Wednesday, January 27, 2016

But I found a place where I can erase my past.

Just FallJust Fall by Nina Sadowsky

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ellie seems to have the picture perfect life - and now, the picture perfect wedding. She's finally marrying Rob, seemingly the man of her dreams. But at her wedding, Ellie's world collapses, as she finds out Rob is not what he seems. She is quickly swept up into his world of lies and yes, murder. Rob is counting on Ellie to free them from the constrictive life he's been leading, but that may mean she has to kill someone. Is Ellie prepared to do this? Is Rob what he seems? What has happened to Ellie's perfect life?

This was an interesting thriller, to say the least. It starts out a little slow (seems like a conventional he said/she said back and forth point-of-view tale) but quickly turned into an actual, compelling mystery. The book is told in a "Then" and "Now" format, but with a couple of twists: first, you hear not only from Ellie and Rob, but also a detective, Lucien, who is investigating several cases that have ensnared the pair, and second, the "Then" portions aren't chronological, so you are really skipping around in time. It is confusing at times, but certainly adds to the page-turning aspect. A good 3/4 of the book passes by in a flash.

I was wary most of the book - who is telling the truth? Rob? Ellie? No one? This one reminded me a bit of another excellent book I read recently - J.T. Ellison's "No One Knows" (which I preferred), where you just don't know which spouse to trust, or if you even like either of them! They are both flawed, but not really in a way you could sympathize with. Lucien was certainly the only character who seemed to have any redemptive qualities to him at times, and his inclusion was intriguing and enjoyable.

Overall, this book left me feeling confused and a little wanting. It seemed to fall apart a little with the ending - I was almost not quite sure exactly what transpired. It left me a little wanting. Still, as I write my review 24 hours later, the book is still haunting me, and I imagine it will for quite some time-- which is certainly a feat in itself. I'm glad I read it; it was a strange and interesting experience to say the least.

I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley (thanks!). This novel is available for purchase on March 22nd.

View all my reviews

Monday, January 25, 2016

There's more than one answer to these questions pointing me in a crooked line.

To All the Boys I've Loved Before (To All the Boys I've Loved Before, #1)To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lara Jean is a slightly romantic high school student. You can't really blame her - she's been dealt a tough hand: her Mom died when she was younger, so it's just Lara Jean, her Dad, her older sister (Margot), and her younger sister, Kitty. And now, Margot-- her surrogate Mom-- is headed off to college, all the way in Scotland. To cope with her romantic heartbreak over the years, Lara Jean writes letters to the boys in question and sticks them in a hat box. But one day, she realizes the letters have somehow been mailed, leading to some awkward confrontations with some of her crushes: including Margot's ex-boyfriend. While dealing with the aftermath, Lara Jean has to grow up a bit and start thinking for herself.

This was one of those books that I must have read about somewhere, added to my library queue, and by the time it was available, completely forgot where I read about it, or why I wanted to read it. It was an incredibly fast read; I blew through it in about 24 hours. Lara Jean is a very engaging main character, who quickly draws you into her world. It's a mostly believable portrayal of the high school experience. My biggest issue with Lara Jean was that she seemed awfully young for her sixteen years at times; her voice (calling her parents Mommy and Daddy, for instance) and actions made her age hard to believe. While we are led to believe Lara Jean has been sheltered a bit by her older sister, it was still a little odd and off-putting at times. Also odd was the feelings she had for Margot's boyfriend (he becomes her ex quickly, but still factors into the story). It seemed strange that Margot would be so oblivious - and said boy, as well.

The book better excels when Lara Jean gets closer to another boy from her school - Peter Kavinksy, a popular kid. Their interactions were the real meat of the story and what kept me reading. Overall, I enjoyed the book, though its abrupt ending was a bit disappointing. However, there is a sequel featuring Lara Jean and several of the others in the story, so that's rather exciting. I shall add that to said library queue and be eager to see where life takes her. All in all, a cute read, even if it does feel like something is missing, or a bit off. A solid 3 stars.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

There's nothing like finding gold within the rocks hard and cold.

Me Before You (Me Before You, #1)Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Louisa Clark leads a calm and simple (perhaps even boring) life in her village. She has a job in a cafe, she lives with her parents, and she has a boyfriend, Patrick, who is predictable, even if she might not actually love him. But one day, Louisa's life is turned upside down when she arrives at work and finds out the cafe is closing. Forced into the world of unemployment, Lou eventually ends up as a caregiver for the Traynor family -- specifically Will, a quadriplegic, a once active and passionate man whose life was changed irrevocably by an accident. Confined to a wheelchair, unable to move most of his limbs, and in great pain many days, Will's life is nothing like it was before. However, when Lou arrives in his world, she brings a bit of joy and fun to his otherwise bland days. However, neither of them realize how much they will change and affect each others' lives.

This was an interesting book, for sure. I'd avoided it for a while, hearing how sad it was, and frankly, I have enough of that in my life. But it eventually came up in my library queue, and I decided to give it a shot, basically because I'd read Moye's "One Plus One" and really loved it. I will try not to reveal much of the plot, for those who may not have read anything about it. However, I'll say the book touches on timely topics such as assisted suicide. Should Will be confined to his chair for the rest of life, living half a life, much of it in pain? What role should his family play in his life, and in his decisions? And how much responsibility does he owe his family and those who care for him? All deep questions, for sure.

The book is enjoyable purely on the strength of Lou's character. Just like "One Plus One," Moyes has an uncanny ability to create a main character whom you start to inhabit, love, and root for - quirks, frustrations, and flaws included. Lou is real and you can't help but like her. It's a fast read, as well - I tore through it in less than two days. There's a sequel out now, and I'm a little sad that I just put it on hold at the library, and I'll have to wait a while to find out what happens - but perhaps that's for the best.

Anyway, I was definitely drawn in by Lou's voice. A lot of her character and situation hit home, in a weird sort of way - her being trapped in her life by fear and an inability to get out beyond the confines of the life she'd created for herself. Her relationship with Will is a fascinating one, for sure. The ending of the book is tough, and without spoiling anything, leaves you feeling a bit deflated. I felt a lot of complicated emotions about it all, which I suppose is the sign of a good book, but kept me from pushing it up to a full 4-star review. Still, a mesmerizing read.

View all my reviews

Monday, January 18, 2016

A least you were mine, if not for all time, enough to hold.

The Woman in Blue (Ruth Galloway, #8)The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The eighth book in Elly Griffths' Ruth Galloway series finds much of the action taking place in Walsingham, an English town famous for its religion. Cathbad, Ruth's druid friend, is in town housesitting for a friend, when he sees a lovely woman in a dress and cloak in the nearby cemetery. Cathbad believes he's had a vision of the Virgin Mary, but something doesn't seem right about the whole episode. In the morning, a young woman is found dead in Walsingham - wrapped in blue cloth. At the same time, Ruth is receiving emails from an old friend, Hilary, now a priest. She's receiving threatening letters from someone who clearly isn't happy about women in the priesthood and wants Ruth's help. Are the letters and the death connected? When Hilary comes to Walsingham to attend a conference for women priests, Ruth finds herself in the middle of it all. As does DCI Harry Nelson, of course, who is tracking not only the woman's killer, but Hilary's letter writer. A religious zealot? An angry misogynist? What really is happening in Walsingham?

I've made it clear by now that I'm a huge fan of Griffths' Galloway series. I think of Ruth as an old friend. Curling up with one of these books is like going home, or talking to a familiar and beloved friend. The characters' quirks make you laugh simply because you know them so well. Crazy Cathbad, Nelson and his mannerisms (and uptight ways), and, of course, Ruth's wit and sarcastic observances. A simple mention of Ruth being unable to find anything in her pocketbook, or how shared food doesn't have calories - somehow Griffiths can make straightforward sentences like these only add to Ruth's lovable character. She's created a cast of characters who are so well-done, so simply "them," that you look forward to returning to their world. (That's not to say you couldn't pick up this book first, without reading the others in the series. They do stand alone. You'd just be missing out, in my opinion, on lots of wonderful earlier Ruth and Nelson.)

The eight installment differed a bit, to me, as it focused a bit more on the personal side of things, mainly the Ruth and Nelson story (or, truly, the Ruth, Nelson, and Michelle triangle). This was certainly good, albeit stressful, as it's difficult when you're favorite characters aren't getting along. Still, the developments in this novel are necessary in the trajectory to move all three characters forward. The religious plot was a little confusing for me, at times - between a lot of British references I don't always quite get (I wasn't reading this one in my Nook, so it was harder to look things up) and just my overall lack of religious knowledge - but the mystery was still enjoyable and plotted well. The supporting cast of characters introduced in this tale rounded out the story well, and I was truly left wondering until nearly the end about "whodunit."

All in all, another great Ruth tale, which made me laugh out loud several times (I still wish Ruth could just be my friend, and my twins could play with Kate). Combined with a strong mystery, it's hard to go wrong here.

I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley (thanks!). This novel is available for purchase on 2/4.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

I think about you every night when I'm here alone.

Black-Eyed SusansBlack-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When she was sixteeen, young Tessa "Tessie" Cartwright was found, hanging on to life, in a field of Black-Eyed Susans. The other girls "dumped" with Tessa did not survive (in fact, some were just bones), and Tessa is doomed to live her life as the surviving "Black-Eyed Susan" in the press. Justifiably, the event haunts her life and her nightmares. Further, she is tormented by the fact that her testimony about what happened helped put the suspect, Terrell, on death row.

Now, a grown woman and mother, Tessa is working with the Terrell's legal team to exonerate him. This includes a forensic scientist (the forensics in the book are detailed and excellent). Her main reason? It seems wherever she lives, a patch of Black-Eyed-Susans follows, forcing her to live in fear, and to wonder if the sentenced killer truly is guilty. But if he isn't, are Tessa and her daughter safe? Why can't she remember what happened nearly 20 years ago? Tessa fears she is going insane, but also can't live with herself if she doesn't try to find out what happened so long ago.

This was a wonderful book; the subject matter is frightening, but the book itself was a captivating page-turner. The mystery is extremely well-plotted and riveting. Even when I was pretty sure I had things figured out, I was rapidly turning pages, still guessing and eagerly awaiting to find out what had happened to Tessa (and the other "Susans," as she calls them) back then. The book flips between present-day Tessa's point of view and to "Tessie," as a younger Tessa was known, talking about events leading up to and right after Terrell's trial. It's a suspenseful plot device that works well here; I was up late turning pages, desperate to know what happened.

Tessa is a well-formed character, even with her angst and anxieties resulting from her horrific past. Her supporting cast - her daughter, Terrell's lead lawyer, the forensic scientist, a quirky neighbor, her best friend from her youth - are all well-done, too. At times, the book is confusing due to Tessa's unreliable narration; she is suffering from memory loss and anxiety, after all, but it only adds to the book's suspense and intrigue. Perhaps the only thing I can find to complain about is that the ending is a bit too pat: it pops up suddenly to resolve things, but there's still a door left open, and it does nothing to diminish how enjoyable the book and the story is. Overall, an excellent thriller and a worthy read.

This novel was released August 11th, 2015 and should be available to read or download at your favorite location.

View all my reviews

Monday, January 11, 2016

Anyone plain can be lovely, anyone loved can be lost.

Live and Love AgainLive and Love Again by Jan Gayle

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Three years ago, Sarah lost her partner, Cheryl, in a terrible accident. A former Colonel in the military, Sarah remains shattered by Cheryl's death and closed off to those around her. She focuses on her furniture business and her dog, Benny. But on a flight to Chicago, she meets Jessica Whitney, a beautiful, successful, businesswoman. The two hit it off immediately and feel an instant connection. The sudden sparks force Sarah to re-think everything - is she ready to move one? Can she really imagine herself with a wealthy and strong woman?

This book is admittedly, a fairly stereotypical cheesy romance. But if the New Adult genre can write them so prolifically, then I think it's refreshing to find a novel that actually offers lesbian characters. True, I probably overlooked a few flaws in this book because I'm completely starved for books with lesbian protagonists and romance, but it was still an enjoyable story. The book engages you early on, when Jessica and Sarah meet. I read the first 150 pages rapidly - it drew me in immediately. Sarah is a likable character; as is Jessica, really. You can imagine knowing either of them in your lesbian circles (beyond Jessica's money, perhaps).

Speaking of the money, the book hammers home that point a bit much: Sarah has no money, Jessica has plenty of it. That gets a bit repetitive and the book stalls a little in the middle. That stall is helped by the cliche of the "wounded character hurt by a death in a previous relationship who can't move on." However, that cliche is found in plenty of genres, not just LGBT. Still, Gayle maneuvers her characters around all their issues fairly deftly. You're pretty sure you know how Jessica and Sarah will wind up, but it's still fun watching them get there. The book is sexy (especially early on - maybe that's the real lesbian cliche - ha!), fun, and, as always, refreshing to see some lesbian characters portrayed as real people. Points for the sweet and loyal supporting character of Jimmy the Driver, too. Definitely a fun, quick read.

I received an ARC of this novel from Netgally (thank you!); it is available for publication on 1/19.

View all my reviews

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Oh I'm becoming a ghost in your life, and you're becoming a specter in mine.

Among the Ten Thousand ThingsAmong the Ten Thousand Things by Julia Pierpont

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jack Shanley is a fairly well-known New York artist. He's a married father of two. He's also an adulterer, who carries on affairs in his New York studio. This comes back to bite him, so to speak, when one of his exes sends his wife a large box chronicling their entire relationship - emails, texts, sexts - all printed and contained in this one box. The box is delivered to Jack's apartment and opened by his eleven-year-old daughter, Kay, and fifteen-year-old son, Simon. They show the box to their mother, Deb, forcing her to confront the many flaws of her husband. Meanwhile, Kay and Simon are (justifiably) traumatized by the box's contents and the possible dissolution of their parents' marriage.

This was an odd book. As a child of divorce, a lot of this book hit home, and I felt myself feeling a great deal of sympathy for Deb, Kay, and Simon - especially as they disappear off to their vacation home, of sorts, to recover. (Alas, no vacation home when I was a child.) Julia Pierpoint is certainly a strong writer and her prose is lovely and well-crafted. Still, the book often just seems a little flat.

The strangest part of this book, to me, as many other reviewers have pointed out - is that is constructed in four parts - parts one and three basically deal with the immediate aftermath of the box's delivery and how the family reacts. Parts two and four tell us what happen to Jack, Deb, Kay, and Simon for their entire lives. It's an odd author tool, and I'm not sure it entirely works. For me, I was caught up enough in Part One's tale and then found Part Two incredibly jarring - even more so to be dumped back into the current story at Part Three. Part Four repeats Two a bit and tells a bit more about what happens to the characters. It's an odd device, and I really would have preferred not to have had Part Two stuck in there at all. I suppose it's an artistic overreach that appeals to critics but not most actual readers.

Overall, I found the book an intriguing look at a family dealing with a father's betrayal. Not a ton happens - it's not that sort of book - but Pierpont's writing is strong, and I liked Simon and Kay. I am not sure the book is one that will leave a lasting impression with me, though.

View all my reviews

Monday, January 04, 2016

Love has a nasty habit of disappearing over night.

Be Frank With MeBe Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alice has worked a string of dead-end jobs until she winds up as an assistant for a literary agent, Mr. Vargas. He is impressed with her work at a tech store (think Apple Genius Bar) and takes her under his wing. Eventually Mr. Vargas dispatches Alice to assist with one of his most famous, but reclusive, clients: M.M. "Mimi" Banning. Mimi wrote a famous bestseller book as a young woman and then basically disappeared off the grid. She's recently lost all her money in a Ponzi scheme, however, and she needs an assistant to help with delivery of a new manuscript. Enter Alice. However, when Alice arrives in California, she finds herself mainly acting as caretaker to Mimi's nine-year-old son, Frank: a quirky and unique boy who changes Alice's life.

There's really no way to describe this book. It was an excellent way to round out 2015 - it's a lovely and touching novel. While in theory it describes a bit of time in Alice's life, with most of the story coming from her point of view, the true hero of this story is Frank - amazing, wonderful, funny Frank. Frank would probably be deemed autistic, or at least somewhere on the spectrum, in our society, as he clearly has issues with being touched, interacting with his peers, and many other things. But he's also this amazing, unique, and smart boy - he dresses like a movie star from the '30s, has an endless supply of facts in his brain about everything (but doesn't comprehend sarcasm or humor), loves old films, and has a fierce and deep devotion for his mother -- no matter what she does.

As Alice gets to know Frank, Mimi, and the small cast of characters around them - mainly, Xander, Frank's piano teacher, who flits in and out of his life - she is as drawn to the boy as the rest of us. But can she save Frank (and Mimi) from the harshness of the outside world and their past? It's an interesting thought and one that doesn't lend itself to a typical beginning/middle/end plot. In some ways, not a lot happens in this book (though in some ways, a lot does), but its story is propelled by Johnson's excellent character development and descriptions. Frank, Alice, Mimi, and Xander really come to life in her hands. It's a funny book, a sad book, but a beautiful book. Certainly a worthwhile read. You'll find yourself thinking about these characters long after you turn the last page.

View all my reviews