Friday, June 15, 2018

Both our hearts let go a long time ago: HOW HARD CAN IT BE?

How Hard Can It Be? (Kate Reddy, #2)How Hard Can It Be? by Allison Pearson

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars


Things have taken a bit of a turn for Kate Reddy--she's nearing 50, her husband has lost his job and spends most of his time cycling, and her kids are busy teenagers. With Richard out of work, Kate has to return to work. However, she finds that the financial community isn't welcoming to a woman on the cusp of fifty. When Kate decides to pretend she's seven years younger to enter the working world, she winds up working at the hedge fund she originally started. Once back at work, though, she finds herself overwhelmed dealing with everything: the unhelpful husband, the ungrateful kids, the demanding colleagues, and an unexpected appearance from an old flame.

This was a tough one for me. It was a slow read, although in its defense, I read it during a very busy time at work. I empathized with Kate's return to working motherhood--especially juggling kids and work and dealing with a male-driven workplace. I didn't enjoy the intense focus on how old Kate was, making her seem nearly decrepit at fifty. It's one thing to deal with turning the big 5-0 and its ramifications, but its another to make it seem like it's the end of the world. Even worse, while Kate could seem so strong in the workplace, she was such a pushover with her children. She was supposedly clueless with technology, unable to keep up with their exploits, and a complete doormat. (I also couldn't handle the endless endearments she used with her kids--there's only so many "sweeties" and "darlings" I can take.)

There are certainly humorous moments in the novel. This is a sequel to Pearson's first novel featuring Reddy and the parts I enjoyed here were the parts I liked about the first one: Kate's wit, her ability to take on the "big boys" at her fund, and the snippets of emails between her and her friend, Candy. There were definitely pieces of the novel that I found myself nodding along with--her moments of anxiety; her rants about how working moms are treated; some insights into kids and the social media era, etc. And Kate certainly doesn't have an easy go of it, with her clueless husband, helpless kids, crumbling house, aging parents, and stressful job.

That being said, I could see most of the plot twists coming a mile away, and you couldn't help but get frustrated that Kate couldn't see them too. Overall, while I found parts of this novel funny, refreshing, and quite apropos, I couldn't really get over Kate's obsession with her looks or her one-sided relationship with her children. In the end, 3.5 stars, probably bumped up a bit for a little Kate Reddy nostalgia.

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

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Thursday, June 07, 2018

Now I sense a change: THE LAST SUMMER OF THE GARRETT GIRLS.

The Last Summer of the Garrett GirlsThe Last Summer of the Garrett Girls by Jessica Spotswood

My rating: 4+ of 5 stars


The Garrett sisters are pretty used to the routine of their lives in their small town. Des, 19, is caretaker of her sisters and Arden, the bookstore left behind by their late parents. Their seventy-year-old Gram counts on her to take care of things--even more so since her knee surgery. Bea, 18, is smart, ambitious, and heading to Georgetown in the fall, along with her longtime boyfriend, Erik. Kat, 16, is their theatrical diva, whom no one really takes seriously; she recently broke up with her boyfriend, and she'd do just about anything to get him back. At fifteen, Vi is the "baby" of the family. She's quiet, sensitive, and gay. It's all worked pretty well for a while, but little do they all know: things are about to change for the Garrett girls this summer.

Jessica Spotswood said that she pitched this novel as "Little Women meets Gilmore Girls by way of Sarah Dessen," and I couldn't agree more. I didn't read this until her epilogue, and both the Little Women and Gilmore Girls pieces had already crossed my mind. This is such a lovely, charming, and touching book--I thoroughly enjoyed it. The Garrett sisters were so wonderful and engaging that as the book ended, I immediately found myself wishing there was a sequel, because I was completely immersed in their lives.

Spotswood creates some excellent, different, and completely captivating characters in these sisters. Each is unique in their own way--their own person. I loved the wonderful diverse representation in this one: "there aren't many YA books about girls falling in love," Vi says. It's so true, and how nice it is to have a well-written book where that storyline is just one of the many plots. There are some absolutely beautiful exchanges, as Vi has a crush on the girl who works at the restaurant next door, Cece. It was easily my favorite part of the book--I adored sweet Vi. I also loved how books played a such a strong role in the story--between the girls' family owning a bookstore and all of them loving books and stories in some way.

The novel itself is really about the universal themes of growing up, finding your way, and friendship and sisterhood. And love. It's so well-done and really sweet and fun. The girls seem so real, and it was quite easy to get caught up in their lives and problems. I found it quite enjoyable, even if I could guess how most things would resolve themselves.

Overall, this was a delightful novel about sisterhood and growing up. I truly wish I could have spent more time with the Garrett sisters. 4+ stars.

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

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Wednesday, June 06, 2018

I was holding on with everything: THE FAVORITE SISTER.

The Favorite SisterThe Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll

My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars


The reality TV show Goal Diggers is supposed to buck the trend of most reality TV, with a focus on the radical notion that it is about women putting other women first. It even features unmarried, childless (for the most part), successful women. But, is that really the case? It sure seems like everyone on Diggers is fake and lying. There's Brett, 27, the youngest of the group, who is running her business, SPOKE, which focuses on helping women in Morocco. Her sister, Kelly is the newest addition, and she runs the business with Brett and is a mom to her teenage daughter, Layla. There's also Jen, who oversees her vegan empire; Lauren, creator of a dating website; and Stephanie, a successful author. None of these women really like each other after several seasons of the show. Even so, the producers never expected it all to end in murder.

I have some conflicted and confused emotions about this book. It took me over a week to read, which is forever in my world (I finished three other books in the meantime, to put it in perspective). You know how your Kindle tells you the percentage left to read? I swear that number never changed, it felt like such slow going, and I considered giving up several times. I really only kept reading because of a big reveal that happened on page one (literally) and then the rest of the book spends its time going back in time explaining what happened. I was mildly curious enough to find out what went down. The novel keeps you wondering just enough even if you don't like the characters.

Because, wow, these characters are really despicable. I can get past it in most books, and I thought maybe I'd like Brett for a while, but this self-centered group really took the cake. I am not a reality TV person, especially Real Housewives, so maybe that's part of why this one wasn't for me? I found the in-fighting, petty catfights, and personal drama to just be over-the-top. It's sad, because at times, I found a real wit and depth to the book, but for the most part it just dragged on. And on.

And again, some of this just may be because I'm not a reality TV gal. I really like Knoll's writing, I just couldn't get a handle on the tone. Funny? Serious? Both? What was it aiming for? Did it all just go over my head? I caught that it was trying for some really meaningful social commentary about feminism, weight, race, and so much more, but then it would get lost in two women fighting over platform heels.

There were some good twists at the end, but overall, this one fell flat for me, including the final ending. I felt like I slogged through it, and I just didn't enjoy the characters. Perhaps I missed the overall point or meaning. Many others have enjoyed it, so you may find it's more suited for you than it was for me.

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

You can read my review of Knoll's THE LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE here.

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Monday, June 04, 2018

Sunshine is days away: THE LAST THING I TOLD YOU.

The Last Thing I Told YouThe Last Thing I Told You by Emily Arsenault

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Dr. Mark Fabian is dead--found murdered in his office. Left behind is his former patient, Nadine, who continues to talk to Dr. Fabian in her mind, telling him about her life in the many years since she saw the doctor. Back then, she was a troubled teen, ostracized for a gruesome act while in high school. Investigating Dr. Fabian's murder is Henry Peacher, a detective most known in town for stopping a deadly shooting at a posh retirement community before the death count went any higher. Before Dr. Fabian died, he pulled two files from his archives: those of Nadine's and Johnny Streeter, the man responsible for the killing at the retirement home. Henry is left to puzzle through what this all means--for instance, what did Nadine and Dr. Fabian discuss when she returned to town a mere two days before his death? Is there a connection between Nadine and Johnny? And what led to the brutal killing of this doctor?

Well, this was a different sort of psychological thriller. It wasn't quite what I was expecting, but one of my favorite things about it was that it was different, even if it favored the varying point-of-view aspect that is quite popular these days. The narration flips between Nadine and Henry, and because both are often telling stories that go back in time, it can vary in time periods as well. It takes a little getting used to, but it's also quite compelling. I read the book in a day while on vacation, finding it to be quite suspenseful and intriguing.

For me, the main draw to this one was the characters. Nadine is nuanced, complicated, and imperfect, but the real star was Henry. I enjoyed the book the most due to him. He's hard to describe, but he too is multi-faceted and flawed. He's a father to spirited twin girls (only a year older than mine), and I felt drawn to him immediately. Nadine and Henry are both different on the surface but each searching for things in a similar way--again, I was very impressed with their characterization. So much of the book takes place in and is shaped by the small town in which the characters live, and it's all quite well-done.

I don't want to go into much more to spoil the plot, as it does keep you guessing. A lot of what happened surprised me, which I always enjoy (doesn't often happen in a thriller). Overall, this one was different but enjoyable, buoyed by its strong characters and complex plot.

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I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Edelweiss/Librarything in return for an unbiased review (thank you!); it is available everywhere as 07/24/2018.



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Thursday, May 31, 2018

And when it's time, you'll know: NOW THAT YOU MENTION IT.

Now That You Mention ItNow That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins

My rating: 4+ of 5 stars


Nora Stuart has overcome a lot. After a combination of relentless bullying and being overlooked and ignored in high school (even by her sister, Lily), she earned a scholarship to Tufts on her way to becoming a gastroenterologist. She thought the worst was behind her as she found happiness with her medical practice and her boyfriend, but then boom it all changed in a second--literally--when she stepped off a curb and was hit by a car. So she does the only thing she can think of: go home. For the first time in fifteen years, Nora finds herself back in Maine on Scupper Island, living with her Mom and sharing a room with her teenage niece, Poe. The townspeople still think of her as "Sharon's other daughter," and being home doesn't exactly bring back good memories. But Nora's banged up (inside and out); her younger sister is in jail; and Poe clearly could use some stability. Maybe, just maybe, coming home will be a much-needed chance to start over.

This is the type of book where you probably know how things will turn out (disgraced woman returns to her former home, which just happens to be an island). Still, in a way, I think they are the hardest to write, because, for me, they require such well-written plot with an excellent cast to pull it off. To get past it all, you need a really strong protagonist and a truly "lovable" love interest. You get all that in spades here. I'd never read a Kristan Higgins novel before, but had heard such good things about this book (especially from my Goodreads friend, Melissa) that I couldn't resist picking it up. I'm so glad I did. This novel was such a delight and such a good choice to read during my beach vacation with my daughters.

I really enjoyed Nora from the beginning: she felt real, and her love for her dog and her family was palatable. She made her job and her situation (which wasn't always easy) a pleasure to read. The supporting cast was also wonderful. Nora's mom is a total trip--I could just picture her reticent Maine self. Add in her niece, Poe, whom Higgins managed to keep from being a cliche, and another teenager, Audrey, who was a delight--I loved them. Even better, all the characters added to some hilarious moments, even among some of the serious parts of the book. There were some downright laugh out loud scenes in this book, particularly a dinner party on Nora's boat--featuring some great moments with her fellow Scupper Island residents--and a ham dinner at her Mom's. I couldn't believe how into the story I was or how funny and real all these people felt. Nora's love of Harry Potter was rather endearing as well.

The novel also dealt with its serious moments deftly as well. Nora has to overcome so much (almost an overload it felt), and the book handled the serious parts appropriately, with both gravitas and humor. She was a strong character, and I found myself very touched by some sweet pieces in the novel. There's a lot more to this one than meets the eye with its sunny cover.

Overall, this was a lovely book--fun yet serious--with a great protagonist and a wonderful supporting cast. It was downright laugh out loud funny at parts and just a refreshing, enjoyable read. I'm kicking myself for not requesting Higgins' latest ARC but will certainly be reading a lot more of her books in the future. 4+ stars.

I received my copy of this book through one of my favorite websites, Paperbackswap.com, where you can swap copies of all your favorite books (hardcover, paperback, and more).


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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

You look down to see a stranger's hands: PROVIDENCE.

ProvidenceProvidence by Caroline Kepnes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


As kids, Jon and Chloe are best friends, even though she realizes that Jon is a little different from the other kids. Then one day Jon vanishes after taking a shortcut on his way to school. The town searches for him, but it's a bit halfhearted they must admit, as he is not one of the popular and beloved kids. But his absence strikes Chloe in the heart. She finds solace in her art and begins fitting in better at school, making more friends. Still, she cannot forget Jon or how much he meant to her. Imagine her shock when Jon turns up four years later, after escaping from a kidnapper, and revealing himself to be viral and strong--everything he wasn't before the kidnapping. He also quickly learns that he has a strange and uncontrollable power over people, especially when he's feeling strongly about something. This power drives Jon into seclusion, isolating him from his beloved Chloe. Jon begins to search for the truth about what has made him this way, while Chloe tries to figure out her place in the world, with or without Jon.

Well, this was an interesting one and nothing like what I expected. Obviously Kepnes is well-known for her novel, You, which is a story of love and obsession gone wrong. Supposedly many reviewers felt that this new book was a far twist from YOU, but I couldn't help but feel that parts of it reminded me of that novel, due to some of Jon's obsession and focus on Chloe. Still, I can understand that feeling, as PROVIDENCE also has a bit of an almost paranormal science fiction twist to it. That is a change. It requires a little suspension of disbelief, but once you go with it, the book is incredibly addictive and hard to put down. I read it in one day while on vacation, completely addicted to the strange and fascinating plot.

There's no denying that Kepnes can write, and you become immersed in her characters. I was intrigued by Jon and a bit by Chloe as well. I didn't adore them, but they were multi-faceted, and their dilemma unique. I'll admit that I didn't even know that Lovecraft--the author on whom Jon's situation is based--was real, so obviously all of those references went right over my head. Ha! I might have gotten into that scenario more if I knew the author, but the whole "turned you into a monster--or did I?" concept isn't exactly difficult to follow, and it's an interesting idea.

The novel is told from the points of view of Jon, Chloe, and a detective named Eggs. I enjoyed Eggs' perspective; he added a much-needed third viewpoint to the tale. Eggs is tracking Jon, but we also get a nuanced look at his relationship with his wife.

In the end, this is a weirdly fascinating novel that is hard to describe. I'm glad I read it, as I can't imagine not reading any of Kepnes' books, truly. It's a story of dysfunctional and potentially misguided love, but I enjoyed how you could feel Jon and Chloe's need for one another stretching and pulling across the pages. Kepnes is just so good at obsession and oddity (and love) that I couldn't stop reading. I enjoyed this one.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley/Librarything in return for an unbiased review (thank you!); it is available everywhere as of 06/19/2018.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Fighting a war that you'll never win: THE GIRL MADE OF STARS.

Girl Made of StarsGirl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake

My rating: 4.5+ of 5 stars


Owen and his twin sister, Mara, have been close for their entire life--bonded by their twinhood, joint storytelling, and love of the stars--particularly their "own" constellation. But that all changes when Mara's good friend, Hannah, accuses Owen of rape. Suddenly Mara finds herself torn between her friendships and her family. Even worse, she has no one to talk to, after breaking up with her girlfriend/best friend, Charlie. Everything feels unknown and confusing. How will Mara navigate this new world--and what will she do about Owen and Hannah?

This novel. Oh my goodness. It will break your heart and yet leave you speechless with wonder. It's so beautiful. It started off with a quote from Virginia Woolf (The Waves), so I knew it was going to be good. And it certainly was.

The book is so achingly gorgeous and real, with its realistic look at high school. It portrays how both amazing and awful kids can be at this age. Mara is such a lovely character. The Owen/Hannah situation leaves her conflicted and forces her to face something terrible in her own past. By placing Mara in such a difficult situation, Herring Blake also does a good job of showing how hard it is being the female in this situation and how so few people believe the girl. It's such a timely commentary (albeit a sad one). It may not always be easy to read, as we see how hard things are for Hannah (and Mara), but it's so well-done.

I mean, really, this book is just heartbreaking at times. And yet I was riveted. These kids, with their big problems, so many of them living other people's dreams. It was so poignant, so true to so many of my own experiences. And the relationships here--well, wow. I mean, for one thing, we get a truly bisexual character in Mara, which is so refreshing. And then Charlie is genderqueer/nonbinary. It was so wonderful to have these characters in this novel, as a positive representation for teens--living real lives, with real problems, but in no way serving as the villain or maligned character. I was incredibly impressed. I wish this novel was on the shelf of every high school (well, on the shelves everywhere, honestly).

The girls in this book are in a group called Empower, which stands up for females--how they are portrayed, the double standards they face, and more. They are so strong, despite all the hurdles they face on a daily basis. Honestly, despite so much sadness in this novel, there is so much hope. So much strength. I adored Mara. She is wonderful -- such a strong, amazing, and lovely character. I found myself rooting for her as if she was my own kid.

I loved this one. I don't even remember how or why I stumbled across it and requested it, but I'm so glad I did. This is a beautiful, powerful book about the strength of human existence. The girls in this novel will make you cry, make you laugh, and make you both despair for and have faith in humanity. I will be tracking down the rest of Herring Blake's books for sure. 4.5+ stars.

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

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