Tuesday, February 28, 2023

But it feels just like drowning: MOTHERED.

MotheredMothered by Zoje Stage
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

In the midst of the pandemic, Grace is not particularly thrilled when her mother, Jackie, moves in with her. But Jackie has recently lost her husband and been ill and Grace is unemployed and could use help with her mortgage. Soon, though, stuck in the house with her mother, Grace feels claustrophobic, flashing back to her unhappy childhood with her mother and her late sister. She starts having horribly realistic nightmares and clashing with her mother over her hobbies, which oddly include catfishing people online. As things come to a head, Jackie accuses Grace of something unspeakable, and Grace feels unable to delineate her dreams from reality.

Ugh, I had to slog through this one. I didn't really realize it was written with a pandemic setting and wow, it's fully pandemic-centric, with COVID playing a central role. I don't mind pandemic books, but I just did not feel like reading a gloomy book about sad, depressing pandemic themes and unhappy, mean characters.

Even worse, MOTHERED took the unreliable narrator trope too far for me. Between Grace's nightmares and Jackie's passive aggressive anger, I couldn't tell what was happening and wow, that got annoying really fast. The book moves so slow--Grace and Jackie fight, Grace has bad dreams that may or not be real, and then it repeats. There's a weird side plot with Grace catfishing women that does not really make sense, as well as pieces about Grace's missing dad. Then there's the focus on her deceased twin sister, which is central to the plot, but almost seems grotesquely portrayed at times (Hope was disabled) and done in poor taste.

I just wanted to get to the end, but then there was no real payoff that explained things. Ugh! Overall, MOTHERED just annoyed me.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley and Thomas & Mercer in return for an unbiased review. It releases 3/1/2023!

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Friday, February 24, 2023

Empty glasses and empty promises: SOMEONE ELSE'S SHOES.

Someone Else's ShoesSomeone Else's Shoes by Jojo Moyes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nisha lives a glamorous life with her wealthy husband, but it all ends when he abruptly cuts her off and asks for a divorce. Nisha has no friends, no place to stay, and no access to her clothes or belongings in the hotel where they've been staying. The same day Carl cuts her off, Nisha accidentally swaps bags with someone at the gym, losing her fabulous red Christian Louboutin shoes. The person who finds them is Sam, a struggling mom who is dealing with an unemployed and depressed husband, a horrible boss, a best friend with cancer, and a soul-sucking job. Sam puts the shoes on for a business meeting and feels an amazing surge of confidence. Both women are at their lowest points--what will come next?

I almost put this one down, as it took a bit to warm up to the story and the characters at first. The beginning piece with the shoe swap, Sam finding the shoes, and Nisha losing everything is oddly slow. Luckily things pick up as Nisha expands her horizons, making a friend and getting job at the hotel where she once stayed in the penthouse. I never fully warmed to Sam, though I certainly empathized with some of her plight. Her story focused on her depressed husband, terrible job and boss, and awful parents who took terrible advantage of her. She seemed like quite a punching bag for a really long time, and I did not always care for the fact that, while, yes, her husband was very frustrating, depression was sometimes seen as something she wanted for him to just get over.

The best part of SHOES is its focus on friendship and the strong bonds that form between the female characters in the novel. Nisha turns out to be a spitfire, along with her awesome friend, Jasmine. Sam's friend Andrea, who is suffering from cancer, is also a wonderfully strong character too. There's plenty to laugh and cheer about as everyone unites for a common cause. There's even a bit of a mystery, as it seems Carl wants Nisha's red shoes... but why?

Overall, this is fun book centered around friendship and found family. It's a little slow to start and a few plot pieces gave me pause, but it's a good, witty read. 3.75 stars, rounded to 4 here.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2023

I don't care who you might want me to be: IT'S ONE OF US.

It's One of UsIt's One of Us by J.T. Ellison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I know that I can always count on J.T. Ellison for a suspenseful tale! IT'S ONE OF US did not disappoint. Olivia Bender's life is ruled by fertility treatments. She and her husband, Park, have gone through multiple rounds of IUI/IVF, but even when Olivia gets pregnant, she cannot seem to keep the babies. She feels like a complete failure and is convinced she's letting Park down by depriving him of what he wants most. Then the police show up at their door with some shocking news: DNA in a murder investigation has been traced back to Park... well, Park's son. Ummm, what? Reluctantly, Park reveals he donated sperm years ago. We soon learn that the clinic was lax in its policies, and no one is exactly sure how many children Park has. Olivia feels betrayed and devastated--and as the secrets continue to be revealed, they must face that fact that one of Park's "children" is out there doing unspeakable things.

Oh boy, this is a juicy one! First, you have to go in and read IT'S ONE OF US with a little bit of a suspension of disbelief, or at least, willingness to go on a wild ride. Not to say the things that happen, couldn't, it's just that, wow, things get a bit crazy!

That's not to say that this book doesn't have some real moments. It does. Because J.T. Ellison writes about infertility and miscarriage (and here's pointing out a big trigger warning for both of those elements) with amazing honesty. She shows the toll it takes on Olivia and how hard it can be on a marriage. You need to read her author's note to understand how she write about this so realistically (and then want to send her about a million hugs like I did). As someone who spent nearly five years trying to have children, this book hit me hard in the feels. Olivia made some crazy choices, but wow, her thoughts about trying to be a mom, how hard it was to see others as parents, and oh my goodness, her insight into losing her babies--that was all so well-done and real. Amazing writing, truly, and it all really added to and fit into the story.

US also delves into sperm donors and how everything can go awry, which is sometimes a touchy subject for me. I am never a huge fan when authors take this route, as it really makes the general public seem to think this is the case for all kids who come into the world this way. However, the scenario in this book is so insane and over-the-top that hopefully people will read it like that.

As for the characters other than Olivia... oh boy! Park is a piece of work, folks. The murder case being investigated is a local woman, who drowned. Park just happens to have a history of being around missing or drowned women. He seems to be a compulsive liar! (But is he a murderer??!!) He has a twin (fraternal) brother whose presence adds a whole bunch of a drama. (There's so much drama here--but in a good way!)

Luckily we hear from other characters too, but I won't go into much detail as I don't want to give away any spoilers. But all the POVs are interesting and give a broad range of insight into what is going down. Because oh yeah, it's going down! There is a tangled web being woven here, folks. Get ready.

Overall, this is a dark and twisty thriller that offers all sorts of insight into family and biological ties, as well as marriage, motherhood, and infertility. It gets a little wild at the end, but it's a fun ride. 4 stars.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley and Harlequin Publishing/MIRA in return for an unbiased review. Look for US on 2/21/2023!

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Thursday, February 16, 2023

You pass through places and places pass through you: CAFE CON LYCHEE.

Café Con LycheeCafé Con Lychee by Emery Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gabi and Theo (well, mostly Theo) are sworn enemies thanks to their families owning competing bakeries. When both stores start to experience financial trouble, the boys have to put aside their differences to help their parents. Both Gabi and Theo feel a duty to their families, but also feel like deep disappointments to them--Theo, because he's gay and not the best student; Gabi, because he's secretly gay and not the star athlete his parents want. Gabi and Theo start selling food to their classmates to help.

This is a really cute, queer enemies to lovers story. It's a fast read (clocked in at 2.5 hours) too! I think Gabi might be one of the sweetest characters I've ever read about; he's just adorable. It took me a bit to warm up to Theo: I know this trope requires some "enemies," but Theo's early hatred of Gabi seemed almost too visceral and irrational for me.

I loved how CAFE deftly dealt with being gay, the fears of coming out, and the difficulty of not being accepted by one's friends and family. Neither Theo nor Gabi feel safe or appreciated, at times, with their families and the book can be really bittersweet and touching.

A lot of the problems in CAFE seemed to wrap up a little too easily for me, but overall this was a really sweet romance that covered difficult topics very well, while still being witty and fun! 4 stars.

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Monday, February 13, 2023

I'm ringing all the warning bells: EXILES.

ExilesExiles by Jane Harper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Aaron Falk is back in South Australian wine country to celebrate the christening of his friend Greg Raco's son, Henry. Rescheduled from last year, when once local Kim Gillespie went missing from the town's festival, Aaron is glad to see the Raco family. But soon he finds himself sucked into Kim's disappearance and, as he grows closer to Raco's friends and family, he starts to ask his own questions and delve deeper.

"The little things you could have done differently, that was the stuff that haunted you."

EXILES is a lovely character-driven mystery. You must be prepared for a slow burn and a quiet thriller. This story does not offer a ton of twists and thrills (though there are definite surprises), but it builds carefully and deliberately, with each detail giving meaning to the tale. As always, Harper writes so beautifully, and every character is wonderfully written and developed. It was a pleasure to read about Aaron again (this is the final and third book in his series, though it can stand-alone).

The plot revolves around character motivations and insights, as Aaron is working on reconciling his job and the hours he spends on it versus its reward---something I can truly relate to. You get to know him, the Raco family, and the small town where the festival is held very well. While much of the focus of the book is on Kim and her disappearance, it also covers Aaron and his decisions about his future path forward and it looks back at the time when Kim and Greg Raco and his friends were teens. There is also mention of another tragedy in the small town, which Aaron explores as he grows closer to Kim's eldest daughter. The story is quite atmospheric, between the small town setting and the gorgeous Raco vineyard.

Overall, this is a dark and slow-moving mystery with in-depth and developed characters. It delves deeply into relationships and family. It was wonderful to see Aaron Falk again (though I found the ending... intriguing). 4+ stars.

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Thursday, February 09, 2023

We can't go back again: WHAT LIES IN THE WOODS.

What Lies in the WoodsWhat Lies in the Woods by Kate Alice Marshall
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Over twenty years ago, best friends Naomi, Cassidy, and Olivia spent their summer in the woods, playing an imaginative game they called the Goddess Game. But their childhood ended quickly when Naomi was attacked in those same woods, stabbed seventeen times and left for dead. Somehow she survived, carried to safety by an older boy who found her. Nothing was ever the same since. The girls identified her attacker, a known serial killer wanted for murdering a variety of women, and put him away for life. The attack made all three famous, but also took it toll, as all three are keeping a dark secret.

"They told the story again and again, until they thought they owned it. We tried to forget. We didn't tell the story. Not the real one. Not ever."

WOODS is a fairly quick read centering on childhood friendship and how the games we play as kids can turn dark. But it also highlights how strong the bonds can be that kids form, even if they may not always be healthy. Honestly, many of the characters in this book are fairly awful at times. It's a small town filled with a lot of corruption and dark secrets, starting with the three girls when they were just kids. There are a lot of twisted familial ties and linkages that leave you wondering how everyone is tied together.

WOODS kept my interest and was a page-turner, but the plot was very predictable. Every twist was telegraphed from a mile away--it felt like Thriller 101. There were no major surprises, especially if you're a fan of the genre. But if you're an occasional thriller reader, you'll enjoy this one. 3 stars.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2023

I was waiting for an indication, it was hard to find: MISTER IMPOSSIBLE.

Mister Impossible (Dreamer Trilogy, #2)Mister Impossible by Maggie Stiefvater
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the second book of the Dreamer trilogy, the Dreamers are finding the source of their power (the ley line) diminished. Ronan Lynch and his mentor, Bryde, set out to restore it, along with Hennessy, but it seems to mean leaving everyone they love behind.

As with every Stiefvater book, this is a magical and beautifully-written tale. It centers on dreaming, family, and friendship. We still get the POV from Ronan's brothers and Hennessy's dreamed copy, Jordan. In the Dreamer trilogy, the Dreamers can dream worlds and bring back what they dream--anything from magical cars, ravens, and even people. It sounds wonderful, but sometimes what they dream is a nightmare and has horrible consequences. A group of people (the Moderators) believe the Dreamers are going to ruin the world and are out to kill them all.

The story is often a little weird and sometimes I found myself avoiding it. Other times, I was completely sucked in. A few twists blew me away, and I am so amazed how fantastic and imaginative this series can get. By the end, I was totally lost in the Dreamers battle for the world (in their eyes), and I'm looking forward to reading book three.

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