Author Archives: Jenn

Review: A Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention by Matt Richtel

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow (September 23, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780062284068
  • Source: Publisher

In 2006, Reggie Shaw, a Utah college student, was involved in a brutal car crash that instantly killed two men. The accident wasn’t caused by inclement weather or adverse road conditions. It occurred because Reggie Shaw’s attention was elsewhere: on his cell phone. In the minutes that led up to the accident, Reggie was sending texts to his on-again, off-again girlfriend. Sending the texts took seconds. The damage caused by the distraction forever changed the lives of numerous people.

In this narrative non-fiction, Richtel shares scientific evidence that details how our attention is easily comprised by technology.  We all experience this; one of the examples noted is the cocktail party effect. We can listen to a conversation with someone while our attention is elsewhere.  The same is true with our cell phones in cars, but the difference is we think we can balance that attention without any harm. That is clearly not the case. Texting while driving has deadly consequences.

The scientific evidence Richtel further shows just how addicted we are to our technology. Responding to a text, getting an instant response or interaction is, to our bodies, like a drug.  The high is similar to the effects of drugs or of having sex. Like other addictions, the need for more intensifies over time until it reaches an unhealthy level.

Richtel, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, succeeds at his intent to get this message across to his readers.  Balancing a truly horrific accident with scientific evidence grabs the reader with heart-breaking emotion from the very few pages.  Readers follow Reggie through the accident investigation, his prosecution, and how his life, too, was changed by this accident.

It’s obvious that Richtel knows his data. This is clear in the evidence he relays, but also in the formatting of this book.  He knows our attention spans are short. With the internet, and text messages, information has to be relayed in short bursts or our attention is lost.  So, to keep his readers’ attention, each chapter is limited to a handful of pages.

As I devoured this book, I often forgot I was reading a piece of non-fiction.  The constant reminder that this story is real was horrifying to me. Yet the emotion, the intensity Richtel uses captivates a reader much like a suspense or thriller novel. Unfortunately, this story is all too real.

As the mother of a young man who will be driving within the next year, I genuinely think this book should be required reading for teens participating in driving programs.  We all remember what it is like to be a teenager; our social lives are the most important things to us. What we need to ingrain in the minds of our children is that texting while driving has deadly consequences. No conversation or relationship is worth the life of another human being.

It is rare that I say everyone should read a book. In this case, I almost demand it. While I read an egalley, I will be buying a print copy for my son. I will encourage his school library to carry it in their collection. I will share it with my friends so they, too, can have their children read it. This book is that important.


Review: Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Simon Pulse (September 23, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9781481422345
  • Source: Publisher


Darcy Patel is a teenage girl won’t be heading off to college like most of her peers. Instead, thanks to the success of a book she wrote in just 30 days, she’s off to New York to pursue her writing career.  She arrives in New York with little knowledge of the city or of the publishing world. She’s quickly taken under the wings of other more seasoned writers. Within a matter of months, she has an apartment, unexpectedly falls in love, and finishes edits on her debut novel, Afterworlds.

Darcy’s novel is about a teen girl, Lizzie, who slips into the Afterworlds after barely surviving a terrorist attack.  The Afterworlds are the spaces between the living and the dead, where recently deceased travel on their way to the afterlife. Since she barely escaped death, Lizzie is now has the ability to see the dead.  Her new ability has bestowed upon her great responsibility to help save the fate of the dead. Unfortunately this new power has little control over the lives of those she cares about in the land of the living.

I’ve been a fan of Westerfeld’s work for some time now. First introduced to his writing by my now teen son, I crave the release of each of his books. I recall a particularly embarrassing moment when I went all fangirl outside a party at Book Expo America a few years ago. I’m certainly not alone in my feelings.  Westerfeld has a talent for crafting unique storylines, taking risks that many others wouldn’t dare.  This is what makes him a truly outstanding writer.

I admit, in reading the premise of this novel I was skeptical. A novel within a novel? How could Westerfeld possibly pull it off?  Well, he did. He surpassed all of my expectations, quickly putting an end to my skepticism.

What makes Afterworlds such a profound read is that Westerfeld succeeds at creating a wholly successful novel within a novel.  Dual storylines are told in alternating chapters.  One would think this would be confusing but it’s not; they each flow quite well together but could easily be read as two stand-alone novels. The protagonist in each are given ample time to develop and grow, each evolving into completely different characters than they started out as.  I quickly became invested in Darcy’s life in the publishing world and her budding love life. The same was true for Lizzie and her understanding of her new powers.  Both were genuine, well-developed teen characters readers are certain to connect with.  They weren’t cookie cutter characters, each richly diverse in their own way.

Westerfeld has given his readers a great gift with Afterworlds.  With a novel at over 600 pages, many writers have the challenge of keeping readers engaged. That certainly wasn’t the case with this one; I devoured most of it in one day.  That is quite an accomplishment! Each story’s pacing is quite different, I think this is what lends to its readability. When one story’s pacing hits a plateau, the other one picks up, never making the reader feel like they are rushing through one just to get back to the other.

The only challenge I had with this novel how to classify the genre. Or perhaps that is one of the selling points; a novel that alludes any one genre, instead encapsulating many!

The ending alludes to a sequel, I certainly hope that is the case. I certainly haven’t had enough of Darcy and Lizzie; I anxiously await the opportunity to reunite with them!  Certain to be enjoyed by readers of all ages, from all different backgrounds, I highly, highly recommend this novel!

TSS: Week in Review: September 14, 2014

Fall is here! experiencing some pretty hot & humid weather, the past few days we’ve been gifted with cool, breezy weather. I kind of love it!

I love Fall for many reasons: changing color of leaves, cooler weather, wearing scarves and sweaters.  One of my favorite things, however, is the start of fall television series. The return of my favorite series, the start of new. I’m giddy with anticipation.  What are your favorite fall series?



Topping my favorite thing about Fall, however, is Halloween.  The one time of year I can celebrate all thing spooktacular!  I will once again be hosting Murder, Monsters, & Mayhem.  I encourage you to sign up as well!

What are your favorite things about Fall?


In case you missed it, here’s what took place on the blog recently:

Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (September 9, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780385353304
  • Source: Publisher


A famous stage actor, Arthur Leander, dies of a heart attack on stage. A former paparazzi, now EMT, leaps to the stage in an attempt to save him. From the sidelines, young Kirsten Raymonde watches as the life drains from the body of a man she admires. Outside, a terrible flu is spreading. Hospitals are overwhelmed with patients and soon the doctors succumb to the illness.  Jeevan rushes to the home of his wheelchair bound brother. As the days pass, they watch as life as they knew it quickly fades to nothingness. Within days, the majority of the population is gone.

No more internet. No more social media, no more scrolling through litanies of dreams and nervous hopes and photographs of lunches, cries for help and expressions of contentment and relationship-status updates with heart icons whole or broken, plans to meet up later, pleas, complaints, desires, pictures of babies dressed as bears or peppers for Halloween. No more reading and commenting on the lives of others, and in doing so, feeling slightly less alone in the room. No more avatars.

Fast a few decades. Kirsten is now an actress with a small troupe known as the Traveling Symphony. This motley group of survivors travels by caravan to communities of survivors, sharing a culture of Shakespeare and music to embark a bit of hope into the lives of the living.  On their journey, they cross paths with a prophet who carries a dark and dangerous message about the demise of civilization.

With alternating stories and timelines, it is quickly evident that the lives of each of these characters are bound together by time. While the synopsis of Station Eleven might seem like a dystopian or science fiction novel, it far more profound than that.  A message tattooed on Kirsten’s arm, quoted from an episode of Star Trek: Voyager says it all: survival is insufficient.  It’s not enough that there are still survivors that roam the vast lands of our country. What these individuals have become, what happens to us when faced with such travesty, is what is important.

Another message  Mandel imparts is the enduring magic of the arts and storytelling.  Through Beethoven and Shakespeare and a random (yet powerful) comic book, the survivors embrace the hope of what used to be,  a world that many of them never experienced on their own. Savoring and sharing the beauty of mankind before the flu struck is the only salvation for the survivors.  The message that lingers throughout is the importance to savor the beauty, never taking granted what is before you. A line that will linger in my mind, Hell is the absence of people you long for,” captures it all so perfectly.

I devoured the egalley of this book within hours of downloading it on my iPad. Weeks later, I was still in a stunned silence brought on by its sheer beauty and brilliance.  Weeks passed, and I was unable to put my experience and feelings into words. So I read it again, staying up all hours of the night to finish it. This second experience, no longer shadowed by the awe of my first reading, allowed me to appreciate this novel so much more.

Now, days after my second reading, I still weep when I think of the beauty that Mandel has imparted to her readers. Reading this book is an experience like none other. With no exaggeration, it is a life-altering experience. I see something on an ordinary day, something as simple as the changing colors of leaves, and I tear up. Because I see the beauty. I appreciate it. I savor it.  That is what you should do with this book. Open it. Savor it. Live it.

Announcing: 2014 Murder, Monsters & Mayhem (Mx3)!



Halloween is here! Well, almost! Anyone who has followed this blog for any significant period of time understand just how much I love Halloween (and Fall in general)! To celebrate my obsession with the macabre, each year I host a month long feature in October called Murder, Monsters & Mayhem (Mx3). For the entire month, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite horror and thriller titles, both new and old.

Want to participate alongside me? Feel free to include your sign up link below or, if you don’t have a blog, just mention your interest in participating in the comments below.  Your sign-up post can be simple, just indicate you are participating, maybe mention a few books you look forward to reading!

At the start of Murder, Monsters & Mayhem (October 1) I will post a link-up post so everyone can see what spooky books other participants are reading! Also, I’ll have some giveaways for participants throughout the month!

Happy Reading!

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Guest Review: The Islands at the End of the World by Austin Aslan

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books (August 5, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780385744027
  • Source: Publisher

Sixteen-year-old Leilani and her father travel from their small island town to the Big Island of Hawaii to Oahu to seek medical treatment for her epilepsy.  When the President of the United States goes missing for several hours, they think nothing of it, assuming the media is rushing to assumptions.  Once they arrive on the Big Island, however, a series of meteor strikes causes all electronics to fail, preventing them from communicating with their family back home. The meteor storms also bring on the appearance of a celestial being, dubbed the Green Orchid due to its flower-like appearance.

Unable to complete her medical tests, Leilani and her father are desperate to return home. Commercial flights are cancelled and a return by sea is far too dangerous.  The added stress causes an increase in Leilani’s seizures, during which she experiences otherworldly connections to the past. As a food shortage becomes eminent, citizens begin to loot, forcing the military to become involved. Leilani and her father, attempting to find their own means of returning home, become just two of the many citizens forced into military camps.  As their hopes of returning home dwindle, Leilani begins to wonder if somehow she is connected to the entity that looms over them.  A terrifying and devastating future is before them.  Will they be able to return home before it’s too late?

I was thrilled to accept this book for review because I felt it was a book that my teen son and I could read and discuss together.  He’s currently quite fond of dystopian fiction and it seemed to be the kind of book he’d adore.  Initially, it was. Unfortunately it took an unexpected turn…and not necessarily for the good. Here are his thoughts.  Warning: there are some spoilers below. Typically, we don’t include spoilers in our review but they were necessary in order for John to fully explain his feelings about the book.

I’ve always wanted to visit Hawaii. My parents went when I was two and since then I’ve been begging my parents to take me. So when my Mom gave this book to me, I was really excited. It blended together survival fiction (I’m a big fan!) and a beautiful setting. Sure to be a success, right? Unfortunately no. It’s actually very difficult for me to write this review because I’m still rather upset at the shift the book made. It started out like any other dystopian fiction. Something happens to cause the world as we know it to go haywire. Yep, I’m sold. Initially, they claimed it was due to this meteor storm. Ok, that’s plausible. Then, in a complete shift, this thing in the sky is an alien being and Leilani is connected to it somehow. Ok, where the heck did that come from?  This dramatic shift really irritated me. I felt tricked, somehow. I was really enjoying the book, I was going to recommend it to all my friends. And then this.  Making things worse is the “to be continued….” at the end. So this is going to be a series now?  I’m all about cliffhanger endings but this one left me mad.  My mom says I should not rush to judgement and wait until the next book comes out, but I don’t know if I have the patience to do so.

I’m trying to be a responsible and respectful reader and finding the benefits to this book. I do agree that it is an excellent survival story.  I like how Leilani and her father were brought together due to the challenges they were faced, rather than giving up and fighting all the time. But that shift in the storyline. I don’t know if I can get over it.

So, I’ll do what my Mom suggests and I’ll read the next book. I’ll be more guarded about my feelings and trust, however.

I guess I can recommend this novel to fans of survivalist fiction and if you read this review you know about the thing that changed my feelings about this book. Looking at other reviews, people seemed to love it. Perhaps I am alone in my feelings, perhaps I’m the only one who chose to state them. So, I’m not going to tell you not to read this book. I’ll just warn you in advance. That’s the best I can do!

There you have it.  Now that John and I have discussed the book, he somewhat understands the author’s motives and is a little more forgiving of what transpired. I understand his feelings; this is probably the first time he’s felt so strongly about a book in a not so positive way.  Take John’s experiences as you may; I’ll be interested to read others reviews of this title!

Review: Mary: The Summoning by Hillary Monahan

  • Age Range: 12 – 18 years, 7-12th grade
  • Series: Bloody Mary
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Disney-Hyperion (September 2, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9781423185192

Everyone is familiar with the Bloody Mary urban legend. Teenage friends Jess, Shauna, Kitty, and Anna have researched the rules.

Positioning mattered. Salt mattered, too, because it purified against evil. Water mattered. Hand-holding mattered. Even the number of girls mattered.

The first time they summon Mary, what follows is terrifying.

The mirror filled with fog, like condensation after a hot, steamy shower. But the fog was on the other side. The wrong side. Droplets of water streamed down the glass, cutting black rivulets through the gray. . .

Yet once is not enough for Jess and she demands that her friends join her in summoning Mary again. This time, however, the consequences are dangerous: their summoning circle is broken and Mary comes through the glass in the mirror. Shauna barely escapes Mary’s murderous grasp, scratches from Mary’s nails down her back serving as evidence. They think they are safe from Mary but quickly learn that once Mary has tasted blood, there is no escape.

Mary can appear in any shiny surface, including windows, picture frames, and glasses. Her wrath is inescapable and the girls find themselves in a battle for their lives. Their friendships are torn apart as it becomes apparent that Jess’s motivation to evoke Mary’s spirit are personal.  With the guidance of survivor of Mary’s wrath, the girls must  learn what sparked Mary’s murderous rampage if they have any  hopes of ending it.

What a chilling read! I’ve been a fan of horror since I was a teen and I thought I was able to handle most anything. Apparently not!  This book had me terrified from the beginning. Monahan has created a cast of characters so real, their behavior and friendships so genuine it was easy to become invested in this group of teen girls.

The author uses letters from the “original” Mary to her sister to share the story of how Mary came to be this terrifying urban legend.  The actions that led up to her evolution into an urban legend are quite chilling. The monster Monahan creates in Mary is so chilling, leaving me terrified to be in the presence of mirrors after dark or to read this novel if I was home alone.

While many of the questions behind Mary’s creation were answered, there were many unanswered questions by the end of the book. That said, it is my understanding that this is but the first book in a series. Cue happy dance!

Fans of R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike will be thrilled to know that this title evokes the same terror as these horror greats. I had flashbacks to my teen years, reading Fear Street in the dark, with only a flashlight to guide me. A must read for horror fans of all ages, this is a book that will definitely be making the rounds this Halloween season. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (Audiobook)

  • Series: A Cormoran Strike Novel
  • Listening Length: 17 hours and 22 minutes
  • Publisher: Hachette Audio (June 19, 2014)
  • Source: Publisher

Known for frequently disappearing for days on end, this isn’t the first time author Owen Quine has gone missing. Knowing the police will do nothing to help her, Mrs. Quine calls on private detective Cormoran Strike to find her husband. As the days pass and still no clue as to Quine’s whereabouts, Strike is concerned there is more to his disappearance than Quine’s wife believes. Quine has recently submitted a manuscript for a novel that portrays many of his acquaintances in a less than desirable light.  If this novel was to be published it would ruin lives and cause a public uproar.  With this information, Strike believes there are more than a few people who would be interested in silencing Quine.

Stakes are immediately raised once Quine is found, brutally murdered. When the details of his murder replicate those of a murder within his manuscript, anyone who had access to the manuscript is at the top of Strike’s suspect list. Unfortunately, the local police are convinced his killer is closer to home and rejects any additional information Strike provides them.  Strike methodically evaluates all the evidence he has obtained, slowly eliminating the suspect list until he’s left with one brutal killer.

I can’t rave enough about this series. By now, we all realize that Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling. You know what? It doesn’t matter at all to me, for in no way does it influence my decision to devour this series or not.  Frankly, there are hints or suggestions that the two individuals are one in the same so I actually pretend that they are, in fact, two separate people.

There are so many things to appreciate and enjoy about this series and this novel in particular. Cormoran Strike has quite a bit of history. Injured in battle, he now wears a prosthesis on one of his legs. He’s a rough, brusque kind of guy but his sensitivity does shine through on occasion.  He is a renowned private investigator, thanks to his parentage and the case he solved in the first book in this series, A Cuckoo’s Calling.

His assistant, Robin, is another character I genuinely adore. Hired to do secretarial work, she now wants to assume more responsibilities and work alongside Strike on their investigations.  She’s toughed up, ready to show Strike she can handle the additional stress (and danger) involved in working a case.

Typically, I tend to figure out a culprit early on in. In this case, however, I was genuinely surprised when the killer’s death was revealed. This is a sign of a well developed thriller!

I listened to the audio production of this title. The narrator, Robert Glenister, is truly talented, able to carry out the brusque and rough tone of Strike just as well as the secondary female characters. This time around, the voice effects required were a bit more challenging yet Glenister tackled it with the ease of an expert!

While it isn’t necessary to read A Cuckoo’s Calling in order to appreciate The Silkworm, I do highly recommend starting from the beginning. A Cuckoo’s Calling provided quite a bit of history and development of Strike’s character.  While there is a bit of back story provided in the early pages of The Silkworm, I don’t feel readers get a full, detailed representation of his character.

Ultimately, it’s quite easy for me to recommend this title to readers of all types, not just thrillers alone. I do highly recommend the audio if that is your kind of thing. It was honestly a delightful listen, an experience I genuinely savored. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: Hold the Dark by William Giraldi

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Liveright (September 8, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780871406675
  • Source: Publisher

Three children have been abducted by wolves in the small, isolated Alaskan village of Keelut. Medora Stone, the mother of one of the victims, overcome by grief, reaches out to Russell Core, a nature writer with tremendous knowledge of wolves.  Core has his own share of burdens, yet he arrives in Keelut in response to Medora’s desperate pleas.  It’s not long before Core discovers the darkness that pervades Keelut and Medora Stone.

Vernon Stone, Medora’s husband, returns from fighting in the war to discover his only son dead and his wife missing. Joined by his childhood friend, Cheeon, the two embark upon a bloody and merciless trek through the Alaskan wilderness in search of answers. Core follows, attempting to save Medora from her husband’s dark and deadly vengeance. Instead, he becomes witness to a culture in which family bonds are unbreakable, no matter the consequences, and the intensity of the primal animal within us all.

So…this novel had all sorts of WTF moments, so many that I don’t know where to begin. I was initially transfixed by this novel due to the premise, but quickly learned that not all is as it seems. A richly intense character study set in a dark and desolate land on “the edge of the world,” I was left feeling remorse and sadness so intense that it left me speechless.

While I can comprehend what Giraldi was attempting to do in this novel, my emotional response completely manipulated any ability to see the deeper, underlying message.  I was desperate for something hopeful and awe-inspiring. It could be the timing of my read had something to do with this. Normally, I can handle the dark and despondent side of human nature but this novel truly through me for a loop.  I’m still suffering the after-effects of this read. It’s shadowed and overtaken my heart, unrelenting in its intensity.

This review probably leaves you wondering if I recommended this title. It’s really hard for me to say. While I certainly wouldn’t encourage you not to read it, I do believe potential readers should time it right. Don’t read it on a dark and rainy day. Read it outside in the sun and hopefully its intesity won’t overcome you.

Review: The Secret Place by Tana French

  • Series: Dublin Murder Squad
  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (September 2, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780670026326
  • Source: Publisher

One year ago, a boy was found murdered on the grounds of St. Kilda’s School, a girl’s boarding school outside of Dublin. Until now, little to no evidence existed regarding the killer.

The Secret Place is a bulletin board created for the girls of St. Kilda. Intended to be a place where the girls can pin up their secrets anonymously, it is now the site of the first piece of evidence in the stalled murder case. A picture of Chris Harper, the murdered boy,  was left anonymously, with the caption “I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM.”

Detective Stephen Moran is eager to get involved in the Dublin Murder Squad. This new evidence gives him the opportunity to do so, alongside Detective Antoinette Conway. Together, they once again interview a group of girls who seem to have a connection to the case, including Holly Mackey, the daughter of Detective Frank Mackey.  This clique of girls – Selena, Becca, Julia and Holly – all have a connection to the murdered Chris Harper, in some cases unbeknownst to one another.  As Moran gets closer and closer to discovering the identity of the killer he is met with increasing resistance. St. Kilda’s wants to protect it’s own, keep any information surrounding the murder hidden from the public and Detective Mackey is ready to rebuke any evidence against his daughter.

Moran quickly learns of the danger surrounding teenage cliques. Willing to do anything to protect their own, even if it involves murder.

Tana French is, by far, one of my favorite authors of dark and gritty thriller. The Secret Place veers a bit from her “traditional” style. As many of the main characters are teenage girls, this latest book in the Dublin Murder Squad series definitely has a younger feel to it. That said, it still contains the dark and twisty murder mystery for which French is known. There’s nothing young and innocent about these young women, characters who honestly sent chills down my spine.

Alternating between past and present, from days before Chris’ death to the days that follow the discovery of his picture in The Secret Place, The Secret Place is rich with complex characters and a truly intriguing plot line.  French is skilled at weaving a dynamic character study in each of her thrillers, this one included. Readers genuinely get inside the minds of each of the characters, understanding their motives and actions with chilling detail. She examines the world of teenage girls, including all the angst, jealousy and rivalry that comes with the age.

What makes French stand above other writers in this genre is her ability to unleash intensity within the first few pages and carry it throughout the entire novel. Also unlike others, she doesn’t traditionally present a perfect ending, instead unleashing a resolution so twisted and dark that it left me speechless.

While it is possible to pick up and read this series at any point, I really do encourage new readers to start at the beginning. While the protagonists are not the same in each of the books, characters do have reoccurring roles.  Reading the early books will add history and dimension to the members of the Dublin Murder Squad.

Bottom line: Tana French is a must-read thriller author. One of my favorites of all time. And, while The Secret Place exhibits some departures from her previous work, it is a truly tremendous and captivating thriller. Highly, highly recommended.