Friday, July 29, 2016

I've got a troubled, a troubled mind: TRULY, MADLY, GUILTY.

Truly Madly GuiltyTruly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Erika has the whole event planned: an afternoon tea with her friend, Clementine, Clementine's husband, Sam, and the couple's two young daughters, Holly and Ruby. She even has a glittery art table set up for the youngsters. But the day is derailed when Erika runs into her next-door neighbor, Vid, who invites both couples over for a last minute barbecue. Erika and her husband, Oliver, aren't the last minute types; besides, they had something they needed to talk about with Clementine and Sam. But, Erika feels like obligated to say yes. Clementine and Sam are secretly relieved, as Vid and his beautiful wife Tiffany are far more personable than Erika and Oliver. The afternoon starts off well enough; Tiffany and Vid's daughter, Dakota, is even happy enough to hang out with Holly and Ruby. But by the time the night is over, lives will be changed, and all the adults--Sam and Clementine in particular--will find themselves wishing they never attended this impromptu event.

So we all know the drill by now. Liane Moriarty is a well-known master of dramatic suspense, especially at capturing the tension that hides behind ordinary lives. I went through a period where I read all of Moriarty's books; What Alice Forgot and her last novel, Big Little Lies, rank as two of my particular favorites. Anyway, Moriarty has become rather famous in the book world, with Big Little Lies being made into a 7-episode HBO TV series, starring Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman.

Of course, with such fame comes great responsibility. And pressure. Can a new work live up to the hype and excitement of the previous? This one will divide readers. It certainly has all the hallmarks of a typical Moriarty novel: a cast of women (and men) living ordinary lives on the surface, with a hidden veneer beneath. There's a secret layer to all of Moriarty's characters, though the drama associated with those in Truly Madly Guilty may not live up to some of her other novels.

First of all, this book will frustrate you. The beginning is incredibly maddening, as Moriarty starts leading up to the events that happened at the barbecue... in slow, excruciating detail. As she does so, we alternate chapters with the present, with the point-of-view told from our various characters. We have Erika, a slightly repressed accountant whose life has been formed around her stressful childhood as the only daughter of her hoarder mother, and Erika's husband, Oliver, her equally steady mate, who grew up with alcoholic parents and longs for the same order in life as Erika. Clementine and Erika have been friends since childhood, when Clementine basically felt Erika's friendship was forced upon her by Clementine's social worker mother, who felt bad for Erika and her flea-infested home. Clementine is a cellist and a bit of a free spirit, but she's balanced by her more grounded husband Sam, who works in business at an energy drink company. They are parents to five-year-old Holly and two-year-old, Ruby. And then, finally, we have Erika and Oliver's neighbors, Vid and Tiffany. Swarthy, wealthy Vid is a joyous, open man who loves sharing his home (and his food) with friends and family. His gorgeous wife Tiffany is his pride and joy. Their quiet 10-year-old daughter, Dakota, just loves to read.

See how I just distracted you from the events of the barbecue by a description of the characters? Imagine that, for pages and pages! It's a great technique, don't get me wrong, but there was one point where I truly wanted to fling the book across the room. "JUST TELL ME WHAT HAPPENS!" I actually shouted in my (thankfully empty) bedroom. I've read some reviews that state that the big reveal, when it happens, isn't shocking enough, but I disagree: I think that event would certainly change my life and haunt my dreams (no more than that; a spoiler will truly ruin this book).

So while this novel can be a bit frustrating, it really is a Liane Moriarty book. It's compulsively readable. At first, I thought it was a very detailed look at three self-involved couples, but over time, I realized I had really fallen for Erika and Oliver and eventually, Tiffany and Vid, too (and Dakota, I loved Dakota!). Moriarty has a way of humanizing her characters and differentiating each from another: they all stand as individuals. Even Sam and Clementine, who were my least favorites, were their own people. It's the tiny details and pieces about each that she sticks in that really build your picture of each character in your mind. Much of the book takes place in the rain, and I could truly visualize each character and every event, unspooling, in this torrential Sydney downpour.

Overall, this book connected with me less on a dramatic, "oh my gosh" level (though that exists) but more on an emotional one. It speaks to the guilt we can all feel about life events--adults and kids alike--and potentially carry with us all of our days. Not a lot may happen in the book, per se, yet it's really a strong story of friendship, marriage, life, and loss. When I framed it in that perspective, versus looking purely for moments of dramatic tension, I realized I'd really enjoyed it. A strong 3.5 stars and definitely worth picking up. Just keep an open mind.



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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

I wish I could drive away to the sunset: 13 LITTLE BLUE ENVELOPES.

13 Little Blue Envelopes (Little Blue Envelope, #1)13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Ginny Blackstone is leading a completely ordinary life in New York City. She has a best friend, she attends school; you know, the usual. The only "extraordinary" force in Ginny's life has always been her Aunt Peg, her charming, odd, albeit slightly flighty aunt. When Aunt Peg passes away, Ginny receives a series of 13 envelopes from her--to be opened strictly in order--each with a series of instructions that will take Ginny on a set of adventures.

I certainly wanted to like this book. I love Johnson's Shades of London series (seriously, read it) and, honestly, her Twitter account. When this book popped up as a deal on Bookbub, I figured, why not? However, I just never got into the premise. Part of it is that I'm probably a lot like Ginny: I'm not adventurous, and the thought of traveling around Europe without a map or a cell phone (or a freaking plan!) absolutely terrifies me, and so the book completely stressed me out. Ginny was sweet, but also awfully naive, to an almost painful extent. While I did like her (and empathized with her at times), I had a hard time getting into the other characters, including her supposed love interest, and honestly, I found myself getting irritated at her late aunt. Who does this to a teenager? I'm surprised the poor girl didn't just self-destruct.

All in all, this is just a weird book. It's supposed to be quirky (much like Aunt Peg), but it fell short for me. It's a shame, because I think Johnson is excellent at capturing the teen voice, especially those teens who are sort of on the outside (e.g., Shades of London), and you could certainly see hints of that here. There are definitely heartwarming moments to this book and parts to enjoy. But overall, it just fell flat, and I found it, as the Goodreads 2 stars states, "OK."



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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Tuesday's Book Bag: New Releases for 7/26.

Get ready - three great novels/thrillers come out this Tuesday. I feel like a stock analyst, shouting, "Buy, buy, buy!" but they are all worth picking up.

*The first, Heather Young's THE LOST GIRLS, takes us back to 1935, where six-year-old Emily disappears from her family's vacation lake home. Emily's doting mother is devastated, and she and her two daughters spend the rest of their lives at the lake house, waiting for Emily to return. Six decades later, only the middle sister, Lucy, is still alive. Afraid of dying without telling her story, she writes the tale down and leaves it, along with the house, to her sister's granddaughter, Justine. Justine's older daughter, Melanie, becomes interested in Emily's disappearance; her mother, Maurie, returns, bringing her usual craziness; and ghosts from Justine's own past threaten their safety. Justine doesn't know what happened at the lake sixty years ago, nor does she know if it's safe for her family now... This novel was a quick read, which pulled me into its tale immediately. The POV alternates between present-day (late 1990s and then flips back to the 1930s, as Lucy tells her story). Young does an excellent job in creating her characters: Lucy and her older sister Lilith practically jump off the page, as does little Emily. This is a somber book with serious themes; it's not always an easy read. Still, the back and forth POV works well in this case, and you'll quickly become enraptured in the past, in particular. Overall, this was a different book (in a good way), with insightful and well-drawn characters, and an intriguing plot. Lucy sticks with you, even after it's over.

*The second, Debbie Howells' THE BEAUTY OF THE END, tells us the story of Noah Calaway, a lawyer and semi-successful crime novelist who lives alone in Devon. A barely functioning alcoholic, Noah is stuck in the past, when he was in love with a beautiful girl, April Moon. Years later, Noah receives a call: April is in the hospital, nearly dead from an overdose, and even worse, she's suspected of murder. Noah makes the trip to her side, and begins sifting through the pieces of April's life, trying to figure out what happened. As he does, he uncovers a different April than the one he thought he knew--and much more. This is a suspenseful and fascinating thriller. Once you're in the groove, the book picks up speed and completely hooks you. This is a feat in itself because our main character, Noah, is not particularly likeable, a bit clueless, and really rather frustrating. The one we truly might empathize with, April, is in a coma. But somehow, Howells makes it all work. She's really a master at unfurling the suspense. Overall, I really enjoyed this one. Parts of the plot and Noah's actions certainly irked me, but the storyline was exciting and fun to read.

*The third may be my favorite of the group! In Amy Gentry's GOOD AS GONE, Anna and Tom Whitaker's lives are irrevocably changed the night their thirteen-year-old daughter, Julie, disappears. The only witness to her kidnapping is her ten-year-old sister, Jane, who watches petrified from her closest as a man takes away her sister. The broken parents remain in their home, hoping against hope that someday their daughter will return. And then, amazingly, one night the doorbell rings and there she is: Julie. And just like that, the broken family is whole. But is it? Anna simply wants her daughter back, but does she really have her? This novel hooked me from the beginning. It starts out with Julie arriving home and then we hear from Anna and some of the other characters as the family adjusts to Julie's homecoming. But we also delve into the past, which adds this amazing layer of suspense and intrigue and leaves you slightly befuddled, completely invested, and flipping pages like mad. Gentry's book is compulsively readable from a thriller standpoint, but also features emotionally damaged characters, struggling to survive after losing Julie for so long. It's not only an excellent thriller, but a nuanced portrait of a truly fractured family. Overall, this is a great thriller: a fast-paced read with a plot that will have you guessing (and gasping) and turning pages long into the night.

So there you have it folks. Go out, pick up these books, and prepare yourself for some sleepless nights, as you frantically turn pages, lost in the lives and plots of these great characters and novels!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

What do you do with the left over you: THE PERFECT GIRL.

The Perfect GirlThe Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Zoe Maisey is a genius: a piano prodigy with an amazingly high IQ. She is also a killer. When she was fourteen, Zoe was responsible for the death of three fellow teens. Now, she and her mother have started over (their "Second Chance Life") and Zoe is playing her first concert in her new life, along with her stepbrother, Lucas. But her performance is disrupted and Zoe flees the concert hall. And, by the end of the night, Zoe's mother is dead. Zoe is alone, forced to confront a new world without her protector. Plus, who is responsible for her mother's death?

This book grabbed me immediately; it sucks you in from the start and doesn't let you go until it finishes, when you're exhilarated and exhausted. It's a fascinating, easy-to-read thriller with short chapters that tell us about the events surrounding the timeframe after Zoe's concert, but also going back into the past via flashbacks from the characters. We hear from Zoe, her aunt, Tessa, Tessa's husband, Richard, and Sam, Zoe's lawyer from her "previous" life. Their narratives weave flawlessly into a tense and sometimes psychologically creepy tale that has you sitting spellbound, turning pages frantically, wanting to know what happens.

In theory, the action happens over a very short period of time, as Maria's killer is unveiled, but the ability to go into the past with the characters extends the time and makes you tensely await each action. Macmillan's characters are nuanced and deep--each with their own quirks, flaws, and motivations. Beyond the actual plotline of murder, there is a deep thread of discord and familial drama and angst running among our characters, who are certainly a flawed bunch. The book makes you question and ponder many things, including the topics of forgiveness, loyalty, marriage, and what really makes a family. I won't forget either the exciting story or the characters themselves for some time.

Overall, while there were certainly a few things to quibble with with this one, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a tense but enjoyable thriller to escape into and certainly well worth the thread.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher and Librarything (thank you)!




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Thursday, July 21, 2016

No telling why I'll go or where I won't: LEAVE ME.

Leave MeLeave Me by Gayle Forman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Maribeth is an overworked mother of four-year-old twins: busy dividing her time as an editor of a magazine, mothering her twins, and taking care of her household. But Maribeth is so busy she doesn't even realize she's had a heart attack. Once out of the hospital, Maribeth is shocked to realize that her mother and husband seem clueless when it comes to taking care of her (and in many ways, the household). Maribeth feels overwhelmed and frustrated. Angry at her husband, Jason, she packs a bag and flees her husband and the twins, basically starting her life over in another city. Once there, Maribeth makes new friends and starts a search for her own birth mother. But obviously she has left behind unresolved issues in New York, such as her husband and family. (Minor issue, right?)

Wow, this is quite a book, and honestly, I'm still processing some of my feelings about it. I've previously read two of Forman's YA novels (both of which I enjoyed), but this was my first time reading her foray into general fiction. For me, this book really hit home, considering I am an overworked mother of four-year-old twins, who juggles work and motherhood much like Maribeth. Lucky for me, my spouse isn't clueless like Maribeth's husband (in fact: she's lovely). I also don't have a mother who is basically totally worthless; I mean, seriously, how pathetic is Maribeth's mom? Can these people not help the woman mere weeks after she's had a freaking heart attack? The whole episode where Meredith's kids have lice and her spouse and mother flake on her had me completely stressed out.

In fact, there were honestly times reading this book that I felt my own heart hurting, both from Forman's realistic description of Maribeth's cardiac attack, as well as from the stressful scenario she's in. Forman does an excellent job of conveying the pressure Maribeth is under and the frustration she feels in her life--overwhelmed, alone, trapped, desperate. What mother hasn't felt that way at some point, and truly, what mother hasn't wanted to run away at times?

My issue with this book is that Maribeth actually does run away. It's really hard to believe she'd actually leave her kids - not for a week or two - but for a good chunk of time (and taking a sizable chunk of her family's savings with her). But, while I really didn't agree with all of her choices (they didn't truly seem realistic), I have to admit, I found myself liking the book in spite of them. The life Maribeth creates for herself away from her family is unique and readable, and her world away is compelling. My only beef: should a woman really have to leave to try to get her spouse to appreciate all she does? I am not totally sure I agree with the message.

Overall, this book is different. It's not your typical contemporary fiction, but it's certainly worth reading. 3.5 stars (and leaves you thinking).

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Edelweiss (thank you!); it is available everywhere as of 9/6.

You can read my review of Forman's YA novel WHERE SHE WENT here.



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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Let's write a story of a title wave: An ode to our local libraries.

I have no new ARC publications to advertise this week, but I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of both Jane Green's FALLING and Ruth Ware's THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10 from my local library. Both are out in publication today!

I read an article recently -- Why Don't Any Experts Recommend This Place? -- about our local libraries. And it's so true. I'm constantly amazed by how many people overlook their local library. People are often shocked at how many books I read, and while I read a lot more books now via ARC, I've been a big library fan for many years. I probably log into my account and stalk my hold list a couple of times a week (OK, maybe every day). And great libraries aren't just for the big city. I live in a small, rural town, but our library offers a great collection of both "actual" books and ebooks. And, as the referenced article from The Writing Cooperative points out, if they don't have what I want, most times, I can either get it transferred from another branch, or they order it! What an awesome (and completely overlooked) idea. And, best of all, it's free!

Even better, our local library offers programs for adults and kids alike. My four-year-old daughters have literally grown up with our local library, and our lovely librarians know them by name (and they know the librarians). They've been going to the storytime programs at our local branch since before they could walk. We rely on their large supply of children's books to augment our collection--and when we find a book we really love (which happens a lot), we know to track it down and add it to the kids' bookshelves. Our library offers fun summer reading programs with incentives for the kids to keep reading, and across our system, there are a ton of other fun programs for both kids and adults all year. We are even luckier, that despite living in a town of a population of less than 500 people, our library is less than 2 miles away. And every time we go, there are people inside - adults perusing magazines and books, teens using the computers and Internet, kids looking at books. Honestly, it does my heart good.

So, in case you can't tell, I'm a huge library fan. I guess my point is: why isn't everyone? Libraries are an excellent resource for us all, but more importantly, our communities need them. We need to remember that not everyone is as lucky, as, for instance, my family, where we can use the library to supplement our own large book collection and as a way to find books to add to this ever-growing collection. I put books on hold using our home Internet collection. My kids are growing up in a house filled with reading and learning. Not every kid is so lucky. There are still many youth who need our libraries and what they offer.

Plus, libraries represent more than learning: they represent community. They bring people together. At my daughters' fourth birthday party, all the kids who attended were friends they met through the library's storytime program. Some of these kids they've known for years. That's a pretty neat concept.

If you aren't using your local library, give it a try. Like every other local institution, most libraries could use our help. Volunteer, make a donation, or just stop by. I can guarantee you'll be glad you did.

Monday, July 18, 2016

On paper we go together: STORM TRACK.

Storm Track (Deborah Knott Mysteries, #7)Storm Track by Margaret Maron

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Hurricane Fran is barrelling down toward Judge Deborah Knott's Colleton County, but that isn't even the worst of it. A young woman is found murdered in town: Lynn Bullock was the wife of Jason Bullock, a lawyer in Colleton. It looks like Lynn's philandering has finally caught up with her. Deborah begins her own investigation -- mostly in attempt to make sure that her cousin, Reed, who was involved with Lynn, wasn't also a part of her murder. But as Deborah keeps digging, she finds that Lynn and Jason's story goes much deeper and links in with many of the townspeople of Colleton County. When someone else turns up dead, Deborah knows there is more to Lynn's death than meets the eye.

Goodreads tells me that I haven't picked up one of Margaret Maron's Deborah Knott mysteries since 2009, which is hard to believe, because reading one of these cozy mystery novels is always easy and familiar. My kids and I have been participating in our library's Summer Reads program, and this year the program gives away free books to adults, too! (How cool is that?) I chose a Maron book for June's prize and quickly realized how long it had been since I read a Deborah Knott mystery--and how many books I'd need to read to catch up with the one I picked up (#13, I think).

So here we are. I have a soft spot for Maron's mysteries due to my love of southern literature. She has a lovely and easy way of capturing her southern characters--their drawls, their southern ways, the complicated (yet simple) sprawling nature of Deborah's large extended family. This novel features a sweet young boy named Stan, who easily steals the show, as well as Deborah's typical interactions with her family and friends. While I always feel like trouble finds Deborah awfully easily (the murder rate in Colleton County is awfully high), these books are enjoyable, quick reads. Even after all these years, it was easy to pick back up again with Deborah and her clan. Deborah's sleuthing isn't particularly complicated--and the ending was fairly quick, with a twist that I had started to guess--but it was still a comfortable mystery. I always enjoy Deborah and will try to keep catching up with the series over the next few months. Oh who are we kidding... years. I still have a ways to go before I catch up and can read that free book from the library's program!

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

I covered up my bruises and gave away my sins: ALL IS NOT FORGOTTEN.


Wendy Walker has published a timely thriller, which will keep you guessing until the last minute. As you can see from the video below, ALL IS NOT FORGOTTEN is getting a lot of early press and has been optioned as a movie by Reese Witherspoon's company -- another reason to read it in my opinion, so you can compare the book to the movie version. (Hey, all us book lovers do it!) Please note before reading my review below, there may be some triggers for rape (and this applies to the book as well).

One evening, teenage Jenny Kramer heads to a party. She's planning to meet a boy, but when she spots him with another girl, she's devastated. Drunk and embarrassed, Jenny heads into the woods to be alone; instead, she is attacked and viciously raped for over a hour. After the horrific incident, Jenny is given "the treatment," which erases the incident from her memory. But Jenny cannot move on from that awful night. Neither can her father, Tom, who is consumed by thoughts of tracking down the attacker. Meanwhile, Jenny's mother, just wants everything to go back to normal. Jenny is taken to a psychiatrist, Dr. Forrester, who has some experience with the treatment, including another client of his--a war veteran named Sean. Can Dr. Forrester help Sean and Jenny retrieve their memories? Will Jenny track down her rapist before she's consumed by that night's events?

This novel gets you immediately from the beginning (as mentioned, definite trigger warning for violence/rape, though). The entire book is told from the perspective of Dr. Forrester, which gives it a totally unique slant. Is he reliable? He's certainly a weird guy, and hearing the story from his side only makes things more intriguing. I thought the story would be more about both sides of forgetting and "the treatment," but it's really, truly the story of Jenny's rape, tracking down her rapist, and the interconnected story of several people in her town.

Overall, this is a great thriller, with a ton of twists and turns. I always enjoy a novel where I don't actually see every plot piece coming, and this one didn't disappoint. The cast of characters in the novel is varied and intricate. Some of the good doctor's machinations are a little preposterous, but it doesn't detract from the your enjoyment of the book. Even better, the ending kept up with the earlier parts of the novel and actually made me go "wow." (That's not easy to do.) A very enjoyable, different, twisty thriller - worth picking up.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review (thank you!); it is available everywhere on 7/12/2016.

Below is a short video from the publishing company:

Monday, July 11, 2016

The crime was lookin' up the truth: GOOD AS GONE.

Good as GoneGood as Gone by Amy Gentry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Anna and Tom Whitaker's lives are irrevocably changed the night their thirteen-year-old daughter, Julie, disappears. The only witness to her kidnapping is her ten-year-old sister, Jane, who watches petrified from her closest as a man takes away her sister. The broken parents remain in their home, hoping against hope that someday their daughter will return. And then, amazingly, one night the doorbell rings and there she is: Julie. Now a young woman, with a harrowing tale to tell of abuse and horror, but otherwise unscathed. And just like that, the broken family is whole. But is it? Anna doesn't understand what her daughter is keeping from her, or where she disappears when the family thinks she's at therapy. And when a Private Investigator shows up--a former detective who was involved in the early portions of Julie's case, with thoughts that Julie isn't really Julie--Anna is even more confused. She just wants her daughter back, but does she really have her?

This novel hooked me from the beginning, and I tore through it less than two days. It starts out with Julie (or the imposter, but I will say Julie for the sake of this review) arriving home and then we hear from Anna and some of the other characters as the family adjusts to Julie's homecoming. But we also delve into the past, which adds this amazing layer of suspense and intrigue and leaves you slightly befuddled, completely invested, and flipping pages like mad. When the point of view first switched from Anna to Julie early in the novel, I gasped a bit.

Gentry has created a book that is compulsively readable from a thriller standpoint, but also features emotionally damaged characters, struggling to survive after losing Julie for so many years. What I enjoyed so much about this book is that it's not only an excellent thriller, which keeps you guessing and wondering, but a nuanced portrait of a truly fractured family, who is still reeling from Julie's kidnapping. The interactions between Anna and her family is fascinating in itself -- Jane, for instance, has had her entire life basically formed around the disappearance of her sister. You don't always get explicit descriptions of their reactions, but you see it in every interaction and emotional attachment (or lack thereof) the family displays.

Overall, this is a great thriller: a fast-paced read, with a plot that will have you guessing (and gasping) and turning pages long into the night.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Edelweiss (thank you!); it is available everywhere as of 7/26.



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Saturday, July 09, 2016

I can't have you, but I have dreams: THE BEAUTY OF THE END.

The Beauty of the EndThe Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Noah Calaway is a lawyer (though he's left his city practice) and semi-successful crime novelist who lives alone in a secluded cabin in Devon. A barely functioning alcoholic, Noah is stuck in the past, when he was in love with a beautiful girl, April Moon, "his goddess" and supposed the love of his life. April and Noah were schoolmates and Noah rescued April from a strange situation and her terrible home life. Over time, the two would run into each other and were even engaged for some time. But April left Noah shortly before the two's wedding, and he's never really recovered. However, years later, Noah receives a call from another of their friends, Will. April is in the hospital, nearly dead from an overdose, and even worse, she's suspected of murder. Noah makes the trip to her side, and begins sifting through the pieces of April's life, trying to figure out what happened. As he does, he uncovers a different April than the one he thought he knew--and much more.

This is a suspenseful and fascinating thriller. It alternates Noah's story with a tale of a young girl named Ella, whose tale is told in italics. Noah's story flashes back in forth in time as he recalls his various encounters with April, as well as describes the present day happenings. This is a little confusing at first--it takes some getting used to--but once you're in the groove, the book picks up speed and completely hooks you. This is a feat in itself because our main character, Noah, is not particularly likeable, a bit clueless, and really rather frustrating. The one we truly might empathize with, April, is in a coma, and we only learn about her life through various stories filtered by our potentially unreliable narrator.

But somehow, Howells makes it all work. She's really a master at unfurling the suspense. The story becomes crazily readable (hey, that's a term) quite quickly. The cast of characters is layered, complicated, and complex, but they add to the story and its intrigue in just the right way. The plot leaves you constantly guessing and trying to stay a step ahead. I found myself figuring some things out and kicking myself for missing others.

Overall, I really enjoyed this one. Parts of the plot and Noah's actions certainly frustrated me, but the storyline was exciting and fun to read.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley (thank you!); it is available everywhere as of 7/26.

You can read my review of Howells' previous novel, THE BONES OF YOU, here.

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Wednesday, July 06, 2016

And imagine you're a girl just trying to finally come clean.

Defending TaylorDefending Taylor by Miranda Kenneally

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Taylor has always grown up expecting the most of herself. After all, her father is a State Senator, and he and her mother have high expectations for their youngest daughter. At her private school, Taylor excels at school and is now captain of her soccer team. She has a close group of friends and a boyfriend, Ben. But all of that changes when Taylor makes a mistake--and gets kicked out of school. Now she's forced to start over at the local public school, which puts her dreams of Ivy League college in jeopardy. She joins the school's soccer team and tries to make things right with her family, but she can't deal with the secrets she's keeping, or the crushing disappointment of her entire family.

I can't help it: Kenneally's books are just enjoyable. This one leaves you in the dark in the beginning as to exactly what happened to Taylor--while frustrating, it builds suspense effectively and keeps you turning pages. Taylor's under so much pressure, but Kenneally easily captures the teen experience and the dramatic "life and death" sensation of being a teenager. Sometimes you roll your eyes at Taylor's actions, but you have to remember what it's like to be a teenager: you really do feel bad for the kid. Her parents put a crazy amount of pressure on Taylor, as do her perfect older twin siblings, and the book offers a good commentary about the burden and anxiety teens face these days regarding school and the college process. Plus, Taylor has the extra stress of her behavior being under the microscope of her father's senate campaign.

I was a little frustrated about how Taylor couldn't handle talking to her parents about her life, but could fall quickly and easily into a mature romantic relationship, but that seems to be par for the course for many YA novels these days. Besides, you can't help rooting for her relationship (and the cute guy). I enjoyed the message in this novel about taking a step back, finding yourself, and doing things your own way. I think it's a message that could benefit many teens. I also couldn't help but fall for Taylor, even if she was frustrating at times, and overall, I enjoyed this one. Kenneally has a way with words and writing teens--her books are worth the read.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher and Netgalley (thank you!); it is available everywhere as of 7/5.

You can read my review of Kenneally's earlier novel BREATHE, ANNIE BREATHE here.

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Saturday, July 02, 2016

Don't you know I'm not your ghost anymore: IN TWENTY YEARS.

In Twenty YearsIn Twenty Years by Allison Winn Scotch

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


In college, Bea, Annie, Lindy, Colin, Owen, and Catherine were thick as thieves. The group shared a house near Penn's campus and thought they would remain friends forever, no matter what. But now, nearly twenty years later, the friends barely speak. Until they receive a letter from Bea's lawyer. Their beloved Bea passed away at twenty-seven, but apparently she bought the house they shared and wants them all to gather there on her fortieth birthday. Reluctantly, they arrive, but each of the clan brings their own struggles. Annie is worried that her husband is cheating on her - a threat to the perfect life she's constructed for herself. Lindy has found the fame she wanted as a singer, but is she happy? Colin is a surgeon, but still single, as well as struggling over his past with Bea. And Owen and Catherine--now married, with Catherine overseeing a blogging empire--aren't happy at all.

I liked the premise of this book: good college friends reuniting after many years. But this one wasn't really my favorite, though it's clearly well-liked by many readers. For me, the characters were really annoying and just very unlikable. They just kept repeating over and over that Bea was dead, but I'm not sure anyone gained or learned anything from her death. They just sort of went in circles over the weekend at Penn.

Of the group, Lindy was probably my favorite. She kept me reading and her depth lent the book its most complexity, along with her various interrelationships, especially with Annie. Still, I just found myself completely frustrated with this group of characters, with their constant fighting, inability to grow from Bea's death, and endless whining. (I was also slightly bothered by the fact that, out of a group of six friends, both Catherine and Lindy had PR people (and a PR crisis that weekend) - what are the odds they'd both become that famous?)

Overall, the book is interesting, albeit heavy. If you find yourself an attachment to one of the characters, you'll enjoy it even more.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley (thank you!); it is available everywhere as of 7/1.

You can read my review of Winn Scotch's novel THE THEORY OF OPPOSITES here.



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