Thursday, August 25, 2016

Ten bucks to renew whatever hope you lose first: WHO'S THAT GIRL?

Who’s That Girl?Who’s That Girl? by Mhairi McFarlane

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Edie's life is going along just fine, she supposes. Until the fateful day of Jack and Charlotte's wedding, when everything changes. Edie is caught in a particular transgression with the groom, Jack, and immediately everyone blames her, without knowing the full story. Since Jack, Charlotte, and Edie work together, Edie finds life at work unbearable and winds up taking an assignment from her boss in Nottingham, her hometown. There she meets famous actor (think "Game of Thrones" famous) Elliot Owen, for whom Edie must ghost write his autobiography. But things only seem to go from bad to worse, as Elliot seems a pompous, self-absorbed actor and Edie's sister and father don't exactly seem thrilled she's living back home again. Not to mention she can't show her face on social media (or in public) due to Charlotte's revengeful friends, who all hate her... will things ever go right for Edie again?

I admit that I really didn't really know (remember?) the genre of this novel when I picked it up. It's a bit confusing at first, though certainly has its charming moments, especially as a romance.

"Do we ever choose who we fall for? Edie has many a long lonely evening in with only Netflix for company to contemplate that one."

Edie's quest for love is just one of the book's central themes. In many ways, she's on a journey to find herself, and only in doing so, can find love. The novel switches between the present tense (starting with the wedding) and also gives us a little of the past in some places. My biggest beef was how the adults in this book acted like bullying schoolchildren. So, Edie's transgression is really so bad that she's completely ostracized and the subject of intense in-life and cyber shaming and scrutiny? It seems like high school gone really wrong. Her "friend" Louis is just awful; are people really like this?! It's a commentary on social media and cyber bullying, perhaps, but also just terrible and hard to believe at times. These are grown adults! I found myself a little too appalled and couldn't believe grown people would act this way. It's really sad if they do, honestly...

However, once you get further past the wedding day and more into Nottingham, the novel picks up. Edie isn't always the most enjoyable of characters, but I did like her, as I liked Elliot. Parts of the book are just downright funny; I actually found myself laughing out loud. Edie's friends from school are particularly hilarious and a good fit for her. Her boss, too, even if he falls a bit on the dramatic side.

Just when it all seemed normal, it did get a little preposterous again, but hey, that can come with a good romance at times. Overall, while I found some of the characters and plot points frustrating on this one, much of it was balanced out by the charm and humor of the novel. 3.5 stars.

I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher and Edelweiss (thank you!).

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Friday, August 19, 2016

She's in love with the boy: FALLING.

FallingFalling by Jane Green

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Emma Montague is an Englishwoman living in the U.S. She left behind her parents as soon as she could: feeling trapped by her mother's snobbery and outgoing personality, so different from Emma's quiet and introverted self. But life in the high-powered banking world in New York City isn't exactly for Emma either. She finds everyone so false: women who only care about clothes and finding a man, too many nights at bars, and pressure to use dating apps. Her one long-term relationship winds up nowhere, and so Emma finds herself on the move again: this time to the beach town of Westport, CT. She takes a break from banking and finds herself renting a house in this seaside town. Emma quickly finds herself falling for landlord, Dominic, a bartender in Westport. A father to six-year-old Jesse, Dominic seems to be the opposite of Emma in every way. Emma isn't sure that the two could ever really be together, but she can't seem to stop her heart from falling for Dominic. Are they meant to be?

Ugh, this book. Some of it was enjoyable, and yet so much of it was just so damn frustrating. First of all, the entire thing seemed like it was based on just a mountain of stereotypes and tropes. Emma has built-in stereotypes and preconceived notions about Dominic (a bartender can't be anything like a banker, apparently, or share any of the same interests). Every woman in the banking world is a vapid idiot except Emma. All New Yorkers just want to get married and move to the suburbs. And so on and so on. It gets really old after a while.

Then, the whole different worlds thing: Emma versus Dom style. As a moving forward plot device, it just seemed incredibly forced. I understand that the "we're from two different worlds" idea still exists today, but really? It's that hard to overcome that a woman considers just dropping the only guy who has ever made her happy, because he seems beneath her? It would be different if the book put forth some real reasons that their class differences threatened their relationship, but it really doesn't. It's all half developed and mostly based on Emma's speculation.

That brings me to Emma. I wanted to like Emma. I could see a lot of Emma in myself - a quiet introvert who doesn't take well to people, who needs time to warm up. I understand that. But oh my gosh, she drove me crazy. So wishy washy! So indecisive! So unable to just follow her *own* thoughts and feelings. She drove me insane. It's very hard to fully enjoy a novel where you often want to wring the neck of the main character.

All of that, truly, I could have probably forgiven if Green hadn't taken the plot off the deep end near the end of the novel. I was so irritated and so upset: I went through all of the above for THIS? I won't spoil it, but let's just say I didn't sign up for a Nicholas Sparks novel. Any of the novel's redeeming qualities (a cute cat, a somewhat cute kid, Emma's dad) went out the window.

Overall, I just didn't enjoy this one. Too much of the plot devices irritated me, and then-BOOM-the actual plot drove me over the edge.

You can read my review of Jane Green's novel, SUMMER SECRETS, here.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Shouldn't it be that easy to just be happy for awhile: RESULTS MAY VARY Blog Tour.

I'm really excited to be a part of the blog tour for Bethany Chase's new novel, RESULTS MAY VARY! I became a fan of Bethany with the publication of her last novel (THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY) and was really excited to read an early copy of her new novel. She offers a fresh perspective on dating, marriage, and life.

My review:

From the outside, Caroline and Adam have the perfect marriage. In fact, Caroline thinks so too. They've been married ten years and together since high school and if asked, Caroline would say that no one knows her better than Adam--and that she knows her beloved husband better than anyone. But that all changes one evening, when Caroline and Adam attend an art opening. Caroline discovers that Adam has been having an affair with the young male artist, and her world is immediately turned upside down. All of sudden, Caroline must confront a life where Adam may not have been fully honest with her. In doing so, she has to explore her own feelings and friendships, including with her best friend, Jonathan, and her younger sister, Ruby. But most of all, Caroline needs to decide if she wants to continue in her marriage with Adam.
This was an incredibly intense, detailed description of a marriage in the wake of a husband's infidelity. I was wary at first, due to some of the descriptions about sexuality; I wasn't sure if the author had a particularly open outlook to sexuality (bisexuality, etc.). However, it didn't seem to be a prominent theme in the novel. Instead, we get a thorough and heart-wrenching look at the complications of marriage, love, and forgiveness. A lot happens to Caroline in this novel; at times, it seems like the hits just keep on coming for the poor girl. Chase does an excellent job of allowing you to have strong feelings for her characters. For instance, Adam: let's just say I'd clock that guy if I met him in an alley (or heck, a restaurant) somewhere! (Also, I kept picturing Adam from the HBO show Girls, which didn't really help the situation.)

It did take me a while to get into the book. Obviously, Caroline was going to wallow after her discovery of Adam's infidelity, but some of the introspection dragged a bit much. However, it picks up soon. Caroline's sister, Ruby, is a great addition to the novel (major points for a Jo Dee Messina reference in the novel; you don't see those very often). I enjoyed Chase's ability to capture the small details that hit Caroline so hard, or that occurred to her when she thought of Adam. Her strong characters and attention to detail really made the novel. (There's a line about one of Caroline's co-workers, Neil, and his daughters and their love of princesses, for example - it was just perfect and captured raising children so well.)

Overall, even though this wasn't always an easy book to read, I'm glad I did. It's a well-written portrayal of the complications of marriage and infidelity, and its characters stand out well. I also really liked the ending, which doesn't always happen for me, and that helped with my 4-star rating.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review (thank you!); it is available for publication everywhere as of 08/09/2016.

You can read my review of Chase's previous novel, THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY, here.

Ms. Chase's RESULTS MAY VARY Playlist:

As part of the blog tour for this excellent novel, I was lucky enough to receive a copy of a playlist containing some of the songs that served as inspiration for Bethany Chase while writing this novel! It's a pretty awesome mix (and even includes Jo Dee, which just makes me love her more).

From the author: This is an interesting thing to write about, because this book has such a different musical personality from my first book, The One That Got Away. When I was writing that, I was listening to a lot of classic soul and 70’s rock (think Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack), and that made its way into the book in many places. Results May Vary’s playlist is a lot more eclectic, both on purpose and by accident.

1- Sugar & the Hi Lows, “Right Time to Tell You”: This song is gorgeous. The melody and harmonies are about as pretty as it gets, and the lyrics are
incredibly apropos to Adam’s situation—the narrator has something to confess, has been waiting for the right time to do it, but no time is ever the right time.

2- Fountains of Wayne’s gorgeous “Valley Winter Song”: This is a quintessential New-England- in-winter song for me. It talks about short, dreary winter days and snowstorms and hanging in there till the summer. (True, perfect fact: the Fountains guys are Williams alums just like Caroline and me.)

3- Band of Horses, “No One’s Gonna Love You”: Really sums up Caroline’s feelings toward Adam in the early part of the book.

4- Amos Lee, “Chill in the Air”: Another beautiful breakup song (in this one, it’s the steel guitar that cinches it), and a nod to Caroline’s predilection for mopey singer-songwriters. I think Amos is fantastic, but the man sure can write a good mopey song.

5- The Grateful Dead, “Fire on the Mountain”: This is one of my personal favorite songs that I was delighted to give to a character. I am only an entry-level Deadhead, but the guitar riff on this song is just so mellow and pretty that I could listen to it for hours. Or, you know, 13 minutes, which is the length of the longest live version of it that I own.

6- The Apache Relay, “Katie Queen of Tennessee”: Very pretty little love song from one of Jonathan’s favorite bands.

7- Jo Dee Messina, “Downtime”: Ruby wasn’t kidding that Jo Dee is the queen of upbeat breakup anthems. I’ve always loved this song because it’s about the
process of recovering yourself while you get over a breakup, which is really what the book is about. I especially love the line where she says “Your memory’s taking second to a good book and a nice, long bath.”

8- Duke Ellington, “Jeep’s Blues”: this piece gets a very specific call-out in the book because good lord, is it sexy. I’ve always thought blues is the sexiest music there is. (And this stood me in good stead when one of the questions on my online dating survey was “What’s your favorite music to get you in the mood” and I referenced something about one of the Allman Brothers barn-burners, which impressed the musician who is now my husband.)

9- Rogers & Hart, “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered”: I have an Ella Fitzgerald recording of this song that is one of my favorite all-time pieces of music. Ella’s voice is so beautiful, and the song’s lyrics have this sly, witty charm that—yes, I sound like an old person—you so rarely find anymore. “I’m wild again, beguiled again, a simpering, whimpering child again…” It’s such a great description of being infatuated.

10- First Aid Kit, “Emmylou”: Stunning harmonies in this song, and sweet, upbeat lyrics that remind me of Caroline and Neil. Especially where she says “I’m not asking much of you, just sing, little darling, sing with me” and “Things just don’t grow if you don’t bless them with your patience.”

Definitely check this one out, everyone!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

I'm back with scars to show: FAULTLINES.

FaultlinesFaultlines by Barbara Taylor Sissel

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

At 20, Jordy Cline's life should be just beginning. Instead, it seems as if he's looking at a long period in jail and a lifetime of guilt. It all begins when his mother, Sandy, receives the call every mother dreads: there's been a car accident. Jordy and his cousin, Travis, were thrown from the vehicle, and their passenger, Michelle, is in a coma. Both boys are seriously injured and even worse, it looks like they were drinking. Local law enforcement seems to think Jordy was drinking and driving--a natural assumption given his history of underage drinking and Travis' usual role as the designated driver--but Jordy is insistent that he wasn't. Suddenly, Sandy finds herself fighting for her son's survival and dealing with her sister Jenna's anger over Jordy's role in the crash. The crash also reveals more family and town secrets. Will things ever be the same? And was Jordy really responsible for the crash?

This is an intricate and crazily plotted book, filled with emotional characters and various plot twists. Some of the twists are exciting and completely unexpected, making the story more than just a family drama and almost making it a thriller at some points. A few twists toward the end struck me as rather transparent and easily guessed. A lot of the plot points are a little outlandish and far-fetched, but it does make the book a fairly quick and exciting read. It's not exactly fun, as the subject matter is pretty heavy and horrible, dealing with the sort of topics that are hard to read as a parent.

While none of the characters are fully fleshed out, I liked Sandy well-enough and found myself gravitating toward Jordy, even if I couldn't fully trust him. Jordy's nemesis, local police sergeant Huckabee, is easy to dislike, even as you're constantly guessing as to why exactly he harbors this hatred toward a near teen. The chapters alternate between Sandy and another character, Libby, and she's a sympathetic and enjoyable character as well.

Overall, the story is an intriguing one, which will keep you guessing and reading. It speaks well to the legacy parents leave, both from a biological and environmental standpoint. It represents the power of the good ol' boy system of the South as well and is a strong tale depicting the bonds of loyalty, small town politics, and the power and pain of family. It's both emotional and enjoyable. There were a few nagging plot points that bugged me, but it was still a good, quick read.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley (thank you!); it is available for publication everywhere as of 09/06/2016.

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Monday, August 08, 2016

I live to love and laugh a lot: SHE'S GOT A WAY.

She's Got a Way (Echo Lake, #3)She's Got a Way by Maggie McGinnis

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Gabi O'Brien has spent nearly her entire life at Briarwood Academy, an elite all-girls private school. She grew up there, went away to college, and then returned as a "housemother"-- living in a dorm with a group of girls who need Gabi 24/7. But when four of Gabi's girls get into major trouble, the only thing standing between them and expulsion is a four-week stay at Camp Echo. Camp Echo used to be a boy's camp for foster and needy kids, but was recently bought by Briarwood. Upon arrival, Gabi and her girls find only two employees left: its founder, the elderly Oliver, and its young handyman, Luke. The two are charged with a to-do list a mile long from Briarwood to get the camp in shape and have no interest in the plight of a group of snobby rich girls. Gabi, meanwhile, wasn't planning to spend her summer playing camp counselor and immediately finds herself in over her head, trying to care for her charges in the middle of the wilderness. Further, she realizes she's immediately attracted to Luke. The two are both fiercely independent individuals held back by their pasts. Can they get over these pasts and work together to save the four wayward girls, who desperately need them?

This novel contains the typical romance silliness with a somewhat crazy plot, but it's fun and enjoyable. It came at the perfect point in my reading schedule, where I needed a break from thrillers and intense fiction where all the characters hate each other. Some of it should be silly, but really Gabi and Luke (and the four girls) are endearing. There are certainly moments where Gabi's indecisiveness, fear, and bickering with Luke grow old; you find yourself needing her to just grow up a bit and control her own destiny a bit more. Still, the book is fun, even poking fun at romance novels with it's tongue-in-check rom/com allusions.

Luke and Gabi's building romance is enjoyable to watch, with added drama thrown in from their four teenage charges. As I said, Gabi can be a bit frustrating, but you can't help but feel for her plight (would you want to be trapped with four angry teens in the woods?), and Luke is rather charming. The novel does an excellent job of speaking to how the past can strongly influence one person's character, as well capturing the angst that comes with class differences (think Briarwood versus foster care). It gives the romance an added depth and surprising heart.

All in all, a fun, quick read. 3.5 stars.

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Saturday, August 06, 2016

All I know is how to wreck you: THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10.

The Woman in Cabin 10The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Laura (Lo) Blackstock is excited to finally get the opportunity of her travel journalism career: a chance to cover the launch of a luxury cruise ship, the Aurora. The ship is headed to Norway, and Lo has the ability to mingle with a set of wealthy passengers and make some connections to jump-start her writing career. But before she even sets foot on the boat, Lo is reeling from a break-in at her apartment, which leaves her anxious, exhausted, and--through a series of unfortunate events--on the outs with her boyfriend, Jonah. Still, at first the Aurora seems gorgeous and luxurious, if a bit small for Lo's claustrophobia. But her first evening on board, after an evening of dining and drinking, Lo is awoken to the sound of an argument in cabin 10 next door, and she's convinced she sees a woman tossed overboard. But no one on the ship believes her, and the woman she knows she met earlier in cabin 10, when asking to borrow mascara, is gone--nowhere on the boat. Lo knows realistically this isn't possible: it's a small boat and people can't just disappear. But she also knows who she saw and what she saw. Is she going crazy? And is someone on the boat now out to get her?

This was an interesting and suspenseful thriller. I agree with the comparisons to an Agatha Christie novel: with the setting of the novel being a ship, you have a limited cast of characters (and suspects), which heightens some of the intrigue. Ware does an excellent job of setting the scene, and you can practically feel yourself trapped in this opulent yet slightly claustrophobic, endlessly rocking luxury cruise-liner. Lo is set up rather quickly as unreliable narrator: she's clearly anxious after her break-in, prone to drinking, and reeling from a lack of sleep. Therefore, from the outset, we're not sure if we can trust what we're reading or what seems to be unfolding on this ship. One of my favorite things about this novel is that it certainly keeps you guessing -- I was constantly coming up with (and discarding) various theories as I read, placing blame on a new character every few chapters. And, of course, always harboring that seed of doubt that Lo just made the entire thing up. While we hear entirely from Lo, Ware places a few newspaper stories at the end of each chapter, which just add to your doubt and confusion.

As for Lo, she's not the most enjoyable of main characters and due to our limited set of characters, we don't have many others, so most of the tale hinges on her. She's a bit annoying and whiny and prone to overthinking and bad decisions. She can get frustrating at times, to say the least. The story itself isn't really creepy or spooky, but it's definitely interesting and, as I said, keeps you guessing until nearly the very end. A few of the plot points seem a bit haphazard, as if things were just jammed together randomly into the story, but I suppose they all work together at the end.

Overall, this is certainly an engaging and suspenseful thriller. If you enjoy a fast-paced whodunnit, this one is for you. 3.5 stars.

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Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Tuesday's Book Bag: New Releases for 8/2.

Just one new release to share with you this week, but it's an excellent and powerful read. Enjoy!

HarmonyHarmony by Carolyn Parkhurst

My rating: 3.5+ of 5 stars

Alexandra Hammond and her family are living in Washington DC, and on the outside, they are a typical modern family. But Alexandra and her husband, Josh, are exhausted and frustrated as parents of two children: eleven-year-old Iris and thirteen-year-old Tilly. Tilly, you see, has been diagnosed with PDD-NOS, a form of autism, and it means that Alexandra's lovely, intelligent daughter, who could read by the age of three, is also prone to violent outbursts where she yells out curse words, has an inability to control many of her thoughts and actions, and truly, just doesn't seem to fit into the mold society wishes to place our children. When yet another school kicks Tilly out, Alexandra and Josh are at a loss. So Alexandra turns to Scott Bean, a self-professed expert with "difficult" children whose seminars and private sessions she's been attending for several years now. Scott is starting Camp Harmony in New Hampshire: an isolated society for families struggling with children like Tilly, free of outside influences, electronics, harmful foods and stimulants, and most of all, free from judgement. So Alexandra and Josh do the unthinkable: they sell everything and pack up the kids and head to New Hampshire, joining Scott and two other families in making Camp Harmony work. But will it work? Can it work?

If you haven't read anything by Carolyn Parkhurst, you're missing out. She's a wonderful author, whose books are simply beautiful. My particular favorite is The Dogs of Babel, a lovely, haunting novel about a woman, her husband, and her dog that I read 10 years ago and still touches me to this day. While I wasn't as affected by this novel, it still has many flashes of the amazing brilliance of Parkhurst and her wonderful way with the written word. Her characters form before you eyes.

In Harmony, Parkhurst does an excellent job conveying Alexandra's fear and anxiety over the frightening aspects of our society and its effects on our children, and how our society has changed, with things like autism and food allergies seemingly becoming more prevalent each year. She doesn't preach, she just paints a picture with her words and Alexandra's thoughts. The book is told between alternating points of view and time periods. We hear from Alexandra in the past, telling the story of Tilly (and Iris) growing up and how things have reached this point and then we hear from Iris, in the present, at Camp Harmony.

Alexandra captures a life and marriage in moments and snapshots, with Parkhurst easily depicting the desperation that parents of children that are different feel. You can sense her terror and why she would actually consider packing up entire family and moving them to an isolated camp in the middle of nowhere, led by a man they really know nothing about.

Iris' perspective, meanwhile, is just beautiful and touching. Parkhurst wonderfully conveys her voice. There were times when I felt Iris was a bit "old" for an eleven-year-old, but I chalked a lot of that up to having a sister such as Tilly and having to grow up rather quickly. And as the book progressed, there were many moments where Iris came across as a scared, naive kid, after all. Iris' depiction of the camp-through her innocent eyes-is perfect, and she has a wonderful way of portraying her sister, where you will grow to love Tilly, as well, and understand Alexandra's fierce desire to protect both her children.

All in all, despite its serious subject matter, the book is often humorous, and I loved its portrayal of real characters and situations, even if they were all gathered in an isolated camp site in New Hampshire. My only real issue with the book was the camp's leader, Scott Bean. To me, he was the least developed character of the bunch, and while you sensed that perhaps we were hurtling toward trouble, the ending seemed a little quick and too pat for such a well-written and developed book.

Still, this book was quite well-done and certainly a must for any parent struggling with a child who feels different, or really, any parent struggling to raise a child in today's modern society. Parkhurst is a wonderful writer, and she will not disappoint with her latest. 3.5+ stars.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Edelweiss - thank you!

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