I Must Betray You

In this stunning novel, Ruta Sepetys shines a light on an oft-overlooked period of history.

Book Review: I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know I’m a huge Ruta Sepetys fan. I knew my library would purchase this book, but I still had to sit on my hands to keep from buying it on release day. As soon as my library had it available, I snapped it up.

Description

Romania, 1989. Seventeen-year-old Cristian Florescu keeps his dreams and thoughts hidden in a secret notebook he hides beneath the floorboards in his family’s tiny, State-owned apartment. In Nicolae Ceaușescu’s tyrannical communist dictatorship, Romanians aren’t free to dream, and such a notebook is a death sentence, if discovered.

Amidst the growing isolation and fear, the secret police offer Cristian two choices: become an informer and gain much-needed medicine for his sick grandfather, or face the consequences of his crime—possessing foreign currency. Cristian carves out a third option: use his position to undermine the most evil dictator in Eastern Europe.

Cristian risks everything to expose his country’s torment to the world, but he’s not the only informer in Romania. He’s not even the only informer in his own family.

Characters

Cristian describes himself as sarcastic and sharp, but in the totalitarian environment he lives in, that sarcasm rarely leaves his mouth. It hides on the pages of his notebook and in the depths of his thoughts. I wouldn’t label it sarcasm so much as poignant truths. His distaste for the government’s strictures creates tension with his need to protect his family—and the pretty girl in a neighboring building.

The other characters encompass a wide variety of reactions to tyranny—rebels, cowards, black market entrepreneurs, and the defeated, who live with no spark left in their eyes.

Plot

The plot moves at a heart-racing pace, following Cristian as he simultaneously informs on the American diplomat’s son while trying to communicate with the diplomat himself. The more he uncovers the truth, however, the more danger he is in. When revolution finally hits, Cristian learns the true cost of freedom.

Writing Style

 After reading a lot of sub-par free fantasy, this gem was a refreshing change. Ruta Sepetys is a master of mood and metaphor. The characters’ fear and tension come across in every word, and her prose is the perfect balance between efficient and artistic.

Conclusion

In this stunning novel, Ruta Sepetys shines a light on an oft-overlooked period of history. It’s easy to look at the tyrannies of the past and dismiss them as far-off tragedies, but these events happened relatively recently—a poignant reminder that evil has no expiration date. With varied and deeply human characters and a plot packed with intrigue, I Must Betray You is a must-read.


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Book Review: A Funny Kind of Paradise

Though I’m a loyal library patron and rarely spend money on books, when I spotted the Bookbub feature deal for this, I had to scoop it up!

A Funny Kind of Paradise by Jo Owens

Though I’m a loyal library patron and rarely spend money on books, when I spotted the Bookbub feature deal for this, I had to scoop it up!

Description

After a lifetime of single motherhood and entrepreneurship, Francesca has earned a peaceful retirement, but when a massive stroke leaves her totally dependent on others, her freedom seems lost.

Though unable to speak and partially paralyzed, Francesca maintains her sharp wit and sharper opinions. Unable to communicate with the living, she speaks her mind to her long-lost friend, Anna. Amidst the indignities of sponge baths and diaper changes, Francesca is surprised to discover that she wants to live. The magnificent magnolia tree outside her window and the dramas of the rotating crew of personal care attendants keep her invested in life. Within the misery of the dying, she finds flashes of hilarity and joy.

As she reflects on her experiences to Anna, she can’t help drawing connections to her past choices, her past mistakes. For once, she can’t hide in work. She must reconcile with herself, her son, and with the daughter who never listened.

Character

Francesca is a fantastically deep character whose responses to life’s challenges shaped her life in ways she could only recognize once her stroke forced her to slow down. At once sharp and caring, bitter and remorseful, stubborn and compassionate, Francesca captures the entire range of the human experience, all while remaining consistent with her own personality.

The other characters—her children, her care aides, the other patients—make for a delightfully quirky and diverse cast. Since Francesca cannot speak, her care aides confide in her, and she learns to care for them as much as they do her.

Plot

This book is about as far from a plot-driven storyline as possible. Some may argue it has no plot, but the story melds Francesca’s reflections on her past with her investment in her care aides’ lives. If you’re looking for a goal-driven, action-packed story, look elsewhere, but I felt the drama and gradually revealed backstory was enough to pull me through the book.

Writing Style

Owens writes with the same pragmatism as her character—no lofty descriptions, but not blunt either. Overall, the prose flows well and the book is well edited.

Miscellaneous

The author worked in an extended care facility, and her experience shines through the story. She acknowledges the slight inaccuracies in her portrayal, and as someone who has worked in such a facility, I concur. For example, most modern facilities are trending toward private rooms, and the care aides wouldn’t discuss other patients around Francesca. What inaccuracies there are, however, serve the story well. I think they were necessary, and I will happily allow the author creative license in this case.

Conclusion

A Funny Kind of Paradise is a heart-warming and heart-breaking story of one woman’s coming terms with her past as she prepares for the end of life. Owens provides readers with an inside look into life in an extended care facility—the good, the bad, the ugly, and the hilarious. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and heartily recommend it.

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Book Review: The Things We Do for Love

As heart-warming as a Hallmark Christmas movie but emotionally deep enough to leave a lasting impression, The Things We Do for Love is a satisfying read. Highly recommend for reading by a cozy fire.

The Things We Do for Love by Kristin Hannah

I had started this book earlier, but had to return it to the city library before I finished. Luckily, the Library of Grandma had a copy I could keep for longer.

Description

Infertility has broken Angie DeSaria’s heart, her marriage, and her self-confidence. To regroup, she moves back to her small Pacific Northwest hometown and takes over management of her family’s failing restaurant. After realizing waitressing doesn’t come as easily as her career in advertising, Angie hires Lauren Ribido. She forms a deep bond with the troubled seventeen-year-old. When the girl’s mother abandons her, Angie offers her a place to stay, but neither the woman who longs for a child nor the girl who longs for a mother’s love could predict the repercussions of that act of kindness.

Characters

Angie comes across a little pathetic at first, but as she grows in self-awareness, she becomes more relatable. She fits into her chaotic-but-loving family, whose support propels her toward healing. Her open heart gets her into trouble, but it rings authentic and inspiring.

I related a lot to Lauren—her drive to succeed, her insecurity, and her devastation after making one simple, but catastrophic, mistake. Adult problems mixed with tumultuous teenage hormones made her compelling. I often look for role models within characters, and I admire Lauren, even if she is fictional. She fits well with the DeSarias.

Plot

The plot is predictable, but I didn’t care. I wanted an emotionally moving story, and I got one. After being so disappointed with The Four Winds, I appreciated The Things We Do for Love’s completion. The ending was obvious to me, and the characters took forever to reach the same conclusion, but even that is realistic. Solutions are harder to find when you are inside the problem.

Writing Style

I love Kristin Hannah’s writing style. Her prose is rich with detail and emotional reflection. I needed a break after binging her books while road tripping, but I know I’ll be back for more.

Conclusion

As heart-warming as a Hallmark Christmas movie but emotionally deep enough to leave a lasting impression, The Things We Do for Love is a satisfying read. It captures the real-life pain of infertility and relational strife while championing the enduring power of family and friendship. Though I wouldn’t recommend this book for fans of cerebral thrillers, the predictable plot delivers on all its promises. Highly recommend for reading by a cozy fire.


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Book Review: Shockwave

When my hubby and I planned a road trip with a friend, I recommended we listen to the audio version of this one. It made the twelve-hour drive fly by.

Shockwave by Lindsay Buroker

My newsletter subscribers have already heard the saga behind how I discovered Lindsay Buroker’s books. I hadn’t read sci-fi and fantasy for a long time, and after reading Star Nomad, I promptly binge read several of her other series. When my hubby and I planned a road trip with a friend, I recommended we listen to the audio version of this one. It made the twelve-hour drive fly by.

Summary

When Casmir Dabrowski was young, he built a robot to defend him from bullies. Now a robotics professor, his smarts have earned him the respect of his peers. Life is good—until one of his former robotic creations comes to assassinate him.

Forced to flee his conservative home world of Oden, Casmir and his brilliant-but-socially awkward roommate, Kim, hop aboard the first ship leaving orbit, but Casmir’s troubles don’t end in space. As if his seizures and motion sickness weren’t bad enough, Casmir finds himself entangled with bounty hunters, pirates, and the most feared criminal in the Star Kingdom: Captain Tenebris Rache.

Rache’s reputation doesn’t garner trust, but the mercenary captain may be the only one with the answers to Casmir’s most pressing questions.

Who wants to kill him, and why?

Characters

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you could have guessed that I’d go for a robotics engineer protagonist. Casmir is so delightful that I will forego my usual complaint about smart characters being portrayed as physically deficient even though, statistically, higher IQ correlates with better health. His health quirks impact the larger plot, so I’ll let Buroker get away with it, especially since several of her other books feature intelligent and physically capable characters, including this one (Kim kicks butt).

Quirky and charismatic, Casmir’s love of comic books and fizz-op either earn people’s undying loyalty or make them want to kill him. Personally, I enjoyed this refreshingly geeky change from the usual badass space opera hero. Kim, the socially awkward microbiologist, balances his quirks with her standfast adherence to logic. You might say she is the Spock to Casmir’s Kirk.

The other characters complete what I expect from a Buroker ensemble—a mix of sophistication and snark that engenders snappy dialogue and fantastic conflict. Each character brings their own skill set, including Kim’s microbiology expertise, which provides yet another refreshing change from the genre’s usual “let’s blow it up” strategy.

Plot

Accustomed to listening to long-winded fantasy tales on road trips, my husband complained this book was too action-packed. When he got distracted by changing lanes or other driving tasks, he missed whole fight scenes. I’ll let you decide whether that’s a positive or a negative, but I will say that this book prevented me from falling asleep at the wheel.

Writing Style

Buroker has a genuine talent for snarky dialogue, but she sometimes takes the innuendo a little too far for my tastes. Her prose is professional and polished, pleasant to read but not swoon-worthy, likely because she writes so fast.

Miscellaneous

As I mentioned, I listened to the audiobook omnibus of the first three books while driving. Buroker couldn’t have chosen a better narrator to voice Casmir. Fred Berman captures Casmir’s quirks perfectly, and he does an admirable job making distinct voices for each character. I listened to a few of Buroker’s other books while we had a free trial of audible, but Fred Berman was my favorite narrator by far.

Conclusion

Shockwave provides a refreshingly geeky twist on the usual space opera hero without sacrificing the action-packed space battles you know and love. With snappy dialogue and an intriguing cast of characters, Buroker creates a world worth travelling to. My hubby and I bought the entire series in audio, so we’ll have enough to last many happy road trips.


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Book Review: The Searcher

You know you’re dealing with a big shot when the author’s name is far bigger than the book’s title. This is the first book I have read from this author, but her mastery of tone and tension have added her name to my “read more” list.

The Searcher by Tana French

My first thought after my grandmother handed me this book was, “What’s with the random field on the cover?” After finishing it, however, I can say I have never seen a cover that better captures the tone of the writing.

Cover Description

“Cal Hooper thought a fixer-upper in a remote Irish village would be the perfect escape. After twenty-five years in the Chicago police force, and a bruising divorce, he just wants to build a new life in a pretty spot with a good pub where nothing much happens.

“But then a local kid comes looking for his help. Trey Reddy’s brother has gone missing, and no one, least of all the police, seems to care. Cal wants nothing to do with any kind of investigation, but somehow he can’t make himself walk away.

“Against his will, he discovers that even in the most idyllic small town, secrets lie hidden, people aren’t always what they seem, and trouble can come calling at his door.”

Characters

Cal is the quintessential burnt-out policeman. He has a no-nonsense attitude and a low tolerance for b*llsh*t that pushes him toward a simpler life away from the crime and politics of modern Chicago. Like many divorced men, he doesn’t really understand what went wrong in his marriage, though his experience with Trey sheds some light on it.

Trey is a typical teenager who communicates via a rich variety of shrugs and eye rolls decipherable only to familiar eyes. At once stubborn and vulnerable, Trey simultaneously reminds Cal what it means to be the good guy and forces him to break the rules.

Surrounding these characters are the colorful townsfolk one expects in a small village—the good, the bad, the ugly, and the all three at once.

Plot

The Searcher is slow-burn psychological crime fiction that lures the reader into its depths with tiny morsels of information. The mystery unravels not with wild accusations and dramatic revelations, but with subtle nods and shifty glances. While not action-packed, I still felt compelled to finish it. Though the ending was anti-climactic, I loved the twist in the middle.

Writing Style

French’s style is lyrical, complex, and creepy—like a symphony played in a minor key. The Los Angeles Times said that French, “could make a Target run feel tense and revelatory,” and I agree. Much of the book comprises mundane tasks—fixing a desk, fishing, grocery shopping, watching the flock of rooks in the nearby tree—but the overtone of tension makes it engaging. I’ve never felt so nervous reading about a guy tearing out his wallpaper. The plot didn’t thrill me, and I wasn’t ecstatic about the ending, but I would have finished this book regardless just to continue reading French’s masterfully crafted sentences.

Miscellaneous

As I mentioned above, the cover design at first baffled me, but after finishing the novel, I can say it’s a perfect match.

Conclusion

You know you’re dealing with a big shot when the author’s name is far bigger than the book’s title. This is the first book I have read from this author, but her mastery of tone and tension have added her name to my “read more” list. Set in a colorful Irish town and drenched in tension, The Searcher is perfect for passing time while snowed-in on Halloween (Yes, people who live near the equator, that happens). While I would not recommend it for readers who need action-packed drama, those who appreciate a more subtle approach to crafting mood will love French’s writing style.

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Book Review: The Winter Dragon

What better way to spice up your Christmas season than with dragons and giant mountain goats?

The Winter Dragon: A Fantasy Novella by Jo-Anne Tomlinson

I was lucky enough to receive an early copy of this fantasy novella, though I did pre-order it as well.

Description

In the land of eternal winter, archer Katja and her sister prepare for the festivities of Juletine, when the people of Brunn give thanks to the Winter Dragon. Though no one has seen the dragon for centuries, tradition demands the villagers honor the gifts of healing and protection given to their ancestors. Everyone but the king, who for reasons unknown hasn’t shown his face in several years, leaving his haughty-but-handsome son to conduct the rituals.

The bothersome prince isn’t the only thing troubling Katja. The barrels of healing water grow smaller each year as the frost wall grows thinner. When the traditional hunt goes terribly wrong, endangering her family, Katja must journey beyond the safety of her home in order to save it.

Characters

I can tell the author has siblings, because Katja and her sister behave exactly like you’d expect for two girls who both love and torment each other. Katja’s stubbornness gives her the grit she needs as the protagonist, and the prince comes around by the end. This short tale packs a lot into a few pages—dragons, princes, imps, and giant mountain goats. I’d like to spend an entire novel in this world.

Plot

The plot moves steadily with the perfect balance of action and reaction. The story intertwines personal and societal stakes as Katja must journey up the mountain to save not only her family, but her people.

I wish the novella had been longer, a short novel even. A lot of the emotional turnaround happened too quickly, leaving the deeper conflicts resolved but unprocessed, shallow. A novella is too short to dig deeper into such transformations.

Writing Style

The author’s prose is descriptive enough to set the fantastical scene, but not so heavy as to slow the plot. She writes in long sentences, without too much purple prose. I’m impressed an author from a tropical island can write such a great winter story. I doubt I could write a convincing story that takes place on a beach.

As I mentioned above, Tomlinson prioritizes action over emotion, which is appropriate for this genre, I remind myself. I’ve been reading a lot of high-drama contemporary fiction lately, so while I felt the emotional conflict resolution was shallow, readers exclusive to fantasy may find the level just right.

Conclusion

What better way to spice up your Christmas season than with dragons and giant mountain goats? The short-but-powerful story grips readers with Katja’s personal stakes while raising the pressure with threats to Brunn’s way of life. Well worth reading, and I hope the author writes more. I can never get enough dragons.


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Book Review: A Spark of Light

Was this a good book? Yes. Was it the great bridge over the abortion divide the reviews claimed it was? Not even close.

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

This is the first book I have read by Jodi Picoult. I know, I know, even the rock I live under has heard of her. Having finally read one of her books, I will say she is a masterful writer, and I plan to read more.

Cover Description

A typical day at the Center, a women’s reproductive health services clinic, dissolves into chaos when a gunman bursts in and threatens the patients and staff. Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, fights for control of the perimeter and tries to communicate with the gunman. His phone vibrates with incoming texts messages, and he discovers his fifteen-year-old daughter, Wren, is among the hostages.

Characters

The story shifts perspective among clinic patients, staff, the shooter, police, and Wren. Picoult masterfully weaves backstory into the tension, and each character has a complex history that informs how they respond to the situation. I felt a great deal of empathy toward all involved, as if I personally knew them.

Plot

The plot counts backward, starting with the shooting and regressing to reveal how each person ended up at the Center. Tension is tight throughout, and despite numerous flashbacks, the pacing accelerates through each chapter.

Writing Style

As I alluded to earlier, Picoult weaves in character backstory throughout moments of high conflict to great effect. Her descriptions are eloquent, and her vignettes build enormous empathy for the characters and their struggles. The entire story is saturated with emotion, and the prose is beautiful. I can see why she is such a famous author.

Miscellaneous: Writer Bias

Abortion is a contentious topic in the US. If an author is passionate about it, I don’t believe bias-free writing is possible. I commend the author for poignantly capturing the complexities involved in abortion decisions.

While she makes many valid criticisms of the pro-life position, she also makes many errors. She often pits the worst/most fringe pro-life arguments against the best pro-choice ones, and some of her portrayals are hugely inaccurate. The book’s crisis pregnancy center is particularly laughable, but mischaracterizations plague most of the subplots.

Why should readers care?

Imagine this situation from the other side. Let’s say a pro-life author portrays pro-choice advocates legalizing infanticide. Are there pro-choice people who believe killing infants is morally acceptable? Yes—Alberto Giubilini, Francesca Minerva, and Peter Singer, to name a few—but this position is hardly mainstream. Polling consistently shows not only that pro-choice people are horrified by infanticide, but that they also strongly disapprove of third-trimester abortions. Such a portrayal would unfairly misrepresent the pro-choice position.

Genres like science fiction or dystopian fiction (e.g. The Handmaid’s Tale) are well-suited to exploring such extreme scenarios, but contemporary fiction ought to reflect real life. In portraying fringe or inaccurate positions as mainstream pro-life advocacy, Picoult diverges sharply from reality. This not only deceives readers, it breaks genre expectations.

Was this malicious intent by the author?

I doubt it. She took great pains to humanize her pro-life characters, even portraying the protestors being nice to the Clinic staff. I think she wanted to give the pro-life side fair treatment. She just isn’t familiar with good pro-life advocacy. Much like our hypothetical author who believes pro-choice advocates endorse infanticide, she believes pro-life advocacy conforms to her preconceived picture of it.

Secular Pro-life and Equal Rights Institute are two sources I recommend if you are interested in learning what pro-life advocates actually believe. I won’t list any arguments here (or in the comments) because this is a book review, not an abortion debate.

Conclusion

Was this a good book?

Yes. Ripe with tension from page one, this emotional journey back through time delves into the complexity involved in the abortion debate. Empathetic and heart-wrenching, each character’s story shows the breadth of reasons for ending up at the Center. The story humanizes women facing unplanned pregnancies and builds empathy for their difficult decisions. I’m glad I read it, and I would love to read more books on the topic—from either side.

Was this book the great bridge over the abortion divide the reviews claimed it was?

Not even close. Though the book claims to give voice to both sides, it unfairly misrepresents the pro-life position and, in many cases, is factually inaccurate.

Worth reading?

If you want a book that will keep your heart pounding from page one to “the end,” this is a great read. If you want a balanced view of abortion portrayed in fiction, keep looking.

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Before you comment

This is a book review, not an abortion debate. The comments section should reflect this.

  • If your comment pertains to this book, comment away.
  • If you have recommendations for other books—fiction, non-fiction, pro-choice, or pro-life—I’d love to read them in the comments.
  • If you want to pick a fight with people about abortion, skip the comments section and hop on twitter. You’ll find plenty of belligerent people there who will happily engage with you.

Book Review: Out of the Easy

A plucky bookworm struggling to overcome her mother’s legacy finds herself tangled with prostitutes, murderers, and the snobby elites whose approval she desperately craves. A great escape from the daily humdrum. I checked this out from the library before the hubby and I went on a big road trip, and I finished it in three days.

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

If you’ve followed me for a while, you know I love just about everything Ruta Sepetys writes. I checked this out from the library before the hubby and I went on a big road trip, and I finished it in three days.

Cover Description

“It’s 1950s, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer. She devises a plan to get into an elite college, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in a police investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodly, the brusque madam on Conti Street.”

Characters

Josie is a kindhearted and sharp-witted bookworm willing to do whatever it takes to make more of herself than her callous mother believes she can. She is so relatable as a character, it feels like her string of bad luck could happen to anyone. Her foibles make her human—daydreaming about her imaginary respectable father, predicting which books customers will buy, trying to get herself out of trouble without harming the only people she considers family. Josie is sweet, but she had the grit to get through the challenges life throws at her, and she’s not afraid to pull out her pistol when needed. The other characters are as quirky as one can imagine in a tale set in a city that is itself a character.

Plot

The plot is a steady cascade of minor mistakes and bad luck that make you ache for poor Josie. In my head, I kept thinking, “Don’t do that!” but I understood why she made the choices she did. The intrigue builds at a solid pace, and Josie gets herself increasingly tangled in it. The story itself is very approachable. It depicts a brothel without being grossly erotic, a murder without being gory, a romance without being schmaltzy, and a class war without being stereotypical. The ending ties the loose ends without feeling forced. A great read from start to finish.

Writing Style

Ruta Sepetys writes with the perfect balance of beauty and clarity. Her prose is precise, and her descriptions delve deep into the narrator’s mindset. Characters leap off the page until you can pick which actors would play them in the movie.

Conclusion

Filled with intrigue and set in remarkable 1950s New Orleans, Out of Easy is a quick read with just the right pacing and dynamic characters that tear through the pages. A plucky bookworm struggling to overcome her mother’s legacy finds herself tangled with prostitutes, murderers, and the snobby elites whose approval she desperately craves. A great escape from the daily humdrum. I highly recommend.


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Book Review: Blackbird and the Dark Side of the Moon

Since I already loved the characters from Light Tripper, I knew I would enjoy this novella as well. With a twisty plot and intriguing side characters, this creepy tale is perfect for Halloween.

Blackbird and the Dark Side of the Moon

Jo-Anne Tomlinson has a real talent for creepy Halloween stories. I loved her space opera, Light Tripper, and I was fortunate enough to receive an early review copy of this novella.

Description

Sal Tripp is an intergalactic bounty hunter with simple needs, but when her father loses their credits at the gambling table, she must accept whatever work she can find. When a handsome-but-mysterious captain offers her an exorbitant rate to transport him and his new crew of delinquents to his ship, she suspects trouble. Her financial woes compel her to accept the job, and her curiosity compels her to peek inside the ship, but there she’ll discover that “trouble” was an understatement.

Characters

Sal Tripp has more grit than a resurrection plant during the Dust Bowl. As a bounty hunter, she faces down space pirates and galactic gangsters with sharp wit and her evolving electric powers, all while keeping track of her addict pilot/father, Morgan. While Morgan often complicates their lives, his charm and affection earn Sal’s forgiveness.

Plot

The plot moves at a good clip as Sal’s curiosity—not to mention her crush on the captain—drive her toward inevitable danger. Once on the ship, Sal progresses through the type of horrors you’d expect from a good scare-your-pants-off Halloween story.

Writing Style

Jo-Anne Tomlinson has a genuine talent for creepy Halloween stories. You can almost hear the ominous music building to a crescendo as you read, and the story twangs with tension.

Miscellaneous

Readers should note that this is a Halloween story, meaning it contains several creepy/gory scenes. Light Tripper itself is not that gory, so readers with sensitive stomachs will still enjoy it.

Conclusion

Jo-Anne Tomlinson’s love of Halloween shines through every word in this novella. Since I already loved the characters from Light Tripper, I knew I would enjoy this novella as well. With a twisty plot and intriguing side characters, this creepy tale is perfect for Halloween. If you enjoy this kind of story, I also recommend her fantasy short story She brings the Harvest, and her contemporary young adult murder-mystery-thriller Shadows in the Water.


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Book Review: The Return

With a charming protagonist and intriguing premise, I can see how a devoted fan would love this book. As someone who merely grabbed it off the stack, my opinion differs slightly.

The Return by Nicholas Sparks

Though I’ve enjoyed a couple Nicholas Sparks’s books, I wouldn’t describe myself as one of his core readers. This one was a loan from the Library of Grandma. When reading it in public, I unwittingly gained entrance to a secret club of Nicholas Sparks fans who smiled and gave me an OMG-don’t-you-just-love-him look I didn’t quite understand. They asked which of his books was my favorite, with the expected reply apparently being ALL of them. After finishing, I determined 1) Nicholas Sparks’s books are best read in private because 2) Nicholas Sparks fans are a special breed of human who speak a language made almost entirely of sighs of longing.

Description

When a mortar blast injury sends surgeon Trevor Benson home from Afghanistan, he regroups in the dilapidated cabin he inherited from his grandfather. Love is the last thing he expects to find while tending his grandfather’s beehives, but the mysterious Natalie Masterson captures his attention. The deputy sheriff seems to reciprocate his feelings, but she reveals little of herself, even though she assists him in investigating his grandfather’s strange last words.

To discover the meaning of his grandfather’s final message, Trevor tries to recruit the sullen teenager from the trailer park down the road, Callie. She offers few clues until a crisis reveals a connection between the elderly man’s passing and her own troubled past.

Characters

Trevor Benson has the right mix of serious backstory and charm to make him intriguing and attractive to the average reader. I appreciated the openness with which he relates his struggles with PTSD and the positive light in which he views his mental health treatment. A devoted grandson and all-around good guy, he is easy to love.

Callie starts off as a flat character with stereotypical teenage stonewalling. She gains depth by the end, but I would have liked more of her situation to leak through earlier. Natalie is interesting at the outset, but her backstory is too predictable for the mystery to keep the reader’s attention.

Plot

The plot waffles between Trevor’s rapid-onset infatuation and the mystery of his grandfather’s last journey, which leads him to seek information from the sullen teenager. I liked that all the subplots intertwined in the end, but they felt disjointed toward the beginning, almost as if they were different books. I had trouble getting into this book and only finished because I wanted to return it to my grandmother when I visited.

Writing Style

Sparks’s prose is light in tone and full of detail, though far from breathtaking. The story reads like a walk through the neighborhood, ambling unhurriedly and stopping to appreciate life’s simple pleasures. Though hardly action-packed, the style was appropriate to the target audience.

Conclusion

With a charming protagonist and intriguing premise, I can see how a devoted Nicholas Sparks fan would love this book. As someone who merely grabbed it off the stack, I can say it was an enjoyable read, but one I’ll quickly forget. Too many subplots hindered my ability to engross myself in the story. While the author tackles many deep topics in the characters’ backstories, he takes too long to introduce them, and lacks time to explore them sufficiently before the end. As far as Nicholas Sparks books go, I much preferred Safe Haven and The Notebook.

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The Return

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