Thursday, June 27, 2019

Missing piece just might put me back together: BAREFOOT.

BarefootBarefoot by Elin Hilderbrand

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Three women and two children step off a plane in Nantucket. There's Vicki, mom to the small two boys, who has recently learned that she has lung cancer. There's her sister, Brenda, an academic reeling from losing her job after having an affair with one of her students. And then there's Vicki's friend, Melanie. After many IVF treatments, Melanie is finally pregnant; but, she's also found out husband, Peter, is having an affair with a colleague. They've come to Nantucket to try to heal Vicki--who will be going through chemo--and escape their problems. Watching them is twenty-two-year-old Josh, an aspiring author stuck working at the airport. Soon the lives all three women (and kids) with intertwine with Josh's.

"Three women step off a plane."

"The most miserable-looking people he had ever seen. That's what Josh had thought right from the beginning. And no wonder."

I read this book while away for work, away from my family, stuck in a hotel room in the evenings, exhausted and spent. It might not have been the best choice in hindsight, as this book is rather brutal and sad in its own right, but it wound up being a great diversion. I love Elin Hilderbrand's books, and this was an enjoyable one, despite the sadness. I liked the characters, but loved the Josh the most, our wannabe writer who finds himself caught up in the drama of these women.

And it was easy to get caught up in their lives and craziness. Brenda and Melanie had melodrama, but Vicki, oh Vicki, her storyline broke my heart. I've always had this fear of cancer and leaving my own kids, so this one struck me right in the gut. This book is really heart-wrenching--and doesn't shy away from the hard stuff: Vicki's chemo, her fears of dying and leaving behind her kids, how sick and terrified she feels. It's a tough read, but it's also hopeful and a great story of friendship and family.

Overall, I enjoyed this one, and it only cemented my desire to keep reading Hilderbrand's back catalog. 3.5+ stars.

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

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Monday, June 24, 2019

Life began when I saw your face: AFTER THE END.

After the EndAfter the End by Clare Mackintosh

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Max and Pip have a deep, untenable bond and a strong marriage that they feel is sealed by fate. But when their nearly three-year-old son, Dylan, gets sick, everything they know changes. Dylan has a brain tumor, and now Pip spends her days in the PICU, while Max tries to juggle work and being strong for his wife and child. Then, the couple receives the worst of all news: the chemo isn't helping Dylan's tumor, and the doctors feel Dylan's condition is terminal. Suddenly, Max and Pip find themselves on opposite sides--each wanting different medical treatment for their beloved boy.

Clare Mackintosh offers us a beautiful, poignant, and heartbreaking book based on her life experiences, having lost her own son. Knowing this makes the book even more tender and real, as each word is based on a kernel of truth. Reading this book isn't always easy--as a parent, my heart digested these words and put myself in the shoes of Max and Pip. This book makes you think, and it makes you so incredibly grateful for your own life, wanting to snuggle your own children and hold them dear.

"How can my son be a breath away from death, when evidence of his life is all around me? When I feel him in my heart, as surely as when I carried him in my womb?"

The story is one of loss, yes, but it's also a love story: Max and Pip, Dylan and his family, and more. We are introduced to Dylan's family and also to Dylan's doctor, Leila, whom I really liked. Leila has her own struggles. Her mom, Habibeh, is visiting, but won't leave the house, preferring to watch QVC and cook endlessly for her daughter. (Habibeh is a trip; she's awesome.) The decision of Dylan's fate falls on Leila's shoulders first: a lot for a young doctor to bear. We get the story through her eyes and then each of Dylan's parents. As a mom, I felt drawn to Pip, but I liked how we got both Pip and Max's perspectives. Each only wants what is best for their son--and, at first, each feels they are doing the right thing.

"However long you spend with someone, however well you think you know them, they can still be a stranger to you."

Mackintosh is best known for her thrillers, and, this book is just as well-written as those. And, interestingly enough, she throws in a bit of a twist here, too. I won't spoil it, per se, but will tell you that this book is a fascinating exploration of choices, allowing you to think about life and the various paths that everyone can take. It's a sad book, yes, but lovely too--a tribute to parents, medical professionals, and to the children we love so much. It's a reminder to cherish those we hold dear and that life can be short but beautiful, no matter which way it may turn out.

Overall, even though I found this difficult to read at times, I'm really glad I did. I was reminded, yet again, what a good writer Clare Mackintosh is. I'm so incredibly sorry she lost her son, and I'm in such awe that she could turn that loss into such a lovely book. I highly recommend this--it's a beautiful exploration of life's different paths and what fate can bring us.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher and Edelweiss in return for an unbiased review (thank you!). 4.5 stars.

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Thursday, June 20, 2019

Just tiny pieces of what used to be: IN PIECES.

In PiecesIn Pieces by Sally Field

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The daughter (and stepdaughter) of actors, Sally Field earned her first acting role at seventeen and was quickly on television in shows such as "Gidget" and "The Flying Nun." Those roles showcased Sally's youth and smiling personality. But, behind the scenes, Sally had a tumultuous childhood: her parents divorced when she was young, and her relationships with them and her stepfather were not easy. She found happiness, in many ways, as an actress, but also struggled to find roles that challenged her. In this, her first memoir, she tells the story of her childhood and her early years as an actress.

I listened to the majority of this (and then switched over to the book, I'm weird), and I'm not going to lie: this wasn't always a fun listen for me. This book is sort of depressing and stressful a lot of the time. I will be honest that I didn't know a lot about Sally Field going in--I knew of Gidget, her roles with Burt Reynolds, "Forrest Gump," and honestly, most recently, "Brothers & Sisters." I knew one of her sons was gay, and she supported him.

I did not know her mother was an actress. I did not know that a lot of really bad things happened to her. Seriously, this memoir contains a lot of Sally Field telling us all the awful memories of her childhood, and, later, her early acting days. I'm not saying that's bad--it's truly brave and powerful stuff. But, man, as you're in the car driving 2+ hours to work? It's draining. I felt horrible for her, I felt proud that she'd overcome it, and I felt a little exhausted by it all. I also was appalled by how much she had to deal with (alone) and the state of the acting community for women during that time period.

It did, however, seem to make the beginning of the book go by rather slowly. Or maybe that's just the audio format--this was only the second audiobook I've ever listened to and, coincidentally, the second audiobook I found slow. When Field got to the time period where she became a mom, it picked up for me, perhaps because I could relate better to her. I felt an odd kinship--I was headed off, leaving behind my kids for a work project, and many times, so was she. (Alas, I was doing a rather boring job and she was a famous actress, but hey, you try to find parallels where you can, right?)

No matter what, I applaud her for being unafraid to tell the truth about her life, including admitting her own faults. She supplements her memories with her journal entries, newspaper articles, letters, and more. The result is a very detailed and personal account of her life--up until about "Norma Rae." After that, it glosses over most of her career following that film, which is a little sad for anyone who enjoyed all her subsequent films. This memoir is clearly focused more on Field's personal growth versus a celebrity tell-all. And I get that, I do, but you can't help but wish for a few more juicy details.

In the end, this wasn't an easy read/listen, but it was a good one. I learned a great deal about Field's life, and I admire her so much more as a person now. She had to go through a great deal to get the acting career and overall life she desired. If you enjoy memoirs and autobiographies, you will probably like this one, especially if you like them detailed, versus just focused on celebrity fluff and laughs (though Field is very witty). 4 stars.

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

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Monday, June 17, 2019

You hurt me one time, I finally learned: NOT IF I SAVE YOU FIRST.

Not If I Save You FirstNot If I Save You First by Ally Carter

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Maddie and Logan were best friends when they were kids. Granted, it was under slightly unusual circumstances: Logan's dad was President, and Maddie's dad was one of his Secret Service agents. So when something happens that causes Maddie's dad to move the two of them to an isolated cabin in the middle of Alaska, everything in Maddie's life changes. She has no contact with the outside world beyond letters--no Internet, no phone, no anything. Just a tiny cabin, a few library books, and her Dad. Maddie learns to become self-sufficient, and she learns to be alone. Then, suddenly, six years later, Logan turns up at her door. In Alaska. Before she knows it, someone attacks Maddie and Logan. Maddie has no choice but to put her wilderness skills to the test to save them both. Maddie's pretty angry that she hasn't heard from Logan in the past six years, but she's going to have to get over it for a bit, while the two cling for life in the cold.

"She was through with waiting for letters, for phone calls, for people and friends. Maddie was absolutely through with looking back."

So this is a totally crazy and wild book (just read that plot summary), but it's also really fun and an enjoyable read. I've never read anything by Ally Carter before, but this book inspired me to grab a couple others by her. It's exactly what it claims to be.

Even though they are tramping through the Alaskan wilderness, trying to save their own lives, Maddie and Logan's banter is pretty great. The story is dramatic at times, but also romantic and cute at others. It's complete and utter escapism, but that's what I wanted when I picked it up.

Overall, a really fun, quick read. I felt transported to Alaska, and I enjoyed the back-and-forth between Maddie and Logan. 3.5 stars.

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

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Friday, June 14, 2019

But I believe the world is burning to the ground: SHAMED.

Shamed (Kate Burkholder, #11)Shamed by Linda Castillo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Painters Mill Chief of Police Kate Burkholder is back, in the eleventh book in the series from Linda Castillo. This time, she's investigating the brutal murder of an Amish grandmother. One of the woman's granddaughters is also missing--nothing left behind but a trail of blood. The girl's family is understandably devastated, and Kate recognizes that they are racing against time: the longer young Elsie is missing, the less chance they have of finding her. But as Kate plunges into the case, the more she delves into a world of secrets--and the more she realizes someone is going to great lengths to keep those secrets hidden.

I really enjoy the Kate Burkholder series, and I was very excited to receive a copy of this book, as I've missed a few of the latest books. It was incredibly easy to pick back up with Kate, and this book would work easily as a stand-alone, as well. It's a quick read; I read it in about a day. It's told mainly from Kate's point of view, with just a few tiny snippets inserted from a few of the other characters. It's tense, as it counts the hours Elsie has been missing, and you can easily feel Kate's panic and the sensation that the team is working against the clock.

As always, I am amazed that there is anyone left in Painters Mill; I always jokingly compare this town to "Murder She Wrote" and Cabot Cove, with Jessica Fletcher. Murder and violence seem incredibly attracted to Kate Burkholder and Painters Mill. Sheesh. But, that aside, I love the character of Kate, and the easy, familiar way Castillo portrays her. It takes no time at all to fall back into stride with her.

The mystery itself kept me guessing and interested, trying to put together the pieces along with Kate. As she often does in her books, through Kate, Castillo does a good job of highlighting the pressures of being Amish, along with the lengths they go to protect each other. The supporting cast is strong, although there isn't much further development in the Kate and Tomasetti (her partner in both love and work) relationship.

Overall, this is an easy, engaging read. Kate's a great character, and the story will draw you immediately and keep you guessing. 4 stars.

Thanks to Allison at Minotaur Books for my copy of this book, which I received in return for an unbiased review. It is available as of 7/16/2019.

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Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Chase the demons out of my head: THE LAST HOUSE GUEST.

The Last House GuestThe Last House Guest by Megan Miranda

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Typically the locals and the summer visitors don't mix much in the resort town of Littleport, Maine. But when summer resident Sadie Loman and local Avery Greer meet, they form a fast, intense friendship that lasts nearly a decade. It ends the night of the Plus-One party--the one night where locals and summer guests come together at the summer's end. It's also the night Sadie dies; her body is found on Breaker Breach, where she has drowned after falling off a cliff. The police believe Sadie has committed suicide, but Avery isn't so sure. A year later, she begins digging more into Sadie's death. What she finds leaves her more convinced that ever that Sadie's death wasn't at her own hand--and the more she discovers, the more she wonders if she's in danger, too.

So, I read this book in about 24 hours. It's a fast, quick read. A lot of the plot seems familiar--it was the second book of the last three, I'd read, for instance, where someone died suspiciously after falling off a cliff. The plot definitely has the tried-and-true feel of "friend obsessed with richer/prettier/etc. friend's death yet won't leave it to police even though it makes no sense to investigate on their own." You know where I'm coming from, right? You've been there before.

In this case, Avery is, of course, the local, with no money, who has been taken in by Sadie's family. They've funded her coursework, given her a place to live, and a job--she oversees all of the Loman's rental properties in Littleport. They even bought her grandmother's house. So Sadie--and her family--mean a lot to Avery.

"Sadie was my anchor, my coconspirator, the force that had grounded my life for so many years. If I imagined her jumping, then everything tilted precariously, just as it had that night."

The book is told entirely from Avery's point of view, but it goes back and forth in time. We get the night of the party, when Sadie died, and then the present, a year later. A memorial is coming up for Sadie, dredging up memories for Avery and causing her to question what happened that night. It's an effective formula--Miranda is good at playing with time.

The book has an ominous, creepy feel to it. Weird things start happening at the rental properties for instance, and you can't help but feel that something bad is going to happen. The setting is a good one--a beachy, resort town--and it's easy to visualize the scene. I did enjoy how much this one kept me guessing. Maybe I should have figured things out earlier, but I didn't. I was intrigued about what happened to Sadie, and I kept reading because of that. That being said, I didn't really care about any of the characters in the book. Most of the characters, including the Lomans, seem rich and spoiled, and somehow, I just couldn't find a ton of affection for Avery. I was reading more out of curiosity versus an investment in their storyline.

Overall, this thriller is a quick read that kept me guessing. The characters aren't particularly likeable but the mystery is interesting and the setting somehow both ominous and picturesque. 3.5 stars.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley and Simon & Schuster in return for an unbiased review (thank you!); it is available as of 6/18/2019.

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Sunday, June 09, 2019

I'm crazy but I get the job done: THE FAVORITE DAUGHTER.

The Favorite DaughterThe Favorite Daughter by Kaira Rouda

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A year ago, Jane Harris' daughter, Mary, died tragically. Ever since, Jane has been lost in a cloud of grief and anti-depressants. But with a ceremony celebrating Mary's life coming up, Jane feels it's time for her to reemerge and reengage with her family: husband David and daughter, Betsy, who is about to graduate from high school. The family lives in a gorgeous house in Orange County, California. But Jane quickly realizes that David is always busy--with work or the gym he claims--and Betsy is distant and angry. Jane adored Mary, her eldest, who had finished her first year of college before she died. But at the ceremony for Mary, she receives a note, claiming Mary's death wasn't an accident. Does someone know what happened to her daughter--and are they right? Was Mary's death not an accident?

"After a year of grieving, it's time to step back into my family, or what remains of it and that's precisely my plan."

So this review is going to be a little unpopular, perhaps, based on others I've seen. I'd like to point out that it's not a negative review, per se, just not a gushing review as so many others seem to be. I just felt a little let down by this one; it left me a little flat. I found a lot of the twists predictable and while I found the book a very compelling read, there was just something "off" that didn't make it a "wow" read.

Still, as mentioned, this is a very readable book, and it will keep you engaged. Jane is an interesting character, to say the least, even if I sometimes found her more clueless than diabolical. She is, of course, an unreliable narrator, and we are only allowed to learn things as Jane reveals them to us. As a result, we're left a little confused, never quite sure where we stand. One of the things I liked most about this book was how easy it is to get sucked into Jane's delusional world as the novel is told in a very conversational style, with her sometimes speaking directly to the reader. She's also a pretty terrible person and yet oddly fascinating.

"Without Mary to place my biggest hopes and dreams on, I'm left with Betsy."

Her relationship with her daughters is pretty messed up, to say the least, and as a result, the book can be pretty creepy and bizarre. It's definitely quite a wild ride. Still, I was a little disappointed at how much I figured out ahead of time; I would have liked to have been more surprised.

Overall, this is a quick read and it's pretty intriguing. You'll get caught up in Jane's delusions pretty easily, even if some of them are fairly easily telegraphed. Others really rave about this one, so hopefully you'll enjoy it even more than me. I still recommend it; it's an interesting read. 3 stars.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.

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Thursday, June 06, 2019

As her dreams fade to black: MRS. EVERYTHING.

Mrs. EverythingMrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Jo and Bethie, sisters growing up in 1950s Detroit, are leading rather rigid lives. Jo is the troubled and angry older sister--the "different" one, while Bethie is the adored, perfect younger sister. Jo feels completely misunderstood by their mother, Sarah, but at least she has their father to act as a go-between. But, as the sisters grow up and move out, they somehow find their roles and lives changing. Bethie becomes the free spirit: the one unable to settle down and please their mother. Meanwhile, Jo marries and leads a picture-perfect life with her husband and children. Yet, deep down, neither sister is truly happy. Is it too late for either Jo or Bethie to find the life they really want?

This is a really wonderful novel from Jennifer Weiner. In the beginning, she states that she always wanted to write about a woman like her mom, who was born in the 40s, came of age in the 60s, married and had children, but then divorced and ended up falling in love with a woman. By then, times had changed and she could live a very different life than when she was born. Framing the story in this way makes perfect sense, and I think Weiner has more than fulfilled her goal. She's written a gorgeous and sweeping epic novel, starting with Jo and Bethie as children and continuing throughout the majority of their lives.

The novel, as mentioned, starts with Jo and Bethie as kids, moving into a new house in Michigan. Each is hopeful for a new start to their small kid-sized lives. Already Jo is feeling different. The book is told from both Jo and Bethie's perspectives, and Weiner does a wonderful job of not only capturing each of their own unique voices, but telling the story from their perspective at that particular time period.

"But maybe, in this new place, she could make a fresh start. Maybe here, she could be a good girl."

From the beginning, we clearly see how much trouble Jo is to her mother, and how she struggles with her feelings of being different. She's a tomboy who hates dresses and loves sports. She doesn't want to date the boys that her other classmates fawn over. I had no idea that the book was going to cover Jo's sexuality in this way, and it was such a pleasant surprise. It's so well-done. I loved the unexpected storyline about this intelligent and strong girl/woman struggling with her sexual orientation during a time period where it not at all accepted: it was very poignant and touching.

"I am going to leave here, she thought. I am going to read, and I am going to write. I am going to find a girl who is brave enough to love me, and I am going to have the kind of life I want."

So this book touches on a lot of tough subjects--racism, immigration, feminism, sexual orientation, religion, sexual assault, and more. It offers a discussion on womanhood, motherhood, marriage, and the options available to women (or not). Perhaps in the hands of a lesser author, this would all be too much, but through Weiner's deft writing, it's really truly beautifully done. The book spans a huge time period, but it never feels rushed or as if too much is crammed in. Once you get into Jo and Bethie's story, you're there: you are part of the family. And truly, this is a story of family at its core. A bitter family, perhaps, at times. It's a story of how certain moments can change the course of your life. But it's also a story of love and sisterhood, in all its many forms.

"'You think I ruined your life? Well I think you ruined mine.'"

Overall, this is a really lovely book. It's heartbreaking at times, for sure, and I cried at the end, but it's a testament to how much I fell for these two sisters. Its story of strength and love is a wonderful theme. It's a book for and about women, with some excellent messaging about women and society. (Wow, so much has changed and yet so little, it seems.) I certainly recommend this one. 4.5 stars.

I received a copy of this novel from Netgalley and Atria Books in return for an unbiased review (thank you!); it is available everywhere as of 06/11/2019.

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