Sunday, May 5, 2024


 Let me just say that I’m definitely glad that I joined and completed the 2024 challenge. My theme for the challenge was to review novels I’d read between January 1, 2023 and April 30, 2024. Even despite reviewing a few titles I didn’t jump up and down over, I enjoyed the challenge. In order to follow every letter of the alphabet, I ended up introducing myself to a few new authors whose books I probably would’ve never opened had it not been for this challenge. And now I’ll be reading their other books.

I also met a lot of new people by hopping to other blogs and leaving comments, many of whom I will continue to follow, though not on a daily basis. Sorry, but I work weekdays and some Saturdays, and I’m usually busy with family on Sundays. But I will hop on over to visit the blogs of new cyber friends as often as I can, at least a short visit and a cyber over-the-gate cup of coffee.

I’ll definitely be reading a lot throughout the rest of the year, because I also bought 13 books recommended by other bloggers through this challenge. Books I’m excited to read. Books already calling out my name, though I’ve got tons of other work to catch up on. Thank you, all!

And the traveling some bloggers did! Wow! Even though it seemed I never left my desk, there’s a part of me that got to travel a lot thanks to some wonderful bloggers.

I’m so glad I met you, and I’ll do my best to keep communications going.

Happy living!

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Z — Zig Zag, written by Ellen Wittlinger; reviewed by Debi O’Neille

Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

When it comes to having the right voice for young adult stories, Ellen Wittlinger hands-down will be in the upper crust of authors. Reading her novels, it’s easy to forget the stories were written by an adult. She brings you right into the YA world, making every single voice spot on and unique.

She also has the attitude of a teen down to an art. Wittlinger has sculptured ZIG ZAG to bring you into the secret society of young adults and share their likes, dislikes, attitudes, insecurities, fears, jealousies, and dreams on their terms. This isn’t a fast-paced book, but it is one anyone who’s always wanted to go on a road trip but never had the time or energy to do it will enjoy.

Feeling as though she’s losing in the love department when her boyfriend is about to leave for a summer in Rome, Robin needs something new to happen. And it does. Leaving the Midwest, traveling across the country, and discovering who you are along the way—who wouldn’t enjoy that? This is what Robin experiences, and reading this book, you’ll do more than go along for the ride. You’ll live her wonderful experience.

What Ellen Wittlinger puts into her novels in a masterfully unique way is heart. Sometimes I think she has more heart in her work than she does words. Yep—284 pages—so I’m definitely right about that.

Happy reading, and thank you all for supporting me during this month of early morning book reviews. Besides offering up these reviews, I've had the honor of hopping to a few other blogs and finding some great sites to visit all your long.
Have a great day!




Monday, April 29, 2024

Y — THE YEAR OF SECRETS by Silvia Villalobos and two more Y books reviewed by Debi O’Neille

If you love thought-provoking mysteries that bless you with a scenic backdrop that pulls you right into the story, you will love THE YEAR OF SECRETS. Prepare to visit LA. Never been? Don’t worry. With this novel you’ll feel like you’re returning to a place you visited often. This author is that good.

Silvia, who short stories I followed four years, has always managed to take a handful of characters and bring them to life, whether it be in a short story or novel. She doesn’t just skate the surface of her characters. She shows us who they are down to the core. She writes with a sense of humanity while stretching into all corners of the human condition. Her genre fiction is always full of suspense and mystery, and yet she does it with same literary flair as in her short stories.

THE YEAR OF SECRETS is a sequel to Silvia’s first novel, STRANGER OR FRIEND, which was published by Solstice Publishing, and yet both novels work as standalones. THE YEAR OF SECRETS puts a new mystery in Zoe Sinclair’s world, something she can’t not tackle, while fighting the scarring demons she already wears. Now, she must put her own fears aside and find the person responsible for the murder of her mentor. Despite the dangers and challenges, Zoe Sinclair will not back down.

But she’s not the only character you’ll enjoy meeting. Authentically crafted LAPD detectives also play a part in bringing to light some disturbing secrets that will leave their mark on readers as much as it did the characters.

I’ve read many of Silvia’s short stories, all intriguing and memorable, so I was absolutely delighted to see that she’s written not only one, but two novels that I can read again and again. Move over, Harlan Coben. You need to share your shelf!

Happy Reading! (An interview with Silvia Villalobos by “Write 2 Be Magazine” can be found here.)

Note: I realize with the word “the” starting the title of this book, it doesn’t necessarily start with a Y. But I decided to skip the intro articles in titles, because I found too many books that I wanted to review begin with the, a, or an; therefore, (THE) YEAR OF SECRETS is right where it belongs.

And now for another Y book:

YOU’LL BE THE DEATH OF ME, written by Karen M. McManus; reviewed by Debi O’Neille

Published by Delacorte Press

I just finished the book yesterday, and I’m not smiling. I actually had to wait a day and let myself calm down, stop slamming cupboards and such, before I could write this review. The book is good, don’t get me wrong, but ... Here’s the thing. I was deceived. I read this book on the basis of Karen McManus’s ONE OF US IS LYING young adult series (my gushing reviews of books 1 and 2 of that series here).

Wouldn’t you expect this young adult book to be just as good as her previous books?

I knew when I started YOU’LL BE THE DEATH OF ME that it was a standalone, not a series, so that did not come as a surprise. And the plot was good, just as I expected it would be. So was the writing. The novel tells the story of  three classmates—Ivy, Cal, and (my favorite) Mateo, who used to hang out but drifted apart and then, through extenuating circumstances, are drawn together again in high school. As in the previously mentioned series that I loved, a classmate ends up dead. The fight or flight thing kicks in, and the kids are on the run and hiding while trying to find the truth and clear themselves. But nobody’s strictly innocent, and that proves to be true among these three.

The book has everything I would normally love— great characterization, excellent pacing, realistic voices and mindsets for young adults, and a great style and great plot. So what’s wrong with it?

The story ends with a cliffhanger.

Now, I know I’m the one who just defended the ending of a book that many readers said lacked a satisfying ending (my review of HOUSE RULES by Jodi Picoult), so I should not be going off on YOU ‘LL BE THE DEATH OF ME having the worst ending ever. Ever. I said ever! (Guess I’m not over slamming cupboards yet.)

I’d be fine with the cliffhanger ending if I knew there was a sequel that I could “click and buy now” to see what happens next. But there isn’t. As a standalone, there is no part two. There is no encore. No future for these kids I got to know so well. What there is at the end is the author posing this great, big question, giving one of the characters a brand, new goal and the steam to go after it, and that’s it. We don’t get to see if she succeeds. But most importantly, there would be 10,001 different ways to play that out, and we don’t get to see which one the character chooses and how it’s delivered. Now is that cheating us, or what?

I’m okay with the book just giving a hint at the end of what’s going to come next, and not actually playing it out for us. But I am not okay with telling us that somebody plans to do something, and then does not tell even hint at how the character goes about it.

Karen McManus just went to one of my new favorite authors to one of my new “don’t read it until somebody else tells you that it has a fair-to-the-reader ending” books.

Enough said.

Read at your own risk.

PS. Confession time. It will take me a while to choose reading another of her books, but she’s too good of a writer not to. So given proper healing time, I’m sure I’ll pick up another of her page-turners. But, I might do that thing that I have absolutely never, ever done before and read the last page first before buying the book.

And because I felt cheated with the previous book, here is a review on one more Y book:

YOU (Book 1 of 4 in this series) written by Carolyn Kepnes; reviewed by Debi O’Neille.

Published by Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

This is a great antihero, older young adult or full-blown adult story, (IMO), if you’re looking to see how the gears of a dangerous stalker work. I’ve never read a book with the sole point of view in the head of a calculating, evil person who lives right out in plain sight. I wasn’t sure I could handle it. (You know, without locking the book up into mini jail for a while as my way of finding justice.)

But after a friend told me that the book is really good, and the fact that it’s written by an author I’d never read before, I had to give YOU a try. Also, I thought it might give me a deeper look into stalkers, and this is one the kind of deviant who takes stalking to an unheard of level and then stretches beyond that. (Good info if I ever need to know a seemingly average guy who's really a psycho that deeply for my own writing, or a woman who might be one of her her worst enemies.) I have read novels by such authors as Lisa Jackson, who alternates points of view between a couple main characters  and, every few chapters or so, pops into the head of a vicious killer for an entire chapter. But that’s a chapter here and there scattered throughout the novel. Staying in the point of view of a terrible, psychotic, wicked, demented evil person for 422 pages is something quite different.

But I read all of YOU. Once I started reading, curiosity wouldn’t let me stop, even though there’s a lot of overly foul language and disgusting scenes (remember, we are in the head of a psycho). I have to admit, when I was in chapter two and had already come to that word that rhymes with duck but doesn’t start with a D a half-dozen times I had my doubts about the book. But I wanted to know what Stephen King – who has a blurb on the cover – thought was so dang hypnotic and scary. Who could possibly scare Stephen King?

So I made a deal with myself and every time I came to the rhyme of duck, I just glazed over it and kept reading. I’m not saying I can’t read some swearing, but this book sometimes surpassed my tolerance level. Yet the book is good. Extraordinary. It's well written and done in a very uncomfortably comfortable voice. Sounds odd, but it's true. Make a deal with yourself to glaze over whatever you need to, because the book is an important story that needed to be told.

Stephen King was right. The book is hypnotizing. It is scary. And true to his words, it’s "totally original."

I couldn’t put it down. There were so many questions I had along the way, and I had to keep reading to find the answers. Anytime I got close to an answer, more questions hit me, but it wasn’t even just that I wanted to understand the psycho and the female he was obsessed with. It was everything and everyone in the book. All the characters brought something new to the mix. I can’t say that I liked them all, but I did find them interesting, and I found them real.

YOU was educational as much as it was revealing. I'll have to wait awhile to shake off the feeling of being followed before I read the others in the series.

Prepare yourself for an eye-opening and disturbing read!


Saturday, April 27, 2024

X — X, written by Sue Grafton; reviewed by Debi O’Neille.

Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons 

The 24th Kinsey Millhone novel (of Grafton's 25-book alphabet series).

I promised in my A-Z theme to give honest reviews, so in all honesty I have to say—I





I want to be fair, so I’ll point out a few positives as well as my dislikes.

First, let me tell you that I feel I was misled. Partway through X, I realized I was reading a cozy mystery. A female private investigator trying to be hard-nosed but a little softer, more like a sleuth. And since Grafton set this alphabet series of mysteries in the 80s, she was true to the times and wasn’t always politically correct. Okay, fine. I squared my shoulders and braced myself for that education, considering the story wouldn’t have been authentic otherwise.

What I’m saying is that Grafton was writing the supposedly hard-boiled detective, but being a female of the 80s, the character was made only semi-hard-boiled (soft-boiled? Medium boiled?). In the 80s, women were considered incapable of being as hard as men. I’m sure that’s often true, but today I would challenge that with a few women I’ve met over the years. But all in all, considering the constraints of the times Grafton was under, she did a pretty good job with her main character. Still, the plot was a cozy mystery, and because of the dust jacket blurb, that’s not what I was expecting.

I read the Amazon description of the book before buying it. I’m almost positive that description must belong to some other book, not this cozy, soft-boiled, female detective story.

The description reads “… Perhaps Sue Grafton’s darkest and most chilling novel, X features a remorseless serial killer who leaves no trace of his crimes.”

Huh? What serial killer?

Leaves no trace of his crimes?

How could I not want to read that?

I expected intense tension. A law-escaping serial killer. Excitement. I expected to be sitting at the edge of my seat. This book failed on each of these levels.

Unfortunately, because of the misleading description, when I should’ve been concentrating on what was happening in the book, I was skimming ahead to see when the action would start. It seemed to be taking forever, since Grafton explained every detail of parking a car, unlocking the car door, opening the door, getting out, etc. in minute detail. It would have created more tension had she shortened the delivery.

Never in this book did I feel the tension of a character holding his or her breath. Or a character nervously looking up and down the sidewalk, watching for suspicious-looking people. I never felt any sense of urgency anywhere in this book. This was a sit curled up on the couch and read book, not an edge of your seat thriller. I never felt the need to keep reading to find out what happens next, yet I honestly think that had I gone into reading this novel with the expectation of reading a cozy mystery, rather than nail-biting pages with a serial killer, I would not have felt so impatient for something to happen. I would’ve sat back and relaxed in the mode of watching “Murder, She Wrote.” And I do enjoy that show at times. But I never watch it when I’m in the mood to watch “Kiss the Girls.” (Serial killer mayhem)

Wrong book description or not, I can’t help but wonder about the editor. Putnam and Sons is a respectable publisher. Why didn’t the editor catch more of the overwritten areas and tighten them to give more tension?

But I haven’t written a cozy. Maybe they’re supposed to take their time describing every single movement. Maybe cozies never feel tense. I don’t know.

But because I was curious, I did read up a bit on this author. I did a search and found out that due to health problems, she only got to the “Y” in this series. That is so sad, and a loss to the world. She passed away from a two-year battle with cancer before she finished the “Z” mystery. Maybe with that, the editor did not want to change any more of Grafton’s words than absolutely necessary. I’d probably feel the same. Anyway, X is no doubt a good read if you consider it a cozy.

Here’s the link to other reviews. They’re mostly positive from the author’s fans, but if you read the review from John E Mack, he pretty much covers my thoughts exactly. Then again, scroll down a couple more reviews and read the one by Serena. There again, she admits to checking the dust jacket often (I did at least a half a dozen times) to make sure she wasn’t reading a knockoff by some other writer.

So it wasn’t just me who thought the description and the novel were somehow mismatched.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good read for those of you who like slower paced mysteries.

You can always go to Amazon, and click into the Kindle, which lets you read the first few chapters for free before buying.

Thanks for allowing me to be honest.

Best wishes and happy reading!

Friday, April 26, 2024

W — WINTER GARDEN, written by Kristin Hannah; reviewed by Debi O’Neille

Published by St. Martin’s Press.

If you don’t like to cry from time to time, don’t read this book. If you don’t like to feel a lot, don’t read this book. If you have a weak stomach when it comes to graphic turmoil, don’t read this book. But, if somewhere inside you there is a fairy-tale heart waiting to be stroked, read this book. Don’t wait, because as WINTER GARDEN will prove, you never know what tomorrow will bring.

It’s a story of love as much as it is of war, and about hope as much as fear and oppression. Mostly, it’s a story of acceptance, forgiveness, and moving forward. It’s a literary work of living in its best and worse sense. The plot glides back and forth between a Russian history and current day life in America, showing one woman’s struggle to get through the past and the thawing of her lost fairy-tale heart as she brings her family together again.

There were times I wanted to throw the book across the room, but I didn’t. Couldn’t. I had to know how these people got to where they are today. I’m so glad I stuck with it. It was never a dislike for the story or the writing that tempted me to toss WINTER GARDEN. It was the strong emotions it triggered that had me worried whether or not I could continue reading. Could I find even a fraction of the strength these characters needed, these characters who lived it? Yet this skilled author made me live it too. You can’t read this story and not feel every piece of it. The writing is excellent. The characters are real. The story is powerful. Don’t give up on reading it regardless of the emotions it triggers. You’ll be glad you stuck with it.

Happy reading!

Thursday, April 25, 2024

V — VERITY, written by Colleen Hoover; reviewed by Debi O’Neille


Published by Grand Central Publishing, a home of such authors as David Baldacci, Harlan Coben, Sandra Brown and  Nicholas Sparks.

This is the psychological thriller that made me the Colleen Hoover fan that I am. VERITY is the first of Hoover’s books I ever read.  I plan to read it again, and again.

I love mysteries, love a little romance, love MG and YA, and, I live for suspense. Tension? Won’t read without it. But I usually don’t like to be scared or pushed into s studying the shadows on my walls, or to force my dog to walk everywhere with me all through the night. But I did, after and during this book. (Poor, Teddy!)

Character Lowen is a novelist who isn’t doing too well, career-wise, and she’s not big on self-promotion or marketing. Add to that a few other circumstances, and she takes a job finishing a few planned novels for the well-known author—Verity—who was in an accident and is now unable to complete her series. Verity’s husband, Jeremy Crawford, convinces Lowen that she is the best writer for the job, because Lowen’s writing style matches Verity’s.

Sounds like the perfect scenario. And possibly, it is, until Lowen finds a manuscript that may not be meant for the public. It’s personal and horrifying. It’s an autobiography.

Lowen convinces herself to read the secret pages by telling herself that knowing Verity’s story will help her understand the woman whose writing she’s trying to emulate. It will help Lowen in finishing the series. That’s her job, after all. But naturally, unexpected relationships come into play, as well as a wealth of unexpected discoveries.

Twists and surprises await you in this haunting reality that will surely stay with you and make you, too, a Colleen Hoover fan. Happy reading!