Saturday, May 09, 2015

Dreams and plans are in the making.

First Frost (Waverley Family, #2)First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Claire and Sydney are sisters. Claire is the more practical of the two and lately, she is drowning under the weight of a blossoming candy business. Sydney runs a hair salon and worries about her teenage daughter, Bay, who seems to be drifting away from her. In addition, Sydney longs for another baby. One day, a mysterious stranger shows up in their tiny town and threatens to disrupt their lives, especially Claire's.

This was an interesting read and definitely more on the 3.5 star end. I was about halfway through when I realized there was a book that came before this one - I'll probably read that one at some time, but I was already committed to this one. The book has a mystical edge to it; supposedly, each of the Waverley women are blessed with a gift, and Claire's house - the old Waverley home - has strange powers and a mind of its own.

At first it's a little strange to add the magic to the story, but it actually works well. Claire, Sydney, and Bay are all interesting characters. I actually found myself hoping there will be a third book that focuses more on Bay, because she's a compelling person. In a way, not much happens in the story, things just sort of float along as the women wait for the "first frost" to occur, but I still found myself compulsively flipping pages, wondering what would happen next. All in all, that's a sign of a good tale. Definitely a fun little read.

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Like a thief in the night you ran away with my heart.

Little Black LiesLittle Black Lies by Sharon Bolton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Catrin Quinn is still reeling from the loss of her two sons nearly three years ago. Her grief and anger is exacerbated by the fact that Catrin blames her (now former) best friend, Rachel, for their deaths. Catrin lives on the isolated community of the Falkland Islands, where people generally know one another - and everyone's business. When several children go missing over a short period of time, even the tight-knit community must admit that something is going on. Catrin finds herself drawn into the search for the latest missing boy, despite the fact that she just wishes to wallow in her grief as the third anniversary of her sons' death approaches.

This was a great book - I love all of Bolton's Lacey Flint novels, but this standalone is excellent, too. It's told from the varying viewpoints of three people - Catrin, her ex-best friend Rachel, and Catrin's acquaintance, Callum, a former solider who was once stationed on the island. Bolton goes back and forth over a short time period, slowly unraveling events, first from Catrin, then Callum, and finally Rachel. It's a mesmerizing approach, as we try to decipher how much to trust each of our narrators. During each character's turn, I found myself completely enthralled and wrapped up in their life. I eventually stayed up far too late the final night, frantically finishing the book to find out what happened. Bolton has created yet another fascinating mystery that will have you guessing the entire time.

(Note: I received an ARC of this novel from Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.)

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Friday, May 01, 2015

It's been a while since you've treated me right.

The Bones of YouThe Bones of You by Debbie Howells

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When local village teenager Rosie disappears -- and later is discovered murdered, fellow villager Kate is understandably upset. Kate has a daughter Rosie's age and also spent a little bit of time with the quiet teen and knew her mother, Jo, somewhat.

Rosie's murder causes quite a stir, especially because her father, Neal, is a well-known journalist. Kate becomes closer to Jo after Rosie's death and starts to learn more about Jo, Neal, and Rosie's younger, Delphine. As she gets pulled into the family's secrets, Kate finds herself more and more intrigued and confused about what happened to Rosie.

I tore through this book in a couple of days. The reviews comparing it to "Lovely Bones" or a Gillian Flynn novel are certainly not wrong. It's compelling and chilling. The book switches narrators and we "hear" from Rosie, as well, but the format isn't hokey or silly, as it often can be if done incorrectly.

I figured out some of the plot fairly early on, but it didn't make the book any less complex or exciting. The characters are well-drawn and interesting, and there's just *something* about the book that draws you in. Definitely recommend for those in the market for a good psychological thriller.

(Note: I received an advanced copy of this book via Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.)

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

And have a little trust in us when fear obscures the path.

The Guest CottageThe Guest Cottage by Nancy Thayer

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sophie leads a calm and predictable life, but not necessarily a happy and fulfilling one, especially in the love department. When her husband announces he's leaving her, she decides to rent a cottage on Nantucket for the summer, along with her kids, Jonah and Lacey. At the same time, Trevor Black, a young widower with a four-year-old son named Leo, decides to rent a cottage on Nantucket, hoping it will get Leo (and himself) away from the memories of Leo's late mother.

All is well until Sophie and Trevor arrive on the island and realize they've rented the same house. The two decide to share the large house for the summer and quickly become fast friends. But are Sophie and Trevor destined to become more than friends?

I usually enjoy the occasional book like this, where the plot is predictable, but comfortable and sort of cozy. However, I just couldn't get into this one, especially the first half or so. In fact, I almost gave up, which I rarely ever do on a book. I couldn't find myself empathizing with Sophie or her predicament - she came across as a bland character, who gave you little reason to root for her. Also, while I know these books are based a bit on absurdity and implausibility, this one seemed particularly so. The fact that Sophie and Trevor so easily melded together in the house was amazing and that Sophie's older kids played so well with his younger one. Hmm. I can't imagine going on vacation and just agreeing to share my rental with another family!

The book picked up a little over halfway through, when Sophie took more control over her life and we finally found more about her back-story. Still, the book uses Sophie's piano-playing as a sort of backdrop, but it rings hollow at times, and is a little strange. I couldn't get into it - but that may just be me. I did enjoy the second half of the book more than the first and it certainly went faster and was more what I was expecting. Sophie became a bit more engaging and likable.

Overall, though, if you're looking for a light and fluffy beach read, there are definitely better ones out there.

(Note: I received an advanced copy of this book in return for an unbiased review.)

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

I'm wide awake and you're still my dream

Wishful ThinkingWishful Thinking by Kamy Wicoff

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jennifer is a busy single mom, struggling to keep up at work while still spending enough time with her two young boys. One day her lost smartphone shows up on her doorstep and Jennifer discovers a new app has been installed. This app, she soon comes to realize, allows her to time travel -- to basically be in two places at the same time. Suddenly Jennifer is able to keep the long hours her boss is demanding, while still picking her boys up from school and getting in quality time Mom/kid time. She is the superwoman she's always dreamed of being. But is it too good to be true?

I'll confess that a good portion of this book made me cringe. Not because it's bad. In fact, it's the opposite. It's a smartly written, captivating novel with a harried heroine who captures your heart pretty quickly. For me, the book was stressful because it hit home! A busy working mother who has demands at the office, but who also wants to spend time with her kids? That certainly describes a lot of us. Much like when I'm watching an action or horror movie for a first time, I felt myself tensing, anxiously wondering what was going to happen to Jennifer. Was she going to get caught using the app? Was the Jennifer at the office going to somehow show up with her kids? Would her co-workers find out? Her kids? Would the app make her sick? This couldn't go on forever, right?

And that's basically the premise behind Wicoff's clever novel. Of course, being in two (and over time, as Jennifer becomes dependent on the app, three places) places isn't all it's cracked up to be. Jennifer is tired, experiencing some strange sensations, potentially losing friendships, and wait, is she aging rapidly when she's living two days in the span of what should only be one?

Wicoff does a great job of showing the pressures many working parents feel. It's true - sometimes you do feel like you have to be a superwoman! Her book is also populated with fun characters -- in particular, Dr. Sexton, Jennifer's kooky neighbor, who also happens to be a genius scientist and inventor of said app.

If it all sounds a little improbable, it is, and you'll have to be prepared to suspend disbelief a bit, but Wicoff does such a great job, that it isn't really that hard. The book veers off a bit in its final quarter, turning more from the harried working mom scene, to a bit of an almost mystery/avenger plot, which is also completely improbable, and a very strange twist, but it's fun, too. You can't help but rooting for Jennifer (and Dr. Sexton, too). Overall, a crazy 3.5 star rating.

(Note, I received an advanced copy of this book in return for an unbiased review.)

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Saturday, April 18, 2015

And ride off into your delusional sunset.

Stolen ChildStolen Child by Laura Elliot

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Carla Kelley is a beautiful and famous model, whose career is only heightened by her pregnancy, as she advertises the maternity line, "Anticipation." Susanne Dowling, meanwhile, lives a quiet and sad life, punctuated by several heart-breaking miscarriages. Her last one seems destined to send her over the edge.

Shortly after Carla's baby, Isobel, is born, the baby vanishes from the hospital without a trace. The media descends upon the model and her husband, ruining his undercover detective career and threatening their marriage.

Meanwhile, Susanne and her husband, David, are basking in happiness: their new baby girl, Joy. Susanne finally has the baby she's always wanted. But is she happy?

The book alternates between Carla and Susanne's points of view and eventually, once she's old enough, we hear from Joy as well. While the story is compelling, I had a hard time getting into the novel as neither Carla and Susanne present as very sympathetic characters, despite their losses. The book becomes more interesting as Joy ages and can tell her side of the story. Much of the tale is more a study in personalities and psychology than a page-turning search for a child. The reader is always aware where the "stolen child" is, even if her parents are not.

Overall, it's an intriguing read (and an interesting description of a scenario that terrifies many parents - I know I felt agonized reading the moments where Isobel is stolen), if not a little slow at times, with some characters who, while human and complicated, won't always elicit a lot of sympathy.

(Note: I received a digital copy of this novel in return for an unbiased review.)

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

What a beautiful, what a beautiful mess I'm in.

The One That Got AwayThe One That Got Away by Bethany Chase

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sarina's life is going pretty smoothly -- she's busy with her own architecture firm, she's expecting to be engaged to her boyfriend, Noah, any day, and she has a good group of friends to hang out with while Noah is away in Argentina for work. She feels so secure she's finally ready to face Eamon Roy, a former Olympic swimmer and Sarina's former-one-night-stand (who broke her heart years ago), and who is making a visit to Austin, Texas.

Suddenly, though, Eamon's visit is no longer temporary, as he decides to move back to Austin and renovate a home -- a job for which he hires Sarina. The two become fast friends, and Sarina finds herself questioning everything she thought was so perfect about her life.

Overall, this was a really fun, enjoyable read. I breezed through it, because Sarina is a thoroughly engaging character. Further, Chase has a way of writing that pulls you in - when Sarina gets bad news, for instance, I felt myself feeling as if I'd been punched in the gut, too. It was refreshing to read a "chick lit" novel about an architect, versus the usual publicist or nanny or such. I enjoyed reading about Sarina's job and she was extremely driven as a businesswoman, which was great. Further, I enjoyed that the novel had a gay character (Sarina's roommate, Danny), who didn't seem completely steeped in stereotype. Also refreshing!

About my only beef was that it all became a bit much about two-thirds or so through the book, as Sarina continues to waffle about Noah and Eamon. For a bit, the book feels very junior high-esque as Sarina goes on and on about Eamon, then Noah, then dreaming of Eamon, then more wrangling, etc. I get that it was a big decision, and she and Noah had been together for four years, but sigh. Get it together, girl!

Otherwise, this was fun, fast-paced, novel, with just the right mix of serious, real-life plot thrown in. Sarina faces some tough choices in life (and not just as she deals with her feelings with Eamon and Noah), but with her parents/stepparents, her business, and more. It's refreshing to see a chick lit heroine deal with real life in such a way. Supposedly the Chase's next book features some characters who pop up in this one. I'll definitely be putting it on my to-read list. (Overall, I'd rate The One That Got Away at 3.5 stars.)

Note: I received an ARC from Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.

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High school rebel and the teenage queen.

All Our Pretty Songs (Metamorphoses, #1)All Our Pretty Songs by Sarah McCarry

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Two girls grow up, as close (or closer) as sisters, until a boy and a strange man (?) come between them. Aurora is the daughter of a famous musician, who died when she very young; her mother still spends most of her days in a drug-induced haze. It's up to her best friend (whose name we never learn -- she's simply the narrator of this tale) to protect Aurora, who is described as lovely and other-worldly, from herself. The girls spend their days together -- watching movies in Aurora's bed, partying hard, dancing in mosh pits at concerts, etc. One day they meet a musician named Jack, a beautiful man/boy, who enraptures the narrator, and seems to set them on a course to be torn apart.

This is a very strange book. The first half or so is actually pretty compelling and interesting. The story of Aurora and the narrator's friendship is fascinating, and their "girls gone wild" story is plausible, if not a little much. Aurora's mom could clearly care less where her daughter is. The narrator's mom, Cass, was friends with Aurora's mom, but they clearly fought when the girls were young and are not on speaking terms, though Cass cares deeply for Aurora. This is all good stuff.

Once Jack arrives and Aurora meets Minos, a bizarre music producer, things get weird. The book takes on this mystical, paranormal feel, and it's just strange. It almost feels like this part of the plot was forced into what was otherwise just a good (really, good) story about friendship and teenage girls and life. I won't go into many more details about the plot, but the narrator basically goes on a quest, which I didn't completely understand and then the book just ends, leaving you hanging and everything unresolved. And despite the fact that there is another book in the series, it looks to be about the girls' mothers, not the girls, therefore giving me no resolution whatsoever! Grr.

That's not to say that McCarry's writing isn't lovely. It's a beautiful, poetic book - almost too much at times, as I found myself practically skimming to get to the actual plot. The narrator was a compelling character, and the whole story was so well-written that I could imagine every person, every wild party, every journey. I just think that it almost would have been just as good, if not better, without all the crazy characters and odd mythology-type "stuff" thrown in. But what do I know, really? And I'll probably read the second book out of total curiosity because Maia (Aurora's mom) and Cass were pretty fascinating.

This was probably closer to 2.5 stars for my overall feeling at the end, but bumped up a bit for the beginning and the general writing. 

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Thursday, April 09, 2015

What kind of fool do you think I am.

Ms. ConceptionMs. Conception by Jen Cumming

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Abby is desperate to get pregnant. After several years of marriage (and trying to conceive), she and her husband, Jack, enter the roller coaster life of fertility clinics. Along the way, Abby is juggling a busy career, her slightly insane mother-in-law, and her own quirky mom and sister.

I tore through this book in two days, and I think my heart pounded through a good two thirds of it. Parts of it were almost too heart-breakingly painful to read. There are certainly some other recent novels (e.g. Amanda Eyre Ward's The Same Sky) that capture infertility in a more poetic manner, giving it more weight and tying more to the characters' backstories and current events. But Cumming's novel is like no other I've read in perfectly depicting the hard, emotional struggle of infertility.

There's so much I identified with in the novel, which certainly helped lead to my 4-star rating. I am not 100% sure that the book would resonate as much with those who haven't been through this, though I honestly wish I had had this book to give to all those "well-meaning" individuals who had "helpful" advice during my own infertility struggles, because I really do think it shows how hard the process is on a couple.

For instance, Cumming does an excellent job of showing how difficult it is for Abby to juggle her work and her infertility - there's a moment where she receives a call from the clinic about a negative pregnancy test and has to return to a meeting. I've so been there, and she wrote about the episode beautifully.

Cumming also does a good job of portraying humor in Abby's difficult journey - it's the only way Abby can survive. Her stories of the full bladder trials during IVF, for instance, are funny and spot on. So much, though, is serious and very carefully portrayed -- Abby's focus on a home project after each negative test; her studious avoidance of babies; dreaming nine months forward about potential holidays -- anyone who has struggled like Abby will identify. She captures the aching loss of Abby beautifully -- I actually hurt as I read this book.

Overall, I would have potentially liked to have seen a little more character development about Abby - you don't get much backstory about her yen for children. Still, the book is amazing in its ability to make you feel like Abby and hurt with each negative test and setback. It's the most accurate (yet compelling) fictional journey of infertility, IUIs, and IVF I've read in quite some time.

(Note: I received an advanced copy of this book from Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.)

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