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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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