Monday, January 20, 2020

Deep State by Chris Hauty

Hayley Chill is one of the White House's newest interns. Recently discharged from the Army, she seems an unlikely candidate for an internship, especially one with the chief of staff himself. Her resume aside, however, Hayley is incredibly smart, quick witted, and cunning. She's also gifted with an eidetic memory and a tenacious determination that works just as well inside the White House as it has in every other aspect of her life. But her mettle is tested when she finds the chief of staff dead in his home.

The death is initially determined to be due to a heart attack, but Hayley is in possession of evidence that could prove otherwise and those responsible will stop at nothing to ensure their agenda is carried out without complications. 

There's a lot of set up for Hayley. We meet her as she's about to fight, boxing for the army. Then she's discharged and heads to the White House. She meets her fellow interns, she has a chance to endear herself to the chief of staff, winning him over with her accent and her smarts. And then she wins over the president himself. The other interns are jealous, the chief of staff's assistant is jealous, and then Hayley catches the eye of a handsome secret service guy and gains his interest as well.

And all of that happens BEFORE anyone dies.

Hauty also takes the time to include some little asides letting us know, for example, that one of the interns will go on to lead a cult while another becomes a hedge fund manager. And while these asides were amusing, I did have to wonder what it had to to with the main plot. I also had to wonder if Chill is being set up as a series lead, although nothing so far indicates this.

It's pretty clear in the reading, even without seeing Hauty's bio, that he has a background in screenwriting. Scenes within the story are absolutely set up the way a screenwriter would do so. Amazingly, this and the meandering bits mentioned above don't actually hang up the pacing of the story all that much. The story moves quickly and has enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing and amply entertained.

Since I listened to it on audio while my husband was out of town and I was hanging out with my one year old, I should note this is the kind of book where, if you're distracted by a child intent on pulling every item out of your pantry and you realize suddenly that you missed the last few minutes of narrative, you can still easily hold the thread of the story. Which is not a bad thing, except that in a thriller I kind of want some blink and you miss them clues.

Deep State is an entertaining debut, but I wouldn't go so far as to say that I loved it. I wanted it to be smarter—it wasn't a predictable plot but the players were all exactly what I'd expect out of a spy novel.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

St. Francis Society for Wayward Pets by Annie England Noblin

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Annie England Noblin's latest, St. Francis Society for Wayward Pets.

Mae's life is a mess. After finding out that the newspaper she works for is shutting down, immediately, she finds out her boyfriend is cheating on her—thanks to the local news! And as if that weren't bad enough, she's mugged leaving work. Broke, humiliated, and with no job prospects to think of, she's got no choice but to move back into her parents' home. 

And then she finds out that her mother has died. Her birth mom, that is. A woman she never knew. A woman who never made any attempt to find or know her. And now she's dead. Not just that, but she's left Mae all of her worldly possessions. 

Mae has no idea how to handle any of it. And that's before she starts spending time in the woman's house with the woman's friends. Before she starts to realize that her birth mother had a secret not even her own best friend was privy to.

Annie England Noblin's latest is a heart breaking story wrapped up in shiny, humorous wrapping paper.

And it's true. There's lots of levity to St. Francis Society for Wayward Pets. But there's a lot of sad stuff too. Not least of which is the fact that Mae's birth mother dies before she can get to know her—and I should note that a teenaged Mae did want that.

It's an easy read, though. I liked Mae and sympathized with her, which made it really easy to sink into her story. And I wanted to know what was going on in Timber Creek!

St. Francis Society for Wayward Pets is a sweet story and a pretty light read, in spite of some heavy material.

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Annie England Noblin and her work you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

How Quickly She Disappears by Raymond Fleischmann

Elisabeth's sister has been missing for over twenty years, but Elisabeth knows, without a doubt, that Jacqueline is still alive. They're twins after all, and Elisabeth is certain that she'd know if Jacqueline was dead.

Elisabeth and her family live in remote Tanacross, Alaska. It's 1941 and her husband has been hired to teach the children of the town. Theirs is the only house with a spare room, and since it's technically owned by the Office of Indian Affairs, Elisabeth feels she cannot turn down a request for lodging by the pilot who has recently flown in with their weekly mail delivery. This, in spite of the fact that the stranger is odd and worries her some. But he is a fellow German and says he only needs to stay the night, to rest before he resumes his route.

It's a decision that results in tragedy. And then the man claims to have information about Elisabeth's sister.

Life in Tanacross is quiet. The town can only be reached by plane and, given that it's 1941, that means they're effectively cut off from the outside world. Mail delivery day means letters, special orders, and any other supplies.

On the day the book starts, Elisabeth is up early at the behest of her daughter who is anxiously awaiting the delivery of a science book her mother ordered for their homeschooling. That is the kind of excitement they can look forward to in Tanacross.

But the arrival of a stranger is nothing to shrug at. And their mail carrier that day is a stranger. A German stranger at that. He says he feels a kinship with Elisabeth because she's German as well. But Elisabeth doesn't exactly feel that kinship. In fact, she finds the stranger odd.

Unfortunately she doesn't listen to that instinct.

How Quickly She Disappears isn't a long book but it is a bit of a slow burn. I have to say, I enjoyed the pacing immensely. In the first two parts of the book, chapters alternate between Elisabeth's present and her childhood, giving readers the full scope of her relationship with her sister and the events leading up to her disappearance.

It's clear that for Elisabeth, almost nothing matters as much as the question of her sister's fate and the stranger plays on that, baiting her almost from the moment they meet. It's intense and the reader, and Elisabeth, are left guessing as to how all of this is going to end.

I loved the setting in particular, both time and place. the remoteness of Tanacross and the equally remote nature of the time when the book is set intrigued me even before I started reading. And the author delivered a completely atmospheric read.

How Quickly She Disappears is a chilling debut, literally and figuratively.

Monday, January 13, 2020

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

Cussy Mary Carter is, according to her father, the last of her kind. A blue, like her mother and her father before her. 

It's 1936 and the country is in the midst of the Depression. Rural Kentucky has been hit particularly hard, but Cussy Mary, nicknamed by locals "Bluet," is hired on with the Pack Horse Library Project, delivering reading materials to her rural neighbors. Her route is one she takes pride in and her patrons are beloved to her. But the locals aren't all trusting of the "colored" woman or the government she works for. In spite of this, Bluet is determined to bring help and comfort to her neighbors and the best comfort she knows is that of books. 

This book tore me to shreds before it ended. I mean, just shreds!

Cussy Mary is a wonderful heroine! She's charming and smart and incredibly giving and caring. She lives alone with her widowed father, working to help bring in money for necessities. Cussy Mary's father is a miner, already sick from years mining coal and heavily involved in union talks. All of that, plus the fact that their family is "colored." Blue, specifically. And at a time when anything atypical is looked upon with suspicion and even superstition, blue skin is an affliction some believe can be catching.

In spite of her treatment by many people in the area, Cussy Mary is, for many, a shining light. She delivers books, newspapers, recipes and sewing patterns to people who live in the most remote regions of Kentucky. She reads to them, she spends time with them, and she tries as hard as she can to get them materials that will help them during a time that is so desperately trying for so many.

While this book left me bawling like a baby by the end, I still absolutely adored it! It's one of two releases of 2019 about the Pack Horse Library Project, which was one of Roosevelt's Works Project Administration (WPA) programs designed to provide jobs during the Depression.

As if that history note wasn't charmingly intriguing enough (I knew absolutely nothing about the Pack Horse Librarians), Kim Michele Richardson's heroine is blue. Literally blue. Which is another fascinating historical note from Kentucky. Richardson includes a wonderful author's note about the very real inspiration behind Cussy Mary's blue skin that should absolutely not be skipped in the reading.

This is my first read by Richardson but I'm already adding her backlist to my must reads. I highly, highly recommend this one!

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

The God Game by Danny Tobey

Charlie, Kenny, Peter, Alex, and Vanhi. They call themselves The Vindicators. Outsiders who have found common ground and friendship in one another, they spend their time in their school's unused tech lab, planning fairly harmless pranks. But when they're invited to play The God Game, everything changes. 

It's fun at first, even if their tasks within the game are...questionable, to say the least. But the game allows them a freedom they've never experienced. It's something secret. Something just for them. Something that soon lets them explore sides of themselves they never knew they had. 

But what starts out as fun soon becomes a darker competition. GOLDZ are good. BLAXX are bad. Really bad. As the group is drawn deeper and deeper into the game, they each begin to question the game's purpose and their purpose within the game. And as they soon learn, while starting only requires and invite, leaving the game requires something much more sinister. 

A book in the vein of Black Mirror, what more could I ask for? Well, Danny Tobey specializes in AI, and while I enjoyed this book, I am not. As a result the story went over my head more than just a little bit in some places.

Charlie and his friends aren't part of any clique and so they've made one themselves. They bond over coding and computer games, in spite of their differences. Charlie recently lost his mother to cancer and his grades show it. Vanhi hopes to get into Harvard, but pulling a D isn't going to cut it. Alex struggles academically and suffers at his father's hands for it. Kenny wants to fit in but knows he never will. And Peter, well Peter is the bad boy of the group and ultimately the one who introduces them all to the game.

Angsty teens finding an outlet isn't new. And neither is the idea that they'd get wrapped up in a dangerous online game. I liked the morality questions that came into play here and the fact that everything and everyone is gray, gray, gray rather than black or white.

But I wanted more. The group is fairly well rounded, but Charlie gets most of the focus for sure. Kenny probably gets the least attention, which is kind of a shame as I felt like I really didn't understand his motivation for the most part. But there are other players as well and, with one single exception, we don't know anything about any of them. They appear and disappear without any kind of glimpse into their stories.

Some can argue that the core group is all we need: they each illustrate various motivations in playing the game and following its instructions. But I guess given how dark the book gets, I like to believe it would take pretty extraordinary circumstances for people to do some of the things that are done in the game.

Ha! I just realized my complaint is that the book doesn't adequately support my own hope that people are ultimately good...

My other issue with the book is that it's never clear to me exactly what the game is. At times it seems like Tobey makes the case for it being connected to events that happen a decade before the book takes place. It also seems the game is supposed to be artificial intelligence, but there's never any kind of information about its creator. And while I'm ok with some things left unexplained, I felt like my inability to truly grasp some of the intricacies of the game itself were wrapped up in my need to know more about it as a whole.

All in all, The God Game is inarguably a book that will make you think. And while I didn't fall head over heels for it, I did enjoy the read.

Monday, January 6, 2020

The Playground by Jane Shemilt

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Jane Shemilt's latest, The Playground.

Eve, Melissa, and Grace will all do anything for their children. It's this drive that pushes Eve to start a special tutoring session to help children with dyslexia—children like Poppy. As the session advances, the parents socialize and become, some might say, close. Secrets are shared and more are kept hidden. And by the end of the summer what began as budding friendships turns into something much more dark and sinister.

I was excited to dive into The Playground considering how much I enjoyed Shemilt's The Daughter. And it's been quite a time since that previous release.

The Playground is the same sort of family drama/thriller as The Daughter. The story is set over the course of a few months, beginning with Eve kicking off her new tutoring sessions for Poppy and two other children with dyslexia—Blake, the son of a well-known author, and Isabelle (Izzy) the daughter of an acquaintance of Eve's husband. The kids are joined by Eve's other two children and Blake's sister, spending time in Eve's garden between lessons, scheming more than they are playing. But their parents don't know any better.

And the parents don't know because they're, frankly, not great parents!

Eve is absorbed in her own melodrama. Melissa is studiously focused on not irritating her ass of a husband, and Grace works so much that her husband is left in charge of the kids over the summer.

To say much more would probably give some of the story away. I will say that it's pretty dark. I'll also say that almost from the start, some of the pieces that are coming are easy to tease out before Shemilt really starts heavily hinting at them.

Shemilt's writing is the kind you can really sink into. She's wordy, but not in a bad way. Her prose is pitch perfect in description and each of the characters comes to life—not an easy task with such a cast of featured characters and with such a range of ages.

But again, it is a dark read.

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Jane Shemilt and her work you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Friday, January 3, 2020

Little Bookshop on the Seine by Rebecca Raisin

My last read of 2019! And it was perfect timing, too, considering the book ends on Christmas.

Sarah Smith has never left her tiny town of Ashford. She's run a bookstore there since she was 19, she has a brand new guy she's pretty sure is the one, and she has a core group of friends that are always there for her. In short, she's pretty happy with life. But when a fellow bookstore owner and friend offers an opportunity to swap, it doesn't take much for Sarah to say yes. The store in question is in Paris, after all, and Sarah has always said she'd visit one day...

But nothing turns out quite as she'd hoped. The store is way busier than her own and the demands of working there mean very little time to get out and see the city. What's more, her boyfriend has been so overburdened by work that he has hardly any time for a phone call, much less the promised visits to her new, temporary home. 

Homesickness sets in when sales at the Paris store start to decline and the store's owner expresses her disappointment. Now Sarah has to decide whether to buckle down and try something new or give up and go home.

Rebecca Raisin's Little Bookshop on the Sèine is a charmingly light romance. And the bookstore setting is one that really speaks to me!

Sarah isn't prone to taking chances. And it's soon clear why—her own mother makes Paris out to be a place of not so hidden dangers rather than a top tourist destination. Fortunately, Sarah's desire to see and do something new after so many years wins out and she takes a chance.

But things start out rocky. Her luggage and passport are stolen on the very first day and the welcome she expected at her new store is chilly, to say the least.

Fortunately, she's taken under the wing of someone who knows the ins and outs of the store as well as the streets of her new hometown.

One of my favorite things about the book were the secret spots Sarah is introduced to throughout Paris. I'm sure some of them are completely fictional, but others are absolutely real and though I've never visited the City of Lights myself, it felt like I was there with Sarah!

There were a few extraneous plot points that felt thrown in at the last minute, but all in all this was a fun and sweet read that I thoroughly enjoyed!

Huge thanks to HQN Books for inviting me to be on the tour!

For more on Rebecca Raisin and her work you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Buy Links: Harlequin Indiebound - Amazon - Barnes & Noble Books-A-Million - Target - Walmart - Google - iBooks - Kobo

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Good Girls Lie by J. T. Ellison

The Goode School is known for its 100% graduation rates and it's almost guarantee of acceptance into the school of your choice. An all girls school that's been run by the same family for generations, it's also home to a number of secret societies, some known and some unknown. 

Ash Carlisle is one of Goode's scholarship students. And she's determined to keep her past a secret. The school means a new persona and a new chance at life. It's also part of her plan...her parents are gone and she has no one she can trust but herself.  

But The Goode School is far from perfect. The elite prep school has a number of black spots on its seemingly perfect record, including a murder or two and rumors of ghosts that haunt the grounds. Classes are hard and the students are far from welcoming. In fact, some are downright murderous in their competitiveness to get ahead. But Ash can deal with it. She's smarter than all of them. 

J.T. Ellison's latest is a twisty turny thriller set at a boarding school filled with secrets—secret societies, secret passageways, secret history...

And the book begins with a death. The dead girl's name isn't revealed at this stage and the story shoots back to the beginning of the semester and Ash's arrival at the Goode School. The timeline shifts throughout, back to Ash's time prior to arrival and finally giving readers a look at the home life she left behind.

Each new chapter uncovers a new grain of information that adds to the growing number of mysteries in the story: what is Ash's plan? How much truth is there to the rumors that surround Goode School? Who is the dead girl?

When I say this is twisty turny, I really mean it. There are so many crazy revelations as the story progresses that it soon becomes clear nothing and no one can be taken at face value. And even if the narration is from that person's POV, you still can't trust anything they're revealing!

Huge thank to the folks at Mira for sending a copy for review and inviting me to take part in the tour!

For more on J. T. Ellison and her work you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter, Instagram.