Review: BIG LIES IN A SMALL TOWN by Diane Chamberlain

Review: BIG LIES IN A SMALL TOWN by Diane ChamberlainBig Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain
Also by this author: The Dream Daughter
five-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on January 14, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 400
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BIG LIES IN A SMALL TOWN review

Diane Chamberlain’s latest novel, Big Lies in a Small Town, follows two protagonists, Morgan Christopher and Anna Dale.  When we meet Morgan, she is serving a three-year prison sentence. Prior to her arrest, Morgan was in school pursuing her dream of a career in art.  That dream is on indefinite hold until one day when Lisa Williams, the daughter of Jesse Jameson, one of Morgan’s favorite artists, visits her in prison and presents her with an offer she can’t refuse. If, per Jameson’s request, as expressed in his will, Morgan is willing to help Lisa with a major art restoration project, Morgan will immediately be released from prison.  It sounds too good to be true, of course. Morgan knows nothing about art restoration and can’t imagine how she ended up named in Jesse Jameson’s will, but she’s not about to pass up on an offer to get her life back and so she accepts.

The art restoration project, which is a post office mural from a tiny town in North Carolina in 1940, is where the second protagonist, Anna Dale, comes into play.  When Morgan begins work on the mural project and starts to remove the layers of dirt and grime that mire the mural’s surface, she makes a shocking discovery. What at first looks like a quaint portrait of small-town southern life soon reveals itself to be something much more disturbing. Hidden throughout the mural are axes, knives, blood, and even skulls. Morgan can’t imagine this was the artist’s original intention for the mural and becomes obsessed with trying to figure out what happened to make the artist go down such a dark path. The artist is Anna Dale.

* * * * *

One of my favorite things about this novel is Chamberlain’s use of the dual timeline.  In one timeline, we follow Anna from the time she takes the job to paint the mural and moves to North Carolina to complete her task, all the way through to what caused her to insert those violent images into her art.  At the same time, we follow Morgan as she both restores the mural and tries to find out whatever she can about what happened to Anna.  I loved how the two timelines parallel one another, revealing secret after secret and lie after lie, until they ultimately merge in the most heart-wrenching way.

I also loved Chamberlain’s portrayal of both of these characters. Both Anna and Morgan are underdogs in their respective timelines and I just adored both of them.  They’re strong yet vulnerable, smart and resourceful, and they’re also both just so complex.  Morgan is battling some inner demons related to her imprisonment, and as we can see from the mural, Anna had some demons of her own that haunted her.  The more I learned about Morgan, the more I was cheering her on every step of the way, and the more I learned about Anna, the more invested I became in learning what happened since that mural looks like it was painted by someone with a very disturbed mind.

* * * * *

Filled with gorgeous prose, a unique, multi-layered and compelling plot, and unforgettable characters, Big Lies in a Small Town, completely blew me away.  I loved every page of it, so much so that it’s my first 5-star review of 2020.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

North Carolina, 2018: Morgan Christopher’s life has been derailed. Taking the fall for a crime she did not commit, she finds herself serving a three-year stint in the North Carolina Women’s Correctional Center. Her dream of a career in art is put on hold—until a mysterious visitor makes her an offer that will see her released immediately. Her assignment: restore an old post office mural in a sleepy southern town. Morgan knows nothing about art restoration, but desperate to leave prison, she accepts. What she finds under the layers of grime is a painting that tells the story of madness, violence, and a conspiracy of small town secrets.

North Carolina, 1940: Anna Dale, an artist from New Jersey, wins a national contest to paint a mural for the post office in Edenton, North Carolina. Alone in the world and desperate for work, she accepts. But what she doesn’t expect is to find herself immersed in a town where prejudices run deep, where people are hiding secrets behind closed doors, and where the price of being different might just end in murder.

What happened to Anna Dale? Are the clues hidden in the decrepit mural? Can Morgan overcome her own demons to discover what exists beneath the layers of lies?

five-stars

About Diane Chamberlain

Diane Chamberlain is the New York Times, USA Today and Sunday Times bestselling author of 26 novels published in more than twenty languages. Her most recent novel is The Dream Daughter. Some of her most popular books include Necessary Lies, The Silent Sister, The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes, and The Keeper of the Light Trilogy. Diane likes to write complex stories about relationships between men and women, parents and children, brothers and sisters, and friends. Although the thematic focus of her books often revolves around family, love, compassion and forgiveness, her stories usually feature a combination of drama, mystery, secrets and intrigue. Diane’s background in psychology has given her a keen interest in understanding the way people tick, as well as the background necessary to create her realistic characters.

Diane was born and raised in Plainfield, New Jersey and spent her summers at the Jersey Shore. She also lived for many years in San Diego and northern Virginia before making North Carolina her home.

Diane received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in clinical social work from San Diego State University. Prior to her writing career, Diane worked in hospitals in San Diego and Washington, D.C. before opening a private psychotherapy practice in Alexandria Virginia specializing in adolescents. All the while Diane was writing on the side. Her first book, Private Relations was published in 1989 and it earned the RITA award for Best Single Title Contemporary Novel.

Diane lives with her partner, photographer John Pagliuca, and her sheltie, Cole. She has three stepdaughters, two sons-in-law, and four grandchildren. She’s currently at work on her next novel.

Please visit Diane’s website dianechamberlain.com for more information on her newest novel, The Stolen Marriage, and a complete list of her books.

Review: HOW QUICKLY SHE DISAPPEARS by Raymond Fleischmann

Review:  HOW QUICKLY SHE DISAPPEARS by Raymond FleischmannHow Quickly She Disappears by Raymond Fleischmann
three-half-stars
Published by BERKLEY on January 14, 2020
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raymond Fleischmann’s debut novel How Quickly She Disappears is a powerful story about loneliness, grief, and obsession.  Primarily set in a small town in Alaska in 1941, the story follows Elisabeth Pfautz, a woman who becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to her twin sister, Jacqueline.  Jacqueline went missing without a trace twenty years earlier and the lack of closure is something that has troubled Elisabeth for years.

Elisabeth’s life really gets turned on its end when a mysterious man named Alfred Seidel is imprisoned for murder and refuses to talk to anyone except for Elisabeth. When she goes to see him in prison, he tells her he knows where her missing sister is and that she’s alive and well.  He will gladly tell her everything she wants to know about Jacqueline… in due time and in exchange for a few favors.  As suspicious and outrageous as this sounds, Elisabeth is desperate for any news about her sister and so she plays along.  And play she does, as the two of them begin a mental game of cat and mouse.

Will Elisabeth get the answers she so desperately wants?  And if so, at what cost?  What is Alfred’s endgame?

* * * * *

I was drawn into this story immediately, both by the author’s vivid descriptions of the remote Alaskan landscape and by Elisabeth’s emotional plight.  I felt sympathy for Elisabeth’s situation right away.  The loss of her sister is of course devastating, but I also felt for her because she was so alone.  It’s hard enough to move away from everyone and everything you’ve ever known but imagine doing so and then not being welcomed to your new home with open arms. The story is set during WWII and so, being of German descent, Elisabeth and her husband, John, were unfortunately given the side eye more than once by those around them.  Couple that with the fact that it becomes apparent early on that John isn’t the most attentive husband in the world, and it’s easy to see why Elisabeth feels so alone.

In addition to creating a sympathetic protagonist, the author also uses one of my favorite tools for historical fiction, the dual timeline presented in alternating chapters.  Fleischmann lets the story unfold for us from Elisabeth’s perspective, with one timeline in the present following her cat and mouse game with the suspicious and mysterious Alfred, while the other timeline follows her at age eleven and shows us the lead up to Jacqueline’s disappearance and the immediate aftermath.  I really enjoyed following the twists and turns of each timeline and watching the pieces of the story fall into place.

Elisabeth’s growing obsession with Alfred’s game both thrilled and frustrated me.  It starts her on a downward spiral, basically taking over her life and causing her to make some horribly bad and downright reckless decisions.  Elisabeth’s obsession had me quickly turning the pages to find out what was next in Alfred’s manipulative little game, but at the same time, there were moments when I just couldn’t believe she was actually willing to do some of the things he was demanding of her. When she starts neglecting her own child and putting others at risk, I honestly started to dislike her a little.

Along with my growing frustration with Elisabeth as the story progressed, there were also some moments at the prison where I really had to suspend disbelief to get through. I keep telling myself it’s the 40’s and maybe prisons weren’t as strict back then about prisoners and visitors and the contact they’re allowed to have, but it still had me shaking my head a bit.

My issues with the book were quite minor though and overall I still found How Quickly She Disappears to be a riveting read.  It’s atmospheric, suspenseful, and it packs an emotional punch as well.  I was really impressed with this debut from Raymond Fleischmann and look forward to many more novels from him.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

The Dry meets Silence of the Lambs in this intoxicating tale of literary suspense set in the relentless Alaskan landscape about madness and obsession, loneliness and grief, and the ferocious bonds of family …

It’s 1941 in small-town Alaska and Elisabeth Pfautz is alone. She’s living far from home, struggling through an unhappy marriage, and she spends her days tutoring her precocious young daughter. Elisabeth’s twin sister disappeared without a trace twenty years earlier, and Elisabeth’s life has never recovered. Cryptic visions of her sister haunt her dreams, and Elisabeth’s crushing loneliness grows more intense by the day. But through it all, she clings to one belief: That her sister is still alive, and that they’ll be reunited one day.

And that day may be coming soon. Elisabeth’s world is upended when Alfred Seidel — an enigmatic German bush pilot — arrives in town and murders a local man in cold blood. Sitting in his cell in the wake of his crime, Alfred refuses to speak to anyone except for Elisabeth. He has something to tell her: He knows exactly what happened to her long-missing sister, but he’ll reveal this truth only if Elisabeth fulfills three requests.

Increasingly isolated from her neighbors and imprisoned by the bitter cold and her own obsession, Elisabeth lets herself slip deeper into Alfred’s web. A tenuous friendship forms between them, even as Elisabeth struggles to understand Alfred’s game and what he’s after.

But if it means she’ll get answers, she’s willing to play by his rules. She’s ready to sacrifice whatever it takes to be reunited with her sister, even if it means putting herself — and her family — in mortal danger.

three-half-stars

About Raymond Fleischmann

Raymond Fleischmann’s debut novel, How Quickly She Disappears, is available now from Penguin Random House (Berkley Books). Fleischmann has published short fiction in The Iowa Review, Cimarron Review, The Pinch, and Los Angeles Review, among many others. He earned his MFA from Ohio State University and has received fellowships and scholarships from Richard Hugo House, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and others. He lives in Bloomington, Ind., with his wife and three daughters.

Review: A LOVE HATE THING by Whitney D. Grandison

Review: A LOVE HATE THING by Whitney D. GrandisonA Love Hate Thing by Whitney D. Grandison
four-stars
Published by Inkyard Press on January 7, 2020
Genres: Romance, Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 464
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much to Justine Sha for inviting me to take part in Harlequin Trade Publishing’s Winter 2020 Blog Tour for Inkyard Press.  Today I’m sharing my thoughts on A LOVE HATE THING by Whitney D. Grandison.

Whitney D. Grandison’s emotional debut, A Love Hate Thing, first caught my eye because of its title and that gorgeous cover.  The promise of my favorite romantic trope, hate to love, called to me like a siren.  What I got, however, was so much more than just a love-hate story.  A Love Hate Thing is just as much a coming of age story as it is a love story, and it’s also a story about second chances and making the most of them.

I fell in love with the protagonist Tyson Trice, who goes by Trice, as soon as we were introduced to him.  He’s a young man who comes across as vulnerable but yet also tough as nails.  A tragic event has left Trice without parents and recovering from a gunshot wound.  In hopes that he’ll be able to eventually heal and move forward from this tragedy, Trice has been sent to live with old family friends who happen to live in a safer and more affluent part of town.  Trice knows he doesn’t fit in, but all he’s really focused on at this point is trying to cope with what happened and get his life back on track, which starts with summer school in his new neighborhood.  Trice is such a sweetheart that it’s just impossible not to love him and want the best for him.  What I liked the most about Trice is that he’s determined to stay true to himself. He has no interest in trying to fit whatever mold the “in” crowd at his new school thinks he should strive for. I always love a good underdog so watching Trice navigate his way through these privileged and elitist types is totally my cup of tea.

Not so easy to love, however, is his counterpart, Nandy Smith.  I’ll be honest and say up front that I did not like Nandy at all when the story first opened.  Nandy’s family is who Trice ends up moving in with, and as soon as Nandy hears the news, she starts acting like a brat.  She’s considered a big shot at her school and is obsessed with maintaining her golden girl image.  She is not about to let some homeless boy from the wrong side of the tracks wreck her summer or damage her reputation.  From the first moment Trice enters her home, Nandy is rude and obnoxious, to the point where even her little brother tells her she needs to back off and stop acting like a jerk.  I didn’t start to warm up to Nandy until she started to warm up to Trice and actually get to know him.  Once she began to show tremendous growth and development as a character, I started to love her too.

The changing dynamic between Trice and Nandy was what really sold me on this story.  There’s history between them that accounts for some of Nandy’s early behavior and I loved learning about that and then watching their relationship evolve from there, especially as they are caught between their two worlds.  Can Trice fully let go of his past and embrace the second chance he has been given?  Can Nandy let go of her obsession with reputation and just be herself and be there for Trice?

A Love Hate Thing is an emotional roller coaster filled with heartwarming moments as well as its fair share of tearjerker moments.  If a story about family, belonging, love, loss, and ultimately finding a way to move forward sounds like your kind of read, give Whitney D. Grandison’s A Love Hate Thing a chance.

 

 

PURCHASE LINKS:

HarlequinAmazonBarnes & NobleIndie BoundKoboGoogle – Books-A-Million

 

SUMMARY:

A fantastic enemies to lovers romance about an It girl whose world is upended when a boy from the past moves into her house after tragedy strikes. For fans of Ibi Zoboi’s Pride, Mary H. K. Choi and Samira Ahmed. Wattpad author Whitney D. Grandison’s traditional publishing debut.

When they’re stuck under one roof, the house may not be big enough for their hate…or their love

When Tyson Trice finds himself tossed into the affluent coastal community of Pacific Hills, he’s ready for the questions, the stares, and the total feeling of not belonging in the posh suburb. Not that he cares. After recovering from being shot and surviving the mean streets of Lindenwood, he doesn’t care about anyone or anything. He doesn’t even care how the rest of his life will play out.

In Pacific Hills, image is everything. Something that, as the resident golden girl, Nandy Smith knows all too well. She’s spent most of her life building the pristine image that it takes to fit in. After learning that her parents are taking in a former childhood friend, Nandy fears her summer plans, as well as her reputation, will go up in flames. It’s the start of summer vacation and the last thing Nandy needs is some juvenile delinquent from the ’Wood crashing into her world.

Stuck together in close quarters, Trice and Nandy are in for some long summer nights. Only, with the ever-present pull back to the Lindenwood streets, it’ll be a wonder if Trice makes it through this summer at all.

four-stars

About Whitney D. Grandison

Whitney D. Grandison was born and raised in Akron, Ohio, where she currently resides. A lover of stories since she first picked up a book, it’s no surprise she’s taken to writing her own. Some of her works can be found on Wattpad, one of the largest online story sharing platforms, where she has acquired over 30,000 followers and an audience of over fifteen million dedicated readers.

Review: FIRST CUT by Judy Melinek & T.J. Mitchell

Review:  FIRST CUT by Judy Melinek & T.J. MitchellFirst Cut by Judy Melinek, T.J. Mitchell
four-stars
Published by Hanover Square Press on January 7, 2020
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much to Justine Sha for inviting me to take part in Harlequin Trade Publishing’s Winter 2020 Mystery/Thriller Blog Tour.  Today I’m sharing my thoughts on FIRST CUT by Judy Melinek & T.J. Mitchell.

First Cut is a gritty, fast-paced medical thriller that follows Dr. Jessie Teska, a scrappy medical examiner who has just taken a new job in San Francisco. Jessie doesn’t want to rock the boat since she’s new and because she desperately needs the job, but when one of her very first cases goes from looking like a woman who died from an accidental drug overdose to a straight up murder, Jessie surprisingly finds herself at odds with her supervisor.  While Jessie wants to dig deeper to find out what really happened to the young woman, especially after she starts to see connections between her case and a couple of others in the morgue, her supervisor is trying to force her to close the case immediately and sign off on it as an accidental death.  Why?

I thought Jessie was such a great character.  She’s incredibly competent in her work and very professional, but she’s also one of those complex, messy types that I love so much.  I was intrigued by the hints of a troubled past that drove her to leave her home and start over in San Francisco, and I especially loved how stubborn she was and how determined she was to find out what happened to the victim in her case, even if it meant butting heads with her superiors.  I loved that when her superiors try to force her to back off, she pushes back even harder because now she wants to know why they want the case closed when there are clearly still more questions than answers. Jessie is the quintessential scrappy little underdog that you can’t help but cheer on in her relentless pursuit of the truth.

In addition to creating such a fantastic protagonist, the authors also craft an utterly gripping plot that takes the reader into the deep underbelly of the drug trafficking world.  The writing is raw and real, drawing from author Judy Melinek’s experience working in forensic pathology. The story was also fast-paced and well written, with lots of intricate and seemingly unrelated threads that gradually get woven together as Jessie gets closer and closer to the truth. Just a small word of warning regarding the writing – First Cut does feature some pretty graphic autopsy scenes. While this isn’t surprising, based on the nature of the book, I still wanted to give a head’s up in case some readers get squeamish about blood and other bodily fluids.

If the world of forensic pathology is of interest to you and you like a good twisty thriller, you should add First Cut to your reading list.

PURCHASE LINKS:

HarlequinAmazonBarnes & NobleIndie BoundKoboTarget – iBooksGoogle – Books-A-Million

 

SUMMARY:

Wife and husband duo Dr. Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell first enthralled the book world with their runaway bestselling memoir Working Stiff—a fearless account of a young forensic pathologist’s “rookie season” as a NYC medical examiner. This winter, Dr. Melinek, now a prominent forensic pathologist in the Bay Area, once again joins forces with writer T.J. Mitchell to take their first stab at fiction.

The result: FIRST CUT (Hanover Square Press; Hardcover; January 7, 2020; $26.99)—a gritty and compelling crime debut about a hard-nosed San Francisco medical examiner who uncovers a dangerous conspiracy connecting the seedy underbelly of the city’s nefarious opioid traffickers and its ever-shifting terrain of tech startups.

Dr. Jessie Teska has made a chilling discovery. A suspected overdose case contains hints of something more sinister: a drug lord’s attempt at a murderous cover up. As more bodies land on her autopsy table, Jessie uncovers a constellation of deaths that point to an elaborate network of powerful criminals—on both sides of the law—that will do anything to keep things buried. But autopsy means “see for yourself,” and Jessie Teska won’t stop until she’s seen it all—even if it means the next corpse on the slab could be her own.

 

four-stars

About Judy Melinek

Judy Melinek was an assistant medical examiner in San Francisco for nine years, and today works as a forensic pathologist in Oakland and as CEO of PathologyExpert Inc. She and T.J. Mitchell met as undergraduates at Harvard, after which she studied medicine and practiced pathology at UCLA. Her training in forensics at the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner is the subject of their first book, the memoir Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner.

About T.J. Mitchell

T.J. Mitchell is a writer with an English degree from Harvard, and worked in the film industry before becoming a full-time stay-at-home dad. He is the New York Times bestselling co-author of Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner with his wife, Judy Melinek.

Review: THE LITTLE BOOKSHOP ON THE SEINE by Rebecca Raisin

Review:  THE LITTLE BOOKSHOP ON THE SEINE by Rebecca RaisinThe Little Bookshop on the Seine by Rebecca Raisin
four-stars
Series: The Little Paris Collection #1
Published by Hqn on January 7, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Romance, Women's Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much to Justine Sha for inviting me to take part in Harlequin Trade Publishing’s Winter 2020 Blog Tour for Romance & Women’s Fiction.  Today I’m sharing my thoughts on Rebecca Raisin’s novel, The Little Bookshop on the Seine.

As soon as I saw the title of The Little Bookshop on the Seine, I was drawn to it like a moth to a flame. I love Paris and I love bookshops so it felt like this book was tailor made for me. I’m happy to say it did not disappoint either. I read it while I was off from work for Christmas and it was the perfect holiday read.

The Little Bookshop on the Seine is a heartwarming and charming story that follows Sarah Smith, an introverted bookshop owner who has grown bored with her life in a small town. When her friend Sophie, a bookshop owner in Paris, makes the wild suggestion that the two of them swap shops for six months, Sarah, much to the surprise of her friends and family, jumps at the idea. For Sarah, who is a romantic at heart, the swap is a no brainer. How can she resist the allure of the most romantic city in the world?

Her romantic notions about life in Paris take a hit, however, when her luggage and passport are stolen within hours of her arrival and again, when she realizes that Sophie’s bookshop is nothing like her own. Where Sarah’s is a quaint little bookshop that is rarely busy and where she is the only employee, Sophie’s bookshop is a landmark tourist attraction, complete with lines practically out the door and a staff that seems to come and go as they please. It’s way more of a challenge than Sarah expected and she’s not sure she’s up for the job.

I was really drawn to Sarah right away. As a fellow introvert, I was cheering her on as she came out of her shell and embraced this adventure wholeheartedly. She shows so much growth throughout the novel as she makes the transition from tourist to local, and embraces the challenges of running such a huge bookshop and the unexpected challenges of trying to rein in Sophie’s undisciplined staff. Sarah is also a sympathetic character in that she’s dealing with a boyfriend, Ridge, who she loves dearly, but who is never around because he’s a freelance journalist always off on assignment. My heart broke a little for her as he cancels on her time and time again and makes her question whether or not that’s a life she really wants. The questions and the relationship issues are all too relatable for many of us.

In addition to Sarah and her trials and tribulations, the Paris setting was another huge draw for me and Rebecca Raisin’s depiction of Paris is perfection. She captured every fabulous detail of Paris and made me fall in love with the City of Lights all over again. As she vividly describes the sights, the sounds, the food!, and the glorious secret shops that only locals know about, I truly felt transported there. I also loved that Sarah’s six months in Paris included the Christmas holiday. Can you imagine anything more romantic than Paris at Christmas?

A final element that really made The Little Bookshop on the Seine such a delightful read for me is the focus on friendship. Between the love and support that Sarah gets from her hometown friend group and the new group of friends she makes while in Paris (basically her ‘found family’), this book just had me smiling from start to finish.

If you’re in the mood for a story that focuses on love, family, friendship, and especially on taking chances, The Little Bookshop on the Seine is the perfect read for you!

PURCHASE LINKS:

HarlequinAmazonBarnes & NobleIndie BoundKoboTargetWalmartiBooksGoogle – Books-A-Million

 

SUMMARY:

It’s The Holiday on the Champs-Élysées in a great big love letter to Paris, charming old bookstores and happily-ever-afters!

When bookshop owner Sarah Smith is offered the opportunity for a job exchange with her Parisian friend Sophie, saying yes is a no-brainer—after all, what kind of romantic would turn down six months in Paris? Sarah is sure she’s in for the experience of a lifetime—days spent surrounded by literature in a gorgeous bookshop, and the chance to watch the snow fall on the Eiffel Tower. Plus, now she can meet up with her journalist boyfriend, Ridge, when his job takes him around the globe.

But her expectations cool faster than her café au lait soon after she lands in the City of Light—she’s a fish out of water in Paris. The customers are rude, her new coworkers suspicious and her relationship with Ridge has been reduced to a long-distance game of phone tag, leaving Sarah to wonder if he’ll ever put her first over his busy career. As Christmas approaches, Sarah is determined to get the shop—and her life—back in order…and make her dreams of a Parisian happily-ever-after come true.

four-stars

About Rebecca Raisin

Rebecca Raisin is the author of several novels, including the beloved Little Paris series and the Gingerbread Café trilogy, and her short stories have been published in various anthologies and fiction magazines. You can follow Rebecca on Facebook, and at www.rebeccaraisin.com.

Mini Reviews for Scavenge the Stars, You Were There Too, & Echoes Between Us

 

It’s time for a new batch of mini reviews and this time it’s January ARCs!  There are a ton of great new books coming out in early January so if you have Christmas money to spend, here are some titles you should consider.

 

Mini Reviews for Scavenge the Stars, You Were There Too, & Echoes Between UsScavenge the Stars (Scavenge the Stars, #1) Goodreads

Author: Tara Sim

Publication Date: January 7, 2020

Publisher:  Disney Hyperion

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

If you’re in the mood for a good revenge story, then Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim is the book you’re looking for.  It’s a gender-bent retelling of the classic novel, The Count of Monte Cristo,, which is also a tale of revenge.  Scavenge the Stars follows a young woman named Amaya, who has spent much of her life imprisoned aboard a debtor’s ship, forced to work off her parents’ debt.  For seven years, Amaya has known nothing but shame, cruelty, and unfair treatment, and thus has vowed that as soon as she is finally free from her parents’ debt, her first act will be to seek revenge against the man who ruined her family. When the opportunity presents itself, Amaya secures her freedom and sets out to implement her plan of revenge.  Amaya unexpectedly finds herself entangled with Cayo, the son of the man she seeks revenge against, and the more she gets to know Cayo, the more she realizes nothing is as it seems and that she has been living a lie for most of her life.

Amaya and Cayo really made the story for me.  I loved everything about both characters.  Amaya is absolutely fierce. She’s smart, scrappy, and sassy, and she’s ultra-protective of those she cares about.  I admired her determination to bring down those who destroyed her life as well as those who are cruel enough to imprison children as payment for debts.  Cayo, while the son of a rich man, has spent much of his time in the proverbial dog house, due to an over fondness for gambling.  He’s trying to live down past mistakes and prove to his father that he can live a respectable life.  Like Amaya, he learns something about his family that turns his world up on its end and makes him question who he really is and what kind of person he is. I really loved the complexity of each of these characters.  The story is told from each of their perspectives and there’s just so much inner turmoil for both Amaya and Cayo as they struggle to find their way through the secrets and lies of the past.  That struggle makes it easy to feel sympathy for them both.

Scavenge the Stars is an engaging fantasy filled with secrets, lies and betrayals, family drama, political intrigue, and even a hint of potential romance.  It’s also a story about not letting mistakes from the past define or control you.  Filled with complex, three-dimensional characters, and plenty of action-packed scenes, Scavenge the Stars is sure to please.  I highly recommend it to fans of Leigh Bardugo and Sarah J. Maas.  4 STARS

 

 

Mini Reviews for Scavenge the Stars, You Were There Too, & Echoes Between UsEchoes Between Us Goodreads

Author: Katie McGarry

Publication Date: January 14, 2020

Publisher:  Tor Teen

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

Echoes Between Us by Katie McGarry is a heart-wrenching story about love and loss, family and friends, and about facing your fears.  It follows Veronica, who is a senior in high school and who suffers from debilitating migraines that are caused by a brain tumor. And not just a brain tumor, but the same kind of brain tumor that killed her mother.  So while all of her friends are preparing for life after high school, Veronica lives knowing there’s a possibility that there may be no life after high school for her.  Veronica is also a girl who marches to the beat of her own drum. She does what she wants to do, dresses however wild she wants to dress, and celebrates holidays on random days of the year and only a core group of friends appreciates Veronica and her originality.  Most of her classmates, including golden boy Sawyer and his friends, think Veronica is a weirdo and have nothing to do with her.  That is, until Sawyer and his family move into the apartment that Veronica’s dad rents out.  Once he starts spending time with Veronica, Sawyer realizes how truly special she is and his whole outlook on life changes.

I can’t even express how much I loved both Veronica and Sawyer.  Veronica captured my heart right away. I loved the way she lived her life to the fullest, even with a tumor and these horrible migraines hanging over her head at all times.  She’s just this fearless dynamo who always speaks her mind and it was so admirable to watch.  I also adored her close relationship with her dad.  It broke my heart that she would hide that her condition was worsening from him, but I could completely understand why. It would clearly crush him to lose both his wife and his daughter this way and Veronica wanted to protect her dad from that pain for as long as she could.  Sawyer was a character it took me a few pages to warm up to, but once I did, I fell hard.  He may seem like the golden boy on the outside, but he is fighting demons of his own in the form of an adrenaline addiction, as well as having to deal with a less than ideal home life.  As much as my heart hurt for Veronica and what she was going through, my heart hurt just as much for Sawyer. They are both in impossible situations and need each other more than either one of them ever could have thought possible.  I loved watching their friendship blossom and my heart just ached for them, knowing how fragile Veronica’s health was.

I don’t want to give away anything about how Echoes Between Us ends so I’m just going to say it was one of the most moving and emotional reads I experienced in 2019. Many tears were shed, both happy and sad.  If you like a story that will constantly tug at your heartstrings, pick up a copy of Katie McGarry’s Echoes Between Us4.5 STARS

 

Mini Reviews for Scavenge the Stars, You Were There Too, & Echoes Between UsYou Were There Too Goodreads

Author: Colleen Oakley

Publication Date: January 7, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

You Were There by Colleen Oakley is a story about love and fate.  The novel follows Mia Graydon, an artist who dreams of starting a family with her husband Harrison.  Luck has not been on their side, however, and they have suffered several miscarriages. Frustration has set in and has started to put a strain on their relationship, especially as Harrison is also battling some internal demons of his own.  Even though Mia and Harrison really are happily married, Mia has been having recurring dreams about another man for several years.  The dreams themselves are odd enough, but what’s most odd about them is that Mia has no idea who the man is. She has never met him before.  When Mia and Harrison decide to relocate to a small town in Pennsylvania, Mia unexpectedly meets Oliver, the mystery man from her dreams. Not only that but he tells her that he has been having dreams about her too.  Determined to make sense of it all, Mia and Oliver dive deep into their pasts, looking for any possible connection between them.  As Mia and Oliver grow closer, Mia starts to think about fate and what her life would be like if she was with Oliver instead of Harrison.

I loved this story, mainly because I was just so immediately invested in the relationship between Mia and Harrison.  The two of them were so sweet together and so clearly in love and it just hurt to see them struggle so much to start their family.  Then when I learned more about the demons that Harrison was battling and saw how it was tearing him apart inside, it just hurt all the more, especially when Oliver appears on the scene and unintentionally threatens all that they have built together.  I think the ‘What Ifs’ that Mia starts experiencing are what really made this story so engrossing for me.  I could understand where she was coming from in wondering what life might have been like if she had met Oliver sooner and even though I wanted to be angry with Mia for even thinking about it, I could especially understand it as Harrison’s demons start to consume him more and more and because Oliver was such a likable guy.

You Were There Too kept me reading late into the night because I just had to know what Mia was going to do.  Does she embrace the idea of fate and go after the man who has haunted her dreams for all these years or does she stay faithful to the man she vowed to be there for in good times and in bad? If a heart-wrenching story about love, fate, and making hard choices appeals to you, Colleen Oakley’s You Were There Too is the book for you.  4 STARS

Review: GOOD GIRLS LIE by J.T. Ellison

Review:  GOOD GIRLS LIE by J.T. EllisonGood Girls Lie by J.T. Ellison
four-stars
Published by MIRA on December 30, 2019
Genres: Thriller, Mystery
Pages: 464
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

Thanks so much to Justine Sha for inviting me to take part in Harlequin Trade Publishing’s Winter 2020 Mystery/Thriller Blog Tour.  Today I’m sharing my thoughts on J.T. Ellison’s latest thriller, GOOD GIRLS LIE.

Those who follow my blog know that I’m always on the lookout for a good thriller.  I love reads that are filled with suspense and intrigue and that keep me guessing from start to finish.  I had never read one of J.T. Ellison’s thrillers and was primarily drawn to Good Girls Lie because it’s set in my home state of Virginia, but after flying through the pages of this novel, I can say without hesitation that J.T. Ellison has joined the ranks of Ruth Ware, Riley Sager, and the legendary Agatha Christie as one of my favorite thriller authors.

It’s always hard to talk about a thriller without giving away spoilers, so I just want to touch on a few highlights that made this read such a win for me.

  • If you enjoy reads that are set in boarding schools, Good Girls Lie is your book. It’s set in an elite all girls’ boarding school called Goode Academy nestled in the hills of Central Virginia, and I just loved how atmospheric this setting is. The school itself has an illustrious past – a student was murdered there years ago and rumors abound that the school grounds are haunted.  Supernatural elements aside, the school also has secret societies with bizarre initiation rituals, as well as its fair share of mean girls and hazing.  The girls at this school are destined for the Ivy Leagues and greatness, if they can survive their time at Goode Academy.
  • I love a story that captivates my attention from the very first page and Good Girls Lie definitely fits the bill. The opening scene of the novel features a dead student hanging from the school’s front gates, which of course immediately caught my attention and started an internal barrage of questions:  Who is she? How did she get up there?  Is it suicide or something more sinister? If she was murdered, who would do such a thing and why?  Death is tragic enough, but when it’s the death of a young person, a promising life cut short, it just pulls at my heartstrings all the more. I was completely engaged from this opening scene because I just had to know what happened to lead up to such a devastating moment.
  • I’m always drawn to characters who are flawed and complicated and J.T. Ellison has a cast of them in this book, my favorite of which is Ash Carlisle, a new student at the school who is struggling to find her place and fit in. She has come to Virginia from England and we soon learn that both of Ash’s parents recently died unexpectedly and that she has no other family.  It’s easy to feel sympathetic toward Ash because she’s all alone in the world and trying to find herself while maintaining some semblance of privacy.  Ash becomes an even more interesting character, however, as we realize that not everything is as it seems.
  • “Not everything is as it seems” is actually a recurring theme with Good Girls Lie and it’s what really kept the suspense ramped up and had me turning pages well into the night because I wanted answers and kept getting more and more twists and turns instead. Everyone in this book seems to have something they’re hiding and it was just such an entertaining read to watch the story unfold and all of their secrets unravel.
  • I will say that I ultimately wasn’t too surprised by the novel’s final reveal. Even though the reveal itself didn’t have huge shock value, the journey to get to it was well worth it.  I loved how intricately plotted the entire story was and how each piece gradually slipped into place to lead to the reveal.  Ellison’s ability to weave together the many tangled threads of this story and its characters into a cohesive and engaging read is on point.

If you’re looking for a dark and twisty mystery to keep you on the edge of your seat, J.T. Ellison’s Good Girls Lie is a must read.  Be sure to check it out when it hits bookshelves on December 30th!

 

PURCHASE LINKS:  

HarlequinAmazonBarnes & NobleIndie BoundiBooksBooks-A-MillionTargetKoboGoogle Books

 

SUMMARY:

Perched atop a hill in the tiny town of Marchburg, Virginia, The Goode School is a prestigious prep school known as a Silent Ivy. The boarding school of choice for daughters of the rich and influential, it accepts only the best and the brightest. Its elite status, long-held traditions and honor code are ideal for preparing exceptional young women for brilliant futures at Ivy League universities and beyond. But a stranger has come to Goode, and this ivy has turned poisonous.

In a world where appearances are everything, as long as students pretend to follow the rules, no one questions the cruelties of the secret societies or the dubious behavior of the privileged young women who expect to get away with murder. But when a popular student is found dead, the truth cannot be ignored. Rumors suggest she was struggling with a secret that drove her to suicide.

But look closely…because there are truths and there are lies, and then there is everything that really happened.

J.T. Ellison’s pulse-pounding new novel examines the tenuous bonds of friendship, the power of lies and the desperate lengths people will go to to protect their secrets.

 

J.T. ELLISON GOOD GIRLS LIE BOOK TOUR

 

  

four-stars

About J.T. Ellison

J.T. Ellison is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than 20 novels, and the EMMY-award winning co-host of A WORD ON WORDS, Nashville’s premier literary show. With millions of books in print, her work has won critical acclaim, prestigious awards, and has been published in 26 countries. Ellison lives in Nashville with her husband and twin kittens.

Review: HUSBAND MATERIAL by Emily Belden

Review:  HUSBAND MATERIAL by Emily BeldenHusband Material by Emily Belden
four-stars
Published by Graydon House on December 30, 2019
Genres: Women's Fiction, Romance
Pages: 304
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much to Justine Sha for inviting me to take part in Harlequin Trade Publishing’s Winter 2020 Blog Tour for Romance & Women’s Fiction.  Today I’m sharing my thoughts on Emily Belden’s latest novel, Husband Material.  

Husband Material is a romantic tale that is filled with both wit and heart.  It follows twenty-nine year old Charlotte Rosen, a young woman who seems to have it all. She lives in L.A. and has a great job working as a social media analyst. Charlotte is not only a rising star at her firm, but she is also a whiz at numbers, algorithms, and programming, and so as a side project, she’s also developing her own dating app in hopes of one day turning it into a big money maker for herself. Charlotte is convinced that she can pull enough data from the internet (social media, etc.) to determine who would be most compatible.  As she is also in the market for Mr. Right, Charlotte is using herself as a test subject to work out the kinks in her app.

Charlotte is all about the numbers and the data. She sees everything in life in black and white, 0s and 1s. Everything has a right and wrong answer…until life throws a curve ball at her in the form of her dead husband’s ashes, which show up on her doorstep in a J. Crew box. Not only is this incredibly awkward because Charlotte hasn’t told anyone in LA. that she’s a widow, but it also exposes old wounds, unresolved issues, and of course the immense grief that Charlotte thought she was moving past. In order to begin the healing process anew, Charlotte has to reopen doors she thought were closed, including rekindling an awkward and painful relationship with her ex mother-in-law, as well as an unexpected one with her dead husband’s best friend.  With these encounters, Charlotte realizes her numbers and data will only take her so far, and that not everything in life is black and white.  There’s a lot of gray, more gray than she ever thought possible.

Charlotte’s growth throughout the story is what really made this book work for me.  I actually found her a little annoying at the beginning because she was just so borderline arrogant about how her skills with numbers were the answer to everything.  The can of worms that the urn showing up opened really turned Charlotte’s life upside down and I liked watching her have to re-evaluate and adapt her view of the world. Even though she annoyed me in the beginning, by the end of the story, I adored Charlotte and was sad to have to say goodbye.

In addition to creating such a complex character who shows so much growth in the story, I also thought Belden did a wonderful job of making Charlotte’s experience of loss and grief feel so authentic. I read at the end that she actually interviewed widows to discuss their experiences and that research really shines through with the range of emotions that Charlotte goes through each day and the unexpected things that can suddenly trigger an emotional reaction.

I also really liked that even though the book dealt with the very serious subject of grief and healing, it still overall felt like a very lighthearted read.  It was entertaining and heartfelt at the same time and was written in such a vivid way that I could easily picture it as a film on the big screen while I was reading.

If you’re looking for a heartwarming story about love, family, and finding a way to move on from the past, Emily Belden’s Husband Material is a great choice.  On sale, December 30, 2019.

 

PURCHASE LINKS:  

HarlequinAmazonBarnes & NobleIndie BoundKoboGoogle Books

 

SUMMARY:

Told in Emily Belden’s signature edgy voice, a novel about a young widow’s discovery of her late husband’s secret and her journey toward hope and second-chance love.

Twenty-nine-year-old Charlotte Rosen has a secret: she’s a widow. Ever since the fateful day that leveled her world, Charlotte has worked hard to move forward. Great job at a hot social media analytics company? Check. Roommate with no knowledge of her past? Check. Adorable dog? Check. All the while, she’s faithfully data-crunched her way through life, calculating the probability of risk—so she can avoid it.

Yet Charlotte’s algorithms could never have predicted that her late husband’s ashes would land squarely on her doorstep five years later. Stunned but determined, Charlotte sets out to find meaning in this sudden twist of fate, even if that includes facing her perfectly coiffed, and perfectly difficult, ex-mother-in-law—and her husband’s best friend, who seems to become a fixture at her side whether she likes it or not.

But soon a shocking secret surfaces, forcing Charlotte to answer questions she never knew to ask and to consider the possibility of forgiveness. And when a chance at new love arises, she’ll have to decide once and for all whether to follow the numbers or trust her heart.

 

 

 

four-stars

About Emily Belden

EMILY BELDEN is a journalist, social media marketer, and storyteller. She is the author of the novel Hot Mess and Eightysixed: A Memoir about Unforgettable Men, Mistakes, and Meals. She lives in Chicago. Visit her website at www.emilybelden.com or follow her on Twitter and Instagram, @emilybelden.

Mini Reviews for CHOSEN and THE MAP FROM HERE TO THERE

Mini Reviews for CHOSEN and THE MAP FROM HERE TO THEREThe Map from Here to There by Emery Lord
Also by this author: When We Collided
four-stars
Series: The Start of Me and You #2
Published by Bloomsbury YA on January 7, 2020
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

Review:

With The Map from Here to There, Emery Lord delivers a beautifully written and compelling follow-up to her popular novel, The Start of Me and You.  I loved the first novel and couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of the sequel because I really wanted more of Paige and Max’s journey.  The sequel was a little surprising, but in a good way. It’s a much more serious and emotional read than the fun and fluffy one I was expecting.  While there are certainly plenty of fun and fluffy moments with Paige and her friends as they go through their Senior year together, the story focuses more on Paige and her continuing struggles with anxiety and identity. Paige is trying to make big decisions about life and college and really just figure out who she really is and where Max fits into it all.  As Paige considers her options, endless questions just constantly flood her brain and ramp up her anxiety: Will their relationship survive if they go to separate schools? Should a decision about where to go to college be based in any way on what school your friends and/or significant other are going to?

Lord does a wonderful job of continuing Paige’s journey in a realistic and relatable way.  The fear and uncertainty about life after high school is certainly an almost universal experience.  I did find myself occasionally frustrated with Paige because of how she was letting all of her uncertainties interfere with the important relationships in her life, but at the same time, I found that was a realistic aspect of what she’s going through as well, so I could forgive her for it.

One of my favorite aspects of the sequel is actually that Paige’s core group of friends were still a big focus of the story. I honestly expected them to take a backseat to Max and Paige so it was great to see this wonderful friend group still in the forefront and to follow their Senior year journeys as well.

The Map from Here to There is overall a very satisfying sequel to The Start of Me and You.  If you weren’t ready to say goodbye to this lovable cast of characters after the first book, I think you’ll be happy with Lord’s continuation of their journeys.  4 STARS

 

 

Mini Reviews for CHOSEN and THE MAP FROM HERE TO THEREChosen (Slayer, #2) by Kiersten White
Also by this author: The Guinevere Deception
four-stars
Series: Slayer #2
Published by Simon Pulse on January 7, 2020
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

Review:

Last month I finally sat down and read Slayer, the first book in Kiersten White’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer-inspired series.  I’ve actually never watched an episode of Buffy (hangs head in shame), but even without prior knowledge of Buffy and her world, I still very much enjoyed Slayer.  White does a wonderful job bringing this world to life for me and I loved the characters, especially White’s additions to the Buffy universe.

Nina, the scrappy new Slayer that is the focus of White’s series is such an easy character to root for, so after meeting her in the first book, I was eager to follow her character’s evolution in Chosen, the second book in the series.  Chosen picks up right where Slayer leaves off and while it is just as action-packed as the first book, it is also more of an emotional read. I don’t want to give away any spoilers from the first book for those who haven’t read it yet, so I’ll just say that Nina experiences both loss and betrayal in Slayer and is still dealing with the emotional fallout in Chosen.  Nina is subsequently in kind of a dark place in this second book, but she still has plenty to keep her mind occupied, what with mastering her newly found Slayer abilities, creating demon sanctuaries, and of course, saving the world from yet another impending apocalypse.

My only real gripe about the sequel was Nina’s sister, Artemis.  I actually quite liked Artemis for the most part in the first book, but she frustrated me to no end in Chosen.  Her jealousy of Nina leads her to make some selfish and just plain awful decisions.  I found her disappointing, not just because of how her petty actions impacted Nina so much but also because they had real and potentially deadly consequences and she just couldn’t get past her own jealousy to see that.

Chosen successfully continues the magic of the first book in the series and I hope that White will continue the journey with a third book.  If demons, vampires, and a scrappy heroine trying to save the world from pending doom, all with a side of family drama, appeals to you, I would definitely recommend Kiersten White’s wildly entertaining Slayer series. 4 STARS

four-stars

About Emery Lord

Hi! I’m Emery. I’m the author of four novels about teenage girls:  OPEN ROAD SUMMER, THE START OF ME & YOU, WHEN WE COLLIDED, and THE NAMES THEY GAVE US.  I was born near a harbor on the East coast and raised near a beach, an ocean, a great lake, and the Ohio River. I’m a longtime Cincinnatian, where we love good beer, good music, and our public library.   I’m married to a scientist who shuts down every wedding dance floor, and we are owned by two rescue dogs.  I believe in the magic of storytelling, Ferris wheels, and you.” – Emery Load, in her own words

About Kiersten White

Kiersten White is the New York Times bestselling author of many books for teens and young readers, including And I Darken, Now I Rise, Bright We Burn, The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, and Slayer. She lives with her family near the ocean in San Diego, where she perpetually lurks in the shadows. Visit Kiersten online at KierstenWhite.com and follow @KierstenWhite on Twitter.

Mini Reviews for Reputation, Meg & Jo, and The Dead Girls Club

 

It’s time for a new batch of mini reviews and this time it’s December ARCs!  I initially hadn’t planned to request any December ARCs so that I could focus all of my attention on my backlist, but these three novels caught my eye so my plans changed.

 

Mini Reviews for Reputation, Meg & Jo, and The Dead Girls ClubReputation Goodreads

Author: Sara Shepard

Publication Date: December 3, 2019

Publisher:  Dutton

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

Even though I loved the TV series Pretty Little Liars, which was inspired by the Sara Shepard book series of the same name, I had never actually read one of Shepard’s books prior to requesting her latest novel, Reputation.  I went into Reputation hoping for a fast-paced read filled with all of the elements I loved in the Pretty Little Liars series and that’s exactly what I got.  The story is centered on a prestigious university that gets turned up on its end when a hacker infiltrates the university network and uploads all of the university’s emails into an easily searchable database.  From students to faculty and staff, lives are turned upside down as the emails are leaked publicly exposing juicy secrets, extramarital affairs, and so much more.  Then while everyone is busy dealing with the fallout from all of the exposed emails, a popular doctor is murdered.  Who would have wanted him dead? Is his murder somehow connected to something that came out as a result of the hack?  In typical Shepard fashion, the reader is taken on a wild ride that is jam-packed with shocking twists and turns as we watch the fallout from the hack, try to figure out who is responsible for the hack, and of course, who killed the doctor and why.  My only real complaint about the novel is that I didn’t feel any real connection to the characters.  The story is told from the perspectives of five different women, and while each woman was very well developed and had a compelling storyline, I just didn’t find any of them especially relatable.  It didn’t hamper my overall enjoyment of the read at the time, but now sitting down to write this review, I can barely remember their names.  Even with that lack of connection though, Reputation is still a fast and fun read, especially if you’re into scandalous soap opera-style drama. 3.5 STARS

 

Mini Reviews for Reputation, Meg & Jo, and The Dead Girls ClubMeg and Jo Goodreads

Author: Virginia Kantra

Publication Date: December 3, 2019

Publisher:  Berkley

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

Meg & Jo by Virginia Kantra is a charming story that is actually a contemporary retelling of one of my favorite literary classics, Little Women.  As the title suggests, sisters Meg and Jo are the focus of this story.  Jo is still a writer, but in this version of the classic, she’s a food blogger trying to make it in New York City, while Meg has a background in accounting but is a stay-at-home mom with twins living in North Carolina.  What I liked most about Meg & Jo is that Kantra does a wonderful job of paying homage to Little Women while still creating a fully original story in its own right.  I honestly don’t even think you need to be familiar with Little Women to enjoy Meg & Jo. It features heartwarming sisterly interactions (including younger sisters Beth and Amy who put in appearances as well), compelling family drama involving a sick parent, and even a little romance with a sexy chef to keep things entertaining.  I also loved that it was set around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, which made it the perfect read to help get me into the holiday spirit.  I will say to those who are huge fans of Little Women – don’t go into this read expecting something as emotionally weighty as Little Women.  I’d consider this more of a Hallmark movie version of the original classic.  If you go in with that expectation, I think you’ll find it a delightful read.  4 STARS

 

Mini Reviews for Reputation, Meg & Jo, and The Dead Girls ClubThe Dead Girls Club Goodreads

Author: Damien Angelica Walters

Publication Date: December 10, 2019

Publisher:  Crooked Lane Books

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters is a psychological thriller tinged with a hint of the supernatural that is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.  It features a very effective dual time line that follows Heather Cole and her friends both as children and then later as adults.  The first time line follows Heather and her friends as they create a club called The Dead Girls Club, where they would secretly meet to discuss and share stories about serial killers and other morbid topics.  A favorite topic of theirs, and especially of Heather’s best friend Becca, was the Red Lady, the spirit of a witch who was murdered centuries ago.  Becca spends so many hours telling elaborate stories about the Red Lady that she and the other girls become convinced that the Red Lady is real.  Their belief takes a tragic turn when Becca turns up dead. As the second timeline shows, what happened to Becca the night of her death has remained a secret for nearly 30 years until someone starts sending a now grown up Heather subtle hints that they know what really happened that night and that they plan to make her pay for it.  My favorite part about this novel is the Red Lady. I loved the stories about her and how she comes across as an urban legend. She definitely adds an ultra-creepy supernatural layer to what is otherwise a pretty straightforward psychological thriller as this unknown person basically stalks Heather with these threats of exposure.  For me though, Heather was actually the weakest part of the story.  I really enjoyed her character in the child timeline, but found her frustrating and infuriating in the adult timeline.  Her paranoia about being tied to Becca’s death leads her to make some downright awful decisions, which made her not as likable as I prefer my protagonists to be.  Even though I didn’t find Heather to be overly likable, I still thought The Dead Girls Club was a very solid read.  The author does a wonderful job of creating plenty of suspense in both timelines and I was engaged from start to finish (and, of course, looking over my shoulder to make sure the Red Lady wasn’t lurking behind me).  If you like a good creepy thriller with a supernatural twist, The Dead Girls Club is a great choice.  3.5 STARS