Tuesday, December 31, 2019

When I'm hollow, deep as the sea goes: THE GIRL WHO LIVED TWICE.

The Girl Who Lived Twice (Millennium, #6)The Girl Who Lived Twice by David Lagercrantz

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I can't quite let go of the Millennium series and Stieg Larsson's Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist, despite the fact that the late author no writes the books. This novel, however, is timely, covering the topic of Russian trolls and their impact on social media and politics. We get short snippets in each chapter told from the point of view of a variety of characters, so the story moves fairly quickly. Lagercrantz lacks Larrson's meticulous detail and his exploration into the character's psyches, as well as the true intense reporter that shined in Larrson; the trade-off: the books do seem to move at a somewhat quicker pace.

Still, Lisbeth and Blomkvist just don't seem the same as they were in Larrson's world, and I miss my old friends. There's also a lot of focus on Everest in this book--it's plot-related, but it gets to be a bit much. More Lisbeth and Mikael, less mountain, please. It makes the story more complicated than it needed to be, perhaps. Still, there's plenty to keep us entertained, including more from Lisbeth and her sister's dark past.

Overall, a fairly engaging read, but lacking that special flavor and special Lisbeth/Mikael zest that Larrson always brought to the series. 3.5 stars.

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Monday, December 30, 2019

She said forever with a smile upon her face: THE WIVES.

The WivesThe Wives by Tarryn Fisher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thursday and her husband, Seth, have a slightly different marriage. Seth, you see, has two other wives. Thursday therefore typically only sees Seth one day a week. But she agrees to the arrangement because she loves him, deeply and unconditionally. But then something happens and she starts to see some cracks in their marriage. It causes her to doubt their union--and to seek out his other wives. And once she does, nothing will ever be the same.

"He comes over on Thursday of every week. That's my day, I'm Thursday."

Oh man guys, this is a fun one. If you're able to suspend a little disbelief, you will greatly enjoy this thriller. From the moment I picked up this book, I was pretty much captivated by Thursday's story. There's so much to wonder about. Why on earth would she share her husband with two other women? What on earth is her husband's deal--and, seriously, what is the draw of this guy? What are the two other women like; why would they sign on to this arrangement? And, this is a thriller... is some shoe waiting to drop somewhere?

"Imagining what the future holds proves difficult when factoring in two other women who share your husband."

I can promise that, for the most part, you will not be disappointed. This is a wild ride. It's completely engaging, surprising, and for the most part, totally unpredictable. I wasn't 100% sure about the ending--things came on a little fast and it didn't feel fully resolved--but overall, this was a really enthralling and different read. It's fascinating and bizarre and cringe-worthy and amazingly enjoyable. 4+ stars.

"I shouldn't wonder, but I do. How does a man love so many women? A different woman every other day."

I received a copy of this book from Harlequin/Graydon House Books and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review. It is available on 12/30/2019.

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Saturday, December 28, 2019

Everyone calls us the most perfect pair: MY LOVELY WIFE.

My Lovely WifeMy Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing

My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

One of the most hyped books in ages--about a murderous married couple--completely fell flat for me. What a disappointment! I slogged through most of this one waiting for it to get good and see what all the fuss was about. I felt nothing for the characters except irritation. This was the ultimate epitome of a slow start. It picked up a bit, but there was nothing to redeem these hateful characters. The entire book was incredibly anticlimactic until a rushed, uncertain ending. Ugh. Still, I can see bits and pieces of why others found it so interesting, and I'll still be intrigued to read Downing's next book. 2.5 stars, though, for me.

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Monday, December 16, 2019

There I stand with the upper hand: THE FRIEND ZONE

The Friend ZoneThe Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez

My rating: 4+ of 5 stars

Kristen Petersen is a no-nonsense kind of girl. She's loyal to her best friend, Sloan, and worried about finally living with her boyfriend, who has been deployed for most of their relationship. She's also struggled for years with medical issues and is about to have a procedure that will leave her unable to have children. Then she meets Josh, the best friend and best man of Sloan's fiance, Brandon. Thrown together as they plan Sloan and Brandon's wedding, Kristen realizes she has feelings for Josh that she's never felt for anyone else. He's funny, kind, and puts up with all her quirks. But Josh wants a big family in the future. So Kristen distances herself from him. But the more time they spend together, the harder and harder it becomes to keep up the boundaries she's trying so hard to enforce.

The Friend Zone is one of those books that has been everywhere, but I clearly wasn't paying total attention to the plot. This is not your standard rom-com. The last note in my bookly app for this book reads, "fun sad enjoyed," and that really sums it all up. I found this one to be wonderfully written, much sadder than I expected, richly witty, rather dirty, and quite an enjoyable read. It wasn't at all what I went in expecting, but it was really more. Apparently there's a second book coming out soon, delving more into Sloan's story, and I'll certainly be reading that too.

Kristen is a tough character. She drove me crazy at first. I'm not a fan of books where so much could be resolved if someone just told someone else their secret. Sure, they may have their reasons for not wanting to spill, but good grief. Enough already! Luckily, Kristen was also a self-made businesswoman, really funny, a fully-fleshed out character, and easy to get hangry, which I could identify with (perhaps too much). She's a trip.

The friendship between Sloan and Kristen is a great part of the story--it's nice to see two women have a relationship that isn't marred by in-fighting or one that isn't based just on boys. It's real and flawed and, like much of the book, has its funny and sad moments. Josh is also a wonderful character, and, truly, he was a patient guy. The book's coverage of infertility is, mostly, quite well-done.

Overall, this was a strong read: funny and heartbreaking while featuring two characters with strong voices. It covers several serious topics without losing its way, and it's nearly impossible not to root for the main couple, even you want to shake Kristen once in a while. 4 stars.

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Friday, December 13, 2019

And finally be comfortable with me: GOOD GIRLS LIE.

Good Girls LieGood Girls Lie by J.T. Ellison

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The Goode School is an elite prep school in Marchburg, Virginia. Each class contains only fifty girls, hand-picked by Dean Westhaven herself. The school has been in the Dean's family for generations. The girls all go on to college--mostly the Ivies--and are the daughters of the rich and elite. Goode is filled with traditions, rumors, haunted tunnels and arboretums, and secret societies. Coming to Goode from England this year is Ash Carr, now Ash Carlisle. Ash's wealthy parents are dead and Goode gives her a chance to start over without the notoriety that follows in her home country. But soon, a student is dead at Goode. She apparently had a secret--and she isn't the only one.

I am a total sucker for a good boarding school mystery. Add in the fact that this one is set basically in my backyard, the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia, and it's written by one of my favorite authors, J.T. Ellison: I'm all in. GOOD GIRLS LIE didn't disappoint. This was a captivating thriller that kept me frantically flipping the pages of my Kindle. I didn't know who to believe, what to believe, or what on earth was going on. And I loved it.

The book opens up with a death--a body is found hanging on the school's gates. From there, the story backs up, and you are left guessing, wondering if Ash is a reliable narrator or not. For a story that features teenage girls, it's surprisingly adult and dark.

"Of course, there are a few people who know exactly who is hanging from the school's gates. Know who, and know why. But they will never tell."

This is a mystery filled with juicy backstories and gossip. The town of Marchburg has a storied past, and I found myself caught up in all of it. The Dean and her mother--twisted past. An old incident at the school--twisted past. Ash and her family--twisted past. Do you see a pattern emerging? Around every corner, a new dramatic turn emerges. If you like your thrillers with lots of drama and surprises, you'll enjoy this book. It's different, dark and twisty, and quite good. 4.5 stars.

I received a copy of this novel from Netgalley and Harlequin-MIRA in return for an unbiased review. It is available everywhere as of 12/30/2019.

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Tuesday, December 03, 2019

It's awful quiet here since love fell asleep: WINTER STROLL

Winter Stroll (Winter #2)Winter Stroll by Elin Hilderbrand

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I read this ages ago, it seems, back in April while on vacation in snowy Vermont. I've been on an Elin Hilderbrand kick all year. Even though this series actually takes place in Nantucket, somehow reading this Christmas-themed novel in snow-covered Vermont seemed appropriate.

In book two (don't keep reading if you don't want spoilers!), Kelley Quinn is still running the Winter Street Inn in Nantucket. He's now single and actually on better terms with his first wife, Margaret, the mother of his first three children. One of them, Kevin, has a new baby, Genevieve, with his girlfriend, Isabelle. More worrisome is the fact that Kelley's youngest son--with his second ex-wife, Mitzi--is still deployed.

This is typical enjoyable fare from Elin Hilderbrand--I love this entire series. In this book, we hear from Mitzi's point of view, as well as Drake, Margaret's boyfriend. Each book is told from various viewpoints (usually just the Quinn family), so it was nice to expand whom we hear from. Ava, Kelley's only daughter, is her usual mess, even though she's dating someone supposedly more stable. And Kelley's son Patrick, is in jail, causing much turmoil for his wife, Jennifer (whom we also get to hear from) and the entire family.

I found this to be an easy read--I read it in a day on vacation and it's really fun. What isn't delightful about the messed up lives of other, fictional people? Even better is that Hilderbrand writes these as a series, so you really get to know the family and their issues. I can get lost in their lives. This was the perfect Vermont vacation read. 3.5 stars.

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Tuesday, November 26, 2019

What doesn't kill you makes a fighter: THE GUARDIANS.

The GuardiansThe Guardians by John Grisham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of the best John Grisham books I’ve read in quite some time! It’s a strong, captivating story featuring the “good guys” versus “bad guys” dynamic that Grisham does so well.

Cullen Post works for Guardian Ministries, traveling the country fighting wrongful convictions. Guardian takes on clients forgotten by the system. Post, a lawyer and Episcopal minister, finds himself drawn to their latest client, Quincy Miller, who is serving life in prison. Quincy supposedly killed Keith Russo, a lawyer in Seabrook, Florida. He’s been in prison for over twenty years. And now Post is realizing that Quincy’s case is going to ensnare him and Guardian in a dangerous world—powerful people killed Keith Russo, and they do not want Quincy Miller exonerated.

"I have saddled myself with the burdens of innocent people rotting away in prison while rapists and murderers roam free."

This book has the legal and dramatic hallmarks of a strong Grisham novel. I was drawn to Post immediately and quickly caught up in Quincy’s case and Post and Guardian’s world. There are lots of twists and turns and surprises as Post works to free Quincy. I love the details Grisham throws in, plus the peeks into the courtroom, tidbits about examining evidence, and more. It’s a powerful read that gives you plenty to think about. Definitely worth a read! 4 stars.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2019

I wanna start up this flame: THE NIGHT FIRE.

The Night Fire (Renée Ballard, #3)The Night Fire by Michael Connelly

My rating: 4+ of 5 stars

Harry Bosch is one of my favorite characters ever, and I wait with much anticipation for the release of every new Michael Connelly novel. The Night Fire is the third book that features both Bosch and Detective Renee Ballard, who works the LAPD night shift. I’m really loving their partnership now and have grown to care for Ballard in her own right. (Bosch will always be my true love, though.)

This is another well-researched book from Connelly, as Bosch and Ballard work a series of intriguing cases—some of which will intersect. The story starts with Bosch receiving an old murder book from the widow of his former mentor. He pulls Ballard in to investigate and off we go! There are some great twists, and the cases are fascinating. I love Bosch to death and how he and Ballard play off each other. Mickey Haller makes an appearance, and Bosch struggles with a rare moment where he’s helping the defense.

The plot, as usual, is great--you can always count on Connelly for gripping cases that are timely and interesting. He manages to do this even as our two heroes are solving a cold case: quite a feat. I'm always astonished at how Connelly can somehow have Bosch and Ballard juggle two, three, four cases at time and somehow it all works. I always think I'll be confused and lost among the plot points, yet it always comes together.

The characters, however, are what keep you coming back. I love that we get to see Bosch interacting more with his half-brother, Haller. And there are some great scenes with Bosch and Maddie, his daughter, including one involving "FOMO" that is just priceless. As Bosch ages, each book seems to have more poignant moments tucked in between mysteries and bad guys. It's Ballard pushing the limits now, and Bosch reminding her to sleep.

Definitely a gripping read even as we have to grapple with the fact that our beloved Bosch is getting older. The ending gave me some hope, though, and I hope Bosch and Ballard are around for quite some time. 4+ stars.

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Monday, November 18, 2019

They keep me thinking that we almost had it all: TWENTY-ONE TRUTHS ABOUT LOVE.

Twenty-one Truths About LoveTwenty-one Truths About Love by Matthew Dicks

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Dan Mayrock is an obsessive list maker who has quit his job as a teacher and opened a bookstore. But now he's in financial trouble and afraid to tell his wife, Jill. Jill was previously married and Dan feels he can never quite live up to Jill's late husband. And then, Jill gets pregnant. Now Dan feels even more pressure to be the best he can be for Jill.

The shtick of this book is that it's told entirely in list form. No dialogue, no narrative, nothing. Just lists. It did wear a little thin at times, but it was an interesting way to learn about someone's life. You learn about Dan's finances, feelings, and amazingly, a lot about his past.

For me, what really got me about this book is that I just couldn't warm to Dan. I think most people find this book heartwarming and cute, but I found him--and it--annoying and whiny. He doesn't want to tell his wife about his financial problems with the store, so he concocts some ridiculous scheme to "help" the family instead. It was just too much for me. Man up, tell your wife, and take responsibility for your actions. I didn't find it cute, and if I was his wife, I would have kicked him to the curb.

It's a shame, because a lot of the book was filled with really funny and spot-on observations about life. I especially loved Dan's ruminations on teaching and meetings. They were incredibly true to life. There are a lot of humorous and touching moments in this book, but I could never really push past the fact that he was a spineless liar.

"'Let's start off with an icebreaker' are words no human being has ever wanted to hear."

Overall, I enjoyed pieces of this book, but found myself skimming others. I liked the idea of it, but could never warm to Dan and since the whole book was his lists and life, it was hard to enjoy without liking him. I need a book from the POV of his older Bingo buddy, Bill. Now he was a cool dude.

I received a copy of this book from St. Martin's Press and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review; it is available everywhere as of 11/19/2019.

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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

There's a gold dirt road to a whole lot of nothin': SHATTER THE NIGHT.

Shatter the Night (Detective Gemma Monroe #4)Shatter the Night by Emily Littlejohn

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Cedar Valley Detective Gemma Monroe takes a break from trick-or-treating on Halloween night with her young daughter Grace and fiance Brody to visit a family friend, former Cedar Valley Judge Caleb Montgomery. Caleb tells Gemma that he's been receiving haunting anonymous threats on his life. As Gemma, Brody, and Grace return to the Halloween festivities, they hear a gigantic explosion. Gemma quickly learns it was Caleb's Mercedes. The well-respected judge is dead. This kicks off a twisted and grueling case for Gemma and her partner, Detective Finn Nowlin, leading them down the dark past of Cedar Valley. There are ties to former serial killer and the more Gemma and Finn dig, the more disturbing things they find. Even worse, it appears as if Caleb's killer might not be finished.

"We had summoned the evil to our town just as surely as if we'd mailed an invitation. We just didn't know it yet, and by the time we did know it, the damage would already be done. People would be killed. Lives would be changed."

This was such a good book, you guys. I've read the first three books in the Gemma Monroe series and really enjoyed them, and this was such an excellent addition to this series. To put it in perspective, I started reading this book about the same time as Michael Connelly's latest. I quickly realized that wouldn't work as they both involved plots with arson, and my small brain was getting addled. Well, I found this book so completely captivating that this was the one I kept with--and I mean, Connelly is my most favorite of authors. I have a cat named Harry Bosch. But there was just something about this one!

Gemma has become one of my favorite detectives. She's so easy to identify with. I love that she's a working mom, and that she can share her perspectives about working and motherhood with the reader. She even admits that she is probably a better mom because she works, but she still struggles being away from young Grace. She's human and fallible. We also see her make some strides in her personal growth in this book. She's awesome and tough, and I really like her.

"Since having my daughter, time seemed to speed up at incredible rates."

The plot in this one is wonderful. It's creepy and builds up suspense. I was completely captivated. I love a book that keeps me guessing, and Shatter The Night definitely did that. There are a lot of suspects, and it was really fun to try to figure out what was going on and who might be our bad "guy(s)." The book weaves in the town's legacy, intertwining the history and its elders, so to speak. So you have a past that features Caleb and his ancestors; the police and their history; even Gemma's family. I don't want to go deeper than that, but Littlejohn weaves it all together flawlessly.

Overall, this was a great read. Interesting story, wonderful characters (the recurring characters are the best--please live forever, Tilly Krinkle), and a strong female lead. What more can you ask for? Maybe it's time to name a cat Gemma Monroe. :) 4.5 stars.

I received a copy of this book from Minotaur Books and Netgalley in return for an honest review; this book is available everywhere as of 12/10/2019.

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Monday, November 11, 2019

We'll be raising our hands, shining up to the sky: SUMMERLAND.

SummerlandSummerland by Elin Hilderbrand

My rating: 3+ of 5 stars

It's high school graduation on Nantucket. But this usual time of celebration turns to tragedy when--on graduation night--a terrible car crashes kills one local student, Penny Alistair, and leaves her twin brother, Hobson, in a coma. Penny's boyfriend, Jake, and her friend, Demeter, are not hurt, at least physically. But the crash shakes the island and leaves everyone wondering exactly what happened. Why was Penny driving Jake's Jeep that night? What caused her to drive so quickly and recklessly?

I enjoy every Elin Hilderbrand book I read, and I liked this one, though it wasn't one of my all-time favorites. I didn't find myself greatly attached to any one character, or really pulled deeply into the plot. Honestly, while many of Hilderbrand's books have a dark or sad side, this one was really depressing at times, even though there was a layer of hope as well. It hit very close to home, as I am a mother of twins, so maybe that was part of it. I was a little heartbroken, and my heart went out to Zoe, the mother of Penny and Alistair.

As with all Hilderbrand books, the story is interesting, and she weaves a detailed and intricate tale of island life. There's more than just an accident, with intersecting webs of characters. I liked the parallels and ties between the high school children and their parents. It was an engaging story, with a lot of serious subjects.

I'm glad I read this one, but if you're just starting out with Hilderbrand, there are other books I'd recommend first. 3+ stars.

I received my copy of this book through one of my favorite websites, Paperbackswap.com, where you can swap copies of all your favorite books (hardcover, paperback, and more).

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Wednesday, November 06, 2019

I'm not ready to back down: THE GIVER OF STARS.

The Giver of StarsThe Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

My rating: 4+ of 5 stars

This was such a great read—I was completely caught up in the story, set in 1930s Kentucky. It tells of a group of women who agree to set up a traveling library—where the books are delivered via horseback—per the direction of Eleanor Roosevelt and the WPA.

What a vivid and mesmerizing tale. We are introduced to Alice, who comes from England to Kentucky after her marriage. But her union isn’t all she imagined, and she finds herself feeling trapped and alone—until she joins the library. They are led by Margery, who refuses to fit the mold of the typical Kentucky woman, much to the ire of some townspeople, including Alice’s father-in-law, who runs the local mine.

The plot is dramatic, riveting, and, honestly, stressful at times (I was so invested). I loved the idea of a tale that mixes the power of books and reading with the power of women and the fear so many had of both. You’d like to think a lot has changed since the ‘30s, but this felt rather timely sometimes... The book also speaks eloquently to the racial divide, classism, and more. I found many parts to be so touching and others very powerful. This is a book that speaks to you on a variety of levels.

Overall, this is a beautiful book, with a strong and moving message. Definitely recommend! 4+ stars.

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Monday, November 04, 2019

But my heart hit rock bottom: WHAT HAPPENS IN PARADISE.

What Happens in ParadiseWhat Happens in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s been a year since Irene Steele received the news that her husband Russ was killed in a helicopter crash. The most shocking part: it occurred on the island of St. John, where he apparently lived a double life with another family. Now Irene and her two grown sons are back on the island, trying to move on—and learn more about the life Russ led there.

I really am loving this series. I worried for naught this book wouldn’t be as captivating as the first! It was, per usual, a delicious Hilderbrand read. I love these characters, especially stalwart Irene. And Huck, oh Huck, the tough yet sweet fishing captain. She just captures them all so perfectly!

This book is really quite fascinating—almost a mystery. There’s plenty of good relationship drama, too and lots of curiosity about Russ’ business dealings. It’s so easy to get caught up in everyone’s lives.

This is a fun, dramatic, and engaging read. You can read it out of order, but pick up Winter in Paradise first (if you haven’t already) for the full experience!

(Also, this was my first read BOTM. Yay!)

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Friday, November 01, 2019

This is where I belong: RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE.

Red, White & Royal BlueRed, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A book where the President’s son falls for the Prince of Wales? Sign me up!

This book is raunchy and the language is rather explicit, and my goodness, I loved it. This one was one of my rare audiobook listens, and I was driving down the road laughing and crying. Wiping away actual tears at points.

McQuiston combines a sort of coming of age love story against the backdrop of politics. Both storylines are compelling beyond belief. Alex, the President’s son and our main character, is incredibly well-written. Funny, sweet, and so real. And Henry, our Prince, is lovely too. It’s impossible not to root for them.

This book is witty, sweet, a surprising nail biter at times, and offers such a great message—now more than ever. (And the narrator in this one was easily my favorite in my limited audiobook career.) Cannot recommend it enough!

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Monday, October 28, 2019

And when the night falls on our better days: THE WOLF WANTS IN.

The Wolf Wants InThe Wolf Wants In by Laura McHugh

My rating: 4+ of 5 stars

Sometimes I foolishly put off reading a book because I think it sounds “too smart” or something for me. I made that mistake with The Wolf Wants In, and I was such an idiot! This was such a wonderful, well-written psychological thriller. I don’t know what I was thinking!

Wolf is told from the perspectives of Sadie and Henley, who both live in the same small Kansas town. Sadie has recently lost her brother, Shane, and she’s looking for answers about how he died—even if no one else seems too concerned. Meanwhile eighteen-year-old Henley comes from a long line of known troublemakers: many of whom are drug dealers and users. She’s determined to leave town and her family behind. But events transpire that make that harder than she envisioned. Overshadowing everything is the town’s opioid crisis and the discovery of a child’s skull in the woods.

The characters in Wolf are vivid and nuanced. They have such depth and feeling. McHugh captures small town life so well—as well as how easily addiction can ravage families. What I loved was how she layered a mystery against all of this: the result was a completely compelling read. I was totally captivated by this one: definitely recommend! 4+ stars.

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Saturday, October 26, 2019

I get so tired of getting tied up in my thoughts: MOTHER KNOWS BEST.

Mother Knows BestMother Knows Best by Kira Peikoff

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Claire Abrams' world crashed when her mitochondrial DNA passed along a mutation that eventually killed her son, Colton, when he was eight. It devastated Claire and her husband, Ethan. But then Claire discovers Dr. Robert Nash, a fertility doctor who is working with his young research scientist, Jillian Nash, to create the first baby with three genetic parents. This allows Claire to have a healthy baby. The fact that it's currently illegal doesn't stop the trio, but eventually news of their feat leaks, and Claire goes into hiding, joined by Robert. Years later, young Abby lives a sheltered life with her parents, including a mom who barely wants to leave the house. And then there's Jillian, who served a prison sentence for her work on the experiment. She's determined to get credit for her science, and nothing will stop her.

"It is impossible to tell that my beautiful girl is the first of her kind. Even she doesn't know."

I found this book totally addictive. Yes, it's a little crazy at times, but it was a real page-turner, and it had me glued to the pages. I loved Abby, who gets her own turn at telling her story, and I even liked Claire, even if I questioned some of her decisions at times. As someone who has been through IVF, a lot of this story hit close to home, and I could understand and empathize with what was going on, even if the plotline was far more far-fetched than anything that has occurred in my own life. But the ultimate themes of family, searching for a place to belong, and the desire to have safe and healthy children--those are universal.

The book certainly raises some interesting ethical questions. It keeps the science fairly simple, so it's easy to follow along and understand. It makes you think, and with Ethan and Claire on two starkly opposing sides, it lets you put yourself in their shoes and wonder what you would do in a similar situation. The multiple narrators--including Abby, Claire, and Jillian--work well, too.

At the same time, much of the book is an adrenaline filled thriller, with crazy characters and wild situations. I figured out some of the pieces, but it always kept me guessing and interested. I was definitely fascinated and mesmerized, wondering what on earth was going to happen next.

"But someone out there will never give up searching. Someone who's long out of prison, whose name I can't bear to utter or think."

There were a few slightly crazy moments, and I think the ending wrapped up a little too easily, but I liked it, so all is well. This book was exactly what I needed--an addictive read with an interesting story that kept me interested. 4 stars.

I received a copy of this novel from Crooked Lane Books and Netgalley in return for an honest review.

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Thursday, October 24, 2019

And I will be that witness to your life: GRACE AFTER HENRY.

Grace After HenryGrace After Henry by Eithne Shortall

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a lovely and often heartbreaking book about love and loss. Grace and Henry have just bought a house together when he dies, leaving Grace bereft. She moves into their new home and one day Henry shows up to fix the faulty boiler. Only it isn’t Henry, of course; the look-alike man’s name is Andy, and suddenly Grace’s life is turned upside down.

This is a different sort of story—sometimes predictable but often not. It’s touching and sad and captures grief and love quite wonderfully. Grace is an excellent, real character, and her ache for Henry is so true and honest. There are plenty of funny moments, too; her parents’ battles with the moths in their home was my favorite. The supporting cast is simply wonderful, particularly Grace’s friends from the cemetery (you read that right) and her elderly neighbor, Betty.

This isn’t always the easiest book to read, as it so well portrays grief and heartache, but it’s very well-done, and I appreciated reading such a heartfelt and loving story. Definitely worth picking up.

I received my copy of this book through one of my favorite websites, Paperbackswap.com, where you can swap copies of all your favorite books (hardcover, paperback, and more).

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Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The middle of the night when you fear everything: THE POISON GARDEN.

The Poison GardenThe Poison Garden by A.J. Banner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Elise is heading back to Chinook Island, preparing to celebrate her first wedding anniversary with her husband, Dr. Kieran Lund. They seem to have an ideal, loving marriage, living in Elise's childhood home. Once a pharmacist, she now runs her late mother's herbal boutique. But upon her arrival to the island, Elise makes a shocking discovery, causing her to doubt all she thought about Kieran and their marriage. Soon she finds herself doubting everyone--even her own memories.

"On the ferry ride home, I was not yet planning to kill anyone. I was still full of hope, eager to land on Chinook Island..."

This is one of those thrillers where you have to go in willing to suspend a little disbelief. It's a bit crazy and a little preposterous, sure. But I have to admit, this was a fun one. I was a little hesitant for a while, pretty sure I had it all figured out and it wasn't going to surprise me. But, I'll gladly admit, I was wrong! This turned out to be a very enthralling read, and I consumed the last half breathlessly, quite intrigued to find out what happened with Elise and Keiran.

I was doubtful about this one in the beginning because it relies on the somewhat overused unreliable narrator trope: can we trust Elise? It seems she's been a sleepwalker in the past, and now, stressed once again, has turned back to her old habits. (At least she wasn't an alcoholic.) I didn't really love Elise, but I admire a book that can keep me engaged even when I'm not 100% behind our protagonist.

"Was I going mad? Padding around in the dark, my subconscious alter ego seizing control?

In fact none of our cast of characters is a real winner: Elise's new husband; her ex, who seems a bit stalkery; her flirtatious neighbor... There is a lot of focus on herbs and medicinal plants, which Elise's mom used in her store. You're never really sure where or why some of the details are thrown in.

But... where this book succeeds and what makes it worth reading is its unpredictability. All of those details are, in fact, quite important. By the end, when it all came together, I was quite surprised (a little mad at myself for not putting more together sooner) and impressed. This one kept me guessing and outwitted me. It was a very easy read and a fun, different thriller. 3.75 stars--rounded to 4 here.

I received a copy of this book from Lake Union Publishing and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review. It is available on 10/22/2019.

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Monday, October 21, 2019

Foolish when I'd wish that I'd been wise: TWICE IN A BLUE MOON.

Twice in a Blue MoonTwice in a Blue Moon by Christina Lauren

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tate first fell in love on a trip to London, where she met the mysterious Sam Brandis. They shared all their deepest secrets and dreams together every night in their hotel's garden. It was a whirlwind, beautiful romance. Sam was the only person that Tate told her biggest secret: she is the daughter of one of Hollywood's biggest film stars. But their brief love story ended abruptly when Sam betrayed Tate, revealing her secret and outing her to the world. Now, fourteen years later, Tate is a famous actress herself. She's on set on her biggest project to date. The last person she's expecting to see is Sam Brandis. But here he is. Now Tate is forced to confront what happened fourteen years ago--and how it has affected her all these years later.

"What would you do if you got a second chance with your first love?"

Well, I was totally caught up in this captivating romance. I'm a real sucker for Hollywood drama, so this was right up my alley. The daughter of a Hollywood star, who abandoned her and her Mom after a messy divorce? Said daughter grows up and decides to be a film star after being outed by her first love? I'm so in.

This Christina Lauren novel is told just from Tate's point of view, so we don't get some of the back-and-forth POV that we see in some of the duo's other books. There is more drama, less witty banter, than we might see in other books. But there's still plenty of the usual lies, longing, and misunderstandings. There are also lots of sexy moments and romantic interludes, too.

Tate is a fun character; I liked the divide between young Tate and Sam and then cutting to them fourteen years later. Honestly, older Tate is a little clueless at times. It takes her a while to catch on to things that seem pretty obvious to the rest of us. As usual, some things are rather predictable and other moments are a bit overblown, but it didn't diminish my enjoyment of the book. While Sam and Tate might not have had a constant humorous dialogue going, I liked the seriousness that the book brought to their relationship, as well as the funny moments it dropped in too. Tate's family, friends, and co-stars add a lighthearted touch, too.

Overall, this is a sweet, engaging romance. I loved the Hollywood aspect and the changing dynamic between Tate and Sam. 4 stars.

I received a copy of this novel from Gallery Books and Netgalley in return for an honest review; it is available 10/22/2019.

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Saturday, October 19, 2019

I was a train wreck waiting to happen: THE FAMILY UPSTAIRS.

The Family UpstairsThe Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Twenty-five years ago, a tragedy occurred at the large house at 16 Cheyne Walk. When the police arrived, they found three dead adults, an apparent suicide note, and, upstairs, a healthy ten-month-old baby. The neighbors spoke of other children who lived in the house, but there was no trace of them. The house is left in trust, and twenty-five years later, Libby Jones receives the letter she's been waiting for. In it, she learns about her birth parents and that she's inherited their home on Cheyne Walk: making her an instant millionaire. But others have been waiting for this day for years, too, and now Libby is about to learn more about her past and what happened so long ago at Cheyne Walk.

"Now she owns a house in Chelsea and the proportions of her existence have been blown apart."

In typical Lisa Jewell fashion, The Family Upstairs is a dark and twisted story of family secrets, and betrayal. It's told from the perspective of Libby, who inherits the house; Lucy, a mother in France struggling to find shelter and safety for herself and her two children; and Henry, who tells his story from the past, when he lived at Cheyne Walk.

As their three stories intertwine, we learn more about the horrors that happened at the house all those years ago, and how exactly Libby, Lucy, and Henry are tied together. It's an enthralling story and not easy to put down. It's dark, with plenty of twists and turns, and it certainly kept me guessing. There's lots of wondering who is who, and lots of awful things that happen to people. There were a lot of surprises at every turn. I was drawn to Libby, along with Lucy and her children, even if I sometimes wasn't sure if everyone was making the right decisions.

I was really into this book until the end, where the vagueness of the ending disappointed me a bit. But it's still an interesting thriller, no matter what: lots to keep you entertained, tons of dark and twisted bits, and plenty that kept me wondering right up to the end. 4 stars.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley and Atria Books in return for an honest review; it's available in the U.S. as of 11/05/2019.

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Monday, October 14, 2019

My words won't make you stronger: LIFE AND OTHER INCONVENIENCES.

Life and Other InconveniencesLife and Other Inconveniences by Kristan Higgins

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Emma London is kicked out her home as pregnant teen. It particularly stings, because when Emma's mom died when she was a kid, her dad dropped her on his own mom's doorstop and never looked back. Genevieve, Emma's wealthy grandmother, took her in and raised her, but she never had much love for Emma. Perhaps because Genevieve was already dealing with her own tragedies: the disappearance of her young son, followed by the early death of her husband. Still, she had time to build a fashion empire--and neglect her other son (Emma's father). Emma hasn't let any of her family baggage stop her. She's built a good life for herself and her teenage daughter, Riley. But now she has a surprise call from Genevieve, asking her for help. Emma isn't sure she can go home again, but what if it's what's best for Riley? And maybe even for her?

What a wonderful read! This was a great book to consume poolside this summer.

I love Kristan Higgins' books and this one was no exception. Don’t go in expecting a light and fluffy romance, though. Sure, there are some romantic elements here and plenty of Higgins’ trademark wit and humor, but this is also a serious read that deals with momentous life events and tragedies. It’s sad, poignant, touching, and real. Because Higgins’ characters are so true to life, and because she immerses you so fully in their world, it’s easy to both laugh and cry while reading. It’s a character-driven read, and I was quickly drawn to Emma, Riley, and several others.

I definitely recommend this one, and if you haven’t picked up any of Higgins’ work, now is the time to start! 4.5 stars.

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Friday, October 11, 2019

But in my heart I'm always somewhere with you: IVY ABERDEEN'S LETTER TO THE WORLD.

Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the WorldIvy Aberdeen's Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ivy Aberdeen is struggling with feeling invisible in her family—her mom is busy with Ivy’s new twin brothers. Things get worse when a tornado destroys their home, displacing the family. In the aftermath, Ivy—an artist—loses a notebook filled her most precious drawings. When they start showing up in her locker with notes attached, Ivy realizes the note-leaver may be on to what Ivy can barely voice herself: she has crushes and dreams about girls. Can Ivy make herself seen and follow her heart?

"How was Ivy supposed to know how to handle all these feelings... all these feelings at all, if everything she saw and read about and heard was all boy-girl, girl-boy?"

I genuinely don’t know what we did to deserve Ashley Herring Blake, but we are lucky. She’s become one of my favorite authors. This unique middle grade novel (Ivy is 12) is yet another beautifully written book from Blake that tells a story so many kids need to hear.

And Ivy. Oh Ivy. I loved this kid. She goes through so much, and we see her present tough, real feelings. She’s artistic, resilient, and witty. And, oh yeah, she likes girls. It’s just the best sort of representation in the world, you know? I wish this was on the shelves and being read in every middle school.

This book is lovely, real, and tells an invaluable story. It’s so funny and sweet, and I honestly would recommend it for everyone.

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Wednesday, October 09, 2019

But I got my philosophy: A DREAM ABOUT LIGHTNING BUGS.

A Dream About Lightning Bugs: A Life of Music and Cheap LessonsA Dream About Lightning Bugs: A Life of Music and Cheap Lessons by Ben Folds

My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Ben Folds--as you probably know if you're interested in his autobiography/memoir--is a singer-songwriter who became popular in the 1990s as part of the band Ben Folds Five. He's well-known for his piano skills, vocals, and songwriting. He's also had a somewhat tumultuous personal life, with multiple marriages that ended in divorce. This memoir covers his childhood and his fame with Ben Folds Five and his solo career, up until the relative present.

"This is a book about what I know. Or what I think I know. It's about music and how it has framed and informed my life and vice versa. About the stumbles, falls, and other brilliant strokes of luck that brought me here."

I discovered Ben Folds Five in college via my roommate/best friend, and I've been a fan ever since. I was excited to read this, but I've gotta admit: it was a slog. I basically forced myself to finish. I've always sort of thought of Ben Folds as a bit arrogant, so that may have clouded some of my reading of this autobiography. It certainly didn't help dissuade me of that opinion.

For me, the best parts were when Folds was talking naturally about his life and story. His childhood was interesting and it was really no surprise that he was a musically obsessed, somewhat irreverent kid. It was intriguing to see the various paths that led him to Ben Folds Five and stardom.

I did not enjoy--at all--the part where he felt the need to impart forced, preachy lessons about life and music. Maybe if I was more of a music person (as in, I played it versus listened to it) the music lessons would have been of interest. It felt like an editor said, "Ben, every few chapters you have to make sure the reader learns something." And he diligently and forcefully made sure we did. But the point of the book seemed to be that he was a screw up, who got where he was halfway by accident, so the whole lessons thing seemed awfully preachy and fake.

The better pieces were funny anecdotes--Folds playing as a one-man polka band and winding up doing a private gig for an elderly couple, where the husband had a wooden leg. Folds meeting a then-unknown Keith Urban. How he met Robert and Darren of Ben Folds Five. I was disappointed how much he skipped over as he became a more famous musician. We get a lot about his childhood, his various tries at college, and his musical attempts up until Ben Folds Five. He does talk about the formation of Ben Folds Five and how it felt to suddenly become so famous. But then, so much of the detail dwindles. He alludes to how the band might have had some tension, but the actual breakup, via email, gets a few sentences. Even his many marriages and his associated emotional turmoil gets glossed over quite a bit.

So, for me, I was left wishing for more with this one. It's a good quick brush-over of Ben Folds' life. There are some cheesy, slightly pompous "life lessons" inserted. You get a few funny stories among all this and the backstory behind a few songs: that, to me, was the good stuff. Otherwise, it was a bit of a drag, and I didn't finish really knowing much more about the real Ben Folds than I did when I came in. Rather disappointing. 2.5 stars.

I received a copy of this book from Random House-Ballantine and Netgalley in return for an honest review.

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Saturday, October 05, 2019

Always the first star that I find: MY FAVORITE HALF-NIGHT STAND.

My Favorite Half-Night StandMy Favorite Half-Night Stand by Christina Lauren

My rating: 3.5+ of 5 stars

Millie has always been one of the guys. She has four best guy friends—fellow professors. With an upcoming social function planned at the university, the group makes a pact that they will join an online dating service to find plus-ones for the event. But Millie and Reid have recently (secretly) shared a sexy night together. Hence the online dating plan offers some issues. So Millie comes up with “Catherine”—a pretend persona who lets her be more vulnerable than her more closed off self. Then Millie matches with the unaware Reid. Oh yeah, here comes trouble...

Oh, beach reads I love thee! I’m so enjoying catching up on Christina Lauren's back catalog! Although very much based on lying, which is a plot point that often stresses me out, I enjoyed My Favorite Half-Night Stand.

This was such an easy-to-read book. Millie is likable, and I could definitely relate to a slightly reticent, closed off soul. 😉 Yes, I did stress out a bit with all the lies and machinations! But, the book was very funny, sexy, and sweet! Millie’s group of friends was wonderful—just a humorous and fun cast. The chemistry between Millie and Reid was great, too! Definitely a good read! 3.5 stars.

I received my copy of this book through one of my favorite websites, Paperbackswap.com, where you can swap copies of all your favorite books (hardcover, paperback, and more).

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Thursday, October 03, 2019

There's still no reason after all these years: LITTLE COMFORT.

Little Comfort (Hester Thursby Mystery, #1)Little Comfort by Edwin Hill

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hester Thursby is a Harvard research librarian with a knack for finding things. She's good at research, so when Lila Blaine comes to her, asking for help finding her long-lost brother, Sam, Hester figures it will be another easy job in what has become a side-business for her. Hester has some extra time, as she's on leave from her job as she and her partner, Morgan, try to navigate life with his niece, Kate, whom they are caring for since her own mom has disappeared. But finding Sam--who may have left with his friend Gabe, a foster kid, isn't as easy as it seems. Sam has no wish to be found. He's now a con man who cozies up to the rich and his latest mark, Wendy Richards, a Boston socialite, has the ability to give him all he's ever dreamed of: wealth, status, security, and more. When Hester's investigation threatens this, there's no limit to what Sam and Gabe may do.

This was an intriguing mystery that definitely held my interest. Somehow it was darker and grittier than I expected (sorry, I probably wasn't giving librarians enough credit here), but that certainly didn't diminish my interest at all. The opposite really. Hester is a fascinating character, to say the least. A lot of toughness, smarts, and dedication wrapped into a tiny package (she's 4'9"). She's dealing with a lot, taking on care of three-year-old Kate and a leave of absence, but that doesn't stop her from tracking down subjects and tangling with whomever she meets. She, Kate, and their basset hound, Waffles, are on the case.

The book is told from multiple POV, so we hear from a whole host of characters, including Gabe and Sam. Hill is a wonderful storyteller, and really puts you in the shoes of his characters. And boy, are some of these folks creepy. Terrible things happen in this story, and some of these people are downright despicable. Yet, he still captures the intense longing of Gabe, a foster child, and shows how Hester, who also had a tough childhood, can identify with him. Each character is an individual with their own voice. It's incredibly easy to get caught up in the tale of Gabe, Sam, and Lila and their past at Little Comfort, a lake house, plus Hester, Morgan, and Kate (oh sweet little Kate). I read the second half of the book in one determined setting, fascinated to find out what was going to happen. It's not edge-of-your-seat suspense, per se, but it's wonderful characterization and dark, mesmerizing plotting. So many secrets, so many lies to unravel.

Overall, while this one was more complicated and edgier than I was planning going into it, that was fine with me. Hester is a great character, and I'm really excited that this is a series. Hill is an excellent writer, who knows how to hold my interest with a well-paced thriller. I'm quite looking forward to seeing what Hester is up to next.

A huge thanks to Larissa at Kensington Publishing for my copy of this novel and the second book in the series, The Missing Ones. I can't wait to tackle it soon!

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Monday, September 30, 2019

Still I go home again in my heart: PAST PERFECT LIFE.

Past Perfect LifePast Perfect Life by Elizabeth Eulberg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ally Smith has a happy life in Wisconsin with her dad and her friends. Her only worry is her college applications, but that’s normal. But when Ally officially filed them, they send up a red flag due to her social security number. It seems that Ally Smith isn’t Ally Smith. Her real name is Amanda, and now her happy life is no more. Is her whole life a lie? And what’s going to happen now?

If you’re looking for a captivating and emotional read, look no further than PAST PERFECT LIFE! I won this book via a LibraryThing giveaway, and it was so enjoyable! I found this to be a totally mesmerizing book. If I could have, I would have stayed up all night and read it in one sitting (believe me, I tried. Darn responsibilities.). Ally’s voice was unique, sweet, and just so well-done. The book has a teen style, but this Mama couldn’t stop reading. I loved that it was character-driven yet there was almost a tinge of mystery. It’s emotional, funny, romantic, and completely compelling! Highly recommend! 4 stars.

Thanks to LibraryThing and Bloomsbury YA for my copy.

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Friday, September 27, 2019

When you spend your whole life wishing: AKIN.

AkinAkin by Emma Donoghue

My rating: 4+ of 5 stars

Touching. Witty. Heartbreaking. Emma Donoghue’s latest is all of those and more. This was such a wonderful read that I found myself savoring it, reading only a chapter or so a night, making it last.

Noah is a retired chemistry professor living in New York. His wife, Joan, passed away nearly a decade ago. Noah is originally from France, and he’s finally planned a trip to his birthplace, Nice. But shortly before his trip, he receives a call from social services: he is the only available relative able to take care of Michael, an eleven-year-old great-nephew he’s never even met. Noah reluctantly agrees to take Michael on his trip. This unlikely pair take on Nice together: looking at France through two very different lenses. But Michael’s tech savvy helps Noah as he attempts to unravel some details about his family’s past, and Noah can’t help but see some of his late troubled nephew in this funny, acerbic boy.

I fell hard for Noah and Michael. Donoghue captures them perfectly. Their wit, their banter, and their various insecurities. This book is alternately hilarious and heart wrenching. It’s beautifully written, touching, and just a lovely read. 4+ stars. Highly recommend!

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Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Behind the prison tower: BELIEVE ME.

Believe MeBelieve Me by J.P. Delaney

My rating: 3.5+ of 5 stars

Claire Wright is young British actress. But she's struggling in New York City--she's in an acting program, but she has no green card and no job or money. So when she's offered questionable work by a law firm, Claire agrees. She serves as a decoy to trap cheating husbands and catch them on tape. But when one of Claire's clients is violently murdered, the police need a suspect. They seem to be considering her husband, whom Claire saw--in the name the job--just that evening. They want Claire to try to lure him into a confession. Claire is sure she can do this: she's a great actress. But soon she's wondering who the police really suspect.

This one got off to a slow start, but once it picked up, it drew me in. After reading Delaney's recent book, THE PERFECT WIFE, which I really enjoyed, I knew I had to go back and read this one. I'm glad I did. It was just a fun, twisted ride, and an enjoyable quick read.

There's no one to really root for in this tale, but that's okay, because the journey is interesting enough to keep you hooked. Claire is a fascinating character: you're never sure how much to trust her, what's she's telling us, or what she's doing. At first, I found the confusion a little off-putting, but I soon learned to go with it and just enjoy the ride. And what a crazy one it is.

"I want to be other people. I've never wanted anything else."

This is a dark, bewildering read with some great twists and turns. There's a literary aspect with the work of the poet Baudelaire woven throughout. Claire is a focused actress and the whole "decoy" idea is turned on its head several times. I don't want to tell more and ruin anything. Just know that this book kept pleasantly surprising me, and I loved that--even when I thought I had things figured out--I was never sure where things were going.

If you're looking for a crazy, quick thriller that will keep you on your toes, you'll definitely enjoy BELIEVE ME. 3.5+ stars.

I received a copy of this novel from Random House-Ballantine and Netgalley in return for an honest review.

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Monday, September 23, 2019

Feels like the glass might break: THE FURIES.

The FuriesThe Furies by Katie Lowe

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Violet joins Elm Hollow after the death of her little sister and father. It's a private girls school that has a history of magic and witchcraft thanks to an association with the 17th century witch trials. Violet finds herself drawn to three girls--Robin, Grace, and Alex. She becomes close with them, particularly Robin, and finds herself invited to an advanced study group led by their art teacher, Annabel, which goes into more depth about the witchcraft practiced at the school so long ago. The girls seem to think the magic is real, and that they can harness it. Always lurking in the background is Emily Frost--Robin's former best friend--who died before Violet came to Elm Hollow. She and Violet look very similar. As time passes, Violet starts to wonder if the witchcraft is real. And what really happened to Emily?

The girl is found dead on a swing on a playground on Elm Hollow Academy property--no known cause of death. That's how this novel opens, and then we have Violet, who tells us the story looking back, recounting her time at Elm Hollow. So the story opens dramatically and we know something has terrible happened. And that Violet makes it out okay.

"Inconclusive, they said, as though that changed the fact of it, which was this: a sixteen-year-old girl, dead on school property, without a single clue to suggest why or how."

This book should be been really good--I'm a sucker for private school tales (I thought it was a boarding school one, as well, but it wasn't)--but it just didn't work for me. I thought about putting it aside several times, but I just couldn't. I need to work on my DNF skills.

There is a lot here: two dead girls; witchcraft and the occult; mythology; friendship and coming of age--and none of it feels fully explored. A lot of the book focuses on mythology as Annabel teaches some of it to the girls (I felt myself skimming over that, and I like mythology). There's the focus on witchcraft, but it never seems fully embraced. There's a lot of violence (won't go too far for spoilers) but there are never really any consequences. It's very strange, and honestly, not the sort of YA book I'd encourage for teens.

And, then, I just didn't care for these characters. Robin is hateful, and I couldn't form a bond with Violet, our narrator. That would be all well and good if the action was enough to keep my interest, but it wasn't. The book just felt jumbled, and I wasn't interested in picking it up. Even a few late twists didn't really redeem things for me.

Lots of others have found the story powerful, however, so if you like mean girls with a side of possible witchcraft, you may enjoy this more. 2 stars.

I received a copy of this novel from St. Martin's Press and Netgalley in return for a honest review. It is available 10/08/2019.

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Friday, September 20, 2019

You're wasted in the great unknown: THE GRACE YEAR.

The Grace YearThe Grace Year by Kim Liggett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For Tierney and the other girls in Garner County, their sixteenth year is when they are banished from the county. Their grace year. In the county, women have magic, and the girls are sent away to rid themselves of it. While away, they could supposedly be nabbed by poachers any chance they get, who sell their parts on the black market. Many don't return home, or if they do, they are missing body parts (ugh, I know). Tierney has always wanted a different life. Not an arranged marriage, nor a world where women are inferior to men. But she realizes as the grace year nears, her fellow girls may pose the greatest threat of all.

"No one speaks of the grace year. It's forbidden."

I really liked the premise of this book. I'm sure you've heard all the comparisons by now. This is "The Handmaid's Tale" plus "Lord of the Flies." Throw a little "Hunger Games" in. Sold, right? The idea that society sends girls away at sixteen to rid themselves of their "magic"--it sounds really cool. A society that fears women and takes away their status, yet relies on their parts (literally) as medicine. Yes. So much of this book is really amazing. I highlighted so many powerful lines.

But, I don't know, guys... I am still wrapping my brain around this one. I just couldn't get into it. I never wanted to pick it up--I should have cared deeply for Trinity, and I did. Sometimes. Part of the reason I had problems going back to the book was because it stressed me out. These girls were mean. Sometimes I was confused. We were thrown into the story without any backstory--what time period, why they think women have magic, why medicine consists of body parts, who are the poachers, what are the outskirts, why is the original language flowers, etc. I guess that adds to the mystique, but I don't like reading when I can't figure anything out.

"But not all of us will make it home... not in one piece."

It seemed like this was going to be a power anthem. The girls rise against society. Or maybe just Trinity escapes and the outskirts rise against society. Someone should be revolting, right? And yes, Trinity definitely had her awesome moments. But it also seemed like there were lots of moments that involved rescue--by men. There's also a really convenient insta-romance in here. Everything just seemed a little jumbled and crazy for my taste. There's some amazing, underlining worthy lines and then some that just make you cringe a bit.

So, overall, I'm not totally sold, though there's potential here. I rate based on my enjoyment, so this is a 3-star read for me. But it's getting lots of rave reviews from others, so don't let my review necessarily hold you back.

I received a copy of this book from Wednesday Books and Goodreads in return for an honest review; it is available on 10/8/2019.

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Wednesday, September 18, 2019

There's nothing left to break: THIS IS HOME.

This Is HomeThis Is Home by Lisa Duffy

My rating: 4+ of 5 stars

Libby lives with her father, Bentley (Bent to nearly everyone) and their oversized, lazy dog Rooster Cogburn. And then there's also her Aunts Lucy and Desiree, who live in the apartment above them. And now there's Quinn. Quinn's husband John and Bent served together in Iraq. Bent invites Quinn to live in the basement apartment after John goes missing, suffering from PTSD. Libby feels the place is crowded enough already. And Quinn's not too thrilled to be there either. But, before either of them realize it, they are thrust together and slowly become friends.

This is one of those quiet, unassuming books that sneaks up on you, pulling you in with its beautiful writing and wonderful characters. There's no wild plot, insane mystery, or major twist--just elegant prose, a troubled cast, and some real and raw moments that will stick with you long after you finish the last page. Lisa Duffy is an excellent writer, and I so enjoyed her book.

"He'd come home from from the war a different person. A stranger to her. Someone she moved around carefully, gently, as if he were a bomb, ready to explode."

There is a lot going on here--the aftermath of war; family issues; a budding teen romance; marriage problems--but it all works. Libby and Quinn each tell their own story, and as their lives begin to intertwine, it's very heartwarming to watch each come into their own a bit. They each have their own unique voice, and it's hard not to fall for both of them. Libby, especially, tugged at my heart. (But I loved Quinn, too!)

There is, of course, darkness here. This novel offers a very thoughtful exploration of the aftermath of war, not only on the soldiers, but those who love them. It's not always an easy read, but I think it's a valuable one. It gives a very unwavering look at the PTSD these men and women face and how it can not only can ruin them, but their families as well.

Overall, I found this to be an excellent and poignant read, and I'm sorry I let it sit on my Kindle so long. Easily 4+ stars.

I received a copy of this novel from Atria Books and Netgalley in return for an honest review.

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Monday, September 16, 2019

They can say it all sounds crazy: 29 SECONDS.

29 Seconds29 Seconds by T.M. Logan

My rating: 4+ of 5 stars

Sarah's life is ruled by her horrible boss. Yet he's untouchable due to a sizable grant and his famous TV show. Driving to get her children from school one day, Sarah rescues a young girl from harm. She does it out of the kindness of her heart, expecting nothing in return. But her act puts a very powerful man in her debt, and he decides that it must be repaid in his own way. He offers Sarah a 72-hour deal: he can make someone disappear with a simple phone call. No traces to her, no repercussions. Sarah's life with her boss is nearly intolerable, but can she really make that call?

"You give me one name. One person. and I will make them disappear. For you."

I went in to this one a little dubious about its premise, and yes, it's wild and crazy and implausible, but it's also one of those fun, addictive reads that you get caught up in and can't put down for hours. It was a whirlwind read, and I totally loved it. The book's story is very timely--Sarah's boss, Dr. Hawthorne is a terrible, despicable character: a poster child for the #metoo movement. Her success and livelihood are tied into sleeping with him. He sexually harasses her, threatens her, and basically does everything awful thing he could do. Your blood will boil when you read this story, and it was honestly stressful at times. Yet the man is untouchable thanks to protective male colleagues and the money he brings in.

"What happened is that it's a business and they've got too much invested in their prime asset to let him go. People like us are just the collateral damage."

Once Sarah is offered her "deal," it seems like the book will go a certain way, but there's nothing predictable about this novel. It's mesmerizing and completely addictive. There are a ton of twists and turns that keep you completely off guard. It's really easy to root for Sarah, as our bad guy stands in stark contrast to her, even if you question a few of her decisions. (And she's awfully lucky to have her father, who sure takes her kids on with no complaints.)

"She saw it now for what it was: a deal with the Devil."

If you're looking for a fun, unpredictable escape, this thriller is for you. It's really an awesome read, and I, for one, loved the ending. 4+ stars.

I received a copy of this novel from St. Martin's Press and Netgalley in return for a honest review.

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Friday, September 13, 2019

It's a beautiful day for flying: THE FRIENDS WE KEEP.

The Friends We KeepThe Friends We Keep by Jane Green

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Evvie, Topher, and Maggie become best friends at university. They can't imagine their lives without one another. But, as time passes, they drift apart. Evvie is now a former supermodel besieged by eating disorders and unhealthy relationships--and she's spent a good part of her life keeping a big secret from her friends. Maggie finally married Ben, the boy she carried a torch for at university. But their life together isn't all it cracked up to be thanks to his drinking problem. And Topher, while a successful actor, is plagued with demons from his childhood. When their thirtieth university reunion comes up, the friends find each other again. Can they reclaim the closeness they once had?

"I wish it could be the three of us just like this, forever."

This is a pretty easy read, though a little slow at times. If you like getting caught up in the somewhat twisted existences of others, you will probably enjoy this one. It covers the trio's lives from university and graduation up to the reunion--and then discusses what happens after they, well, reunite. So there's no big story here, just the tale of three friends and the stories and secrets they share. But it's an interesting read, if not a bit melodramatic at times.

You may have to suspend some disbelief at various points, but I did think it was a good portrait of friendship overall. I found it to be a satisfying tale of relationships, and I certainly felt a part of everyone's lives. 3.5 stars.

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