The Heathback Break by J.E. Clarkson

This installment in the Nemo & Co. series takes us to a prison, where The Cleaner has been captured. The Cleaner undergoes her most significant transformation to date through the course of this story.

We also learn more about her family and, through a letter from someone she believes she can trust, she is challenged to complete an impossible quest.

The Heathback Break by J.E. Clarkson

When reading this series, I always feel like I am racing through a maze. I know there’s going to be something unexpected around each bend and I can hardly wait to get there. The characters feel like they are part of a video game, fighting their way through a rapidly morphing world.

J.E. Clarkson has demonstrated once again why her books are an automatic buy for me. Whether it is this series or her detective series, her creativity and writing style keep me engaged. Anytime I’ve doubted whether Clarkson can keep The Nemo and Co. Series interesting, I have been proven absolutely wrong.

I wonder what she will think of next!

For more reviews of Clarkson’s books, check out the J.E. Clarkson category of this blog.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

4 stars

Alicia Berenson is The Silent Patient at the center of this tragic story. After being sentenced to a mental institution for murdering her husband, the famous painter refuses to speak. Criminal psychologist Theo Faber gets a job at the institution where she works and takes on her case in an attempt to get her to break her six years of silence.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Although it is billed as a thriller, this is more of a traditional murder/suspense novel that pays tribute to the author’s Greek roots. A Greek tragedy by Euripides inspires the storyline, as does the author’s work in a secure physiatric unit and his love for Agatha Christie’s works.

“Love that doesn’t include honesty doesn’t deserve to be called love.”

Alex Michaelides, The Silent Patient

I was instantly drawn in by the premise. I wanted answers to all the questions the book raises – Will Alicia speak again? What happened on that fateful night? Is she actually guilty?  

And although I sensed things weren’t as they appeared with some characters, I was surprised by the ending.

I listened to the audiobook, and the narrative story style lends itself well to the audiobook format. Both narrators were excellent, enhancing the listening experience. I suspect I wouldn’t have liked this book as much if I’d read the hard copy, which is rare for me to say since I typically prefer to consume fiction books in printed format.

Although this book wasn’t a life-changing five-star read for me, it was compelling and original. I would recommend it to others, and I will be looking forward to reading other works by Michaelides.

High Achiever by Tiffany Jenkins

3 stars

Addiction affects almost everyone at some point in their lives, either individually or through a friend or family member.

High Achiever by Tiffany Jenkins
High Achiever by Tiffany Jenkins

Knowing this fact, I downloaded this audiobook because I wanted to understand more about the circumstances that might lead someone to develop an addiction and how could they turn their life around after succumbing to the disease.

This book does give insight into the desperation, warped thinking, and manipulation of an addict. And, it does give a brief glimpse at the end of the author living a fulfilling life in recovery. Jenkins is to be commended for doing the work to get and stay clean and for the work she has done to help others in recovery.

While it is clear Jenkins achieved a positive outcome, High Achiever doesn’t offer much insight into the recovery process. Instead of providing depth, it came across more like a gossipy retelling of events.

The book opens with her time in jail, with the second half detailing Jenkins’ double life as she recounts what happened in the treatment center she’s released into to complete her sentence. 

Don’t get me wrong – Jenkins is a great storyteller. She grabs your attention and includes shocking details that kept me listening. After a while, her strengths as a storyteller became a bit of a weakness. Some parts seemed embellished and a little too coincidental to be true. Overall, I felt like I was dropped in the middle of an interesting story, stayed there for a while, and never really found out how it began or ended.

There were so many unanswered questions. I wanted to know if she apologized to Eliot or made amends with her sister. Did she have any setbacks after completing her court-ordered treatment? And, did she ever come to understand what led her to turn to drugs and alcohol in the first place?

I also found it a bit problematic that she never acknowledged her privilege as a white woman with addiction. Instead, the narrative reinforced misinformed stereotypes that addiction doesn’t usually happen to former cheerleaders who look like her.

People who are already familiar with Jenkins and her social media personality might find this an interesting read as a way to learn more about her. Those looking for a personal account of an addict in recovery with depth, self-reflection, and lessons about overcoming addiction may want to pass on this one.

Airlie Gardens

A few of the views in Airlie Gardens

If you’ve followed my photography for more than a few days, you’ll know that flowers are one of my favorite subjects. This year, to help feed my flower photography passion, we have made a point to explore more of the many botanical gardens in our state. 

Airlie Gardens, located on 67 acres in Wilmington, N.C., was the most recent botanical garden we explored. This historic garden, which was first formed in 1884, was restored as a public garden in the late 1990s.

We took a self-guided tour on a hot summer afternoon. Given the time of year and dry conditions, there wasn’t a lot in bloom when we visited. There were a few areas of Rudbeckia amidst the greenery and water features.

Despite the lack of colorful flowers, there was still a lot to see. We enjoyed seeing the massive live oaks, marshy views of Bradley Creek, and enchanting cement garden benches and pergolas. 

The picturesque Airlie Gardens has served as a backdrop for several films, such as 28 Days starring Sandra Bullock, and hit TV shows, including Dawson’s Creek and One Tree Hill.

As I learn more about flowers, I’d like to make a springtime visit to see these Southern gardens in full bloom.

The Other Mrs. By Mary Kubica

3 stars

I bought this book through a BookBub special, despite already having an e-reader full of digital downloads. It caught my eye because of the author. Mary Kubica made me a fan of hers after I read The Good Girl a while back. Although its been a few years since I read it, the story structure and unexpected twists in The Good Girl left a lasting impression.

The Other Mrs. by Mary Kubica

While The Other Mrs. is absorbing, it didn’t have the same impact on me. The plot centers around a family who has just moved to an island in Maine to become caregivers for the husband’s teenage niece. 

For the first two-thirds of the book, the plot comes across a bit convoluted with seemingly disconnected characters and side stories thrown in. Then, it all suddenly starts making sense. I feel like I’ve read other books that have similar twists so the big reveal wasn’t so surprising. I did enjoy some of the smaller twists and I didn’t see them all coming.

Ultimately, I’m glad I downloaded this one, even though it wasn’t as good as my first read of hers. It was still a fast, engaging read – and Kubica’s writing was again sharply observant, particularly with the female characters. She did an excellent job making me feel Sadie, Mouse and Imogen’s emotions.

A Hundred Years to Arras by J.M. Cobley

In this historical fiction work, Private Robert Gooding Henson leaves the family farm to enlist in the Somerset Light Infantry against his father’s wishes. 

The writing is outstanding in this captivating story that follows Henson and two of the fellow soldiers he befriends. The emotional turmoil a 23-year-old soldier feels fighting in a war is delicately explored. The horrific conditions the soldiers experience and the awful things they see are matter-of-factly juxtaposed against flirtations, humor, and lighter moments.

It was interesting, but not surprising, to learn of the connection the author had to Private Robert Gooding Henson at the end of the book. While it is a fictional account of Henson’s life, the book had a respectful undercurrent appropriate for honoring an ancestor.

A Hundred Years to Arras by J.M. Conley

The book has been compared to All Quiet on the Western Front, which is one of my all-time favorite books, and I can see why.

Like All Quiet on the Western Front, the story is poignant, moving, expertly written, and does not glorify war.

I recommend this book to those who are fans of World War I-era history or war novels told from the perspective of an individual soldier.

Thank you to J.M. Cobley for providing a free e-review copy. I am leaving this review voluntarily and the opinions expressed are my own.

The Dark Cygnet Files

The Dark Cygnet Files by J.E. Clarkson
The Dark Cygnet Files by J.E. Clarkson

4 stars

The fourth installment in the Nemo & Company series, this book delves into The Cleaner’s family history. I liked that we learn more about The Cleaner and other characters in the series. In this book, we get some answers. Or, at least we think we do, as I’m never quite sure with this series what’s reality or what I’ll discover later was only a mirage.

“You always think you have more time in this life than you actually have.”

J.E. Clarkson, The Dark Cygnet Files

The storyline has evolved way beyond the original book. What started as a story about a woman working for an anonymous boss at a mysterious company has exploded into a haunting technothriller series about deception, a secret society, conspiracy, and deep mistrust. 

Can we spend a moment appreciating the breakneck pacing present in all of the books in the Nemo & Co series? Short chapters packed with action and intrigue always have me feeling like I can’t gobble up each book fast enough.

In The Dark Cygnet Files, like the other books in the series, the characters are constantly making their way through a maze of confusion and furiously trying to escape the present. And, again, readers are left with so many questions. Who will survive? And, will we ever learn The Cleaner’s name?

This is a series that definitely needs to be read in order, so be sure to start with The Vanishing Office. As for me, I already downloaded book number 5 – I will be seeing this series through until the end.

The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell

4 stars

In this thriller by Lisa Jewell, teenage parents Tallulah and Zach disappear after a rare night out. Certain that her daughter wouldn’t have abandoned her son, Tallulah’s mom, Kim, is determined to find the truth about that fateful summer night.

The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell
The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell

The story unfolds through chapters that alternate between past and present. The story focuses a lot on Kim and what she’s thinking and feeling but you quickly realize this is Tallulah’s story. Her relationships and decisions drive the story.

Jewell pulled on my emotions as a woman and a parent at every turn in this one. It was both highly suspenseful and enjoyably predictable. I had my suspicions about who was involved in the disappearance, which had me racing through each chapter and gathering clues right along with Kim.

This is my second read by Lisa Jewell – the first was Then She Was Gone. The stories have similar settings and both center on a mother of a missing daughter, so if you liked that one you will probably enjoy this one too.

I actually preferred The Night She Disappeared to Then She Was Gone, primarily because the characters stayed true to themselves and the ending was more satisfying.

I will definitely be picking up more Lisa Jewell books in the future.

Lazy Daze Arts & Crafts Festival

Lazy Daze Arts and Crafts Festival

I’m not a festival person. While I love all of the components of a festival – arts, crafts, live music, and good food – there’s something about putting them all together that’s usually a turn-off for me. Maybe it’s the parking, the heat, the milling around – I don’t know. Festivals almost always sound better than they actually are.

However, the Town of Cary’s Lazy Daze Arts and Crafts Festival was an exception. My husband, who practically lives for festivals, wanted to go to Lazy Daze this year. And, considering it’s his birthday week, I couldn’t say no. I am so glad we went. We were able to easily find parking, it wasn’t overwhelmingly crowded, and there were so many fascinating things to experience and amazing crafts to buy.

I enjoyed the street performers, especially the bubble maker. I was also impressed by the craftsmanship and creativity of the vendors. From pottery to jewelry to metalwork, there were about 300 artists and professional craft makers from across the U.S. participating this year. It’s no wonder Lazy Daze, which has been around since the late 70s, has become one of the highest-rated craft festivals in the country.

Attending Lazy Daze gave me the opportunity to practice taking photos at a live event, where I had to work with harsh early afternoon lighting and constant movement among the crowd in the background. By taking lots of images and making editing adjustments, I was able to capture the colorful activity that characterizes this festival.

Walking around, practicing my craft, and taking in the creativity on display was such an inspiration. It sparked an idea that perhaps Flash Mama Photography could be a Lazy Daze exhibitor one day.

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

5 stars

Elizabeth Zott is a chemist in the early 1960s, a time when it was unheard of for a woman to be in a lab. She receives so little support from the all-male research team at Hastings Institute that she has to resort to stealing beakers to keep her research going. Calvin Evans, the Nobel prize-nominated scientist whose lab Elizabeth pilfers, ends up becoming her romantic partner.

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

After a few years together, life intervenes and Elizabeth, now a single mother, finds herself hosting a popular cooking show. She takes a highly scientific approach to cooking and again refuses to conform to traditional norms for women.

This historical fiction book gets five stars from me, primarily for its originality and memorable main character. While the sexism and abuse Elizabeth is subjected to throughout the course of the book aren’t unusual, the overall story was unique and it was told in a quirky, interesting way. 

The book explores the definition of family, observing that being born into a family “doesn’t necessarily mean we belong to them.” The storyline demonstrates the different impacts that living in a male-dominated world had on the relationships women had with each other.

The unconventional main character and the writing style were reminiscent of Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. However, while Garmus writes Elizabeth with a bit more edge than Bernadette, she manages to make her come across as more likable. 

Garmus’ skillfully handled the insertion of Six Thirty’s voice. In my opinion, knowing what the family dog thought at certain points in the story added to the narrative. The restraint Garmus used illustrates her talents as a writer and storyteller. Sharing the dog’s perspective could have easily been overdone, but it was sprinkled in just enough to make it moving and endearing.

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys strong female main characters, stories about people who challenge the status quo, or reading about what it was like to be a career woman in the 60s. Really, I recommend this to anyone who loves an excellent book!