Thursday, February 28, 2019

I got a one way ticket as far as it goes: SOMEBODY'S DAUGHTER.

Somebody's DaughterSomebody's Daughter by Rochelle B. Weinstein

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Emma Ross has a pretty great life. Beautiful twin daughters, Zoe and Lily, who have just turned fifteen. A handsome husband, Bobby, whom she's loved since they were kids. Emma and Bobby live in the hotel they own and manage, the Ross, which sits ocean-side in Miami. But everything changes when an inappropriate video surfaces of Zoe and a boy--and quickly goes viral. The video not only humiliates Zoe, but it forces Emma to confront some hidden memories from her own past. As Bobby turns on Zoe, Emma feels as if he's turning on her, too. Can she save her daughter's reputation--and her family?

So this is a very timely book--as it seems like sexting and its repercussions is everywhere right now--and its horrifying to see how quickly one bad decision can affect the course of so many kids' lives. Unfortunately, this one fell flat for me. I actually really liked Zoe--and even her twin, though she wasn't as prominently featured--but the book was told from Emma's perspective, and she drove me crazy.

It's made clear from the beginning that Zoe's incident parallels something Emma herself did as a teen or young woman. But, of course, we can't just be told what that is. Heaven forbid. Instead, there are constant allusions to whatever happened, or Emma mentioning it (to herself, since it's a secret) and agonizing whether she should tell Zoe or her husband, or blah blah blah. We go over half the book before finding out what really happened and by then I was way too annoyed to care.

Not to mention, Emma's husband, Bobby, is a total jerk. The guy turns on his teenage daughter when she needs him and then spends the majority of the book being a total a** to his wife and kids. I had zero sympathy for him and honestly wished either Emma or the kids would just kick him to the curb. Most of the book is Bobby sniping at Emma (or his fifteen-year-old daughter, who has just been through a huge trauma!), or Emma endlessly worrying about Bobby and the state of things. Ugh. Rinse and repeat. I found myself sort of skimming waiting to see if more was going to happen. (It really didn't.)

It's a shame, because there was real potential with Zoe's character, and the message of the book--about the dangers of sexting--is a good one, I think.

“There’s a monster out there,” she says. “It can be anyone pushing a button and ruining my life. I can’t see them, but they’re out there, and I’m terrified.”

Alas, the book was just too melodramatic and repetitive for me. I couldn't handle how long it took to reveal Emma's past, especially after all the build-up to said revelation. The rehashed bickering between Emma and Bobby is just way too much (and I couldn't stand Bobby whatsoever). I felt so bad for those poor kids. And, of course, to end it all, we have a predictable ending that you could see coming a mile away. I should have abandoned this one, but I kept holding out hope it would surprise me. It did not. 2 stars.

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Monday, February 25, 2019

You and this town in the back of my mind: THE VANISHING STAIR.

The Vanishing Stair (Truly Devious, #2)The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

*Note if you haven't read the first book in the series & don't want to encounter spoilers, stop reading*

Stevie Bell loves Ellingham Academy and the mystery that drew her to the school in the first place. But while she was trying to solve it, a classmate of hers died instead. Stevie figured out what happened, but the aftermath made her conservative parents pull her from the school. Stevie misses Ellingham and all its quirks. She also misses the friends she made there--even David, with whom she shared a kiss--and then learned he was the son of the horrible politician Edward King. So imagine Stevie's surprise when Edward King himself shows up at Stevie's house. He has a deal that's hard to resist: he'll convince Stevie's Edward King-loving parents to send her back to Ellingham, if she agrees to watch over David and get him to behave at school. So Stevie's back, working on the long-unsolved Ellingham mystery and riddles. But the more she uncovers, the deeper trouble she--and her friends--may be getting into.

"What do you do when the devil turns up in your living room and offers you everything you want?"

Oh I just love Maureen Johnson, and I think this series is becoming my favorite of hers, although it's in stiff competition with the Shades of London books. STAIR picks up shortly after the lovely first book TRULY DEVIOUS, which is wonderful, as that one ended on a dramatic cliffhanger. Oh, but don't worry, this one will leave you gasping for more Stevie and more DETAILS, too.

This book was so compulsively readable that I read it in two sittings, on two flights. I ignored everyone around me and frantically flipped the last couple of pages as my plane landed in Charlotte (if I had known I was going to be stuck in Charlotte thanks to a canceled flight, maybe I would have made it last... oh who am I kidding, no I wouldn't have). Johnson is just so good at getting into her characters' heads--I love Stevie. I loved her in the last book, and I loved her here. She's smart, she's relatable, and she's always getting into trouble. There's plenty of exploring, detective work, and yes, tunnels, in this one to keep you more than interested.

Stevie's cast of friends is also superb, from the prickly David to the wonderful Janelle, and Nate, the writer who can no longer write. Oh and Larry, Stevie's protective security guard. I love them all, even if there are plenty of times I wanted to shake David in this one. We're also introduced to some new characters here, as Stevie takes on a new research project. (I don't want to spoil anything or ruin your enjoyment of reading about them all yourself.)

Stevie is busy unraveling the Ellingham Academy mystery in this one, and I'm happy to say she goes a long way in book #2. What I love about this series is that you get a great underlying mystery (what happened to Ellingham Academy founder Albert Ellingham's long-missing wife and daughter, if you for some unknown reason haven't read the first book), but there are always little side mysteries, plus just the general business of Stevie trying to live her life. She's struggling with being back at Ellingham--dealing with what it means to have struck a deal with Edward King, negotiating her boundaries with David, and much more. Johnson deals with Stevie's anxiety, her intelligence, and just her general no-nonsense approach to life in such realistic ways: I love it all.

So, yeah, I can't think of anything I didn't like here, except that the book ended, and now I have to wait *forever* again to find out what happens! I love this series, I love the character of Stevie, and I highly recommend this book (but start at #1, please). It's a funny, mysterious, sweet, and compelling read. 4.5 stars.

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Thursday, February 21, 2019

When my body won't hold me anymore: THE MURDER BOOK.

The Murder Book (Cold Case Investigation, #2)The Murder Book by Lissa Marie Redmond

My rating: 4+ of 5 stars

Detective Lauren Riley's life changes after she is brutally attacked one evening at her precinct while working late. Sure, violence is a part of her job--even working Cold Cases--but she never expected to be stabbed at her place of work. Even worse, before passing out, Lauren recalls seeing a pair of city issue boots: whomever attacked her was one of their own. Was Lauren attacked because of a case she was working, was it random, or is it deeper than that? A mysterious phone call makes Lauren and her partner, Reese, dig deeply into an old case--one that involves her fellow officers and a lot of buried secrets.

"As her vision began to fade, she saw two things pass by her limp, useless hand: a pair of city issue boots and the unmistakable green cover of the Murder Book."

I was really happy to see Lissa Marie Redmond's Lauren Riley back again. I enjoyed her first book, A Cold Day in Hell a lot and this one was a great addition. The second Lauren Riley installment focuses more on Lauren's work as a police officer versus her PI cases, as the first novel did. Lauren is stabbed on the job, and it quickly becomes clear that whoever did it was a cop and they were trying to access files at the precinct.

From there, the case weaves together seamlessly. Redmond is such a good storyteller; her past in law enforcement is clear, as she provides details that makes the story realistic and strong. Riley is a great character. She's still the strong yet flawed woman we came to love in the first book. Grappling with the issues that come with being injured on the job is hard for Lauren, including being more dependent on others. She's as tough and feisty as ever, though, and determined to figure out what happened to her.

As a reader, figuring out what happened to Lauren is interesting and well-done. Redmond's books are so easy-to-read, with bits and pieces pulled together so well. The book isn't full of crazy twists and turns, but it's a really good police procedural that held my interest. And don't worry, there are plenty of good reveals along the way. There are ties to the first book (this book would stand-alone, but I highly recommend reading book one, because there are references to it and because it's really good). We also see more of Lauren's family, including her daughters, her sisters, and her mom. Plus, there's great banter with Reese, who is as enjoyable (and protective of Lauren) as ever.

Overall, this is a great read--compelling, top-notch on its police knowledge, and featuring an excellent, strong female lead character. Highly recommend, and I quite enjoy this series. 4+ stars.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

I'm aching for blue skies instead: FORGET YOU KNOW ME.

Forget You Know MeForget You Know Me by Jessica Strawser

My rating: 3.5+ of 5 stars

Molly and Liza have been friends forever--seeing each other through high school, college, and early adulthood. But they now find themselves drifting apart. Liza is single and recently moved from Cincinnati to Chicago. Molly still lives in Cincy, is married to Daniel and has two kids, ages three and five. One night they attempt to reconnect over video chat. But while Molly's upstairs putting one of the kids back to bed, Liza spots a black-clad figure sneaking in Molly's back door. Liza's shouting over the computer startles him, and he shuts the computer lid on her. Liza panics and calls the police. But she never hears from Molly again that night, beyond a few short texts. Convinced her friend is in real trouble, Liza drives from Chicago to check on her, only to have the door basically be shut in her face. Liza is baffled, wondering if their friendship is truly over. And Molly is unable to deal with what happened--and with the other issues going on her life. But the webcam incident has kicked off a series of events for both women that they soon will be unable to ignore.

I have to hand it to Jessica Strawser--not sure what's happened to her in her life (ha), but she can come up with some tangled plots. As always with her books, you have to go in expecting more women's fiction than suspense/thriller, and that helps set expectations up front. Still, I have to say, that there are a surprising number of suspects for the black-clad figure who pops up on Liza's web cam. For a suburban neighborhood, it sure is a tangled web of secrets and lies out there!

So I found the plot on this one kind of baffling at first: I think it could have done without Liza and Molly's fight, honestly. Their fighting was awkward and uncomfortable and didn't seem really necessary. But I quickly warmed to Molly and Liza, who were very real characters with flaws and genuine traits. For Liza, much of her life is ruled by her anxiety, while Molly's by her chronic pain. I felt for both of them. Despite being best friends, they are on separate tracks for most of the book, making you wonder where things are going to wind up.

With everyone keeping secrets, telling lies, and basically just being dishonest--both to others and themselves--the book really does keep you guessing about what happened that night. As it does, you're treated to a very realistic look at marriage and friendship. I felt parts of it were overblown and it was a very different sort of read, but I enjoyed it overall. The descriptions and portrayals of Molly and Liza are what really drew me in. 3.5+ stars.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in return for an unbiased review- thank you!

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Sunday, February 17, 2019

Voices I could never trust: LOVE LIES BENEATH.

Love Lies Beneath (Love Lies Beneath, #1)Love Lies Beneath by Ellen Hopkins

My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Tara is a lovely forty-year who is once widowed, twice divorced. She's independent, both financially and in her relationships. She had a tough childhood with an unpredictable and volatile mother. Then, while skiing with her sister, Tara injuries her knee. As such, she meets Cavin, a handsome orthopedic surgeon. Tara quickly finds herself falling for Cavin, who is charismatic and wealthy. After her surgery, she moves in with Cavin and is dependent on him while she heals. She also meets his awkward teenage son, Eli, who doesn't seem too happy to have Tara in his life. Tara starts receiving odd threats and other strange things begin happening. Is Tara safe--and who is responsible for these bizarre occurrences?

This was one of those strange books that I didn't really enjoy, yet I couldn't stop reading. It takes a very long time to build up to its description--and I'd argue that it never really delivers on what it promised. Yes, there's a lot of simmering, ominous things that occur in the background (threats, texts), but I was expecting more outright terror and abuse. Honestly, not much really happens, you know? The big twist comes on literally the last two pages. Now, it's a good twist, and it's probably enough that I'll eventually track down and read the second book, but sheesh. I would have liked a little more excitement during the rest of the book, instead of it all jammed into the last few pages.

Still, the book was interesting enough that I felt drawn to Tara. The book revolves very much around her and her perspective. The background events keep you confused and wondering if more is going to occur (it doesn't, really). I'll be intrigued to see what happens in book #2. 2.5 stars.

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Thursday, February 14, 2019

But lately all I do seems to wreck you: LITTLE MONSTERS.

Little MonstersLittle Monsters by Kara Thomas

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kacey is new to the town of Broken Falls. After an explosive life with her mom and her endless string of boyfriends, life with her father; her stepmom, Ashley; her stepbrother, Andrew; and her half sister, Lauren seems rather docile. Kacey also has new friends, Bailey and Jade, who help make high school bearable. But then they start acting strange. When they don't invite her to the biggest party of the year, she knows something is up. But she doesn't get a chance to ask, because Bailey never comes back from the party: she has disappeared. Kacey finds herself obsessed with what happened to Bailey. And soon, it seems as if the town is wondering what role Kacey played in Bailey's disappearance.

"Girls are not princesses, and I know all the possible endings to the stories about girls in peril. They're rarely happy."

This was an interesting read that kept me guessing the entire time. I give Thomas points for its twistiness, as it was an engrossing read. These were some very complicated high school kids. I couldn't help but think that that Kacey was a little too involved in wanting to find her friend and that the high school drama seemed incredibly intense, even for the purposes of a novel. Maybe I'm just naive, but these girls were in deep. There is nothing quite so dark, at times, as the friendship of teenage girls.

Overall, I enjoyed trying to piece things together in this story, even if some of the overly dramatic parts turned me off a bit. 3+ stars.

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Sunday, February 10, 2019

The past is the past, it is what it is: WINTER IN PARADISE.

Winter in Paradise (Paradise, #1)Winter in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

It's New Year's Eve in chilly Iowa, and Irene Steele has just enjoyed a lovely evening with a friend--her husband away on business per usual. But Irene's idyllic life is quickly shattered when she receives a phone call: her husband Russ' helicopter has crashed on St. John island, in the Virgin Islands. It was carrying him, the pilot, and a woman. Irene had no idea her husband was even in St. John. So, she heads to warmth of the Caribbean with her two sons, Cash and Baker, and they are shocked to learn that Russ owned property in St. John, where he was known as the "Invisible Man" to many. As Irene digs deeper, she realizes Russ had a secret life on the island and a second family. Devastated, she and her boys try to unravel what her husband left behind, but they may only be at the tip of the iceberg.

"Nobody can hold a candle to the Steele family when it comes to personal drama."

This was such a good book. I found it to be totally engrossing. It was a compelling read: dramatic in some places and fun and engaging in others. As always, Hilderbrand has a way of reeling you in. Her characters are so real and fully formed. I could feel Irene's pain and shock; Baker and Cash's disbelief; and the horror of those on the island, who lost someone they loved, as well.

Maybe it's just the part of me who loves a good soap opera, but I was totally swept up in the drama of this novel. I felt completely transported into the world of the Steeles and St. John island. While I'll have to wait a while for the next book in this series (more on that in a bit), I enjoyed this book so much that it had me tracking down Hilderbrand's Winter series, so I could continue reading her work. I have the first three books (of four), so I will be digging into those soon. Not since I read a book by Liane Moriarty and then read her entire catalog, have I felt so into an author at the moment.

And speaking of this series, there's definitely a cliffhanger at the end. Be prepared. I'm quite excited to read the next book and see where the Steele family and all their drama and intrigue takes us. Such unlikely partnerships form in this one; there's an exciting love triangle; there are interesting island characters--it's such a fun book.

Overall, this is a great read. It's engaging, and heartbreaking at times and sweet and funny at others. I loved the characters and felt totally caught up in the story. I am very much looking forward to book #2 (if not the wait for it!). 4.5 stars.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2019

You'll always be here in my heart to stay: I OWE YOU ONE.

I Owe You OneI Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella

My rating: 3+ of 5 stars

Fixie Farr's family runs Farrs, a hardwares store. Technically, it's more like Fixie and her mom run the store, while Fixie's older brother, Jake, and sister, Nicole, flit in and out, doing their own thing. Fixie has always been intimidated by her siblings. Jake is pursuing his MBA and prefers the posh side of life; he's always after one business deal or another. Nicole, recently married, lives at home while her husband works abroad. Fixie lives by the motto of "Family First," ingrained in her by her late father since forever. This means running the store and looking after family, even at the expense of her own dreams. She's lusted after the same boy since grade school, Ryan Chalker, and still lives at home, dutifully tending to her family's needs. One day a stranger in a coffee shop asks her to watch his laptop. When Fixie saves it from being destroyed, he gives her an IOU. Meanwhile, Ryan returns to London from Los Angeles. At the same time, Fixie's family dynamic faces a radical change. Will all of these moments force Fixie--who earned her nickname for her desire to always fix things--to face up to her fears, to become more forceful? Or will she let her family and the people in her life still walk all over her? And will she cash in on that IOU?

"Some people hear the Lord Jesus guiding them; I hear my dad, before he died, saying in his East End accent: Family is it, Fixie. Family is what drives us. Family is everything. Family loyalty is basically our religion."

This book had to grow on me. In the beginning, Fixie drove me a little crazy. I was less irritated with her devotion to her family (perhaps I could relate there), but I was annoyed at how clueless she was in her adoration to Ryan Chalker, who was just terrible. And truly, Fixie's siblings were pretty awful to her, too. There were very few side characters in this one who were easy to like. Even Sebastian, whose laptop Fixie rescues (and who, obviously, becomes her love interest), goes back to his girlfriend a little often for my taste. Which is sad, because otherwise the Fixie/Seb dynamic is quite enjoyable and really quite funny. Still, the poor girl was clearly under a lot of pressure with her family and the store, so I get some of her behavior there. As for Ryan, I'm not so sure what her excuse was!

Still, this book wins you over with time. Fixie is an engaging character and really, rather endearing. She can't help but be who she is and she really can't help whom she is surrounded by (except Ryan--let's just all agree he's awful). When Seb enters the scene, things become more funny, and things pick up as Fixie starts to grow into her own skin. This growth is a Kinsella staple, and she does it well. There's moments of her trademark humor, as well.

Overall, this one is predictable but sweet, and once I got past some of Fixie's issues, I enjoyed it. It's a light, quick read. 3+ 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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