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 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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Friday, September 15, 2017

I won't fall for your games: CLASS MOM.

Class MomClass Mom by Laurie Gelman

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Jen Dixon is back in kindergarten. She thought her days as "Class Mom" were behind her: Jen's two daughters are in college after all. But Jen, at age forty-six, is back on the Mom circuit, with her first husband, Ron, and five-year-old son, Max. This is Jen's chance to do things over again, with a husband and the security she lacked the first time around. So when her best friend Nina (also PTA President) asks Jen to be Class Mom, she agrees. The duties of Class Mom seem fairly simple--coordinate field trips, set up class parties, and send out emails to the other parents. Jen does this with aplomb and a fairly decent level of sarcasm, which isn't always appreciated by all the parents. At the same time, she's training for a mud run and attempting to keep the flame going in her marriage with Ron. It doesn't help when she discovers that her high school crush is another parent in Max's class. Jen has a lot going on--can she juggle it all?

This book appealed to me on LibraryThing as I have two daughters in kindergarten and am suddenly in the midst of the whole school dynamic. Luckily, things aren't quite as dramatic as the school portrayed in Gelman's novel! The book came along at a pretty good time, as I've read a string of fairly serious thrillers recent. It's certainly a funny and fast read.

I couldn't help but like Jen. She's an engaging protagonist. Her struggles as a parent, wife, and friend are realistic and yet humorous. Her surrounding cast of characters, while not quite as fleshed out, are also funny, though not perhaps always as realistic (more on that later). I enjoyed that her husband, best friend, and kids weren't the typical stereotypes or cardboard cutouts you often see in novels, but real people, with issues of their own.

Also enjoyable was the way the novel interspersed Jen's emails to the class at the beginnings of many chapters (along with a variety of replies). They were usually funny and lightened up the book and surprisingly moved the plot along fairly well. They also made me grateful for some of the lack of politics at my kids' school--so far. It's still early though, sigh!

The only problem for me was that a lot of the good in this book--great characters, humor--was marred a bit by just a lot going on--not all of it completely believable. There are some silly plotlines thrown in that almost don't seem necessary and once resolved, are a bit disappointing. There's one last "shocker" tossed in at the very end of the novel that did surprise me somewhat, but I'm not really sure it was needed.

Still, this is a very engaging and fun novel for a first-time novelist. It's not a pretentious literary piece, but it's not aiming to be. Instead, it's certainly a witty and fascinating look at the craziness that happens in your children's classrooms. 3.5 stars.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and LibraryThing (thank you!) in return for an unbiased review; it is available everywhere as of 08/01/2017.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Slip and fall if I take one more step: DEAD WOMAN WALKING.

Dead Woman WalkingDead Woman Walking by Sharon Bolton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jessica Lane treats her sister, Isabel (known to most as Sister Mary Magdalena, as her sister has been serving in a convent for many years) to a hot air balloon ride for her 40th birthday. But things go awry when Jessica--from the balloon--sees a man murder a young woman. From the ground, he spots her face clearly. Then the balloon crashes, and there is only one survivor. The man knows she can identify him, and he won't stop until the threat to his safety is eliminated. So Jessica runs, unsure of who she can trust, or where she can go, all the while knowing that her beloved sister is dead.

Wow, what a book. I don't want to say more about the plot for risk of spoilers or ruining any of the awesome "whoa" moments you encounter while reading this one. The story flashes back and forth in time as Jessica tells us about the day of the accident and then various pieces of the past. It's a combination of suspenseful, confusing, and spellbinding that will grip you from the very beginning. You're immediately roped in as the balloon crashes and then left wondering about the sisters' past, which is only unveiled in small nuggets.

I found this book to be extremely tense. As in, my body was actually tight while reading. I was rigidly turning pages, wondering what was going to happen next and if Jessica was going to get to safety. Bolton made me suspicious of everything and everyone--I felt like our protagonist: I could trust no one.

One of the best parts of this novel is that in addition to our "Fugitive"-esque plot, we have a fascinating police case weaved in. This really keeps the book moving as the plot continues to thicken. Not only is Jessica being pursued, but we're learning more and more about the case she was researching in the years and months before the crash. In addition, the final layer is the snippets about the sisters and their tangled family past. Somehow, Bolton twists them all together nearly effortlessly. You have to be able to keep track of when everything occurs (the chapters are just marked as "XX amount of time before" the crash), but you get used to it.

I totally guessed one of the big shocking aspects of the novel early on, but I was still second guessing myself the whole time, and it didn't diminish my enjoyment of it whatsoever, plus there was still so much that completely surprised me. To the extent that I wish I had time to go back and read it again and figure out how I missed so many things! Seriously. This book made me go "wow!" multiple times. It captivated me the entire time I was reading it. There was one final twist too many for complete plausibility at the end to get 4.5 stars, but I still highly recommend this one. A wonderful, spellbinding thriller that cements for me how much I love Bolton's work.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley (thank you!) in return for an unbiased review; the U.S. version is available everywhere as of 09/05/2017.

You can read my review of Bolton's novel LITTLE BLACK LIES here.

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Wednesday, September 06, 2017

And it's a hard ride when you feel your life tied down: THE LYING GAME.

The Lying GameThe Lying Game by Ruth Ware

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Isa, Kate, Fatima, and Thea were the best of friends for a year in boarding school. Thick as thieves, they kept to themselves at Salten House, bonded by a game they invented (The Lying Game), where they came up with increasingly higher stakes lies for a series of points and boasting rights. The girls spent much of their time at The Mill House, Kate's childhood home--a quick walk across the marsh from their boarding school and home to Kate's father, Ambrose, and stepbrother, Luc. But all that changes when Ambrose, an art teacher at Salten, dies; a scandal is uncovered; and the girls are expelled. Years pass without the four women seeing each other, until they receive a text from Kate: I need you. Isa--with her baby daughter in tow, Fatima, and Thea return to The Mill House, where Kate still lives, to help their friend. But what exactly happened all those years ago? And are the women still playing The Lying Game?

So I probably enjoyed this novel more than I should have, considering it's rather predictable. There are so few characters in the book as a whole, it seems, for the ending to be that grand of a surprise. It's also a slow-moving mystery where much of the drama could be avoided if the characters would just talk to each other or tell the truth - ever. The main character, Isa, puts her baby in danger far more often than a reasonable parent would, and for what? Even worse, while Isa is a fairly well-developed main character, her three best friends seem to be more of cliches or stereotypes than fleshed out characters.

Still, Ware has had this hold on me on each of her two previous novels--and she did it again here. The book is just oddly readable, and I found myself drawn to it, despite its flaws, so I have to give that to her. I read it rather quickly, despite being swamped at work, and found myself sneaking away to finish it on my lunch break. It's very descriptive, just like her first two books, and you can easily picture the eerie setting. Even if you're not fully invested in what's happening or you're pretty sure what's going to happen, or who was involved, there's just something compelling that makes you keep reading. The novel is told from Isa's point of view, unfolding in the present, but flashing back to her memories of the past. It's a rather effective technique, as we only figure out plot pieces as she does and can discern bits and pieces of the story through Isa's perspective alone.

Overall, I'd hoped for a bit more, and I probably enjoyed Ware's first two novels as a cohesive whole more than this one. But I won't deny that I found this book intriguing and that it kept me reading. There's certainly a lot in the novel that requires you to suspend some elements of disbelief. Still, I'll definitely continue to read anything Ware writes--she just has a fascinating style.

You can read my review of IN A DARK, DARK WOOD here and THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10 here.

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Saturday, September 02, 2017

Playing your story in fits and starts: YOU DON'T KNOW ME BUT I KNOW YOU.

You Don't Know Me But I Know YouYou Don't Know Me But I Know You by Rebecca Barrow

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Audrey is in high school--leading a busy life filled with her art and photography, her boyfriend, her friends, and planning for her future. Audrey is also especially close to her mother, Laura, a formerly famous actress who adopted Audrey as a baby. Overall, Audrey thinks her life is pretty good. But things change dramatically when Audrey learns she is pregnant. She loves her boyfriend, Julian, and the two of them have been practicing safe sex. Yet, here she is, with some major decisions to make. Years ago, Audrey's birth mother made a big decision, and as a result, Audrey has had her happy life. What choice should she make, and how will it affect all the people she loves?

This novel wasn't exactly what I was expecting, even though it's certainly a fairly realistic look at teen life and angst. It's a little hard to read at times, but Audrey certainly doesn't have an easy decision to make, either. For me, I found the novel oddly stressful at times. I found myself rather attached to Audrey. She was a very sympathetic and engaging character. She's nearly a woman, yet just a kid. Nearly all of Barrow's characters are fairly well-developed, but Audrey is the best. She's real, complicated, and confused. I enjoyed her and her depth.

That's not to say I didn't have issues with parts of this novel. There's a lot of fighting. There's a subplot where Audrey and her best friend, Rose, bicker. Audrey tries to push Julian away, at times. These portions can get irritating, and they drag the novel on. The Rose/Audrey fighting pieces slowed things down time after time. The friendship drama, while realistic, was very YA and got a little tiresome.

Still, Audrey's friendship with her group of friends is lovely and realistic. There are a lot of sweet and tender moments in the novel and much to love in Audrey's interactions with her family and friends, especially her relationship with Julian. It's surprisingly mature, yet rooted in the lives of two high school students. There's also a bisexual character who is just part of the novel-it's not a big deal-which is always so refreshing to see in YA literature.

Overall, this one was a little tough to read - unexpected pregnancy isn't exactly an easy subject matter. It doesn't gloss over the subject, and I appreciate that. Some of the writing is a little cliche and slow at times, but it's a first book, and there's a lot here for a debut author. Audrey is a dynamic character, very real, and the book has some endearing moments. Certainly an author to watch.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Edelweiss (thank you!); it is available everywhere as of 08/29/2017.

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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Blame it on my goin' on my own way attitude: FINAL GIRLS.

Final GirlsFinal Girls by Riley Sager

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In college, Quincy Carpenter goes on vacation to a remote cabin (Pine Cottage) with a group of friends and ends up being the lone survivor to a massacre. The horrific event puts Quincy in the "Final Girls club"--so deemed by the press--a group of women who are also lone survivors of other similar massacres. Lisa survived a bloodbath at her sorority house and Samantha a brutal attack at a motel. The women have never met, but Quincy and Lisa have spoken on the phone. They all share two things--being a "final girl"--and trying to move on with their lives. And Quincy is really trying. With the help of Xanax, she has a successful baking blog and a good relationship with her understanding boyfriend, Jeff. But Quincy's attempts at moving past Pine Cottage are derailed when she receives a call that Lisa has died, found with her wrists cut in her bathtub. Shortly after, Samantha shows up at Quincy's apartment. Reporters are breathing down Quincy's neck and between Samantha and the press, Quincy feels forced to confront the past she's tried so hard to leave behind. But once she does, what will she really discover?

I had really high expectations for this novel, as the "first great thriller of 2017" blurb from Stephen King is prominently placed on the cover, and its been highly reviewed in a variety of magazines. Maybe I'm just a cynical soul, but it just didn't live up to the hype. For about the first 3/4 of the book, I just couldn't get into it, and I almost decided not to finish it. I actually started and finished another book between starting (and finishing) this one. The book switches between present day and flashbacks to Pine Cottage; the Pine Cottage portions were far more intriguing, and I just kept wanting to flip forward to those pieces.

Thankfully, the last fourth or so of this novel is much better: things pick up, the various parts come together in fairly dramatic fashion, and the story grows much more tense and hard to put down. It's the last portion of the book that makes it difficult to give it a truly negative review, even if I did find a few parts of it a tad unbelievable.

Indeed, you definitely have to suspend disbelief a bit for this one. Quincy is a pretty good character herself, but once Sam arrives, she sends Quincy on a path that is just hard to stomach. Quincy's reactions to Samantha and the actions she takes once she arrives irked me and often, I found them almost implausible. (Also, how gullible and unaware was Jeff?) Samantha was an unlikable character and she seemed to cloud everything she touched.

So, overall, I was a little disappointed by this one. I had to slog through a lot to get to the payout at the end and even then, it all seemed a little crazy and hard to buy. I liked Quincy well-enough, but no other characters in the novel were of much redeeming, or interesting, value. The story was fairly engaging, especially at the end, but not the shocking, amazing novel I'd hoped for. Alas. On to the next one! (And most people loved this, so take my review with a grain of salt!)

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Monday, August 28, 2017

Where craziness gets handed down: THE GOOD DAUGHTER.

The Good DaughterThe Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Charlie and Sam grew up in Pikeville, Georgia, with anything but an idyllic childhood. When the girls were teens, they were part of a brutal assault at their family's farmhouse. The attack left their mother, "Gamma," dead and profoundly affected their father, a prominent local attorney. Years later, Charlie remains in Pikeville, a lawyer like her father, and trying to keep the past behind her. All that changes when the town witnesses violence yet again--and Charlie is right in the thick of it. Suddenly, she's forced to confront so many of the emotions she's buried for years and to fully deal with exactly what happened to her family so many years ago.

Slaughter's latest novel starts quickly out of the gate--with a brutal, graphic, and spell-binding description of the assault and attack on Charlie, Sam, and Gamma--and it never lets up from there. Seriously, this book never lets you take a breath or a break: it's just constant action and second guessing.

Told from the points of view of both Charlie and Sam, including their varying memories of the incident at the farmhouse, we are forced to see all the events and violence through the eyes of the two sisters alone. As I mentioned, this keeps you guessing--and reading. I completely put down the other novel I was reading at the time (FINAL GIRLS) to read this: I had to know how it ended.

All the characters in this book are entwined, and Slaughter does a great job of depicting the small town of Pikeville. It's a mystery at its core, sure, but it also goes deeper with commentary on race, class, and how modern society deals with mass tragedy. The characters are well-drawn: I immediately found myself intrigued by Sam, Charlie, their father (Rusty), the descriptions of Gamma, and by a slew of small-town folk, including Rusty's secretary Lenore, and Charlie's estranged husband, Ben. Slaughter is excellent with the details.

Indeed, she's great at doling out those "whoa" moments. The plot never lets down; in fact, it continues to pick up as the novel continues on. I truly gasped a couple of times and found myself going "wow"! That's not easy to do once, let alone consistently.

This is a beautiful book at times--the way the plot and characters weave together. It even makes you laugh at moments, despite some truly somber subject matter. I found myself a bit irked at times by Charlie and Sam's fighting (I've read a lot of books with sisters fighting as of late), but if that's my only nitpick, that's not bad at all.

Overall, a great mystery that keeps you guessing and surprised to the very end. Excellent, fascinating, and deep characters. Definitely worth a read.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Edelweiss (thank you!); it is available everywhere as of 08/22/2017.

You can read my review of Slaughter's novel PRETTY GIRLS here.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

But so afraid that time will take it all from me: BEST INTENTIONS.

Best IntentionsBest Intentions by Erika Raskin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Marti Trailor is a beleaguered mother of three young children, struggling to hold on to any pieces of her own self as she takes care of her household and family while her husband, Elliot, works endless hours as an obstetrician. When her youngest daughter starts kindergarten, Marti, a former social worker, decides to go back to work. She gets a job, which, coincidentally happens to be in her husband's hospital--something he doesn't seem too thrilled about. Once there, Marti realizes just how overworked many of the doctors are. She also can't help but get a little too involved in the lives of her clients. It's while helping a client--and skirting that precarious line between social worker and friend--that Marti sees something horrible happen at the hospital. This event will change the course of her life forever and threaten everything she holds dear.

This was an interesting novel, to say the least. I was immediately drawn to it, as the author apparently lives in Charlottesville, my hometown. This book is set in Richmond, VA, and she certainly captures the area and the state quite well.

The book is told entirely from Marti's perspective and it takes a little while to fall into the pattern of reading, as present-tense and past-tense are presented together in the chapters without any break (at least they were in my ARC), leaving you a bit confused at first. The back and forth can be a little awkward and jarring in the beginning, though once you get used to it, it's a pretty compelling device. The novel isn't exactly exciting in a thriller-type way, but there's a fascinating element to it that keeps you reading.

There's a lot going on in this book--marital issues, a discussion on hospital policies, Marti juggling work and motherhood, investigative journalism, discussion into Richmond politics, etc. Sometimes it seems a little too much: did Marti really need to be the daughter of a Congressman, for instance?

Still, Raskin is a descriptive writer, and her prose is fairly easy to read, and again, as I mentioned, it's a hard-to-put down book. She had me from nearly the beginning, when she described one of the characters as "Tommy Lee Jones in his heyday cute." (She gets me, she really gets me, I thought!)

As the novel progresses, I found it almost Jodi Picoult-esque. There's a strong emphasis on character development, courtroom drama, and plot elements designed to make you think. Sure, the characters are drawn a bit black and white--Elliot bad, Marti good, but it works: Elliot is just so awful you cannot help but like Marti even more. Did I find the novel quite as persuasive and enjoyable as Picoult in her heyday? No. But that's pretty hard to do.

Overall, I enjoyed this one. It's descriptive, oddly compelling, and was a nice change of pace from the thrillers I've been reading lately. Definitely worth a read. I'd go with around 3.75 stars, rounded up to 4 here.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley (thank you!); it is available everywhere as of 08/15/2017.

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Friday, August 18, 2017

All I know is how to wreck you: EVERY LAST LIE.

Every Last LieEvery Last Lie by Mary Kubica

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Clara Solberg's new son, Felix, is just days old when her husband, Nick, and four-year-old daughter, Maisie are in a terrible car crash. They are heading home from Maisie's ballet class when Nick takes a curve too fast and the car slams into a tree--Maisie is amazingly uninjured, but Nick is killed. Devastated, Clara finds herself unable to sleep or eat and soon, Maisie begins having nightmares, telling her mother a bad man is after her and showing fear about a particular kind of car. Clara begins to wonder if her husband's death was really an accident. As she investigates, she also starts to ponder if she knew Nick at all.

Kubica's latest is told in alternating perspectives: Clara, as she deals with the aftermath of her husband's untimely death, and Nick, in the months leading up to the car crash. It should be an effective format, causing things to unfurl slowly and build tension and suspense. Unfortunately, in this case, it also creates a layer of stress. Maybe I just caught this book at a bad time--I was busy with work and could only pick it up in bits and pieces for a while--but the first 2/3 or so just stressed me out. I found myself almost dreading picking it back up and finding out what Clara was up to. While we should have sympathy for Clara, as her husband is dead and she's left alone with two small children, I often found her annoying and, honestly, a borderline terrible parent.

As such, her parenting decisions and overall bad judgment left me unable to enjoy or even fathom huge portions of the novel. Maybe she's clouded by grief and fatigue, but I'm not sure I'd immediately go from my child having one nightmare to thinking my husband had been killed. Nor would I leave my children in the (hot) car alone everywhere I went, chasing down leads on this supposed murder. Good grief. Her unhinged behavior was hard to stomach after awhile.

Nick's portions were almost easier to read, even if he too is an unsympathetic character: a man who just needed to not lie constantly to his wife. (Why, why must characters just lie incessantly in some of these novels?)

The one redeeming facet for this novel was the last third--and again, I have to say that maybe I just found the book at a bad time, because when I finally found a little time to read it uninterrupted (e.g., stay up too late the night before my children started school--a decision I'm still regretting), it did pick up. I read the last third in one setting, because the dramatic tension was finally affecting me, and I needed to know what happened.

Still, even in the end, I felt let down by it all. Why did I read this? What was the point? I have read two other of Kubica's novels and enjoyed them, particularly Pretty Baby, but this one just didn't do it for me.

Overall: stressful, lacked the appropriate tension for most of the novel, belabored by annoying/irritating characters, and a letdown of an ending. Before writing this review, I was thinking 3 stars, but as I'm writing, I realized this was a 2.5 star read for me. Hopefully you will enjoy it more than me. I will definitely read whatever Kubica writes (and I still have The Good Girl waiting on my Kindle app), but I'm disappointed by this one.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Won’t catch me showing any hurt: THE LATE SHOW.

The Late Show (Renée Ballard, #1)The Late Show by Michael Connelly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

THE LATE SHOW introduces us to a new character in the Connelly canon: Renee Ballard, a young female detective in the LAPD striving to prove herself. Ballard works the night shift, where she picks up evening cases. But Ballard hates that she never gets to see an investigation to fruition--always turning her cases over to the daytime detectives. So when she is assigned two late shift cases, the shooting of a young female in a nightclub and the horrible beating of a transsexual prostitute, she finagles a way to stay involved with both. This means still working the night shift while--mostly secretly--tracking down leads on her cases during the day. In doing so, Ballard gets caught up in department politics and a case that could lead her to immense danger.

Connelly is just an excellent writer; I love all his books, and I was excited and interested to hear he was creating a new character. I've been in love with his Detective Bosch for years. This novel is basically vintage Connelly with a modern twist, with Ballard being extremely knowledgeable about the night shift and police procedure. Connelly is still clearly up-to-date on the current workings of a police department. At times, you almost forget you're not reading about Bosch and his shenanigans.

But, in saying that, I feel as if I don't give Renee Ballard true justice. She's a wonderful character--a strong, yet damaged female, who is smart and fascinating. It's a pleasure to read about such a complicated individual. Ballard is on the late shift (aka the late show) because she accused a former supervisor of sexual harassment and was subsequently blackballed. Yet she's dedicated to her job, almost to the point of obsession. At times, I was amazed she could get away with some of the stuff she pulled. (Sound like any other Connelly characters we know?)

Nonetheless, Ballard pulls us into an incredibly compelling mystery. It started a tad slow for me, but quickly picks up and remains quite mesmerizing. The cases are well-plotted and exciting, and Connelly gives us peeks into Ballard's personal life, without revealing everything. The novel spends a lot of time focusing on her thoughts and feelings, but is still quite compelling.

Overall, I really enjoyed this one. I'm excited to see Connelly with a new character and look forward to more of Renee Ballard in the future.

You can read my review of Connelly's THE WRONG SIDE OF GOODBYE here and my review of THE CROSSING here - both feature Connelly's Detective Harry Bosch.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Maybe love is waiting at the end of every room: EMMA IN THE NIGHT.

Emma in the NightEmma in the Night by Wendy Walker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cassandra Tanner and her sister, Emma, disappeared on the same night three years ago. Cass was fifteen and her lovely, enigmatic older sister seventeen. Suddenly, Cass shows up on her mother's doorstep, desperately begging her family to find Emma, whom she claims is being against her will on a remote island in Maine. Immediately, the FBI is called back to the case, including forensic psychiatrist Abby Winter, who has been haunted by the investigation since Emma and Cass went missing. Abby had a lot of theories about Emma and Cass' case--and saw similarities in their mother to her own--but kept most of these thoughts to herself. But now that Cass is back, with a story that doesn't completely add up, Abby realizes she might not be so off track after all. And that there might be a lot more to Emma and Cass' disappearance then everyone thinks.

This book is a tough one for me. It started off in great fashion--completely sucking me in. It's an interesting novel, as in some ways it seems like a rather straightforward tale of two missing girls, but it's also incredibly puzzling and keeps you guessing from the start. I think my brow was probably actually furrowed as I was reading. It's hard to trust anyone in this novel, or know who to believe, and that has you frantically turning pages, trying to figure out what on earth is the actual truth.

The story flips between Cass' point of view and that of Abby's. I was intrigued by Cass' story, though not particularly attached to her and while I sympathized with Abby, wasn't really drawn to her as a character, either. I actually sort of wanted to rush through her sections so I could get back to Cass and what was actually happening (or had happened) to her, and by proxy, Emma.

Make no mistake--the Tanner/Martin family saga is a twisted one. This book will shock and bewilder you--this is not a nice set of characters. Emma and Cass' mother is hateful and downright despicable, as are many of the supporting characters. Even Emma--via stories--is tough to care for at times. The premise is that Ms. Martin, the mother, has narcissistic personality disorder--the same disorder that affected Abby's mother as well. At first, this works, as you're shocked by the treatment of Emma and Cass and what it's done to each girl.

But, admittedly, after a while, I grew a little weary of this plot device. The disorder and its effects are explained repeatedly. If Walker could have explained it and moved on, I would have enjoyed the novel a lot more. I found myself skimming over some of the repetitive psychological descriptions, so I could get on with the story. As the story continues, the family almost seems too fractured and horrible; I was shocked at the continuing tale of horror regarding her mother, stepfather, stepbrother, and sister that Cass kept weaving. Goodness--they come across as diabolical, but not real.

I actually really enjoyed Walker's previous novel, ALL IS NOT FORGOTTEN - particularly because the ending lived up to the earlier parts of the novel and shocked me. Here, I am pretty sure the intent was the same, but it didn't quite pan out. By the time we reached the end, I was tired of the psychological drama and ramblings. I hadn't exactly figured out what had happened--I'll definitely give Walker that--but I knew something was up. I also felt so much of all of this could have been avoided from the start by Cass, but I won't go into that for spoilers sake.

So, alas. As I started this one, I really thought it was going to be a novel that I was going to recommend to everyone. By the end, I was a bit let down. I'll go with 3 stars overall, since it certainly did keep me flipping the pages.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley (thank you!); it is available everywhere as of 08/08/2017.

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Wednesday, August 02, 2017

She don't need nobody to be her man: MRS. FLETCHER.

Mrs. FletcherMrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As a divorcee in her mid-40s, Eve Fletcher is struggling with the fact that her only son, Brendan, is heading off to college. Suddenly, Eve is truly alone for the first time. Shortly after she takes Brendan to college, Eve receives a strange text message reading, "U r my MILF!" Baffled, the message takes Eve down a strange path that includes an obsession with MILF-related porn. Suddenly, her regular life--work as the Executive Director at the local senior center, taking classes at the community college, and her various friendships--seems somewhat tinged by her porn habit. Meanwhile, Brendan isn't finding college all he thought it would be. His fellow chauvinistic/jock roommate is suddenly shunning him and his partying habits are catching up with him. Before they know it, Eve and Brendan are on a collision course for some crazy and interesting situations.

First of all, don't bother with this novel if you can't handle sexual or porn references in your reading: let's just get that out there. There are all sorts of said references in Perrotta's latest and while you could argue that they are plot driven, it certainly gets to be a bit much at times.

For me, this one was a tad odd. Parts of it I really enjoyed; others, I just found bizarre and strange (and I've read other Perrotta works, so I know somewhat what to expect with him). The early parts of the novel were almost tender and hit a bit close to home, as I'm the only child of a single (also divorced) mother. The relationship between Eve and Brendan is interesting and well-explored, and you certainly have sympathy for Eve. In fact, many of the adults in this novel are so incredibly sad and lonely--and they have some extremely realistic moments and situations.

Alas, Brendan is really just insufferable, and you can't help but like Eve a little less as the result. I rarely enjoyed any of the sections told from his point of view. As the novel progresses, it increases its perspectives--bringing in the secondary characters--and you really do get drawn into their lives. Perrotta is an engaging writer and while not all his characters in this one are likeable, nor do they always act rationally, they are dynamic. Indeed, this is often just a plain old weird and bizarre novel. Some places I found myself thinking Is this really happening?? (Oh it was.)

So, in the end this is an amusing tale--with a surprising depth--that offers a fairly accurate portrayal about society and sexuality/gender. The characters are certainly interesting, even if pieces can be ridiculous and preposterous. The ending left me feeling a little let down, which was a tad disappointing, and kept it from being higher than a 3-star review for me.

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 08/01/2017.

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Sunday, July 30, 2017

Always snatching defeat, it's the devil I know: ARE YOU SLEEPING.

Are You SleepingAre You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Josie Buhrman's father, Chuck, was shot in the head in their family home when Josie and her twin sister, Lanie, were teens. Their seventeen-year-old next-door neighbor, Warren Cave, was convicted of the crime, based mainly on Lanie's testimony that she saw Warren shoot her father. Now, twelve years later, Chuck's case is being featured on a new podcast, called RECONSIDERED (think SERIAL), featuring crime reporter Poppy Parnell. Poppy has unearthed the case at the behest of Warren's mother, Melanie, who claims he's innocent. Suddenly, everyone in America is talking about the Buhrman family. For Josie--who has changed her last name and fled her home state of Illinois--this is particularly disturbing, since she's never told her boyfriend, Caleb, about her family. Josie and Lanie are estranged, their mother lives in a cult in California, and she only has sporadic contact with her family through her Aunt A and cousin Ellen. However, when Ellen calls with the news that Josie's mom has passed away, she realizes she needs to return to Illinois and face her demons. And the fact that perhaps Warren isn't her father's killer.

This was a compelling first novel that definitely kept me reading. It offers an interesting commentary on our society's focus on these sorts of "lurid" family crimes and the media formats in which we rapidly digest them. However, as the novel points out, society gets sucked into true crime shows without realizing the impact the focus may have on those associated with said crime. For Josie, Lanie, and the entire Burhman family, RECONSIDERED roars through their life like a freight train. The novel features excerpts from the podcast itself, which is an incredibly effective format--interspersing the chapters with the podcast excerpts, reddit threads, and Twitter feed is powerful and really builds suspense. Further, Josie tells the story in the present, but often remembers back to the past, only adding to the tension.

For a while, thanks to the format and storyline, I thought this would be a 4-star for sure. I did not enjoy, however, how the book relies on one of my least favorite devices (well-known to those who read my reviews frequently): a relationship or plot built on shaky lies. So much of Josie and Caleb's relationship is just so, and it drove me crazy; it just seemed ridiculous that she wouldn't tell him the truth, and I was so frustrated. So, there's that. The plot also felt vaguely familiar at times--maybe I'm just reading too many thrillers anymore. But the whole blame the kid with a satanic background for a crime, sisters fighting too much over silly things--that all felt a bit done. Also, Lanie and Josie's fighting and drama was a tad much for me at times.

In the end, this one wasn't a shocker, but it was certainly compelling. It kept me reading the entire time: it's captivating and disturbing. I loved the format of the book, and I'm impressed that this is Barber's first--I look forward to her next novel. 3.5 stars.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley (thank you!); it is available everywhere as of 08/01/2017.

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Saturday, July 29, 2017

I guess I thought you were a golden idol: CAMINO ISLAND.

Camino IslandCamino Island by John Grisham

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Princeton University houses five valuable manuscripts--all the originals of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novels. They are housed in the basement under a veil of security, but not enough to stop a band of clever thieves from breaking in and stealing them. This sets loose a chain of events and angers both the FBI, who is trying to track down the criminals, and the insurance company, as they are on the hook for $25 million unless the manuscripts are returned. Meanwhile, on touristy Camino Island, Bruce Cable runs a popular bookstore/coffee shop. Thanks to a lot of persistence and hard work, he's managed to keep it profitable even in the digital age. He's also a major backer of the many authors who come through his town on book tours. But few of those authors, or Bruce's patrons, know that Bruce keeps a vault in his shop housing a variety of rare books and manuscripts--some stolen. Finally, we turn to Mercer Mann--Mercer's just lost her teaching position, and she's three years overdue on delivering her next book to her publisher. She's also drowning in student loans. Mercer's approached by a beautiful and elegant woman who offers her a lot of money to get close to Bruce Cable and learn all about his web of secrets. Trouble, as you may guess, ensues.

I have a soft spot for Grisham, that's for sure. I fell in love with his first novels as a young teen, and I still love Darby Shaw, Gray Grantham, Mark Sway, Reverend Roy, and Reggie Love as if they were real people. Grisham and his family have a home in my town, and we claim him as one of our own. His books are often an easy escape, and CAMINO ISLAND falls into that category. Is it as memorable as The Pelican Brief or The Client? No. Is it a fun diversion for a few days? Sure.

CAMINO ISLAND is a change from most of Grisham's legal thrillers--there are no lawyers or court room scenes here, just some tricky criminals, a heist, and the aftermath. You'll need to keep track of the various bad guys in the beginning, but once you get past that, it's an easy breezy read--much like the Florida setting where most of the novel is set. Mercer's a pleasant, albeit not very complicated protagonist, and Bruce Cable is a trip. It's also a detailed exploration into the world of rare books--something I knew little to nothing about.

Overall, this is fun, easy thriller. There are a few twists and turns along the way to keep you interested, and Grisham's characters are always enjoyable. The ending wraps up fairly quickly after all the build-up, so be prepared for that. Is it Grisham's best? No. But it will keep you entertained for a couple of days. 3.5 stars.

You can read my reviews of Grisham's novels THE WHISTLER here and ROGUE LAWYER here.

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Monday, July 24, 2017

I don't need anything money can buy: THE MARRIAGE PACT.

The Marriage PactThe Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Newlyweds Alice and Jake don't think much of it when a client from Alice's law firm invites himself to their wedding and then gives them a mysterious wedding gift. But they soon discover the gift is offering them membership in a exclusive group called The Pact, whose main goal is to keep couples married. The Pact comes with a series of strict rules detailed in the group's Manual. Jake, a psychologist, is interested in the institution of marriage and excited to find an organization that he thinks will keep his beloved wife, Alice, a former rock singer turned lawyer, interested and focused on their union. Things change quickly for the couple, though, when The Pact thinks that Alice is breaking the rules. Suddenly, Alice and Jake find themselves stuck in The Pact, whose members seem to go to any lengths to enforce their rules--and to keep their members within the group.

The set up to the book is certainly interesting: joining an exclusive group focused on marriage. It's a secretive society of sorts with a series of rules focused on a single goal: keeping your marriage intact. And if you don't follow those rules: there are consequences, often extreme ones.
I can't deny that this book is very creepy at times. It also causes you to question the sanity of this couple. Why on earth would they sign these documents and join the Pact? Jake, okay, perhaps: he supposedly is desperate to keep Alice. But Alice, for pete's sake, is a lawyer: she has to know that signing anything, even if you think it's a joke (and this is not presented as a joke) could have serious consequences. Instead, she blindly signs because she wants to go to a party?! Perhaps they deserved what they get! (And maybe I'm a little bitter.) The book often reminded me of The Girl Before: another novel where you have to completely suspend disbelief that people would even entertain living life by a series of ridiculous rules to somewhat enjoy the book.

That's not to say I didn't sometimes feel sorry for Alice, or even Jake. I was drawn a bit more to Alice and often wished I could have heard her perspective on things sometimes, instead of just her husband's. Rather, things just seemed so drawn out: so much of Jake ruminating about Alice, their marriage, marriage in general, life, etc. It was a little much for me.

Still, as I mentioned the book definitely has its creepy moments. Even with those, it took me forever to read it. I never felt compelled to pick it up (so much talking and thinking from Jake) and probably finished at least two other books over the 10-day (!) span it took me to read this. I was more intrigued and interested in the last fourth or so of the book and then pretty much let down by the end, so there you have it. There's one good twist in there, and I'm going with a three-star rating, but I'm definitely not in the camp raving about this one. However, lots of people loved this book, so you may enjoy it a lot more than me.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher and Netgalley (thank you!) in return for an unbiased review - it is available everywhere as of 07/25/2017.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Whether you're late for church or you're stuck in jail: THE ALMOST SISTERS.

The Almost SistersThe Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Leia Birch Briggs is a self-professed nerd: a graphic novelist with a penchant for comic books, Wonder Woman, and online gaming. So it's not exactly surprising that, with the help of tequila, she'd fall for a handsome man in a Batman costume at a comics convention in Atlanta. What comes next is a bit more of a surprise: Leia is pregnant from that one-night stand, and it's up to her to tell her over-protective family and very Southern grandmother. To top it off, said Batman was African American: not exactly the easiest thing to tell your Baptist family with Southern roots. But before Leia can even tell her family, she gets some disturbing news from Alabama about her paternal grandmother, Birchie. As Leia rushes to Alabama to help Birchie, she also learns that her stepsister, Rachel, is struggling. So Leia and her teenage niece, Lavender, head to Alabama to assist Birchie and break Leia's big news. But it turns out Birchie has some pretty big news of her own. News that will change everything Leia has ever known about her family.

This is one of those ARCs that I don't remember requesting, but I'm really glad I did. It was a pleasant surprise - just a fun, warm novel, even with its serious (and extremely timely) subject matter. I warmed to nerdy Leia immediately (and not just because I have a cat named after said Princess): she's real and flawed and quite relatable. All of the women in Leia's life are well-written and their own people: sweet Lavender, trying to figure out her way in the world as her parents' marriage implodes; Rachel, Lavender's mom, a perfectionist struggling with a lot of imperfection; Wattie, Birchie's best friend, an African American woman living with her in Alabama; and then the amazing Birchie herself, written so impeccably that I could just see her stubborn, regal face pour vibrantly from every page. I fell hard for each of these women and their struggles became mine.

Sure, a lot of this book is a little predictable, but the racial tensions and struggles that Jackson writes about are not: they are real and true. Jackson captures the racial divisions so well - the sweet, kind sweet tea side of the South versus the dark, racist, segregated aspects. I could just picture Birchville and its townsfolk. The novel is excellent in that so much of the story is humorous, yet the serious side is very well-done, too.

Leia is a graphic novelist and portions of the book describe a graphic novel she'd written -- I'm not a huge graphic novel fan, so I wasn't completely into those pieces, but I was able to slide past them. The parallels in Leia's novel to the South didn't elude me, so I appreciated why that was included, even if I didn't always want to read a summary of a supposedly graphic novel. Some of the symbolism and metaphors may be a little too forced/spelled out for us at times, but I still enjoyed the novel very much. Pieces of it made me laugh out loud - Leia's sense of humor and her predicaments, Birchie's tough sensibility. Birchie and Wattie's dynamic was wonderful, and I really cared for those two.

In the end, I really enjoyed this one. There's a great story here as well a plot that doesn't gloss over racial discord. I appreciated both. The cast of characters is great -- real, funny, humorous, and heartbreaking. Certainly recommend.

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

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Friday, July 14, 2017

There is no one in this world who won’t make a few mistakes: THE CHILD.

The ChildThe Child by Fiona Barton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a worker tears apart an old house under construction in London, he makes an unsettling discovery: tiny bones. The police believe they belong to a baby who was buried years earlier. The story catches the eye of journalist Kate Waters, who immediately wants to determine the child's identity. Her research leads her to a missing child from several decades in the past: a stolen baby, who was never found. Kate finds herself drawn into the missing baby's case and the lives of several women: Angela, a mother who had her baby stolen many years ago; Emma, who once lived on the block where the baby's bones were found; and Jude, Emma's mother.

I really enjoyed Barton's previous novel, The Widow, and I have to say that THE CHILD did not disappoint. It's hard exactly to describe her books, but they have some sort of power over you, drawing you into their narrative and making it difficult to come back to reality until you've reached the end. Much like THE WIDOW, we're presented with a cast of disparate characters-not all of whom are particularly likeable. I hadn't realized, for some reason, that THE CHILD would feature Kate again--a journalist we previously met in Barton's earlier book. I found Kate a much more engaging protagonist this time around: she came across as more human and flawed.

Otherwise, the novel focuses on timid, depressed Emma and her difficult relationship with her mother, Jude, who kicked Emma out of the house at the sixteen. Each woman has a turn at the narration, as does Angela, who is still reeling from having her baby stolen from the hospital (and never found). Barton does a skillful job weaving their stories together. Everything unfolds in bits and pieces as the tale progresses in the eyes of each of our narrators. For me, it was extremely riveting: just as one shocking piece came out, another one would fall into place.

Barton also gives us an excellent look into the journalism business, with a focus on how Kate writes her stories, with a strong emphasis on real (face-to-face, non-Internet-based) research. We see firsthand how the current social media craze is affecting the newspaper world. It's refreshing, as we get to basically see a crime/story solved, yet not necessarily through the lens of a typical police drama.

Overall, I really enjoyed this one. I figured out parts of it as it went along, but found it to be a very compelling read. Definitely worth picking up.

You can read my review of the THE WIDOW here.

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Monday, July 10, 2017

I can't control my dreams: TWO NIGHTS.

Two NightsTwo Nights by Kathy Reichs

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Sunday (Sunnie) Night has a pretty big chip on her shoulder and a dark past. Ex-military and a former cop, Sunnie is hired by Opaline Drucker, a wealthy older woman, to look into the bombing that killed her daughter and grandson and left her granddaughter, Stella, missing. The case has some strong parallels to Sunnie's past and despite her better judgement, she agrees help Opaline. Sunnie quickly finds herself in a web of danger and deceit--with little chance of escaping unharmed.

I must admit that I'm probably one of the few people who haven't read any of Reichs' Temperance Brennan novels. I actually love the show Bones, but have never picked up the books--one of the few times where I've tended to prefer a show to date. So, you won't get a comparison of the Brennan series to this novel in this review (there are plenty of reviews out there with those observations, if you're interested). I am, however, a huge mystery and thriller fan. Reichs presents us with a pretty stereotypical cynical, truculent cop-turned-PI in the character of Sunnie (though Sunnie doesn't have a formal PI license). She's quirky, of course (see such exhibits as her pet squirrel, Bob) and has a distaste of rules of all forms. The story is told primarily from Sunnie's point of view, and we learn about her past only through her own recollections and memories as her present-day case causes her to occasionally think back on or mention old times. I imagine the author aiming for a Harry Bosch or Kinsey Millhone-type: I don't think Sunnie is to that level, but she's definitely a complicated and engaging heroine.

The story was certainly a compelling one, if not a bit bizarre at times. Sunnie shoots a man at the Ritz in Chicago, but is allowed to continue staying at the hotel: okay then. The Chicago P.D. allows her to continue investigating (the Drucker family bombing is technically still an open case for them) with surprising magnanimity, even with Opaline's family fortune in play. There are also portions of the novel where Sunnie has various characters under surveillance that drag on a bit (there's only so much tracking of someone back and forth that I can take).

Still, for the most part, the plot is pretty tight and exciting. Sunnie may be a bit cliche, but she's a strong character and an interesting one. She has a great wit and sarcasm to her that I loved. She's smart and savvy, even if damaged by her past. The novel also presents a couple of great twists that were excellent surprises--definitely made it worth reading for the mystery alone. Overall, this was a captivating read, and I'd be curious to read more about Sunnie in the future. 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 07/11/2017.

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Saturday, July 08, 2017

I thought of how the world could end with just one word: HELLO, SUNSHINE.

Hello, SunshineHello, Sunshine by Laura Dave

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sunshine (Sunny) Mackenzie has a great life--a hit YouTube cooking show, several published cookbooks, and the potential for a show on the Food Network. She's also happily married to her husband, Danny. But all it takes is a few Twitter posts from a hacker to destroy Sunny's life. Because, you see, she's been living a life built on lies and subterfuge. Disgraced, alone, and broke, Sunny returns to her childhood home, to a complicated relationship with her sister and a six-year-old niece she barely knows. Sunny has a plan to get her life back, but it involves a new set of lies. Is it worth it--and worth sacrificing a potential relationship with her sister?

This was an interesting novel. I must admit, I was bothered the entire time I was reading it, because it felt like a weirdly familiar story, but I could never place why. You know how something is often in the back of your mind? I don't know if I've just read too many books, have a terrible memory, or if I've truly read a book with a similar plot (disgraced chef returns home): it could be all of the above. But it did affect me sometimes as I was reading.

Sunny was a tough character. It was hard to tell if I liked her. She was terrible to lie about her entire professional life, yet she was backstabbed pretty badly by her hacker. I was willing to let those two equal out, but then after all said events, she still made a chain of pretty awful decisions. Her slow learning--and lack of sense--was a bit frustrating to me, although she did grow on me as the novel progressed. The book falls back on some plot cliches and predictable story turns, though there is one good twist. It's slightly marred by a lame reason for said twist, but still: it did take me by surprise.

The cast of characters in this one is limited, and it was refreshing to read a novel told from just one perspective (Sunny's). Sammy, her niece, is the best. I wanted more Sammy. The funny parts in this novel are just plain funny--there were pieces that made me laugh out loud. I also enjoyed the novel's message related to our society's current trend of living life based on social media. It does a good job of portraying the complicated relationship between sisters as well.

Overall, this one was a little predictable, but still interesting and often fun. A quick, breezy read.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Edelweiss (thank you!); it is available everywhere as of 07/11/2017.

You can read my review of Dave's novel, EIGHT HUNDRED GRAPES, here.

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Wednesday, July 05, 2017

When I look at this world I think about you: THE IDENTICALS.

The IdenticalsThe Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Harper and Tabitha Frost--identical twins--grew up thick as thieves, the best of friends. But their parents' divorce at seventeen cruelly separated the girls, with each being allocated to a parent and sent off to live with them on a separate island. Harper goes with their more laid-back father, Billy, to Martha's Vineyard, while Tabitha goes with their formidable and exacting mother, renowned fashion designer Eleanor Roxie-Frost. The twins' relationship is then further destroyed by a tragic event in early adulthood. They've barely spoken since, and it's only the death of their father that forces them to reluctantly reunite on the Vineyard for Billy's memorial service. It also allows Harper a chance to see her popular but rebellious teenage niece, Ainsley, who is struggling under Tabitha's freestyle, lax parenting. Harper and Tabitha are set in their ways--and resolute about never forming a friendship. Can Billy's death change the way the twins feel, or is it too late?

I've read a handful of Hilderbrand's novels by now and many of her books have a similar, beachy feel, often with a focus on twins (this makes more sense now, knowing that Hilderbrand is herself a twin) and wayward teens. There's always rampant gossip on Nantucket, which is her usual locale, yet you'll always be left wanting to visit (and in this case, the Vineyard as well). Things are typically a bit predictable and there's always a romance or two thrown in.

Still, this book especially peaked my interest as I have (young) twin daughters. I was pleasantly surprised by the plot and quite captivated by the book. It's a perfect beach read. Obviously you're not going to find a literary masterpiece, but if you're looking for escape, it's perfect. The plot is exciting, the characters complex enough (and up to their elbows in trouble), and the summery location makes you feel as if you're at the beach, experiencing the crazy gossip as it happens. I found myself quite drawn to all the characters--which doesn't always happen in novels like this--and especially liked headstrong teenage Ainsley and poor Harper, who just can't seem to get her life together.

Sure, things happen rather as anticipated at times and some of the characters' changes are pretty foreseeable. But they are a fun group and the supporting cast really adds depth to the story. The epilogue is a cute addition, as well. Overall, this is a pleasant, entertaining beach read and a step above many in the genre.

You can read my review of Hilderbrand's novel THE RUMOR here.

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Tuesday, July 04, 2017

We'd meet in the middle: COMING UP FOR AIR.

Coming Up for AirComing Up for Air by Miranda Kenneally

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Maggie's entire life is swimming. Since she was a kid, her focus has been on the sport and hopefully qualifying for the Olympics one day. Her best friend, Levi, also swims, and the two spend most of their time together. As they enter their senior year, however, Maggie starts to realize how much of typical teen life she's missed out on because of swimming. In particular: relationships and being with a guy. So Maggie turns to Levi for help. After all, her best friend is well-versed in randomly hooking up with girls at swim meets, so she asks him to teach her to hook up. Maggie doesn't think anything will go wrong with this plan--and that the two can maintain their close friendship. But is that really the case? And can Maggie still focus on the most important year of her swimming career?

I've read a few other books in Kenneally's Hundred Oaks series and really enjoyed them: they are just fun, escapist YA novels. For me, this one wasn't quite up to the others I've read, though I enjoyed the second half more than the first. It took me a long time to get into the story and the characters. The "learn to hook up" premise for the plot was a shaky one, and I missed the main focus on sport and relationships than seem to be the hallmark of Kenneally's other novels. While this genre of book is often a bit predictable, the first half of this one was ridiculously so, and it was a little painful to read at times.

Luckily, I found the second half more in the usual Hundred Oaks style, and I did find myself getting into Maggie and Levi's story more. Maggie irritated me a bit from time to time, but she takes more control over her own life decisions in the second half of the story. I liked Levi a lot and the two's friendship. The second half also centers more on her competitive swimming career, which I enjoyed (the focus on different sports in this series is always a fun, added touch). You can't help but enjoy the romance aspect and get sucked in--it's just a strength of Kenneally's and she does it so well. Overall, while not my favorite of the Hundred Oaks novels, this was a cute book and a fun read, though not the usual quick escape that I was expecting.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley (thank you!); it is available everywhere as of 07/01/2017.

You can read my reviews of two other books in the series here: BREATHE, ANNIE, BREATHE and DEFENDING TAYLOR.

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Monday, July 03, 2017

There's a place in the sun that she's never been: BURNTOWN.

BurntownBurntown by Jennifer McMahon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a child, Miles watched in horror as his mother was murdered before his very eyes. Despite that awful event, Miles grew up into a well-respected professor, as well as an inventor. He married his wife, Lily, and they had a family, daughter Eva and son Errol. Miles loves to tinker in his workshop while Eva watches and assists. Miles best invention, however? A machine built off plans supposedly from Thomas Edison and handed down to Miles: it allows you to speak with your deceased loved ones. But Miles' hard-fought happy adult life ends when a terrible storm hits his family home: at the same time, the machine turns itself on, warning them of danger. Shortly after, Eva awakes and is told by Lily that Miles and Errol are dead. Their home has been lost in the "Great Flood," and they can never return. Eva reinvents herself as Necco, and she and her mother find a new life among the homeless of Burntown. But then Necco's mother dies and a series of events shows that Necco is in grave danger. What exactly happened the night of the Great Flood? And will Necco ever be safe again?

The premise of this book probably sounds absurd, but please, don't let it deter you. I've read a handful of McMahon's books over time now and liked them all, but I really, really enjoyed this book. Many of her books have a blend of paranormal, fantasy, etc., and this one was no exception, expertly weaving in fantasy and supernatural flavors into a surprisingly riveting mystery.

The novel starts off a bit convoluted--there are a lot of narrators--and you have to suspend your disbelief at times for the plot to work, but it's really worth it. Necco is a wonderful character, and she's surrounded by this intriguing group of people, including Pru, a cafeteria lady/circus fanatic; Theo, a high school student finding her way; and Mr. Marcelle, a delivery man who helps out his private investigator brother. McMahon seamlessly weaves together these characters--and many more--into a mesmerizing tale that is part ghost story, part mystery, part love story. I honestly couldn't put this book down: I stayed up late to finish it.

This novel isn't your usual mystery or your usual supernatural tale, but it's certainly worth reading if you like one or both genres. There's a sweetness to it, as well as a completely compelling plot that will pull you in immediately.

You can read my review of McMahon's novel, THE NIGHT SISTER, here.

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