Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Wishing things were different doesn't change one memory.

The Perfect NeighborsThe Perfect Neighbors by Sarah Pekkanen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Newport Cove is one of those perfect neighborhoods, where the neighbors all look out for each other, the parents and children are all friends, and the crime rate is historically low. However, for a small group of neighborhood women, things aren't always what they seem. Kellie has just returned to work after a long stint as a stay-at-home mom. She's busy adjusting to her new life-- and the attention of her handsome (and married) new co-worker. Kellie's neighbor, Susan, is a successful businesswoman. But she's also reeling from her divorce; she can't seem to stop stalking her ex-husband and his new girlfriend (Susan's ex-friend). Gigi, their friend, has a great life - two beautiful daughters and a handsome husband who is running for Congress - but her husband's Campaign Manager seems determined to unearth all her secrets, and her eldest daughter, Melanie, has turned into a sullen, unresponsive grump. And finally, a new family moves to the neighborhood. Tessa and her family seem to fit right in at first. But the women quickly notice that something seems "off" about Tessa and her husband. What exactly are they hiding?

This was an interesting book, to say the least. The central theme is clearly "everyone has secrets" - we are hit over the head with this several times. However, Kellie, Susan, and Gigi are just your average suburban moms, and their lives are pretty straightforward. Some inappropriate crushes, issues moving on, maybe one of them smokes a little pot once in a while. Nothing too insane. Tessa's secret is of a much larger caliber and, honestly, her entire storyline was pretty preposterous and unbelievable to me. I won't go much deeper than that, as to avoid spoilers, but the juxtaposition of Tessa versus sweet Kellie, who just wants to flirt a little, is a little ridiculous.

The book is told from the perspective of each character and in very short snippets at that. As such, it takes a while to sort out who is who and get invested in the characters. The technique of revealing such small details does allow for the building of suspense, I'll give you that. While Tessa's plot is a little crazy, it's certainly suspenseful and had me turning pages rather rapidly. The book does a good job at mocking the idea of these "idyllic neighborhoods" - one my favorite parts was the opening of each chapter, which featured pieces of the neighborhood's listserv (email) postings. They were quite humorous and a great commentary on society as a whole.

Overall, though, I just wanted to like this book more than I did. I was intrigued the entire time by Tessa's story, but then bothered by the craziness of how that turned out. Kellie's storyline bugged me because I just didn't think she was such a terrible person as she was made out to be. My favorite character was probably Susan. I liked pieces of each of them and enjoyed their stories, but overall, I just felt something lacking at the end of this one. Still, it was an entertaining read, with plenty of suspense thrown in.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Edelweiss (thank you); it is available everywhere as of 07/05/2016. You can read my review of Sarah Pekkanen's previous book, "Things You Won't Say" here.

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Friday, May 27, 2016

And I know the shape of your body cause I watch it when you walk.

Broken Harbor (Dublin Murder Squad, #4)Broken Harbor by Tana French

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The fourth book in French's excellent Dublin Murder Squad series picks up with Faithful Place's Mick Kennedy. Scorcher, as he's known, is a by-the-book cop famous for his diligence, attitude, and solve rate. However, he's still trying to make amends for one case, so he's given this one - a family found in an estate in the Irish suburbs. Father Patrick and the two children are dead, while mother/wife Jenny is in critical condition at the hospital. At first, Scorcher and his rookie partner, Richie, think the case is open and shut. But they quickly discover things aren't what they seem--with the Spains themselves or the murder case. Why are there holes all over the family's home, and baby monitors and cameras everywhere? Who erased the family's computer? Why did Jenny pull their young son out of preschool? Scorcher finds himself on a case that will test his resolve and the morals he holds so dearly.

This was an superb book; I don't know how French does it, but her novels never disappoint. It's a bit slow going, but amazingly interesting. Her painstaking detail of a crime scene and murder investigation is thorough and somehow beautiful; she knows her stuff. The first person detail with Mick is a welcome relief, honestly, after the "varying POV" chapters that seem to be the method du jour lately (I know the book is a few years old, but still). Mick is a crazily complex character and hearing his innermost thoughts just adds to his depth.

I won't lie: the book is long and it's probably not for everyone. You need to be a mystery fan and not be thrown off by a main character who talks and shares a lot. There's a dynamic between Mick and his new partner that adds to this detail and character development. Further, Mick and his family have a tie to Broken Harbor (the site of the murder), which involves some flashbacks. Again, it adds length, but also to the depth of his character. Plus, the plot kept me guessing, which I really appreciated. It would have been an easy 4.5 star rating, but it dived a little with the ending and a move that seemed a bit out of character for Mick, but still - an excellent mystery with a detailed and thoughtful plot. I'm glad I've picked up French's series again and look forward to getting completely caught up.

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Monday, May 23, 2016

I've got ways to track you down.

Missing, Presumed: A NovelMissing, Presumed: A Novel by Susie Steiner

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One night, 24-year-old Edith Hind goes missing. The front door of her home is wide open, there is blood inside, and her keys, phone, and car have been left behind. DS Manon Bradshaw knows immediately that this case will be big; Edith's father, Sir Ian Hind, is surgeon to the Royal Family, after all. Suddenly, Edith's life is under a microscope: her parents, her boyfriend, Will, and her best friend, Helena. Manon finds herself working every angle to find Edith, while juggling her own issues and insecurities, including her loneliness: at 39, she is single and estranged from her father and only sister.

This book started off in excellent fashion. It's told from a multi-narrator point-of-view, which I suppose is all the fashion these days, but it wasn't irksome in the least. We hear from Manon; her work partner, Davy, who is thoroughly "glass half full" to Manon's "half empty"; Miriam Hind, Edith's mother; and Helena, who is Edith's somewhat troubled best friend. Manon stands out immediately. She's smart, sarcastic, and somewhat vulnerable. The cataloging of her various Internet dates are humorous, yet she's clearly a strong and competent detective. The beginning plot of the novel hooks you immediately, as you are thrown into the search for Edith. The police's fear, along with that of Edith's mother, is palatable.

My only real quibble with this novel is its lag about 2/3 through. Manon goes on a bit of a bender, and it becomes almost painful to read for a bit. You can't help but want your detectives to have a bit of decorum to them. The plot also drags a bit, focusing more on Manon's dating issues, then the mystery. However, once she discovers another key linkage, we're off and running again. The mystery plot itself is intricate and keeps you guessing. It's certainly not filled with likable characters, but then mystery, murder, and mayhem rarely is. Edith's ending is a bit of a disappointment, but I enjoyed a look at the other characters a "year later," where we see what Manon, Davy, and some of the others are up to. I could potentially see Manon becoming a reoccurring character; she's complex and intelligent and unlike many female detective we see in print right now. Steiner's book was different and interesting, and I certainly enjoyed it. Definitely worth the read - 3.5+ stars.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher (thank you!) in return for an unbiased review; the U.S. version will be out on 06/28/2016.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

So from this day on, I won't let you down.

First Comes LoveFirst Comes Love by Emily Giffin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Josie and Meredith are sisters with an often antagonistic relationship. Older, impulsive Josie is single and seems to approach life head-on. Meredith, a married lawyer with a four-year-old daughter is more cautious and often annoyed by what she sees as her sister's antics. Josie, a first grade teacher, wants to find a man and settle down, but she wants to become a mom more than anything. Meanwhile, Meredith feels restless and trapped in her marriage, plagued by doubts and insecurities. Meredith and Josie lost their older brother in a tragic accident: an incident that influences and affects their entire family, even after fifteen years. With the anniversary of Daniel's accident looming, Josie and Meredith have to face their painful past, for once and for all.

This was a difficult book, but one I really enjoyed. I will warn you up front: neither Josie nor Meredith is a particularly likeable character. However, they were, at least to me, relatable, which is key. Their flaws are human and ones we can spot in ourselves and those around us. This book particularly hit home to me as a very real portrayal of how families deal with with loss and grief. Giffin did an excellent job of showing how Meredith, Josie, and Daniel's parents and close friends were still so affected by his passing after fifteen years. This will hit home to others in similar situations, grappling with the guilt and grief that comes with losing someone you love.

The book isn't always easy to read because of this, but I do think it's worth it. There are some comedic moments in there as well. Still, sometimes it's good to read about real life and to see it portrayed so realistically and clearly. The characters are flawed, but vivid and real and you become invested in their lives. Their tangled web is a twisted one, but it's one you want to see them emerge from. By the end, I found myself smiling and feeling at peace; I had really become caught up in these characters' lives, which I feel is the sign of a good book. It's not the tense sort of novel I'd like to read all the time, but this one resonated with me.

I received a copy of this novel from Netgalley (thank you!); it is available everywhere as of 06/28/2016.

Emily Giffin's "The One & Only" was one of my favorite books of 2014 - you can read my review here.

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You and I will be young forever.

One True LovesOne True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Emma Blair and Jesse Lerner are high school sweethearts. They marry in their twenties, move to California, and leave their family and stifling Massachusetts hometown far behind. They travel the world together and seem destined for a long and happy life. But on their first wedding anniversary, Jesse's helicopter goes missing. Suddenly, Emma's happy life is torn apart. Jesse is gone, and she's not sure how to move on.

So Emma moves back home. To her parents, her sister, and all the expectations that comes with them. She eventually picks herself up and starts to live life without Jesse. One day she runs into an old high school, friend, and they fall in love, eventually becoming engaged. It seems as if Emma is getting a second chance at the happiness she so dearly wanted, albeit in a very different form. But then she gets a call-- out of the blue. It's Jesse. He's alive and he's been attempting all these years to get back to his beloved Emma: his wife. Emma's world is turned upside down yet again. She's faced with a huge decision: who is her true love?

I picked up this novel for a change of pace, and it was exactly that. It's not altogether light and fluffy: it deals with some deep themes, but it's no mystery or psychological women's fiction, either. It was an easy, fast read, which I read while on vacation, and it suited my needs to a tee. The plot was interesting, though completely far-fetched, and you just sort have to suspend disbelief going in if you want to enjoy it. Reid's writing is a little stilted (a lot of telling versus showing) but I grew to enjoy Emma, even if her dilemma was a bit insane. I won't spoil the plot, as basically the book revolves around Emma's choice, but it was certainly interesting and intriguing to watch Emma come to her conclusion. If you're looking for a quick read, say for a beach vacation or airplane diversion, this book is ideal.

I received a copy of this novel from Edelweiss (thank you!); it is available everywhere as of 06/07/2016.

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Monday, May 16, 2016

For every time that I've been foolish when I wish that I'd been wise.

All the Missing GirlsAll the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nicolette Farrell left her hometown of Cooley Ridge ten years ago and, if she'd had her way, she wouldn't have looked back since. But Nic's brother Daniel and her father still remain in Cooley Ridge. When Nic gets a call from her brother that her father's memory is truly failing and they need to sell the family house for his care, she knows she must come back and help deal with things. But coming back also means facing the memories of her feisty best friend, Corinne, who vanished right before Nicolette left. Nic's dad has been mentioning seeing "that girl." Is he talking about Corinne, or is that just his confused memory talking? What really happened to her? Meanwhile, once Nic is back, another girl goes missing: Annaleise Carter, who lives behind Nic's family's house. Suddenly, Nic finds herself in the middle of a police investigation, one that involves herself, Daniel, her father, and her old high school boyfriend, Tyler, who was also dating Annaleise when she disappeared.

The "shtick" with All the Missing Girls is that, with the exception of a little intro, it's told backwards, counting from Day 15 to Day 1, as Nic tries to figure out not only what happened to Annaleise, but also to Corinne so long ago. At first, the mechanism took a little getting used to, as it's a little confusing keeping track of time and what is happening. However, as the novel continues, it really hooks you, and at one point, I got chills as some of the key details were revealed.

Overall, I enjoyed this one -- it's definitely exciting and a quick read. My issues were that I guessed some of the plot, which took some of the excitement away for me, and that it reminded me almost too much of a book it's being compared to (Luckiest Girl Alive). Both this one and "Luckiest" have main characters who are hard to love and relate to, which made it difficult for me to really get into this one, at least as much as so many other readers. Still, don't get me wrong, this is a fascinating book, and I would still recommend it, especially if you like twisty thrillers that mess with your head. It's an intriguing read that stuck with me; I found myself dreaming about the characters after finishing it, which never happens to me! 3.5 stars.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley (thank you!); it is available everywhere on 6/28/2016.

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Friday, May 13, 2016

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

Mystic Summer: A NovelMystic Summer: A Novel by Hannah McKinnon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Maggie Griffin seems to have the perfect life - she has a good teaching job at a private school in Boston, even if some of the parents can be a little trying sometimes. She has a loving boyfriend who wants to move in with her. Her best friend is getting married and Maggie is co-maid of honor. She even has a supportive family back in her hometown of Mystic, Connecticut. But when things start to unravel in Boston, Maggie finds herself back in Mystic. She tells herself it's just because her best friend, Erika, is getting married there, but once Maggie arrives back home, she isn't sure she wants to leave.

This book started out a bit slowly, but it quickly grew on me. Maggie is a slightly frustrating character at times, but she's also endearing and sweet. She's still finding herself, so you have to cut her a little slack. It happens to us all as we near thirty, right? The novel is certainly a bit predictable, but Maggie's character, as well as some of the supporting characters -- mainly her high school boyfriend Cameron -- keep it from being too silly and saccharine. It's not a literary masterpiece, but it's a fun, quick read: perfect to toss into a beach bag for the summer.

I received a copy of this novel from Netgalley (thank you!); it is available everywhere on 6/7/2016.

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Thursday, May 12, 2016

You take what is yours and I'll take mine.

The WidowThe Widow by Fiona Barton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jean Taylor is a dutiful wife, who always stands by her man, Glen. But now Glen is dead, and Jean no longer needs to play the role of silent, obedient wife. This works well for Kate, a reporter known for getting her subjects to open up. Meanwhile, Bob, a detective, is desperately working to close the case of missing toddler Bella, who was brazenly taken from her front yard while her mother, Dawn, was inside making tea. The Widow is the intersection of these various stories.

The Widow received a lot of hype when it was published (can we please, please just stop comparing books to Gone Girl already?), so I was a little wary of picking it up. However, this one totally sucked me in. I read it in one day and it completely kept me guessing, which isn't always easy to do. It's even more impressive considering that the characters aren't particularly likeable - Jean comes across as older than her age and irksome, Kate is a pushy reporter, and even Bob can drive you a bit crazy. The chapters cross both time periods and character point of view, which can get a bit confusing. However, it all combines into a very compelling story -- you'll be left flipping pages frantically, wondering what happened to Bella, to Glen and Jean's marriage, and more. This is an exciting thriller and well-worth the read.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Shine my life like a light.

WildflowerWildflower by Drew Barrymore

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Wildflower is a series of short series, in no particular order, that Drew Barrymore chose to tell the story of her life. She's quick to say that Wildflower is not a memoir, but just a look at her life in story form. The stories range from looks inside her childhood, to memories of her father, to recollections of Barrymore's travels and work with with the U.N., to more recent tales of her transition to motherhood.

This book is not amazing, but it's certainly a fun and entertaining collection of stories from Barrymore's life. They showcase how crazy her life has been and provide some insight into the unique life she's led. Since it's not a true memoir, we don't hear about every step of her life-- a lot of her wild teen years are skipped over, for instance. Instead, the stories hit on moments that resonated with her, or moments that were memorable in her life. She's not a world-class writer, but the vignettes shine with her voice and the joie de vivre that comes across in her films, too. She's led an interesting and amazing life, and it's fun to get even an a small glimpse into her world. Reading about her daughters, Olive and Frankie, was meaningful to me, as a mother of two daughters myself. I also found it particularly heartbreaking to read the stories about her husband, and how much he and his family means to her, in light of their recent split.

Overall, this is a very quick read, with some fun insight into an interesting actress. If you like Drew, or her films, you'll enjoy this book.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

And the moon and stars tonight are playing shadows on the wall.

The Raven King (The Raven Cycle, #4)The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The fourth and final book in Stiefvater's "Raven Cycle" series picks up shortly after the third. Obviously, if you haven't read the three previous books, you should, and you shouldn't continue reading this review, as there will be spoilers. Gansey, of course, is still after the elusive Glendower, a buried king whom he believes will change his life. Blue, daughter of a psychic, is not-psychic, but still an amplifier of those who are, and still destined to kill her true love upon their first kiss. The pair--now in love--are joined by their usual gang: Ronan Lynch, dreamer of all things magical; Adam, a survivor, who is tied to the magical forest of Cabeswater in mysterious ways; Noah, who is dead; Maura, Blue's mother; and many more. In fact, we gain several more characters in this final installment, namely far more involvement from fellow Aglionby Academy student, Henry. Together, this group is focusing on the frenzied search to find Gansey's beloved king.

I'm not really even sure what I can say about this book. This whole series is amazing and crazy. I need to re-read all four books at some point, now that all are released. This novel actually started out a bit slow for me. It was, as weird as it sounds, almost a bit too fantastical, filled with almost too bizarre magic and plot. However, as things continued to unfold, pieces fell into place, and I was consumed by the story and its characters, per usual. Overall, I found this a fitting end to a beloved series. I will insert a caveat that it doesn't tie up loose ends for some of the ancillary characters and some pieces may leave you a bit befuddled. But some of the magic of these books is that everything doesn't make sense to the characters, so I give it a pass when it doesn't all make sense to us as well. I'd recommend the series-- it's an amazing trip to another world, and I certainly have grown to love the characters. I'll miss them!

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Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Underneath the sky so clear, I wanna find someone waiting there.

The Girls in the GardenThe Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Clare moves her daughters, both of whom are teetering on the brink of becoming teenagers, to a flat in a communal garden in London. They've all been through a terrible ordeal and this quiet community, where neighbors look out for each other, and the children play together, seems the perfect place. But on the evening of her eldest daughter's Grace's 13th birthday, something terrible happens. Her younger sister, Pip, finds Grace unconscious in the garden. Grace is covered in blood, with her clothes askew. Pip has heard rumors of a young girl who died here years before. Suddenly the garden no longer seems like a safe place. What happened to Grace? Will it ever be safe for Clare and her girls again?

Apparently this was Jewell's first foray into true suspense and overall, I thought she did fairly well. The majority of the book was tense and exciting, in that regard, and there is enough swirl around each of the characters that you truly don't know what happened to Grace, or who could be responsible for the incident. In addition to Clare and her daughters, we meet Leo and Adele and their three home-schooled daughters; Dylan, a teenager who lives near the garden; and Dylan's friend, Tyler, a a girl similar in age to Grace. These characters, along with several others, combine to tell the story-- we hear from Clare and her girls, plus Leo and Adele. It adds to the suspense of the novel, which opens with Grace's accident and then backtracks from there. It's an effective technique which had me madly flipping pages, trying to figure out what happened.

One of my nits with this book was my inability to relate with the overall nature of the characters; perhaps never having experienced such communal garden living, it was hard to imagine a world where the children roamed so freely, with little regard for their parents. Some of the kids were obviously neglected, but not Clare or Adele's broods. Their attitudes toward their parents seemed off kilter, even for this day and age and turned me off a bit. My favorite of the group was Pip-- probably because she was less hateful and more introspective. Even then, I would have been okay with all of this, but after I sped through the book--really into the plot and loving the whole thing--the ending was just a disappointment. There was so much buildup and then it all just petered out at the end. I stayed up late to finish the book and then felt incredibly let down. Still a good 3-star read, but demoted from a higher rating due to the ending.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley (thank you!); it's available for publication in the U.S. on 6/7/2016.

You can read my review of one of Jewell's earlier novels, "The Third Wife," here.

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Sunday, May 01, 2016

But you can find me, when the light is changing.

Invincible SummerInvincible Summer by Alice Adams

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sylvie, Eva, Lucien, and Benedict have been close friends since university. Upon graduation in 1997, they embark into a new world of possibilities - jobs, love, heartbreak, and more. Eva has always carried a torch for Lucien, Sylvie's slightly rough older brother, but during a summer holiday after graduation, she almost wonders if there isn't a spark between her and Benedict. Benedict feels that same spark-- in fact he's been pining for his friend for most of their college days. But the moment passes, and Eva goes on to her high-powered job in finance and Benedict to his life in the world of physics. Sylvie, meanwhile, discovers that life isn't so easy now that she's out of university and trying to realize her dreams of becoming an artist. As for Lucien, he's still a playboy, whose career as a club promoter seems successful, but is there more to his success than meets the eye? Over the years, the four friends will drift in and out of each others' lives and experience the ups and downs of life.

I am not usually a fan of these sorts of novels-- those that span over several years or even decades, chronicling the adventures of oft self-centered adults. But Adams' novel surprised me. While in many ways, nothing much happens; in other cases, everything happens: life. Each chapter lets us hear from the characters in a different month and year of their lives. We hear mostly from Eva's point of view, but also Benedict, Lucien, and Sylvie. In this way, we are bystanders to all of their highs and lows of the friends' lives. It doesn't sound exciting, really, but Adams has a lovely way with words and she somehow draws you into their lives. You get to know each, including their strengths, fears, and foibles.

I found the book oddly captivating and basically read it over the span of 24 hours. In some ways, you probably know some of the outcome, but along the way, the characters experience and endure many unexpected life events. This wasn't the type of book I'd like to read all the time, but I found it well-written, intriguing, and a worthy read. 3.5 stars.

I received a copy of this novel from Netgalley (thank you!); it is available for publication on 6/28/16.

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I was wide-eyed and laughing, we were dancing up to the bright side.

The Outliers (The Outliers #1)The Outliers by Kimberly McCreight

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Wylie and Cassie aren't exactly best friends anymore. Even though Wylie's mom has died recently in a car crash, and Wylie's anxiety has ratcheted up so much she hasn't left the house in three weeks, the once inseparable pair have barely talked in over a week. But when Wylie gets a pleading text from Cassie saying she needs help, Wylie knows she will be there for her friend. Along with Cassie's boyfriend, Jasper, Wylie summons the courage to leave the house and follow Cassie's odd texts and clues to find her. But it doesn't take long to realize that Cassie might be in serious trouble. Even worse, it seems like trying to find Cassie is going to put Wylie, Jasper, and their families in danger, too.

This was an odd book. I was expecting a "run into obstacles finding my troubled best friend, maybe learn a lesson along the way" Young Adult tale, but the book takes a turn about halfway through and the tale becomes one of psychological depth, focusing on the story of the "outliers." These "outliers" are those who have a special range of emotional intelligence that allow them to have an uncanny ability to read people, emotions, and situations. It's Wylie's father, a scientist, who has discovered them as an unintentional result of his latest study, and it seems like everyone wants a piece of them and what they might mean. So, suddenly, the book is no longer simply about friendship, but crazy Government and private contractor entities and other shadowy forces who are after Wylie's dad's work. We meet a whole host of characters, none of whom we can really trust, and things (at least for me) go a little bit downhill from there.

That's not to say that this isn't a good book. It's interesting and almost compulsively readable, even with the bizarre plot. I'd probably have enjoyed it even more if I'd just been mentally prepared for the plot turn, honestly. Wylie is a fairly intriguing and likable character, and I found myself getting rather invested in Jasper. The other characters, as I said, are set up as untrustworthy purely by the nature of the plot, but they are fascinating in their own way. The idea of the outliers is a compelling one, even if the danger behind it seems a little forced. It's also hard not knowing exactly who to trust or how much of the narrative to believe - it's so much it gets a little frustrating at time. Still, it's clear by the end that McCreight has set this up as a series, and I'll certainly be reading the next book. The one is an entertaining, quick read if nothing else.

I received an ARC of this book from Edelweiss (thank you!); it is available for publication on 5/3/2016.

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