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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