Monday, July 17, 2017

Book Review: The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas


Title: The Darkest Corners
Author: Kara Thomas
Genre: Young Adult Mystery
Published: May 9, 2017
Format: Paperback
Source: Random House Children's Books
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)



Tessa Lowell left Fayette, Pennsylvania, when she was just 9 years old, moving to Florida with her grandmother. Now she's a recent high school graduate and heading back to town to say goodbye to her dying father. With no family in town anymore, Tessa stays with the family of her former friend Callie, which is pretty awkward since she and Callie haven't spoken since they were little. Being with Callie also brings up questions that Tessa has held onto for the years since she's been gone. Questions about the testimony the young girls gave that sent a man to death row. 

I don't read many young adult novels, but The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas was touted as "the next twisted psychological thriller," so I decided to give it a try... and I'm glad I did. While the story moves relatively slowly, there's a lot of mystery and twists throughout. There are really two storylines moving through it; one about the man on death row and one about Tessa trying to reconnect with her family. This brought complexity to the novel ~ in a good way. It gave the reader more to follow and figure out, more to engage with.

It's hard to review mysteries and thrillers because you don't want to give away too many of the secrets that inevitably exist in the novel. This one has a lot of twists. I will say that the characters were okay but Tessa was sometimes annoying in how she would not speak up for herself or trust anyone ~ to an extreme. And some of the situations that the teens got into seemed a little unrealistic, although I'm not the mother of a teen yet so maybe I'm naive. In general, though, I enjoyed The Darkest Corners. It kept me interested through the end, and provided a few surprises along the way.

Check out an excerpt of The Darkest Corners on the publisher's website.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Big Book Summer Challenge

Reading by the ocean

Although I haven't been blogging a lot this year, I have been reading a lot. So when I saw that Sue at Book By Book was hosting her Big Book Summer Challenge again, I had to jump in! The goal of the challenge is to read books that are over 400 pages between Memorial Day and Labor Day (in the US).

This year, I have three books in mind for the challenge. The first two are books I received from Penguin Random House for review. The third is a book that I bought last year but haven't gotten around to reading yet.

Book cover of Carry Me by Peter Behrens Book cover of Stockholm Delete by Jens Lapidus
Book cover of The Girl with all the Gifts by M.R. Carey

I love this challenge because it always makes me pick up those big books that I tend to shy away from. I'm looking forward to participating. I hope you'll join too!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

40 Book Challenge - Children's Books

This year, my daughter is in fourth grade and her teacher got all the kids in her class to do a 40 Book Challenge. It's not just a challenge to read 40 books in one school year; they have to read a certain number of books from each genre as well. And her teacher wanted them to choose books that were at least 70 pages long.

With all that in mind, here's what she read for each category. Eighteen of these books were also on the list for the Battle of the Books competition, which she competed in at the end of April. Her favorites are in bold.

5 Realistic Fiction

  1. The Babysitters Club: Claudia and Mean Janie by Raina Telgemeier
  2. Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper
  3. Greetings from Nowhere by Barbara O'Connor
  4. Ungifted by Gordon Korman
  5. Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

5 Informational 

  1. How Animals Think by Rebecca Stefoff
  2. How Animals Communicate by Rebecca Stefoff
  3. How to Write Your Best Story Ever by Christopher Edge
  4. The Dolphins of Shark Bay by Pamela S. Turner
  5. What Was Pearl Harbor? by Patricia Brennan Demuth and John Mantha

5 Fantasy

  1. The Peculiar Pumpkin Thief by Geronimo Stilton
  2. The Race Across America by Geronimo Stilton
  3. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
  4. The Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling
  5. Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

5 Biography/Autobiography

  1. A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
  2. Who was Walt Disney? by Whitney Stewart
  3. Who was Dr. Seus? by Janet B. Pascal
  4. Who is J.K. Rowling? by Pam Pollack and Meg Belviso
  5. Christian the Lion by Anthony Bourke and John Rendall

4 Mystery

  1. The Genius Files: Mission Unstoppable by Dan Gutman
  2. The Genius Files: Never Say Genius by Dan Gutman
  3. The Genius Files: You Only Die Twice by Dan Gutman
  4. The Genius Files: From Texas with Love by Dan Gutman

2 Historical Fiction

  1. Serafina and the Twisted Staff by Robert Beatty
  2. The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick

2 Science Fiction

  1. The Homework Machine by Dan Gutman
  2. The League of Seven by Alan Gratz

2 Poetry

  1. A Pizza the Size of the Sun by Jack Prelutzky
  2. Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhhah Lai

10 Your Choice + the other books she's read this year

  1. Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George
  2. Savvy by Ingrid Law
  3. The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
  4. Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen
  5. The Genius Files: License to Thrill by Dan Gutman
  6. Took by Mary Downing Hahn
  7. Smells Like Dog by Suzanne Selfors
  8. The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd
  9. Love, Ruby Lavendar by Deborah Wiles
  10. A Nest for Celeste by Henry Cole
  11. Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate
  12. Jake by Audrey Couloumbus
  13. The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin
  14. Rules by Cynthia Lord
  15. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
  16. Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
  17. The Tail of Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler
  18. Has Anyone Seen Jessica Jenkins? by Liz Kessler
  19. Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar
  20. Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr

I'm very proud of her dedication to the challenge, and extremely happy that she has found such joy in reading ~ just like me and her big brother! I hope you find some good ideas for books that will inspire your kids. Do you have other recommendations for any of these categories?

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

April Reading Review

Where exactly did April go? I swear it was just the middle of March and now it's May. Once again, I'm going to provide a quick review of each of the books I read last month. For the last two weeks of the month, I participated in the Spring Into Horror Readathon hosted by Michelle at Seasons of Reading. The only rule was that you had to read at least one book that was horror, thriller, etc. I read one book that qualified. With the exception of the first book in my list, the books I mention below were read during the readathon

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson book cover

My book club's May selection was Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. I had started reading this nonfiction book about the author's work representing men, women and children who were on death row in March but finished the book in April. This is an eye-opening story that everyone at my book club discussion agreed should be required reading for law schools and police officers and even legislators who are making the laws related to judgements. I learned too many shocking and disturbing facts about the way our justice system works, including the fate of children who are tried and convicted of crimes as adults. I highly recommend this book, especially if you have someone with whom to discuss it.

Hour of the Wolf by Hakan Nesser book cover

Hour of the Wolf by HÃ¥kan Nesser is the first book I read for the readathon. This crime fiction novel was quite compelling as it followed a man who tries to cover up a horrible accident, but in doing so, makes things much worse. At the same time, Nesser brings the reader into the world of the investigators trying to solve a crime related to retired Chief Inspector Van Veeteran, who has appeared in previous novels in this series. This was my first novel in the series and I didn't feel that I was missing anything. Since I got this one from the publisher in exchange for a review, I plan to write a more in-depth review - or possibly record a video review - in the near future.

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell cover

I've read a couple books by Rainbow Rowell, so I was excited to read Attachments. This unique novel is told through a combination of emails between two women who are working at a newspaper, and standard chapters written from the perspective of the guy whose job it is to monitor emails that are flagged for inappropriate words. I really loved the nature of the story, but I didn't enjoy this one as much as I enjoyed her other novels. I spent most of novel feeling a little creeped out and wondering how this could possibly resolve itself in the end. Rowell pulled it together, but I just wasn't crazy about this one.

Father of Fear by Ethan Cross book cover

The one book that really went along with the Spring Into Horror readathon theme was Father of Fear by Ethan Cross. This is the third in the series; I read the first two books quite a while ago but never got around to reading this one. Although rather disturbing, I liked getting back to these characters and seeing how they solve a crime involving a very sick man who has a close connection to the main character. This is one of those stories where the lines between good guys and bad guys gets blurry.

I am determined to write a few additional blogs in May, including a recap of my daughter's 40 book challenge, which will feature a lot more than 40 book recommendations for late elementary and early middle school kids. I also plan to write a full review of Hour of the Wolf as well as a Jojo Moyes novel that I read earlier this year and never reviewed! May will finally be the month when I get some writing done.

Monday, April 3, 2017

March Reading Recap

It seems that March was not the month to get back to blogging, but it was a good month for reading! Since I can't seem to find the time and energy to write full reviews, I'm going to provide a quick review of each of the books I read last month. Every one of these was 4-5 stars in my opinion. I'd recommend all of them.

Hilbilly Elegy book cover

I started Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance in February but finished it in March. This nonfiction book was my book club's March selection and we discussed it last week. It's a memoir by a man who grew up in Appalachia and the Rust Belt, and eventually made it through Yale Law School. It's a fascinating account of his personal life and life in general in this part of the country. He gets into the struggles that people face pulling themselves out of the poverty that they're born into, and what helped to set him free. I found the book to be informative and an excellent book club choice.

The Lake House book cover

The Lake House by Kate Morton is the only full-length novel that I read in March. This mystery that spans seven decades pulled me in and kept me interested to the end. It's about the disappearance of a little boy and one woman's investigation into what happened to him 70 years later. Morton intertwines two time periods ~ 1933 and 2003 ~ as she uncovers what happened on that fateful night of his disappearance. This was clearly much lighter than everything else I read this month, and I really enjoyed getting lost in Morton's mystery.

Orange is the New Black book cover

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman is a book I got through a "blind date" thing at my library. I honestly guessed at what was under the wrapping but I was intrigued by the story. I haven't seen the  Netflix show but I loved the book and evidently the show is only based on her story, it's not really the same story as the book. Anyway, this is all about Piper's year in prison and I have to say I learned a lot about minimum security prisons for women. I was pretty shocked by the level of freedom they have and intrigued by the way the women related to one another throughout their time together. Highly recommended if you like memoirs. This would make a great book club pick too!

A Sound of Thunder book cover

My son had a reading assignment that included a passage by Ray Bradbury and it reminded me of A Sound of Thunder, a short story that I remember listening to during English class in eighth grade. I couldn't resist picking up a book of his stories so I could reread this classic! It's such a cool story about time travel and the impact that one small change can have on the world.

Born a Crime book cover

Born a Crime is a memoir by Trevor Noah about his childhood growing up in South Africa. I learned so much about Apartheid and race relations in South Africa. Noah's story is unique since he is "colored" rather than black or white. He shares the challenges he faced trying to fit in with other kids who didn't look like him and the way his life was impacted so much by his race and politics in his country. I enjoyed this memoir and again, would recommend this one for book clubs. There are plenty of topics around race, South African politics, and the choices parents make to discuss.

I just realized that I read three memoirs in March. Maybe I should have started some sort of March Memoirs challenge or something! Too late, I suppose.

I'm going to link up with It's Monday! What Are You Reading? even though I'm talking about a whole month of books rather than just a week! I'd love to hear what you're reading too!