Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Internet is forever: TOUCH.

TouchTouch by Courtney Maum

My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Sloane Jacobsen is the most famous and sought after trends forecaster in the world. Companies across the globe seek Sloane's knowledge about the "next big thing." Sloane may be confident in her work life, but her personal life is a mess. She's not happy with her boyfriend, Roman, and she's basically estranged from her family--all since she fled to Paris shortly after her father's death. But now Sloane is working for six months in New York: she's back near her family, and Roman is accompanying her on the trip.

This book immediately got off on the wrong foot with me as the main character ranted against how society has changed--using peanut allergies and the horror of having to avoid her favorite peanut-filled treats on a plane as proof. As someone with a kid with a peanut allergy (who has met these lovely people on planes in real life), I was already turned off by Sloane. It never really got any better.

Sloane is supposedly a trend forecaster. Her entire life she's been able to "see" things and predict where society is going with certain trends. She is credited with foreseeing the famous "swipe" action. The problem Sloane faces now is that she thinks society is going to turn against the technology it has come to hold so dear: something that doesn't sit well with the technology-focused firm, Mammoth, who has hired her. After all, Mammoth uses a driverless car to transport Sloane while she works for them. They want her to present at a convention that aims to showcase technology for the childless set.

On the surface, this doesn't sound so bad. Consider parts of it satire and a critique on our tech-obsessed society, and it has real promise. Unfortunately, for me, the premise fell flat. My favorite character wound up being Anastasia, the driverless car. Sloane's boyfriend, Roman, wears a Zentai suit (imagine a full-length wet-suit that covers his entire body) and preaches an anti-touch, pro-cybersex agenda. He's strange. That whole part of the plot is weird, albeit one that offers the occasional comic moment. Maybe my sense of humor is not finely developed enough?

The book nails a lot of the corporate world (you can certainly picture Dax, the head of Mammoth, and many of his worker bees). Other parts of the plot are harder to swallow. Sloane waffles. Roman irritates. The dialogue is oddly written at times. Large pieces of the plot didn't really seem necessary. Other pieces were interesting, but felt like reading a research paper (and I found myself skimming).

So while there were certainly funny moments (and it picked up a bit as it neared the end), overall I just found myself cringing. I didn't like the plot, I never warmed up to Sloane, and I wanted to hit Roman and Dax. Maybe I missed a higher meaning to this novel, as it seems to be getting a lot of better reviews, so take mine with a grain of salt. For me, I just didn't enjoy reading it, and that's why (and I debated this a while), I'm going with 2.5 stars.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley (thank you!) in return for an unbiased review. It is available everywhere as of 05/30/2017.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Take it from me darling, you don't want a heart: MY HUSBAND'S WIFE.

My Husband's WifeMy Husband's Wife by Jane Corry

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lily marries her husband, Ed, only six months after they meet. Lily's adolescence has been marked by family tragedy, and she's determined to move on. But as soon as she and Ed return from their Italian honeymoon, Lily is thrown into her first murder case as a solicitor. She meets her strange client, Joe, accused of murdering his girlfriend. Lily feels an odd affinity for Joe. Soon she is consumed by his case--and Joe himself. Meanwhile, Lily's neighbor, Carla is struggling to find her footing at school. Only nine, she feels like an outsider there, where the kids tease her for being different and fatherless. Lily and Ed become involved in Carla's life--watching her occasionally for her mother--but they have no idea how entwined their lives will become.

This novel is not exactly suspenseful (we're not truly solving a crime, but instead looking into the complex lives of our characters--which albeit may lead to some sort of crimes at times), but I still found it compulsively readable, consuming it in about 2 days. Lily is a unreliable narrator and as such, bits and pieces of her story unfold throughout the book, making us question exactly how much she's told us--and its veracity. There are certainly some "wow" moments as particular plot points are revealed; I appreciated Corry's ability to surprise me early on. (Even if some of these "wow" moments didn't really seem to come up again, or be completely developed into the overall thread of the narrative.)

The novel is definitely a rumination on marriage, faithfulness, and family. The alternating chapters between Lily and Carla help add some heightened tension to the plot, as does an eventual fast forward in time. None of our main characters are particularly sympathetic, but they get into your head quite effectively. The story is far more character-driven and emotional than I expected, yet there are still those "wow" moments I mentioned before. Some of the pieces fit together quite well; others not so much. There's a lot to weave in: Lily's first murder case and her pushy client, Joe; Lily's past; Lily and Ed's son; Carla and her mother; and more. Collectively, these characters bring a great deal of secrets and baggage.

I didn't find the ending completely surprising, as the novel sort of builds up to it, but it's still interesting and intriguing. I enjoyed how all the characters were interrelated and that the novel seemed focused on looking into what made them "tick." I won't lie, though, it did seem like something was missing at times: a piece of plot somewhere or something more to propel the story along. It's hard to describe, but it's almost as if the book just sort of happened, and you're like oh yeah, of course, yes, I see. By the end, nothing was really shocking, per se.

Still, I found the book incredibly readable and oddly fascinating. 3 stars.

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

It's so disappointing the day has come so soon: THE HEIRS.

The HeirsThe Heirs by Susan Rieger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rupert Falkes is a wealthy, (somewhat) self-made man. A British orphan, he came to America, charmed his way into Yale Law, and made a career as a successful lawyer. He also married well: the beautiful (and rich) Eleanor Phipps. Together, the pair had five sons (Harry, Will, Sam, Jack, and Tom) and a happy life. When Rupert dies of cancer, a woman comes forward, claiming to have had two sons with him as well. The revelation causes different reactions among Eleanor and all the Falkes boys (now men), setting off a chain of reactions throughout the privileged family.

I'll be honest; I requested this ARC solely because I enjoyed Reiger's previous novel, The Divorce Papers, so much. I did not realize THE HEIRS was set in New York City and focused purely on a wealthy family--it seems like so many of these novels lately are tedious, and I can't find any connection to the characters.

And, truly, at first seemed it seemed like a boring look at a bunch of rich people. However, the novel becomes more interesting and nuanced as it progresses, with the viewpoints varying by chapter (and really within each chapter). The story is told by the people who were within Rupert Falkes' orbit. We hear from his wife, some of his sons, and past love interests of both Rupert and Eleanor. It turns out to be an effective way to tell the story, with bits and pieces of various stories coming out from the characters throughout the book, including about the possible illegitimate sons. (The focus is less on these two potential heirs than you would think, albeit their potential existence sort of kicks off the story.)

About halfway through, I found many of the characters to be petulant and annoying again--probably because we were in whiny middle son Sam's chapter. Truly, a lot of the people in this book are jerks. Sadly, Eleanor and Rupert's sons aren't always of the best character. Still, Eleanor is a fascinating person. She's strong, witty, and deep. She was definitely my favorite character in the novel, and any stories related to her were my favorite as well.

There is a lot of talk about money, class, and heritage in the novel. It's set in an earlier time period; it sometimes seems a bit much, but I suppose it's a realistic portrayal of wealthy New York in that era. Still, it is a lot of Jews versus Gentiles, rich versus poor, Yale versus Princeton.

I was a bit torn on this one for a bit, but I can't deny that I really enjoyed it, even if I didn't always like the characters. Besides, I was quite taken with Eleanor and even Anne (the wife of Eleanor's past love, Jim). Rieger is simply a good writer: her books are crisp and sharp. While on the surface the novel seems to be about a bunch of rich people, it also depicts the ties that bind us; there's meaning behind the sniping. There are touching moments in this novel, heartbreaking ones, and even funny ones. I didn't love it quite as much as THE DIVORCE PAPERS, and would probably rate as it 3.75 stars, but I'll round up to 4 stars here.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Librarything (thank you!) in return for an unbiased review; it is available everywhere as of 05/23/2017.

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Oh, he's mean as a snake: SHADOW MAN.

Shadow Man: A NovelShadow Man: A Novel by Alan Drew

My rating: 3.5+ of 5 stars

Detective Ben Wade and his then-wife, Rachel, returned to their hometown of Rancho Santa Elena for a peaceful, safe life for themselves and their daughter. After all, as a detective, Ben knows the darker side of life. But even the idyllic California community couldn't save his marriage with Rachel--his high school sweetheart--and now the two are divorced and jointly raising their teenage daughter, Emma. And, for the most part, Ben's career is pretty dull: nothing like his old LA one. That all changes when a serial killer starts haunting the area. They come around at night, slipping in doors and windows, and terrifying the residents of this planned community. At the same time, Ben is trying to figure out if a young Hispanic teen truly committed suicide. Are these two crimes interconnected? And how much destruction will this killer bring until found?

I'm a sucker for a good crime novel, so I was intrigued by the description of Alan Drew's book; I have never read anything by this author before. I'm not sure I realized the novel was actually set in the late 1980s; I tend to read more contemporary fiction, but I was pleasantly surprised by this mystery. Although mystery is somewhat of a misnomer. While there is a case to solve here--two really--this is far more a character-driven novel, with an intense focus on Ben, his personal life, and how his past life has made him into the detective and man he is now.

In many ways, this is a novel about the passage of time and the effects it has on a person. It is a novel about the effects of abuse, as well, and what it can do to someone. Can a child who suffers abuse come through unscathed? I wasn't expecting such a storyline when I started the novel, but it worked. It's quite well-done and while much of the book is often sad, it's well-written and the pages pass quickly.

The novel is told from three points of view: Ben; our serial killer; and Natasha Betencourt, the local assistant Medical Examiner. Of course, Natasha and Ben have a bit of a personal relationship (this is a novel, after all). And, sure, Ben often comes across as the cliched crime detective who doesn't always follow the rules. Because of this--and because of the California setting--I couldn't help but think of Michael Connelly's amazing Harry Bosch as I was reading this (Bosch probably being my all-time favorite fictional detective). I actually would sometimes even accidentally read "Ben" as "Bosch." Still, to be compared to Bosch and not come across completely lesser for it is pretty high praise. Ben is no Bosch, but he's a well-written character, even if he is a bit cliched from time to time. Yes, he's dealing with a past. Yes, he likes to break the rules to get the job done (hey, so does Bosch). My only issue was that it was implied that he sometimes let his detective work slip a bit due to his personal ties in one of the cases: that didn't seem right.

Still, overall I really enjoyed this novel. The two storylines--the first being the serial killer case, the second being the teen suicide--intersected well and kept the book moving. Ben's ties to the teen were surprising and gave the book an emotional depth I wasn't expecting. While I'm not sure Drew could keep up the emotional rollercoaster for every novel, I could see Detective Ben Wade becoming a recurring character in a series. If so, I would certainly read the next book. 3.5+ stars.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley (thank you!) in return for an unbiased review; it is available everywhere as of 05/23/2017.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

I dream of buildings that burn: IT'S ALWAYS THE HUSBAND.

It's Always the HusbandIt's Always the Husband by Michele Campbell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Aubrey, Jenny, and Kate meet at Carlisle College--an elite institution on par with the Ivies--when they are placed as roommates their freshman year. Aubrey is on financial aid and looking for a chance to restart her life. Jenny, a "townie," has lived in Belle River, New Hampshire, most of her life. And finally, there's the beautiful Kate, whose wealthy family has long ties to Carlisle. The three quickly form a fast friendship, but it's problematic as well. Aubrey is in awe of the enigmatic Kate, while Jenny often resents her lovely, popular roommate. And then, near the end of their freshman year, a tragic event changes their lives forever.

Be forewarned: this is a book populated by annoying, pathetic, self-involved characters. While it supposedly centers on a friendship that begins in college, that couldn't really be further from the truth. These three girls are not friends. The centerpiece is wealthy Kate Eastman, a daughter from a privileged family, who somehow attracts everyone into her orbit, despite being a real narcissistic jerk. Frankly, it's hard to read a book when you really don't care about anyone. This is exacerbated by some stilted and forced writing--backed up by cliches--that makes the novel hard to read at times.

I was amazed by Kate's power over everyone and frustrated by their devotion to her. We are probably supposed to feel sorry for her, due to her hateful family and deceased mother, and for the other characters and the power the Eastmans exert over them. But I just couldn't -- at least not continuously throughout the novel. In fact, it's impossible to root for either side, or anyone, in this book.

Now, the second half of the novel switches over to the present day and allows a bit more focus on a mystery. You're left guessing and there is at least less spotlight on the girls and their pettiness (though it's definitely still there). Unfortunately, I thought the second-half mystery was somwhat spoiled (not to spoil anything myself) by a main player in the puzzle plot who carried a ridiculous and biased torch for Kate, despite having spent a sum total of about three hours in her presence. That one plot point irked me so much that I enjoyed the second half of the novel less than I would have otherwise. And the second half is better: I read it straight through in an evening, and it kept me turning the pages, wondering how things would turn out.

Unfortunately, it was marred by the earlier half of the book, a cast of despicable characters, and some cliched writing that left a lot to be desired. Still, I have to hand it to Campbell: she kept me reading in spite of all of that. Because of that, I'm going with 3 stars: a combination of 2.5 for the first half of the novel and 3.5 for second.

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 05/16/2017.

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Friday, April 14, 2017

Was I on your mind: SYCAMORE.

SycamoreSycamore by Bryn Chancellor

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Jess Winters and her mother, Maud, arrive in the small town of Sycamore, Arizona hoping to start afresh: Maud is recently divorced from Jess' father and both are reeling from the event in different ways. Maud copes by sleeping most of the day away, but a restless teenage Jess wanders the town, searching for peace. Eventually she finds a friendship with Dani Newell, the local "smart kid" at the high school, and her boyfriend, Paul, the son of Jess' employer, Iris. Maybe, just maybe, Jess thinks, she could be happy here.

Flash forward nearly twenty years, when a new resident to town, another restless spirit, stumbles upon some bones in the local dried up lake. Residents immediately fear they belong to Jess, who disappeared shortly before Christmas: a young seventeen-year-old who was never seen again.

Oh, this is a magical book. I felt an immediate attachment to Jess from the first opening chapter. I was connected to her as a child of divorce, as someone who once had that urge to wander, who shared that restlessness as an adolescent. You quickly find that Chancellor has the power to create such real characters, who draw you in from the start.

The book--and the story of Jess--unfolds in snatches and snippets of these characters. Each chapter is told by a different inhabitant of Sycamore, and we get reminiscences and memories of their past, telling more about what happened with Jess, as well as their current life. We also get chapters of Jess' time as a sixteen-and seventeen-year-old in the town. In a way, it is as if we are being caught up backwards sometimes. I was captivated by the oddly suspenseful way they each tell stories from different times and varying viewpoints. It's an interesting (and effective) technique. You are piecing together a mystery, yet also reading a beautiful novel of interwoven characters.

One of the most amazing things about this novel is that for each different point of view, for each character, they have their own voice. Chancellor captures each one in their own unique way: the different way they speak. Some chapters are told in a distinctive sort of format and more. Every one has their own personality. It allows the characters--and the entire town--to really come to life so easily as you read. You can picture this entire small town and its inhabitants so clearly because of her beautiful, clear writing. It's just such a powerful book and so well-written.

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. I highly recommend it. 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 05/09/2017.

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Sunday, April 09, 2017

I'm getting closer to getting over you: THE BEST OF ADAM SHARP.

The Best of Adam SharpThe Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Adam Sharp is nearing fifty. He's had a decent turn in life as an IT contractor and he's lived with his girlfriend, Claire, for many years. But Adam has always held a torch for his first love, Angelina. For a few brief months, the two bonded and shared a relationship solidified over Adam's piano playing and music. It's been over twenty years since the pair have had any contact, but one day--out of the blue--Adam gets an email from Angelina. She's married to her husband, Charlie, with three kids. Still, the emails quickly turn flirty and Adam starts to wonder what her intent is. Getting back in contact certainly brings up all his old feelings for Angelina and the past.

The book begins with present-day Adam remembering back on his relationship with Angelina, filling us in on what happened. Those snippets are interspersed with updates about Adam's current life, and he eventually catches us up to the present. Those beginning portions are fairly interesting as we learn how Adam and Angelina fell in love.

Unfortunately, though, the book lacked anything comedic (one of the things so enjoyable about the Rosie series Simsion is so famous for), beyond a few funny scenes featuring Angelina's parents and family. Instead, there is just so very much talking from Adam. So very much. It would have been okay, except I never really formed a connection to his character, and I found that I really only cared so much. I felt as if I had no horse in the race--with his relationships or life in general.

In many ways, I think I might have enjoyed the book if I was just a bit older and closer in age to Adam. I didn't connect as much with the music he mentioned so frequently in the novel (despite, of course, a love for music and an understanding of how it can connect and create memories throughout one's life), nor even the idea of pining for a lost love at one's midlife (despite, of course, having loved and lost). While I felt captivated at times during the novel, as much as I hate saying this, I often just felt bored. I read the book during vacation, and it was just such a poor choice, because I found myself almost dreading picking it up, but feeling duty-bound, both because I love to read on vacation and because I needed to review it. Oh sigh.

In addition, there are just some really weird plot twists in this one--once Angelina, Charlie, and Adam are all together--that frankly it made me feel a little icky. I'm open-minded and all, but it just didn't seem right and some of it rubbed me the wrong way. It also made it even harder to become attached to the characters.

By the end, perhaps I'm cynical, but some of the love scenes didn't even move me: I just didn't care. I was tired of everyone communicating by oblique song references. Anyway, I really wanted to love this because it seemed to be an ode to music and love. And, because I loved Simsion's Rosie novels. It's not fair, really, to compare an authors work in such a way, but I couldn't help it, and I didn't enjoy the plot and characters in this one anyway. I was ready for the book to be over. It definitely had some good points, but I was mostly so disappointed and annoyed and ready to be done.

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 05/02/2017.

My review of Simsion's novel THE ROSIE PROJECT can be found here.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Let me open my eyes to a new sunrise: NEVER LET YOU GO.

Never Let You GoNever Let You Go by Chevy Stevens

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lindsey Nash has not had the easiest of lives.

She escaped in the dark one night with her six-year-old daughter, Sophie, and just a few of their possessions. They were running from Andrew, Lindsey's drunken, abusive, and possessive husband. Lindsey knew that it was only a matter of time before Andrew killed her, leaving Sophie without her mom. But the night the two disappear, something else happens: a drunken Andrew gets behind the wheel, crashes his vehicle, and kills another woman. The accident puts him in prison for 10 years, giving Lindsey a small sense of freedom, but it's short-lived. Before she knows it, he's out, and headed for the town where Lindsey and Sophie have started over. Strange things start happen, and Lindsey is terrified for her life again--and Sophie's. Andrew claims prison has changed him, but Lindsey can't believe it. How will she and her daughter ever be safe?

This is my fourth Stevens book, and I know by now that she will keep you up late, frantically turning the pages, wondering what will happen. Of the ones I've read, I still think That Night is my favorite, but this one was quite an enjoyable and fast-paced read as well. I blew through it on vacation in about 24 hours, and it had a chilling creepiness to it that made me feel like I should be looking over my shoulder or continually pulling the curtains shut.

First, let's just put out there, as with most of Stevens' books, a big warning for abuse triggers. Please make that known to anyone who might be affected by such a storyline.

One of the best things about this novel was the way Stevens slowly unfurled bits of the plot, making you go "wow" each time something was revealed. The book is divided into three parts, and the first one switches between the present and the past, showcasing some of Lindsey and Andrew's abusive marriage. It's very effective. In the later parts, we hear from both Lindsey and Sophie, who is now a nearly grown teenager. Again, it's a compelling storytelling tool and allows Stevens to work the unreliable narrator angle. Is Lindsey just imagining all this? Can we trust her? Has she just brainwashed Sophie against her father?

The novel sets up a series of suspects, and I admit that I guessed "who did it" before page 100, but I still enjoyed the book immensely. It took me longer to work out why, and I was quite engrossed in the characters. I liked both Lindsey and Sophie, though I didn't love them or feel particularly attached to either, but I so enjoyed the mechanics of the story and what was going to come next that I was completely engaged nonetheless. The novel is very chilling, very eerie, and written so vividly that you can quite imagine many of its more frightening and suspenseful scenes. I can easily see it being made into a movie where I would be peeking tensely through my sleeves.

Overall, this was a suspenseful, fast page-turner. Definitely a good, quick read. I'd say 3.75 stars rounded up to 4.

You can read my review of Chevy Stevens' THOSE GIRLS here.

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