Saturday, December 30, 2017

He's been living in a pure illusion: THE ROOSTER BAR.

The Rooster BarThe Rooster Bar by John Grisham

My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Mark, Todd, and Zola all had big aspirations when they signed up for Foggy Bottom law school. They also dreamed of the big paychecks that would follow after graduation. Those paychecks would help pay off the student loans required to attend Foggy Bottom--a less than well-respected for-profit law school that has left each of the trio with an average of $200K in debt. Even worse, Foggy Bottom is such a terrible school that they are receiving a mediocre education from sub-par professors; they may not even pass the bar exam. And if they do, they have little chance of gaining one of the coveted, well-paying law positions that can pay off those loans. So when one of their close friends, Gordy, alerts them that their school is owned by a shady financial operative who also has ties to a bank that profits off their loans, they are outraged. When tragedy besets the group, Mark, Todd, and Zola decide to take matters into their own hands, no matter what it takes. Even if that means quitting school a few months shy of graduation...

Oh man, I wanted to like this one, but it just didn't work for me. It took me eleven days to read--unheard of for basically any book, let alone a Grisham, and I practically had to force myself to finish it. It seemed like a really good premise: the novel combines the timely issues of student loan debt and immigration, but nothing meshes together well.

I never warmed to the protagonists. It's really hard to like or empathize with Mark, Todd, or even Zola, who is dealing with her family being deported. What's being done to the three law students is certainly not great, but their response just never seemed fully justified to me. I could not root for them like I could a Darby Shaw, a Gray Grantham, a Reggie Love. It's a shame, because the bad guy is fairly despicable, but we don't get enough development on either side to feel fully invested. As for our trio, for instance, they basically blow a huge case for someone and never do anything to make amends--nor ever really seem to show any real remorse. How is that any better than the people they are going up against?

Without anyone to really root for or a plot to quickly move forward, this one just dragged on. For me, it was slow-moving and not-interesting. Definitely a letdown. 2.5 stars.

You can read my review of Grisham's CAMINO ISLAND here and THE WHISTLER here.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Google+ ~ Instagram

View all my reviews

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Lucky Thirteen - The "Best of" Edition for 2017.

It's that time -- to look back on my favorite books of the past year. At the beginning of 2017, I set my goal on the site, Goodreads, to read 80 books this year. It was a good (!) year, and I surpassed the goal, ultimately reading 114 books. If you follow this link, you can take a look at all the books I read in 2017 and my ratings. Note that not all books were published in 2017, of course, they just happened to be books I picked up over the year. In fact, because some of them were Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs), they won't be published until 2018.

You can find reviews of any of these via my Goodreads site, or simply follow the link in each entry to the in-depth review in this blog. Happy reading in 2018 and beyond!!

So, in no particular order, my top thirteen favorite books read in 2017...

*1. NOW IS EVERYTHING, by Amy Giles - Sometimes a book comes along and takes me by surprise (in a wonderful way) and that was the case with Amy Giles' absolutely breathtaking NOW IS EVERYTHING. Seriously, this was one of my favorite books I read this year. Even if you don't typically read YA, you should pick up this amazing, powerful, and heartbreaking book. Giles tells the story of teenage Hadley and her wealthy family, who look perfect from the outside. But inside, it's a different tale. Hadley's father works at breaking her down on a daily basis--belittling her, monitoring her whereabouts and food intake, and much worse. Hadley endures it though, as long as it keeps his focus and abuse off her wonderful, spirited ten-year-old sister, Lila. She finds even more reason to power on when she meets Charlie Simmons, and begins secretly dating him. But then, there's a plane crash, and Hadley is the only survivor. What happened that day and why can't Hadley talk about it? Told in a "then" and "now" format from Hadley's point of view, this is a wonderful slow build novel that sucks you into its suspenseful format. I stayed up late to finish the second half because I was so drawn to Hadley and Lila - rarely have I felt so strongly for characters in a novel in such a long time! I could rave about this book for ages (and do so in the review at my blog). Simply put: read it, you won't regret it.

*2. THE DARK LAKE, by Sarah Bailey - Every once and a while, you read a book and then realize it's from a debut author and your mind is blown! That's the case with Sarah Bailey's THE DARK LAKE from Grand Central Publishing. This intriguing and compelling mystery centers on the death of popular yet mysterious teacher Rosalind Ryan, whose body is found floating in a lake. Detective Gemma Woodstock and her partner Felix are called to investigate. Gemma knew Rosalind from school and the case--and the novel--intersect impeccably between Gemma's past and present. Gemma's a great narrator, the story itself is wonderful, and best of all, I had *no idea* who killed Rosalind or where everything was going to go. I found myself genuinely shocked by several of the novel's twists and turns.

*3. ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE, by Gail Honeyman - Much ado has been made about Honeyman's debut novel and finally... a book that lives up to the hype! I'm so glad I finally picked this one up. Honeyman captures Eleanor's voice perfectly--and she's just this amazing combination of heartbreaking, tough, and tender. A lonely woman formed by her traumatic childhood, her life changes when she meets a fellow co-worker and they save a man who falls on the street. Watching Eleanor discover the world around her is truly magical. The entire book is mesmerizing and beautiful. Indeed, ultimately, this is a lovely book, with beautiful well-written characters. Eleanor's tale will stay with me for a long time.

*4. SYCAMORE, by Bryn Chancellor - This is a magical book: the story of Jess unfolds in snatches and snippets of the novel's characters. Each chapter is told by a different inhabitant of Sycamore. There's a sweet tenderness to this book that I cannot truly describe. It really touched me. It's not always an easy read, or a happy one, but it's a lovely book in many ways. It's wonderfully written, surprisingly suspenseful, and a heartbreaking but amazing journey.

*5. AFTER THE FALL, by Julie Cohen - I adored this lovely novel chronicling the lives of Jo; her teen daughter, Lydia; and Jo's former mother-in-law, Honor. After Honor takes a fall in her home, she comes to live with Jo, and the lives of all three women change drastically. It's just a beautiful, poignant book, which captures its characters and draws you into their lives perfectly.

*6. THE DRY, by Jane Harper - I had been hearing about THE DRY since before its release and wasn't sure it would live up to the hype, but I was wrong. This was an incredibly well-written, interesting, and intricately plotted novel that just flowed effortlessly. Aaron Falk is an investigator for the federal police in Melbourne. There, he follows money trails left by criminals. And while he may live a rather solitary life, at least he's also left behind his childhood home of Kiewarra, where the locals literally ran him and his father out of town. But all that changes when Aaron finds out that his best friend in Kiewarra, Luke Hadler, is dead. The story at its core is a dark one, and the town of Kiewarra is a sad and depressing place: the townspeople find it easy to believe Luke killed his family because everyone is down on their luck. You know when an author just captures her characters' voices perfectly? That was this book for me. I enjoyed how the story kept me guessing the entire time, which isn't easy to do. I was completely captivated by the story and frantically turning the pages to find out what had happened--both in the present and the past.The novel truly hooked me from the very beginning and never let me go.

*7. THE WIDOW'S HOUSE, by Carol Goodman - You know how sometimes you start a novel and immediately know, from the first page, that you'll enjoy it? THE WIDOW'S HOUSE was that way for me. It sucked me in immediately and kept me interested throughout. Jess and Clare Martin decide to move back to the Hudson River area and take on duties as caretakers at Riven House, the home of their former college professor, Monty. And as they settle in, Clare begins to hear a baby crying at night and see shadowy figures around the pond of Monty's property. The book is filled with complicated characters, starting with Clare. You start to realize she's the ultimate unreliable narrator, but are never able to tell exactly how much. You find yourself working and guessing with Clare as she unravels local history and the events unfolding at Riven House. There are parts of this book that are incredibly spooky, and it's quite well-done. I loved that I was frantically flipping the pages, constantly second guessing everything and wondering what was happening. There are some great twists that shock you, even as you're still trying to figure things out in you're head (much like Clare). This novel will leave you guessing. It's crazy and confusing, but fascinating and incredibly hard to put down. It's completely enjoyable and stays with you after you've finished it, going over various plot points.

*8. THE ROANOKE GIRLS, by Amy Engel - This is quite the novel! Lane Roanoke is just a teenager when her mother commits suicide, and Lane is sent to live with her grandparents in Kansas. When Lane arrives in Kansas, she quickly befriends her cousin, Allegra, and is amazed by the kindness of her grandfather, but she also realizes not everything is as it seems. Eleven years later, after Lane has fled the farm (and left her family there behind), Lane receives a call from her grandfather: Allegra is missing. Reluctantly Lane returns to a place she vowed she'd never see again to search for her cousin, whom she has always felt bad about leaving behind. I was immediately captivated by this novel and read it in less than 24 hours. It's not some "feel good" novel, but it's amazingly well-written and just spellbinding. It starts off with a bombshell and then hooks you from there with the dark story of the twisted Roanoke family.

*9. THE WRONG SIDE OF GOODBYE, by Michael Connelly - Picking up a Harry Bosch book is always like coming home again, and this one was no exception. It's well-done, featuring dual cases, and Bosch is just such a wonderful character - I really enjoyed it. (And I recommend the entire series!)

*10. THE NOWHERE GIRLS, by Amy Reed - One of the most powerful and timely books I've read this year, Amy Reed's THE NOWHERE GIRLS centers on three female teens, Grace, Rosina, and Erin, who form an unlikely union and create a secret group to protest the horrible culture at their school. It's this culture that condones actions such as rape and sexual assault and allowed for another girl, Lucy, to be shunned after accusing several popular boys of rape. This novel is well-written and encapsulates the struggle felt by teens and young women in dealing with sexual assault, rape, and violence against women. Its strength comes from its characters (I defy you not to fall for these three girls) and its brutal honesty. It can be a bit slow-moving at times, but it's a powerful read and there's something about it that will leave you with hope, despite the horrors covered, and that's so important right now.

*11. THE LAST PLACE YOU LOOK, by Kristen Lepionka - This is a just a great book. It's easy to read and funny, albeit dark and sad at times. The mystery plot draws you in immediately and keeps you guessing. Definitely recommend this one to mystery and thriller fans alike. (I'm so excited that Roxane Weary is coming back in a second book!)

*12. THE BLACKBIRD SEASON, by Kate Moretti - I'm a sucker for a good, character-driven thriller and Kate Moretti's latest delivers! It's just another day in Mt. Oanoke when the birds start to fall: hundreds of starlings dropping from the sky. And that's just the beginning. A reporter in town to cover the bird story sees beloved high school teacher and baseball coach Nate Winters embracing a student, Lucia. Suddenly Nate is under investigation for having an affair with her and, then, Lucia disappears, and things get even worse for Nate. His wife, Alecia, doesn't know what to believe, nor does their friend Bridget. This is a wonderful, complicated novel that's both a character-driven study and intriguing mystery. Do we believe that Nate's an affable guy or a serial cheater? Moretti is a wonderful writer and this novel is realistic and compelling.

*13. THE GOOD DAUGHTER, by Karin Slaugher - Karin Slaughter's latest mystery--while dark and graphic at times--is a spell-binding novel that will keep you reading and guessing until the final pages. The story of two sisters who witnessed a brutal assault as teens, the book comes out swinging and never stops. A mystery at its core, it also covers the topics of race, social class, and how society deals with mass tragedy. The characters are detailed and fascinating, the plot is intricate and constantly changing, and there are some truly beautiful moments along the way.

Well I've made a lot of choices that were wrong: BETWEEN ME AND YOU.

Between Me and YouBetween Me and You by Allison Winn Scotch

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Ben Livingston and Tatum Connelly meet, they are both dreaming of success in Hollywood--Ben as a scriptwriter and Tatum as an actress. It's Ben who hits it big first, becoming Hollywood's It Guy and a Sundance favorite. But over time, his star slowly fades while Tatum rises to a stardom neither could have ever fully imagined. Along the way, the two wed, have a son, and experience a variety of ups and downs in their marriage. This includes several losses in their personal lives and slowly drifting apart. They once were incredibly close and deeply in love; can their love sustain everything that life throws at them?

This was a really interesting book, starting with the format. The story is told from both Tatum and Ben's perspectives. No big deal, you think, right? Except Tatum's portions start at the beginning of their journey and go in chronological order, while Ben tells his part of the story backward, starting with how they've fallen apart and going back in time. It's an odd device and definitely takes some getting used to. It was hard to keep some of the dates and timelines straight; it was one of the times where I wished I had a hardcopy of the book so I could flip back and forth more easily.

It also seemed to make the story more repetitive--when you have two people telling the same stories, you're bound to get some repetition. But what was really strange was that it sometimes felt like each chapter was a mini story that needed to reintroduce everything all over again. I don't know why the author felt this was necessary, because it's an oddly compelling book on its own even when neither main character is really that likeable. But we heard over and over about Tatum and Ben's daddy issues, career issues, that he never wrote anything for her. And oh yeah, did we mention that Tatum's an actress and doesn't eat, etc.?

At the core, this isn't really a happy book, despite it being romantic at times. Both Tatum and Ben have a lot of petty issues, but also really serious issues relating to their parents. This is fine, except we hear about it (a lot) due to the repetitive way the story is told. There's a lot of mourning and grieving and there's a dark side that deals with addiction, too. The focus on that fact that Ben has never written a script for Tatum--while this does have a point in the end--this gets to be a little much, too. The problem with all the focus on these things is that I felt like I never really learn a lot about Tatum and Ben in this format. I was always yearning for more. Is the story of two people growing apart interesting? Am I invested in them? (I was.)

It's sad, because despite everything I have said, I found this book weirdly compelling. Maybe it's because Tatum is a famous actress and there's a Hollywood setting, even if it's not really fleshed out. I wanted to know more about Tatum and Ben. I wanted them to work out. I wanted to read the book, even with the odd format and rehashing of things. It's a little hard to describe. It's like watching a romantic comedy where you desperately want the two leads to get together, despite all the odds.

So, I'm still glad I read this one. It was engaging and different. I do wish I knew more about Ben and Tatum and their motivations and what led them together (and apart).

You can read my review of Winn Scotch's novel IN TWENTY YEARS here.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley (thank you) in return for an unbiased review. It is available everywhere as of 01/09/2018.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Google+ ~ Instagram

View all my reviews

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

I'll keep your secrets if you keep mine: BEFORE I LET GO.

Before I Let GoBefore I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Corey gets the call that her best friend, Kyra, has passed away--falling under the ice in their frigid hometown of Lost Creek, Alaska--she is devastated. Corey has been gone from Lost, as it's known, away at boarding school, corresponding with Kyra only via letters. She was due to visit in a few days and now her best friend is gone. Lost always shunned Kyra because she was bipolar and had maniac episodes. The small, insulated town couldn't understand Kyra's highs and lows. She stood out too much in a place where being different was wrong. But the seven months that Corey's been away has been long enough for the town of Lost to turn on her and now deem her an outsider. Since Corey's departure, Lost has suddenly embraced Kyra, though Corey isn't sure why. Even worse, they are calling Kyra's death meant to be, her time. They've rallied around in her death and they want nothing to do with Corey. Kyra always said she would wait for Corey to return: why didn't she?

I definitely have some mixed feelings about this one. It's billed as a YA mystery, and I can see its drama appealing more to teens, perhaps, but I could never really fully tell what the book was truly about or what it was trying to be. It has weird unexplained mystical elements thrown in--think Carol Goodman or Jennifer McMahon, but they aren't fully fleshed out or well-explained. I believe the intent is to slowly build up suspense and creep you out, but they don't slowly build up (they sort of start out full force and stay there, or almost trickle away... it's hard to explain) and they never really seem to have a purpose. So it's just one element of the book that leaves you hanging. The ending, too, leaves you with little closure.

The novel is told mainly from Corey's perspective, but we also get weird snippets told as if in a play format (like we're hearing from the town), but those aren't fully formed either. It's very strange. I liked Corey, but she comes in angry at her town and we don't get a lot of explanation into her character or real background into her friendship with Kyra, despite being assured that they were best friends up until Corey left.

It's sad, because I was really drawn to the character of Kyra (you get flashbacks to the girls' friendship and life before Kyra's death). I thought the book did a fairly good job of portraying mental illness and honestly Kyra--despite her death--seemed to be the most fully formed character in many ways. She implores Corey not to fix her, that she's not a puzzle to solve, and she discusses her manic spells in a very mature and very thoughtful way. It's one of the reasons that I'm keeping a three-star rating for this one; I'm hoping the portrayal of her illness can help and inform others.

There are also a variety of relationships portrayed in the novel--albeit, I thought, rather superficially--lesbian, pansexual, asexual, gay, etc. I wouldn't say any relationship is at all fully delved into, but I appreciate that Nijkamp at least wanted to try to be representative with her characters.

The other thing is that Nijkamp's books are just so darn easy to read. I remember that about This Is Where It Ends, too. I read almost this entire novel in one setting. Her writing draws you in so easily, even if you don't always agree with what you're reading, or if you wish for more character development. You could pick this up and fly through it in a day.

In the end, this certainly wasn't what I expected. The strange mystical elements seemed out of place and they, along with most of the characters, weren't really fleshed out. I was a fan of how easy the story was to read and the mental illness portrayal, though, as well as how easy the story was to read. I was drawn to the character of Kyra and wished I could have learned even more about her. The story was compelling and Nijkamp did an excellent job making you feel the cold of the Alaskan setting and the similar coldness of the townspeople. At the same time, while I could certainly see a small town being incredibly close-minded (and they were), some of the other plot points seemed a little overboard. A quick read, especially for teens. 3 stars.

You can read my review of THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS here.

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 01/02/2018.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Google+ ~ Instagram

View all my reviews

Saturday, December 16, 2017

I’m starting to wonder about my luck: JUST BETWEEN US.

Just Between Us: A NovelJust Between Us: A Novel by Rebecca Drake

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Heather, Alison, Julie, and Sarah are suburban mothers and wives living in Pennsylvania. Their children attend the same school and they become close over weekly dates at the local coffee shop. When the three friends start noticing bruises on Heather, they quickly become suspicious. Is Heather's handsome doctor husband, Viktor, hurting her? Reluctantly, Heather slowly confesses to the abuse and terror she experiences due to her spouse. Her friends feel helpless, however, as Heather refuses to leave him and the violence escalates. Then one night, they receive the call they've been dreading. But it's not Heather who is dead: it's Viktor. Suddenly, the foursome has a choice to make--one that will set in motion a series of events that will change their lives forever.

I've never read anything by Rebecca Drake before, and I chose this because it sounded interesting and suspenseful. When I first started reading it, it immediately had a very Big Little Lies vibe, and I was a little curious how the book would differentiate itself. It eventually did, but I'm not sure it did so favorably.

I'll preface my review by saying that I seem to be in the minority with my opinion, and I certainly didn't hate the book, I just didn't adore it as much as so many of the reviews I've been reading. You'll find a ton of people who loved this one, so certainly read those reviews before you make any decisions.

Drake's novel is told from the different points of view of all four women in an odd past tense--this tense lets you know bad things have happened, but you don't know what, leading you to wonder and speculate. I won't lie - I almost put this one down as a DNF for a while, but I kept going out of a morbid curiosity. After Viktor's death, I just found the story so completely implausible that I had a real tough time suspending disbelief. That these four women would do all these things, not get caught, and things would unfold the way they did... I'm sorry. I just had a hard time buying it. At the halfway point, I had no idea where the book was going, or where I wanted it to go. Yes, the various twists were surprising at times, but they were just so hard to believe.

The book is suspenseful, I will say that, as you wonder what will happen to the women, and what insane thing they will do next. There were certainly several plot points that caught me by surprise; honestly the whole thing was sort of baffling. It's definitely not what I was expecting. Still, as I said, the whole book gets increasingly preposterous (my favorite was when they considered hacking the DMV).

In the end, this was a very meandering book about four women I never really cared about or grew attached to in any way. You get confused about who is narrating in each chapter and perplexed as they act in completely implausible ways. Still, I kept reading because I was bewildered and fascinated about their actions and the secrets that were motivating everyone at their core. I can see why so many people enjoyed it, but it just wasn't my favorite.

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 01/09/2018.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Google+ ~ Instagram

View all my reviews

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Like lies don't need the truth: FRAGMENTS OF THE LOST.

Fragments of the LostFragments of the Lost by Megan Miranda

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

When Jessa Whitworth's high school ex-boyfriend dies suddenly, it's as if the world stops. One moment Caleb is at her track meet, taking the butterfly necklace she handed to him, and the next, he's gone, his car washed over a flooded bridge on a stormy day. Caleb's mom eventually asks Jessa to pack up his room--she blames Jessa for the accident, since Caleb had gone to see her that day, and she feels she cannot say no. She's left to clean out his room and winds up piecing together bits of Caleb's life as she does. Each photograph, article of clothing, and notebook reminds her of parts of her life with Caleb. Even worse, she realizes there is so much she didn't know about him. With that realization, Jessa wonders, what really happened the day Caleb went over the bridge?

This novel isn't really what I expected at all, though I should have realized that it would be less teen angst and more teen angst and psychological mystery, as the two Megan Miranda novels I have read, The Perfect Stranger: A Novel and All the Missing Girls, are more in the suspense/thriller category.

The biggest issue for me was that this one starts off really slow. It's hard to get into any kind of momentum as every forward plot movement is broken by Jessa finding something and immediately remembering back into her past with Caleb. I was a little frustrated in the beginning, wanting more to happen.

I really enjoyed the character of Jessa, though. She was a little hard on herself in relation to Caleb's death, but she was also a teen dealing with both the death of a loved one and a recent breakup (their split occurring not too long before his death). She came across as pretty realistic. The supporting cast was a little more nebulous for me--Caleb's mom was pretty harsh, and we didn't see too much of Jessa's family, though I liked her older brother, Julian. Caleb's best friend and neighbor, Max, was probably the other character that was easiest to get to know and he was rather well fleshed out. Caleb himself--whom we learn about through Jessa's point of view and flashbacks--is a hard one to figure out, but that only adds to the mystique of how he ended up at the bridge that day.

Overall, if you can bring a little patience, this book is one to enjoy. It eventually picks up and while the storyline is somewhat different (this whole novel is rather hard to describe), I really did enjoy it. I felt satisfied with the ending--it was worth reading. I enjoyed Miranda's two adult mysteries and while this is the first of her YA novels that I've read, I will definitely investigate others. 3.5 stars.

You can read my review of THE PERFECT STRANGER here.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Google+ ~ Instagram

View all my reviews

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Oh hear the angel voices: THE VISITORS.

The VisitorsThe Visitors by Catherine Burns

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Marion Zetland and her brother John live in a decrepit old home near a seaside resort town. They inherited the house from their now deceased parents and neither sibling works, having to worry little about money thanks to their inheritance. Marion--in her 50s--still sleeps with stuffed animals and relies on her mercurial older brother for everything. As for John, he spends a great deal of his days down in the house's cellar--a place Marion never sets foot--tending to his "visitors," who arrive at their home, but then never come out of the cellar again. Marion spends her time puttering about the house and studiously ignoring John's visitors, even while she sees him preparing them meals and when she does their laundry on Mondays. But one day, John winds up in the hospital, and Marion is forced to confront everything she has been avoiding for years.

I was really excited when this book showed up as "read now" on Netgalley, as I'd heard so much about it. It was a really quick read--yet a slow burner, if that makes any sense. The description touts about Marion going into the cellar after John's heart attack, but that doesn't happen until over 75% way in... I kept waiting, waiting, and waiting for that major plot to occur. It seemed like a lot of build up for that event and then a rush of events after. I guess I had expected more creepiness and not as much messed up characters - this novel is far more of a character study than I had expected.

That's not to say it's not good, because it is; it's just not what I was expecting, and it's definitely a slow read that focuses far more on its character development than action. The novel is basically told entirely from Marion's point of view (with just a few snippets of emails from John's visitors). As such, we get an in-depth look at how Marion's childhood formed the person she is--and how it influenced John, as well. We learn about their terrible and neglectful parents. We see how John vacillates between kindness and torture toward his sister. We see how Marion is stuck in some sort of childlike, helpless state thanks to all of this. But, you also can't help but wonder, how truthful is Marion being with us?

All of this information about Marion and John's life and information about the neighbors was great and definitely gave us excellent insight into their character and actions. I still couldn't help but want to know more about the visitors actually living in the basement of this horrible, creepy house and I kept hoping and waiting for more to actually happen. There's a few great "aha" moments, but still.

Overall, as a creepy character study into a very disturbed brother and sister, this book exceeds admirably. I would have hoped for a slightly quicker pace, but oh well. I'd be curious to see what comes next from Catherine Burns. 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.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Google+ ~ Instagram

View all my reviews

Thursday, December 07, 2017

I want a love that's brave: I SEE LONDON, I SEE FRANCE.

I See London, I See France (I See London, I See France, #1)I See London, I See France by Sarah Mlynowski

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Sydney's childhood best friend Leela breaks up with her boyfriend, Matt, Leela is in desperate need of consoling--she's also in dire need of a travel companion for the four-and-half week trip to Europe she had planned with Matt. Leela and Sydney have dreamed of this trip since they were kids, but Sydney has a lot going on at home, mainly her anxiety-ridden mom, whose agoraphobia prevents her from leaving the house without having major panic attacks. Sydney has been taking care of her--and her younger sister Addison--for as long as she can remember. She even lived at home for her first year of college. But this is her and Leela's dream trip; surely her Mom and Addison will be OK for a few weeks, right? But once Leela and Sydney are on the plane to London, they realize Matt is as well, sending Leela into a fit of anger and depression. This isn't what Sydney bargained for...

This was a charming and surprisingly enjoyable YA novel. I'm so glad I finally received a copy through I was worried this book would stress me out too much, as I myself am a totally anxious traveler, but I really warmed to Sydney and her various travels and wasn't even that concerned as her bank account dipped and she and Leela flitted throughout Europe without too much planning. (I'm such a Mom.)

Seriously, I really enjoyed Sydney, even though I wanted her to stand up for herself, as Leela wasn't the best friend for her at all times. Leela, although she might have been supportive about Sydney's family situation, was incredibly irritating! So much blathering about Matt, making Sydney plan the whole trip, and just being generally inconsiderate. Ugh! Still, you'll find yourself just loving Sydney--she's so fun, sweet, and just awesome. I love how she's a great, realistic character: she has real-world problems, but she's also entertaining. It was great to see her spread her wings on the trip.

Big portions of the book just made me smile--it was a great little break. The supporting cast is really amusing and enjoyable. The entire novel is just easy-to-read, and I was very into the characters. It wraps up a little easily/quickly, but I was still happy with the ending. Supposedly the next book (this is a series, Goodreads tells me) features complementary characters from this novel and isn't coming out until 2020--is that right? I hope not!

Anyway, if you're looking for a quick, easy, and pleasant YA read, definitely pick this one up. It's a great story of friendship, with some delightful romance mixed in. Really enjoyed it.

I received my copy of this book through one of my favorite websites,, where you can swap copies of all your favorite books (hardcover, paperback, and more).

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Google+ ~ Instagram

View all my reviews

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Just keep on moving and grooving to the daylight: UNQUALIFIED.

UnqualifiedUnqualified by Anna Faris

My rating: 3.5+ of 5 stars

Anna Faris' memoir is based mainly on the premise of her podcast, also entitled Unqualified, in which she doles out advice to strangers whom she calls on her show. The idea is that Anna is, in fact, "unqualified" to give advice, but she'll do so anyway based on her life experiences. If you actually listen to her podcast, though, you quickly learn that she's pretty good at giving advice, and that she's also a funny and enjoyable person. The book expands on this, allowing Anna to answer some of the questions posed on her podcast (e.g., Dealbreakers), talk about her childhood and experience breaking in acting, and, yes, of course, her various relationships.

Overall, the book feels pretty real and authentic. You quickly get an idea of the kind of person Anna seems to be--kind, funny, talented, and perhaps a little insecure. I'll admit that since I started listening to Anna's podcast, I've felt a kinship to her, and my review is obviously influenced by that. She's so down-to-earth and really damn funny on her podcast. I also love the idea that she lived in her head for much of her childhood, making up stories (it sounds a little familiar, you see). If you like Anna's podcast, it will be hard not to enjoy her book, although some of the chapters and stories will sound a bit familiar if you're a faithful listener.

My love of Anna was only deepened by reading her book, which is quite readable and broken into simple, short chapters. We get glimpses into Anna's childhood, her first big relationship, a little insight into her big break with "Scary Movie," and more. I relate to her on so many levels. We're both fascinated by other people's lives; never had a big group of female friends; have no patience for small talk; are not wedding people; possess an emotional defense built up from our parents; and enjoy calling the numbers on vehicles to report about truck drivers' good driving. She just happens to be a lovely, famous, wealthy actress, and I'm um, well, yes. Otherwise, we're the same, right? ;)

Of course, the elephant in this review is Anna's recent split from her husband, Chris Pratt, who wrote the foreword to the book, which was apparently revised somewhat for publication. It's hard not to psychoanalyze Anna in light of her recent marriage breakup. You read about her self-admitted inability to admit failure and her tendency to jump from one relationship straight to the next. So much of the book is about Chris and their relationship, and it's a shame that it's a distraction from an enjoyable memoir about a really smart and talented woman, who should stand on her own merit, apart from her (soon-to-be-ex) husband. It's also heartbreaking to read these chapters where it sounds like they truly love each other--and where they got through the premature birth of their son together--and know they are no longer married.

Overall, this is a fun, easy-to-read memoir. If you like Anna, her films, or her podcast, you'll probably enjoy this one. It's a quick read, full of lists, humorous moments, and short chapters, although there are definitely serious pieces, too. It really only made me like her more. 3.5+ stars.

I received my copy of this book through one of my favorite websites,, where you can swap copies of all your favorite books (hardcover, paperback, and more). You pay postage for the books you send, and the books you receive are free! If you love books as much as I do, you should check it out - I've received 256 books through PBS - it's awesome! :)

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Google+ ~ Instagram

View all my reviews

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Heaven shining down on us through bullet holes in the sky: THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW.

The Woman in the WindowThe Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

Anna Fox is an agoraphobic former psychologist who spends her time spying on her neighbors, playing online chess, and watching black and white movies. She lives alone, drinking copious amounts of wine and living in the past. She becomes especially intrigued when a new family, the Russells, move in a house across from hers--husband, Alistair; wife, Jane; and teenage son, Ethan. But then one evening Anna witnesses a shocking event at the Russell home and it rocks her to the core. Estranged from her husband and daughter, Anna calls the police, but things quickly become jumbled. What did Anna really see? Who believes her? What is really happening with the Russell family?

This was definitely an intriguing book, which I raced through in about 24 hours. I couldn't figure it out, that's for sure. I'm not usually a fan of the unreliable narrator, and that was definitely the case here. Anna is reliant on medication and alcohol and she's awfully hard to like or empathize with, sometimes. The beginning of the book is a little slow, as we sort of watch her struggle alone in her house and drink, yet oddly mesmerizing, as you are wondering how much of what she sees and thinks is really happening.

Clearly something has happened to estrange her from her husband and young daughter, and as she sinks further into her delusions, the book certainly picks up, bringing you along for the ride along with Anna. The book reminded me a lot of The Girl on the Train - I didn't care for that narrator, either, yet I couldn't stop reading that novel as well.

It was much the same for this one. This is one of the most readable books I've read in quite some time, yet I couldn't really tell you if I actually liked it. I guessed some of the twists ahead of time, but was still quite captivated by the story and mesmerized by Anna's craziness. The big twist at the end wasn't my favorite, but as I said, it certainly kept me reading.

In the end, if you're looking for a compulsively readable thriller, this one definitely fits the bill. I don't think it's one where you'll find highly developed or memorable characters, but it's certainly a page-turner. 3.75 stars.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Edelweiss (thank you!) in return for an unbiased review; it is available everywhere as of 01/02/2018.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Google+ ~ Instagram

View all my reviews

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

It's hard to find and it's already mine: A SEASON TO LIE.

A Season to Lie (Detective Gemma Monroe, #2)A Season to Lie by Emily Littlejohn

My rating: 3.5+ of 5 stars

Police officer Gemma Monroe returns from maternity leave and is immediately plunged back into the job when she finds a dead man at the local private academy. He's been left in the snow, stuck to a tree with a knife in his stomach. The man turns out to be a famous author hiding out in plain sight in Gemma's Colorado town. Even worse, that same private school is being plagued by a vicious bully who calls him or herself "Grimm." Reunited with her partner, Finn, Gemma finds herself dealing with the murder case, the bullying incidents, and a strange construction company--made up mainly of ex-convicts--that seems to have made itself at home in her town. So much for easing herself back into the job...

I very much enjoyed Emily Littlejohn's first Gemma Monroe novel, Inherit the Bones, and was really excited to see the second one come out. It's always exciting to see a realistic female detective portrayed in literature. Gemma is much the same in this second foray--practical and levelheaded. She's back to work after the birth of her daughter, Grace, with whom she was pregnant in BONES. The novel does a great job of portraying a working, breastfeeding mom and giving us a realistic look at the struggles a mom faces when juggling work and motherhood. As a mother who went back to work when her own daughters were young and faced a harried schedule, I really appreciated that about this novel.

Thankfully, I did not encounter a dead body on my first day back, just a lot of meetings! Gemma, of course, takes it all in stride, as she cannot help but enjoy the thrill of the hunt. The novel gives us a lot of reflection and thoughts from Gemma. I'd call this one a bit of a slow-burner. I read it while busy and it took me nearly a week. The storyline wasn't one that had me itching to pick it up and see what happens--there's several divergent plot lines and none feel particularly urgent or overly suspenseful.

A pervasive weariness almost overlays the pages--a reflection of the weather (think snow, all the time) and Gemma's general fatigue as she faces returning to work while juggling having a tiny baby at home. That's not to say the book isn't interesting, because it certainly is. Especially when the case starts to intersect with Gemma and Finn's personal lives--which isn't surprising, considering they are small town police officers/detectives. The Grimm storyline is a bit of a bizarre concept and the resolution, while a total surprise to me, was a bit anticlimactic. A few of the plot threads do tie up a little too easily, but the main case befuddled me throughout the entire novel, so kudos to Littlejohn for that. I had some suspicions, but she convinced me to cast them aside, so I'm always pleased when that happens.

What I enjoyed most about this book was Gemma herself. It's probably obvious that I identify with and like her--I enjoy her steadfast character, even though she also has bouts of anxiety and uncertain times. Seeing her as both a mom and working detective was great. This being a second novel, we're gaining enough recurring characters (Gemma, Finn, Gemma's partner/quasi-husband, Brody, Gemma's grandparents, a few other townspeople) that you recognize them and their quirks. Another plotline is left a bit unresolved, leading me to hope that a third Gemma novel is in the works. Even though this wasn't the most exciting of all mysteries, I found it solid and enjoyable, much like its protagonist. I'd certainly read any Gemma Monroe novel I could get my hands on. 3.5+ stars.

You can read my review of the first Gemma novel, INHERIT THE BONES, here.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley (thank you!) in return for an unbiased review; it is available everywhere as of 11/14/2017.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Google+ ~ Instagram

View all my reviews

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

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

Now Is EverythingNow Is Everything by Amy Giles

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Google+ ~ Instagram

View all my reviews

Saturday, November 18, 2017

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

Left to ChanceLeft to Chance by Amy Sue Nathan

My rating: 3.5+ of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

You can read my review of Nathan's novel THE GOOD NEIGHBOR here.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley (thank you!) in return for an unbiased review. It is available everywhere as of 11/21/2017.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Google+ ~ Instagram

View all my reviews

Friday, November 17, 2017

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

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

My rating: 4+ of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Google+ ~ Instagram

View all my reviews

Monday, November 13, 2017

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

Fresh ComplaintFresh Complaint by Jeffrey Eugenides

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Google+ ~ Instagram

View all my reviews

Thursday, November 09, 2017

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

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

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Google+ ~ Instagram

View all my reviews

Monday, November 06, 2017

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

All the Crooked SaintsAll the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Google+ ~ Instagram

View all my reviews

Friday, November 03, 2017

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

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

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Google+ ~ Instagram

View all my reviews

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Anywhere outbound new life starts now: THE NOWHERE GIRLS.

The Nowhere GirlsThe Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Google+ ~ Instagram

View all my reviews

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Redemption comes in many shapes: ODD CHILD OUT.

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

My rating: 4+ of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Google+ ~ Instagram

View all my reviews