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