Monday, April 29, 2019

Audio Book Review: The Song of Achilles: A Novel by Madeline Miller

Release Date: March 6, 2012
Publisher: Harper Audio
Format: Audio
Length: 11 hours 15 minutes
Narrator: Frazer Douglas
Genre: Fiction/Classic
Buy: Audible | Kindle  | Paperback

Synopsis: 

The legend begins...

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia to be raised in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles. "The best of all the Greeks"-strong, beautiful, and the child of a goddess-Achilles is everything the shamed Patroclus is not. Yet despite their differences, the boys become steadfast companions. Their bond deepens as they grow into young men and become skilled in the arts of war and medicine-much to the displeasure and the fury of Achilles' mother, Thetis, a cruel sea goddess with a hatred of mortals.

When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece, bound by blood and oath, must lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice.

Review:

I haven't read the Illiad or the Odyssey since 5th grade so it was nice to revisit this modernized tale.  This is the love story between Patroclus and Achilles, of war and oaths, of destiny. This story is beautifully told the narrator really brings the characters alive and Miller's beautiful prose helps guide the story along.

The fate of these two beautiful characters is well known but it still was devastating to my heart. I love how Miller really updated this story.  Bringing forth the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus. Even though it was sort of alluded to in the Illiad it was never really fleshed out so this modernized version really tugs at your heart.

The downfall of pride is really prevalent in this story. Both Achilles and his mother were very prideful and so was Achilles son who was raised by his mother. This pride led to devastating consequences and ultimately was the the downfall of both Achilles and his mother (from the loss of her son). In the end it seems she learned a bit of humility but the ending was pretty rough going there for a while.

I've had this book on my TBR list for a long time and I'm not sure what took me so long to actually get to it but I am so happy I did. Makes me intrigued to read her more recent book Circe



Friday, April 26, 2019

Book Review: The Harvard Skull Fiasco (Blue Bandicoot book 1) by Kris St. Gabriel

Release Date: December 16, 2018
Publisher: Broke Duck Press
Format: ebook
Genre:  Humor / Mystery
Buy: Kindle 

Synopsis:

Meet Shea. He's difficult—he suffers from pathological problems with authority and an unrepentant truthfulness. When he's not fixing computers in the library at Harvard Medical School, he's tormenting middle managers, and feuding with his boss. But where in the Harvard employee manual does it say you have to behave perfectly at all times?

When one day he uncovers the administration's secret plot to replace the library with a Starbucks cafe, Shea decides to stop them. He soon finds himself on a collision course with just about everyone, including a vivacious librarian named Astrid who doesn't quite agree that stealing the world's most famous skull is the best way to save a library. What follows is a comical and heart-warming tale of a misfit breaking all the rules in his quest to become a better person.

Review: 

This is an off beat mystery comedy. Right from the start you know what happened but the main character Shea is hilarious.  He wants to be a great thief but he suffers from problems with lying.  He can't seem to do it.  Shea believes that stealing the famous skull that resides in the Harvard library will prevent the school from replacing it with a starbucks.  His intention is to save the library which he holds in very high regard.

This book reminds me of those by Carl Hiaasen, The same twisted sense of humor and wit. This book is utterly engaging and fun. Quick paced with quirky characters.





Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher through Book Sirens in exchange for an honest review.

Discover other books or products I like: https://www.amazon.com/shop/readinggrrl 

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Audio Book Review: One to Watch (Kay Hunter book 3) by Rachel Amphlett

Release Date: October 3, 2017
Publisher: Saxon Publishing
Format: Audio
Length: 7 hours 28 minutes
Narrator: Allison Campbell
Genre: Mystery/thriller
Buy: Audible | Kindle  | Paperback

Synopsis: 

Sophie Whittaker shared a terrifying secret. Hours later, she was dead.
Detective Kay Hunter and her colleagues are shocked by the vicious murder of a teenage girl at a private party in the Kentish countryside.
A tangled web of dark secrets is exposed as twisted motives point to a history of greed and corruption within the tight-knit community.
Confronted by a growing number of suspects and her own enemies who are waging a vendetta against her, Kay makes a shocking discovery that will make her question her trust in everyone she knows.

Review:

I am totally hooked on this series. I love Kay, her relationship with her husband and her relationship with a small set of her colleagues. While Kay is still having issues with some of the people she works with due to the Moral Standards investigation she was cleared of she still finds herself working to clear her name.

In this book Hunter is untangling the death of a young girl at her purity pledge party.  It seems this young woman took a vow of chastity before marriage and pledged herself to another young man. Yet she was far from chaste, in fact she was pregnant. Whoever the father is may be the killer.

While Kay tries to figure out who may have killed this young girl she finds her home broken into and vital information leaked to the press and attributed to her which brings swift backlash from those who don't trust her anyway. As Kay struggles to figure out who is behind ripping her world apart she finds disturbing information that may lead to the culprit.

Fast paced police procedural with good character development and intriguing mysteries.




Monday, April 22, 2019

Audio Book Review: Will To Live ( Kay Hunter Book 2) by Rachel Amphlett

Release Date: October 12, 2017
Publisher: Saxon Publishing
Format: Audio
Length: 7 hours 15 minutes
Narrator: Allison Campbell
Genre: Mystery/thriller
Buy: Audible | Kindle  | Paperback

Synopsis: 

Reputation is everything.
When a packed commuter train runs over a body on a stretch of track known to locals as "Suicide Mile", it soon transpires that the man was a victim of a calculated murder.

As the investigation evolves and a pattern of murders is uncovered, Detective Sergeant Kay Hunter realizes the railway's recent reputation may be the work of a brutal serial killer.

With a backlog of cold cases to investigate and attempting to uncover who is behind a professional vendetta against her, Kay must keep one step ahead of both the killer and her own adversaries.
When a second murder takes place within a week of the first, she realizes the killer's timetable has changed, and she's running out of time to stop him....

Review:

Kay Hunter is back and this time the murder really creeped me out. Victims are being found drugged and tied or someone bound to the train tracks. They wake up just in time to realize their predicament and see the train barreling down on them.

This is a faced paced thriller with multiple suspects and good character development.  We are really getting to know Kay and her colleagues and the more we know the more I like them. Kay is still not trusted due to a prior investigation into missing evidence in a case but she was found innocent. However not everyone believes she really is innocent which makes Kay's job all the more difficult.

These books are a quick read and highly addictive. 






Friday, April 19, 2019

Audio Book Review: Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Release Date: December 27, 2015
Publisher: Tantor Audio
Format: Audio
Length: 16 hours 44 minutes
Narrator: Robin Wall Kimmerer
Genre: Native American/Botany/Nature
Buy: Audible | Kindle  | Paperback

Synopsis: 

As a botanist and professor of plant ecology, Robin Wall Kimmerer has spent a career learning how to ask questions of nature using the tools of science. As a Potawatomi woman, she learned from elders, family, and history that the Potawatomi, as well as a majority of other cultures indigenous to this land, consider plants and animals to be our oldest teachers.

In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer brings these two lenses of knowing together to reveal what it means to see humans as "the younger brothers of creation". As she explores these themes, she circles toward a central argument: The awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgement and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the world. Once we begin to listen for the languages of other beings, we can begin to understand the innumerable life-giving gifts the world provides us and learn to offer our thanks, our care, and our own gifts in return.

Review:

Beautifully written, I can't say enough about this book.  Its a gift to read. The author is a botanist and professor but is also an Indigenous woman who has learned about plants through her family and traditions. She uses these teachings in conjunction with her western knowledge of plant science to help nurture a new generation of botanists.  She challenges them to look beyond science to listen to ancient wisdom and explore the earth and plants thanking them for everything they give to us.

This book is a reminder to be grateful for all life. For the paper that was once a tree, the food we eat, the clothing we wear was all once something else and we should be grateful that those plants, trees and animals gave their lives for us to have shoes, or shirts, food to eat. If everyone started remembering how we are all connected to the earth and give thanks for it maybe we wouldn't be facing the ecological disasters we do. Maybe if we started remembering that plants, trees and animals have life just like we do and we are all connected in a delicate balance then maybe we wouldn't keep seeing an us vs. them.  Maybe by listening we will relearn what has been lost.

Indigenous teachings about harvesting and growing and creating may just seem like rituals but when really explored in a scientific way many of the traditions helped to keep the ecology growing and flourishing around them. Without harvesting sweetgrass the sweetgrass wouldn't thrive, without taking certain trees for baskets new ones couldn't grow, life is a balance and we as humans have to remember to respect that. We need to listen more and try to exert our will less.

I recommend this book to everyone for its teachings, its beautiful words and its insights - I actually began this book with trepidation not thinking I was going to like it at all, instead I've fallen in love.


Monday, April 15, 2019

Audio Book Review: Scared to Death: ( Kay Hunter book 1) by Rachel Amphlett

Release Date: October 2, 2017
Publisher: Saxon Publishing
Format: Audio
Length: 8 hours 28 minutes
Narrator: Allison Campbell
Genre: Mystery/thriller
Buy: Audible Kindle  | Paperback

Synopsis: 

"If you want to see your daughter alive again, listen carefully."

When the body of a snatched schoolgirl is found in an abandoned biosciences building, the case is first treated as a kidnapping gone wrong.

But Detective Kay Hunter isn't convinced, especially when a man is found dead with the ransom money still in his possession.

When a second schoolgirl is taken, Kay's worst fears are realized.

With her career in jeopardy - desperate to conceal a disturbing secret, Kay's hunt for the killer becomes a race against time before he claims another life.

For the killer, the game has only just begun....

Scared to Death is the first book in a new crime thriller series featuring Kay Hunter - a detective with a hidden past and an uncertain future....

Review:

This is a spooky police thriller.  The death of a young girl turns into anything but a straight forward kidnapping. Kay Hunter is on the case of trying to find the killer. This is the first book of this series but before this book Kay had been under investigation by internal affairs. Despite being exonerated there is still suspicion and animosity from some of the higher ups which makes her job all the more difficult.

I love that Kay seems to have a stable supportive marriage despite her crazy work schedule.  In so many police procedural the people are either in dysfunctional relationships or divorced.

This is a well written book and the crime has that added creep factor that makes it a quick read.






Friday, April 12, 2019

Audio Book Review: The Immortalists: A novel by Chloe Benjamin

Release Date: January 9, 2018
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Format: Audio
Length: 11 hours 30 minutes
Narrator: Maggie Hoffman
Genre: Fiction
Buy: Audible | Kindle  | Paperback

Synopsis: 

If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?

It's 1969 in New York City's Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children--four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness--sneak out to hear their fortunes.

The prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in '80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel struggles to maintain security as an army doctor post-9/11; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

Both a dazzling family love story and a sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, The Immortalists probes the line between destiny and choice, reality and illusion, this world and the next. It is a deeply moving testament to the power of story, the nature of belief, and the unrelenting pull of familial bonds.

Review:

This story starts off in New York in 1969 when we meet the four Gold children from a religious Jewish family - Varya is 13, Daniel is 11, Klara is 9 and Simon is 7.  The children hear about a psychic that can predict the date you are going to die. They all decide to go and meet with her individually.  They don't seem to share their information with each other until much later.

Does the information these kids received as children effect the course of their lives? Do they base their decisions on when they are supposed to die? Did this psychic use the power of suggestion to steer the course of their lives? Or did she hope that knowing when they would die would help them to live?

This book is broken down into different parts, each part the tale of one of the Gold children. You don't know the date of any of their deaths until their story is told and only once it is over to you find out if the psychic was correct. I don't want to say much more since I don't want to spoil anything.

This is a unique story that really makes you think about what it means to live. What constitutes a full life? The length or the way we live it? Beautifully written and very engrossing book I really enjoyed it and will be thinking about my answers to some of these questions for a while.  This would make an excellent book group book as I could see a lot of lively discussion coming from it.





Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Audio Book Review: You Can't Touch My Hair and other things I still have to explain by Phoebe Robinson

Release Date: October 4, 2016
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Format: Audio
Length: 7 hours 41 minutes
Narrator: Phoebe Robinson
Genre: Race, feminism, comedy
Buy: Audible | Kindle  | Paperback

Synopsis: 

Being a black woman in America means contending with old prejudices and fresh absurdities every day. Comedian Phoebe Robinson has experienced her fair share over the years: She's been unceremoniously relegated to the role of "the black friend", as if she is somehow the authority on all things racial; she's been questioned about her love of U2 and Billy Joel ("isn't that...white people music?"); she's been called "uppity" for having an opinion in the workplace; she's been followed around stores by security guards; and yes, people do ask her whether they can touch her hair all. The. Time. Now she's ready to take these topics to audio - and she's going to make you laugh as she's doing it.

Using her trademark wit alongside pop-culture references galore, Robinson explores everything from why Lisa Bonet is "Queen. Bae. Jesus" to breaking down the terrible nature of casting calls to giving her less-than-traditional advice to the future female president and demanding that the NFL clean up its act, all told in the same conversational voice that launched her podcast, 2 Dope Queens, to the top spot on iTunes. As personal as it is political, You Can't Touch My Hair examines our cultural climate and skewers our biases with humor and heart, announcing Robinson as a writer on the rise.

Review:

Phoebe Robinson is a comedian and author.  She has a fun take on serious subjects. She talks about learning to love yourself and your hair, how society views natural black hair, systemic racism, and the cluelessness of most white people in regard to anything regarding POC (people of color).

Her observations are told with humor but also with honesty and an in your face unapologetic approach. This may be better as a book than an audio book, because while I adore Phoebe listening to her for 7 hours in a row can be a bit too much, I found I had to stop and listen to something else every so often. I mean seriously I don't think I could listen to any comedian for 7+ hours in a row its just too much energy and my brain started to spin. So I suggest you get the book because Phoebe's insights into her life and her life as an African American woman are great and really are things that I'm sure that she is tired of explaining to non POC but that they really need to get a clue about.



Monday, April 8, 2019

Book Review: What Would a Muslim Say: Conversations, Questions and Answers about Islam

Release Date: January 21, 2017
Publisher: Common Word Publishing
Format: ebook
Pages: 156 pages
Genre:  Religion
Buy: Kindle | Paperback 

Synopsis:

These days, Islam is no stranger to controversy. There are many questions, fears, and misconceptions about Islam and Muslims. I believe these books can answer questions, build bridges, and promote understanding.

Since 2009, I have facilitated interfaith dialogues with many different people. The conversations in these books are real. Some are curious, some are concerned, some are hostile, some are academic, and some are soul-searching. My hope is that this can be a small step towards better understanding and harmony.

I have compiled the best and most interesting conversations over the course of my outreach and interfaith work. These transcripts showcase everyday people -- from angry and concerned to inquisitive and supportive -- asking real questions and getting straight answers about Islam.

Review: 

Mr. Rashed has compiled emails between himself and people seeking answers on the website Why Islam. In them he responds to questions, angry statements and misinterpretations. Since many questions have multiple parts and overlap with other questions some of his responses are the same or similar but this doesn't take away from the book. Some would probably say he was following a script but I don't think so, if you speak to any scholar of religion they tend to have specific passages or "go to" quotes that help them answer common questions. Some of his responses are very scholarly and others are written in a much more common manner. I appreciated this and found that something I may not have fully understood in a more scholarly manner made more sense when it was for lack of a better term "dumbed down".

Any religion can be twisted and made to fit anyone's agenda, the bottom line of most religions is peace, love, tolerance and caring. This book helps work toward seeing Islam in this light. So much misinformation is out there that it's often difficult to figure out what is truth and what is not. Every religion has zealots who use their religion to condemn other people. Many Christians use their faith as a banner to say what is right and what is moral, just as the Taliban and ISIL do with Islam.

I would like to say that this book is good for all but it may be too scholarly for some, however it is a good place to start if you don't know much about Islam and are open to learning, which is the key to anything. You have to be willing to learn and listen. I do appreciate that Mr. Rashed quotes the Q'aran and then explains the passage he uses instead of just using the quote as the response.  I see that there are several other books in this series about Islam which I have not read but if you are truly interested in learning more about this religion you may want to check them out, if they are like this book they will give you a good basic knowledge.






Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher through Book Sirens in exchange for an honest review.

Discover other books or products I like: https://www.amazon.com/shop/readinggrrl 

Friday, April 5, 2019

ARC Book Review: Colombiano by Rusty Young

Release Date: April 1, 2019
Publisher: Havelock & Baker Publishing
Format: ebook
Pages: 813 pages
Genre:  hispanic lit
Buy: Kindle | Paperback 

Synopsis:

Blending fact and fiction, Colombiano is a heart-thumping journey into the violent and unpredictable world of post-Escobar Colombia.

For four years Rusty Young worked secretly for the US government in Colombia. During this time he was shocked by the stories of child soldiers he encountered. He vowed that one day he would turn their tales into a book and let their voices be heard.

In Colombia you have to pick a side. Or one will be picked for you . . .

All Pedro GutiĆ©rrez cares about is fishing, playing pool and his girlfriend Camila’s promise to sleep with him on his sixteenth birthday. But his life is ripped apart when his father is callously executed in front of him by Guerrilla soldiers and he and his mother are banished from their farm.

Vowing vengeance against the five men responsible, Pedro joins an illegal Paramilitary group with this best friend, Palillo, where he is trained to fight, kill and crush any sign of weakness.
But as he descends into a world of unspeakable violence, Pedro must decide how far he is willing to go. Can he stop himself before he becomes just as ruthless as those he is hunting? Or will his dark obsession cost him all he loves?

Review: 

Rusty Young began his research for a non-fiction book about child soldiers but after interviewing a few he found that a better avenue would be to create a work of fiction weaving together the stories into a tale of one young boy Pedro. Pedro's life is changed when his father is murdered in front of him by Guerilla's who refuse to let him move or bury the body.  In fact the whole town refuses to help Pedro so he swears revenge, joining an illegal paramilitary group to help him exact revenge of the men who were responsible.

This is a long book but it is an interesting, and compelling read. Pedro is relateable and sympathetic as a character and if even a 10th of this book is real it is devastating. Colombian politics have always been unsettling but this really puts it in perspective.  Each side saying they are fighting for the people and that the other faction is "bad" and the death toll mounts and the violence continues. The people stuck between all of this just keep trying to live their lives but sometimes not taking a side isn't as easy as you would think.

When I thought of child soldiers I always think of those in Africa, stolen and drugged, forced to fight for whatever side abducted them but this is not that story.  Here you are recruited, lured with promises of money and power.  But what may have started out as a way to exact revenge or become more powerful quickly turns into a reality of violence, blind obedience and/or death.

Well researched, well written and easy to read Colombiano is worth the time needed due to its length. 






Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher through netgalley.com in exchange for an honest review.

Discover other books or products I like: https://www.amazon.com/shop/readinggrrl 

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Audio Book Review: The Calling ( Darkness Rising book 2) by Kelley Armstrong

Release Date: April 10, 2012
Publisher: Harper Audio
Format: Audio
Length: 7 hours 32 minutes
Narrator: Jennifer Ikeda
Genre: YA, Paranormal, Fantasy
Buy: Audible | Kindle 

Synopsis: 

Maya Delaney's paw-print birthmark is the mark of what she truly is - a skin-walker. She can run faster, climb higher, and see better than nearly everyone else. Experiencing intense connections with the animals that roam the woods outside her home, Maya knows it's only a matter of time before she's able to Shift and become one of them. And she believes there may be others in her small town with surprising talents.

Now Maya and her friends have been forced to flee from their homes during a forest fire they suspect was deliberately set. Then they're kidnapped, and after a chilling helicopter crash, they find themselves in the Vancouver Island wilderness with nothing but their extraordinary abilities to help them get back home.

Review:

After a less than satisfying first book this one delivered on the action and on the story.  Maya and her friends are fleeing a forest fire that is threatening her town when their helicopter goes down.  The people seeking them don't seem friendly although they keep saying they are only trying to help, but why does help have to come with a tranquilizer dart?

Maya only wants to get back to their town and contact their parents who think they are all dead thanks to a new story about their crash. What they find when they finally reach their town is not at all what they expected.  Still unsure of who to trust Maya and her friends try to figure things out on their own and their revelations are not so straight forward.

I really wish that this book and the first book would have been combined.  I don't like books that leave you dangling and while this one didn't have a complete ending at least I was left satisfied. Armstrong has written some great characters and really captured the essence of being a teenager, filled with insecurities, and crushes. I really enjoyed this installment and look forward to the final book in this trilogy.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Audio Book Review: The Gathering (Darkness Rising book 1) by Kelley Armstrong

Release Date: April 12, 2011
Publisher: Harper Audio
Format: Audio
Length: 8 hours 8 minutes
Narrator: Jennifer Ikeda
Genre: YA, Paranormal, Fantasy
Buy: Audible | Kindle 

Synopsis: 

Strange things are happening in Maya's tiny Vancouver Island town. First, her friend Serena, the captain of the swim team, drowns mysteriously in the middle of a calm lake. Then, one year later, mountain lions are spotted rather frequently around Maya's home and her reactions to them are somewhat . . . unexpected. Her best friend, Daniel, has also been experiencing unexplainable premonitions about certain people and situations.

It doesn't help that the new bad boy in town, Rafe, has a dangerous secret, and he's interested in one special part of Maya's anatom - her paw-print birthmark.

Review:

Ever since her best friend drowned strange things have been happening.  Everyone in this strange little town works for the same research company but what really is the research? Maya knows that she feels more at home in the forest and she has a way with animals, especially cats and they tend to heal quicker around her.

Maya finds herself drawn to Rafe, the new kid in town more strongly than she has anyone else.  He's odd and his sister is even stranger.  Finally Rafe comes clean about why he and his sister came to this town, but will Maya believe him? Little things are piling in his favor but its too much to wrap her head around, she wants to confide in her best friend Daniel who seems to be having his own special things happening but there never seems to be a good time.

A forest fire rapidly approaching the town leads them all to evacuate but not before Daniel and Maya run into some strange people in the forest that they suspect started the fire and one of them may be Maya's biological father.

Fast paced set up for a bigger story.  This book ends on a cliff hanger, I almost wish it had just been written as one long book at least I would feel more closure. I like Armstrong's books, the mythology she bases them on and how she creates her characters I just felt this one was more of a prequel, and now I have to read the others to find out the rest of the story. It left me a bit unsatisfied.


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