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.

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Monday, February 12, 2018

Did our ashes make a sound: THE WIFE BETWEEN US.

The Wife Between UsThe Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I never do this, but I'm copying in the tagline for this one, because I don't want to give away any spoilers:
When you read this book, you will make many assumptions.
You will assume you are reading about a jealous ex-wife.
You will assume she is obsessed with her replacement – a beautiful, younger woman who is about to marry the man they both love.
You will assume you know the anatomy of this tangled love triangle.
Assume nothing.

This was a fascinating and twisted thriller, I'll give you that. It flew under my radar for a while, enough that I wasn't interested enough to ask for an ARC. Finally, I read enough GR reviews that I caved and grabbed a copy from the local library. Now I don't know if I'm just cynical or jaded or what, but while I enjoyed this one, I didn't find it to be the rave-worthy thriller that so many others did. Perhaps if I'd picked it up in the ARC stage, before reading so many reviews, it would have been a little different, but I think maybe I went in looking for all the twists.

The book is divided into a couple of parts (4 or 5) and I guessed the big twist of the first part flat out. It's well-executed, but I saw it coming from a mile away. The rest were a little harder to guess, so kudos to the authors for those. I won't lie--this one is quite the compulsively readable thriller, no matter what. I am, however, a little tired of unreliable, female alcoholic protagonists, by now--this trend was kicked off by The Girl on the Train, and I'm sort of over it.

I won't go into much more, because I don't want to reveal anything for those yet uninitiated. I'm still glad I picked up the book - it was a good diversion for a couple of evenings and a fun thriller. Not quite the most amazing book ever I was promised, but still a twisty read. 3.5 stars.

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Thursday, February 08, 2018

The nights have gotten long: THE FRENCH GIRL.

The French GirlThe French Girl by Lexie Elliott

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Kate and five of her friends spent a week at a French farmhouse whilst students at Oxford. All goes well until the last night of the trip, when there's a huge blowup among the group. And, always, flitting at the edges is Severine, the French girl who stayed next door where the group was vacationing. After that night, Severine disappeared, but her body was never found. Until, ten years later, it turns up in a well behind the farmhouse. Suddenly Kate and her friends are being questioned by the French police, bringing up old memories, and jeopardizing the life Kate has worked so hard to create.

This novel takes some getting used to. Kate herself takes some getting used to. For instance, Kate "sees" Severine, as in she imagines Severine is watching her--sometimes she just sees her skull, sometimes Severine's entire body is following Kate, or languidly sitting in her apartment. In the beginning, these mentions are odd and a little creepy and the book moves rather slowly, making it hard to keep your interest. Kate and her group of friends still seem like the gaggle of college students they were ten years ago when Severine disappeared--and you find yourself wondering why you should care about any of them and their manufactured drama. It's hard to get invested in these somewhat spoiled, immature characters.

Luckily, I have to say, there was still some sort of pull about Kate that made me want to keep reading. You can't help but remain curious about what went down that night between the six friends and if one (or more) of them truly had a hand in Severine's death. It was enough to keep me reading, and I have to admit, Kate grew on me, I found myself feeling almost protective of her as the book wore on. You have to buy-in to the Severine premise a bit, but I won't lie, by the end, I liked the darn woman. What can I say? Elliott also does a good job in keeping you guessing, always casting suspicion on each friend, so you never quite get a handle on exactly what happened that week.

Overall, this one is a slow-moving thriller. It's focused on the build-up of its characters and meandering along to its reveals. If you're looking for a fast-paced, twisty mystery, this isn't it. But if you want to get sucked into the lives of your characters and discover some surprising things along the way, you'll enjoy this one. 3.5+ stars.

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 02/20/2018.

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Monday, February 05, 2018

And volunteer to lose touch with the world: TRULY DEVIOUS.

Truly Devious (Truly Devious, #1)Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Stephanie "Stevie" Bell is very excited when she is accepted to Ellingham Academy, an elite private school in Vermont for free-thinking junior and senior high school students. Ellingham was founded by wealthy Albert Ellingham as a place where students can learn in their own ways, and where puzzle and riddles take center stage. The school became especially infamous when Albert's wife, Iris, and young daughter, Alice, were kidnapped not long after it opened. Shortly before the kidnapping, Albert received a mocking riddle threatening of murder in all sorts of forms via the mail. Now that Stevie is at Ellingham, her goal is to solve Iris and Alice's cold case. A true crime junkie, she knows everything about it and believes that being on the scene is the missing piece she needs to put everything together. But first she needs to get used to being away from home, befriend her eclectic group of housemates, and then deal with a shocking new crime that rocks Ellingham to its core.

I really love Maureen Johnson's Shades of London series, so I was really excited to see she had a new mystery series coming out. It didn't disappoint. This was a really fun, fascinating book featuring a great, feisty heroine in Stevie Bell. I fell for Stevie immediately, with her awkward demeanor and allegiance to old-school detective novels. Johnson has done a great job in creating a well-rounded character in Stevie, who really shines in this novel.

The intersecting mysteries will suck you in immediately. I basically wanted to ignore work and responsibilities and keep reading this one. The novel tells the book mainly from Steve's point of view, but we also get bits and pieces from the past--various narrators, case notes, etc. It's quite effective, and you'll find yourself intrigued by the Alice/Iris kidnapping, as well as the current tragedy that befalls Ellingham.

Steve's housemates at Ellingham are diverse and a bit crazy--they are a lot to sort through, but interesting nonetheless. This book will definitely keep you guessing, that's for sure. The cliffhanger ending is crazy--be prepared that this is a trilogy and that everything isn't wrapped up tidily!

Nonetheless, I really enjoyed this one, and I cannot wait to read the next book! I love Stevie--I felt such a pull to this plucky detective, who owns no jewelry, wears a lot of black, and can't dance. The book also treats mental illness in a great, matter-of-fact way, with its honest portrayal of Stevie's anxiety and panic attacks. Everything combines into a fun, interesting, suspenseful, page-turner that will leave you wanting more. 4+ stars.

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Friday, February 02, 2018

Still we can't shake this feeling of doom: SURPRISE ME.

Surprise MeSurprise Me by Sophie Kinsella

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dan and Sylvie are happily married, with twin daughters, when they go in for their annual physicals and get the news that they could live past 100 and hence be married for 60+ years. This sends some shock-waves through their marriage. The couple prides themselves on knowing each other inside and out, even being nearly psychic with one another, so they decide to help pass the years of marriage by "surprising" each other with various things. Needless to say, it doesn't go as planned. Meanwhile, Sylvie has a (perhaps unhealthy) attachment to her late father, who died two years ago in a car crash, and is still dealing with her grief.
She works at Willoughby House, a museum run by an older woman, Mrs. Kendrick, who is quite set in her ways. Robert, her nephew, has been called in to modernize museum operations, much to everyone's dismay. Suddenly, Sylvie's well-planned life is upside down in every possible way.

A good Sophie Kinsella book is a great treat and a wonderful break from stressful thrillers. I enjoy her characters and a chance to get away in the world she creates. Sylvie and Dan, have five-year-old twin daughters, just as my wife and myself, so I was immediately drawn in. "When you have baby twins, you're in the trenches together... You hone your routines. You don't waste words." Exactly. I figured I would grow attached to Sylvie pretty quickly, and I wasn't wrong.

She's an interesting character, too. I won't lie--both Sylvie and Dan are a bit dramatic at first about the health news. I get that hearing your increased life expectancy and marriage time might come as a bit of a shock, but these two really took it to the limit. Sylvie was also a bit clueless and spoiled at times, but I like that she knew that about herself and sort of embraced it as part of her personality traits.

The book really kept me befuddled at times where things were headed. It's not your typical romantic comedy where you can sort of tell how everything will work out. At some points, I was quite surprised by some of the plot turns. I found parts of it tense. I was so invested in Dan and Sylvie that I didn't enjoy when they were fighting or having issues--Kinsella does a good job of getting you involved in these characters and their lives. You're along for the ride with Sylvie, trying to figure things out. I had an inkling of some of what might have happened, but I was certainly flipping the pages frantically, trying to work it all out.

I loved that parts of this one were just really very funny. Sylvie has a sense of humor and I just enjoy the dry wit that comes across. As the surprises backfire (you just know they will, right?), you can't help but feel sorry for both Sylvie and Dan. And, yes, laugh at a little at their expense. There's also a great supporting cast of characters -- Sylvie's best friend, her co-workers, the next-door neighbors. They are humorous and really add to the book, versus standing in as props.

Overall, this one really grew on me as I was reading. It was a great diversion and a quick read. 4 stars.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley in return for a honest review (thank you!); it is available everywhere as of 02/13/2018.

You can read my review of Kinsella's MY NOT SO PERFECT LIFE here.

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Monday, January 29, 2018

The map of my heart is torn at the corners: SAINTS FOR ALL OCCASIONS.

Saints for All OccasionsSaints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Nora and Theresa Flynn are only twenty-one and seventeen when they leave their native Ireland and immigrate to the U.S. For her entire life, Nora has been the quintessential older sister, raising Theresa and their younger brother after the death of their mother. Now she's headed to Boston to be married to their former Irish neighbor, Charlie, whom Nora doesn't really even love. Theresa, meanwhile, is outgoing, beautiful, and intelligent. She loves the dances and social atmosphere in Boston, but that all changes when she winds up pregnant. Both Nora and Theresa are forced to make some drastic life decisions that will affect them for the rest of their lives. Fifty years later, in 2009, Nora and Charlie have four children: John, Bridget, Brian, and Patrick. But Theresa and Nora are no longer speaking, and Theresa lives as a cloistered nun in an abbey in Vermont. What happened between the two sisters? And how will a sudden tragedy affect their current, separate lives?

This was an amazing book - just beautiful, heartbreaking, and lovely. Sullivan captured the essence of each of her characters so perfectly. I could picture every one, and each was so realistic, with their own background, mannerisms, and details.

The novel switches between the past, starting with Nora and Theresa's journey to Boston, and 2009, with a shocking event that rocks the entire family. We hear from each character--Nora, Theresa, John, Bridget, Brian, and Patrick. As I said, they are each an individual and embellished with Sullivan's wonderful writing and details. For instance, I loved the tidbit that Nora and her daughter-in-law communicated for years mainly through Nora's daughter's dog at family gatherings. It said so much with just one story. (And I've so been there.)

I became attached to each character in their own way thanks to the strong writing and characterization. I don't always enjoy books with shifts between time periods, but all flowed seamlessly here. There's an underlying thread that ties everything together, just adding to the brilliance of the novel. While it's really a story of a family, there's still a bit of suspense, as you try to fit some pieces together. Everything works so well.

Overall, I just loved this beautiful story of parenthood, immigration, siblings, religion, and so much more. It's achingly well-written, and while it ended just right, I was still sad to see the characters go. I'll certainly be recommending it to everyone I know. 4.5 stars.

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Sunday, January 28, 2018

For everything I've lost I'm not mad at love: A COLD DAY IN HELL.

A Cold Day in Hell (Cold Case Investigation, #1)A Cold Day in Hell by Lissa Marie Redmond

My rating: 4+ of 5 stars

Lauren Riley is a thirty-eight-year-old twice-divorced mother of two college age daughters, working cold case homicides. She has a great, younger cold case partner, Reese, and carries a torch for her ex-husband, Mark. Meanwhile, her ex, Joe Wheeler, is a Garden Valley homicide detective and a total (excuse my language) a-hole, who brazenly punches Lauren in the mouth after learning she's working against him on a case. Lauren's working two jobs -- her daytime gig on cold cases and also as a certified Private Investigator (PI). Lauren is hired by her nemesis, attorney Frank Violanti, to work the high-profile case of David, who is accused of murdering Katherine Vine, the beautiful, younger wife of Anthony Vine, who runs a successful chain of gyms. Lauren knows taking the case could stir up some issues in her department, with the DA, and with Reese. But in her gut, she feels that David is innocent. Can she and Frank make peace and prove it?

I read a lot of mysteries and while there are thankfully more strong female detectives coming on the scene (see Kristen Lepionka's Roxanne Weary and Emily Littlejohn's Gemma Monroe, for instance), they are still few and far between. While Lauren Riley may still be finding herself (there's a lot of side coverage of emotional entanglements and relationships here), I still love finding and championing a complicated, real, strong female detective.

Lauren's PI case is really the star of the show, and it's interesting and engaging throughout the entire novel. It keeps you guessing throughout, questioning whether David did it or not, and who else played a key role in Katherine and Anthony Vine lives. Nothing is cut or dried.

Also fascinating is Lauren's main cold case. While you could argue some of it ties up neatly, it doesn't go as expected, per se, if that makes sense, and the characters involved are intriguing and different. All the cases kept me interested as I read. A lot certainly happens in this novel, between Lauren's work and personal life. Nothing is boring, and there's never really a dull moment, especially once you get into the swing of things and realize that the book covers both her personal life and her work life in-depth. It also tells the story from more than Lauren's POV, even if she's the main focus, which works surprisingly well.

I don't think it's a spoiler to say that the book culminates in a trial related to Lauren's PI case, and it's a great, suspenseful, incredibly well-written piece of work. The courtroom scenes were so well-done and really had me on the edge of my seat. One of the things I loved about this novel was how I could so easily picture each of these characters-- each is well-described and fleshed out. Redmond writes darn good trial scenes (and a darn good book), and I was frantically flipping the pages to see how things would turn out.

It wasn't until I finished the book that I learned the author is a retired homicide detective, but it definitely shows as you read. The novel is written expertly in terms of police and courtroom procedure, but still enjoyable in terms of the characters. There is a lot of personal "stuff" in terms of Lauren; this will be a little different if you are used to the Bosch type of detective (the love of my life and my hero). Still, it's completely refreshing to see a complicated female lead detective, and, as mentioned, so nice to be reading more of these stories. I grew to really love Lauren.

The courtroom scenes are great, and a lot will keep you guessing. Sure, some of the cold cases wrap up what seem a little easily, but even Lauren addresses that as she works. I read some reviews that Joe Wheeler is a cliche character, and I guess I could see where people get that, but for me, society as of late seems to be showing us everyday that these sort of angry, abusive men truly exist. Everywhere. To me, Joe was a sadly realistic portrayal of a horrible man, and his slow, boiling anger only added to the tension of the entire novel.

Overall, I really enjoyed this one. It looks like it's going to be a series, and it ends with some unfinished issues that make me even more eager for book two. 4+ stars.

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 02/08/2018.

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