Saturday, December 16, 2017

I’m starting to wonder about my luck: JUST BETWEEN US.

Just Between Us: A NovelJust Between Us: A Novel by Rebecca Drake

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Heather, Alison, Julie, and Sarah are suburban mothers and wives living in Pennsylvania. Their children attend the same school and they become close over weekly dates at the local coffee shop. When the three friends start noticing bruises on Heather, they quickly become suspicious. Is Heather's handsome doctor husband, Viktor, hurting her? Reluctantly, Heather slowly confesses to the abuse and terror she experiences due to her spouse. Her friends feel helpless, however, as Heather refuses to leave him and the violence escalates. Then one night, they receive the call they've been dreading. But it's not Heather who is dead: it's Viktor. Suddenly, the foursome has a choice to make--one that will set in motion a series of events that will change their lives forever.

I've never read anything by Rebecca Drake before, and I chose this because it sounded interesting and suspenseful. When I first started reading it, it immediately had a very Big Little Lies vibe, and I was a little curious how the book would differentiate itself. It eventually did, but I'm not sure it did so favorably.

I'll preface my review by saying that I seem to be in the minority with my opinion, and I certainly didn't hate the book, I just didn't adore it as much as so many of the reviews I've been reading. You'll find a ton of people who loved this one, so certainly read those reviews before you make any decisions.

Drake's novel is told from the different points of view of all four women in an odd past tense--this tense lets you know bad things have happened, but you don't know what, leading you to wonder and speculate. I won't lie - I almost put this one down as a DNF for a while, but I kept going out of a morbid curiosity. After Viktor's death, I just found the story so completely implausible that I had a real tough time suspending disbelief. That these four women would do all these things, not get caught, and things would unfold the way they did... I'm sorry. I just had a hard time buying it. At the halfway point, I had no idea where the book was going, or where I wanted it to go. Yes, the various twists were surprising at times, but they were just so hard to believe.

The book is suspenseful, I will say that, as you wonder what will happen to the women, and what insane thing they will do next. There were certainly several plot points that caught me by surprise; honestly the whole thing was sort of baffling. It's definitely not what I was expecting. Still, as I said, the whole book gets increasingly preposterous (my favorite was when they considered hacking the DMV).

In the end, this was a very meandering book about four women I never really cared about or grew attached to in any way. You get confused about who is narrating in each chapter and perplexed as they act in completely implausible ways. Still, I kept reading because I was bewildered and fascinated about their actions and the secrets that were motivating everyone at their core. I can see why so many people enjoyed it, but it just wasn't my favorite.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley (thank you!) in return for an unbiased review; it is available everywhere as of 01/09/2018.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Like lies don't need the truth: FRAGMENTS OF THE LOST.

Fragments of the LostFragments of the Lost by Megan Miranda

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars


When Jessa Whitworth's high school ex-boyfriend dies suddenly, it's as if the world stops. One moment Caleb is at her track meet, taking the butterfly necklace she handed to him, and the next, he's gone, his car washed over a flooded bridge on a stormy day. Caleb's mom eventually asks Jessa to pack up his room--she blames Jessa for the accident, since Caleb had gone to see her that day, and she feels she cannot say no. She's left to clean out his room and winds up piecing together bits of Caleb's life as she does. Each photograph, article of clothing, and notebook reminds her of parts of her life with Caleb. Even worse, she realizes there is so much she didn't know about him. With that realization, Jessa wonders, what really happened the day Caleb went over the bridge?

This novel isn't really what I expected at all, though I should have realized that it would be less teen angst and more teen angst and psychological mystery, as the two Megan Miranda novels I have read, The Perfect Stranger: A Novel and All the Missing Girls, are more in the suspense/thriller category.

The biggest issue for me was that this one starts off really slow. It's hard to get into any kind of momentum as every forward plot movement is broken by Jessa finding something and immediately remembering back into her past with Caleb. I was a little frustrated in the beginning, wanting more to happen.

I really enjoyed the character of Jessa, though. She was a little hard on herself in relation to Caleb's death, but she was also a teen dealing with both the death of a loved one and a recent breakup (their split occurring not too long before his death). She came across as pretty realistic. The supporting cast was a little more nebulous for me--Caleb's mom was pretty harsh, and we didn't see too much of Jessa's family, though I liked her older brother, Julian. Caleb's best friend and neighbor, Max, was probably the other character that was easiest to get to know and he was rather well fleshed out. Caleb himself--whom we learn about through Jessa's point of view and flashbacks--is a hard one to figure out, but that only adds to the mystique of how he ended up at the bridge that day.

Overall, if you can bring a little patience, this book is one to enjoy. It eventually picks up and while the storyline is somewhat different (this whole novel is rather hard to describe), I really did enjoy it. I felt satisfied with the ending--it was worth reading. I enjoyed Miranda's two adult mysteries and while this is the first of her YA novels that I've read, I will definitely investigate others. 3.5 stars.

You can read my review of THE PERFECT STRANGER here.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Oh hear the angel voices: THE VISITORS.

The VisitorsThe Visitors by Catherine Burns

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars


Marion Zetland and her brother John live in a decrepit old home near a seaside resort town. They inherited the house from their now deceased parents and neither sibling works, having to worry little about money thanks to their inheritance. Marion--in her 50s--still sleeps with stuffed animals and relies on her mercurial older brother for everything. As for John, he spends a great deal of his days down in the house's cellar--a place Marion never sets foot--tending to his "visitors," who arrive at their home, but then never come out of the cellar again. Marion spends her time puttering about the house and studiously ignoring John's visitors, even while she sees him preparing them meals and when she does their laundry on Mondays. But one day, John winds up in the hospital, and Marion is forced to confront everything she has been avoiding for years.

I was really excited when this book showed up as "read now" on Netgalley, as I'd heard so much about it. It was a really quick read--yet a slow burner, if that makes any sense. The description touts about Marion going into the cellar after John's heart attack, but that doesn't happen until over 75% way in... I kept waiting, waiting, and waiting for that major plot to occur. It seemed like a lot of build up for that event and then a rush of events after. I guess I had expected more creepiness and not as much messed up characters - this novel is far more of a character study than I had expected.

That's not to say it's not good, because it is; it's just not what I was expecting, and it's definitely a slow read that focuses far more on its character development than action. The novel is basically told entirely from Marion's point of view (with just a few snippets of emails from John's visitors). As such, we get an in-depth look at how Marion's childhood formed the person she is--and how it influenced John, as well. We learn about their terrible and neglectful parents. We see how John vacillates between kindness and torture toward his sister. We see how Marion is stuck in some sort of childlike, helpless state thanks to all of this. But, you also can't help but wonder, how truthful is Marion being with us?

All of this information about Marion and John's life and information about the neighbors was great and definitely gave us excellent insight into their character and actions. I still couldn't help but want to know more about the visitors actually living in the basement of this horrible, creepy house and I kept hoping and waiting for more to actually happen. There's a few great "aha" moments, but still.

Overall, as a creepy character study into a very disturbed brother and sister, this book exceeds admirably. I would have hoped for a slightly quicker pace, but oh well. I'd be curious to see what comes next from Catherine Burns. 3.5 stars.

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

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Thursday, December 07, 2017

I want a love that's brave: I SEE LONDON, I SEE FRANCE.

I See London, I See France (I See London, I See France, #1)I See London, I See France by Sarah Mlynowski

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


When Sydney's childhood best friend Leela breaks up with her boyfriend, Matt, Leela is in desperate need of consoling--she's also in dire need of a travel companion for the four-and-half week trip to Europe she had planned with Matt. Leela and Sydney have dreamed of this trip since they were kids, but Sydney has a lot going on at home, mainly her anxiety-ridden mom, whose agoraphobia prevents her from leaving the house without having major panic attacks. Sydney has been taking care of her--and her younger sister Addison--for as long as she can remember. She even lived at home for her first year of college. But this is her and Leela's dream trip; surely her Mom and Addison will be OK for a few weeks, right? But once Leela and Sydney are on the plane to London, they realize Matt is as well, sending Leela into a fit of anger and depression. This isn't what Sydney bargained for...

This was a charming and surprisingly enjoyable YA novel. I'm so glad I finally received a copy through Paperbackswap.com. I was worried this book would stress me out too much, as I myself am a totally anxious traveler, but I really warmed to Sydney and her various travels and wasn't even that concerned as her bank account dipped and she and Leela flitted throughout Europe without too much planning. (I'm such a Mom.)

Seriously, I really enjoyed Sydney, even though I wanted her to stand up for herself, as Leela wasn't the best friend for her at all times. Leela, although she might have been supportive about Sydney's family situation, was incredibly irritating! So much blathering about Matt, making Sydney plan the whole trip, and just being generally inconsiderate. Ugh! Still, you'll find yourself just loving Sydney--she's so fun, sweet, and just awesome. I love how she's a great, realistic character: she has real-world problems, but she's also entertaining. It was great to see her spread her wings on the trip.

Big portions of the book just made me smile--it was a great little break. The supporting cast is really amusing and enjoyable. The entire novel is just easy-to-read, and I was very into the characters. It wraps up a little easily/quickly, but I was still happy with the ending. Supposedly the next book (this is a series, Goodreads tells me) features complementary characters from this novel and isn't coming out until 2020--is that right? I hope not!

Anyway, if you're looking for a quick, easy, and pleasant YA read, definitely pick this one up. It's a great story of friendship, with some delightful romance mixed in. Really enjoyed it.

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, December 05, 2017

Just keep on moving and grooving to the daylight: UNQUALIFIED.

UnqualifiedUnqualified by Anna Faris

My rating: 3.5+ of 5 stars


Anna Faris' memoir is based mainly on the premise of her podcast, also entitled Unqualified, in which she doles out advice to strangers whom she calls on her show. The idea is that Anna is, in fact, "unqualified" to give advice, but she'll do so anyway based on her life experiences. If you actually listen to her podcast, though, you quickly learn that she's pretty good at giving advice, and that she's also a funny and enjoyable person. The book expands on this, allowing Anna to answer some of the questions posed on her podcast (e.g., Dealbreakers), talk about her childhood and experience breaking in acting, and, yes, of course, her various relationships.

Overall, the book feels pretty real and authentic. You quickly get an idea of the kind of person Anna seems to be--kind, funny, talented, and perhaps a little insecure. I'll admit that since I started listening to Anna's podcast, I've felt a kinship to her, and my review is obviously influenced by that. She's so down-to-earth and really damn funny on her podcast. I also love the idea that she lived in her head for much of her childhood, making up stories (it sounds a little familiar, you see). If you like Anna's podcast, it will be hard not to enjoy her book, although some of the chapters and stories will sound a bit familiar if you're a faithful listener.

My love of Anna was only deepened by reading her book, which is quite readable and broken into simple, short chapters. We get glimpses into Anna's childhood, her first big relationship, a little insight into her big break with "Scary Movie," and more. I relate to her on so many levels. We're both fascinated by other people's lives; never had a big group of female friends; have no patience for small talk; are not wedding people; possess an emotional defense built up from our parents; and enjoy calling the numbers on vehicles to report about truck drivers' good driving. She just happens to be a lovely, famous, wealthy actress, and I'm um, well, yes. Otherwise, we're the same, right? ;)

Of course, the elephant in this review is Anna's recent split from her husband, Chris Pratt, who wrote the foreword to the book, which was apparently revised somewhat for publication. It's hard not to psychoanalyze Anna in light of her recent marriage breakup. You read about her self-admitted inability to admit failure and her tendency to jump from one relationship straight to the next. So much of the book is about Chris and their relationship, and it's a shame that it's a distraction from an enjoyable memoir about a really smart and talented woman, who should stand on her own merit, apart from her (soon-to-be-ex) husband. It's also heartbreaking to read these chapters where it sounds like they truly love each other--and where they got through the premature birth of their son together--and know they are no longer married.

Overall, this is a fun, easy-to-read memoir. If you like Anna, her films, or her podcast, you'll probably enjoy this one. It's a quick read, full of lists, humorous moments, and short chapters, although there are definitely serious pieces, too. It really only made me like her more. 3.5+ 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). You pay postage for the books you send, and the books you receive are free! If you love books as much as I do, you should check it out - I've received 256 books through PBS - it's awesome! :)

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Saturday, December 02, 2017

Heaven shining down on us through bullet holes in the sky: THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW.

The Woman in the WindowThe Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Anna Fox is an agoraphobic former psychologist who spends her time spying on her neighbors, playing online chess, and watching black and white movies. She lives alone, drinking copious amounts of wine and living in the past. She becomes especially intrigued when a new family, the Russells, move in a house across from hers--husband, Alistair; wife, Jane; and teenage son, Ethan. But then one evening Anna witnesses a shocking event at the Russell home and it rocks her to the core. Estranged from her husband and daughter, Anna calls the police, but things quickly become jumbled. What did Anna really see? Who believes her? What is really happening with the Russell family?

This was definitely an intriguing book, which I raced through in about 24 hours. I couldn't figure it out, that's for sure. I'm not usually a fan of the unreliable narrator, and that was definitely the case here. Anna is reliant on medication and alcohol and she's awfully hard to like or empathize with, sometimes. The beginning of the book is a little slow, as we sort of watch her struggle alone in her house and drink, yet oddly mesmerizing, as you are wondering how much of what she sees and thinks is really happening.

Clearly something has happened to estrange her from her husband and young daughter, and as she sinks further into her delusions, the book certainly picks up, bringing you along for the ride along with Anna. The book reminded me a lot of The Girl on the Train - I didn't care for that narrator, either, yet I couldn't stop reading that novel as well.

It was much the same for this one. This is one of the most readable books I've read in quite some time, yet I couldn't really tell you if I actually liked it. I guessed some of the twists ahead of time, but was still quite captivated by the story and mesmerized by Anna's craziness. The big twist at the end wasn't my favorite, but as I said, it certainly kept me reading.

In the end, if you're looking for a compulsively readable thriller, this one definitely fits the bill. I don't think it's one where you'll find highly developed or memorable characters, but it's certainly a page-turner. 3.75 stars.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Edelweiss (thank you!) in return for an unbiased review; it is available everywhere as of 01/02/2018.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

It's hard to find and it's already mine: A SEASON TO LIE.

A Season to Lie (Detective Gemma Monroe, #2)A Season to Lie by Emily Littlejohn

My rating: 3.5+ of 5 stars


Police officer Gemma Monroe returns from maternity leave and is immediately plunged back into the job when she finds a dead man at the local private academy. He's been left in the snow, stuck to a tree with a knife in his stomach. The man turns out to be a famous author hiding out in plain sight in Gemma's Colorado town. Even worse, that same private school is being plagued by a vicious bully who calls him or herself "Grimm." Reunited with her partner, Finn, Gemma finds herself dealing with the murder case, the bullying incidents, and a strange construction company--made up mainly of ex-convicts--that seems to have made itself at home in her town. So much for easing herself back into the job...

I very much enjoyed Emily Littlejohn's first Gemma Monroe novel, Inherit the Bones, and was really excited to see the second one come out. It's always exciting to see a realistic female detective portrayed in literature. Gemma is much the same in this second foray--practical and levelheaded. She's back to work after the birth of her daughter, Grace, with whom she was pregnant in BONES. The novel does a great job of portraying a working, breastfeeding mom and giving us a realistic look at the struggles a mom faces when juggling work and motherhood. As a mother who went back to work when her own daughters were young and faced a harried schedule, I really appreciated that about this novel.

Thankfully, I did not encounter a dead body on my first day back, just a lot of meetings! Gemma, of course, takes it all in stride, as she cannot help but enjoy the thrill of the hunt. The novel gives us a lot of reflection and thoughts from Gemma. I'd call this one a bit of a slow-burner. I read it while busy and it took me nearly a week. The storyline wasn't one that had me itching to pick it up and see what happens--there's several divergent plot lines and none feel particularly urgent or overly suspenseful.

A pervasive weariness almost overlays the pages--a reflection of the weather (think snow, all the time) and Gemma's general fatigue as she faces returning to work while juggling having a tiny baby at home. That's not to say the book isn't interesting, because it certainly is. Especially when the case starts to intersect with Gemma and Finn's personal lives--which isn't surprising, considering they are small town police officers/detectives. The Grimm storyline is a bit of a bizarre concept and the resolution, while a total surprise to me, was a bit anticlimactic. A few of the plot threads do tie up a little too easily, but the main case befuddled me throughout the entire novel, so kudos to Littlejohn for that. I had some suspicions, but she convinced me to cast them aside, so I'm always pleased when that happens.

What I enjoyed most about this book was Gemma herself. It's probably obvious that I identify with and like her--I enjoy her steadfast character, even though she also has bouts of anxiety and uncertain times. Seeing her as both a mom and working detective was great. This being a second novel, we're gaining enough recurring characters (Gemma, Finn, Gemma's partner/quasi-husband, Brody, Gemma's grandparents, a few other townspeople) that you recognize them and their quirks. Another plotline is left a bit unresolved, leading me to hope that a third Gemma novel is in the works. Even though this wasn't the most exciting of all mysteries, I found it solid and enjoyable, much like its protagonist. I'd certainly read any Gemma Monroe novel I could get my hands on. 3.5+ stars.

You can read my review of the first Gemma novel, INHERIT THE BONES, here.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley (thank you!) in return for an unbiased review; it is available everywhere as of 11/14/2017.

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