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,, 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,, 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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