Monday, April 27, 2020

In the maelstrom of your mind you are swirled: THE SPLIT.

The SplitThe Split by Sharon J. Bolton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Felicity Lloyd works on the remote island of South Georgia in Antarctica studying glaciers. While that's her profession, her location is not an accident. She's gone as far away from her home in Cambridge as possible to escape her ex-husband, Freddie, whom she knows is methodically hunting her down. Meanwhile, back in Cambridge, there are people--including a doctor--whom are looking into Felicity and Freddie's twisted relationship. And it may bring all of them into a shocking confrontation in South Georgia.

"The ends of the Earth. That's how far she ran this time. Not far enough."

I'm pretty sure this book had me reading with my brow actually furrowed for about the first two thirds. I was perplexed and confused, trying to work out Felicity's character--her intentions, motivations, and what on earth she was doing. I won't reveal much, as it's best to go into this one spoiler-free, but there's a lot going on with her and, as such, this is a very compelling and fascinating tale.

The book crosses time periods and perspectives, as we hear from folks in South Georgia, Cambridge, and elsewhere. I guessed one big piece before one of the characters--whether this was intentional or not, I'm not sure. (I felt superior to the doctor, but who knows, ha.) I can tell you that I read this book in three frantic chunks, desperately wanting to know the deal with Felicity and Freddie. It's a little crazy, a little out-there, and a bit extreme, but it certainly keeps you flipping the pages, I will grant Bolton that. I'm not sure if it's a book you really enjoy, per se, but it's one you consume (or does it consume you?), sucking in the story and the wild characters until there is nothing left. 4 stars.

A big thanks to St. Martin's Press/Minotaur Books and Netgalley for my copy in return for an unbiased review, as I really love Sharon Bolton and her writing! This book releases in the U.S. on 4/28/2020.

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Friday, April 24, 2020

But you pretend and I pretend that everything is fine: LITTLE SECRETS.

Little SecretsLittle Secrets by Jennifer Hillier

My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

Marin Marchado's whole world changed when she was distracted for a moment at a Seattle market and lost track of her four-year-old son Sebastian. He vanished, without a trace, and there was nothing the police could do to find him. Even the considerable resources of Marin and her husband Derek amounted to nothing. Now a year later, Marin is a haunted woman. The only solace is her support group of other parents who have experienced the same thing, her best friend Sal, and the knowledge that the P.I. she hired is still looking for Sebastian. But then the P.I. turns up something else entirely. Derek is having an affair with a young graduate student named Kenzie. The knowledge of Kenzie's existence finally gives Marin purpose again and a place to channel her anger. Kenzie is a face, an opponent she can see. While Kenzie sees Derek as a rich, married boyfriend, albeit the first she's actually fallen for, Marin sees Kenzie as someone she can remove from her life, a problem she can finally solve. As Marin and Kenzie find themselves on a collision course, each are going to learn some startling truths about themselves--and their pasts.

"Four minutes. That's all it took to steal a child. A lollipop, a Santa suit, and two hundred forty seconds."

Don't get me wrong. This is a really good book. It takes any parent's worst fear and turns it into a raw, dark page-turner. I think what made me a little sad about this thriller is that is was so hyped, so loved that I felt a little let down when I read it. Was it good? Yes, it was. Jennifer Hillier is an amazing writer, and I will always love her books. But did it blow me away like I was hoping? No. And I was a bit disappointed by that. Maybe I'm just becoming jaded in my old age.

Again, this not me saying not to read this book. It's good. It's emotional and sad, twisty and deep. But I also found a lot of it far more predictable than I thought I would. I had an inkling who had taken Sebastian from the beginning and while I still wanted to read the story, I felt a little let down by that. I guessed several of the other big "aha" moments too. Sigh. Maybe I've just read too many thrillers.

Still, this is quite a page-turner, and I read it over the span of two days. You're pulled quickly into Marin's horrible world, where she's completely broken by the aftermath of losing--literally losing--Sebastian. She feels hopeless and when she realizes Derek has cheated on her, it gives her a purpose, even if it is a misguided one. Kenzie works well as an enemy--appearing young and vapid. Derek comes across as a heartless man ignoring his depressed wife. As things build up, you know that an inevitable confrontation will not go well. I just wish I hadn't guessed how said confrontation would go.

However, just about everyone on the planet loved this book unconditionally, so you can't go wrong picking it up. 3.75 stars from me.

A huge thanks to St. Martin's Press/Minotaur Books and Netgalley for giving me a copy of this book in return for an unbiased review.

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Monday, April 20, 2020

Dreams are mostly lost and found on other streets and other towns: LONG BRIGHT RIVER

Long Bright RiverLong Bright River by Liz Moore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was the first book I ever checked out from Libby. I miss my library right now, but I'm glad for that app, even if I can only put six books on hold at one time. (What is that?! Six holds; that's for amateurs.)

Kensington, a neighborhood in Philadelphia, is plagued by drug use, especially heroin. It's where sisters Kacey and Mickey grew up. The girls lost their mother at a young age and were raised by their grandmother, Gee, who provided shelter and not much else. Now, Mickey is determined to raise her son Thomas differently. With love and kindness and a feeling of safety. Mickey is a police officer, so she's more than familiar with the streets of Kensington. At the same time, Kensington is struck with a series of murders, Kacey disappears. Mickey and Kacey haven't had much contact in years, since her sister became stuck in the tangle of addiction, but she's still worried. Even more so since those being murdered are young women, no doubt drug and sex workers. Found strangled on the streets. As Mickey starts looking into the murders, she gets caught up in a twisted web of lies and deceit--some of it related to her missing sister--and soon it may be too late to save either Mickey or Kacey.

The first time I found my sister dead, she was sixteen. It was the summer of 2002. Forty-eight hours earlier, on a Friday afternoon, she’d left school with her friends, telling me she’d be back by evening. She wasn’t.

This isn't a fun book to read, so if you're looking for a feel-good read right now, this isn't it. But it's a well-written, extremely powerful look at addiction. While it focuses on the story of the murdered girls, it's also an in-depth character study, taking us into Mickey's history with her sister and how their past has formed their present. Told in a then and now format, we learn about the sisters, and we get a harrowing and detailed look at the effect of addiction, not just on Kacey, but on an entire town. It's depressing, it's real, and it's wonderfully done.

Kacey told me that time spent in addiction feels looped. Each morning brings with it the possibility of change, each evening the shame of failure.

This is not really a fast-moving book, but it does have twists and turns, many of them surprising. There's plenty to keep you guessing, as we try to figure out what is happening to the women on the streets in Kensington. In turn, we have to figure out Kacey and Mickey's past and how it's brought us to where we are today. Characters are sparse, but incredibly well-created, with my favorite, beyond the sisters, being Mickey's landlord, Mrs. Mahon, a formidable woman in her own right. And Mickey's sweet, wise young son Thomas.

While Kacey is clearly the damaged one on paper, as an addict, often living on the streets, we see Mickey isn't always much better. She's had a tough time, and it's hard for her to trust anyone. Both she and Kacey are astounding characters, who stand out in this powerful novel about addiction, police abuse, and the love of a mother. This isn't always an easy read, but I'm glad I picked it up. It will stick with me for some time.

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Thursday, April 16, 2020

Must bar the windows and the doors: STRIKE ME DOWN.

Strike Me DownStrike Me Down by Mindy Mejia

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nora Trier is a forensic accountant. She prides herself on her lack of bias and her ability to stay completely independent in her cases. As such, she's able to catch a lot of criminals. That all changes when Strike, a large athletic and kickboxing company hires Nora's firm. They are headed by Logan Russo, a bold famous athlete and hero to the world, and her husband, Greg Abbott, who runs the marketing side of the company. Strike is ready to launch their biggest event yet--a kickboxing tournament, Strike Down, with fighters all over the world competing for twenty million dollars in prize money. But there's a small problem: the money is missing. Greg suspects his wife has taken it, sabotaging her own company. Nora's firm places her in charge of finding the missing funds--just days before Strike Down--and are unaware of own her ties to Strike. As the clock ticks down, Nora begins to unravel a web of secrets that threatens her independence--and her life.

"Numbers, like people, have no inherent quality. Their value lies only in their relation to others and what they represent. Good. Bad. Strong. Weak. These are descriptions given by the counter. The counter weaves a story into the number, a narrative combining quantity and quality, fact and fiction. Numbers by themselves are invisible, much like the counters."

This was certainly an intriguing book with an interesting premise. Nora and her firm are given only a few days to find the money missing from Strike's coffers. Strike is run and controlled solely by Logan and Greg, without outside influence from shareholders. As such, they are self-made. But that's also made them vulnerable to such a theft. I honestly would have liked to see more of the forensic accounting pieces--I'm a big dork. For instance, Nora's company has a computer named Inga who searches emails for clues and patterns. I would have been fine seeing and learning more about Inga at work.

"Five days. Twenty million dollars. The pressure was indisputably on."

The book, however, was focused more on personalities, with much of the story told via Nora and Greg's eyes. This would have been fine, but I never really felt much of a connection with either of these characters. Or Logan Russo, either, despite her portrayal as a dynamic, forceful heroine who has impacted a generation of kickboxers and athletes. Nora makes a series of bad decisions and seems oddly obsessed with Logan for no real reason--a weird focus that is never really explained. She has a past that has led her to her role in forensic accounting, but it never really leads to much in the end. Greg is a focused businessman on the outs with his wife, and I never felt much sympathy with him. And Logan, as mentioned, who is supposed to be the core of this book, just falls flat until nearly the end of the novel.

"For forty years she'd been invisible, a quality she'd not only taken for granted, but turned into her greatest asset. She was the unseen eye, the counter nobody counted, who wove numbers into dark and avaricious stories."

Overall, the book is just weird. I feel bad putting that in a review without much further explanation, but I don't want to put spoilers. It's strange. Yes, it's compelling, in some ways, but I never felt like I needed to get back to reading it. I was interested about what happened to the money, but also had a good inkling early on about what really went down (and was proved right). Maybe if you connect more with the characters, this will be a true page-turner. It's still a tense read and different, for sure. I did enjoy the ending, and I actually felt something for the characters there. Therefore, this one squeaks by at 3 stars.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley and Atria/Emily Bestler Books.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Someday my life will be my own: THE NEW HUSBAND.

The New HusbandThe New Husband by D.J. Palmer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nina Garrity's life turned upside down after her husband, Glen, went missing. His boat turned up without him--bloody, with only their dog, Daisy, on it. Then she discovered he was having an affair and that he'd lost his job years ago, leaving them nearly broke. You couldn't blame Nina if she was hesitant to love or trust again. But when she meets Simon, a teacher at her daughter's school, she can't help but fall in love. He's kind, caring, and thoughtful. Everything she needs. Her son, Connor, loves him, but her daughter Maggie is wary. Still, Nina and her kids move in with Simon and she wants to move on. But before she can commit fully, she needs to make sure she isn't making a mistake again, as she did with Glen. As Nina ensures this, she may unravel some secrets she can never bury.

I will give it to this novel--it's a page-turner. I might not have really liked any of the characters (Daisy the dog exempted), but I certainly flew through the book. The narrative style wasn't exactly my favorite; it just felt off to me.

"There was, however, one truth Nina took from the terrible ordeal, an abstract notion that with time and rumination calcified into a harsh new understanding: just because you love someone doesn't mean you know them."

There is no one in this book that I felt the desire to root for, beyond Daisy and poor Maggie, Nina's thirteen-year-old daughter, who is bullied and neglected thanks to all that's going on. I'm sorry, but her clueless mom makes some terrible decisions. I wanted to shake her multiple times.

This book is crazy and honestly, a little too far-fetched for me at times. I love a book filled with twists and turns, but this one might take the cake. Especially since some of them seemed to lack any motivation or backup.

Still, it's a page-turner and a fast read. If you can suspend your disbelief more than I did, you'll probably really enjoy it.

Thank you to St. Martin's Press for my copy!

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Saturday, April 11, 2020

Be of good heart evermore: JOSH AND HAZEL'S GUIDE TO NOT DATING.

Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not DatingJosh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren

My rating: 4+ of 5 stars

Hazel Bradford is a force of nature. She's a third grade teacher without a filter, and she comes with a variety of pets (including a parrot). As such, Hazel realizes most men she dates aren't usually prepared for, well, Hazel. Hazel has known Josh Im since college. The first time they met, she threw up on his shoes. Then she sent him an embarrassing email post-surgery. Josh is a steady, calm guy--not exactly up for Hazel's antics. But when they randomly meet ten years after college, he finds Hazel surprisingly refreshing. The two don't date of course--they aren't compatible, right? Instead, they set each other up on a series of insane double blind dates. Nothing could go wrong with that plan...

"Being near Hazel is like being in a room with a mini-cyclone."

I've read a variety of Christina Lauren novels by now, and this was one of my favorites. For a short minute, I thought Hazel was going to be too zany and over the top for me, and then I got to know her. I then fell in love with her, and I was immediately rooting for our caring, funny, and yes, sometimes, crazy heroine. The best part was that Josh was great in his own reliable, sweet way, too. There's nothing better than a romance where you care for both partners. They were an excellent couple, and I wanted nothing more than to see Josh and Hazel get together. The two had wonderful chemistry and the whole book just had me grinning goofily.

Josh and Hazel are both damaged and wary, but not in that annoying way that has you rolling your eyes and wishing they'd just get over it all. Josh's girlfriend has hurt him and Hazel is constantly passed over by guys who think she's too over the top. Neither deserve this pain, and you quickly want them to get together and be healed. Of course it isn't that easy. When they come up with the double date angle (but not dating each other), laughter ensues, as well as some heartbreak.

There aren't too many side characters in this one: the focus is on Hazel and Josh, but I really enjoyed Hazel's mom, as well as Josh's sister, Emily. And there's plenty of fun to be had with some of the folks we encounter on the blind dates. Josh and Hazel seem so real; our writing duo capture them quite well. Hazel's zest for life coupled with her vulnerability, for instance, shine brightly. And Josh, well, I just wanted to hug him sometimes.

In the end this a really fun, sweet book. It's humorous yet realistic and tender. I adored Hazel and Josh-they were one of my favorite couples in a while. 4+ stars.

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Thursday, April 09, 2020

Take me back to the night I could feel: THE SECRETS THEY LEFT BEHIND.

The Secrets They Left BehindThe Secrets They Left Behind by Lissa Marie Redmond

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Shea O'Connor is twenty-three, working as a patrol officer in the City of Buffalo Police Department. She's gone undercover successfully before for the FBI and that's why she's called on again when three girls go missing in the small town of Kelly's Falls, New York. Three college freshmen have disappeared, leaving behind their phones and purses. As weeks turn into months without a lead, something needs to change. So the youthful-looking Shea is planted undercover as a transfer student at Harris Community College, arriving in town as the "niece" of the local police chief. But Shea quickly realizes Kelly's Falls is full of secrets and whomever is responsible for the girls' disappearance will do anything to keep those secrets hidden.

"Three young girls, all college freshman, just disappeared. No clues. No traces. They just went to one girl's house after a party and vanished."

At first I was disappointed this was not one of Redmond's excellent Cold Case novels featuring detective Lauren Riley, whom I love, but that disappointment was short lived. I quickly took to Shea O'Connor, a young but feisty and enjoyable officer who will stop at nothing to solve her case. We realize that Shea clearly had a close call with a serial killer the last time she was undercover and she's still recovering from those wounds. Our girl is hurting, but she's also focused--Shea will do anything to find those girls.

Shea is in a tough spot. She's a young, female officer in a male-dominated profession, and she's often mistaken for a teen. However, her youthful appearance pays off undercover. But is the FBI using her? There's more than a simple mystery to solve here, as we must unravel if Shea can trust those around her.

The central mystery itself, of the girls' disappearance, is engaging and fascinating. I had a fairly good inkling early on who might be involved, but it didn't stop my interest, and I flew through the book. There are, of course, plenty of dirty secrets in Kelly's Falls--as in most small towns--and Shea digs up plenty of them. There's also an interesting angle where she becomes close with one of the missing girl's brother. Shea excels at immersing herself in her undercover role, and it was fun to see her play the young, naive college student (with a knife hidden in her back pocket).

The writing is a little simplistic at times, but overall this is a compelling thriller with an engaging protagonist. 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 here. I'd love to see another book featuring Shea.

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

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Monday, April 06, 2020

Gonna take me through the darkest night: AMERICAN DIRT.

American DirtAmerican Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So I put this book on hold at the library before it exploded into controversy and then it was the last book I was allowed to check out before our library closed down due to the pandemic. I can't tell if it was a great book to read in a pandemic (people with lives even worse on a daily basis) or if it just made my anxiety even worse! At this point, I'm just going to give a short review and try not to dip into the whole uproar over the book, but I do encourage you to read up on it and to read some #ownvoices authors, as well.

Lydia Perez lives in Acapulco with her husband, a journalist, and their eight-year-old son, Luca. She runs a bookstore, and one day someone comes in and buys several books that Lydia stocks solely because they are her favorites, not because she expects them to sell. They strike up a friendship and Javier returns frequently to her bookstore. It's only later that Lydia realizes that he is the leader of the newest, powerful drug cartel in town--the one that is ruining Acapulco. And the same jefe about whom her husband is writing an explosive journalistic profile. Once it's published, Lydia and Luca must flee Acapulco, becoming migrants overnight. They are heading to the United States, the one place Javier can't hurt them. But can they survive the dangerous journey?

This is an eye-opening and sad book. It's certainly heart-rendering and gives you such empathy for what Lydia and Luca must go through. For me, it was Luca who made this book. He is an endearing and indomitable character, and I loved him dearly. Cummins is a strong writer, and her characters certainly do come to life. I did find the story a little slow; it took it a while to really get going. It was also incredibly stressful--no surprise there--so I was on edge the entire time I was reading. However, I found myself rooting for Lydia and Luca as if they were true, actual people and for that, I applaud Cummins, no matter her motivations for writing this book. There's also so much about this story that broke my heart and it made me even further aware of so many deplorable things. The world is a terrible and scary place.

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Friday, April 03, 2020

So how did you decide to give me so much love: THE FAMILIAR DARK.

The Familiar DarkThe Familiar Dark by Amy Engel

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Eve Taggert grew up poor in Barren Springs, Missouri. Her mother was a meth user and dealer, a hardened woman who had little love for Eve or Eve's brother, Cal. When Eve became pregnant with her own daughter, Junie, she resolved their life would be different. While they might not have gotten out of Barren Springs--and they are still poor--Eve loves Junie fiercely. So when Cal, now a policeman, comes into the diner where Eve works with the worst of news: Junie is dead, found murdered with her best friend, Ivy Logan, Eve's world is shattered. And she resolves that she will stop at nothing to seek justice for her daughter.

"They died during a freak April snowstorm, blood pooling on a patchy bed of white. Afterward, some people said the killer must have had one eye on the gathering gray clouds. Taken the weather as a cue to strike and picked the moment when everyone else was huddled indoors, shivering in their optimistic shirtsleeves and muttering about global warming."

This book was powerful and utterly absorbing. I couldn't wait to get my hands on it after reading Amy Engel's previous novel, The Roanoke Girls, which is one of my favorite of books. It's one that I recommend to everyone. The Familiar Dark has much of the grittiness of The Roanoke Girls and, man, Engel is an amazing writer who excels at creating these worlds that just suck you in and, in some ways, spit you right back out.

"It had happened now, finally. The disaster I'd been anticipating from the second Junie was born. And I had never even seen it coming."

The title of the book simply doesn't cover it. This is a dark story. Engel captures the small town of Barren Springs perfectly. Our story is told completely from Eve's perspective, which I loved, and things unwind and unfurl as she figures things out. As mentioned, this is a dark tale, as Junie and Izzy's deaths are terrible. Eve's grief just pours off the pages. She is quickly pulled back to the horrors of her childhood and all that she endured. We see immediately that she's going to seek vengenance for what happened to Junie--no matter what. In any fashion, in any way.

I felt as if I almost became one with Eve as I read this book. She is riveting. As a mom, this book broke my heart, and the novel was a testament to a mother's love. It's oddly tender despite its horrifying and sad moments, and I defy you not to love Eve, despite her flaws. The book shows how her childhood formed her, and her brother Cal, whom is really the only person Eve has left after Junie's death.

I could rave on and on, but I don't want to risk spoiling anything. This book isn't for the faint of heart and it's not exactly an uplifting read, but as mentioned, it still resonates as a read about the power of family and love, despite its tense, uncomfortable moments. I am wowed by Engel's writing and can't wait to see what she comes up with next.

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

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