Dragon’s Reach

Dragon’s Reach

By: J.A. Andrews
Published: 2020
# of pages: 614
Series: The Keeper Origins (#1)
Challenge: What’s in a Name? (Possessive Noun)
Quote: “’That is the curse of life. Judging your past actions in the light of what you know now.’ She tilted her head. ‘Give your past self grace, my child. She did the best she could.’”

Goodreads description:

Sable, a reluctant thief from the slums, can feel truth when people speak. For years she’s been using that skill to try to break free from the vicious gang boss she’s indebted to.

Escape comes in the form of an odd set of companions:
-a dwarf running from the past,
-an actor with a magical, glowing tree
-a too-helpful kobold,
-a playwright with a knack for getting stories out of people, and
-a man and woman with suspicious, magical powers.

But Sable’s freedom is short lived.

On the edges of civilization, they discover hidden, terrifying lies in the offers of peace from the brutal Kalesh Empire.

Now, she must return to the city she fled, and along with her companions, attempt an impossible task—convince everyone, including the powerful Dragon Prioress, of the truth.

Except the Kalesh web of lies has ensnared everyone.
With her land, her people, and everything she loves hanging in the balance, Sable is the only one standing between freedom, and certain death.

Review:

Don’t ask me how I found this book, but it’s been on my TBR list for a while. I was picking out a book to match the What’s in a Name possessive noun category and here we are: a possessive noun in the word “Dragon’s.”

I was very pleasantly surprised by this first book in a series! Yes, it’s a typical fantasy, but I still found it refreshing and interesting. I enjoyed the author’s take on “common” fantasy species like elves, dwarves, magicians, but I also liked the inclusion of a kobold (basically a house elf from the Harry Potter series!)

Sable is living a life of crime to protect her sister, but she’s been waiting for a way to remove herself from the crime boss she works for in her part of the city and move to another neighborhood to live an honest life. Soon her big chance arrives, but of course nothing can go the way she planned. Before she knows it, she’s on the road with a traveling troupe and soon discovers that nothing about her country and its religious and political structure is what she belives to be true.

The characters are likeable and relateable, the backstories and world building aren’t overwhelming or boring, and the plot is interesting. I recommend this to both young adults and adults who enjoy fantasy.

My Sister, the Serial Killer

My Sister, the Serial Killer

By: Oyinkan Braithwaite
Published: 2018
# of pages: 226

Goodreads description:

When Korede’s dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what’s expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach. This’ll be the third boyfriend Ayoola’s dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede’s long been in love with him, and isn’t prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other…

Review:

I bet there are a lot of us out there who have younger sisters who are so favored (and spoiled) they could “get away with murder.” So what if someone took that concept literally and wrote a novel about the subject? Then you would have My Sister, the Serial Killer.

I haven’t done so yet, but I’d like to see if there’s any blog posts or interviews by the author that discuss her inspiration for this story. I have to say, as someone who is at this moment having some sister drama, I was reading it I was thinking, huh. Yeah, I could see this. I mean, not REALLY, but you know.

The unconcerned, impulsive, act first think (maybe) later, expecting others to clean up after them… And no one would ever suspect after seeing the smile, the bubbly personality. Especially compared to the not so fun older sister’s all business personality.

There’s not much else to say without spoilers, so you should just check it out yourself if you know what I’m talking about! I thoroughly enjoyed this, I just wish it had been a little longer and perhaps moved a little slower towards the end.

I recommend this to lovers of crime fiction along with some family drama. Content warning: domestic abuse.

Project Hail Mary

Project Hail Mary

By: Andy Weir
Published: 2021
# of pages: 481
Quote: “I feel like Sherlock Holmes. All I saw was ‘nothing,’ and I drew a bunch of conclusions!”

Goodreads description:

A lone astronaut must save the earth from disaster.

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission–and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crew mates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, he realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that’s been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it’s up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.

Review:

I shouldn’t have even picked this book to review because it’s hard to describe how much I enjoyed the story and characters! Was it the most amazingly well written book? No. Was it super realistic (in spite of the detailed scientific descriptions)? No. Usually these things will annoy me or hold me back from fully enjoying a book, but in this case it didn’t. It was a refreshing read and I must not be the only person who loved it based on its Goodreads rating of 4.57 stars.

If you’ve read (or watched the movie) The Martian, you’re familiar with the author, Andy Weir. He also wrote Artemis a few years ago, but I didn’t think that story was as good as his first and third novels. Similar to The Martian, this story follows a man alone in space who is struggling to survive a situation that has spiraled out of control.

Ryland Grace wakes up alone on a space ship but doesn’t know why he’s there or how he got there. Over the course of the story his memories slowly return. He realizes he has an important job to do fairly quickly, but how? He has no way to communicate with anyone to ask questions.

I recommend this book to all sci-fi fans. Similar to The Martian, there’s a lot of science details that I don’t truly understand, but Weir does a great job of dumbing it down and not overwhelming the reader.

Behind Her Eyes


Behind Her Eyes

By: Sarah Pinborough
Published: 2017
Pages:
318
Quote:
“Sharing a secret always feels great in the moment, but then becomes a burden in itself. That gnawing in the pit of your stomach that something has been set free and you can’t call it back and now someone else has that power over your future.”

Goodreads description:

Louise is a single mom, a secretary, stuck in a modern-day rut. On a rare night out, she meets a man in a bar and sparks fly. Though he leaves after they kiss, she’s thrilled she finally connected with someone.

When Louise arrives at work on Monday, she meets her new boss, David. The man from the bar. The very married man from the bar…who says the kiss was a terrible mistake, but who still can’t keep his eyes off Louise.

And then Louise bumps into Adele, who’s new to town and in need of a friend. But she also just happens to be married to David. And if you think you know where this story is going, think again, because Behind Her Eyes is like no other book you’ve read before.

David and Adele look like the picture-perfect husband and wife. But then why is David so controlling? And why is Adele so scared of him?

As Louise is drawn into David and Adele’s orbit, she uncovers more puzzling questions than answers. The only thing that is crystal clear is that something in this marriage is very, very wrong. But Louise can’t guess how wrong—and how far a person might go to protect their marriage’s secrets.

Review:

I watched the Netflix mini series a couple of months ago and enjoyed it, so I decided to check out the book. I was pleasantly surprised by how true to the book the series ended up being.

Louise is a single mom who works part time and is slightly dissatisfied with her mundane life. Little does she know, her life won’t be mundane for long. On a rare night out, her friend doesn’t show up. Instead of heading back to her apartment, Louise decides to take advantage of having a babysitter and enjoy some time alone. But then she meets a man. It’s not like her to flirt and even kiss without even knowing his name, but that’s what she does.

A few days later she finds out her new boss is none other than the mystery man. She’s embarrassed, but this is something she will laugh about later, right? But then she meets his wife and before she knows it, she’s enmeshed in more secrets than she can handle.

This book is a little hard to classify. At first glance it seems like a phychological thriller, but it’s more than just that, so keep an open mind while reading. It’s very original and creative. Louise is an easy character to understand and sympathize with, although at times I wanted to slap some sense into her.

After you read the book check out the show! If you’ve read or watched Behind Her Eyes, what did you think?

What’s in a Name 2020 Challenge Sign Up

Welcome to the 13th annual What’s in a Name challenge! In years past, this challenge was hosted by Charlie at The Worm Hole. I took over for 2019 and I’m excited to host again this year!

The challenge runs from January 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020. You can sign up any time, but only count books that you read between those dates.

Read a book in any format (hard copy, ebook, audio) with a title that fits into each category.

Don’t use the same book for more than one category.

Creativity for matching the categories is not only allowed, it’s encouraged!

You can choose your books as you go or make a list ahead of time.

Sign up using the Mr Linky below with a link to your WIAN challenge page/post, not your main blog URL. Feel free to save and use the graphic at the top of the page! Also, link back to this sign up page in your challenge post so others can join too.

The categories below are links to each category sign up link.  Add your book review for each category so we can see what you’ve read and discover ideas as needed.

Here are the categories for 2020:

Click the Mister Linky graphic above to enter your name and/or blog name (many people use this format: Andrea @ Carolina Book Nook) and the URL to your challenge post.  If you have any issues, email me through the Contact menu at the top of my blog and I’ll manually sign you up.

Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions!  Thanks and happy reading!

Finished with What’s in a Name?

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Have you completed the What’s in a Name challenge?  Please share your post with a list of all the books you’ve completed, whether it’s your updated original sign up post or a new post.  Also, please give suggestions for next year’s challenge and any thoughts on this year’s in the comments!

I’ll be sharing the 2020 sign up on December 1st unless someone else would like to take over hosting.  I’d love to host again and already have the categories lined up, but obviously I’m not the most interactive host, especially since my family started fostering back in May.  So if someone else would like to take over I’m perfectly willing to hand over the reigns and simply participate in 2020.

The Turn of the Key

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The Turn of the Key

By:  Ruth Ware
Published:  2019
# of pages:  384
Challenges:  R.I.P.

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Goodreads description:

When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare—one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.

Writing to her lawyer from prison, she struggles to explain the unravelling events that led to her incarceration. It wasn’t just the constant surveillance from the cameras installed around the house, or the malfunctioning technology that woke the household with booming music, or turned the lights off at the worst possible time. It wasn’t just the girls, who turned out to be a far cry from the immaculately behaved model children she met at her interview. It wasn’t even the way she was left alone for weeks at a time, with no adults around apart from the enigmatic handyman, Jack Grant.

It was everything.

She knows she’s made mistakes. She admits that she lied to obtain the post, and that her behavior toward the children wasn’t always ideal. She’s not innocent, by any means. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty—at least not of murder. Which means someone else is.

Review:  This is my favorite Ruth Ware book I’ve read so far.  I enjoyed her others just fine: The Woman in Cabin 10, In a Dark, Dark WoodThe Death of Mrs. Westaway, and The Lying Game.  However, I enjoyed The Turn of the Key the most.  I haven’t read the classic The Turn of the Screw yet, but I gather this is either a retelling or has a similar storyline.

In her letter to an attorney, Rowan states she is guilty…but not of the worst crime she’s been accused of committing.  She goes on to tell the story of how she was hired as a nanny at a large modern estate in the remote countryside of England.  She’s told right off the bat that the house may be haunted, at least that’s what overly superstitious people believe.  Rowan isn’t superstitious so she doesn’t give that claim a second thought.  Not, that is, until strange things begin to occur in the house.

I definitely enjoyed this Gothic suspense and was surprised at the plot twists.  I recommend this to those who enjoy the Gothic and/or physicological thriller genres.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Interesting and suspenseful story, was able to relate to the character more than some of Ware’s other characters.

The Cabin at the End of the World

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The Cabin at the End of the World

By: Paul Tremblay
Published:  2018
# of pages:  272
Quote: “Wen never felt more proud of herself as when she made one of her dads laugh.”

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Goodreads description:

Seven-year-old Wen and her parents, Eric and Andrew, are vacationing at a remote cabin on a quiet New Hampshire lake. Their closest neighbors are more than two miles in either direction along a rutted dirt road.

One afternoon, as Wen catches grasshoppers in the front yard, a stranger unexpectedly appears in the driveway. Leonard is the largest man Wen has ever seen but he is young, friendly, and he wins her over almost instantly. Leonard and Wen talk and play until Leonard abruptly apologizes and tells Wen, “None of what’s going to happen is your fault”. Three more strangers then arrive at the cabin carrying unidentifiable, menacing objects. As Wen sprints inside to warn her parents, Leonard calls out: “Your dads won’t want to let us in, Wen. But they have to. We need your help to save the world.”

Thus begins an unbearably tense, gripping tale of paranoia, sacrifice, apocalypse, and survival that escalates to a shattering conclusion, one in which the fate of a loving family and quite possibly all of humanity are entwined. The Cabin at the End of the World is a masterpiece of terror and suspense from the fantastically fertile imagination of Paul Tremblay.

Review:  It’s been a crazy summer at my house so I haven’t written a review in months and I feel a little rusty.  I’ll start by saying this is the first book by Tremblay I’ve read, but it won’t be the last!

Wen is 7 years old and on a vacation with her parents in a remote cabin.  Wen is introspective and compassionate and it isn’t fair that her life is suddenly and violently interrupted by a group of four strangers who intrude into her family’s vacation.  Sudden and violent are the perfect words for how the rest of the book progresses.  The reader feels horrified and helpless reading the sequence of events.

I wanted to jump into the book to comfort Wen and her dads, talk sense into the intruders, and try to change the plot.  At the same time I wanted to put the book down and save myself the horror of sharing in the story.  It’s odd how the book can manage to be filled with hopelessness and hope at the same time.

Overall the book was intense, suspenseful, and unpredictable.  I very much enjoyed reading it in spite of the violence.

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:  Original, well-written, interesting characters, thought provoking.

A Well-Behaved Woman

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A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts

By:  Therese Anne Fowler
Published:  
2018
# of pages:  400
Challenges:  A to Z, What’s in a Name? (“woman”)

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Goodreads description:

In 1883, the New York Times prints a lengthy rave of Alva Vanderbilt’s Fifth Ave. costume ball–a coup for the former Alva Smith, who not long before was destitute, her family’s good name useless on its own. Marrying into the newly rich but socially scorned Vanderbilt clan, a union contrived by Alva’s bestfriend and now-Duchess of Manchester, saved the Smiths–and elevated the Vanderbilts.

From outside, Alva seems to have it all and want more. She does have a knack for getting all she tries for: the costume ball–no mere amusement–wrests acceptance from doyenne Caroline Astor. Denied abox at the Academy of Music, Alva founds The Met. No obstacle puts her off for long.

But how much of ambition arises from insecurity? From despair? From refusal to play insipid games by absurd rules? –There are, however, consequences to breaking those rules. One must tread carefully.

And what of her maddening sister-in-law, Alice? Her husband William, who’s hiding a terrible betrayal? The not-entirely-unwelcome attentions of his friend Oliver Belmont, who is everything William is not? What of her own best friend, whose troubles cast a wide net?

Alva will build mansions, push boundaries, test friendships, and marry her daughter to England’s most eligible duke or die trying. She means to do right by all, but good behavior will only get a woman so far. What is the price of going further? What might be the rewards? There’s only one way to know for certain…

Review:  I checked this book out thinking it was a non-fiction biography.  However, I quickly discovered that it is actually a novel based on a real person and true events.  In the back of the book the author says why she decided to write a book about Alva Vanderbilt, where she found her references, and why she included certain elements in the book.

The story follows Alva Vanderbilt’s life from before she was a Vanderbilt to her extravagant life after marrying William K. Vanderbilt.  At the time, the Vanderbilts were new to New York City high society (basically the nation’s high society).  Alva was influential in the Vanderbilts’ acceptance.  The same energy, positivity, and tenacity that helped her accomplish that feat served her well in the years to come as she changed both NYC’s appearance and society.  As the years wore on, she also made a huge difference in women’s rights in the U.S. and Britain both intentionally and unintentionally.

Alva questioned norms and stood up for herself.  This novel allows the reader to see her point of view and question the information that has previously been published about this strong willed woman.  Of course it’s fiction and there’s no way to know exactly what Alva thought about or how she acted in private, but the author claims to have researched Alva’s life thoroughly and explains why she chose to portray Alva the way she did.

I recommend this book to fans of historical fiction and biographies.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars: Interesting, well written, informative.

The Map of Salt and Stars

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The Map of Salt and Stars

By:  Jennifer Seynab Joukhadar
Published:  2018
# of pages:  361
Challenges:  What’s in a Name (both “of” AND “and”), A to Z, Monthly Motif (cover love), Book Bingo (chose because of cover)
Quote:  “People make such beautiful things, I think, even though they destroy so much.”

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Goodreads description:

The story of two girls living eight hundred years apart—a modern-day Syrian refugee seeking safety and a medieval adventurer apprenticed to a legendary mapmaker.

It is the summer of 2011, and Nour has just lost her father to cancer. Her mother, a cartographer who creates unusual, hand-painted maps, decides to move Nour and her sisters from New York City back to Syria to be closer to their family. But the country Nour’s mother once knew is changing, and it isn’t long before protests and shelling threaten their quiet Homs neighborhood. When a shell destroys Nour’s house and almost takes her life, she and her family are forced to choose: stay and risk more violence or flee as refugees across seven countries of the Middle East and North Africa in search of safety. As their journey becomes more and more challenging, Nour’s idea of home becomes a dream she struggles to remember and a hope she cannot live without.

More than eight hundred years earlier, Rawiya, sixteen and a widow’s daughter, knows she must do something to help her impoverished mother. Restless and longing to see the world, she leaves home to seek her fortune. Disguising herself as a boy named Rami, she becomes an apprentice to al-Idrisi, who has been commissioned by King Roger II of Sicily to create a map of the world. In his employ, Rawiya embarks on an epic journey across the Middle East and the north of Africa where she encounters ferocious mythical beasts, epic battles, and real historical figures.

Review:  I’ll be honest, I chose to read this book based on the cover and the title.  I’m a geographer (majored in geography with a concentration in Geographic Information Systems (GIS).  My dad is also a geographer as is my husband.  So needless to say, anything to do with maps catches my attention!

This book is hard to review.  It was beautiful and heartbreaking and enlightening, but I also felt it was a little over-the-top as far as cliches and being oversentimental.  For some reason it fell a little flat for me, but at the same time, I appreciated it and think it was an important read.  Something I haven’t figured out yet is that there’s a paragraph in the book where the mom talks about Straight Street in Damascus and how it’s mentioned in the Bible.  I didn’t have any recollection of this although it’s possible I’ve read that passage of the Bible.  The day after I finished this book I went to a church service and the sermon was about this same passage of the Bible.  Straight Street and all.  So I feel like it’s significant, but I don’t know how yet.

Sorry to get personal on my blog and mention religion, but I can’t get it out of my head.  This isn’t a religious book although Muslim traditions are mentioned here and there.  It’s also mentioned how the main character, Nour, was raised both Catholic and Muslim.  For the most part the religious aspects are just generally mentioned, but that’s one reason why I found this “coincidence” in my life even more profound.

The book is about a girl, Nour, who was born in New York. After her father’s death her mom, a mapmaker, moved her and her two sisters back to their original home in Syria.  Unfortunately their arrival takes place just before the violence in Syria erupts.  Nour and her family become refugees, just like the ones we’ve been hearing about on the news in the U.S. over the past few years.  As Nour’s family travels from place to place they meet new friends and encounter both dangers and wonders.

Nour’s story intertwines with the story of Rawiya, a young woman in the 1100s who is apprenticed to a mapmaker and goes on a journey to discover and record new places.  Not only does she discover new places, she makes friends and is forced to confront many dangers.

Overall, I recommend this book to both adults and mature young adults.  There is an intense part that may trigger victims of sexual assault.  I now want to learn more about the conflict in Syria.  This story is a great way to enable readers to “walk” in a refugee’s shoes.

Why I gave this book 3/5 stars:  Important story, beautifully written, seemed a little “empty” to me for some reason.