Saturday, February 29, 2020

And it all goes away on the other side of town: THE EMPTY BED.

The Empty Bed (The Burial Society, #2)The Empty Bed by Nina Sadowsky

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second book in The Burial Society series finds its founder Catherine juggling a variety of "cases," so-to-speak. When Eva Lombard and her husband Peter take a trip to Hong Kong to celebrate their anniversary, Peter wakes in their hotel to find an empty bed. Eva has vanished without a trace. Eva thought she was being followed, and now Peter wonders if she was right. As he quickly becomes a suspect in her disappearance, he turns to his boss, Forrest "Holly" Holcomb, who recommends Catherine (his old lover) to assist. Catherine sends two of her associates to Hong Kong while she tends to other work--mainly, protecting a family in Mexico City whose father knows too much about a pharmaceutical company. Meanwhile, a determined FBI agent is working on tracking down a missing mother and child of a wealthy businessman and threatening Catherine's secret agency.

I enjoyed this book. It's told in short chapters from varying points of view--Eva, Catherine, and Jake and Stephanie (Catherine's associates), etc. The result is a story that moves at a brisk pace, with almost a cinematic-type feel. This is no surprise, considering Sadowsky's background in film and as a screenwriter. The three stories intertwine somewhat--with Catherine as the center--and while a lot of information flies at you, I never found the book confusing.

I really like Catherine, and I enjoyed learning even more about her crew in this one. It's fun seeing some of the proteges interact. The novel kept me guessing and putting together the pieces was quite enjoyable. There are plenty of twists and turns to keep you engaged.

Overall, this is an interesting thriller. The whole idea of the Burial Society fascinates me, and I liked the quick pace of this book, along with its twisty and engaging plot. 4 stars.

I received a copy of this book from Ballantine Books and Librarything in return for a honest review.

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Thursday, February 27, 2020

I think that the stars would've waited for us: SUMMER OF '79.

Summer of '79: A Summer of '69 StorySummer of '79: A Summer of '69 Story by Elin Hilderbrand

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an excellent novella following up with the Foley/Levin gang ten years after the events of Summer of '69. Kate and her children, Blair, Kirby, Tiger, and Jessie, gather again on Nantucket after the death of Kate's mother, Exalta.

"Exalta is dead. She died in her sleep two days earlier in the house on Fair Street, while Mr. Crimmins, their former caretaker, slept beside her."

There are a few books in the world that end perfectly, and you don't need another word. But many books are so engaging--the characters so vivid--that you often wonder what has happened to them. Elin Hilderbrand is such an excellent author and so good at world-building for her characters. It only makes sense that she would allow us to check in on her characters at a later date. And, because she's so good at bringing them to life, the concept works perfectly.

This is a slim e-book (coming out later in book form as part of a tribute anthology to the late Dorothea Benton Frank). I read it easily in one setting and quite enjoyed catching up with Kate and the kids, particularly the youngest, Jessie, who was my favorite in '69 and remains so ten years later.

"She feels like a stranger in her own family, but there’s nothing new about that."

Despite the somber occasion for which the family has gathered, it's quite fun to check in on them ten years later. Hilderbrand switches POV from Kate to all four of the kids, allowing us to see what they've been doing and how they feel. We also find Kate adjusting to moving into the role of family matriarch with the passing of her mother.

Overall, if you enjoyed Summer of '69, this is a great novella to catch you up on some beloved characters. I kind of wish we could have novellas like this for other favorite books. 4 stars.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

And a freight train running through the middle of my head: FOLLOW ME

Follow MeFollow Me by Kathleen Barber

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Audrey Miller moves from New York City to Washington, DC after receiving a dream job offer at a museum--running their social media accounts. She rents an apartment sight unseen and finds herself in a creepy English basement unit, with a faulty lock and watched constantly by her landlord's sketchy nephew. She feels isolated, as she only knows two people in the city--her old college friend, Cat, now a busy lawyer, and her former boyfriend, Nick, whom she broke up with when she moved to New York. But on Audrey's Instagram, she presents a bright and perfect life. For that, she's rewarded with over a million followers, constant comments, and free items from brands. She shares everything with her fans--pictures, her locations, her thoughts, and more. Little does she know that there's someone out there who has been soaking up those thoughts for years, since Audrey started her first blog. And now that Audrey has moved to his city, he's determined it is fate. He's going to use advice garnered on the dark web to make Audrey his--no matter what.

The first word I can think of to describe this book is "menacing." It's definitely creepy at times, but it mostly projects a sinister feel, as Audrey's stalker--who tells bits and pieces of his side in a POV entitled "Him"--moves closer and closer into her private world. Our other two POVs are Audrey herself and her friend Cat, her socially inept lawyer friend, who begs Audrey to move in with her as Audrey's own apartment becomes increasingly unsafe.

"But the internet can reveal just as much as it can obfuscate."

It's hard not to compare this book to Caroline Kepnes' YOU. But the portions from "Him" are slim, and I just didn't find the narration as creepy and engaging as Joe's. When I read YOU, I literally felt watched, the book was so convincing. This book feels more like a cautionary tale about oversharing on social media.

And in that facet, it does a great job. Our friend Audrey: she shares it all. Instagram stories, photos, and more. Audrey getting her daily coffee? On insta. Her latest exercise class? Shared. And, of course, her move from New York City to Washington, DC is carefully catalogued. It's easy, we realize, to track Audrey's precise location and schedules. But Audrey seems blissfully unaware, living for the adoration the internet provides her. And it gets you thinking, wondering how much we all share across social media. And why...

"Comments from my followers were hands down my favorite part of living my life on the internet... With a million friends at the palm of your hand, how could anyone ever feel truly alone?"

Audrey goes through a lot in this book, but she's not always easy to like. There are no real likeable characters here. The power is in the escalating narrative. As incidents pile up against Audrey (remember: menacing!), you are kept guessing. There's a handful of characters who could be "Him," and Barber does a good job of letting you wonder who it could be. I would settle on someone and then something would happen, and I'd start to waver, changing my mind.

I really liked the commentary on social media and oversharing, combined with the need to be liked, even if virtually. And while the character of "Him" didn't have the personality I really wanted in his sections, they did capture his desperation and his seeming lack of understanding that what he was doing was wrong.

The ending for this one was rather bizarre and bit tough to swallow. I saw some of it coming and it all happened a little quickly after all the buildup. It was definitely twisty, though! Overall, this was a very captivating thriller--perhaps not as deep as I had hoped, but definitely worth a read. 3.5 stars, rounded up here.

I received a copy of this book from Gallery Books and Netgalley in return for a honest review.

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Monday, February 24, 2020

Turn down these voices inside my head: LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE.

Little Fires EverywhereLittle Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Nothing like an upcoming Hulu show to get me to tackle a book on my backlist! :)

Truly, I've been meaning to read this one for ages, but those Hulu promos with Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington really did push me over the edge. Shaker Heights is a planned community in Ohio, focused on perfection. No one loves the community more than Elena Richardson, who has lived there most of her life. She and her husband have four children, and Elena works as a reporter for a local paper. They also rent a townhouse to deserving tenants. Their latest project is Mia Warren and her daughter, Pearl. Mia is an artist and Pearl goes to high school with the Richardson kids. Mia is everything Shaker is not--mysterious, interesting, and different. When Elena's friends try to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a battle erupts within Shaker Heights that splits the town--and Mia and Elena. Elena starts digging into Mia's past, but her obsession with this woman will soon put both Mia and herself at risk.

I'm not sure there's much I can say about this popular book that hasn't been said before. I'm often hesitant to read hyped books, fearing a letdown, but I really enjoyed this one. It's mesmerizing, drawing you into Shaker Heights, as one event keeps leading to another, things unfolding before your eyes. Disaster, you know, is waiting right around the corner.

Ng flirts constantly with the idea of being different--Pearl, for instance, isn't sure she likes being different--and loves spending time with the Richardson kids, who seem so average and normal. There are others who are scared of being different. We see different ideas of conformity. And the thread of fires--big and small--real and metaphorical--throughout the entire novel. Ng is an excellent writer; I was really impressed with how everything tied together. She captures the everyday moments so well.

The whole book was incredibly compelling; I had not realized that there was a mystery element to this one, as Elena digs into Mia's past. I was fascinated, and I loved how real each of the characters seemed. The four Richardson kids are unique in their own way, and of course, Mia, Elena, and Pearl are quite captivating. The world-building and storytelling here is amazing.

Overall, this book is just fascinating. I was hooked from the beginning and awed by the excellent writing, as well. I'm extremely curious how this will translate to tv (and what liberties they will take with the story). 4.5 stars.

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Thursday, February 20, 2020

I don't even think anyone's from here anymore: THE SUN DOWN MOTEL.

The Sun Down MotelThe Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I actually read Simone St. James’ incredibly spooky ghost story—set in a creepy motel—in a rather drab hotel room and boy did it scare me! The tag line: The secrets lurking in a rundown motel ensnare a young woman, just as they did her aunt thirty-five years before...

This was such a great book. It features a hard to put down mystery with excellent characters and some downright terrifying scenes! The book is packed with twists and turns, and it's absolutely captivating.

The parallelism between Viv’s story—set in the 1980s—and her niece, Carly’s, in present-day, is excellent. I was so attached to these tough women and their stories. The 1980s piece really grabbed me; St. James really captures the era so well.

Highly recommend this mystery, which released 2/18/2020!

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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

You empty everything you might have saved instead: THE OTHER MRS.

The Other Mrs.The Other Mrs. by Mary Kubica

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sadie and her husband inherit a house in Maine after the death of Will's sister, Alice. So they move their two sons from Chicago to chilly Maine, hoping for a fresh start. Moving to Maine means living with Alice's broody sixteen-year-old daughter, Imogen. Will is convinced she's just grieving the loss of her mother, but Sadie isn't so sure. Then their neighbor, Morgan Baines, is found murdered--a death that rocks their small community. Sadie no longer feels safe in her own home, so she starts looking into Morgan's death. But soon she realizes that suspicion is pointed at her own family and that the more she discovers about Morgan's death, the more she has to lose.

This was a great twisty thriller from Kubica. It started off a little confusing, but once it got going, it was completely mesmerizing. It's told from three points of view, and each has you riveted, wondering how they all fit together and what on earth is going on in this small Maine town. Who murdered Morgan Baines--and why?

The gloom of Maine and the creepiness of Sadie's new house comes across quite clear; the book can be downright spooky at times. You're never quite sure who to trust or what to believe, either. I found myself frantically flipping the pages, wanting to find out what was happening. There are a lot of pieces to fit together--angry Imogen, unreliable Sadie, supposedly perfect Will, angsty Otto (Sadie's eldest son), and the Baines and their marriage. I loved trying to piece everything together.

There are a ton of twists and turns and while some seem a little crazy, it made for a wild ride. I guessed a few and gasped at others, so that was fun. I must note, though, that there is a suicide trigger (not a spoiler, as it's Alice's death). There's a lot of detail about her death and as someone who lost someone in that same manner, I found it very hard to read about. So just keep that in mind. However, overall, this was a really captivating and dark thriller. 4 stars.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley and Park Row/Harlequin in return for an honest review. It releases today, 2/18/2020!

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Monday, February 17, 2020

I want the pendulum to swing again: THE HAND ON THE WALL.

The Hand on the Wall (Truly Devious, #3)The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The finale to the Truly Devious trilogy does not disappoint. Stevie Bell believes she has solved the famous Truly Devious case. But she hasn't really told anyone yet. After all, yet another person is dead, someone else (whom she has kissed) has disappeared, and then another accident strikes Ellingham Academy. All while a giant snowstorm is about to hit the school. Stevie is sure everything is tied together--the deaths in the past, the deaths in the present. But it's finally too much for Ellingham. The school is being evacuated. Stevie is being sent home. It's over. So she makes the only rational choice. Time to stay at the school in the face of an insane storm--and a potential murderer.

Oh I love this series so very much. I highly recommend it. Stevie is such a wonderful character, filled with real flaws and amazing skills. Johnson's treatment of Stevie's anxiety across the trilogy is spot-on, and she just captures Stevie so perfectly. Her love of crime, her intelligence, her wit. It's impossible not to adore this girl.

Book three starts off with a bang--the format alternates between the present and parts of the past, depicting scenes involving the Truly Devious case that Stevie has worked so hard to solve. Filling in the pieces of that famous case--the disappearance of Albert Ellingham's wife and daughter. It works perfectly and it's captivating, finally finding out exactly what happened to Iris and Alice--and all the other players in the 1930s.

I don't want to say much more and spoil anything, except to say it was all perfect. Stevie and the cast of characters is great--I've come to care for so many of them now. And Johnson excels at having a diverse group in her books, which I love. The conclusion of the mystery is excellent; I was frantically flipping pages and caught on every word. The ending is quite fitting for a beloved series. 4.5 stars.

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Saturday, February 15, 2020

You picked me up when I was down: DEAD TO HER.

Dead to HerDead to Her by Sarah Pinborough

My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Marcie Maddox is Jason's second wife. She's younger than most of the elite set she associates with in Savannah, Georgia. That all changes when Jason's boss, William Radford IV brings home his own second wife. Keisha is even younger than Marcie. She's English, irreverent, and strikingly beautiful. Jason's been distracted lately, but he seems to have no problem focusing on Keisha. Suddenly Marcie finds herself feeling second best, and she doesn't like it one bit.

I hate to say it, but this book really just wasn't for me. The writing felt cheesy and stilted, and for most of the book, I just couldn't get into the plot. It had a slow start--we're introduced to Keisha, who has obviously married the much older "Billy" for his money, and we learn that Jason (and Marcie) have secrets of their own. But we don't get to learn any of these secrets, and so the plot is just a drawn out introduction to everyone, with constant teasing to these supposedly explosive secrets. I just felt like yelling, "get on with it already!"

Then things do finally move on, but they take some outrageous turns that felt a bit melodramatic and, at times, completely unbelievable. This is a really strange, weird read. There's voodoo and black magic, a lesbian storyline, and some very odd, often unlikable characters. I really wasn't invested in anyone. And while I am typically really excited for a lesbian plotline, this one felt forced, and the LGBTIA treatment of the characters was often pretty despicable: a gay party-planning couple is treated really derogatory and mocked, as well as portrayed in really stereotypical fashion, while lesbians are called "dykes" and just not really shown any respect at all. Ugh. Maybe I was being over-sensitive, but I wasn't impressed.

The book picks up a bit near the end, and there are a few good twists, but overall, not enough to redeem it for me. Others seem to enjoy this one, so take my review with a grain of salt, but this was a 2.5-star read for me.

I received a copy from Netgalley and William Morrow in return for an unbiased review.

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Monday, February 10, 2020

I'm down to my last teardrop this time: ALL THE BEST LIES.

All the Best Lies (Ellery Hathaway #3)All the Best Lies by Joanna Schaffhausen

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The third book in the Ellery Hathaway series finds FBI Agent Reed Markham taking on a particularly personal case--his birth mother's murder. His mother, Camilla, was stabbed to death over forty years ago while baby Reed was nearby in his crib. Her killer was never found. It's a cold case now for the Las Vegas Police Department. Reed asks for Ellery's help and the two travel together to Las Vegas to search for answers. But Reed soon learns something shocking about his past, leading him to add someone incredibly close to him to his list of suspects. In Vegas, that list soon grows, and they realize that the killer--even after all these years--isn't happy with Reed and Ellery stirring things up.

This was another stellar entry in this series. I absolutely love Ellery and Reed, and it was great seeing Reed work on a case that meant so much to him. It reminded me of an early Harry Bosch in Michael Connelly's books, when he tries to track down his own mother's killer. Both Reed and Ellery deal with family issues in the book. As always, there is sizzling chemistry between the two. Their relationship just gets better and better, as each struggles with their own problems, and they grow closer and closer.

There's a lot of focus on Reed here, of course, as we learn more about both his mother and his adopted family, the Markhams (Reed was adopted by Senator Angus Markham from Virginia). His mother's case is mesmerizing, and there is no shortage of suspects, including lowlife drug dealer Billy Thorndike; her cop boyfriend, David; and more. Schaffhausen does an excellent job portraying Camilla's life forty years ago, and she comes to life easily.

As always, there are some wonderful twists and turns, and the book is easy-to-read. The pages turn quickly, between Reed and Ellery's excellent magnetism and the well-paced, absorbing mystery. This may be my favorite one so far, and that's saying a lot! 4.5 stars.

I received a free ARC of All the Best Lies from Macmillan in exchange for an honest review. It is available 2/11/2020.

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Sunday, February 09, 2020

Like I'm the only one who knows your heart: WHAT KIND OF GIRL.

What Kind of GirlWhat Kind of Girl by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

The rumors spread quickly at North Bay Academy. Popular track star Mike Parker's girlfriend has accused him of hitting her. She even told the principal. But, they wonder, why not the police? Why did she wait so long to tell? Why hasn't Mike been expelled? Some students at the school want to hold a rally--to expel Mike. But others aren't so quick to believe his girlfriend.

"But (of course), by lunchtime everyone at school knows, as easily and quickly as if they'd announced it over the loudspeaker: Sad Girl accuses Golden Boy of abuse."

This was an interesting book. It tackles a lot of heavy subjects within its pages. It also presents an intriguing format. The beginning of the book is told via archetypes: think popular girl; nerd; sad girl; the girlfriend, etc. It's a strange, almost gimmicky, format and meant it took some time for me to warm to any of the characters (especially since you don't know their names). Over time, the book grew on me, but it was hard to overcome that slow start.

There's so much going on in this one. Abuse, self-harm, drug use, mental health, eating disorders, and more. Please keep this in mind in terms of trigger warnings. I applaud Sheinmel and all she takes on. It's a very brave book, and the characters have a lot of depth. I think it might have had even more if the book maybe shortened its focus on just a few issues, versus trying to take on so many. Still, it's a very relevant story, and you can't help but appreciate how it tackles such big themes and emotions. I can see how it would be helpful to young adults. Even I found myself identifying with one of the characters and growing to root for all of them. 3.5 stars; rounded to four here for the powerful topics and messaging.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley and Sourcebooks Fire in return for an honest review.

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Thursday, February 06, 2020

You can't make your heart feel something it won't: NORMAL PEOPLE.

Normal PeopleNormal People by Sally Rooney

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Marianne and Connell form a relationship in school, starting to talk to one another when Connell comes to pick up his mother at her job cleaning for Marianne's family. But at school itself, they pretend not to know each other, fiercely aware of where they stand in the social structure: Connell is a popular soccer star, while Marianne is smart but a social outcast. Things change a year later, when they are both studying at Trinity College. Marianne has found her social circle and is popular among her group of friends. Connell is known as smart, but feels awkward. The two's relationship ebbs and flows--at times, they are deeply in love; at other moments, they date other people and rarely speak.

I'm not exactly sure what to say about this one. I listened to this book over a couple of months as I traveled off and on for work. It felt very slow, and while I know part of it was the stops and starts when I was traveling, but some of it was the book itself. I can definitely recognize the brilliance others found in this novel. Rooney is a wonderful writer, and there were passages that I wish I could capture and save to savor later. At other moments, I wanted to hurry things along quite badly... she turned the water on in the shower, the water came out, the water fell to the floor, etc. Things are described in great detail, and often, I found myself frustrated at that.

This not a plot-driven novel, but a character-driven one. Told from the alternating perspectives of Marianne and Connell over time, it examines various points in their life. At times, they may even go back in time in their various point-of-view segment, forcing you to keep up with exactly what is happening and when. There is much explaining and much examining. A lot of talk of feelings and such. It's a very complex novel. I definitely did grow to be interested in Marianne and Connell, but it did take some time.

As I said, I can see why this book earned such rave reviews, but it wasn't entirely for me. I was frustrated that Marianne and Connell couldn't just talk to each other. The ending of the book left me annoyed--all this for that--and I often wanted things to happen more quickly than they did. Still, I appreciated Rooney's lovely writing. If you want a complicated look at how one relationship can affect two so-called normal people over time, this one is definitely for you. 3 stars.

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Monday, February 03, 2020

And I want to know it all but I'm giving you the lead: MEG AND JO.

Meg and JoMeg and Jo by Virginia Kantra

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

A modern retelling of Little Women, MEG AND JO looks at the four March sisters in present day. We have Meg, a mom of twins, married to a man who works at a car dealership. Jo, an aspiring writer, who works in New York City at a restaurant and writes a food blog. Their sisters, Beth and Amy, flit in the background--Beth is pursuing her musical dreams and Amy is chasing fashion in Paris. But when the girls' stalwart mom gets sick, they must come home for the holidays to help at the family farm. There they will learn lessons about family, sisterhood, and following their dreams.

This one grew on me. It's not as jarring as I expected to see the girls in real time--I actually enjoyed that aspect. What's odd is that while the modern setting exists, there are a lot of outdated gender norms. Meg has to be the perfect mom who refuses help from everyone; the girls' father is basically worthless, etc. It's hard to overcome at first.

But I eventually took to Meg and Jo. I liked Jo's feisty nature, even if some of the problem/distance with her chef/boyfriend seemed a bit contrived. And I could identify with Meg, who felt like the weight of the world was on her shoulders (twin moms unite).

Overall, this is a sweet and funny story. It's silly at times, but also heartwarming. I enjoyed seeing where Kantra tweaked the plot (there's a piece with the March patriarch that I particularly enjoyed). It's no Eligible--perhaps my favorite modern retelling of all--but it's a fun read. I've heard there may be a second book featuring Beth and Amy, and I would certainly read it. 3.5 stars.

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