Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Petalfrog”

Petalfrog’s #CBR4 Review #52: Monster by Jonathan Kellerman

My final review!!!! How thrilling!!! I read a few books that I didn’t review for various reasons, so I’m excited that I still made the 52! I wish I had something more exciting to say about this one.

From Amazon:

A marginal actor is found dead in a car trunk, sawn in half. Months later, a psychologist at a hospital for the criminally insane is discovered murdered and mutilated in a tantalizingly similar way. When reports of an inmate’s incoherent ramblings begin to make frightening sense as predictions of yet more slayings, Delaware and Sturgis are drawn into a web of family secrets, vengeance, and manipulation–both inside the asylum and on the streets of L.A., where death, drugs, and sex are marketed as commodities.

This is an Alex Delaware novel, published in 1999. It’s a pretty solid mystery thriller with an interesting plot and characters. I have made my love for Jonathan Kellerman’s books quite clear (Deception and Devil’s Waltz reviews), and my one complaint about them is that they can be a bit too twisty and fall into bureaucratic conspiracy as a plot device too often. This book didn’t have either of those elements — it was straightforward detecting, with no red herrings or conspiracy theorizing which I appreciated.

What made this one interesting for me was seeing how Delaware is the star of this one (as opposed to Milo, who clearly becomes the real “star” of the series, as I discussed in the Deception review). Kellerman has written tons of these books, and the nuance of his characters continue to grow across novels, which I really like. Again, this was a solid thriller that I really enjoyed.

Petalfrog’s #CBR4 Review #51: The Uninvited by Liz Jensen

Description from Amazon:

A seven-year-old girl puts a nail gun to her grandmother’s neck and fires. An isolated incident, say the experts. The experts are wrong. Across the world, children are killing their families. Is violence contagious? As chilling murders by children grip the country, anthropologist Hesketh Lock has his own mystery to solve: a bizarre scandal in the Taiwan timber industry. Hesketh has never been good at relationships: Asperger’s Syndrome has seen to that. But he does have a talent for spotting behavioral patterns and an outsider’s fascination with group dynamics. Nothing obvious connects Hesketh’s Asian case with the atrocities back home. Or with the increasingly odd behavior of his beloved stepson, Freddy. But when Hesketh’s Taiwan contact dies shockingly and more acts of sabotage and child violence sweep the globe, he is forced to acknowledge possibilities that defy the rational principles on which he has staked his life, his career, and, most devastatingly of all, his role as a father.

This book was super interesting. Described on Amazon as part dystopian, part psychological thriller, this book certainly fits the bill. I tend to lean more towards psychological thrillers based in crime, so this was a definite interesting one for me to read. I thought it was an interesting narrative choice to tell the whole book from Hesketh’s (first person) perspective. Another author (Stephen King, for example), would have told it from multiple perspectives, given that the events of killer kids and suicidal saboteurs were occurring throughout the world. I think this helped to really isolate you into Hesketh’s world, which by itself is somewhat isolated due to the nature of his Asperger’s. He’s definitely an interesting character, and I enjoyed his perspective (even when it was sometimes a bit odd).

I do wish this book had more of the psychological thriller piece… even though the world is essentially fallen apart, I didn’t feel much sense of desperation or urgency NOR hope. This was kind of a weird experience — yes all these awful things were happening, but it was all so matter of fact. I kept wondering how the book would end and was very interested in continuing to read, so that was a positive. However, the end felt unresolved to me, and I also didn’t fully understand it, but perhaps that’s the nature of dystopian literature? There is no good answer in the end…

I do recommend this book in the end as I was engaged throughout and I enjoyed Hesketh and some of the curious events in the story.

I received this book from Netgalley. This book will be released on Jan 8th and can be pre-ordered on Amazon.

Read more of my reviews at my blog!

Petalfrog’s #CBR4 Review #50: The Help by Kathryn Sockett

I bought this book ages ago, right around the time movie came out. I avoided reading it once I’d seen the multiple ads and “hype” for the movie that presented it as a light-hearted romp through race relations in 1960s Mississippi. I just was not in the mood for a feel-good book that presented race relations as some kind of fine and dandy and easily resolved issue. Finally though, I got around to reading the book because I was not in the mood for my Kindle, and I must say I am so happy I did.

For those not in the know, The Help is the story of three women in 1960s Mississippi — two black maids (Aibileen and Minny) and one white, recent college graduate (Skeeter). Set right around the time that the Civil Rights movement began, the story is told in alternating chapters from the perspective of each of the main characters. Aibileen doesn’t have much of her own plotline, but she is the person who holds the various threads together. Minny, who has been fired from numerous jobs for being “rude,” finally got a stable job working with the black sheep of the town, Celia. Skeeter wants more from life than to be a wife and mother (as her friends are doing). She wants to be a serious writer, and sees her opportunity after witnessing the inherently racist Hilly demand that their mutual friend, Aibileen’s employer, build a separate toilet for Aibileen to use. This incident gets Skeeter thinking about what really goes on with the maids in Jackson, and so she approaches Aibileen to help her write a book. Needless to say there are some hijinks, some really scary moments where the women fear they will be found out, and some triumphant moments.

The book undoubtedly does best during those scary moments, since that’s what feels the most real and raw and most reflective of what the civil rights movement was all about. The book does not go too much into the movement itself, but it helps us see WHY this movement was so important. The book has some truly funny and entertaining and really satisfying moments too, and these allow us to see why these women persevere and never gave up in their mission. It’s really well-written and structured as well. I’m not going to get into the use of different dialects and accents to distinguish between the maids and Skeeter, except to say I see why this was done. Even Minny, who is better educated and read than Aibileen, had less of a dialect/slang than Aibileen did, yet at NO time was Aibileen portrayed as stupid because of the way she “spoke.” I also don’t want to get into too much of the controversy about having a white woman write THIS book and having Skeeter (a white woman) be the author of the maid’s book in the story itself. Kathryn Sockett can’t help that she got this idea AND happened to be white. She can write whatever she wants as far as I’m concerned. As for Skeeter writing the maid’s stories… well read the book, and you’ll see why that was the only way.

Anyways, I loved this book way more than expected and was truly sad when it was over. It’s the first book I’ve read in a LONG time where I feel I could read it again.

Read more reviews at my blog here!

Petalfrog’s #CBR4 Review #48: Kidowed by Jessica Kenley

Official description (taken from Goodreads):

In this book you’ll find the the struggles, sorrows, and triumphs of the author after she has two children with a rare and universally fatal genetic disease. As she travels through her hellish journey, you will experience unexpected humor, endless love, and learn how strong one family can be while they walk beside her.

Let’s get real. This description is kind of some bullshit. It gives the sense of a heartwarming novel, filled with platitudes, where our girl Jessica has an epiphany over the course of her “journey.” If you’re looking for that kind of memoir, you’re in the wrong place. This memoir, told in diary form, is RAW RAW RAW and ANGRY. Jessica, for the majority of the memoir, is pissed off as all hell and quite frankly, I don’t blame her one bit. When Jessica starts writing her diary her first child, Ethan, has been dead for two years and her second child, Kaylee, is only a few weeks old. Both of Jessica’s children had the same fatal disease, Epidermolysis Bullosa. This disease, based on what Jessica writes and my own research, is AWFUL and completely heart breaking. Jessica’s experience is different than many other parents whose kids died of terminal illness because no one knew what to do with her kids, and, to top it off, insurance would not cover much of the non-traditional “medical” supplies she needed (e.g., special diapers and blankets). Her babies lived in pain (or in Kaylee’s case, she got to have some meds to help out with that), and there was nothing Jessica could do. Medical care made matters worse because it, by its nature, damaged her kids’ skin even more. No wonder she was so pissed. There are no special walks for EB, or little colored plastic bracelets, or months of the year dedicated to raising awareness. She was totally alone, and already prone to depression. Plus, she had quite a fair amount of guilt about Kaylee being conceived and born, given the genetic risk of her also being an EB baby.

I don’t know if this was done deliberately, but I was surprised to see Kaylee’s (heartbreaking) death happen so early. I assumed that the book would revolve around Kaylee’s illness, and it did for about the first third, but the book is truly about Jessica and how mad and sad she is. It’s about her trying to figure things out, and make sense of her life as a mom of deceased babies, a friend, a sister, and a worker. There are some truly heart-warming moments and Jessica tells the story with a fair amount of humour (as much as possible in this situation), and a real ballsy tone, yet it is not a doom and gloom book. On the contrary, she is simply a pissed off lady and doesn’t care who knows it. Jessica does eventually work through her depression, anger, and depression, but that happens mostly “behind the scenes” as there are huge gaps in her diary where her healing takes place.

I read a review on Amazon where the person was all “oh she’s so mad, why wasn’t this more heart-warming, I couldn’t even finish it” to which I argue that I appreciate that this memoir was not all kittens, unicorns and ponies. This is a book, not only about death, but also about guilt, shame, injustice, and moving on. I am glad Jessica did not censor her anger or try to make the reader comfortable. I was uncomfortable for most of it, but that does not compare to Jessica’s life, or her babies’ lives. Why should she have to cater her memoir to the reader’s comfort? I wish more memoirs were this raw. Then, I had my own moment of judgment in the very last paragraph of the book, and I felt like such an asshole, because who am I? I thank Jessica for writing this book, and putting her raw, open, bleeding heart out there for public consumption.

Read more of my reviews here.

Petalfrog’s #CBR4 Review #47: A Drink Before War by Dennis Lehane

Somehow the first in the Kenzie/Gennaro series escaped my attention. I found this little gem at a local bookstore for only $5. Love getting real books by my favorite authors at great prices! I have absolutely no idea how I have read all the books in this series, except this one. Very odd.

In A Drink Before War, we meet Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro for the first time. The two private investigators, working out of a church bell tower in Dorchester, are hired by a pair of local government officials to find a black cleaning lady seemingly because she took some important government documents before randomly disappearing. Of course, being a Lehane novel, nothing is as it seems and we are treated to the unraveling of a government cover-up of the most heinous of crimes. While doing this, Patrick and Angie also run afoul of local Dorchester gang leaders who have no qualms about trying to kill off our intrepid investigators.

I have previously gushed about my love for all writings Dennis Lehane here, so I won’t go into that again. Needless to say, I feel very similarly towards this book. For a debut in this series (written in the 1990s), this is an exceedingly strong tale. Patrick and Angie are instantly fleshed out as full characters, with character development occuring over the course of the book. More interestingly though, is Lehane’s take on race relations. Often times race relations are only central to stories set in the South, but not so here. Lehane offers an in-depth and poignant view of the clash of races in Dorchester — an area made up of blue collar whites (often Irish-American), and areas of deep poverty, primarily populated by black and Hispanic individuals. His take on this is raw and real, and take the book to a deeper level than the typical crime thriller. This is the beauty of a Lehane novel, it is never as simple as what you think it will be, and will challenge you to look at your own biases and prejudices. Needless to say, I really loved this book and am tempted to go back and re-read more Kenzie/Gennaro books.

Read more of my reviews here!

Petalfrog’s #CBR4 Revew #46: The Inner Circle by Robert Swartwood

Almost forty reviews ago, I read and reviewed Man of Wax, the first in this trilogy. Since then I have been fortunate to have some contact with the author, and he liked my initial review enough to send me his latest novel, The Inner Circle. The Inner Circle is the sequel to Man of Wax.

Spoilers for Man of Wax below:

In Man of Wax, Ben Anderson was entered into a brutal game requiring him to kill and torture people in order to save his family. Ben was rescued from the game by Carver Ellison, and the book picks up two years later. Ben and Carver have spent the last two years, along with computer-whiz The Kid, saving multiple people from the game. Some have joined their army, in the fight against the game’s mastermind Caesar, although others have not been so lucky.

In this novel, they get some inside information (through tragic circumstances), that Caesar is planning a modern version of the Roman Games. The team must work quickly to infiltrate these new Games, especially given that hundreds of members of the Inner Circle will be present. This is their chance to end Caesar and the pain and suffering that he continues to cause.

I really enjoyed this book. It takes us deeper into Ben and Carver’s operation, giving us some touching and brutal back-stories on different team members. Ben is, needless to say, a very different man from the first novel. His life has been ruined, and he is trying to find his place with his new mission. The book keeps up the action very well, always leaving me wanting more. My only complaint is that there were too many car-chase scenes (at least three or four). These all jumbled together at some point and I found myself barely skimming those parts. Again, the author does a really interesting job (as he tends to across all of his books) looking at the dynamic of human nature with a very slight spiritual lens. This is NOT by any means a religious book, and it is definitely not a Christian book, but it is interesting to see how the characters approach the question of their own spirituality given the never-ending brutality they are faced with. It is a bit of a surprise in a book filled with some of the most evil acts I could think of, but it keeps it from being too cynical or depressing of a book. As long as the characters question and acknowledge these issues it keeps them human. Certainly, the end of the book is quite the cliffhanger, and I am excited to see where it goes next.

Disclaimer: Without a doubt, this book is not for the faint of heart as Swartwood describes the Inner Circle’s torturous acts in often graphic detail. On a kittens to Blake Crouch scale of 1-10, it is about a 6 or 7. Thankfully, we usually find out the details of the aftermath (and not from a victim’s first-person perspective as they are being tortured), but there is definitely a fair amount of brutality.

Read more reviews at my blog!

Petalfrog’s #CBR4 Review #44: The Last Victim by Karen Robards

Karen Robards mixes the paranormal with a fairly standard serial killer mystery to mixed results. In this mash-up of genres, Dr. Charlotte Stone (Charlie) is a renowned forensic psychiatrist specializing in the study of serial killers (despite being only about 30 years old and no unique area of research noted). She is so renowned, in fact, that the FBI comes to the prison where she is working to request her help on a case. To be fair, they also seek out her help because Charlie, when she was a teenager, witnessed her friend’s family being murdered by The Boardwalk Killer. The FBI team, led by Tony Bartoli, are concerned that the current case may be a copycat, or worse, The Boardwalk Killer returned. To top it all off, Charlie has a special “skill” in being able to see the spirits of recently violently deceased. When the FBI agents interrupted her interview of Michael Garland, imprisoned for life for killing seven women, Garland is shanked in the halls. Charlie’s attempt to save him, somehow “seals” him to her, and she must deal with his presence while helping the FBI.

The book has some potential, but overall I just couldn’t love it. The mystery is often lost for chapters at a time in favor of paranormal stuff, especially when Charlie is initially dealing with Garland. Also, there is a totally bizarre and unbelievable love-plot with Garland as well. I assume that in future books we will discover that Garland is in fact innocent of the crimes, but it seemed so out of place that Charlie would be so emotionally attracted to someone she knows to be a murdered of women. Her attempt to “psychoanalyze” herself did not exactly justify this either (oooh Daddy issues. Give me a break).

Also, I just got the sense that the author must not have much background in psychology/psychiatry. All the psych stuff was so hackneyed and cliche it felt like Robards just mimicked things she’d seen on TV or read in other books. I hate to say it, but traditional psychodynamic orientations aren’t the most popular currently, yet that was clearly all Charlie knew. Combined with a misuse of the word “schizophrenic” made me just feel annoyed with any of the psychological aspects of the book.

The writing was a bit inelegant at times, and could have been tighter and more exciting. The dialogue and characters were fine, but nothing particularly inspiring. The ending was a bit out of the blue, especially given that the mystery was clearly not the focus of the book. Apparently, Robards has written dozens of books (I’ve never heard of her), but I doubt I will go out of my way to seek out her books in the future.

This was a netgalley advanced copy and is available now!

Read more of my reviews at my blog!

Petalfrog’s #CBR4 Review #43: Devil’s Waltz by Jonathan Kellerman

Book Description:

The doctors call it Munchausen by proxy, the terrifying disease that causes parents to induce illness in their own children. Now, in his most frightening case, Dr. Alex Delaware may have to prove that a child’s own mother or father is making her sick.

Twenty-one-month-old Cassie Jones is bright, energetic, the picture of health. Yet her parents rush her to the emergency room night after night with medical symptoms no doctor can explain. Cassie’s parents seem sympathetic and deeply concerned. Her favorite nurse is a model of devotion. Yet when child psychologist Alex Delaware is called in to investigate, instinct tells him that one of them may be a monster.

Then a physician at the hospital is brutally murdered. A shadowy death is revealed. And Alex and his friend LAPD detective Milo Sturgis have only hours to uncover the link between these shocking events and the fate of an innocent child.

This was one of the earlier books in the Alex Delaware series, originally published in 1993 (with a super creepy cover), and yet it still stands the test of the time fifteen years later. The topic is a horrifying one indeed – Munchausen by proxy is something that most of us find appalling and unbelievable. The notion of a parent making their child sick to receive attention is beyond our understanding. Jonathan Kellerman handles the issue deftly, recognizing the ethical and clinical dilemma Dr. Alex Delaware is in when he is asked to consult on the case. Alex typically does more investigation than we would expect from a psychologist, assisted by his best buddy the always delightful LAPD detective Milo Sturgis.

As tends to happen in the Delaware series, the twists and turns abound, and nothing is as it seems. The Munchausen by proxy issue is really a proxy (hah, see what I did there?) for the larger mystery which involves high levels of corruption among the hospital bureaucracy. The novel, despite its dark topic, is not without humour which helps to make it readable and enjoyable. This is definitely one of Kellerman’s strengths and a reason I will always read his book — he can deftly make the most complicated and dark mystery engaging and interesting, while also injecting moments of lightness (usually when Alex and Milo interact). Needless to say I enjoyed this book, and I recommend it even though it is a bit older.

Petalfrog’s #CBR4 Review #42: Children of the Fog by Cheryl Kaye Tardif

From Good Reads:

Sadie O’Connell is a bestselling author and a proud mother. But her life is about to spiral out of control. After her six-year-old son Sam is kidnapped by a serial abductor, she nearly goes insane. But it isn’t just the fear and grief that is ripping her apart. It’s the guilt. Sadie is the only person who knows what the kidnapper looks like. And she can’t tell a soul. For if she does, her son will be sent back to her in “little bloody pieces”.

When Sadie’s unfaithful husband stumbles across her drawing of the kidnapper, he sets into play a series of horrific events that sends her hurtling over the edge. Sadie’s descent into alcoholism leads to strange apparitions and a face-to-face encounter with the monster who abducted her son–a man known only as…The Fog.

I found this book to be quite odd. The plotline is definitely an interesting one, and I was expecting this to be along the lines of literary fiction. However, the characters were poorly developed throughout although I was enjoying the story until the unnecessary supernatural twist half way through the book, which totally threw me off. It took quite a bit of motivation to keep reading. This book desperately needed to be told from a first person’s perspective. We only ever see Sadie’s side of the story and frequently she speaks out loud so we know her internal dialogue — so why wasn’t this written from Sadie’s perspective? As a result of this odd choice, Sadie is underdeveloped and quite frankly, pretty annoying at times.

I wish Sadie’s “descent into alcoholism” had been explored with more nuance and depth, but it’s as cliche as we can expect and also apparently leads to these supernatural interactions. I also wondered throughout what inherent quality did Sadie have that allowed her to channel the supernatural? I doubt this popped up out of nowhere, and to have alcohol as an explanation just doesn’t cut it. The dialogue is mostly hackneyed as well.

So in writing this, I guess I disliked the book more than I thought! It’s not the worst thing I’ve read this year, but it certainly isn’t the best.

Read more of my reviews at my blog!

Petalfrog’s #CBR4 Review #41: Huntress Moon by Alexandra Sokoloff

I’ve been putting off this review for several weeks now, mainly because I’m burning out a bit towards the end of the Run, and partially because I really wish I loved this book more. A quick aside, for the first time in my life, while sifting through Kindle books (after finishing Stuff) I thought to myself “ugh, I don’t feel to read.” This has literally never happened to me. I read everyday, even if it is just a page or two… so yeah, I think the “necessity” of the Run is having some effects, but it’s all good because I’m on a Jonathan Kellerman now, and those I never tire of!

Anyways, back to Huntress Moon (LOVE the title). So, as I mentioned before, Alexandra Sokoloff sent me two books (one e-book, one hardback), after I reviewed the first book of hers I read, Book of Shadows. Then I read her debut, and wasn’t super in love with it, but it was a debut, so no biggie. Huntress Moon is her most recent work, and while I vastly prefer it over The Harrowing, I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as Book of Shadows.

FBI Special Agent Matthew Roarke is closing in on a bust of a major criminal organization in San Francisco when he witnesses an undercover member of his team killed right in front of him on a busy street, an accident Roarke can’t believe is coincidental. His suspicions put him on the trail of a mysterious young woman who appears to have been present at each scene of a years-long string of “accidents” and murders, and who may well be that most rare of killers: a female serial.

— From GoodReads

The book’s narrative trades back and forth between Matthew Roarke and “the mysterious young woman” (all in third person), and while we get a really deep understanding of Roarke and his motivations, I felt that I never fully understood the woman. At one point she befriends a single father and his young son, striking up a very strong bond with the son (who lacks a reliable mother figure), yet it is never quite clear why she went so deep with them so quickly. It’s implied she has major mental health issues (borderline personality disorder, if I’m remembered correctly), which could explain her quick draw to the man and his son, or it could be as part of a larger mission. We do eventually find out her larger mission, and again I wish I knew more about that. How did she find out about what was going on? Did she deliberately bring Roarke into it? I really enjoyed all the parts with Roarke, but at the end of the book was craving more answers about the woman. I also felt the ending felt a bit sudden, and again left me wanting more (which is a good thing I think!).

Overall, a nice suspenseful read with some exciting and interesting moments, and a somewhat out of the blue ending and resolution. I am still excited to keep reading more of Alexandra Sokoloff’s books.
Read more of my reviews (and other stuff) here!

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