Saturday, December 30, 2023

Book Review: The Excalibur Curse by Kiersten White


Goodreads Overview:

The gripping conclusion to the acclaimed Arthurian fantasy trilogy from New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White finds Guinevere questioning everything—friends and enemies, good and evil, and, most of all, herself.

While journeying north toward the Dark Queen, Guinevere falls into the hands of her enemies. Behind her are Lancelot, trapped on the other side of the magical barrier they created to protect Camelot, and Arthur, who has been led away from his kingdom, chasing after false promises. But the greatest danger isn’t what lies ahead of Guinevere—it’s what’s been buried inside her.

Vowing to unravel the truth of her past with or without Merlin’s help, Guinevere joins forces with the sorceress Morgana and her son, Mordred—and faces the confusing, forbidden feelings she still harbors for him. When Guinevere makes an agonizing discovery about who she is and how she came to be, she finds herself with an impossible choice: fix a terrible crime, or help prevent war.

Guinevere is determined to set things right, whatever the cost. To defeat a rising evil. To remake a kingdom. To undo the mistakes of the past...even if it means destroying herself.

Guinevere has been a changeling, a witch, a queen—but what does it mean to be just a girl?

Jacque's Review:

I started reading this series because I received the first book in an Owlcrate book box. I enjoyed the first book, The Guinevere Deception, and gave it 4-stars. The second book did not advance the plot much, but I was still interested enough after the shocking ending to continue the series. This book was a bit of a letdown for me, so I gave it a generous 3-stars. It did not contain a level of action, adventure, or even a love story that held my attention or propelled the story forward. The focus was primarily on Guinevere trying to figure out who she was before she arrived in Camelot. I kept reading with the hope that there would be some epic conclusion, but I ultimately finished it to check the box that I completed the series. 

The issue could have been that I do not know much about Arthurian legend and didn't fully appreciate the retelling, but this book was not my cup of tea. There was so much potential with a female Lancelot, Guinevere's magic, King Arthur and Mordred competing for Guinevere's affection, and finding Merlin to turn this into a captivating story. As it is, I can't really recommend this series. It was a major time commitment to reach a conclusion that was average at best.

Friday, December 29, 2023

Book Review: Playing for Pizza by John Grisham


Goodreads Overview:

Rick Dockery was the third-string quarterback for the Cleveland Browns. In the AFC Championship game against Denver, to the surprise and dismay of virtually everyone, Rick actually got into the game. With a 17-point lead and just minutes to go, Rick provided what was arguably the worst single performance in the history of the NFL. Overnight, he became a national laughingstock and, of course, was immediately cut by the Browns and shunned by all other teams.

But all Rick knows is football, and he insists that his agent, Arnie, find a team that needs him. Against enormous odds Arnie finally locates just such a team and informs Rick that, miraculously, he can in fact now be a starting quarterback–for the mighty Panthers of Parma, Italy.

Yes, Italians do play American football, to one degree or another, and the Parma Panthers desperately want a former NFL player–any former NFL player–at their helm. So Rick reluctantly agrees to play for the Panthers–at least until a better offer comes along–and heads off to Italy. He knows nothing about Parma, has never been to Europe, and doesn’t speak or understand a word of Italian. To say that Italy holds a few surprises for Rick Dockery would be something of an understatement.

Jacque's Review:

I am a fan of Grisham's legal thrillers and have slowly but surely been catching up on his books. I read every one of his books when they were first released starting with A Time to Kill through The Runaway Jury. After my college graduation, I didn't have much time for reading and now I am playing catch up. 

Playing for Pizza is very different from Grisham's other books. It is not a legal thriller, but a story about an NFL quarterback who isn't quite ready to choose an alternate career path. His NFL career is essentially over after he single handedly threw the game away and landed himself in the hospital with his third concussion. Nobody will hire him, so his agent suggests he play in Italy for a while to let things die down in America. He is offered a free place to stay, the use of a car, and $20,000 a year to become the starting quarterback for the Parma Panthers. The team consists of players who work day jobs to pay the bills, but have a passion and love for the game. They want nothing more than to win their equivalent to the super bowl and believe Rick Dockery is just the player to help them achieve their goal. 

I listened to the audio version of the book and found it to be entertaining, but not up to the standard of his other books. I usually rate Grisham's books in the 4–5-star range, but this was a 3-star book for me. I enjoyed the story, but there wasn't anything exceptional about it. I wasn't sitting on the edge of my seat waiting to see what would happen next like I am with most of his books. I am happy that I read it, but I will choose a legal thriller for my next Grisham book.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Book Review: An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena


Goodreads Overview:

We can't choose the strangers we meet.

As the guests arrive at beautiful, remote Mitchell's Inn, they're all looking forward to a relaxing weekend deep in the forest, miles from anywhere. They watch their fellow guests with interest, from a polite distance.

Usually we can avoid the people who make us nervous, make us afraid.

With a violent storm raging, the group finds itself completely cut off from the outside world. Nobody can get in - or out. And then the first body is found . . . and the horrifying truth comes to light. There's a killer among them - and nowhere to run.

Until we find ourselves in a situation we can't escape. Trapped.

Jacque's Review:

This was a highly entertaining murder mystery along the lines of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. The story takes place at a family run Inn located in a very remote part of the Catskill Mountains. A father and son operate the Inn, which sounds like a very elegant and relaxing place for a weekend getaway, until a storm cuts off all power and the guests become stranded. 

I found it difficult to fathom that a place like this did not have a generator or a snowmobile in case of emergencies, but they did not. Everyone was making the best of things and expected the power to be restored in a reasonable amount of time, but it was not. They did not have cell service and the land lines were out, so they were completely isolated until plows could make it up the mountain.

One of the guests is found dead in the morning from an apparent accident, but one of the other guests isn't so sure. He insists on leaving the body where it is until help arrives. When a second person is found dead, everyone starts to panic. They begin pointing fingers at each other and actions become even more irrational. They establish a buddy system, not only for their own safety, but to provide an alibi in case someone else turns up dead.

The body count continued to increase, and I still had no idea who the killer was or what the motivation could be. In retrospect, I can think of clues for all of the murders except the first and last. What kicked off this entire chain of events wasn't something the reader could have known until everything was spelled out at the end, which I didn't care for. I believe a good murder mystery should provide all of the clues during the story to allow the reader to solve the crime on their own, if they are astute enough to pick up on all of the small details.

Overall, it was an entertaining story with an interesting group of characters. If you enjoy Ruth Ware's murder mysteries and are looking for something with a similar vibe, this is a good option. 

Friday, December 22, 2023

Book Review: The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson


Goodreads Overview:

On a cool June evening in 2009, after performing a concert at London's Royal Academy of Music, twenty-year-old American flautist Edwin Rist boarded a train for a suburban outpost of the British Museum of Natural History. Home to one of the largest ornithological collections in the world, the Tring museum was full of rare bird specimens whose gorgeous feathers were worth staggering amounts of money to the men who shared Edwin's obsession: the Victorian art of salmon fly-tying. Once inside the museum, the champion fly-tier grabbed hundreds of bird skins--some collected 150 years earlier by a contemporary of Darwin's, Alfred Russel Wallace, who'd risked everything to gather them--and escaped into the darkness.

Two years later, Kirk Wallace Johnson was waist high in a river in northern New Mexico when his fly-fishing guide told him about the heist. He was soon consumed by the strange case of the feather thief. What would possess a person to steal dead birds? Had Edwin paid the price for his crime? What became of the missing skins? In his search for answers, Johnson was catapulted into a years-long, worldwide investigation. The gripping story of a bizarre and shocking crime, and one man's relentless pursuit of justice, The Feather Thief is also a fascinating exploration of obsession, and man's destructive instinct to harvest the beauty of nature.

Jacque's Review:

This was the July selection for the Books on Tap book club hosted by my library at a local brewery. This book was a 2018 Goodreads Choice Award nominee for Best Nonfiction, and I can see why. I knew nothing about this robbery that took place at a British Museum. Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of rare bird skins were taken without the museum staff immediately noticing. I am not a fly fisherman, so I don't fully appreciate the appeal of using extremely rare and expensive feathers to catch fish. I'm sure in most cases the people making and selling these flies are just putting them on a shelf to display and are not actually using them, but was fascinating to learn about this art and the black-market sale of bird feathers.

We learn the history of how all of the birds were originally collected and cataloged at the museum and why it was deemed to be such an important collection. The heist takes place, and the reader learns about what happened during the investigation and trial. The author, Kirk Wallace Johnson, is determined to find the remaining birds that were not returned to the museum or clearly destroyed by making flies. He completes his own investigation and eventually lands an interview with the thief himself. I have no idea why Edwin Rist would agree to an interview. He clearly had nothing to gain at that point, but he did, and the reader can get a better understanding of his personality.

It is incomprehensible to me that someone as smart and talented as Edwin could have committed such a crime. He was so consumed with the fly-tying world that he would do anything to acquire the feathers needed to make some of the most famous flies. In addition, he wanted money for a new flute. His family did not have the money to buy it for him and he deemed it necessary if he was going to compete with the finest musicians in the world at the Royal Academy of Music. The fact that he basically walked off scot-free is even more astonishing. 

I am not much of a non-fiction reader, but I really enjoyed this story. It was very entertaining and educational without coming off like a history book. Even someone with no prior knowledge of the heist or fly-tying will enjoy this book. 

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Book Review: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard


Goodreads Overview:

his is a world divided by blood - red or silver.

The Reds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the poverty-stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change.

That is, until she finds herself working in the Silver Palace. Here, surrounded by the people she hates the most, Mare discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy the balance of power.

Fearful of Mare's potential, the Silvers hide her in plain view, declaring her a long-lost Silver princess, now engaged to a Silver prince. Despite knowing that one misstep would mean her death, Mare works silently to help the Red Guard, a militant resistance group, and bring down the Silver regime.

But this is a world of betrayal and lies, and Mare has entered a dangerous dance - Reds against Silvers, prince against prince, and Mare against her own heart...

Jacque's Review:

This book has been on my TBR list for a LONG time. It was the 2015 Goodreads winner for Best Debut Author and was nominated for Best YA Fantasy and Science Fiction. I finished a few series I had been reading and decided to read this because Victoria was one of the upcoming authors participating in my library's digital author talk program. She actually spoke at the beginning of this month, so I was happy I had some understanding of her work as she discussed world building and other aspects of her writing. 

I loved the concept of the Silvers having special powers, but it was sad to think of how it affected the Reds. They didn't have a chance of gaining any power or wealth in a world where they simply could not compete. Mare was doing everything she could to keep herself and those she loved alive, but nothing seemed to be enough. The discovery that she had a power more dangerous than the fire wielded by the royal family allowed her to escalate in the ranks rather quickly. She went from a thief to a servant to the fiancé of Prince Maven in the blink of an eye.

Maven was not at all what he seemed to be. I was shocked at the turn of events at the end of this book, but I felt like Mare and Cal had more chemistry. I am hopeful that their relationship will evolve throughout the series, but they are in a lot of danger. Cal and Mare are extremely powerful, but I'm not sure they can compete against the collective power of the Silvers. The Scarlet Guard is growing, but their resources are limited. I can't wait to see how they attempt to overthrow this corrupt government and end the war that has been going on for ages and taking the lives of so many Reds.

This was an exceptional start to the series and an impressive debut novel. I look forward to reading the rest of this series and seeing what is in store for Mare, Cal, and Maven.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Book Review: Sweet Temptation by Wendy Higgins


Goodreads Overview:

Bad boy Kaidan Rowe has never wanted for anything—money, popularity, musical talent…hot girls—but seducing them is part of his duty as a Nephilim, slave to the demon Dukes. As the son of the Duke of Lust, Kaidan has learned his father’s ways, becoming a master of passion, a manipulator of chemistry. Disobeying his father would mean certain death. Thankfully for Kaidan, he’s good at his job. And he enjoys it.

Until he meets Anna Whitt—smart, feisty, and inexplicably good—the one girl seemingly immune to his charms. The daughter of a guardian angel and a fallen one, she makes him wish for more than he could ever deserve.

Determined to save all the Neph from their dark lives, Anna joins forces with Kaidan to overcome the Dukes’ oppressive ways. In the light of her affections, Kaidan must undergo his toughest test of all, a battle of the heart.

Jacque's Review:

The original series is told from Anna's perspective, which is drastically different from Kaidan's. She is very innocent and naive having grown up without any knowledge of who or what her parents are. She does not understand the danger she is in as a Nephilim who hasn't been working. As the daughter of the Duke of Substance Abuse, she is expected to corrupt society on behalf of her father. Kaidan, on the other hand, has grown up in this world and has been his dad's right-hand man his entire life. He knows the danger he is in if he doesn't continue to work and do what his father asks. 

This one book retells the entire trilogy from Kaidan's POV. It is much harsher than the original series with increased adult language and content. I would probably classify it as New Adult vs. Young Adult in terms of the target audience. The original three books I would have been comfortable recommending to younger readers.

Readers can see the struggles Kaidan went through once he started to fall in love with Anna. He knew what he was doing for his father was wrong, but his life depended upon it. In addition, Anna's life depended upon him corrupting her. He ultimately decided the best way to protect her was to distance himself from her. She didn't understand his motivation for moving clear across the country to get away from her, but this book allows us to see the struggles that led him to that decision. It was the only way he felt he could keep them both alive. It wasn't what he wanted, but it was what he thought was necessary.

Overall, this companion novel is an excellent addition to the series. I loved Kaidan's character in the original three books and never could have imagined the struggles he went through. He always seemed so confident and hardened after a life as a Nephilim. He never believed he had a chance of being happy and freeing himself from the control of the Dukes. Anna allowed him to hope for a better life. The ending did provide more detail on the lives of the characters after the end of the original trilogy, which was nice. I would highly recommend this series to anyone who enjoys YA romance. 

Monday, December 11, 2023

Book Review: 19th Anniversary by James Patterson


Jacque's Review:

This is the tenth book in the Women's Murder Club Series. Detective Lindsay Boxer is a newlywed and is struggling to balance her work and personal life. She always seems to put her job first, but after working on this case involving a missing child, she is beginning to think about starting a family of her own. Dr. Clare Washburn, the medical examiner who is part of their team, is the only character with children. As a highly successful woman with a career and family, I believe Lindsay can look to Clare for inspiration and support. 

Another significant portion of this book focuses on a case Yuki is prosecuting. A prominent cardiologist is accused of murdering her husband, which seems to be a slam dunk case. Lindsay, however, is not convinced the wife is guilty and continues to investigate the case on her own time. She wants her friend to succeed, but she has been wrongly accused in the past and can relate to this woman's situation. She can't let her go to jail and lose her children if she is not guilty. Yuki has a history of bad relationships in this series, but I think she may have found a keeper this time around. Unfortunately, he has some baggage AND he is Lindsay's boss. Lindsay is directly disobeying her boss's orders by working on this case, but she just can't let it go.

Cindy Thomas, the crime reporter, is investigating a series of cases involving assaults on women. Each victim experiences memory loss for a period of time, so it is believed the suspect is drugging them prior to the abduction and assault. There doesn't seem to be a connection between the victims or a similar demographic, but Cindy eventually finds a clue that could solve the case. The smart thing to do would be to contact Lindsay and her partner Rich Conklin (who is also Cindy's boyfriend) for assistance, but she follows the trail on her own. She finds herself in a very dangerous situation and is lucky to have the friends that she does.

Overall, this was another excellent addition to the series. I really enjoy these characters and look forward to seeing what is in store for them in the next installment. With the 24th book coming out next year, I guess I have a lot to look forward to.