Friday, February 23, 2018

I've been a fool with my reputation: THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT.

The Flight AttendantThe Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cassandra Bowen is a flight attendant with a history of bad decisions--most of them tied to her predilection to heavy drinking. Mostly her drinking leads to sexual encounters with dubious men, topless dancing, and a few bouts of blackouts. But when Cassie's work takes her to Dubai, she spends the night with a gentleman she met on the plane, drinking heavily with him all evening; in the morning she wakes up next to him in bed and finds him dead, covered in blood. Alone and female in Dubai, Cassie sneaks out of the hotel room and returns home on the plane with her fellow flight attendants, setting off a trail of lies that will haunt her. And in the back of her mind, she fears the worst: could she have killed Alex while drunk? And what will happen when the authorities discover her deception?

This novel starts off with a bang, with Cassie waking up next to a dead man. Once Cassie gets back to the States, I found myself fascinated what could possibly happen for the other 80% of the book. (My mistake, a lot can happen.) The entire novel kept me wondering what on earth would come next. This is a crazy, unpredictable book that sucks you in and never lets you go. I was constantly wondering who the various characters were--who really was Alex, for instance? Is there more to Cassie than we are being told? I was honestly confused for a good portion of the book, which doesn't happen often when I read.

It was really fun and befuddling to piece things together in this one. The book was rather stressful, trying to decipher all the various characters and to deal with Cassie's high-risk behavior. As the end nears, I was actually shocked by a couple of twists, which I really appreciated. It's rare that a thriller truly shocks me anymore. I was truly impressed with this one. The ending was a little odd, but as I pondered it more, I think I'm good with it.

As for Cassie, she was a hard character to like, and there's certainly been no shortage of unreliable drunken female narrators in contemporary fiction as of late. Still, you can't help but get caught up in her story. It's compulsively readable. There are also lots of good flight attendant stories; Chris Bohjalian always well researches his books.

Cassie's chapters also alternate with a woman named Elena, which is an effective storytelling device, and only ratchets up the suspense. Her tale is just as befuddling as Cassie's--perhaps even more so--and just added to my desire to turn the pages and find out what on earth was going on and how these people were all connected. Bohjalian really weaved a fascinating story here, and I love how all of his books are so different. Whereas some can be emotional, this one was truly a thriller, and focused so much on the story and mystery. It wasn't exactly what I was expecting, but it was great.

I also found some amusing little personal tidbits in the book: references to Charlottesville (the second in a row in the novels I read--it's my hometown) and Cassie's Kentucky references, including her attendance at the University of Kentucky. We are, in fact, a UK and UVA household--my five-year-old twins are very divided between the two. It's funny how little things stick with you when you read a novel.

Overall, this was a great read. Completely befuddling, but incredibly suspenseful and just sort of fun. Not at all what I expected from Bohjalian, but a fascinating, enjoyable thriller. I was completely lost in Cassie and Elena's bizarre world for a few days--the sign of a great book. 4 stars.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Edelweiss and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review; it is available everywhere as of 03/13/2018.

You can read my review of Bohjalian's THE GUEST ROOMhere.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

There'll never be another who loved me that way: I'LL BE YOUR BLUE SKY.

I'll Be Your Blue SkyI'll Be Your Blue Sky by Marisa de los Santos

My rating: 4+ of 5 stars

The weekend of her wedding, Clare Hobbes meets an elderly woman, Edith Herron, at the venue. While they only have a few brief conversations, they provide Clare with the insight and courage she so badly needs. So much that she finds the strength to call off her wedding and return home alone. A few weeks later, Clare receives some sad and surprising news: Edith has passed away and left Clare a seaside home in Delaware. Desperately seeking a place to reevaluate her life, Clare decamps to the "Blue Sky House" and there begins to learn more about Edith and the remarkable life she led. This includes the discovery of two ledgers--one depicting a list of the guests who stayed at Edith's home when it was a beach guesthouse and another, "shadow" ledger, with mysterious notations. With the help of her former boyfriend, now best friend Dev Tremain, Clare starts to unravel Edith's brave and fascinating past. Along the way, she starts to get closer to working out more about herself as well.

I absolutely adore Marisa de los Santos and was really excited to see she had written another book picking up on the characters first introduced in Love Walked In: A Novel and Belong to Me. Both still hold a place of honor on the bookshelves of my home. Still, Goodreads told me it was nearly ten years since I'd read those gems. Considering I can forget a lot of what I've read a few months ago, it took a little remembering and time to get back into the characters. There's a lot to keep track of in the beginning. Still, once I got into the groove, it was like being back with old friends.

Getting to know more about Clare--all grown up now--is lovely. You find yourself drawn to her immediately. Her finance, Zach, made me nervous from the start, and in many ways, the novel can be a little stressful, between Clare navigating Zach, learning about what Edith was up to, and just some of the general topics of the novel. I always know a book is well-written when I find myself getting nervous on the characters' behalf.

The book generally alternates chapters between Clare and the story of Edith, the woman she meets at her wedding venue. Edith's story mainly takes place in the 1940s and 1950s, and I found myself always wishing for more and more of her tale, as she's a fascinating character in her own right. As Clare moves into Edith's old home and starts to investigate the woman's past, we learn a little more about her through Clare and Dev's sleuthing. It's a very effective format, and I found the book surprisingly suspenseful, with several unexpected twists and turns thrown in along the way.

Indeed, I was never really sure where this one was going. It meanders a bit and kept surprising me as it did. There are points where the sadness can be really hard and heartbreaking (in a wow, this novel is incredibly well-written and I feel as if these characters are real way). All the characters fit together so well and come to life before you--no surprise to anyone who has read a Marisa de los Santos novel before. It's so easy to get lost in the world she creates for us. At other times, I just found myself laughing, as Clare and Dev, for instance, could just be so funny and real.

In the end, I just wound up really loving this one. I was along for the ride wherever Clare and her gang were going to take me. I loved her, I loved Edith, and now I'd wait ten years for another book without any issue whatsoever. It's a lovely book about connections and about the family we have and the family we make. It's about love (very appropriate that I finished it on Valentine's Day). Thanks for revisiting these characters, Ms. de los Santos. I didn't know I needed them again, but I'm glad you did. 4+ stars.

I I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Edelweiss in return for a honest review (thank you!); it is available everywhere as of 03/06/2018.

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

But this old heart is still the same: STILL ME.

Still Me (Me Before You, #3)Still Me by Jojo Moyes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Louisa Clark is attempting to follow advice to live boldly and try new things, which leads her to New York City. There, she becomes enmeshed in the life of the wealthy Gopnik family, serving as Agnes Gopnik's personal assistant. As such, Lou has plenty of time to tend to Agnes' every whim, but it takes some time to realize she might not be spending quite so much time on finding herself. Lou is far away from her boyfriend, Sam, who is still serving as a paramedic in England, and they are finding that long-distance romance isn't so easy. Meanwhile, Lou meets a new friend in New York, Joshua Ryan, who causes her to question many of her feelings. Lou loves New York, its pace and fashion, and many of the people she meets. But she still feels torn between worlds and her quest to discover who she really is, for once and for all.

I had no idea that Moyes was writing a third book in this series until recently and also had no clue where the story would go, but I have come to really care for the character of Louisa and knew I'd read it. I have to say, this one really surprised me, and I ended up enjoying it far more than I thought I would. While pieces of it may be a bit predictable, other parts were a little surprising, and the cast of characters is just so enjoyable that you get sucked in immediately. I found myself looking forward to immersing myself in the novel after a long day. It was refreshing to see Lou start to look inward a bit more, maybe grow up a tad, and start looking after herself more. After all these novels, you feel responsible for her and also get frustrated with her decisions, as if she's a sister or friend of your own.

The novel does a strong job of showing how Lou is tugged between two places--America and England--and struggling to discover where she belongs. It also illustrates some surprising similarities between herself and her wealthy patron. Watching Lou deal with Agnes' secrets--and, as the younger wife of an older, wealthy man, she has many--you get to see her mettle and true character. There are also some lovely and funny appearances by Lou's family, whom I've come to quite adore. You'll fall for the Gopnik's eclectic neighbor, Margot, as well.

This novel is surprisingly touching at times and really I just enjoyed it. It's a typically well-written novel from Moyes, featuring well-loved characters and a cast of new, engaging ones that you can't help but fall for and love (or dislike, as required) as well. If you've enjoyed Lou before, I think you'll find this a nice addition. If you haven't read about her journey, I encourage you to go back and pick up the first book--she's a rewarding character to discover.

You can read my review of ME BEFORE YOU here and AFTER YOU here.

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Monday, February 12, 2018

Did our ashes make a sound: THE WIFE BETWEEN US.

The Wife Between UsThe Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I never do this, but I'm copying in the tagline for this one, because I don't want to give away any spoilers:
When you read this book, you will make many assumptions.
You will assume you are reading about a jealous ex-wife.
You will assume she is obsessed with her replacement – a beautiful, younger woman who is about to marry the man they both love.
You will assume you know the anatomy of this tangled love triangle.
Assume nothing.

This was a fascinating and twisted thriller, I'll give you that. It flew under my radar for a while, enough that I wasn't interested enough to ask for an ARC. Finally, I read enough GR reviews that I caved and grabbed a copy from the local library. Now I don't know if I'm just cynical or jaded or what, but while I enjoyed this one, I didn't find it to be the rave-worthy thriller that so many others did. Perhaps if I'd picked it up in the ARC stage, before reading so many reviews, it would have been a little different, but I think maybe I went in looking for all the twists.

The book is divided into a couple of parts (4 or 5) and I guessed the big twist of the first part flat out. It's well-executed, but I saw it coming from a mile away. The rest were a little harder to guess, so kudos to the authors for those. I won't lie--this one is quite the compulsively readable thriller, no matter what. I am, however, a little tired of unreliable, female alcoholic protagonists, by now--this trend was kicked off by The Girl on the Train, and I'm sort of over it.

I won't go into much more, because I don't want to reveal anything for those yet uninitiated. I'm still glad I picked up the book - it was a good diversion for a couple of evenings and a fun thriller. Not quite the most amazing book ever I was promised, but still a twisty read. 3.5 stars.

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Thursday, February 08, 2018

The nights have gotten long: THE FRENCH GIRL.

The French GirlThe French Girl by Lexie Elliott

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Kate and five of her friends spent a week at a French farmhouse whilst students at Oxford. All goes well until the last night of the trip, when there's a huge blowup among the group. And, always, flitting at the edges is Severine, the French girl who stayed next door where the group was vacationing. After that night, Severine disappeared, but her body was never found. Until, ten years later, it turns up in a well behind the farmhouse. Suddenly Kate and her friends are being questioned by the French police, bringing up old memories, and jeopardizing the life Kate has worked so hard to create.

This novel takes some getting used to. Kate herself takes some getting used to. For instance, Kate "sees" Severine, as in she imagines Severine is watching her--sometimes she just sees her skull, sometimes Severine's entire body is following Kate, or languidly sitting in her apartment. In the beginning, these mentions are odd and a little creepy and the book moves rather slowly, making it hard to keep your interest. Kate and her group of friends still seem like the gaggle of college students they were ten years ago when Severine disappeared--and you find yourself wondering why you should care about any of them and their manufactured drama. It's hard to get invested in these somewhat spoiled, immature characters.

Luckily, I have to say, there was still some sort of pull about Kate that made me want to keep reading. You can't help but remain curious about what went down that night between the six friends and if one (or more) of them truly had a hand in Severine's death. It was enough to keep me reading, and I have to admit, Kate grew on me, I found myself feeling almost protective of her as the book wore on. You have to buy-in to the Severine premise a bit, but I won't lie, by the end, I liked the darn woman. What can I say? Elliott also does a good job in keeping you guessing, always casting suspicion on each friend, so you never quite get a handle on exactly what happened that week.

Overall, this one is a slow-moving thriller. It's focused on the build-up of its characters and meandering along to its reveals. If you're looking for a fast-paced, twisty mystery, this isn't it. But if you want to get sucked into the lives of your characters and discover some surprising things along the way, you'll enjoy this one. 3.5+ stars.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Edelweiss in return for a honest review (thank you!); it is available everywhere as of 02/20/2018.

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Monday, February 05, 2018

And volunteer to lose touch with the world: TRULY DEVIOUS.

Truly Devious (Truly Devious, #1)Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Stephanie "Stevie" Bell is very excited when she is accepted to Ellingham Academy, an elite private school in Vermont for free-thinking junior and senior high school students. Ellingham was founded by wealthy Albert Ellingham as a place where students can learn in their own ways, and where puzzle and riddles take center stage. The school became especially infamous when Albert's wife, Iris, and young daughter, Alice, were kidnapped not long after it opened. Shortly before the kidnapping, Albert received a mocking riddle threatening of murder in all sorts of forms via the mail. Now that Stevie is at Ellingham, her goal is to solve Iris and Alice's cold case. A true crime junkie, she knows everything about it and believes that being on the scene is the missing piece she needs to put everything together. But first she needs to get used to being away from home, befriend her eclectic group of housemates, and then deal with a shocking new crime that rocks Ellingham to its core.

I really love Maureen Johnson's Shades of London series, so I was really excited to see she had a new mystery series coming out. It didn't disappoint. This was a really fun, fascinating book featuring a great, feisty heroine in Stevie Bell. I fell for Stevie immediately, with her awkward demeanor and allegiance to old-school detective novels. Johnson has done a great job in creating a well-rounded character in Stevie, who really shines in this novel.

The intersecting mysteries will suck you in immediately. I basically wanted to ignore work and responsibilities and keep reading this one. The novel tells the book mainly from Steve's point of view, but we also get bits and pieces from the past--various narrators, case notes, etc. It's quite effective, and you'll find yourself intrigued by the Alice/Iris kidnapping, as well as the current tragedy that befalls Ellingham.

Steve's housemates at Ellingham are diverse and a bit crazy--they are a lot to sort through, but interesting nonetheless. This book will definitely keep you guessing, that's for sure. The cliffhanger ending is crazy--be prepared that this is a trilogy and that everything isn't wrapped up tidily!

Nonetheless, I really enjoyed this one, and I cannot wait to read the next book! I love Stevie--I felt such a pull to this plucky detective, who owns no jewelry, wears a lot of black, and can't dance. The book also treats mental illness in a great, matter-of-fact way, with its honest portrayal of Stevie's anxiety and panic attacks. Everything combines into a fun, interesting, suspenseful, page-turner that will leave you wanting more. 4+ stars.

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Friday, February 02, 2018

Still we can't shake this feeling of doom: SURPRISE ME.

Surprise MeSurprise Me by Sophie Kinsella

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dan and Sylvie are happily married, with twin daughters, when they go in for their annual physicals and get the news that they could live past 100 and hence be married for 60+ years. This sends some shock-waves through their marriage. The couple prides themselves on knowing each other inside and out, even being nearly psychic with one another, so they decide to help pass the years of marriage by "surprising" each other with various things. Needless to say, it doesn't go as planned. Meanwhile, Sylvie has a (perhaps unhealthy) attachment to her late father, who died two years ago in a car crash, and is still dealing with her grief.
She works at Willoughby House, a museum run by an older woman, Mrs. Kendrick, who is quite set in her ways. Robert, her nephew, has been called in to modernize museum operations, much to everyone's dismay. Suddenly, Sylvie's well-planned life is upside down in every possible way.

A good Sophie Kinsella book is a great treat and a wonderful break from stressful thrillers. I enjoy her characters and a chance to get away in the world she creates. Sylvie and Dan, have five-year-old twin daughters, just as my wife and myself, so I was immediately drawn in. "When you have baby twins, you're in the trenches together... You hone your routines. You don't waste words." Exactly. I figured I would grow attached to Sylvie pretty quickly, and I wasn't wrong.

She's an interesting character, too. I won't lie--both Sylvie and Dan are a bit dramatic at first about the health news. I get that hearing your increased life expectancy and marriage time might come as a bit of a shock, but these two really took it to the limit. Sylvie was also a bit clueless and spoiled at times, but I like that she knew that about herself and sort of embraced it as part of her personality traits.

The book really kept me befuddled at times where things were headed. It's not your typical romantic comedy where you can sort of tell how everything will work out. At some points, I was quite surprised by some of the plot turns. I found parts of it tense. I was so invested in Dan and Sylvie that I didn't enjoy when they were fighting or having issues--Kinsella does a good job of getting you involved in these characters and their lives. You're along for the ride with Sylvie, trying to figure things out. I had an inkling of some of what might have happened, but I was certainly flipping the pages frantically, trying to work it all out.

I loved that parts of this one were just really very funny. Sylvie has a sense of humor and I just enjoy the dry wit that comes across. As the surprises backfire (you just know they will, right?), you can't help but feel sorry for both Sylvie and Dan. And, yes, laugh at a little at their expense. There's also a great supporting cast of characters -- Sylvie's best friend, her co-workers, the next-door neighbors. They are humorous and really add to the book, versus standing in as props.

Overall, this one really grew on me as I was reading. It was a great diversion and a quick read. 4 stars.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley in return for a honest review (thank you!); it is available everywhere as of 02/13/2018.

You can read my review of Kinsella's MY NOT SO PERFECT LIFE here.

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