Friday, June 29, 2018

Living for the chance to scare you back in place: THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY.

The Death of Mrs. WestawayThe Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware

My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

Things aren't going well for Hal, who has been struggling financially and emotionally since her mother passed away. So when she receives a letter stating that she's a beneficiary to a well-sized inheritance, she thinks it may be the answer to her prayers. She also quickly realizes that the letter was sent to the wrong person, but she hopes to use her abilities as a tarot-card reader to claim the money. Once at the funeral of her supposed "grandmother," Hal finds herself drawn to her fake new family, something she never had growing up. She also starts to feel like something is off about the supposed situation and the odd, imposing home where they are all residing.

This novel wasn't what I was expecting, but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. It's a creepy, almost gothic book--not your typical whodunit--but more a slow-burning thriller in a Agatha Christie type style. The star of the show is Harriet, aka Hal, whom the book focuses on and who is our narrator for the majority of the novel. We get most of the story from her point of view, with the exception of excerpts of diary entries from the 1990s. Luckily Hal is an interesting character, even if she's in a bit of trouble, having borrowed money from some disreputable sources, and basically just being over her head since the death of her mom a few years ago. She's young and while it seems insane that she'd go off on this quest to claim an inheritance that isn't hers, you can sense and understand her desperation.

Once Hal arrives at Trespassen, the imposing yet decreipt mansion of the woman who is supposed to be her grandmother, the gothic style of the novel ratchets up, and it is really quite eerie at times. We get introduced to a trio of men who should be Hal's uncles, if she was who she claimed. The cast of characters is limited and the story isn't fast-paced, per se, but I found it quite compelling, as the reader, along with Hal, is trying to work out a variety of things. We realize that Hal does have ties to this family, but nothing is truly as it seems, and all is creepy and foreboding.

Overall, I enjoyed this one. It's a bit slow at times, but still quite interesting, and I enjoyed Hal's character. It's spooky and a fun read. 3.75 stars.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

There's a sadness so deep the sun seems black: JAR OF HEARTS.

Jar of HeartsJar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier

My rating: 4+ of 5 stars

Fourteen years ago, Georgina "Geo" Shaw's best friend, Angela Wong, disappeared without a trace. The girls were only sixteen years old. Now Geo is a successful executive--and it comes to a surprise to everyone (except Geo) when she's arrested at her pharmaceutical firm for her role in Angela's murder. It turns out, fourteen years ago, Geo was involved while her older boyfriend, Calvin James, killed Angela and buried her remains in the woods behind Geo's childhood home. Calvin has gone on to become a serial killer known as the Sweetbay Strangler. But to Geo, he's Calvin, her first love, despite their abusive and turbulent relationship. For all these years, Geo carried the secret of what happened that fateful night with Calvin and Angela. She told no one, not even the girls' best friend, Kaiser Brody, who is now a detective with the Seattle PD and working on Angela and Calvin's cases. Geo is sentenced to prison and all her secrets appear to be out in the open. But are they truly? And what does it mean when more bodies start appearing, killed in the same manner as Angela?

This was just a great thriller. It alternates its viewpoints, with pieces of the novel told from Geo and Kai and changing between the past and the present. The result is completely captivating. I was mesmerized by this compelling and well-executed novel, which draws you in from the start. The characters in this one are excellent; rarely do you get two such strong vivid main characters, but I felt drawn to both Kai and Geo.

The story slowly works its way back to that fateful night. Hillier unravels things so adeptly that I was kept guessing for quite some time, meticulously starting to work out pieces of the plot, feeling quite triumphant when I was proved right. This novel is just so intricately plotted and incredibly creepy at times--it's simply a pleasure to read. It's deep and dark, propelled by its wonderfully written characters. Honestly, I can't rave enough about both the plot and the characters.

Overall, you can't go wrong with this one. It features compelling characters and a twisted, dark story that will keep you reading until the very end. I need to track down more of Ms. Hillier's books and soon! Highly recommend.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review (thank you!).

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Friday, June 15, 2018

Both our hearts let go a long time ago: HOW HARD CAN IT BE?

How Hard Can It Be? (Kate Reddy, #2)How Hard Can It Be? by Allison Pearson

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Things have taken a bit of a turn for Kate Reddy--she's nearing 50, her husband has lost his job and spends most of his time cycling, and her kids are busy teenagers. With Richard out of work, Kate has to return to work. However, she finds that the financial community isn't welcoming to a woman on the cusp of fifty. When Kate decides to pretend she's seven years younger to enter the working world, she winds up working at the hedge fund she originally started. Once back at work, though, she finds herself overwhelmed dealing with everything: the unhelpful husband, the ungrateful kids, the demanding colleagues, and an unexpected appearance from an old flame.

This was a tough one for me. It was a slow read, although in its defense, I read it during a very busy time at work. I empathized with Kate's return to working motherhood--especially juggling kids and work and dealing with a male-driven workplace. I didn't enjoy the intense focus on how old Kate was, making her seem nearly decrepit at fifty. It's one thing to deal with turning the big 5-0 and its ramifications, but its another to make it seem like it's the end of the world. Even worse, while Kate could seem so strong in the workplace, she was such a pushover with her children. She was supposedly clueless with technology, unable to keep up with their exploits, and a complete doormat. (I also couldn't handle the endless endearments she used with her kids--there's only so many "sweeties" and "darlings" I can take.)

There are certainly humorous moments in the novel. This is a sequel to Pearson's first novel featuring Reddy and the parts I enjoyed here were the parts I liked about the first one: Kate's wit, her ability to take on the "big boys" at her fund, and the snippets of emails between her and her friend, Candy. There were definitely pieces of the novel that I found myself nodding along with--her moments of anxiety; her rants about how working moms are treated; some insights into kids and the social media era, etc. And Kate certainly doesn't have an easy go of it, with her clueless husband, helpless kids, crumbling house, aging parents, and stressful job.

That being said, I could see most of the plot twists coming a mile away, and you couldn't help but get frustrated that Kate couldn't see them too. Overall, while I found parts of this novel funny, refreshing, and quite apropos, I couldn't really get over Kate's obsession with her looks or her one-sided relationship with her children. In the end, 3.5 stars, probably bumped up a bit for a little Kate Reddy nostalgia.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review (thank you!).

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Thursday, June 07, 2018


The Last Summer of the Garrett GirlsThe Last Summer of the Garrett Girls by Jessica Spotswood

My rating: 4+ of 5 stars

The Garrett sisters are pretty used to the routine of their lives in their small town. Des, 19, is caretaker of her sisters and Arden, the bookstore left behind by their late parents. Their seventy-year-old Gram counts on her to take care of things--even more so since her knee surgery. Bea, 18, is smart, ambitious, and heading to Georgetown in the fall, along with her longtime boyfriend, Erik. Kat, 16, is their theatrical diva, whom no one really takes seriously; she recently broke up with her boyfriend, and she'd do just about anything to get him back. At fifteen, Vi is the "baby" of the family. She's quiet, sensitive, and gay. It's all worked pretty well for a while, but little do they all know: things are about to change for the Garrett girls this summer.

Jessica Spotswood said that she pitched this novel as "Little Women meets Gilmore Girls by way of Sarah Dessen," and I couldn't agree more. I didn't read this until her epilogue, and both the Little Women and Gilmore Girls pieces had already crossed my mind. This is such a lovely, charming, and touching book--I thoroughly enjoyed it. The Garrett sisters were so wonderful and engaging that as the book ended, I immediately found myself wishing there was a sequel, because I was completely immersed in their lives.

Spotswood creates some excellent, different, and completely captivating characters in these sisters. Each is unique in their own way--their own person. I loved the wonderful diverse representation in this one: "there aren't many YA books about girls falling in love," Vi says. It's so true, and how nice it is to have a well-written book where that storyline is just one of the many plots. There are some absolutely beautiful exchanges, as Vi has a crush on the girl who works at the restaurant next door, Cece. It was easily my favorite part of the book--I adored sweet Vi. I also loved how books played a such a strong role in the story--between the girls' family owning a bookstore and all of them loving books and stories in some way.

The novel itself is really about the universal themes of growing up, finding your way, and friendship and sisterhood. And love. It's so well-done and really sweet and fun. The girls seem so real, and it was quite easy to get caught up in their lives and problems. I found it quite enjoyable, even if I could guess how most things would resolve themselves.

Overall, this was a delightful novel about sisterhood and growing up. I truly wish I could have spent more time with the Garrett sisters. 4+ stars.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review (thank you!).

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Wednesday, June 06, 2018

I was holding on with everything: THE FAVORITE SISTER.

The Favorite SisterThe Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll

My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

The reality TV show Goal Diggers is supposed to buck the trend of most reality TV, with a focus on the radical notion that it is about women putting other women first. It even features unmarried, childless (for the most part), successful women. But, is that really the case? It sure seems like everyone on Diggers is fake and lying. There's Brett, 27, the youngest of the group, who is running her business, SPOKE, which focuses on helping women in Morocco. Her sister, Kelly is the newest addition, and she runs the business with Brett and is a mom to her teenage daughter, Layla. There's also Jen, who oversees her vegan empire; Lauren, creator of a dating website; and Stephanie, a successful author. None of these women really like each other after several seasons of the show. Even so, the producers never expected it all to end in murder.

I have some conflicted and confused emotions about this book. It took me over a week to read, which is forever in my world (I finished three other books in the meantime, to put it in perspective). You know how your Kindle tells you the percentage left to read? I swear that number never changed, it felt like such slow going, and I considered giving up several times. I really only kept reading because of a big reveal that happened on page one (literally) and then the rest of the book spends its time going back in time explaining what happened. I was mildly curious enough to find out what went down. The novel keeps you wondering just enough even if you don't like the characters.

Because, wow, these characters are really despicable. I can get past it in most books, and I thought maybe I'd like Brett for a while, but this self-centered group really took the cake. I am not a reality TV person, especially Real Housewives, so maybe that's part of why this one wasn't for me? I found the in-fighting, petty catfights, and personal drama to just be over-the-top. It's sad, because at times, I found a real wit and depth to the book, but for the most part it just dragged on. And on.

And again, some of this just may be because I'm not a reality TV gal. I really like Knoll's writing, I just couldn't get a handle on the tone. Funny? Serious? Both? What was it aiming for? Did it all just go over my head? I caught that it was trying for some really meaningful social commentary about feminism, weight, race, and so much more, but then it would get lost in two women fighting over platform heels.

There were some good twists at the end, but overall, this one fell flat for me, including the final ending. I felt like I slogged through it, and I just didn't enjoy the characters. Perhaps I missed the overall point or meaning. Many others have enjoyed it, so you may find it's more suited for you than it was for me.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Edelweiss in return for an unbiased review (thank you!).

You can read my review of Knoll's THE LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE here.

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Monday, June 04, 2018

Sunshine is days away: THE LAST THING I TOLD YOU.

The Last Thing I Told YouThe Last Thing I Told You by Emily Arsenault

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dr. Mark Fabian is dead--found murdered in his office. Left behind is his former patient, Nadine, who continues to talk to Dr. Fabian in her mind, telling him about her life in the many years since she saw the doctor. Back then, she was a troubled teen, ostracized for a gruesome act while in high school. Investigating Dr. Fabian's murder is Henry Peacher, a detective most known in town for stopping a deadly shooting at a posh retirement community before the death count went any higher. Before Dr. Fabian died, he pulled two files from his archives: those of Nadine's and Johnny Streeter, the man responsible for the killing at the retirement home. Henry is left to puzzle through what this all means--for instance, what did Nadine and Dr. Fabian discuss when she returned to town a mere two days before his death? Is there a connection between Nadine and Johnny? And what led to the brutal killing of this doctor?

Well, this was a different sort of psychological thriller. It wasn't quite what I was expecting, but one of my favorite things about it was that it was different, even if it favored the varying point-of-view aspect that is quite popular these days. The narration flips between Nadine and Henry, and because both are often telling stories that go back in time, it can vary in time periods as well. It takes a little getting used to, but it's also quite compelling. I read the book in a day while on vacation, finding it to be quite suspenseful and intriguing.

For me, the main draw to this one was the characters. Nadine is nuanced, complicated, and imperfect, but the real star was Henry. I enjoyed the book the most due to him. He's hard to describe, but he too is multi-faceted and flawed. He's a father to spirited twin girls (only a year older than mine), and I felt drawn to him immediately. Nadine and Henry are both different on the surface but each searching for things in a similar way--again, I was very impressed with their characterization. So much of the book takes place in and is shaped by the small town in which the characters live, and it's all quite well-done.

I don't want to go into much more to spoil the plot, as it does keep you guessing. A lot of what happened surprised me, which I always enjoy (doesn't often happen in a thriller). Overall, this one was different but enjoyable, buoyed by its strong characters and complex plot.

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I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Edelweiss/Librarything in return for an unbiased review (thank you!); it is available everywhere as 07/24/2018.

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