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message 1: by Book Concierge (new)

Book Concierge (tessabookconcierge) | 2270 comments Mod

Read any good books lately? We want to know about them.
How about real stinkers? We want to know about those too!

Enter your reading list and/or reviews here. Did you like it? Hate it? Feel lukewarm?

Share your thoughts with us.

Happy reading!


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Blind Justice (Sir John Fielding, #1) by Bruce Alexander
Blind Justice – Bruce Alexander – 4****
Alexander has written a mystery featuring a real historical figure: Sir John Fielding. I loved the characters in this book and found myself looking up various references to real people to get more back story. Alexander paints a vivid picture of 18th century London and the many injustices that her poor endured. Jeremy is a wonderful narrator – intelligent, studious, dedicated, eager to please, and observant. I’ll keep reading this series.
LINK to my review

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I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
I’ll Give You the Sun – Jandy Nelson – 2**
It’s been nominated for a slew of YA awards and I can see the attraction for the target YA audience, but not my cup of tea. I found it over-written and melodramatic. Not a fan of the dual timelines/dual narrators device either, which, in this case, just served to confuse and drag out the story line.
LINK to my review

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Melissa (melissasd) | 781 comments Fishnet by Kirstin Innes
Fishnet by Kirstin Innes
3 ★

Fiona Leonard goes on a quest to find her sister, Rona, who disappeared 6 years ago. Rona was a sex worker and Fiona starts to investigate the industry to learn more. As she does she finds herself being pulled into the trade.

This book was a bit hard for me to get into. The storyline made me uncomfortable in some spots and since the book takes place overseas, the language was hard for me to understand. The author uses the term “eh” a lot and I couldn’t understand why. I’m guessing it’s just how they talk. Some of the dialogue is written with a Scottish accent and I found that hard to read as well. The chapter titles are confusing and the story jumps around a lot.
On the plus side, the characters are very well written and you can’t help but feel for them. The story does give one a better understanding of the industry and why many girls get into it.
(Advanced Readers Copy courtesy of NetGalley)

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Evicted Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
Evicted – Matthew Desmond – 5*****
Subtitle: Poverty and Profit in the American City. Fascinating. Frustrating. Horrifying. Compassionate. Informative. Distressing. Enlightening. Desmond thoroughly explores the effects on impoverished residents of being repeatedly evicted and contrasts the plight of the poor with the profits made at their expense.
LINK to my review

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The Disappearing Spoon And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean
The Disappearing Spoon – Sam Kean – 3***
Subtitle: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements. Who could have imagined such a volume written about that chart that hangs in every high school chemistry classroom? Kean’s enthusiasm and fascination for the periodic table comes through. But, it was just too much even for this admitted science geek. Some parts were far more interesting to me than others.
LINK to my review

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James F | 1379 comments Articles on Macbeth [1998-2018] 454 pages

The last 26 articles I read from Academic Search Premier about Macbeth, which finishes my secondary readings on Shakespeare until next summer. The comments on individual articles are in my challenge thread.

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James F | 1379 comments Edwidge Danticat, Everything Inside: Stories [2019] 223 pages

Seven stories by Danticat, one of my favorite writers, about Haitian-Americans, some taking place in the United States and others involving trips back to Haiti. All are powerful, basically tragic but humane and offering some hope.

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Melissa (melissasd) | 781 comments True Evil by Greg Iles
True Evil by Greg Iles
5 ★

FBI agent Alex Morse was told by her dying sister that her own husband killed her. Determined to find out the truth Alex ends up uncovering multiple deaths of very rich people whose spouses have gained a lot from their deaths. Also, a divorce attorney that is linked to each them. Dr. Chris Shepard’s wife was seen leaving this divorce attorney’s office and he may be the next victim. Alex needs his help, but must first convince him that he is in danger.

This is my first Greg Iles book and it won’t be my last. The story was intriguing and informative. The theory behind the deaths is absolutely fascinating. This is definitely a book for anyone in the medical field or for anyone who enjoys science. There is no doubt that the author did his research for this book.
Alex Morse went through a horrific ordeal and has the scars to prove it, but she’s still an extremely strong woman whose dedication to her family is refreshing. I loved how she didn’t back down even when the odds were against her. She was willing to lose her job to continue her quest to prove her sister was murdered.
The characters throughout this book are great. The bad guy is smart and organized and feared by those who work for him. It’s kind of surprising that he employed people who weren’t on his intellectual level. His plan was flawless except for them. The book flowed well and was a quick read (for me).

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James F | 1379 comments A.E. Housman, The Collected Poems of A.E. Housman [1965] 246 pages

Having just read Tom Stoppard's The Invention of Love, a play based on the life of A.E. Housman, I decided to read his poems. The most famous collection, of course, is A Shropshire Lad; the other parts are titled, imaginatively, Last Poems, More Poems and Additional Poems. I have to admit, Housman will not ever be my favorite poet. The poems are all rather the same, short poems about young men who died, some as soldiers, some by suicide, some hanged, etc. and are lying about under the ground being dead and reciting poems about it. They all have simple rhyme schemes, ABAB CDCD or AABB CCDD, and many of them seem to have the sentence order inverted or all twisted about to get the rhyme words at the end of the lines. There are a few memorable lines, and some of the poems have classical allusions -- Housman was really more of a scholar than a poet, but I was not impressed in general.

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James F | 1379 comments Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men In a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) [1889] 211 pages [Kindle]

A humorous travelogue about three young men and a fox terrier on a rowing trip up the Thames from London to Oxford, by the nineteenth century British equivalent of Dave Barry. The humor (unlike the descriptions of places) hasn't really lost much with time; it's not hilariously funny, but it has its entertaining moments.

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Koren  (koren56) | 621 comments Drunkard: A Hard-Drinking Life by Neil Steinberg
4 stars
Drunkard A Hard-Drinking Life by Neil Steinberg

The author is a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times so when, in an alcoholic rage, he hits his wife (something he never did sober), of course it is a big deal and makes the paper. He writes a book about his path to sobriety and all the pitfalls along the way. Few people succeed the first time and the author is no different. Drinking was a way of life for him and it was hard to quit when alcohol was all around and also being in the public eye. I was glad his wife stuck by him. This was a good look at what goes on inside the head of someone who is doing the best they can but, after all, is human.

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The Map of Salt and Stars by Zeyn Joukhadar
The Map of Salt and Stars – Zeyn Joukhadar – 4****
Joukhadar uses dual story lines (2011 and 12th-century Syria) and two young heroines to tell this story of family, loss, perseverance, grief, love and success. I liked both Nour and Rawiya, and loved some of the supporting characters. I preferred Nour’s modern-day story, probably because I’m less inclined towards “fairytales” at this stage of my life. Still, Joukhadar gave me a compelling read with well-drawn characters and some interesting parallels. At one point Nour reflects on a scar left on her leg: Life draws blood and leaves its jewelry in our skin. This novel doesn’t draw any blood, but will definitely leave its mark on the reader.
LINK to my review

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Melissa (melissasd) | 781 comments The Hunt (Predator Trilogy, #2) by Allison Brennan
The Hunt (Predator Trilogy #2) by Allison Brennan
5 ★

The Butcher, a serial killer who kidnaps and murders Montana college students, has taken another girl. Miranda Moore survived her kidnapping and torture and has made it her life mission to stop him. FBI Agent Quinn Peterson is called in to assist. He rescued Miranda 12 years ago and they have a romantic history. Miranda must face all her fears and insecurities the catch The Butcher before he kills again.

Miranda is a very strong character with a deep need for revenge. She has never forgotten what happened to her and her friend and it has affected many aspects of her life. The things that these girls went through at the hands of The Butcher were hard to read. The author does an amazing job with describing it all. The way he gets pure joy out of hunting them like prey is disturbing.
The two male leads, Quinn and Nick, the deputy, are great and extremely understanding of Miranda’s needs and wants. The way they both love her is sweet. Miranda did get on my nerves a bit with her stubbornness. There were times that I just wish she would listen to Quinn.
I enjoyed how the author had chapters from The Butcher’s point of view. It really gave the reader insight into his life and why he does what he does. There are times that I even felt bad for him. He went through quite a bit as a child. The ending wasn’t a complete surprise, but there was a nice twist.

message 15: by James (last edited Sep 17, 2019 01:43AM) (new)

James F | 1379 comments Tom Stoppard, The Coast of Utopia: A Trilogy [2002] 347 pages + 4 secondary articles (83 pages)

A trilogy of stageplays, Voyage, Shipwreck and Salvage, about the lives of nineteenth century Russian exiles, primarily Alexander Herzen but also treating the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, the radical critic Vissarion Belinski, and the author Ivan Turgenev, among others, these are frankly not among Stoppard's best plays, although they might be better perfformed than in print. Various German, French, and Polish radicals such as the poet George Herwegh also appear in small roles. Marx is present in one or two dream scenes, and every mention of him attributes to him ideas he never held (as I've learned to expect.)

The plays, especially the second and third, contain a lot of political discussion, mainly taken from actual writings of the people involved, but it's too fragmented to really make sense, and the characters' ideas are not taken seriously enough, or discussed in enough depth, even if that was Stoppard's intent. The radical characters frequently seem like unserious charlatans, which for all their errors none of them were; Bakunin in particular is caricatured. (Apparently he is following Berlin here.)

If there is any real theme to be taken from the plays, it is that Utopian thought is necessary to humanity but usually ends in disaster. Much of the action in the plays actually seems like domestic drama modelled after Chekhov -- Stoppard wrote the first play at the same time he was writing his translation of The Seagull, and says somewhere that it was originally an attempt to write in Chekhov's style; if one didn't know who Bakunin was, one would think the first play was about his sisters and their love affairs, with Mikhail making short appearances to confuse things. If the plays are about politics, they're far too domestic, while if they're about domestic relations they're far too filled with political speeches. There is not enough humor to balance the rhetoric, unlike many of his other plays.

The secondary articles are listed in my Challenge thread.

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Heist Society (Heist Society, #1) by Ally Carter
The Heist Society – Ally Carter – 3***
First in a series featuring Katarina Bishop, born into a family of art thieves, but desperate to get out of the family business. Or is she? This is a fun, fast, young adult novel with a likeable main character and a totally implausible plot. I did like the intricate plotting, and was glad that the romance was kept somewhat on the back burner.
LINK to my review

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James F | 1379 comments Joy Harjo, Crazy Brave: A Memoir [2012] 169 pages

Like her poetry books, this memoir by the new Poet Laureate combines relatively straightforward narrative with poetry, stories and visions. She recounts her life from her childhood in the 1950's through her beginning to write poetry in I assume the early 1970's (there aren't many dates in the book.) She tells of her life with an alcoholic, philandering father, her sadistic stepfather, and her two alcoholic husbands; but also her (mainly positive) experiences at a fine arts boarding school for Indians, her interest in art, and her early poetry. There is a strong strain of native spirituality here, but also a portrait of the realities of growing up as an Indian girl in a white and male-dominated society.

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The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene Hanff
The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street – Helene Hanff – 4****
In a follow-up to her hugely popular 84 Charing Cross Road Helene Hanff takes us to London. Written as diary/journal entries on her first (and last) trip to the city she had dreamed of visiting. Definitely read 84 CCR first, but you’ll want to read this one as well … especially if you’re planning a trip to London.
LINK to my review

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James F | 1379 comments Tom Stoppard, Rock 'n' Roll [2006] 119 pages

This play by Tom Stoppard is about Czechoslovakia between the Soviet invasion of 1968 and the "Velvet Revolution". The title refers mainly to the case of a Czech rock band, The Plastic People of the Universe, which was arrested during that time. (Stoppard researched this, and talks about it in the introduction to the book.) There are also references to Western rock, particularly Syd Barrett (after Pink Floyd) and the Velvet Underground. The play ends with a concert of the Rolling Stones, and in performance there are excerpts from rock music played between scenes. One of the main characters, Jan, is a rock fan and friend of the Plastic People, who grew up partly in England before returning to Prague, and initially rejects the dissident cause (represented by his friend Ferdinand) as "moral posturing", claiming that people don't care about politics and just want to do their own thing, but he comes to realize that even a rock band which "has nothing to do with dissidents" is in fact considered as a threat by the government.

The other major characters are living in Cambridge, though some visit Prague during the course of the play. Max, the most interesting, is a "tankie", that is to say a die-hard member of the British Communist Party who defends the Soviet invasion. We also see his wife Eleanor, a teacher of classical literature with a particular interest in Sappho, her student Lenka, Max and Eleanor's daughter Esme, and eventually Esme's husband Nigel and her daughter Alice. The dialogue presents various approaches to politics from Stalinism through liberalism; much of the dissident position is based on the writings of Havel, who became President after the collapse of Stalinism. While I don't agree with Stoppard's rather conservative opinions, I enjoy literature which takes the political questions here seriously (although Stoppard's understanding of Marxism has definite limits) no matter what the implied conclusions. It's one of his best later plays, that is from the twenty-first century, although like most of them it is less comic than his earlier plays. (I also enjoyed listening to Plastic People of the Universe on Spotify while I was reading it, although of course I didn't understand the lyrics.)

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James F | 1379 comments Zora Neale Hurston, Mules & Men [1935, 1978] 291 pages

The one book of Hurston's which I hadn't already read, this is her collection of rural Southern Black folklore and "conjure" stories which she gathered in the 1920's, mainly from Florida and Louisiana. The folktales ("lies") especially are very interesting and worth reading. It's a popularly written rather than an academic collection, but more accurate than what had passed for Black folklore up until then. The edition I read has the original preface by Franz Boas and a lengthy new introduction by Robert Hemenway.

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The Arrangement by Sarah Dunn
The Arrangement – Sarah Dunn – 4****
Somehow, I had the impression that this was going to be a fun, farcical comedy of manners type book. It isn’t. There are some scenes that are quite entertaining, but by and large this is a pretty serious look at modern marriage and the work of commitment – to your partner, to your child, to your values. I thought it was interesting that Dunn gave the couple the added responsibility / stress of an autistic child. My sympathies changed through the book as a result of how they interacted with their son and each other.
LINK to my review

message 22: by James (last edited Sep 23, 2019 02:24AM) (new)

James F | 1379 comments Michael Billington, Stoppard: The Playwright [1987] 188 pages

When I picked this book up, I thought it was a biography; actually, it's analyses of all of his plays up through Dalliance in chronological order. The author is a theater critic and these are essentially long reviews. They are interesting in that they discuss the relationships between the plays, and of course discuss the ones I haven't read or seen (including his novel, Lord Malquist and Mr. Moon); the author also takes the ideas seriously enough to argue with them. The book ends with the hesitant hope that Stoppard would write more at a time when British drama was apparently past its peak; actually his best plays (such as Arcadia) were yet to be written.

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Melissa (melissasd) | 781 comments City of Heavenly Fire (The Mortal Instruments, #6) by Cassandra Clare
City of Heavenly Fire (The Mortal Instruments #6) by Cassandra Clare
5 ★

Sebastian Morgenstern is using the Infernal Cup to turn Shadowhunters into something not quite human. He has new allies and uses their help to kidnap the Downworlder representatives on the Clave. Clary, Jace, Simon, Isabelle and Alec learn of this betrayal and travel to the realm of demons to rescue them and stop Sebastian.

Although a bit long for my taste, this last book in the series was an adventure. There weren’t many surprises (we all knew who Sebastian was allying with) and we all knew how it was going to end. I was surprised and pleased by how it happened though. I like when authors keep secrets between characters and don’t let even the reader know what is going on. There were a few scenes that made me wonder why they were needed and an event toward the end that brought a tear to my eye. That event was slightly corrected later.
We have watched Clary and the others grow up throughout this series and this book really ended it all on a good note. There were no lingering questions and no loose ends. I loved the Infernal Devices series and liked how the author connected the two series. We got to meet new characters that captured our hearts and I look forward to continuing their story into the next series.

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Cooking for Ghosts (The Secret Spice Cafe Trilogy, #1) by Patricia V. Davis
Cooking For Ghosts – Patricia V Davis – 2**
I expected a chick-lit light story with some ghosts and recipes to add flavor. The basic premise might be good, but it failed in execution for me. I did like some of the history / background of the RMS Queen Mary, though.
LINK to my review

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Mrs. Jeffries and the Silent Knight by Emily Brightwell
Mrs Jeffries and the Silent Knight – Emily Brightwell – 2.5**
In general, I like this cozy series set in Victorian London and featuring the somewhat clueless Inspector Witherspoon and his house staff, who do much of the investigative work, while giving him the credit. However, I’m noticing how repetitious it is – not only from book to book, but within one book. Well, at least they did sometimes talk about Christmas decorations and shopping for presents. And it was a Christmas carol that gave Mrs Jeffries the “clue” she needed to solve the case!
LINK to my review

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James F | 1379 comments Ann Sung-Hi Lee, Yi Kwang-Su and Modern Korean Literature: Mujŏng [1917; tr. 2005] 375 pages

A translation of Yi Kwang-Su's novel Mujŏng, "The Heartless", with a lengthy introduction and bibliography (about 20% of the total pages) by the translator Ann Lee. Yi's novel is an essential "classic" for anyone interested in modern Korean literature, because of its historical influence; it was the first novel written in modern vernacular Korean (although that isn't obvious in translation) and one of the first modern Korean novels to take on serious themes -- modernization (or westernization) vs. neo-Confucian traditionalism, arranged marriages, female slavery and concubinage, the position of women in general, ideas about education, and so forth. The subjects are relevant and important, the plot is interesting, the structure (as Lee points out) is based partly on Tolstoy's Resurrection.

Unfortunately, the actual writing style is rather hard to plow through; it is very didactic, with the omniscient narrator constantly explaining what the characters (and modern Koreans) ought to do and arguing against the traditional ideas. Even worse, the style is very repetitive, with basically the same sentence repeated three, four, or five times with minor variations. Let this paragraph (p.309-310) serve as a typical example of the writing, with both problems:

"However, this love was a sympathy like that of someone who jumps into the water to save someone who is drowning. It was effective for a moment, but would not last long. The love between husband and wife should not be like that. It should be such that one could only live if the other lived. One could only be happy if the other was happy. One became one body with the other. Sŏn-hyŏng's love for Hyŏng-sik was like sympathty for a drowning person."

Another form of repetition is the summarizing of things which we saw happening a few chapters before; this is undoubtedly because the novel, like most early Korean novels, was originally published in serial form in a newspaper, but it seems much more intrusive than in other serialized novels I have read from the period (or from earlier in the West, e.g. the novels of Dickens.)

The main characters in the novel are Pak Yŏng-ch'ae, the daughter of a pioneering schoolteacher called "Scholar Pak", and Hyŏng-sik, a poor, dedicated, modernizing middle school English teacher, who was once as an orphan child taken in as a student and protegé of Scholar Pak. They believe that Pak intended for them to marry each other when Yŏng-ch'ae was old enough. When Scholar Pak and his two sons are arrested and sent to prison because of a theft committed by one of his students, the school breaks up and Yŏng-ch'ae sets out disguised as a boy to try to see her father in prison. She sells herself as a kisaeng to raise money to buy her father's freedom but the money is stolen by the go-between, and her father and brothers die in prison shortly afterwards. To understand the novel, it is necessary to understand that a kisaeng is a sort of slave who entertains clients with singing, music, dancing and other arts, often but not necessarily including sex, similar to a Japanese geisha or an ancient Greek hetaira. It should not be confused with a prostitute in the Western sense who provides only sex. In fact, for eight years Yŏng-ch'ae refuses to have sex with clients, while hoping to find and marry the only person she thinks she can trust, Hyŏng-sik. He, on the other hand, also occasionally thinks of her and imagines that he may meet her and marry her, but it is less of an obsession with him given his different life. Eventually of course they meet and the novel carries on from there, but diverging from the expected clichés of the usual novels of the period.

Hyŏng-sik is apparently intended to represent the champion of modernization, but this is not always credible, for example when he spends several boring chapters moping around obsessing over whether or not Yŏng-ch'ae is a virgin. He also seems to always make bad choices. Lee considers this to be deliberate irony. In any case the "lessons" of the novel are expressed at greatest length and very explicitly by the narrator. (The character who seems the most modern is actually Yŏng-ch'ae's friend Pyŏng-uk, a student who is studying in Tokyo.)

Lee's very academic introduction, which should probably be read after the novel (I make this a regular practice now with fiction, because of spoilers), gives a history of late nineteenth and early twentieth century literature putting Mujŏng in context, explaining how the language it is written in differs from earlier novels which were written in an archaic style or a hybrid Chinese-Korean, and something about the popular genres that Yi is expanding into more serious literature. It describes a little about Yi's life and earlier writings, and gives an analysis of the novel and Yi's political and aesthetic ideals. Unfortunately there is also some postmodernist-feminist psychobabble about "abjection", which she takes from Nina Cornyetz rather than directly from Kristeva. Much of the introduction, however, is concerned with what other scholars have written about Yi -- a standard "survey of the literature" which suggests to me that the translation was probably her dissertation.

message 26: by Melissa (last edited Sep 30, 2019 07:56PM) (new)

Melissa (melissasd) | 781 comments Cursed by Thomas Wheeler
Cursed by Thomas Wheeler
4 ★

When Nimue’s village is attacked by Red Paladins and everyone is killed, Nimue’s mom hands her the Sword of Power and tells her to deliver it to Merlin. The saying goes: “Whosoever wields the Sword of Power shall be the one true King.” Nimue feels the power whenever she holds the sword. With the help of Arthur and the Fey Folk, Nimue must defeat the paladins and Uther.

For anyone who is a devoted fan of Arthur and Merlin, this book may not be for you. It really does not follow the original story and Arthur plays a very different role in this one. That being said, I found the book extremely interesting and intriguing. Nimue is the name used for The Lady in the Lake and the way the author twists the story around Nimue and the sword is unique. You will find many of the same characters from the Arthur story throughout the book and some new ones. Nimue and Arthur form a strong friendship that has the potential to become more. There are a few surprises as well. The fight scenes are well written and violent. The descriptions of the battles make a very vivid picture for the reader. The ending gave me the feeling that there may be a book 2 in the works. I hope so. There is still much to learn from Nimue and her friends.
(Advanced Readers Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing via Goodreads Giveaways)

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Second Honeymoon (Honeymoon, #2) by James Patterson
Second Honeymoon – James Patterson & Howard Roughan – 1.5*
Book two in the “Honeymoon” series featuring FBI agent John O’Hara. I’ll say this about Patterson (and his co-writers): He knows how to craft a thrilling plot that keeps the reader turning pages. On the other hand, the writing is simplistic, and the characters are straight out of central casting. The two serial killers didn’t really work for me. Seems the authors couldn’t come up with enough material for either of these storylines, so they combined them to give us a sufficiently long book.
LINK to my review

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