’s ever in LA, Abby soon arrives on her doorstep. There, Abby discovers that although Elise is flourishing professionally, behind her glossy magazine veneer she is lonely and disillusioned. Ever the supportive friend, Abby becomes enmeshed in Elise’s world, even as she guards her own dark secret and burning desire for greatness. As she edges closer to Elise, the Rhizome, and her own artistic ambitions, the dynamic shifts between the two friends–until Abby can see only one way to grasp the future that awaits her.

The Paper Wasp is a thrilling, unexpected journey into the psyche and imagination of a woman determined to fulfill her destiny from one of our most unique and incisive writers

My Review: I received this book from Netgalley as an ARC in exchange for an honest review in 2019. I am only getting to this book now, in 2022. I am somewhat addicted to books, so made the mistake of requesting too many books from Netgalley, all of which I did not get to. When the pandemic hit in 2020, I took a break from reviewing and therefore did not read any books from Netgalley. I am trying to rectify that now.

I am sorry that I didn’t read this book earlier, and I think that the Goodreads review of 3.32 as of the writing of this review does not give the book justice. The book is written in the 1st person, but is told as though it is a conversation or a letter to another person. The narrator is looking back at the past from her position in the future.

So for example: “The airplane seat beside me was unoccupied, so I was able to spread the drawings out on my lap. All at once you were there with me, resplendent on the sofa in your starry dress, the fiery wave of hair over your shoulder. Your eyes were the green of a forgotten lake, your sweet mouth quirked and curved.”

This writing style was okay, but not my favorite. Although it was interesting to see a character (e.g. Elise) wholly from the subjective perspective of someone else (Abby), I have never read a book written quite like this before and it took some getting used to. Additionally, it kind of led me astray, because you are only getting to see the inner working of the mind in so far as the narrator (Abby) wants you to — this led to a wholly unexpected twist at the end, which I did not see coming at all.

That being said, as you can tell from the above quote the author gives great descriptions, which I really liked.

SPOILER ALERT: I get into the plot here so don’t read on if you intend to read this book, which I highly recommend.

So at the beginning of the book, Abby seems obsessed with Elise, a childhood friend turned famous actor, even going so far as to keep clippings of Elise from magazines and the like. Abby and Elise haven’t been in contact for a while, but reconnect at the High School reunion, where Elise gives Abby her phone number. Abby, taking it upon herself, just shows up at Elise’s house in California, where after a moment of trepidation, Elise invites her in — and then to stay long term, first as a guest and then as Elise’s personal assistant.

This arrangement struck me as a little weird — but ok, maybe Elise is the whimsical Hollywood type who just does weird things. Would a normal person just invite someone they haven’t seen in a decade to stay long term? Abby seemed lonely in her old life, so she agrees. As the story goes on, we see that Elise is kind of a train wreck, and into herself. Eventually Abby starts to feel used and devalued, so she ups and leaves (after spilling all Elise’s secrets to the press) just when Elise needs her most (Elise is pregnant), Abby ignores Elise and basically runs away to pursue her own art.

There was also a backstory involving a cultish movie director, Perrin. Elise and Abby were obsessed with him as kids — Elise wants to star in one of his movies, and Abby wants Perrin to use her drawings as a basis for one of the movie plots. There is a place called the Rhizome where actors / artists go to hone their talents, get spa treatments, have dream therapy sessions, etc.

The falling out of the two came as a direct result of the Rhizome, wherein Elise wanted to restrict Abby’s access (after paying for several treatments for Abby as a gift), and Abby took this to mean that Elise did not want Abby to advance in her own career and that Elise was just a self centered ass. This led to the one side falling out of the friends (Abby just ghosted Elise and Elise was desperately trying to get in touch with Abby).

All of the above I can believe and seems pretty consistent…but then Abby goes and kidnaps Elise’s baby and moves to Europe to live with Perrin on his compound. Up to this point, Abby was the sympathetic character — all of a sudden she is the villain, having stolen the child because she believed that she could raise the baby better than Elise. I had always had the impression of Abby as the quiet mouse who didn’t think very much of herself–all of a sudden she thinks she can parent better than Elise? Granted Elise is more or less and alcoholic at this stage, but that doesn’t mean she deserved for her baby to be kidnapped, and it doesn’t mean that Abby is all of a sudden stable. I don’t know, I have very mixed emotions about this turn of events.

Anyway, I finished the book a few days ago and am still thinking about it, so that must say something, right?

This book is definitely worth checking out.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: Witness to Roswell, 75th Anniversary Edition: Unmasking the Government’s Biggest Cover-up by Thomas J. Carey and Donald R. Schmitt

58958031Title: Witness to Roswell, 75th Anniversary Edition: Unmasking the Government’s Biggest Cover-up

Author: Thomas J. Carey and Donald R. Schmitt

Book Length (Audiobook): 9 hours and 49 minutes

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction

Read Start Date: March 17, 2022

Read Finish Date: March 20, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: This classic in the field of UFOology is filled with hard-hitting eyewitness testimony of one of the most important events of all time: the actual recovery of a UFO outside of Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947. For more than 70 years, government authorities have led us to believe the wreckage was merely a very conventional weather balloon—but the witnesses who were there continue to tell a different story.

Witness to Roswell once again provides a “can’t put down” written account of what really transpired in Roswell decades ago. It pries loose the truth the government doesn’t want us to know including the revelations of Walter Haut. This edition includes: A growing litany of deathbed confessions describing the “little people” recovered at the crash site. The most comprehensive time line of events ever published on this seminal event. The identity of the Boeing engineer called in to examine the exotic wreckage from the crash. What really took place at the Roswell base hospital and what nurse actually ordered the children’s caskets. The story of the soldier who wore gloves at the dinner table after guarding the “bodies.”

Clearly, the implications of this information are foreboding. One need only look at the fact that officials now have four explanations for this historic event—but to which one do all the witnesses testify on their deathbeds?

Witness to Roswell once again demonstrates to the world that no statute of limitation applies to the truth: We are not alone.

This anniversary edition includes a new introduction by the authors and additional material

My Review: I received this book from Netgalley as an ARC in exchange for an honest review. I normally include more genre designations then just one, but this book does not have a genre category listed in Goodreads yet, and was listed as both nonfiction and “religion/spirituality” on Netgalley. To be honest, I am really confused as to how a book about aliens is “religious” or “spiritual”, so I think this is a wrong classification. I am tempted to categorize this more as “science fiction”, except this is a nonfiction book. Oh well.

My favorite show growing up was, hands down, The X-files. I own all original 9 seasons on DVD, and have probably watched them dozens of times. Therefore, you can imagine my excitement when I saw this audiobook on Netgalley. This book did not disappoint.

While the telling is a little dry and repetitive (the same story was repeated several times from different sources), the substance of the information is very intriguing. If the authors have documented evidence, as they claim, to support the stories / information stated in this book, then a person would seem to be hard pressed not to believe that aliens crashed at Roswell in 1947. None of the information was really new to me, but it was interesting to hear it in a nonfiction context. Most of my exposure to aliens have been through the fiction media (although the fiction seems pretty close to the nonfiction).

While the authors claim to have evidence (as stated above) I do not have access to this purported evidence, so I cannot really do anything other than chose to take the authors at their word, or not. This book has left me with intriguing questions, and even started a discussion between my boyfriend and I as to whether this was real or BS (my boyfriend leaning more to the skeptical side).

To say that this book is thought provoking is putting it mildly. Are we alone? Are we being visited by beings from another world? I personally am not sure.

I would definitely recommend this book.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

20170404._SX318_SY475_Title: Station Eleven

Author: Emily St. John Mandel

Book Length (Audiobook): 10 hours and 41 minutes

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Dystopia, Post-Apocalyptic

Read Start Date: March 7, 2022

Read Finish Date: March 10, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Set in the days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time—from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains—this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet.

My Review: Although another book about a plague, it was far enough removed from COVID, that I wasn’t turned off. This book was published in 2014, but in 2022 was listed as one of the most popular books at the library, which is why I checked out an audiobook copy. I think the recent popularity of the book is due to the release of the limited television series on HBO Max. Unfortunately, in Austria I do not have access to this channel, so I am a little disappointed that I won’t be able to watch it.

One of the opening scenes in the book, a group of people gather at a bar. The author informs us that within three weeks, all of them would be dead. Not from COVID, or even a corona virus, but from a deadly strain of the flu. I loved the foreshadowing in this sentence.

This book reminded me a little bit of Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr (you can see my review of Cloud Cuckoo Land here), in that a book–in this case a graphic novel written and illustrated by Miranda, the first wife of the famous Hollywood actor referenced above–connects the stories of several of the main characters.

In general I liked the story, the writing was great, and the overall premise was intriguing. However, the reason why I couldn’t give it 5 stars, was that it fell flat for me in several places. For example, I would have liked more background into the prophet and his community. Secondly, the book takes places almost 15 years after the plague wiped everyone out, but it still felt like the plague had just happened. There are huge unexplained gaps between pre-plague and 15 years on in the stories of the characters. What happened in the middle? Why was civilization still fractured? Was no one left alive that could figure out how to turn the power back on?

Additionally, we the readers know the connection between the characters, but the characters themselves seem to have missed it, which was a little disappointing.

In any event, all in all its a great book and I would recommend it.

BOOK REVIEW: Last Exit by Max Gladstone

57693437Title: Last Exit

Author: Max Gladstone

Book Length: 21 hours and 3 minutes

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Science Fiction, LGBT, Horror

Read Start Date: February 26, 2022

Read Finish Date: March 2, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Ten years ago, Zelda led a band of merry adventurers whose knacks let them travel to alternate realities and battle the black rot that threatened to unmake each world. Zelda was the warrior; Ish could locate people anywhere; Ramon always knew what path to take; Sarah could turn catastrophe aside. Keeping them all connected: Sal, Zelda’s lover and the group’s heart.

Until their final, failed mission, when Sal was lost. When they all fell apart. Ten years on, Ish, Ramon, and Sarah are happy and successful. Zelda is alone, always traveling, destroying rot throughout the US. When it boils through the crack in the Liberty Bell, the rot gives Zelda proof that Sal is alive, trapped somewhere in the alts.

Zelda’s getting the band back together—plus Sal’s young cousin June, who has a knack none of them have ever seen before. As relationships rekindle, the friends begin to believe they can find Sal and heal all the worlds. It’s not going to be easy, but they’ve faced worse before. But things have changed, out there in the alts. And in everyone’s hearts.

My Review: I received this audiobook from Netgalley as an ARC. First, I want to talk about the pros.

The cover: wow. I just love it. It’s so eerie and beautiful at the same time.

The writing: Love it. The writing is simply amazing. I loved the style. I loved the way that it made me see the story.

The plot: In general, I was positive about the plot and the execution of the story. The book is heavy on character development and the background of the characters, which I liked. You really get a feeling for who these characters are and how that plays into the story as a whole. That being said, I would have liked to have more background into the alternate worlds, the rot, etc. It felt like that this was the sequel to a book that was never written. What is the rot? Why was it unmaking worlds? I’m still not 100% clear on that.

While trying to save Sal, the characters come across this evil entity, known only as the “cowboy”. He wears a white cowboy hat. Sometimes people were turned into his pawns, signified by their wearing of a  white cowboy hat. Who is this cowboy? What is he supposed to signify? I’m still a little confused about this.

This is were the con for me comes in. This book is LONG: 21 hours of listening time. I found that at least the first 30% of the book was dedicated almost only to character development / backstory, so it dragged a little bit in the beginning. I also found the book confusing at times and had to backtrack and listen again (sometimes 3 times) to what had happened in order to understand what was going on.

I’m not going to blame the author here for this because I am the mother of a 6 month old who I was also taking care of while listening. Was I maybe too distracted for this book? Possibly. Sometimes my baby was crying and I missed a key part and had to rewind. Other times my mind just wandered elsewhere and when it returned, I was totally lost. I will say that this book takes concentration to read and fully understand. I think I just didn’t have the bandwidth to really give this book the justice it deserved because it really is a great story.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely. If you are a fan of the Dark Tower series from Stephen King, you will not be disappointed in this book. However, I would not suggest to multitask when reading, as it takes full concentration. Therefore, I would suggest to read the book rather than listen to it as an audiobook.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: Scarecrow Has a Gun by Michael Paul Kozlowsky

59507885

Title: Scarecrow Has a Gun

Author: Michael Paul Kozlowsky

Audiobook Length: 8 hours and 10 minutes

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Science Fiction

Read Start Date: February 21, 2022

Read Finish Date:

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Sean
Whittlesea was there when his wife was murdered. He saw the light leave her eyes. He held her dead body in his arms. He knows he wept, but he cannot recollect a single other detail. Tormented by the tragedy, Sean relives the horror over and over again. As he struggles to recall what really happened, his imagination serves up an endless chain of scenarios. The truth, however, remains hidden in the vault of his memory, and
the key is nowhere to be found. Nearly two decades later, Sean, now remarried and a father of two, wins a bizarre contest hosted by his eccentric boss. The prize is the Memory Palace, a state-of-the-art black box that purportedly allows its possessor to relive every moment he has ever experienced, playing out all the memories on a screen.

While the small machine at first appears to be the answer to the mystery surrounding the death of his wife, it instead upends Sean’s life. He pushes his family further and further away as the Memory Palace forces him to confront harsh realities and difficult questions that he lacks the strength to face or answer. Spiraling downward, Sean encounters increasingly harrowing challenges that force him to
realize that his memory is not the only thing at stake. To recover the truth about his past, Sean must fight for his very life.

My Review: I received this book from Netgalley as an ARC Audiobook. I gave this book 4 stars, as my overall impression of the book was positive. Let’s start with the cover. My first impression, having not read the synopsis of the book, was that the book was a mystery / thriller starring a detective. I was under this impression due to the title “Scarecrow Has a Gun.” I was not correct in the slightest. The title is actually an obscure reference to the fact that in the movie Wizard of Oz, the Scarecrow at some point in the film has a pistol, but that nobody seems to remember this fact. This reference is so obscure, that until the author made reference to it in the last 25% of the book, I had no idea. And even when the character in the book explained this reference, I am still not 100% sure I understand it in the context of the book — maybe that memories are not what they seem? That reality is not what we remember? I wasn’t too impressed either with the cover image itself. 34430839I think it is supposed to be a picture of the memory palace, but when I compare it to the cover of e.g. Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King (see the image on the right), which is another book about a mysterious box, then the cover of Scarecrow Has a Gun seems rather dark and does not draw the eye. Based upon the cover, I’m not sure I would have picked it up at the bookstore.

Regardless, of my initial impression of the cover and title, I have to say that I really enjoyed the book overall. We meet Sean
Whittlesea as he is competing for a prize in his boss’s “widowers club.” Essentially, this is a invitation only exclusive club which is only open to widowers. Every so often (and at random intervals) the widowers compete in a contest to win an undisclosed prize. After several attempts, Sean finally wins. His prize: the memory palace. The memory palace is a box that when plugged into your brain, shows you past memories. Upon seeing such memories, Sean is convinced that there is something wrong with the box because nothing is as he had previously remembered it. Unfortunately, it is all too real and what the box reveals about his wife’s death will alter his life forever.

I really liked the premise of the book: memories are not what they seem. What we actually remember is only an illusion. It made me think whether there are certain memories of mine that are incorrect, or that I am not remembering correctly. Did I really see my grandfather being driven away in an ambulance when I was four? Or is this a memory I have reconstructed from stories told by my parents?

Although this book purports to be science fiction, I didn’t really see any elements of that. To me it would have been better classified as a “mystery” or even a “thriller”.  I mainly listened to this book while feeding my 6 month old baby or going for walks, cleaning the house, etc. It is an easy read and doesn’t require too much concentration. It is a great story to pass the time. The story is engaging and I definitely did not see the twist at the end coming. However, the ending left me a little unsatisfied. It seemed a bit rushed. I would have liked to have it drawn out more. It’s like we waited the entire book to find out what happened, and then in one or two scenes everything is explained and then its over.

The most interesting part of the book for me was actually the widowers club, and how the person running this club (Sean’s boss) was essentially “creating” better people so that they could benefit the company. It reminds me of certain cults. I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more regarding the widowers club in the book. I would be interested to read more books in a series about the widowers club. I wonder if the author has this in mind, or if this book was just a one off.

This book will be published in August 2022. I would definitely recommend adding it to your TBR list.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover

27362503._SY475_Title: It Ends With Us

Author: Colleen Hoover

Audiobook Length: 11 hours and 11 minutes

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Romance, Contemporary, Sociology

Read Start Date: January 2, 2022

Read Finish Date: January 5, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Sometimes it is the one who loves you who hurts you the most.

Lily hasn’t always had it easy, but that’s never stopped her from working hard for the life she wants. She’s come a long way from the small town in Maine where she grew up — she graduated from college, moved to Boston, and started her own business. So when she feels a spark with a gorgeous neurosurgeon named Ryle Kincaid, everything in Lily’s life suddenly seems almost too good to be true.

Ryle is assertive, stubborn, maybe even a little arrogant. He’s also sensitive, brilliant, and has a total soft spot for Lily. And the way he looks in scrubs certainly doesn’t hurt. Lily can’t get him out of her head. But Ryle’s complete aversion to relationships is disturbing. Even as Lily finds herself becoming the exception to his “no dating” rule, she can’t help but wonder what made him that way in the first place.

As questions about her new relationship overwhelm her, so do thoughts of Atlas Corrigan — her first love and a link to the past she left behind. He was her kindred spirit, her protector. When Atlas suddenly reappears, everything Lily has built with Ryle is threatened.

My Review: As of the writing of this review, this book has been on the NY Times Bestsellers list for 35 weeks. This book was also received a Goodread’s Choice award in 2016. Needless to say, this is a pretty popular book at the moment, despite having been published in 2016.

We meet Lily standing on a roof top in Boston, contemplating her decision not to eulogize her father, who had been abusive toward her mother. There she meets neurosurgeon, Ryle Kincaid, and although sparks are flying, Ryle is not the relationship type (as he himself proclaims). Although a little strange, at the time I didn’t give it much thought. I figured, okay he is just a player; but this reluctance is explained later.

Fast forward to sometime later, Lily starts her own business and hires coincidentally, Ryle’s sister. Thus, Ryle is thrust back into Lily’s life, and surprisingly, they start dating. At around this time, Lily’s first love Atlas shows back up in the picture (again coincidentally: they meet at Atlas’ restaurant where Lily is having lunch).

Fate seems to have brought 2 guys into Lily’s life. Lucky girl. Or is she?

Soon we start to see the cracks in the “nice guy” façade that Ryle has carefully constructed. Since the description of the book did not mention abuse, it came as quite the surprise to me. I was definitely not expecting it. If you are a person who has suffered from abuse and would be upset by descriptive scenes of physical violence, including rape, then this book may not be for you. I have to say that I was disturbed myself. It also irks me that this book is classified as a “romance” novel. When I think of romance novels, my mind does not envision an abusive relationship.

In any event, I’m sure by now you can figure out what Lily eventually decided to do about her relationship with Ryle (the title is big giveaway in this regard). Although the abuse was difficult to get through, Lily’s strength and resilience was inspiring.

Although Colleen Hoover wrote the book based on her mother’s own true story, I was a little irked that she wrote Ryle as not the villain, but rather as a person. Meaning, he wasn’t good nor bad, but made mistakes like we all do. He was a good brother and father, but made a horrible romantic partner. That being said, does being a good father, make him a good person? I don’t know. Can you be a good father if you beat the baby’s mother? That Hoover portrayed him as a sympathetic character who sometimes does bad things was strange. Should I feel bad for an abusive person? I certainly don’t want to, but somehow I ended up not disliking Ryle as much as I should have. So, there were some conflicting emotions for me with this one.

Have you read the book? What do you think about the portrayal of Ryle?