Tuesday, November 21, 2017

We thought the path was a straight line: NOW IS EVERYTHING.

Now Is EverythingNow Is Everything by Amy Giles

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Hadley's life looks perfect from the outside. Her family is wealthy, and she's a successful athlete and student. What you don't see is that Hadley's father works at breaking her down, day after day, forcing her into playing lacrosse and taking flying lessons (his two passions), monitoring her whereabouts and food intake, berating and belittling her constantly, and much worse. Hadley endures it all though, if it keeps the spotlight off her beloved spitfire of a little sister, Lila. Hadley would do anything to keep her father's focus off of Lila. Lila's only ten--the age her father targeted his laser beam on her. Hadley's life improves, however, when she secretly starts dating Charlie Simmons. On the surface, Charlie's life isn't anything like hers--he's the son of a poor single mom, but the two quickly find they have more in common than they realize. Even better, Charlie gives Hadley something she hasn't had in a long time: hope. Then, Hadley is in a plane crash, which tragically leaves her family is dead. Only Hadley can tell everyone what happened, but she isn't divulging the details. What happened that day in the plane? And why would it cause Hadley--the only survivor--to want to take her own life?

This book. Oh this book. Wow. I completely overlooked this one on my ARC shelf, and for that, I deeply apologize. But, I'm so, so, so glad I did pick it up! This is an amazing, powerful, and heartbreaking book and easily one of my favorite books I've read this year.

Part of the power comes via its format, which seems simple on the surface. The novel and its details are all a slow build via a "then" and "now" format plus transcripts and bits of evidence from the crash investigator. All of our "then" and "now" portions come from Hadley's point of view and leave us constantly wondering. Why is her dad all over her? What makes him so evil? You are also left in utter confusion and suspense over exactly what happened during the crash (and why it happened). I read the second half in one sitting, staying up late to finish it. I simply had to know what happened to Hadley.

I credit this to Giles' writing, which is superb. You will get sucked in by Hadley extremely early. She's a well-written, compelling character, and it's nearly impossible not to become part of her life. In fact, rarely have I felt so strongly for characters in a novel in a long time. If I could have, I would have gone and rescued those children myself! I simply loved Hadley and her wonderful, feisty sister, Lila. The hate I felt for their horrible, abusive father--and, sometimes, their apathetic, passive mother, was insane. They felt like real people. I was completely involved.

In fact, those poor kids. The book actually made me feel tense just reading about their lives. It was so well-done that I read portions of it with a knot in my stomach. (As a note, there's definitely a trigger for abuse.) Watching Hadley try to protect her sister and live up to adult expectations far beyond her teen years--seriously, guys, it was heartbreaking and yet amazing to read. You will find yourself rooting for Hadley and Lila in an inexplicable way.

The ending on this one is interesting. I'm still pondering it. The fascinating thing about this book is that you know *something* has to have happened up in that plane, but you don't know exactly what, or how it all goes down. The ending made me go "wow." I'm not exactly sure it's what I would have chosen, but it still felt right somehow. Although I was so attached to Hadley, that I wish there was a sequel of sorts, because I still feel bonded to the girl. That's how well-done this novel was!

Overall, this is just a lovely book. Very, very rarely does a book make me cry. This one did. This is not a light read, no, but there are still funny moments, beautiful moments, and heartwarming moments among all the dark ones. You will not regret reading this book. Huge kudos to Amy Giles for writing such a powerful and wonderful novel that so deftly deals with abuse and aspects of mental illness. I feel like Hadley and Lila will stay with me for a long time. 4.5 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 11/07/2017.

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Saturday, November 18, 2017

I'm all in my head, and I made a mess: LEFT TO CHANCE.

Left to ChanceLeft to Chance by Amy Sue Nathan

My rating: 3.5+ of 5 stars

After six years, Teddi Learner returns to her small hometown of Chance, Ohio to photograph the wedding of her best friend's husband, Miles. Miles is getting remarried after the death of his first wife, Celia. Celia and Miles and had one daughter together, Shayna, who is now twelve. Teddi and Shay had a somewhat superficial relationship after Celia's death--a yearly visit in Chicago, Skype calls, etc. But Shay's now nearly a teenager and she's personally asked Teddi to come to town--a place she's never set foot in since her beloved best friend passed away. When she arrives, she finds Chance has grown, and so has Shay, who is struggling with her father's remarriage and fitting in within her teen friend circle. Further, Teddi's memories of Celia are as strong as ever, and so are her feelings for Celia's brother, Beck, whom she was seeing when she fled town after (okay, pretty much during) Celia's funeral. Teddi has a new life now, photographing weddings all over the country for Hester Hotels. She left Chance behind and never looked back. But now that she's here, she can't help but notice all (and who) she left.

I enjoy picking up novels like this sometime because they let me indulge in my Lifetime / Hallmark movie side (I'm a sucker for those, especially at Christmas time). This book was an excellent diversion and while I certainly could predict some areas, it surprised me in others.

Nathan gives us some great characters, particularly Teddi and Shay. Teddi is complicated and a little annoying, at times, but she comes across as realistically human and flawed. Her love for Celia is incredibly strong and you can feel her loss and heartache come across the pages. The novel is a real testament to female friendship. At times you want to push or prod her a bit, but she's also stronger than she thinks. As for Shay, my heart often broke for the poor girl, struggling at the age of being between a girl and a teenager, with the added difficulty of having lost her mom.

Nathan also does a good job of portraying the eclectic cast of characters in small town Chance, with some good foils popping up for Teddi. Some of my particular favorite appearances included Teddi's cousin, Maggie, and childhood friend, Josie. Because it's a small place, Miles' wedding is the talk of the town, and we see how it brings up some bitterness and long held issues among some, including the immediate family.

Overall, I enjoyed this one. The hardest part was some melodrama in the plot and theme, which got to be a little too much at times. Some things seemed to be blown a bit out of proportion and there can be a lot of different plot threads going on at times. However, there are some really lovely and powerful moments and some incredibly funny ones--much of which stem from the strength of the characters. There's a bit of a picture perfect ending, but not the one I expected. This was a sweet, touching tale in many ways and exactly the read I needed at this point in time. 3.5+ stars.

You can read my review of Nathan's novel THE GOOD NEIGHBOR 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 11/21/2017.

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Friday, November 17, 2017

You go your way, I go mine: TWO KINDS OF TRUTH.

Two Kinds of Truth (Harry Bosch, #22; Harry Bosch Universe, #30)Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly

My rating: 4+ of 5 stars

Michael Connelly's iconic detective, Harry Bosch, is back again. Harry's basically a volunteer for the San Fernando police department, working cold cases for the tiny force and mentoring their three young detectives. When they are called out for a murder of a father and son at a local pharmacy, Harry assists the inexperienced team in trying to track down the killers. The case leads Harry and his detectives into the dark world of opiates--both the big money of pill mills and the sad, cold side of addiction. Meanwhile, Harry hears from his former employer, the LAPD, when one of his thirty-year-old cases is reopened based on new evidence. Even worse, the killer is claiming Harry framed him. The case threatens Harry's most prized possession: his reputation as a cop, and he knows that no one will fight to clear his name like himself. The two unrelated cases pull at different sides of Bosch as he works to discover all different facets of the truth.

I love Harry Bosch so much, and there will be a hole in my heart when Connelly no longer writes about him. I actually moved this book up in my rotation (something I rarely ever do!) so I could read it on a weekend trip to Chicago, and my only regret is that it meant I finished it in about 48 hours, and now it's over. Per usual, Connelly gives us yet another wonderful mystery novel featuring his excellently developed lead detective. This one covers the timely topic of the opiate crisis, which looms fairly large in America today. It's well-researched, as always.

Reading a Bosch novel is like picking up with an old friend, and this one is no different. Our Bosch is aging, which this book acknowledges well. We see Bosch still grappling with having left the LAPD--who can he trust, what can he do with his life now. We even get some appearances from previous characters in earlier novels. Perhaps the best thing is a fairly large role for Bosch's half brother Mickey Haller, the famed "Lincoln Lawyer." These two are still figuring out their own relationship, but it's a treat for us readers to get a glimpse of Mickey; we even get to see some of his enjoyable courtroom antics. There's even an appearance from Mickey's investigator, Cisco! (See, it's like being old friends!)

And, of course, we can't forget the actual story, which, in usual Connelly style is excellent and tracks along flawlessly along Bosch's own journey. The opiate tale is both fascinating and depressing, while Bosch's unraveling of the backstory behind the reopened cold case will certainly keep you reading. There's never really any crazy twists or turns, but the novel moves along steadily and easily. There's both growth and angst with Bosch--I have to admit, I worry about the end of his arc, but I will still enjoy every moment I get with him until them.

Another enjoyable one for the Bosch canon--certainly recommend!

You can read my review of the previous novel in the Bosch series, THE WRONG SIDE OF GOODBYE, here.

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Friends say he's trying too hard: FRESH COMPLAINT.

Fresh ComplaintFresh Complaint by Jeffrey Eugenides

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Jeffrey Eugenides' short story collection features a variety of stories written across the course of his career, many featured earlier in various publications in previous forms. From the sperm switching antics of "Baster" to the complications of nationality and marriage in "Fresh Complaint" to money and morality in "Great Experiment," we're treated to Eugenides' usual excellent writing and perspective on characters and life.

I often skip story collections, as I tend to feel a loss with them, as if the tale is unfinished, and I just want more details about each character and their motivations and end-state. I picked up FRESH COMPLAINT based solely on my love for Eugenides (Middlesex is an all-time favorite). I won't lie: I still felt that same unfinished feeling at the end of most of the stories. Clearly I just am meant more for long-form fiction. I also hadn't realized when I picked up the book that most of the stories were previously published, but luckily I am not usually reading The New Yorker and such, so I hadn't come across any of these previously.

One of the most exciting discoveries for me was, upon completing "Baster," confirming that it was indeed the premise for the silly film "The Switch" with Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston that is an incredibly guilty pleasure of mine. The story differs from the film, but you can clearly see how it's the base, and it's quite enjoyable.

Another favorite of mine was "Fresh Complaint," the final story in the collection, and clearly where it gets its title. We meet a young woman, Prakrtri, who is struggling with the fact that her family is trying to arrange a marriage for her, and a college professor who is traveling for work. How their paths cross is quite interesting. It's detailed, touching, and yet disturbing.

My other favorite was "Great Experiment" featuring an editor, Kendall, in his mid-thirties. He's comparing himself (unfavorably) to his peers, as he struggles financially in his job and resentfully watches his wealthy boss live well while not even providing Kendall health insurance. The story takes an interesting turn, and, as with much of Eugenides work, seems to have a greater message for us.

Overall, I didn't enjoy this as much as an Eugenides novel, because there just isn't the time to fall for his nuanced characters. I still enjoyed many of the stories and realize I probably gravitated toward "Fresh Complaint" and "Great Experiment" because they were some of the longer tales in the collection. If you like Eugenides, you may want to pick up this collection (provided you haven't already read the stories elsewhere). If you haven't read him in any form, go find Middlesex instead. 3.5 stars.

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Thursday, November 09, 2017

If I can't dance with you then I won't dance at all: THE DARK LAKE.

The Dark Lake (Gemma Woodstock, #1)The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Rosalind Ryan, a popular yet mysterious teacher, is found dead by local the lake. She's been murdered, her body left floating with red roses surrounding her. Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock and her partner, Felix, are called in to investigate Rosalind's case. Nothing about Rosalind adds up--everyone seemed to like her, but no one really knew her. She lived in a cheap apartment, but clearly had expensive taste in wine and makeup. She was the youngest of four, with three brothers, one of with whom she'd quarreled recently. Her father, George, is ill and runs a large business conglomerate in Australia, yet seemed to adore his inscrutable daughter. As for Gemma, she has memories of Rosalind from their time together in high school, when the beautiful Rose seemed enigmatic even then. Gemma and Felix have their hands full, focusing on Rosalind's co-workers, students, family, and more. Who is responsible for the death of this lovely teacher?

This is an intriguing and compelling two part mystery, with the present-day case focusing on Rosalind, combined with flashes to Gemma's past, focusing on her history with her former boyfriend Jacob, who died as a teen. The majority of our story is told from Gemma's present-day point of view, but we get a few key snippets from the townspeople and occasionally Gemma's point of view flashes to the past.

I really liked Gemma as a narrator. The intersection of the case with her past was extremely well-done. I read some reviews where the readers didn't care for Gemma, but that wasn't the case for me, though I could understand, as the story wore on, how they came to that point of view. She doesn't always make the right decisions, and I'm intrigued to see what she'll be like in the next novel (Goodreads tell me this is the first book in the series). But for me, I identified with her in many ways and, because she was so well-written, really enjoyed the story from her point of view, even if I didn't always agree with her actions. It was also great to get to see a character dealing with the challenges of being female and a mother in a small police force--in a small town no less--in what seemed to be, overall, a fairly realistic fashion.

The story itself is great. There are several twists that really got me, so major kudos to Bailey. I read a lot of thrillers, and it's not always easy to surprise me! For a huge portion of this book, I had *no idea* where this was going to go, or who killed Rosalind. Several times I found myself genuinely shocked by the happenings and was completely enthralled by the story and Bailey's characters. (I also can't believe this is a debut novel - wow.) She does an excellent job at creating tension in the story and the characters, slowing unfurling plot points and details as we go along. This novel is truly a puzzle, the pieces fitting into place as we go along, and putting them together is a joy. It is so well-done and Bailey's weaving together the past and the present is excellent. I wound up really liking Gemma, and her boss Jonesy, and I'm quite excited this is a series. I can't wait to see where Bailey takes us (and Gemma) next. 4.5 stars.

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

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Monday, November 06, 2017

But there's a secret garden she hides: ALL THE CROOKED SAINTS.

All the Crooked SaintsAll the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Maggie Stiefvater's latest--a stand-alone novel--tells the tale of the Soria family, who live in Bicho Raro, Colorado in the 1960s. On the family compound, you'll find the extended Soria family, including the three cousins: Beatriz, Daniel, and Joaquin. Beatriz is scientific-minded; so much, in fact, that she believes she has no feelings. Daniel is the Saint of Bicho Raro, and performs miracles for the Pilgrims who come in droves for the magic the Sorias can offer. Joaquin loves music and performs as Diablo Diablo on an illegal radio station he operates. The Sorias live apart from the Pilgrims they serve, believing helping and interfering with them after performing the first miracle will only bring on darkness. After all, it happened with Daniel's late parents. But when Daniel becomes involved with a Pilgrim named Marisita and a young man named Pete arrives at Bicho Raro looking for work, the Sorias are forced to confront many of their long-held beliefs.

I won't lie: it's a little hard to review this book, beyond saying that it's very much a Maggie Stiefvater novel. If you haven't read one of Stiefvater's novels before, I'm not sure I'd start with this one, even if it is one of her few stand-alone books. Her novels are typically full of all things fancy and fantastical, forcing the reader to suspend reality and be prepared to come along fully for the ride. If you can't do that, or don't enjoy such books, this isn't for you. Even I, who am familiar with her style, had a little trouble with this one at points.

Stiefvater has a way with language; she loves words and weaving a spell with them, and her novels are dense with beauty and picturesque scenes. She uses a repetitious style here in many of her sentences and the overall structure: again, something you might have to get used to.

Still, this book is bizarre but compelling. I put it aside the first night I started it and wasn't sure I'd enjoy it, but when I picked it up again, I was sucked into the Soria's story. The cousins are all rather enthralling characters, and you truly become a part of their journey. Sure, the miracle idea seems a little crazy, but it really just is part of the book, along with the owls, a giant, the moving earth, etc. It's really lovely at times, and I enjoyed the comparisons between miracles and radio waves.

As mentioned, Daniel, Beatriz, and Joaquin are all fascinating characters, and I also really grew to care for Pete, as well, along with another character named Tony. Even Marisita grew on me. There's a bit of suspense and tension to the novel, and you'll find yourself intrigued to see how things turn out. The themes of humanity, darkness, and family are well-done overall.

This probably isn't my favorite of Stiefvater's books; I love the Shiver series and The Raven Boys series, much like this novel, is even more mystical, but features the same sort of compelling characters as here. However, the story and characters grew on me, and I don't regret reading it. It's enjoyable, albeit somewhat odd at times. The story of love, loss, and sadness at its core is one everyone can appreciate. 3.5+ stars.

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Friday, November 03, 2017

So let them talk about us: THE BEST KIND OF PEOPLE.

The Best Kind of PeopleThe Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

George Woodbury is beloved in his community, at the prep school where he teaches, and within his own family. All this changes on the evening of his daughter's Sadie's seventeenth birthday when the police arrive at the family's home and arrest George for alleged sexual misconduct with several teenage girls during a school ski trip. Suddenly, the Woodbury family is in complete disarray. Joan, George's wife, doesn't know what to believe and finds herself angry at her husband for putting the family in this position. Sadie is ostracized at school and becomes annoyed with her well-meaning boyfriend. Her older brother, Andrew, returns from New York City to help the family, but quickly finds himself reminded of his own unhappy teenage years. As George remains in jail awaiting trial, it's up to each member of the family to cope in their own way.

I'd heard such great things about this book, but I probably should have just left it be, as I tend not to enjoy whining rich New Yorkers (or those in nearby Connecticut) bemoaning their life's problems. The premise of this one sounded so interesting, though, and it certainly wasn't a bad book, it just didn't blow me away as so many reviews promised. Clearly I'm just not made for literary genius.

There's so much buildup in this book--the story is the slow creep over a year up to George's trial, with a lot of thoughts and feelings from all of our characters, mainly Sadie, Andrew, and Joan. I sympathized with Sadie and Joan at first, but after a while, they both fall apart so much in such odd ways, and you find yourself not always liking them. There's only so much can you like about each, despite their circumstances. I found myself wondering exactly what the message was about women and how they come across under duress. The novel also focuses on the same thing repeatedly-- for instance, multiple scenes of Sadie sneaking off to smoke pot. Enough, already.

So much of the book is just sort of sad and melancholy--Andrew and his reaction to things, not to mention the flashbacks to his high school years; how Sadie is parented and what she falls into. There are a variety of weird plot threads that seem a little discordant at times--a secretary and her anti-feminist splinter group, a writer dating Sadie's boyfriend mom. They all do eventually tie together, but it's a little much at times.

Probably my favorite thing about the novel was how much it does make you think. After the police arrive, you find yourself grappling with George's innocence (or lack thereof) much like his family, and it really does make you think about how you judge guilt. For me, there was a small part of myself in the beginning who couldn't believe a husband and father would do such a thing, forcing myself to confront how I look at sexual assault accusations (especially timely, as I was reading the much more powerful The Nowhere Girls at the time, too). Whittall's characters may not be necessarily sympathetic, but they are fairly well-done, and you'll find yourself intrigued by them, if nothing else. The novel is compelling in its own way.

Overall, this one probably wasn't for me, or at least it wasn't as great as all the reviews led me to believe. As mentioned, it's a little slow and somewhat convoluted at times, with rather unsympathetic characters. The ending was rather frustrating, for sure. Still, much like a train-wreck, you'll find yourself unable to look away once you start reading, especially since it is well-written and will make you question how you look at the world of privilege and sexual assault. Squeaking by at 3 stars for me.

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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Anywhere outbound new life starts now: THE NOWHERE GIRLS.

The Nowhere GirlsThe Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed

Grace and her family have just moved to a new town after her Baptist preacher mother has a spiritual experience and their small Kentucky town decides she is far too progressive for their community. Grace is shunned and the family basically flees for more open-minded pastures. Erin is a beautiful girl who loves science and Star Trek: The Next Generation. She also has Asperger's and a secret. Rosina is a lesbian struggling to be herself within the confines of her conservative Mexican family. She dreams only of playing music and escaping her town, instead of taking care of her gaggle of cousins and working in her uncle's restaurant. Grace soon learns that the former occupant of her new house was Lucy Moynihan, who accused some popular boys of rape. Lucy wasn't believed, had a breakdown, and left town. While she's never been one to stand up for anything before, this angers Grace in a way she cannot fully describe. Erin and Rosina empathize with Lucy's situation, too. So the three find themselves an unlikely trio, and they do something even more unlikely: they form a secret group, made up entirely of girls, to protest the horrible culture at their school--a culture that condones things like rape and mistreatment of women. The group quickly takes off and the three girls realize that the group--and this cause--is far bigger than themselves.

This is an incredibly timely, wonderfully descriptive, and well-written novel that encapsulates the struggle felt by teenagers and young women in dealing with sexual assault, rape, and violence against women. There's a definite trigger for sexual assault/rape, so do avoid this novel if that is an issue for you. This book can certainly be painful to read, but it's an amazing read and incredibly powerful, as well.

The theme of boys and men getting away with horrible things in their towns seems so popular of late in books I've been reading. That could mean that The Nowhere Girls is repetitive, but it's not at all. It's a wonderful additional to this topic, which is a discouraging one and quite representative of how things are in our current society.

For me, the strength of this novel came with its characters and its brutal honesty. I really loved the three main characters, especially Erin, and just felt for all three girls. This is the first book I've read by Amy Reed (but won't be the last), and I was so impressed by her writing. The girls pop off the pages. The novel is written from the perspective of Grace, Erin, and Rosina, as well as Lucy and "Us"--a section that depicts the state of things from various high school females. Reed gives us a fairly diverse cast, including Rosina, whose family are Mexican immigrants; a character with autism in Erin; and several LGBTQIA characters. And, of course, it's wonderful to have so many female perspectives represented. We also get a few glimpses of some of the boys via excerpts from a despicable blog, which is quite effective in its own right.

As I said, so much of the strength of this book comes from its honesty. It doesn't shy away from the fact that the female teens are dealing with some very harsh realities in relation to sex, and it makes it clear how much they truly have to deal with. There are some extremely powerful moments in this novel (there's a chapter that occurs with some of the girls in a model home, and it's just wow. Amazing). It lays so much bare about what high school girls truly must go through. I found the brutal and realistic look at women and sex refreshing--albeit terrifying and heartbreaking. Rape, sexual assault, the power of sex, the way these women use sex to relate to each other and to boys--it's all there, and the result is heartbreaking, sad, powerful, and yes, sometimes hopeful.

A few times, I wasn't sure if I always believed how the authority figures dealt with the girls and their group, but, truly, it's probably a realistic portrayal of small town America. The ending was also a little neat, but still worked in the context of this novel. I kept thinking how much I'd like my daughters to read this book when they're older, because there is so much here: so many talking points and truths and so many wonderful and strong women among all the sadness.

In the end, this was a slow-moving book at times, but it was so well-written and a very powerful read. The characters are so strong, and you truly become part of their world as you read. I feel as if this is a must-read for female teens, and it's just so timely now in our culture, where the news brings more sexual assault talk each evening. There is something about this book that will leave you with hope, despite the horrors, and that's so important right now. Definitely a worthwhile read.

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 10/10/2017.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Redemption comes in many shapes: ODD CHILD OUT.

Odd Child Out (Jim Clemo #2)Odd Child Out by Gilly Macmillan

My rating: 4+ of 5 stars

The second book in Gilly Macmillan's excellent DI Jim Clemo series finds Jim back in similar circumstances from the first--working against time to save a child. Jim has returned from leave after the Ben Finch case, and he's ready to redeem himself in the eyes DCI Fraser and his peers. He's assigned what looks to be a terrible accident: best pals Noah Sadler and Abdi Mahad are out late one evening when teenage Noah falls into a local canal, rendering him unconscious. Abdi refuses to speak about what happened, leaving the families (and police) to ponder what really occurred that evening. Complicating matters is the fact that Noah is already ill from cancer; plus Noah is British, while Abdi and his family are Somalian refugees, so Jim fears how this case will be presented in the press. By most accounts, Noah and Abdi are best friends, so what truly went down night?

This is another gorgeous gem of a novel by Macmillan, who offers yet one more beautifully-written mystery combined with lovely, perfectly drawn characters. This book touched me in so many ways, and I just cannot keep raving enough about how well this author writes, or how she so excellently embodies her characters. Again, this is no straightforward mystery, or simple fiction, but a wonderful combination of the two.

For me, this book really hit from home the beginning, as Jim mentions how an anti-immigration march by a neo-Nazi group has rocked Bristol, wrecking havoc on the police force, as well as emotions in the area. It's clear that racial tensions are high. As someone who was born in Charlottesville, VA, and lived in the suburbs of the area for the last nearly ten years, I felt this in my heart all too well. The backdrop of race stretches across the fabric of Macmillan's entire novel, and it's quite well done, in my opinion.

On one end, we have the Sadler family--well-off and British: Noah attends a posh private school, Fiona manages Noah and Noah's illness, and Ed is a photographer--often of refugees. In fact, we learn that he's even photographed the very camp where Abdi's parents and sister lived. The Sadler's life, however, is clouded by the tragedy of Noah's cancer, which has basically formed each family member into who they are today.

As for the Mahads, we see how their past experiences has created them, as well. One of the strengths of this book is that we get small portions of narration from all of characters: the Sadlers, the Mahads, and Jim. The bits and pieces you learn of the Mahad's origins--my goodness: it will break your heart. Macmillan captures the fear of the family because they are different due to the color of their skin and the country of their origin, yet you see their strength and pride shine across as well.

The main storyline of ODD CHILD OUT revolves around figuring out exactly what happened between the boys and how Noah ended up in the water. As mentioned, you get snippets from each character, as we slowly work up to that point of no return. We also get flashbacks to various pieces of earlier parts of their lives, and we start to realize that something has spooked the Mahad family--something is not as it seems. It's not your conventional mystery, per se, but it's compelling and certainly intriguing.

At its core, this is a heartbreaking book whose strength lies in its characters. It's a wonderful exploration on race and immigration and how difficult it is to be deemed "different" by our society. What I loved about this book, though, is that you could also wonder: is either family truly all that different at its core? Every parent will go to any length to protect their child, after all. I highly recommend picking this one up. It can be read as a stand-alone, but if you want more insight into Jim and his mindset, you should definitely read the first book, What She Knew, which is also excellent (my review here). I can't wait to see what Macmillan comes up with next! 4+ stars.

In a perfect swirl of ARC goodness, I received a copy of this novel from both Librarything and Edelweiss. A huge thanks to them and the publisher for a copy in return for an unbiased review. The book is available for purchase everywhere.

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Monday, October 23, 2017

Lord knows I've paid some dues: Y IS FOR YESTERDAY.

Y is for Yesterday (Kinsey Millhone, #25)Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The 25th book in Sue Grafton's formidable Kinsey Millhone series actually kicks us back to 1979, where a group of male teens at a private school in Santa Teresa are found responsible for killing a female classmate. Several went to prison and now the one deemed responsible for the murder, Fritz McCabe, has been released. His parents hire Kinsey to assist them with a blackmail case--apparently these juvenile delinquents also made a sex tape before the murder, and it's turned up with Fritz's release. Kinsey quickly finds herself drawn up in their twisted world, but she's also watching her back, as Ned Lowe from X still has his sights set on Kinsey.

The result is two pronged story--a focus on Kinsey as she tackles the McCabes and their blackmail/extortion plot, delving deeper into the 1979 murder and sexual assault, but also a continuation of the Ned Lowe story and its associated players. There's a lot going on in this book, as Grafton also throws in a plotline involving romantic shenanigans with Kinsey's cousin, Anna, plus Henry's hosting of the homeless Pearl and her pals in his backyard. Grafton is pretty deft at juggling multiple threads, but whew. The one thing I can say, is that both the Ned situation and the teens' videotape allow for some very timely and nuanced thoughts and ruminations on rape, and you sadly realize we haven't made any progress in society on this front since in the 1980s.

Alas, though, for me, this novel gets off to a slow start and never fully recovers. It took a while to keep track of all the teen players from '79 (and present), and the jumps in time in the storytelling don't really help. Even worse, our heroine, Kinsey, is off her game after the attack from Ned. Yes, she is still the Kinsey we know and love, but she's hurting, more cautious, and changed, and well, it's hard to read about sometimes.

The novel just seemed more tedious than usual and bogged down in some unnecessary details. There were definitely moments with Kinsey that made me smile and laugh, but otherwise, we don't have many characters to root for. The entire group originating in 1979 is pretty despicable. Their story picks up a bit at the end, and I was definitely interested in the outcome, but it didn't have the same flair as previous Kinsey novels. Of note, though, despite how different technology was in the late '70s, Grafton did a good job in denoting how teens remain teens, regardless the decade.

Overall, I will always love Kinsey, but the last two in this series have been a bit disappointing. Here's hoping that Z ends on a high note fitting our beloved heroine.

You can read my review of X here.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

It's four in the morning and you're all alone: WHAT SHE KNEW.

What She KnewWhat She Knew by Gilly Macmillan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rachel Jenner and her son Ben are enjoying a frequent tradition: spending time in the park with their dog, Skittle, when things take a turn. Ben asks to run ahead to the rope swing, and Rachel agrees. That's the last she sees of her son. It's as if Ben has vanished into thin air, and Rachel feels her world cleave into two. The police are called, and the investigation is handed over to DI James Clemo. This is Jim's first major investigation as lead, and he's determined to do it right. Meanwhile Rachel is reeling from her decision to allow Ben to run ahead--one that's quickly questioned by her ex-husband and soon, the media. As days pass by without a break in the case, the media quickly turns its harsh glare directly onto Rachel. Rachel, meanwhile, starts questioning herself--and those around her.

I absolutely adored Gilly Macmillan's mystery The Perfect Girl, so when I saw she had a new book coming out, I knew I had to read it. I didn't realize it was part of a series (apparently featuring Jim Clemo), so I decided to read this one first. It's Macmillan's first book, but, of course, you can barely tell, because she's an amazing writer. She's going to be one of my favorite mystery writers going forward.

The format of the novel is unique -- we get Jim and Rachel's point of view, broken down by Day 1, 2, 3, etc. of Ben's disappearance. But we also get transcript pieces of Clemo's meetings with a psychologist, whom he is meeting with a good year after Ben's disappearance. The gist is that Ben's case has so clearly affected Clemo and his job performance that meeting with this woman--in hopes of getting a good report--is the only way he may be able to remain on the job.

It's an effective format and certainly ratchets up the suspense and tension as we wonder exactly what happened to Ben: who took him? Will he return home safely to his mother and father? Is anyone in this novel telling the truth? It's a slow-burning book, with no major sudden twists and turns, but deftly written, with each character superbly fleshed out. Our cast is small, but well-done: Ben's mother and father, his teachers and schoolmates, his troubled aunt, and those investigating his case.

The standouts, of course, though are Rachel and Jim--our storytellers. Rachel is reeling from her divorce, telling us her story directly, and delving into her own flaws. It allows Macmillan to illustrate the power (not always positive) of modern day society's relentless media focus and what those anonymous people in social forums can do to real, actual people. Rachel isn't always a sympathetic character, though my heart often went out to her, but she's real--a flawed, authentic mother.

And, speaking of flaws, Jim is a fascinating character. We get bits and pieces of how he's formed by his past. He's not a one-dimensional, stereotypical policeman, but a very intricate character. He's driven, but honestly, he's really quite a mess. As a result, he's intriguing but also frustrating in many ways. I'll be quite interested to see where he is in Macmillan's second novel in the series.

So, while this novel is filled with complicated characters, it is also a mystery at its core. Our intricate cast slows things down a bit, but luckily the plot keeps you guessing and wanting to turn the pages. I had various suspicions, throughout, but the ending completely surprised me (something that's hard to do). The novel takes a lot of unexpected turns. At the halfway point, I was completely befuddled, but invested.

Overall, this one is pretty captivating. I actually found myself keeping my daughters closer to me while reading and feeling nervous when they ran off. The night after I finished it, I had creepy dreams about a child being kidnapped--I rarely, if ever, dream about the books I'm reading! Sweet Ben really touched me and, as I mentioned, while I didn't always like Rachel, I very much empathized with her. Macmillan is a wonderful writer, and I'm very excited to be starting ODD CHILD OUT in the next couple of days.

You can read my review of Macmillan's THE PERFECT GIRL here.

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

We all could use a little mercy now: 13 MINUTES.

13 Minutes13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When they pull Natasha out of the river, she's been dead for thirteen minutes. Thirteen dark, cold minutes. It's amazing the teenager even lives; in fact, it's just pure luck that a man and his dog stumble upon her and pull her from the river's icy clutches. Tasha, as she's known, has no memory of how she wound up in the river, but she knows it wasn't intentional on her part. In fact, she's pretty sure two of her closest friends, Hayley and Jenny, had something to do with it. The two seemed weird in the days leading up to the incident. The trio of beautiful, popular girls--known as "the Barbies" at school--were supposedly the best of friends. But after the accident, Tasha feels drawn to her former friend, Becca, whom she dropped in middle school. Becca isn't sure why Tasha is suddenly being so nice to her. Tasha isn't sure either. And no one is exactly sure how or why Tasha ended up in that river.

I've never read a novel by Sarah Pinborough before, and I was pretty impressed. She's a great writer, and she certainly knows how to capture the voice of the teenagers within the pages of her novel. I don't think I realized this book would be quite so YA, if that makes any sense. I kept waiting for there to be a bit more to the story than teenage politics, but it's truly sort of a Pretty Little Liars-type tale. That's not to say it's not well-done. It may have just been a tad bit young for me; still, it's an excellent novel and would be a truly wonderful read for most teens, too.

Part of the novel's brilliance comes in its format. It's told from the point of view of Becca and Tasha, but we also get excerpts from Tasha's diary; case files from the Inspector on Tasha's case; notes from Tasha's psychologist; texts between the teens; and more. I enjoyed the format, and it was quite effective at building suspense and tension.

Because, wow, yes, the book is certainly tense and compelling. You're constantly wondering how reliable our teenage narrators are and questioning everything that happens. Now, as mentioned, there's a lot of teenage drama. A LOT. These teens are truly a little scary, and this was yet another book that makes me a tiny bit frightened for my five-year-old daughters to grow up. My goodness. At times, I got a bit bogged down in all the teen antics, but it was still quite interesting.

Becca was definitely a bit of a kid, but I still liked her (for the most part). She was well-written, just a little young for me. Pinborough is truly amazing at getting in the head of these teenagers--capturing the pettiness, meanness, and honestly, sometimes the dumbness, of their mindset. But she also caught the brutal neediness behind some of their actions: that raw need of kids that age to fit in with their peers.

I had a decent idea how this one was going to play out pretty early on, but that didn't stop me from reading (as mentioned, I tore through this in about 24 hours). There's something oddly compelling about this book and its characters. Pinborough weaves in The Crucible as a backdrop--it's the school play--which is a really clever move, as there are a lot of parallels between said drama and the melodrama unfolding among Tasha, Hayley, and Jenny.

Overall, this novel really just hinges on the duality of the hatefulness and vulnerability of teenagers. It may come across as a little too YA and predictable for some adults, but I can't deny that it's well-written and crisp. It's hard to like some of the characters, but I think it would make a great book for teens (albeit it's rather freaking scary). I was leaning toward 3.5 stars before writing this review, but I think I'll do 3.75 and bump up to 4 stars here on Goodreads and the blog (that's not complicated at all, right? Perhaps fitting for this complicated and twisty novel).

I received a copy of this novel from Netgalley and the publisher (thank you!) in return for an unbiased review; it is available everywhere as of 10/03/2017.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

So many questions inside my head: LIE TO ME

Lie to MeLie to Me by J.T. Ellison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sutton and Ethan Montclair had the ideal life--a beautiful marriage, a gorgeous house, successful writing careers, and a beautiful baby son. But with the death of their baby, Dashiell, things started to crumble. Peering into the cracks, it was clear that Ethan's career isn't going well and Sutton was depressed and broken after Dashiell's death. So when Ethan wakes up and finds a note from Sutton telling him that she's left and not to look for her, he doesn't know what to think. Did she really run off, leaving her phone, laptop, credit cards, and ID behind? Or did something more sinister happen? As for Ethan and Sutton's friends--and the police--they quickly start to wonder if the something sinister is Ethan.

So in the years since Gone Girl has come out, I've seen so many books compared to that juggernaut and felt that so little truly were similar (and keep in mind that I wasn't one of those that *adored* the novel). However, reading LIE TO ME, I felt like this book really deserved the plot comparison to GONE GIRL -- wife missing, volatile marriage, husband under suspicion, unreliable narrators, etc. For a while, I was curious how J.T. Ellison would differentiate her novel from GONE GIRL, but she pulled it off (more on that later).

This novel was compulsively readable; I read it basically in two sittings. I stayed up until midnight to finish it, which is no small feat considering my small children don't care how late I stay up! It slowly builds suspense with the unknown, dropping little hints as to bits and pieces of the story. We start with Ethan's piece of the story, eventually switch to Sutton, and then finish with both of them. Interspersed are various portions where an unknown "narrator" speaks directly to us, the reader, as well as the police. All of this creates suspicion and tension and lets us know that we certainly have unreliable narrators in both Ethan and Sutton. Who do we believe? Even the police--called in to investigate Sutton's disappearance--are confused. I was completely hooked and, honestly, madly flipping the pages.

The Sutton portion slowed things down slightly, but things rapidly picked back up. I won't lie (ha), I worked out some of the plot, but it certainly didn't diminish my enjoyment of the novel, and I definitely didn't figure out everything. The book's a little crazy, with a slightly wild plot, but it's a fun and thrilling read. The supporting cast is interesting--especially a policewoman itching to become a detective, and some of Sutton and Ethan's friends. As I mentioned, the plot is a little insane, but fun crazy, and Ellison weaves together all the pieces quite effectively.

This is my second novel by Ellison and I'm finding that I just enjoy the suspense and escapism of her novels. (You can read my review of her novel, NO ONE KNOWS, here). The book isn't always perfect, but it's a really enjoyable thriller, hence the 4-star rating--which makes it higher than GONE GIRL for me. Sacrilege for some, but I just enjoyed this one more.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley (thank you!); it is available everywhere as of 09/05/2017.

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Monday, October 09, 2017

I was walking with a ghost: THE GIRL WHO TAKES AN EYE FOR AN EYE.

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye (Millennium, #5)The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye by David Lagercrantz

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

The latest in the Millennium series picks up not long after book #4 ends, with Salander in a women's prison after the incident with Frans Balder and his son, August. Salander being Salander, prison doesn't bother her too much (she has her beloved mathematical equations after all), but she is irate over the treatment of another prisoner, Faria. Faria--and soon Salander--are under threat of the prison's most evil prisoner, Benito, and her feared knife, the Keris. Meanwhile, a visit from Holger Palmgren, Salander's former guardian, has Salander looking back on her childhood, wondering exactly what happened. Soon Mikael Blomkvist is involved as well.

This was a tough one. I was impressed with Lagercrantz's last take on the Millennium series and how well he picked it up, but this one felt a little off. Lisbeth is still Lisbeth for the most part, though it almost feels as if something is missing, at least until the end. And not to give too much away, but I missed her interactions with Blomkvist. I miss the novels where they were more tightly involved and entwined. Salander spends most of her time in prison and then on the run, while Blomkvist is investigating on her behalf.

The investigation is intriguing, but more straightforward than I was expecting. It involves Salander's childhood and an investigation into a society that studied twins, genetics, and more. There are certainly striking parallels to today's society, with its focus on racism and pure society. (It's a little scary, honestly.) There's also pieces that cover finances, the stock market, and more. It's all timely and exciting, but, as I said, more predictable than typical in this series.

Overall, I found the storyline interesting and dynamic. I always enjoy when Mikael gets focused on a story. I will love Salander forever, but I missed seeing her in her total glory. The book picks up at the end, the last fourth or so, and felt like a true Blomkvist/Salander tale. There's a moment that involves Salander's Hacker gang that gave me a few chills. Still, though, this just didn't live up to the other Millennium books, even Lagercrantz's previous try. I enjoyed it, but felt a little let down at the end. I'll be curious to see what the next attempt is like. 3.5 stars.

You can read my review of book #4, THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB, here.

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Friday, October 06, 2017

And it's a hard ride when you feel your heart tied down: THE BLACKBIRD SEASON.

The Blackbird SeasonThe Blackbird Season by Kate Moretti

My rating: 4+ of 5 stars

It's just another day in Mount Oanoke, Pennsylvania when the birds start to fall. Hundreds of dead starlings, dropping from the sky during a baseball game. It seems like the birds started it all, but really the secrets and lies began much earlier. Nate Winters, high school teacher and baseball coach, is beloved in the town. That is, until a reporter, in town to cover the birds, catches Nate hugging a student at a local motel. Suddenly, the birds are forgotten, and the story becomes much juicier: Nate; his student, Lucia; and their supposed affair. Lucia fuels the fire by affirming the affair and suddenly Nate and his wife, Alecia, are swept up in the story. The only who believes in Nate's innocence, even a sliver, is his friend and co-worker, Bridget. As Lucia's creative writing teacher, she has unique insight into the girl's mind. But when Lucia suddenly goes missing--with Nate as the prime suspect in her disappearance--not even Bridget may be able to save Nate. But is there more to Lucia's disappearance than an affair with her teacher?

Wow, I was really impressed by this novel. It's a complicated novel that is just as much a character-driven study as it is a mystery. It's incredibly well-written, and Moretti expertly embodies the voice of each of her characters, from beleaguered Alecia, who is worn down from mothering her autistic son, Gabe; to the cast of teenager characters; to Bridget, who lost her husband to cancer a year ago. It's so well-done that often with each chapter (which skip from various points of view -- Bridget, Kate, Lucia, Nate, etc.), I found my myself veering between whom I preferred or believed, constantly second-guessing my allegiances or what happened. This is very rare for me: typically I find my "person" in a novel and stick with them, no matter what.

But here, I was confused, wondering. Was Nate really a cad, who cheated on his wife every second he got, or was he the sweet, affable teacher and baseball coach that the whole town admired and adored? And Alecia--was she more than just a weary mom, broken down by years of staying at home with her autistic son, Gabe, unable to give to anyone beyond him? Did she push Nate away, into the arms of others? Or was the truth more complicated that all of this? I have to hand it to Moretti--she was excellent at creating confusion and doubt. In addition to different perspectives, the novel shifts in time (before the birds fell, after the birds fell, before Lucia disappeared, etc.). It's a little tough to keep track of, but it also keeps you on your toes and always wondering, as you piece various parts of the puzzle together.

For me--even more than the mystery of what exactly happened with Lucia--the strength of this novel was the writing and the characters. I felt for them, even when I was frustrated with them. Moretti captures the angst and meanness of high school extremely well, portraying the cliques of a small town quite superbly. (I was reminded of WHEN WE WERE WORTHY, which I just finished.) I loved the juxtaposition of this being a small town, so the idea is that everyone knows everyone and everything, and yet there are so many secrets, so much unknown. Being a witness to Alecia and Nate's marriage is amazing-- you see firsthand how the events affect them and how they've reached this point. It's an incredibly realistic portrayal of marriage and of motherhood.

As you probably tell, I just really liked this novel. It's very well-written, with quite compelling characters. I worked out some of the plot, but it didn't stop me from reading at all. I think some of the emphasis on character development slows the story at places, but not in any detrimental way. This one will make you think, as well as intrigue you with what happened to Lucia. Quite worth the read. 4+ 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 as of 09/26/2017.

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Thursday, October 05, 2017

Or the moment of truth in your lies: GENUINE FRAUD.

Genuine FraudGenuine Fraud by E. Lockhart

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Imogen is a wealthy, spoiled heiress escaping life on Martha's Vineyard. Jule is a scrappy individual looking out for only herself. When their paths intersect on the Vineyard, they form an interesting sort of friendship. Jule admires Imogen's wealth and inscrutability. Imogen takes Jule under her wing, lending her clothes and giving her a place to stay. Jule quickly finds herself caught up in Imogen's life, meeting her friends and boyfriend. But is anything as it seems?

This is one of those where I don't want to say too much as to ruin the plot, although honestly, you'll figure out the entire thing within the first few chapters, so I wouldn't be doing you much of a disservice. I had high hopes for this one, having read some great reviews, but this novel wasn't for me. The shtick here is that the story unfurls backward, with the chapters counting down, but there's no great twist or surprise, and I was left completely disappointed, as things just... fizzle out at the end. There's supposedly a little surprise at the end, but it can't save this predictable novel.

For me, this was violent and full of inevitable plot points that you'll see coming from a mile away. Neither Jule nor Imogen are sympathetic in any way--I couldn't find any reason to root for or engage with them in any fashion. The backward chapters didn't add any real excitement to the tale, at all. I read this one at the same time as my wife--she was listening to the audiobook version--and we were both waiting for some exciting twist or turn--but it never came. I had high hopes, but alas, GENUINE FRAUD didn't deliver on them.

You can read my review of Lockhart's WHEN WE WERE LIARS here.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2017

I cried five rivers on the way here: KEEP HER SAFE.

Keep Her SafeKeep Her Safe by Sophie Hannah

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Cara Burrows runs away from her family--who live in England no less--to an Arizona spa. She leaves her phone with the rental car company and, exhausted by her travels, checks into her room, only to find it occupied by a man and a teenage girl. It's obviously a mistake by the front desk, but after hearing another guest's ramblings, Cara starts to wonder if the girl she saw is murder victim Melody Chapa. Melody Chapa is incredibly famous in the U.S.--her trial garnered intense attention--and her parents are serving life sentences for her murder. Suddenly, Cara finds herself caught up in a whirlwind series of events, unsure of whom to trust. Did she really see Melody? And if so, what is going on at this spa?

The plot of this novel is pretty preposterous, so be prepared to suspend a bit of disbelief. Once you do that, it's really quite enjoyable and a total whirlwind ride, as you cling to Cara and try to figure things out with her. You first have to get past the fact that the woman has decided to come all the way to Arizona from the UK for her spa trip, spending, she claims, one third of her family's savings to do so. And, you'll learn, all over a insane misunderstanding/lack of communication with her family that will make you want to shake the entire clan. Good grief! However, I digress. Because, really, their lack of communication certainly works in our favor, because this book may be crazy, but it's fun crazy and a wonderful sort of escape.

I found this to be a fascinating type of thriller. I flew through the pages, constantly wondering how all the various pieces fit together. Hannah kept the entire thing going, unfurling great little twists and turns every so often to keep you hooked. It's intricately plotted and really quite well-done, even if it's all a little insane. I suspected a couple of portions, but was still really impressed at how everything went together. Cara is an interesting character--she's just bumbling and sympathetic enough that you can somehow believe that she'd stumble into a major murder mystery while on a spa holiday. Her supporting cast of characters is wide and varied: spa guests; various detectives and the FBI; those involved with Melody's case; and even a crime TV show host with a flair for the dramatic. Somehow Hannah weaves them all together successfully, for which you have to give her bonus points.

All in all, this was a slightly unbelievable novel, but compulsively readable with a thrilling mystery plot that completely hooks you. The characters all work together somehow and the novel is just a fun escape. Throw in a creepy ending that leaves you going "What?!" and this is definitely worth a read. 3.5 stars.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Edelweiss (thank you!) in return for unbiased review; it is available in the U.S. everywhere as of 09/19/2017.

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

She starts to dream and then she stops herself: WHEN WE WERE WORTHY.

When We Were WorthyWhen We Were Worthy by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mary Claire ("MC") and Brynne are beautiful head cheerleaders and together they rule the local high school of small Worthy, Georgia along with a pack of popular football boys. MC and Brynne have basically adopted two other JV cheerleaders, Keary and Leah, whom they promoted up to varsity. But one evening, everything changes in Worthy when, after another winning football game, one of the high school students, Graham, crashes his car into another, which is carrying a group of three cheerleaders. The girls are killed and suddenly nothing in the small town will ever be the same.

This is a story of heartbreak, secrets, and small towns, told from the perspective of four women. Marglyn, Mary Claire's mother; Darcy, Graham's mother; Ava, a Worthy outsider who has recently moved to town with her husband and who is a substitute teacher at the high school; and Leah, one of the four beloved cheerleaders. All four women have secrets and are struggling to find their place within Worthy.

This novel pulls you in immediately, starting with the crash, which is startling and heartbreaking. From there, everything truly changes in this tiny town, as they grapple with losing "their girls" and with finding someone to blame. Further, the crash starts to uncover some buried secrets. Why wasn't Leah in the car with her other cheerleader friends? Basically, a chain of events is unleashed that no one sees coming. As such, we are witness to a variety of people who are hurting, hiding, and struggling in their own ways--though Whalen does an excellent job of capturing some glimmers of hope as well.

She portrays small town living well: the way football is life, for instance. The four voices are extremely well-done, and you can easily picture the characters and the townspeople. This is a story of interconnected people in a town; it's a slow burning novel but compelling, with the majority of the suspense coming from the secrecy in what Leah was doing that night. Seriously, why wasn't she with her friends in that car? For the most part, I found myself caught up in the drama, with the exception of some of the portions involving Ava and her issues--that was the one area that dragged a bit for me.

Mostly this is a fairly poignant novel. Be prepared--there are lot of feelings. Each women takes plenty of time in their chapters to describe how they feel. But Whalen is an excellent writer, and you'll find yourself caught up in the tale of this town and its messed up happenings, which are certainly better depicted than in many small town novels. There's a twist at the end that makes up for so many plot pieces wrapping up a little too neatly. Overall, a sad one, but compelling, hopeful, and lovely too. Certainly worth a read.

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 09/12/2017.

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Friday, September 22, 2017


Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely FineEleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple, albeit lonely, life. Up in the morning, head to work, and heads down at the office (with a solo break for lunch and the crossword). She spends her evenings and weekends alone--typically with a book, the TV, and a lot vodka. Every Wednesday evening, she speaks on the phone with her mother (Mummy)-- always a painful conversation as her mother is judgemental and exacting. Then one day, Eleanor and Raymond, the slightly oafish IT guy from her office, save the elderly Sammy, who has fallen on the sidewalk. The act turns out to change Eleanor's life--bringing her into Sammy's life and that of his boisterous family--and involving her more with Raymond, as well. Suddenly, it's almost as if Eleanor and Raymond are friends and Eleanor isn't completely lonely anymore. But can her friendship with Raymond erase the sadness in her life?

This book, oh this book. Wow, what a journey. I'm so very glad I finally picked it up. Where do I even begin? First of all, Honeyman captures the voice of Eleanor perfectly. I was honestly a bit surprised when I started this one. I'd been expecting a slightly quirky character (a la the lead in THE ROSIE PROJECT), but there's far more depth and darkness to Eleanor (and her tale) than I imagined. It took me a little longer to get into the story, but once I was: wow. You can visualize Eleanor and her supporting cast so clearly. Raymond comes across effortlessly too. The plot is striking-- an amazing combination of heartbreaking and tender. My heart truly broke for dear Eleanor at times.

I was intrigued by the fact that there's no real huge story, per se, to this novel--it's just Eleanor finding her way in the world. As mentioned, Eleanor and Raymond assist Sammy, and this jolts Eleanor out of her life built around routine and sameness. Forced to come out of her shell, she suddenly sees some things in a new light--her appearance, her job, her friendships (or lack thereof), her apartment, and more. The way Honeyman presents the world--through Eleanor's eyes--is uncanny. I cannot describe how well she captures her diction and how aghast Eleanor is sometimes by the world around her (dirty books from the library, people who waste her time with conversation, the food people eat and how they eat, etc.).

At the same time, you realize how much Eleanor is formed by her childhood, or lack thereof, and it's just... striking. How Honeyman gets this all across in words is amazing. The unexpected darkness and sadness that comes across in the novel and the added layer of suspense she casts as we ponder Eleanor's tragic childhood: it's chilling. The entire book is mesmerizing and beautiful.

That's not to say the book isn't funny or enjoyable, too. Eleanor is her own person, and she's witty and true to her self, for sure. You will find yourself rooting for her personality quirks (of which there are many) and all. If Eleanor's attempts to understand the world don't tug at your heartstrings, I'm not sure anything will (and I'm pretty tough nut to crack when reading, mind you). I was worried that perhaps the moral would be that Eleanor would have to change herself to find happiness, but no, I don't think that was Honeyman's ultimate intent, even if Eleanor does make some "improvements" along the way. (I won't say more for risk of spoilers.) Also, I loved Raymond, as well; his mother; Glen (!!!!); and so many other parts of the story that made me smile. Seriously, even with its sad parts, this book just makes you happy.

Ultimately, this is lovely book, with beautiful, well-written characters. The tale of Eleanor Oliphant will stay with me for a long time, and I'm so glad I finally decided to read this book. Honeyman is an excellent writer, her depiction of Eleanor is gorgeous and heart-rendering and the few flaws I found with this were so minor, as I was left just awed by the end. One of my favorites so far this year. 4.5 stars.

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Thursday, September 21, 2017

And I asked the ethereal girls if they were floating yet: LIES SHE TOLD.

Lies She ToldLies She Told by Cate Holahan

My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Liza is a struggling writer given an ultimatum by her editor: write a thriller for me in a month. It's been ages since Liza was on the bestseller list (truly, only her first novel was a real success). Meanwhile, she's a mess of fertility drugs and hormones, as she and her lawyer husband, David, are trying to start a family--and getting nowhere. Even worse, David's best friend and business partner, Nick, has been missing for over a month. David is increasingly frantic and distracted, and the police have no leads. So Liza pours her heart and soul into the story of Beth, a new mom who suspects her own lawyer husband of cheating on her. Beth catches him the act and makes a split-second decision that will change their lives forever. As Liza continues to write, the lines between fact and fiction become increasingly blurred.

I was excited to finally pick this one up, as so many of my friends had enjoyed it, but alas, I'm going to be the killjoy here who stands against the popular wave of public opinion. Please note that most people really loved this book and who knows, maybe I'm just getting cranky in my old age. ;) Or maybe I got too caught up in all the hype.

Either way, this one was a let down for me. The clues left along in the story for the reader stand out as huge glaring red flags, basically just screaming the plot twists out. Nothing came as a surprise, I had the entire thing worked out in about the first 15 minutes. Now, I won't lie, this is still an incredibly readable book - it's a fast read for sure. You immediately realize that Liza is an unreliable narrator and a ticking time bomb. I never really warmed to her, but she's somewhat fascinating in trying to figure out what she's up to and what's truly happening.

I've seen some complaints about it being hard to figure out what chapters were Liza's and which were Beth's--I didn't have that problem. They alternate and in my version, Liza's were marked. I occasionally had to remind myself who had which backstory, but I believe that was part of the idea--of Liza blurring the reality around her. And, truly, it was a great idea in concept.

Unfortunately, I found both women to be somewhat frustrating and didn't really buy all of their actions or relationships. Liza's quick attachment to Trevor, for instance, or some of Beth's bizarre decisions. That made it harder to root for them. And, again, absolutely nothing that occurred was a surprise. That was my biggest issue. I want my thriller to surprise me, but none of the twists were shocking whatsoever, right up to the end. Sigh.

Still, as I said, it's an oddly compelling read with the blurred parallels between Liza and Beth and you "wondering" what happened to Nick. At the end, I pondered for a moment whether it was brilliant or awful, but I just couldn't enjoy something I found so predictable, even if it was a page-turner at times. But, I'm certainly in the minority here, so take my review with a grain of salt!

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley (thank you!) in return for an unbiased review. It's available everywhere as of 09/12/2017.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

There's a gem waiting in the junkyard: ONCE AND FOR ALL.

Once and for AllOnce and for All by Sarah Dessen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Louna is the daughter of a single mother, Natalie Barrett. Natalie runs a famous wedding planning business with her friend William. Together--often with Louna's help--they help frantic brides have the perfect day. But Louna, Natalie, and William are a cynical trio: so much that they even take bets on the success of each wedding after every affair is over and they're cleaning up. Louna has another reason to be cynical: she met her true love the previous summer, but it ended tragically. After graduating high school, she's just trying to get through her last summer and head off to college. Standing in her way: charming Ambrose, the brother of one of her mother's clients. Natalie takes on Ambrose as an employee to appease her client, so Louna is stuck with cheery, serial-dater Ambrose. But the more time she spends with him, the less he starts to bother her...

I was surprisingly charmed by this novel. It's predictable, but in a good way. You know what you get with a Dessen novel, and this book came along at a good time for me. It's more serious than expected (I won't spoil that plot twist for you) but also breezy and sweet at times. Louna is a likeable heroine--flawed, complicated, real. The supporting cast of characters is humorous and realistic: Louna's best friend Jilly, whose parents have a food truck business and saddle Jilly with her many younger siblings; William, with his bride-whisperer tendencies; Natalie, and her rigid obsession with her business; and girl-crazy Ambrose, who verges on stereotype, but manages not to. The book also gives you a fun look into the wedding business, which is sort of enjoyable and lets you see how most of our characters deal with stress.

Overall, this is an engaging novel, with serious undertones. It's a quick read, powered by an enjoyable cast of characters. While there are some dark moments that may surprise you, the romance probably won't. But there's nothing necessarily wrong with that sometimes. :)

My review of Dessen's novel SAINT ANYTHING can be found here.

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Monday, September 18, 2017

I will be the one you say goodnight to: SPOILER ALERT: THE HERO DIES.

Spoiler Alert: The Hero DiesSpoiler Alert: The Hero Dies by Michael Ausiello

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Entertainment reporter Michael Ausiello has enjoyed immense success in his professional life, progressing from writing at a soaps magazine to Entertainment Weekly and TV Guide to his current job as co-founder at TVLine.com. Ausiello is well-known for his snarky and knowledgeable insights about pop culture and TV. But while Ausiello's career was taking off, he was going through immense personal anguish: the death of his husband, Kit, from neuroendrocrine cancer in early 2015. Ausiello's memoir catalogues meeting Kit, thirteen years before his death, and also describes the heartbreaking journey of losing him to cancer--with much of the trademark wit and humor we see in many of his entertainment posts.

I don't know what possessed me to request this book. I love Ausiello, his reporting, and his columns, yes, but how I thought I'd come out unscathed from an incredibly sad memoir about a lovely gay man losing his beloved husband to cancer... I don't know. Sure, parts of this memoir are funny and snarky, but much of it is just heartbreaking and gut-wrenching. Good grief. There's no real equivalent of reading about a man openly and honestly telling you about losing a great love of his life.

Ausiello's memoir goes back in forth in time. While most of the book focuses on the present-day: learning about Kit's shocking diagnosis, how that affects couple, and ultimately leading up to his death. Still, he also goes back to when the two met, began to date, and fall in love. There's a sweetness to reading about young Kit and Mike, for sure. The early parts of the memoir very much remind me of reading pieces of someone's journal. Some of the beginning parts were a bit of a struggle for me, as you get bogged down in so much detail: what they ate, where they went, where they walked, who called who, etc. That was a little excruciating at times, but as I said, there was also a sweetness and tenderness to it. It just seemed like sometimes there was a little too much oversharing--details and moments that weren't necessarily relevant to the overall story. A little too much telling versus showing, especially in the first half or so of the book.

However, as it continues, it either improves or I became more used to the style. You become really caught up in Kit and Mike's relationship journey. It's painful and sad to read, but there are definitely humorous parts interspersed within as well (thank goodness). Ausiello appears to be brutally honest in his portrayal of everything--the ups and downs of their relationship, the cancer and its toll on Kit (and Mike), and more. What we're left with is a heartbreaking, poignant tale, with a reminder to truly live life to the fullest, as you really never know what comes next.

Overall, despite a slow (detailed) start, this is a lovely tribute to Mike and Kit's love and life together. It's heartbreaking and touching and a beautiful ode to his husband. My heart goes out to Ausiello, but after reading Kit and Mike's story, you'll be left grateful for the time the two had together. We should all be so lucky. 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 as of 09/12/2017.

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