Monday, January 29, 2018

The map of my heart is torn at the corners: SAINTS FOR ALL OCCASIONS.

Saints for All OccasionsSaints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Nora and Theresa Flynn are only twenty-one and seventeen when they leave their native Ireland and immigrate to the U.S. For her entire life, Nora has been the quintessential older sister, raising Theresa and their younger brother after the death of their mother. Now she's headed to Boston to be married to their former Irish neighbor, Charlie, whom Nora doesn't really even love. Theresa, meanwhile, is outgoing, beautiful, and intelligent. She loves the dances and social atmosphere in Boston, but that all changes when she winds up pregnant. Both Nora and Theresa are forced to make some drastic life decisions that will affect them for the rest of their lives. Fifty years later, in 2009, Nora and Charlie have four children: John, Bridget, Brian, and Patrick. But Theresa and Nora are no longer speaking, and Theresa lives as a cloistered nun in an abbey in Vermont. What happened between the two sisters? And how will a sudden tragedy affect their current, separate lives?

This was an amazing book - just beautiful, heartbreaking, and lovely. Sullivan captured the essence of each of her characters so perfectly. I could picture every one, and each was so realistic, with their own background, mannerisms, and details.

The novel switches between the past, starting with Nora and Theresa's journey to Boston, and 2009, with a shocking event that rocks the entire family. We hear from each character--Nora, Theresa, John, Bridget, Brian, and Patrick. As I said, they are each an individual and embellished with Sullivan's wonderful writing and details. For instance, I loved the tidbit that Nora and her daughter-in-law communicated for years mainly through Nora's daughter's dog at family gatherings. It said so much with just one story. (And I've so been there.)

I became attached to each character in their own way thanks to the strong writing and characterization. I don't always enjoy books with shifts between time periods, but all flowed seamlessly here. There's an underlying thread that ties everything together, just adding to the brilliance of the novel. While it's really a story of a family, there's still a bit of suspense, as you try to fit some pieces together. Everything works so well.

Overall, I just loved this beautiful story of parenthood, immigration, siblings, religion, and so much more. It's achingly well-written, and while it ended just right, I was still sad to see the characters go. I'll certainly be recommending it to everyone I know. 4.5 stars.

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Sunday, January 28, 2018

For everything I've lost I'm not mad at love: A COLD DAY IN HELL.

A Cold Day in Hell (Cold Case Investigation, #1)A Cold Day in Hell by Lissa Marie Redmond

My rating: 4+ of 5 stars

Lauren Riley is a thirty-eight-year-old twice-divorced mother of two college age daughters, working cold case homicides. She has a great, younger cold case partner, Reese, and carries a torch for her ex-husband, Mark. Meanwhile, her ex, Joe Wheeler, is a Garden Valley homicide detective and a total (excuse my language) a-hole, who brazenly punches Lauren in the mouth after learning she's working against him on a case. Lauren's working two jobs -- her daytime gig on cold cases and also as a certified Private Investigator (PI). Lauren is hired by her nemesis, attorney Frank Violanti, to work the high-profile case of David, who is accused of murdering Katherine Vine, the beautiful, younger wife of Anthony Vine, who runs a successful chain of gyms. Lauren knows taking the case could stir up some issues in her department, with the DA, and with Reese. But in her gut, she feels that David is innocent. Can she and Frank make peace and prove it?

I read a lot of mysteries and while there are thankfully more strong female detectives coming on the scene (see Kristen Lepionka's Roxanne Weary and Emily Littlejohn's Gemma Monroe, for instance), they are still few and far between. While Lauren Riley may still be finding herself (there's a lot of side coverage of emotional entanglements and relationships here), I still love finding and championing a complicated, real, strong female detective.

Lauren's PI case is really the star of the show, and it's interesting and engaging throughout the entire novel. It keeps you guessing throughout, questioning whether David did it or not, and who else played a key role in Katherine and Anthony Vine lives. Nothing is cut or dried.

Also fascinating is Lauren's main cold case. While you could argue some of it ties up neatly, it doesn't go as expected, per se, if that makes sense, and the characters involved are intriguing and different. All the cases kept me interested as I read. A lot certainly happens in this novel, between Lauren's work and personal life. Nothing is boring, and there's never really a dull moment, especially once you get into the swing of things and realize that the book covers both her personal life and her work life in-depth. It also tells the story from more than Lauren's POV, even if she's the main focus, which works surprisingly well.

I don't think it's a spoiler to say that the book culminates in a trial related to Lauren's PI case, and it's a great, suspenseful, incredibly well-written piece of work. The courtroom scenes were so well-done and really had me on the edge of my seat. One of the things I loved about this novel was how I could so easily picture each of these characters-- each is well-described and fleshed out. Redmond writes darn good trial scenes (and a darn good book), and I was frantically flipping the pages to see how things would turn out.

It wasn't until I finished the book that I learned the author is a retired homicide detective, but it definitely shows as you read. The novel is written expertly in terms of police and courtroom procedure, but still enjoyable in terms of the characters. There is a lot of personal "stuff" in terms of Lauren; this will be a little different if you are used to the Bosch type of detective (the love of my life and my hero). Still, it's completely refreshing to see a complicated female lead detective, and, as mentioned, so nice to be reading more of these stories. I grew to really love Lauren.

The courtroom scenes are great, and a lot will keep you guessing. Sure, some of the cold cases wrap up what seem a little easily, but even Lauren addresses that as she works. I read some reviews that Joe Wheeler is a cliche character, and I guess I could see where people get that, but for me, society as of late seems to be showing us everyday that these sort of angry, abusive men truly exist. Everywhere. To me, Joe was a sadly realistic portrayal of a horrible man, and his slow, boiling anger only added to the tension of the entire novel.

Overall, I really enjoyed this one. It looks like it's going to be a series, and it ends with some unfinished issues that make me even more eager for book two. 4+ stars.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review (thank you!); it is available everywhere as of 02/08/2018.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

She's mastering the way she dances in between sideway glances: THE GIRLFRIEND.

The GirlfriendThe Girlfriend by Michelle Frances

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Laura is a wealthy woman with a successful career in the entertainment industry and a very close relationship to her son, Daniel, who is studying to be a doctor. She cherishes this closeness, but that all changes when Daniel meets Cherry, a beautiful young woman who hasn't had all the opportunities that Laura and Daniel's wealth has brought them. When Daniel meets Cherry while searching for a flat, she immediately recognizes all that he could bring to her life. The pair quickly form a romantic relationship, and Cherry and Laura are eager to meet. But the meeting doesn't go well and the two get off to a rocky start. Laura worries Cherry is only after Daniel's money; Cherry
feels that Laura is standing in the way of her happiness with Daniel. Will they ever see eye-to-eye?

This was a slow build novel focused on a limited cast of characters, but it had a remarkable ability to draw you into its tale of an overbearing mother and overachieving young woman. Its strength is in its characters, its slow, tense reveals, and the careful buildup to the ending, which while potentially inevitable, will have you frantically flipping pages, wondering what will happen to these crazy people.

The book works the popular unreliable narrator trope well. There are certainly early clues that neither Laura or Cherry are exactly as they seem, and you are left wondering what is going on, and who can you trust. If you're like me, you'll take sides early on, even both seem a bit outlandish.

Indeed, I found some parts a bit melodramatic. Laura initially seems a little overprotective of Daniel (who is in his mid-20s!) and Cherry a bit to harsh to jump to conclusions; a lot of childishness and pettiness reigns early on. Poor Daniel probably would have been better off jumping on a plane and leaving both behind. The book dragged at times, but really had some power in its characters. Cherry could be quite frightening and there was quite an intense, ongoing mental fight between these two women. It accompanies a slow, tense creep to the book that I definitely enjoyed.

The novel was not exactly what I was expecting. It takes a dark turn about halfway through and then there are some twists and turns in the latter half. Laura is a sad figure even if her actions are a bit insane. I found myself empathizing with her, even if she was a bit frustrating at times.

Overall, this was rather enjoyable. It's slow sometimes and perhaps not really a true thriller. My ARC version was a bit hard to read (words were stuck together and the lines didn't go all the way to the end of the page, plus it's hard to tell when we change POV). Nonetheless, this is a very creepy psychological suspense novel that you'll want to keep reading. 4 stars.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Edelweiss in return for an unbiased review (thank you!); it is available everywhere as of 01/30/2018.

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Sunday, January 21, 2018

Where craziness gets handed down: THE BEST DAY EVER.

Best Day EverBest Day Ever by Kaira Rouda

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Paul Strom has the perfect life. He's a successful, wealthy advertising executive with a gorgeous wife, Mia, and two young sons. They live happily in a beautiful house and all is well. Paul is even taking Mia away for a romantic weekend to the couple's lake home--just to celebrate how good they have it. But the day starts off poorly--they are delayed when Paul takes a phone call, seemingly annoying Mia, and it's clear there is tension between the perfect couple. As they drive toward the lake, it appears as if nothing as is good and wonderful as it seems.

I'd heard a lot of good things about this book and was excited to receive it for Christmas. I have to say that Rouda definitely nails the unreliable narrator. The book is told entirely from Paul's perspective, and the result is an eerie, creepy tale. At first he seems like a slightly overbearing husband whose focus is on providing for his family. But as the story progresses, Paul drops a lot of clues that something (perhaps a lot of somethings) is off and more and more comes to light as the story unfolds that all is not as it seems with Paul and Mia.

As for Mia, we basically see her only from Paul's point of view, which is interesting. Is she truly this obedient wife, submitting to her husband's every whim? And is Paul truly fooling Mia as much as he thinks he is? We're along for the ride, subject to Paul's arrogance and forced to read between the lines as he tells us his tale.

In a way, not much happens in this novel, which basically covers one day--Paul and Mia's "best day ever" away at their lake house--and it can get slow at times. I kept waiting for some explosive surprise or reveal, but that never really materialized. Instead, the strength here is in the tense and terrifying writing and the characterization of Paul, which was beyond superb. As the hours tick by, you'll be on the edge of your seat and sucked into Paul's delusions. I sort of loved his machinations and was totally drawn into his sick little world. He reminded me a bit of Joe from You - just a great, albeit delusional, character. 4 stars.

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Monday, January 15, 2018

You may walk yourself alone through the hills of the night: THE GRAVE'S A FINE AND PRIVATE PLACE.

The Grave's a Fine and Private Place: A Flavia de Luce Mystery Book 9The Grave's a Fine and Private Place: A Flavia de Luce Mystery Book 9 by Alan Bradley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the ninth (! - how is that possible?) Flavia de Luce mystery, we see Flavia away from her home turf, as she and her sisters have been sent away from Buckshaw on a holiday to try to help them recover from the death of their father. But instead (of course) Flavia discovers a dead body. As the gang is boating, she drags her hand along the water, it snags on something and boom - she catches her fingers on a corpse. Only our Flavia! Of course, Flavia isn't content to leave things to the local Constable. The dead man is named Orlando, and his death leads Flavia into a world of a traveling circus, a famous Canon renowned for poisoning three women, and much more.

I am an unabashed fan of Flavia and this book didn't disappoint. It has all the staples of an excellent Flavia novel-- a strong mystery to unravel and a bunch of clever, witty, and surprisingly uncanny lines from our beloved protagonist. By now, our dear twelve-year-old Flavia has been through a lot. She's more mature, and she's as feisty and clever as ever. I admit that some of the chemistry in these novels goes over my head (I'm not as smart as Flavia, and I'm completely fine admitting that). But I love the mystery plots, and more than that, I love Flavia. I've felt protective of her since the first novel, even though the thought of that would anger her more than anything.

There's a good eclectic cast of supporting characters in this one, including an aged actor, an undertaker's son, and a woman who used to know Dogger. And, of course, we get some appearances from Flavia's ever-suffering sisters, Daffy and Feely. The best part of this novel, however, for me, was the strengthening relationship between Dogger and Flavia. Their bond is one of the highlights of the book. I love those two. By now, Flavia and Dogger feel like friends, or even family. It's a sign of how well Bradley writes and creates these characters that you feel so attached to them.

Suffice to say, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. If you're a fan of Bradley's series, you probably will as well. If you haven't picked up this series, I do suggest starting near the beginning, as you'll form a better bond with the characters. But you will be able to jump in with this book, too, as the mystery stands alone. The ending of this one also leaves me excited and looking forward to what I hope will be book #10.

I was very excited to receive a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley (thank you!) in return for an unbiased review; this novel is available in the U.S. as of 01/30/2018.

You can read my review of book #7 in the series, AS CHIMNEY SWEEPERS COME TO DUST, here and book #8, THRICE THE BRINDED CAT HATH MEW'D, here.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

In a broken heartbeat minute: THE BURIAL SOCIETY.

The Burial SocietyThe Burial Society by Nina Sadowsky

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In Paris with her father and brother, eighteen-year-old Natalie Burrows returns back to their hotel room and finds her father dead. His death triggers an open wound in Natalie, reminding her of when her mother, Mallory, went missing three years earlier and was never found. A man who was her mother's supposed lover claimed responsibility for her disappearance and death. Natalie and her older brother Jake are both still reeling from that incident, as is Brian's brother, Frank, who must come to Paris to help his niece and nephew after his brother's death--much like he did following Mallory's disappearance. Meanwhile, also in Paris is a woman named Catherine who goes by many aliases; she has a vested interest in the Burrows family and is watching them from afar. When Brian is killed, the fate all these characters intertwines in ways no one could quite possibly imagine.

This was a really interesting novel that took me by surprise. It's told in very short bursts of chapters, each one from a different point of view--Catherine, Natalie, Jake, Frank, and so on. Most of the narrative is in the present, but we occasionally go back in time. The format takes a little getting used to but it's also incredibly effective in building up suspense and keeping you guessing, wondering, and frustrated (in a good way) as to what is happening.

The novel gets off to an interesting start and just keeps on rolling. I was completely bewildered from the beginning and fascinated, wondering how all the characters related to each other. The book was perplexing and if I hadn't read it while I was moving, I probably would have whipped through it in a day or two--it has all the makings of a very fast read.

I do want to note that there is a self-harm trigger in the book, so please take note if that's something that affects you.

The characters in the novel are all varied. I was probably drawn more to Catherine and Jake, but each is fascinating in their own right. You are always a little wary of each, contemplating how much we truly know them and can trust them. The book gives us a couple of good "oh wow" moments, which I certainly appreciated. I eventually mostly worked things out near the end, but it didn't diminish my enjoyment of the novel. Through it all, we're always puzzling things out, wondering what happened to Mallory and how things will play out.

Overall, this is a different sort of book, and I enjoyed the original plot. It's a bit odd at times and sometimes confusing, but it certainly kept me reading. An enjoyable, twisty read. 4 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 1/30/18.

You can read my review of Sadowsky's novel JUST FALL here.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2018

I know your dirty little secret: ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL.

Anatomy of a ScandalAnatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kate Woodcroft is a London lawyer (barrister) who prosecutes--almost exclusively--crimes of a sexual nature. So when a highly publicized case comes across her desk, she looks forward to trying it. The defendant is James Whitehouse, a wealthy and successful politician who has been best friends with the Prime Minister since their university days. James stands accused of rape, but he claims it was a consensual incident with a young woman with whom he was having an affair. The trial causes James' loyal wife, Sophie--the mother of his two young children--to question whether her husband truly committed the heinous act of which he is accused. Kate, meanwhile, is convinced James is guilty, and she'll do everything she can to make sure he's convicted.

This was a rather fascinating novel. I'm not sure what I was expecting when I picked this one up, but it wasn't what I read, yet I really enjoyed the book. It wasn't a fast read for me, though in its defense, I read it over the holidays and while moving, but there's a sense of foreboding while reading it that completely sucks you in.

The book is told via various points of view. We hear from Kate and Sophie, as well as a young woman named Holly, and once in a while, James. We also get their takes from both the present and the past, when all attended university. It's an effective narrative technique, although the novel can be a bit slow at times. I was drawn to all the women narrating and found it particularly interesting to get a wife's take on James' various alleged indiscretions and crimes, for the heart of the novel is the reader trying to discover exactly what he has done.

The novel is very British -- lots of description of the courts, Oxford and its various colleges, and just the language used. It takes a little getting used to, but you definitely get caught up in James' trial. And, of course, the plot is rather timely, with the subject of rape and sexual assault (unfortunately) being in the news so often right now.

The book itself, as mentioned, is a slow read. I wouldn't describe it as a thriller myself, but it's interesting and it grabbed my attention. James is certainly a cad, but the women are intriguing. The discussions of class and race in Britain are fairly nuanced too (and if you enjoy them, you should check out anything written by Gilly Macmillan, whom I thought of several times while reading this.) There are definitely a couple of good twists, which I always appreciate.

Overall, this was a different book--but in a good way. Certainly worth a read.

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 01/23/2018.

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