Monday, March 12, 2018

Years of practice and design: LET ME LIE.

Let Me LieLet Me Lie by Clare Mackintosh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anna Johnson is still reeling from the suicide of her father, Tom, when her mother, Caroline, dies as well, in a suicide that copies that of Tom's. A year later, Anna is grief-stricken, parenting a young baby, and trying to put together the pieces of her life. She lives in her parents' old home, surrounded by memories of their life together. On the anniversary of her mother's death, Anna receives a suspicious note that prompts her to dig into her parents' past and their deaths. She quickly discovers that nothing is as it seems--not their suicides, nor the happy childhood memories she holds so dear.

I really love Clare Mackintosh; her first novel, I Let You Go, is one of my favorites, and she's one of those authors I follow on Twitter and find very relatable. So I was very excited to finally get a chance to read this one. I'm still in awe of Mackintosh--who spent twelve years in the police force--and her writing talent. She has such a talent for creating some of her characters. And boy, can she really shock you with a plot twist.

I must first preface that if you have issues or triggers with suicide, this might be one to skip. Having lost a loved one to suicide, I can tell you that this can be a little hard to read. But Mackintosh treats the subject very delicately; she also presents us with a character with BPD, and I thought her treatment of mental illness was very well-done.

The novel is told mainly from Anna's point of view and that of a former police detective, Murray, who gets involved with her case. We do get snippets from someone else--we are left to imagine to try to figure out who it is, when they are speaking, and what has happened to them. Once Anna receives the note questioning her mother's suicide, she takes it to the police, where Murray--an investigator/detective now relegated to desk duty post-retirement--starts looking into it, which is a bit against the rules. This doesn't matter to us, because unless you have no heart, you'll immediately love Murray. He was the star of the story, to me, and I immediately adored him. He's also a great detective and a wonderful force in the book. (Can we have another story with Murray, please, Ms. Mackintosh?)

The book is ominous, creepy, and and tense, as the story slowly builds to its conclusion. It's not a fast-paced thriller, per se, but I was definitely fascinated in what had happened to Anna's parents. I was kept guessing for good chunks of the book, which I certainly appreciated. There are a bunch of twists and turns, several of which had me quite surprised. I just love how Mackintosh can throw you off track and then shock you quite convincingly.

For me, part of this book was a little far-fetched, and I thought Anna acted a little odd at times -- though in her defense, the poor girl is put through a lot. The book is best if you roll with the surprises and just enjoy them. Even better, you have Murray, who offers a touching character (his interactions with his wife are beyond lovely and show a deftness in writing that is quite impressive) as well as superbly-written detective. The book was compelling; nearing the end, I kept going "what? what did he find? who?!" so I know it was effective in creating suspense. It's also creepy at times and surprising until the end. Well-done. 4 stars.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Edelweiss in return for an unbiased review (thank you!).

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Google+ ~ Instagram

View all my reviews

Thursday, March 08, 2018

I'm too far gone to turn this heart around: SOMETIMES I LIE.

Sometimes I LieSometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amber wakes up in the hospital in a coma after an accident, which she cannot remember. She is paralyzed, unable to move or speak. She feels convinced that her husband, Paul, may have had something to do with it. Her visitors include Paul and her sister, Claire.

Well, this is an interesting one. The novel takes the unreliable narrator trope to the highest level. After all, Amber is in a coma, with memory issues. She also tells us, at the beginning of the novel, that she lies. Armed with this information, we are thrown headfirst into the story, trying to figure out exactly what has happened. The reader struggles along with Amber to learn what happened as she overhears snippets in her hotel room. It's quite the ride.

The novel is told in three parts: Amber's thoughts as she struggles to remember from within the coma, Amber telling events as they lead up to the accident, and snippets of childhood journal entries. The result is a confusing, suspenseful read that makes you instantly suspicious about everything and everyone. The novel is full of warning signs and creepy moments. It also features its share of impressive twists and turns. I was definitely shocked a couple of times.

I was, honestly, a little confused sometimes too. I have some weird feelings on this one. It's a great thriller. It keeps you guessing, and it surprises you. A lot, if you're me. I'm not sure I always enjoyed the characters, but I'm certainly impressed by the book, if that makes any sense. No more details, as I highly recommend going in spoiler-free.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review (thank you!); it is available everywhere as of 03/13/2018.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Google+ ~ Instagram

View all my reviews

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Shouldn’t I hear the future calling me: IF I DIE TONIGHT.

If I Die TonightIf I Die Tonight by Alison Gaylin

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Havenkill is a pretty quiet town--mostly focused on its football team. So when a washed up 80s rockstar named Aimee En stumbles into the police station in the middle of the night, claiming someone carjacked her Jaguar and then ran over a teenage boy who was trying to help, it receives a lot of police and media attention. The young teen's name was Liam--a star on the football team--and he's quickly portrayed as a hero for trying to save Aimee and her vehicle. Suspicion turns fairly soon to another local teen, Wade Reed, a social outcast, who is vilified by his peers and the local media. His younger brother, Connor, struggles as his own friends distance themselves in the wake of Wade's alleged actions. And Pearl Maze, a member of the Havenkill police force, who was there when Aimee arrived, isn't sure how real Aimee's story actually is.

The novel's story is told via short snippets of narrative from a varied cast of characters, including Pearl, Aimee, Connor, and Connor and Wade's mom, Jackie. It's effective--and effectively frustrating, as you find yourself wanting to know more about what happened the night Liam died. The book sucks you in immediately via this format and its excellent, well-drawn characters. These characters are complex, as are the relationships between everyone in the novel. Nothing is as it seems, and everyone is hiding more beneath their surface (and the past). I was shocked at how well-done these interconnected relationships were and how much I wanted to keep reading. I felt such allegiances to particular characters and such distaste for others. Pearl, Jackie, even Wade and Connor--they were magnificently written and the book was just so well-done. I was really impressed by this one.

Pearl, for instance, was such a complicated character, with such a nuanced backstory. She was an excellent cop, and I found myself immediately rooting for her. She was so smart. Gaylin did a wonderful job of portraying how small towns deal with tragedy and how social media can influence opinion--and how it can affect teens. It was really powerful. As the novel wears on, you're not exactly sure who to trust--or exactly what happened the night Liam died--and I couldn't stop myself from obsessively turning the pages, trying to figure out what happened. Even though the novel is very character-focused, it's suspenseful too and focused on the Liam mystery.

Overall, this was great and such a pleasant surprise. I love requesting an ARC of an author I've never read before and discovering such a great story. This was a suspenseful read, with an excellent, well-written cast. I'm looking forward to reading more of Gaylin's work. 4+ stars.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Edelweiss in return for an unbiased review (thank you!); it is available everywhere as of 03/06/2018.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Google+ ~ Instagram

View all my reviews

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Back you go against the wind and good advice: FORCE OF NATURE.

Force of Nature (Aaron Falk, #2)Force of Nature by Jane Harper

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Aaron Falk doesn't receive the voicemail until the morning. It's mostly garbled anyway, but he feels like he hears the strains of "hurt her" at the end. He doesn't think much of it until the woman who left the message, Alice Russell, doesn't return from a corporate retreat. Alice and four of her female colleagues went into the woods together. But when the women come out--bruised and battered--Alice isn't with them. Their stories don't quite match up about what happened, either. Aaron joins the investigation about Alice's disappearance as she's related to a case he's working with his partner, Carmen. He quickly realizes that nothing is as it seems deep inside the bushland. But is Alice simply missing, or worse?

I absolutely adored Jane Harper's first Aaron Falk novel, The Dry, and was really excited to see Aaron back again. He's a wonderful, complex character. Indeed, all the characters in THE DRY were so intricate and deep. Here, I was definitely sucked into the world Harper created again. I won't lie, beyond Aaron, most of the characters in FORCE OF NATURE are not easy to like. The five women who head off on this retreat are often despicable, whiny, and just plain mean. But, as the novel continues, we learn more about their motives and what drives them to act as they do. They may still be, well, despicable and mean, but there's a reason for it. There is no unformed character in a Jane Harper novel. Each comes with a backstory and a reason for every action.

It's nearly impossible not to get sucked into this book. The chapters alternate between the present, from Aaron's point of view as he tries to unravel things, and then flip to the near-past, slowly ticking down the events of the women at the retreat. The result is a nearly unbearable suspense at times, where I found myself wanting to scream, "What happened to Alice?!!" It's a slow, tense, fascinating build as we watch things fall apart for the group--getting lost in the deep woods--and seeing events unfold from there. We also see Aaron figuring out his own chain of events. The format works quite persuasively. Even better is that we get Aaron and Carmen's financial investigation thrown in as well. It adds a nuanced layer to the plot and the overall apprehension.

Overall, I really enjoyed this one. The characters are complex, and I really liked how their intricate personal lives intertwined. I'm not sure I loved this one quite as much as THE DRY, but part of that is because you can never quite replicate the joy and surprise of discovering a new, talented author again. Nonetheless, this is a great thriller that keeps you guessing with its nuanced characters. I certainly hope Aaron will be back for a third book.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Google+ ~ Instagram

View all my reviews

Friday, February 23, 2018

I've been a fool with my reputation: THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT.

The Flight AttendantThe Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cassandra Bowen is a flight attendant with a history of bad decisions--most of them tied to her predilection to heavy drinking. Mostly her drinking leads to sexual encounters with dubious men, topless dancing, and a few bouts of blackouts. But when Cassie's work takes her to Dubai, she spends the night with a gentleman she met on the plane, drinking heavily with him all evening; in the morning she wakes up next to him in bed and finds him dead, covered in blood. Alone and female in Dubai, Cassie sneaks out of the hotel room and returns home on the plane with her fellow flight attendants, setting off a trail of lies that will haunt her. And in the back of her mind, she fears the worst: could she have killed Alex while drunk? And what will happen when the authorities discover her deception?

This novel starts off with a bang, with Cassie waking up next to a dead man. Once Cassie gets back to the States, I found myself fascinated what could possibly happen for the other 80% of the book. (My mistake, a lot can happen.) The entire novel kept me wondering what on earth would come next. This is a crazy, unpredictable book that sucks you in and never lets you go. I was constantly wondering who the various characters were--who really was Alex, for instance? Is there more to Cassie than we are being told? I was honestly confused for a good portion of the book, which doesn't happen often when I read.

It was really fun and befuddling to piece things together in this one. The book was rather stressful, trying to decipher all the various characters and to deal with Cassie's high-risk behavior. As the end nears, I was actually shocked by a couple of twists, which I really appreciated. It's rare that a thriller truly shocks me anymore. I was truly impressed with this one. The ending was a little odd, but as I pondered it more, I think I'm good with it.

As for Cassie, she was a hard character to like, and there's certainly been no shortage of unreliable drunken female narrators in contemporary fiction as of late. Still, you can't help but get caught up in her story. It's compulsively readable. There are also lots of good flight attendant stories; Chris Bohjalian always well researches his books.

Cassie's chapters also alternate with a woman named Elena, which is an effective storytelling device, and only ratchets up the suspense. Her tale is just as befuddling as Cassie's--perhaps even more so--and just added to my desire to turn the pages and find out what on earth was going on and how these people were all connected. Bohjalian really weaved a fascinating story here, and I love how all of his books are so different. Whereas some can be emotional, this one was truly a thriller, and focused so much on the story and mystery. It wasn't exactly what I was expecting, but it was great.

I also found some amusing little personal tidbits in the book: references to Charlottesville (the second in a row in the novels I read--it's my hometown) and Cassie's Kentucky references, including her attendance at the University of Kentucky. We are, in fact, a UK and UVA household--my five-year-old twins are very divided between the two. It's funny how little things stick with you when you read a novel.

Overall, this was a great read. Completely befuddling, but incredibly suspenseful and just sort of fun. Not at all what I expected from Bohjalian, but a fascinating, enjoyable thriller. I was completely lost in Cassie and Elena's bizarre world for a few days--the sign of a great book. 4 stars.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Edelweiss and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review; it is available everywhere as of 03/13/2018.

You can read my review of Bohjalian's THE GUEST ROOMhere.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Google+ ~ Instagram

View all my reviews

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

There'll never be another who loved me that way: I'LL BE YOUR BLUE SKY.

I'll Be Your Blue SkyI'll Be Your Blue Sky by Marisa de los Santos

My rating: 4+ of 5 stars

The weekend of her wedding, Clare Hobbes meets an elderly woman, Edith Herron, at the venue. While they only have a few brief conversations, they provide Clare with the insight and courage she so badly needs. So much that she finds the strength to call off her wedding and return home alone. A few weeks later, Clare receives some sad and surprising news: Edith has passed away and left Clare a seaside home in Delaware. Desperately seeking a place to reevaluate her life, Clare decamps to the "Blue Sky House" and there begins to learn more about Edith and the remarkable life she led. This includes the discovery of two ledgers--one depicting a list of the guests who stayed at Edith's home when it was a beach guesthouse and another, "shadow" ledger, with mysterious notations. With the help of her former boyfriend, now best friend Dev Tremain, Clare starts to unravel Edith's brave and fascinating past. Along the way, she starts to get closer to working out more about herself as well.

I absolutely adore Marisa de los Santos and was really excited to see she had written another book picking up on the characters first introduced in Love Walked In: A Novel and Belong to Me. Both still hold a place of honor on the bookshelves of my home. Still, Goodreads told me it was nearly ten years since I'd read those gems. Considering I can forget a lot of what I've read a few months ago, it took a little remembering and time to get back into the characters. There's a lot to keep track of in the beginning. Still, once I got into the groove, it was like being back with old friends.

Getting to know more about Clare--all grown up now--is lovely. You find yourself drawn to her immediately. Her finance, Zach, made me nervous from the start, and in many ways, the novel can be a little stressful, between Clare navigating Zach, learning about what Edith was up to, and just some of the general topics of the novel. I always know a book is well-written when I find myself getting nervous on the characters' behalf.

The book generally alternates chapters between Clare and the story of Edith, the woman she meets at her wedding venue. Edith's story mainly takes place in the 1940s and 1950s, and I found myself always wishing for more and more of her tale, as she's a fascinating character in her own right. As Clare moves into Edith's old home and starts to investigate the woman's past, we learn a little more about her through Clare and Dev's sleuthing. It's a very effective format, and I found the book surprisingly suspenseful, with several unexpected twists and turns thrown in along the way.

Indeed, I was never really sure where this one was going. It meanders a bit and kept surprising me as it did. There are points where the sadness can be really hard and heartbreaking (in a wow, this novel is incredibly well-written and I feel as if these characters are real way). All the characters fit together so well and come to life before you--no surprise to anyone who has read a Marisa de los Santos novel before. It's so easy to get lost in the world she creates for us. At other times, I just found myself laughing, as Clare and Dev, for instance, could just be so funny and real.

In the end, I just wound up really loving this one. I was along for the ride wherever Clare and her gang were going to take me. I loved her, I loved Edith, and now I'd wait ten years for another book without any issue whatsoever. It's a lovely book about connections and about the family we have and the family we make. It's about love (very appropriate that I finished it on Valentine's Day). Thanks for revisiting these characters, Ms. de los Santos. I didn't know I needed them again, but I'm glad you did. 4+ stars.

I I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Edelweiss in return for a honest review (thank you!); it is available everywhere as of 03/06/2018.

Goodreads ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Google+

View all my reviews

Thursday, February 15, 2018

But this old heart is still the same: STILL ME.

Still Me (Me Before You, #3)Still Me by Jojo Moyes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Louisa Clark is attempting to follow advice to live boldly and try new things, which leads her to New York City. There, she becomes enmeshed in the life of the wealthy Gopnik family, serving as Agnes Gopnik's personal assistant. As such, Lou has plenty of time to tend to Agnes' every whim, but it takes some time to realize she might not be spending quite so much time on finding herself. Lou is far away from her boyfriend, Sam, who is still serving as a paramedic in England, and they are finding that long-distance romance isn't so easy. Meanwhile, Lou meets a new friend in New York, Joshua Ryan, who causes her to question many of her feelings. Lou loves New York, its pace and fashion, and many of the people she meets. But she still feels torn between worlds and her quest to discover who she really is, for once and for all.

I had no idea that Moyes was writing a third book in this series until recently and also had no clue where the story would go, but I have come to really care for the character of Louisa and knew I'd read it. I have to say, this one really surprised me, and I ended up enjoying it far more than I thought I would. While pieces of it may be a bit predictable, other parts were a little surprising, and the cast of characters is just so enjoyable that you get sucked in immediately. I found myself looking forward to immersing myself in the novel after a long day. It was refreshing to see Lou start to look inward a bit more, maybe grow up a tad, and start looking after herself more. After all these novels, you feel responsible for her and also get frustrated with her decisions, as if she's a sister or friend of your own.

The novel does a strong job of showing how Lou is tugged between two places--America and England--and struggling to discover where she belongs. It also illustrates some surprising similarities between herself and her wealthy patron. Watching Lou deal with Agnes' secrets--and, as the younger wife of an older, wealthy man, she has many--you get to see her mettle and true character. There are also some lovely and funny appearances by Lou's family, whom I've come to quite adore. You'll fall for the Gopnik's eclectic neighbor, Margot, as well.

This novel is surprisingly touching at times and really I just enjoyed it. It's a typically well-written novel from Moyes, featuring well-loved characters and a cast of new, engaging ones that you can't help but fall for and love (or dislike, as required) as well. If you've enjoyed Lou before, I think you'll find this a nice addition. If you haven't read about her journey, I encourage you to go back and pick up the first book--she's a rewarding character to discover.

You can read my review of ME BEFORE YOU here and AFTER YOU here.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Google+ ~ Instagram

View all my reviews