Early Review: VOX by Christina Dalcher

Early Review:  VOX by Christina DalcherVox by Christina Dalcher
four-stars
Published by BERKLEY on August 21, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Christina Dalcher’s Vox is a dystopian novel set in America in the not-so-distant future.  Instead of being the land of the free and the home of the brave, however, Dalcher’s America is one where radical religious fundamentalists have taken the reins of power and have implemented what they call the “Pure Movement.”  What the Pure Movement entails is basically stripping women of all of their basic rights, including the right to speak. One day women are just removed from the workforce and fitted with bracelets that count the number of words they speak.  If they go over the their daily allotment of 100 words, or if they try to skirt the 100 word limit by using any form of non-verbal communication, there are severe consequences.

Girls are also placed into different schools from boys and no longer receive the same caliber of education.  They are taught how to do basic arithmetic and how to do household chores like sewing and cooking, the idea being that they are meant to take care of household responsibilities while the men in their lives go out and earn a living.  Cameras have been mounted everywhere to make sure women and girls are falling into line as expected and punishments are readily doled out if they are not complying.

Needless to say, life is pure hell for women like Dr. Jean McClennan, the protagonist in Vox.  Jean is a renowned linguist who was engaged in groundbreaking research that would benefit stroke victims when she is forced out of work and fitted with a bracelet.  Jean is in denial that this is actually happening and she’s absolutely furious at herself for not seeing the signs and not trying to do something to stop this movement from taking hold.  She’s also angry at the men in her life for going along with it and she’s furious at women like her neighbor, Mrs. King, who seem perfectly content with this new way of life.  Most of all, Jean is livid because of how quickly she sees her young daughter fall into line and embrace the idea of speaking as few words in a day as possible.

So what happens when Jean is offered a temporary reprieve from her new way of life because the President needs her expertise?  Can she figure out a way to put a stop to this horrid movement before she, her daughter, and all American women are stripped of their voices?

 

Gosh, where to start with this book?!  I’m always a big fan of books that really make me think and that get to me on an emotional level, and wow, does this book ever fit the bill in both of those categories!  I think The Handmaid’s Tale and maybe The Hunger Games are the last two books I’ve read that got to me the same way Vox did.  I was so angry the whole time I was reading and lost track of how many times I just wanted to fling it across the room.  Why?  I think because even though the book falls into the dystopian category, it just felt so darn plausible.  Way too plausible, honestly, especially given the current administration in charge in the U.S. How many times have we heard this President make sexist and derogatory comments about women?  I get the feeling that he and his cronies would be all too happy to shut women up if they could and so this book resonated with me immensely for that reason.  If I wasn’t already an activist prior to reading Vox, it would definitely motivate me to become one.

In addition to how much it resonated with me and made me think about our government and how easily things could go horribly wrong if a radical movement were to take hold, I also loved how the author really thought of every little detail as she was building this dystopian version of America.  My very first question while reading was why wouldn’t all women just flee the country as soon as they got wind of what the founders of this movement had in mind?  The author took care of that right away by having their passports confiscated.  And it was like that all along the way…every time I thought of something that made a world like this seem highly unlikely, Dalcher immediately came up with something that made it suddenly seem all too likely.  She really thought of every little detail and made the idea of this kind of society frighteningly realistic, especially when she illustrates how this group pushes their agenda using the schools so as to indoctrinate them at a young age.

Another huge selling point of the book for me was, of course, the protagonist, Dr. Jean McClennan.  Can you imagine being at the top of your field in such an important line of work and suddenly being told to go home and shut up?  I felt tremendous sympathy for her, not just for her own loss of voice but also because she has to watch her daughter grow up accepting such a horrible way of life.  I thought the author did an incredible job of portraying the array of emotions that Jean was feeling – the initial denial, the anger, the frustration, the growing hostility toward the men around her, including her own eldest son who seems to have immediately embraced the Pure Movement, all of it is palpable and as a mother, I found it all so easy to relate to.

 

Overall, I thought Vox was an incredibly well written and gripping read.  The only real issue I had with it was that it felt like the ending wrapped up a little too quickly.  It just felt a little rushed and like maybe a few things fell into place a little too conveniently.

 

Vox is an utterly terrifying book in part because even though it’s supposed to be a dystopian read, it seems like something that could easily happen if the wrong people were ever in power.  It serves as a warning to us all to never take for granted what we consider to be our rights and to pay attention to what is going on at all levels of government.  The world on display in Vox is reminiscent of what we see in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale so I’d definitely recommend to fans of that book and TV series.

 

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Set in an America where half the population has been silenced, VOX is the harrowing, unforgettable story of what one woman will do to protect herself and her daughter.

On the day the government decrees that women are no longer allowed more than 100 words daily, Dr. Jean McClellan is in denial–this can’t happen here. Not in America. Not to her.

This is just the beginning.

Soon women can no longer hold jobs. Girls are no longer taught to read or write. Females no longer have a voice. Before, the average person spoke sixteen thousand words a day, but now women only have one hundred to make themselves heard.

But this is not the end. 

For herself, her daughter, and every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice.

four-stars

About Christina Dalcher

Christina Dalcher earned her doctorate in theoretical linguistics from Georgetown University. She specializes in the phonetics of sound change in Italian and British dialects and has taught at universities in the United States, England, and the United Arab Emirates.

Her short stories and flash fiction appear in over one hundred journals worldwide. Recognitions include the Bath Flash Award’s Short List; nominations for The Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions; and multiple other awards. She teaches flash fiction as a member of the faculty at The Muse Writers Center in Norfolk, Virginia. Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency represents Dalcher’s novels.

After spending several years abroad, most recently in Sri Lanka, Dalcher and her husband now split their time between the American South and Naples, Italy.
Her debut novel, VOX, will be published in August 2018 by Berkley (an imprint of Penguin Random House).

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for LETTERS TO THE LOST and LOVE & GELATO

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for LETTERS TO THE LOST and  LOVE & GELATOLetters to the Lost (Letters to the Lost, #1) by Brigid Kemmerer
Also by this author: More Than We Can Tell
five-stars
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on April 4, 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Purchased
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Juliet Young always writes letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother's death, she leaves letters at her grave. It's the only way Juliet can cope.

Declan Murphy isn't the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he's trying to escape the demons of his past.

When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can't resist writing back. Soon, he's opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither Declan nor Juliet knows that they're not actually strangers. When life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, sparks will fly as Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart.

Review:

Brigid Kemmerer’s Letters to the Lost is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.  What really hooked me from the beginning is its exploration of loss and the grieving process through the use of anonymous letters.  Juliet and Declan have both lost loved ones and are struggling to move through their grief and both feel alone because no one seems to understand what they’re going through.  Juliet tries to work through her grief by writing letters to her dead mom and leaving them in the cemetery where Declan works.  When Declan sees and reads one of the letters, he relates to the sense of loss in the letter so much that he replies to it.  Declan and Juliet begin writing to each other anonymously and immediately form a deeper connection than either of them could have imagined because they are able to say things to each other that they’ve not been able to say to anyone else.  I thought this aspect of the story was just so beautifully done.  The letters themselves were so raw and emotional, like reading someone’s diary and peering down deep into their souls, and they had me in tears on more than one occasion while reading.

In addition to the powerful exploration of grief, Letters to the Lost was also a wonderfully engaging read for me because of all the relationships.  And not just Declan and Juliet’s either.  They both have two of the most amazing best friends a person could ask for.  I had already met Declan’s best friend, Rev, and knew how precious he was because I read Kemmerer’s More Than We Can Tell first and fell in love with him there, but Juliet’s best friend Rowan is equally amazing.  Plus, there are also several adults (parents, teachers, and work supervisors) trying to be as supportive and non-judgmental as possible, which was just lovely to see, especially since a secondary theme of the book is about how wrong and unfair it is to judge people without ever bothering to get to know them first.

After reading and falling in love with both Letters to the Lost and More Than We Can Tell, Brigid Kemmerer has become an auto-buy author for me.  Her writing is exquisite, and her stories are filled with such incredibly realistic characters that you won’t be able to stop yourself from becoming fully invested in their lives.  If you’re looking for a read that will tug at your heart strings, I would highly recommend something from Kemmerer. 5 STARS

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for LETTERS TO THE LOST and  LOVE & GELATOLove & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch
four-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on May 3, 2016
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 389
Source: Purchased
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

“I made the wrong choice.”

Lina is spending the summer in Tuscany, but she isn’t in the mood for Italy’s famous sunshine and fairy-tale landscape. She’s only there because it was her mother’s dying wish that she get to know her father. But what kind of father isn’t around for sixteen years? All Lina wants to do is get back home.

But then she is given a journal that her mom had kept when she lived in Italy. Suddenly Lina’s uncovering a magical world of secret romances, art, and hidden bakeries. A world that inspires Lina, along with the ever-so-charming Ren, to follow in her mother’s footsteps and unearth a secret that has been kept for far too long. It’s a secret that will change everything she knew about her mother, her father—and even herself.

People come to Italy for love and gelato, someone tells her, but sometimes they discover much more.

Review:

Jenna Evans Welch’s  Love & Gelato follows American teen Lina, who is sent to live in Florence, Italy after her mother passes away.  Lina’s mother had cancer and knew she was dying, so she made arrangements for Lina to go to Italy and get to know her father, whom she has never even met.  Although Lina doesn’t want to leave her friends and move to Italy, she feels like she has to respect her mother’s dying wish and at least visit.  Upon her arrival, she is handed an old journal that belonged to her mother that dates back to her own experiences living in Florence as a student.  It’s this old journal that takes Lina on a journey that she never expected to – one that leads her to discover never-before-known truths about both herself and her parents.

Although she was a bit stubborn and irritable at first, I found Lina to be a very likeable and relatable character overall.  It was easy to understand her attitude, given that she was being separated from everything she has ever known and sent off to live with strangers.  At the same time, I liked that once she was in Florence, she became determined to make the best of the situation.  I especially enjoyed reading along with her as she pored over her mother’s journal.  Her mother adored Florence and so it was fun to watch Lina slowly but surely discover a similar love for the city.  It was also fascinating to follow along as Lina learned more and more details about her mother’s life that had previously eluded her.  In many ways, it felt like we were both just getting to know Lina’s mother for the first time.

While Lina’s journey is mostly about discovering truths about her family, she also meets some wonderful friends while in Italy.  Ren, in particular, was just such a charming young man and I liked the friendship that developed between him and Lina, with its promise of becoming something more if Lina were to decide to stay in Florence.

My absolute favorite part of Love & Gelato though was that the author did such a magnificent job of capturing the essence of Florence and why it’s such an easy city to fall in love with.  I’ve visited Florence once and, after reading this book, I’m dying to go back!  4 STARS

 

five-stars

About Brigid Kemmerer

BRIGID KEMMERER is the author of LETTERS TO THE LOST (Bloomsbury; April 4, 2017), a dark, contemporary Young Adult romance; THICKER THAN WATER (Kensington, December 29, 2015), a New Adult paranormal mystery with elements of romance; and the YALSA-nominated Elemental series of five Young Adult novels and three e-novellas which Kirkus Reviews calls “refreshingly human paranormal romance” and School Library Journal describes as “a new take on the supernatural genre.” She lives in the Baltimore area with her husband and four sons.

About Jenna Evans Welch

Jenna Evans Welch was the kind of insatiable child reader who had no choice but to grow up to become a writer. She is the New York Times Bestselling author of LOVE & GELATO and the upcoming LOVE & LUCK. When she isn’t writing girl abroad stories, Jenna can be found chasing her children or making elaborate messes in the kitchen. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with her husband and two young children.

Review: THE POINT by John Dixon

Review:  THE POINT by John DixonThe Point by John Dixon
four-stars
Published by Del Rey Books on August 7, 2018
Genres: Thriller, Science Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

I really enjoyed John Dixon’s last two novels, Phoenix Island and Devil’s Pocket.  They were fast-paced, action-packed reads that kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time I was reading them.  Since I enjoyed those so much, I was eager to get my hands on a copy of The Point as soon as I heard about it, especially once I read the synopsis and saw that it was set at West Point Military Academy.

The Point follows the story of Scarlett Winter, a rebellious, thrill seeking teenager who has no interest in conforming to whatever life plans her parents have dreamed up for her. She just wants to do her own thing and be left alone.

That is, until one night when she finds herself on the wrong side of the law.  Scarlett tries to sneak into a party one of her former friends is having.  She knows she’s not invited but thinks it will be a good time to sneak in and shock everyone.  Instead, she stumbles upon some other folks who are lurking on the property planting a bomb.  She throws herself on the bomb and when it explodes, she walks away, basically unharmed.  Witnesses see her at the scene of the crime and before she knows it, two military recruiters come knocking at her door.  They know that she has some kind of superhuman power and they present her with an ultimatum – she can either attend West Point and serve in the military for a few years, or she can go to prison.

Scarlett chooses West Point, of course, but has no idea what’s in store for her once she gets there.  Can she tame her rebellious nature enough to keep from getting kicked out of West Point?  And what happens when a threat from the school’s dark past emerges placing Scarlett and all of her fellow classmates in danger?   Scarlett may be the only one with powers great enough to neutralize the threat, but will she rise to the occasion for the greater good?

Scarlett.  I’ll confess right now that I was not a big fan of Scarlett’s at first.  While I admired her sense of independence and her adventurous spirit, I was a little put off by the way she completely blew off her high school graduation ceremony –without telling her family – so that she could go off and get high with her boyfriend.  Scarlett just lets her parents go to the school and sit in that audience, only to end up shocked and embarrassed when her name was called and she’s not there. All I could think at that moment was “What kind of person even does that?”

That said, Scarlett also quickly began to grow on me the more I got to know her and could see firsthand the dysfunctional family dynamic that she was surrounded by.  Her father is abusive towards her older brother Dan, who then proceeds to hand down his own brand of abusive behavior to Scarlett, while their mother just sits by and lets it all happen.  It became so much easier to understand why Scarlett had such a rebellious streak.

I actually flat out fell in love with Scarlett once she arrives at West Point.  I am always one to cheer on an underdog and it’s clear from Scarlett’s first moments on campus that that’s exactly what she is.  Everyone around her is out to make her life hell and I became extremely invested in cheering on her successes and seeing her really grow and mature as she comes to embrace a life where she is part of something bigger:  the Long Gray Line.

West Point (and The Point).  I have a thing for books that are set in schools so I was thrilled to learn that the bulk of this book is set at West Point military academy.  Dixon has clearly done his research and beautifully captures the atmosphere of what it’s like for a plebe to walk onto this prestigious campus for the first time.  I also thought the whole concept of The Point, a secret training unit for superhumans located beneath the main campus was brilliant.

Superhuman Powers.  The superpowers were, by far, my favorite part of The Point.  And when I say superpowers, I’m talking X-Men, Marvel, whatever — pick your favorite superhero and imagine someone with their powers being trained to serve as a special strike force in the U.S. military.  There are students who can engage in combat using telekinesis, students who can walk through and manipulate the dreams of others, and then there’s Scarlett, who may truly end up being the most important weapon of all:  Scarlett has the ability to absorb and temporarily store any raw energy that is directed at her, and then redirect and release it toward whatever target she chooses.  I thought it was fascinating to watch Scarlett and her classmates practice and hone their incredible powers.

Excellent Pacing and Lots of Action.  If you like a fast-paced novel with plenty of vivid action scenes, you won’t be disappointed.  This book grabbed my attention from the first page and I devoured it in a day!

The only issue I had with The Point is that I would have liked the explanation for how those with the superhuman powers actually acquired them to have come earlier in the novel. I was glad to finally get the explanation towards the end of the novel and I thought the explanation itself was very well done, but I would have preferred it earlier so that I didn’t spend so much time wondering about it while reading.

John Dixon’s The Point is an action packed thriller that I’d highly recommend to anyone who enjoys military and/or superhero novels.   It also has a powerful coming of age story woven in with Scarlett and her journey, so I’d also recommend it to anyone who likes stories that feature strong heroines.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

What if you had a power you had to hide from everyone–until now? In this bold sci-fi action thriller, a secret training program at West Point is turning misfits into a new generation of heroes.

Welcome to The Point, future leaders of the Posthuman Age.

New Cadets, society is not ready for you. The oldest, fiercest fear is ignorance. The general population would burn you at the metaphorical stake.

Here, you will train alongside other posthumans. You will learn to control and maximize your powers and to use them for the greater good. You will discover camaraderie and purpose.

You will become a part of something bigger than yourselves: the Long Gray Line. 

Scarlett Winter has always been an outsider, and not only because she’s a hardcore daredevil and born troublemaker–she has been hiding superhuman powers she doesn’t yet understand. Now she’s been recruited by a secret West Point unit for cadets with extraordinary abilities. Scarlett and her fellow students are learning to hone their skills, from telekinetic combat to running recon missions through strangers’ dreamscapes. At The Point, Scarlett discovers that she may be the most powerful cadet of all. With the power to control pure energy, she’s a human nuclear bomb–and she’s not sure she can control her powers much longer.

Even in this army of outsiders, Scarlett feels like a misfit all over again, but when a threat that endangers her fellow students arises from the school’s dark past, duty calls and Scarlett must make a choice between being herself and becoming something even greater: a hero.

 

four-stars

About John Dixon

John Dixon’s debut novel, Phoenix Island, and its sequel, Devil’s Pocket, won back-to-back Bram Stoker Awards and inspired the CBS TV series Intelligence. A former boxer, teacher, and stone mason, John lives in West Chester, PA, with his wife, their daughter, and a freeloading dog. When not reading or writing, he obsesses over boxing, chess, and hot peppers.

Review: THE MERMAID by Christina Henry

Review:  THE MERMAID by Christina HenryThe Mermaid by Christina Henry
four-half-stars
Published by BERKLEY on June 19, 2018
Genres: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 325
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

 

Christina Henry’s The Mermaid is a captivating reimaging of the FeeJee Mermaid, one of P.T. Barnum’s infamous hoaxes from the 1840’s. In Henry’s version of the tale, the Mermaid is not a hoax at all.  Amelia is a real, live mermaid who lives in the sea until one day when a fisherman catches her in his net.  When their eyes meet, Amelia instantly knows that she wants to spend her life with this man, and so when he cuts her free from his net, instead of fleeing to safety, Amelia chooses to come ashore, find the fisherman, and live as his wife.  They live together in a cabin overlooking the ocean until the fisherman is lost at sea and Amelia is left all alone.

Rumors about the existence of a mermaid reach the ears of P.T. Barnum, who is always on the lookout for new attractions for his museum.  When he hears about Amelia, he knows she is sure to be a money maker for him if he can convince her to join him.  He sends an associate to find her and after meeting Barnum, Amelia agrees to play the mermaid in one of Barnum’s attractions.  She sets her own terms – a 6 month contract and enough money to be able travel anywhere in the world she wishes to go – and they sign a contract.

At first Amelia is somewhat intrigued by the idea of showing the world what a real mermaid looks like, but the more she sees of humanity and how people behave, the less enamored she is with the idea and the more determined she is to leave the show as soon as her contract is up.

Will Amelia ultimately be free to leave Barnum when her contract is up or will Barnum’s determination to hold on to his moneymaker lead him to try and stand in her way?

 

Appealing main character.  I was drawn to Amelia from the first moment we meet her.  First of all, I loved that Henry chose not to give Amelia the half woman half fish appearance that typically comes to mind when we think of mermaids.  Instead, she gives Amelia the appearance of being something truly born from the sea.  Her body is completely covered in silvery scales and she doesn’t really resemble a human in any way.  In addition to giving her this unexpected appearance, Henry also makes Amelia’s transformation from mermaid to human and vice versa sound so beautiful.  I loved the idea that it was solely Amelia’s choice which form she took and that all she needed was sand to become human and ocean water to turn back into a mermaid.  I thought Henry just did such a beautiful job of bringing this mythology to life.

What really captivated me about Amelia, however, wasn’t really the way she looked.  It had more to do with the feminist twist that Henry gives her.  Amelia is a force to be reckoned with, a woman ahead of her time, and it’s mainly because coming from the sea, she really has no idea how society expects women to behave.  The more she learns about society’s expectations for women, the more she begins to dislike the whole idea of society.  She values her own freedom and independence above all else, and she has no use for anyone who tries to stand in her way and hold her back.  Because of this, she stands up to Barnum and challenges him in ways that he never expects to be challenged.  Barnum is portrayed as kind of a jerk as well so it makes it very easy to cheer Amelia on.

 Atmospheric writing:  The Mermaid is not what I would consider to be a fast paced novel.  Instead, it’s one of those novels where the storytelling is just so exquisite I felt as if a spell was being cast over me drawing me deeper and deeper into the tale with each page that I read.

Henry’s use of vivid descriptions made me feel like I had stepped back in time to 1840’s America.  I could feel my nose wrinkling in disgust at some of the less savory smells that were present on the streets of a less than sanitary New York City.  In contrast, Henry’s attention to detail also made me feel like I was at the ocean with Amelia.  I could practically hear the waves slapping the shore and smell the salt in the air.  Henry’s writing reminds me very much of Alice Hoffman’s, which is a good thing since Hoffman is one of my favorites.

Social commentary:  For the most part, The Mermaid reads like part fairy tale/part historical fiction.  It’s whimsical and almost otherworldly at times because of the mermaid’s presence and the mythology surrounding her, but at the same time, the story also contains a powerful social commentary on the lack of women’s rights and about how restricting societal expectations for women were during this time period.  It becomes especially evident in scenes between Amelia and Barnum’s wife, Charity.  There are many times when Charity is the one who seems like she’s living in a cage rather than Amelia.  Amelia even begins to pity Charity because she has so little freedom.

Amelia not only sees and speaks out against the fundamental wrongness of this lack of rights for women, but she also exposes how inhumane humans can actually be.  She is appalled by the idea that Barnum thinks he has a right to own people or animals, and she is also dismayed when the mermaid tour travels south and she sees slaves working the fields and being mistreated.  Through Amelia’s eyes, Henry delivers a pretty clear message that humans could use a little more humanity.

 

The only issue I really had with the novel was the character of Levi Lyman.  He is the associate of Barnum’s who is sent to find the Mermaid in the first place.  I liked him well enough, especially in the sense that he clearly had Amelia’s best interests at the forefront of his mind at all times.  My only issue was that it felt like I didn’t really get to know nearly as much about him as I would have liked.  Same thing with Barnum’s wife, Charity.  They both intrigued me and while there were hints of what they were like, I just wanted a little more.

 

The Mermaid is a beautifully written story that is sure to captivate fans of both historical fiction and mythology.  One caveat I’ll add is that Henry admits she has written the version of Barnum that she needed for this story, so I’d recommend taking this portrayal of him with a grain of salt since this isn’t meant to be a biography.  It is an exquisite work of fiction though and I fully expect it to land of my list of favorite 2018 reads.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

From the author of Lost Boy comes a historical fairy tale about a mermaid who leaves the sea for love and later finds herself in P.T. Barnum’s American Museum as the real Fiji mermaid. However, leaving the museum may be harder than leaving the sea ever was.

Once there was a mermaid who longed to know of more than her ocean home and her people. One day a fisherman trapped her in his net but couldn’t bear to keep her. But his eyes were lonely and caught her more surely than the net, and so she evoked a magic that allowed her to walk upon the shore. The mermaid, Amelia, became his wife, and they lived on a cliff above the ocean for ever so many years, until one day the fisherman rowed out to sea and did not return.\

P. T. Barnum was looking for marvelous attractions for his American Museum, and he’d heard a rumor of a mermaid who lived on a cliff by the sea. He wanted to make his fortune, and an attraction like Amelia was just the ticket.

Amelia agreed to play the mermaid for Barnum, and she believes she can leave any time she likes. But Barnum has never given up a money-making scheme in his life, and he’s determined to hold on to his mermaid.

four-half-stars

About Christina Henry

CHRISTINA HENRY is the author of the CHRONICLES OF ALICE duology, ALICE and RED QUEEN, a dark and twisted take on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, as well as LOST BOY: THE TRUE STORY OF CAPTAIN HOOK, an origin story of Captain Hook from Peter Pan.

She is also the author of the national bestselling BLACK WINGS series (BLACK WINGS, BLACK NIGHT, BLACK HOWL, BLACK LAMENT, BLACK CITY, BLACK HEART and BLACK SPRING) featuring Agent of Death Madeline Black and her popcorn-loving gargoyle Beezle.

ALICE was chosen as one of Amazon’s Best Books of the Year in Science Fiction and Fantasy for 2015. It was also a Goodreads Choice Award nominee in Horror and one of Barnes & Noble’s Bestselling Science Fiction and Fantasy novels of 2015.

She enjoys running long distances, reading anything she can get her hands on and watching movies with samurai, zombies and/or subtitles in her spare time. She lives in Chicago with her husband and son.

You can visit her on the web at www.christinahenry.net, facebook.com/authorChristinaHenry, twitter.com/C_Henry_Author and www.goodreads.com/CHenryAuthor.

Review: BELIEVE ME by J.P. Delaney

Review:  BELIEVE ME by J.P. DelaneyBelieve Me by J.P. Delaney, Tony Strong
Also by this author: The Girl Before
three-half-stars
Published by Ballantine Books on July 24, 2018
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

J.P. Delaney is back with another riveting psychological thriller that is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.  Believe Me follows Claire Wright, a young British woman living in America who aspires to be an actor.  When we meet Claire, she is struggling financially.  She doesn’t have a green card which makes it difficult to find legitimate employment.  She ends up working on the sly for a team of divorce lawyers, where she uses her acting talents to entrap cheating husbands and obtain video evidence for their wives.

Everything changes in Claire’s life, however, when one of the wives she is trying to obtain evidence of cheating for turns up dead.  Believing that the woman’s husband is the murderer and that his wife might not be his only target, law enforcement officers approach Claire about using her talents to try to lure the husband into a confession.  With the promise of a green card and a lot of cash dangled in front of her, Claire agrees.

Claire is a brilliant actor, but will she be able to help law enforcement catch the killer or will she end up in over her head?  All I can say is buckle up and prepare for a wild ride!

Believe Me is one of those novels that I feel like I can’t say much about because I don’t want to give anything away, so I’m just going to mention a couple of quick highlights that I really enjoyed.

It probably seems weird to start off talking about the structure of a novel, but I have to admit this was my favorite part about Believe Me.  The main character Claire, who as I’ve mentioned is an aspiring actor, often goes through life imaging incidents in her life as if they are scenes from a script.  Since we are watching the events of the story unfold from Claire’s perspective, Delaney actually weaves together a tale that is mostly straight narrative, but which occasionally has little bits of script incorporated in as well to mimic how Claire imagines certain scenes playing out, complete with stage directions and dialogue she has scripted out in her head.  At first, I worried that the script bits might seem a little gimmicky, but in the end, they really worked well for me.

Aside from the unique structure, I also enjoyed that the plot was filled with suspenseful twists and turns that kept me guessing from start to finish.  The twists were such that it oftentimes made it hard to distinguish between what was real and what was fake in terms of Claire’s role in the murder investigation as well as what exactly was going on with the husband.  I tried to predict what direction the story was taking a few times along the way but was so wrong each time that I finally decided to just settle in and enjoy the wild ride Delaney was taking me on.  The fact that his writing flows so smoothly makes it easy to do that and just trust that the ride is going to be worth it in the end.

The main issue I had with Believe Me was that I just never really felt a connection to Claire.  Because she played so many different roles throughout the course of the novel, I never felt like I knew who the real Claire was.  Whenever she said something about herself, I took it with a grain of salt because I was never convinced she was being honest.  While that kind of personality was helpful in terms of maintaining the novel’s premise of not knowing what was real and what was fake, it left me feeling very detached from Claire.  Even when she was potentially in danger, I found that I didn’t really care.  I wanted to know what was going to happen, of course, but it wasn’t a case where I was worried for her well being at all.  If I had been able to better connect with Claire, this would have easily been a 4 star read for me.

There’s so much more I would love to say about Believe Me, but because I don’t want to spoil the mystery, I’m just going to say that I’d highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys riveting psychological thrillers and to fans of Delaney’s last book, The Girl Before.  If you enjoyed that one, I think you would also enjoy Believe Me.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

In this twisty psychological thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Before, an actress plays both sides of a murder investigation.

A struggling actor, a Brit in America without a green card, Claire needs work and money to survive. Then she gets both. But nothing like she expected.

Claire agrees to become a decoy for a firm of divorce lawyers. Hired to entrap straying husbands, she must catch them on tape with their seductive propositions. The rules? Never hit on the mark directly. Make it clear you’re available, but he has to proposition you, not the other way around. The firm is after evidence, not coercion. The innocent have nothing to hide.

Then the game changes.

When the wife of one of Claire’s targets is violently murdered, the cops are sure the husband is to blame. Desperate to catch him before he kills again, they enlist Claire to lure him into a confession.

Claire can do this. She’s brilliant at assuming a voice and an identity. For a woman who’s mastered the art of manipulation, how difficult could it be to tempt a killer into a trap? But who is the decoy…and who is the prey?

 

three-half-stars

About J.P. Delaney

J. P. Delaney is the pseudonym of a writer who has previously published best-selling fiction under another name. .

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for SAVE THE DATE & NOT THE GIRLS YOU’RE LOOKING FOR

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for SAVE THE DATE & NOT THE GIRLS YOU’RE LOOKING FORSave the Date by Morgan Matson
four-half-stars
Published by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers on June 5, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 417
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Charlie Grant’s older sister is getting married this weekend at their family home, and Charlie can’t wait—for the first time in years, all four of her older siblings will be under one roof. Charlie is desperate for one last perfect weekend, before the house is sold and everything changes. The house will be filled with jokes and games and laughs again. Making decisions about things like what college to attend and reuniting with longstanding crush Jesse Foster—all that can wait. She wants to focus on making the weekend perfect.

The only problem? The weekend is shaping up to be an absolute disaster.

There’s the unexpected dog with a penchant for howling, house alarm that won’t stop going off, and a papergirl with a grudge.

There are the relatives who aren’t speaking, the (awful) girl her favorite brother brought home unannounced, and a missing tuxedo.

Not to mention the neighbor who seems to be bent on sabotage and a storm that is bent on drenching everything. The justice of the peace is missing. The band will only play covers. The guests are all crazy. And the wedding planner’s nephew is unexpectedly, distractingly…cute.

Over the course of three ridiculously chaotic days, Charlie will learn more than she ever expected about the family she thought she knew by heart. And she’ll realize that sometimes, trying to keep everything like it was in the past means missing out on the future.

Review:

Prior to reading Save the Date, I had never read a novel from Morgan Matson before.  I had always heard great things about her books though so when I was recently looking for a fun summer read and saw this book’s hilarious cover, I knew this was the book I had been looking for.  Everything about that cover just screams fun!  And let me tell you, this book seriously delivered too.  I devoured it in just over a day and was thoroughly entertained from start to finish.

Save the Date follows the Grant family and is set over the course of the three days leading up to daughter Linnie’s wedding.  And wow, what a three days it is!  Seriously, everything that can possibly go wrong with the wedding preparations goes wrong and then some.  The wedding hijinks had me literally laughing out loud and oh so grateful that my own wedding went so much more smoothly than poor Linnie’s.  In addition to the wedding chaos and its ensuing hilarity, however, Save the Date has a heartwarming focus on family that I adored even more than the humor.  The Grant family is what I would call perfectly imperfect and Matson does a beautiful job making each family member so loveable, flaws and all.  I was able to relate to each of them easily, especially Charlie, the youngest Grant.  It is from Charlie’s perspective that we watch the story unfold and it’s such an interesting perspective because she has always seen her family as picture perfect and practically worshipped the ground they all walked on.  Now that she’s older and watching her family reunite for Linnie’s wedding, she has to come to the somewhat painful realization that no one is perfect, not even the family that she idolizes.  It really makes her rethink her own identity and choices in life, and I loved that the novel had that coming of age theme included to really add some depth to the overall narrative.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced read that will make you laugh out loud but also shed a tear or two at a flawed but loving family coming together as a team when it counts, I’d highly recommend Morgan Matson’s Save the Date.  As I said, this is my first Morgan Matson read, but I can guarantee it won’t be my last!  4.5 STARS

 

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for SAVE THE DATE & NOT THE GIRLS YOU’RE LOOKING FORNot the Girls You're Looking For by Aminah Mae Safi
three-half-stars
Published by Feiwel & Friends on June 19, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Library
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Lulu Saad doesn't need your advice, thank you very much. She's got her three best friends and nothing can stop her from conquering the known world. Sure, for half a minute she thought she’d nearly drowned a cute guy at a party, but he was totally faking it. And fine, yes, she caused a scene during Ramadan. It's all under control. Ish.

Except maybe this time she’s done a little more damage than she realizes. And if Lulu can't find her way out of this mess soon, she'll have to do more than repair friendships, family alliances, and wet clothing. She'll have to go looking for herself.

Review:

I’m a complete sucker for books that center around female friendships, so as soon as I heard that Aminah Mae Safi’s Not the Girls You’re Looking For features Lulu Saad and her best girl friends, I knew I had to read it.  While I did love getting to know Lulu and her friends and watching them go through their ups and downs, I have to say that overall, this was just a good read for me, not a great one.

I thought the author did a brilliant job of accurately portraying the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to friendship dynamics.  I also liked that even though these girls clearly loved each other and would have each other’s backs no matter what, it’s definitely not all sunshine and roses for them.  Some of their fights really took me back to my own high school days and made me think back to my core group of friends back then and all of the ups and downs that we managed to make it through.  Safi perfectly captures all of those messy high school relationships that we’ve all experienced and it made the book so relatable (almost too relatable at times, lol).

Along similar lines, I was also a huge fan of the portrayal of Lulu’s family, both immediate and extended.  Lulu’s family on her father’s side is Muslim and I loved seeing that side of the family interact, both with each other and with Lulu’s mother, who is not Muslim.  The awkwardness is palpable as Lulu is caught in between and then gets herself into hot water when she disrespects one of her relatives.  I have a thing for messy family dynamics so Lulu’s family was a highlight for me.

So, what didn’t I like?  There were a few times in this book where it just felt like I was following Lulu around waiting and hoping for something exciting to happen.  Thankfully, exciting things eventually did start to happen, but for a few chapters there, my attention was starting to wander.  I was also a little disappointed because I found what I think was supposed to be a huge plot twist regarding Emma way too predictable.  I still loved the plot twist and her friends’ reactions to it; I just wish I hadn’t guessed it so early on.  All of that said, however, I still think this is a wonderful read, especially if you’re into realistic and sometimes messy portrayals of families and female friendships.  3.5 STARS

four-half-stars

About Aminah Mae Safi

Aminah Mae Safi is a Muslim-American writer who explores art, fiction, feminism, and film. She loves Sofia Coppola movies, Bollywood endings, and the Fast and Furious franchise. She’s the winner of the We Need Diverse Books short story contest. Originally raised in Texas, she now lives in Los Angeles, California, with her partner, a cat bent on world domination, and another cat who’s just here for the snacks. NOT THE GIRLS YOU’RE LOOKING FOR is her first novel.

About Morgan Matson

Morgan Matson was born in New York City and grew up there and in Greenwich, Connecticut. She attended Occidental College as a theater major, but halfway through, switched her focus to writing and never looked back. She received an MFA in Writing for Children from the New School, and then a second MFA in Screenwriting from USC.

She is the New York Times bestselling author of five books, all published by Simon & Schuster.

She currently lives in Los Angeles with her rescue terrier, Murphy, in a house with blue floors that’s overflowing with books.

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for A FEAST FOR CROWS & RUIN AND RISING

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for A FEAST FOR CROWS & RUIN AND RISINGA Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin
Also by this author: A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, #3)
three-half-stars
Series: A Song of Ice and Fire, #4
Published by Bantam Books on October 17, 2011
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Pages: 1061
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

With A Feast for Crows, Martin delivers the long-awaited fourth volume of the landmark series that has redefined imaginative fiction and stands as a modern masterpiece in the making.

After centuries of bitter strife, the seven powers dividing the land have beaten one another into an uneasy truce. But it's not long before the survivors, outlaws, renegades, and carrion eaters of the Seven Kingdoms gather. Now, as the human crows assemble over a banquet of ashes, daring new plots and dangerous new alliances are formed while surprising faces—some familiar, others only just appearing—emerge from an ominous twilight of past struggles and chaos to take up the challenges of the terrible times ahead. Nobles and commoners, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and sages, are coming together to stake their fortunes...and their lives. For at a feast for crows, many are the guests—but only a few are the survivors.

Review:

I always feel like I have accomplished something monumental every time I finish one of George R.R. Martin’s books and A Feast for Crows, the fourth book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, is no exception.  Every book in the series is challenging and a major time investment because of the intricate plots, detailed worldbuilding, and all of the machinations of those who are jockeying for position to seize control of the Iron Throne.  These are not light reads by any stretch of the imagination.

What makes A Feast for Crows so much more of a challenging read, however, is that several of the major players from the first three books are suddenly missing and their absence, at least for me anyway, poses a huge distraction. With each chapter that I finished, I kept turning the page expecting to see a chapter from Tyrion Lannister, Jon Snow, and Daenerys Targaryen.  I found their absence incredibly frustrating, especially since they are three of my favorite characters.  It was also frustrating because not only was I not getting three of my favorites, but now all of the sudden, four books into the series, I’m suddenly getting a whole slew of new narrators. While these new players are no doubt important to the overall series plot, they just weren’t who I wanted to read about, especially after the events of the third book.

A Feast for Crows also has a slightly different feel from the others in that there was a lot less action (i.e. favorite characters dying) and a lot more character development.  Brienne of Tarth’s chapters were probably my favorite because I’m just such a huge fan of her absolute determination to keep her oath to Catelyn Stark, even as her journey continues to take more and more dangerous turns and trying to fulfill that oath may end up costing Brienne her own life.  After Brienne, I’d have to say that Cersei Lannister’s chapters are a close second favorite. Even though she probably has the most uphill battle of all of those vying for the Iron Throne, she will stop at absolutely nothing to try to take it. Cersei possesses this unique combination where she comes across as utterly ruthless yet somehow still a bit vulnerable.  I love to hate her, but at the same time, I find myself cheering her on even as I ultimately want her to fail. Other favorites who appear in this book are Jaime Lannister, whose journey toward redemption continues, as well as the Stark sisters, Arya and Sansa, who each appear to be on journeys where they must give up their own identities, at least temporarily, in order to survive.

Even though A Feast for Crows is not my favorite book in the series, it’s still overall a solid read.  The brilliant character arcs of each of the characters I mentioned really does help to offset the frustration that the absence of Jon, Tyrion, and Daenerys creates.  They better be in the next book though, and the dragons too! 3.5 STARS

 

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for A FEAST FOR CROWS & RUIN AND RISINGRuin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo
Also by this author: Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1)
four-stars
Series: Shadow and Bone, #3
Published by Indigo on June 19, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Pages: 350
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

The capital has fallen.

The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.

Now the nation's fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova's amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling's secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.

Review:

I’m so excited to be able to say that, with my reading of Ruin and Rising, I have finally finished Leigh Bardugo’s  Grisha Trilogy!  The one thing I hate about trying to review series books is that it’s so hard to talk about the final book in a series without spoiling the entire rest of the series.  Because I really don’t want to spoil anything for those who have yet to visit the Grishaverse, I’m going to be both vague and brief in my remarks.

First and foremost, let me say that overall I found Ruin and Rising to be a very satisfying ending to the Grisha trilogy. Did I get everything I wanted?  No, not entirely, but I did get enough that I was content when I reached the last page and closed the book.  I think much of my contentment has to do with the fact that I was solely invested in Alina finding that third amplifier and defeating the Darkling to save Ravka.  I was not at all invested in any of the three romantic possibilities that presented themselves to her.  Since I usually loathe love triangles in any form, I actually consider it quite a testament to Bardugo’s storytelling abilities that I was able to fully enjoy the overall storyline without getting super annoyed by Alina’s attraction to Mal, the Darkling, and to Nikolai.  Normally something that like would have me wanting to fling the book across the room, lol.

I do have to admit that my love of the Darkling was completely obliterated in this final book.  He crossed enough lines this time around that there was just no redeeming himself in my mind.  The biggest draw for me in this third book, instead, was actually watching Alina, forever the underdog whether she’s a saint or not, regroup and come up with a new plan to take down the Darkling.  I loved watching her move so naturally into that leadership role, just as I also loved watching Alina and her team in their pursuit of that third amplifier, which was so desperately needed if she was going to have a chance of overpowering the Darkling.  And don’t even get me started on the huge plot twist involving the third amplifier. That totally blew my mind!

While I do wish that a few characters had gotten better endings (I’m looking at you, poor Nikolai), overall, I thought everything about the ending was quite fitting and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the series to anyone who enjoys reading fantasies and is looking for a quick and addictive read. 4 STARS

three-half-stars

About George R.R. Martin

George R.R. Martin was born September 20, 1948, in Bayonne, New Jersey. His father was Raymond Collins Martin, a longshoreman, and his mother was Margaret Brady Martin. He has two sisters, Darleen Martin Lapinski and Janet Martin Patten.

Martin attended Mary Jane Donohoe School and Marist High School. He began writing very young, selling monster stories to other neighborhood children for pennies, dramatic readings included. Later he became a comic book fan and collector in high school, and began to write fiction for comic fanzines (amateur fan magazines). Martin’s first professional sale was made in 1970 at age 21: “The Hero,” sold to Galaxy, published in February, 1971 issue. Other sales followed.

In 1970 Martin received a B.S. in Journalism from Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, graduating summa cum laude. He went on to complete a M.S. in Journalism in 1971, also from Northwestern.

As a conscientious objector, Martin did alternative service 1972-1974 with VISTA, attached to Cook County Legal Assistance Foundation. He also directed chess tournaments for the Continental Chess Association from 1973-1976, and was a Journalism instructor at Clarke College, Dubuque, Iowa, from 1976-1978. He wrote part-time throughout the 1970s while working as a VISTA Volunteer, chess director, and teacher.

In 1975 he married Gale Burnick. They divorced in 1979, with no children. Martin became a full-time writer in 1979. He was writer-in-residence at Clarke College from 1978-79.

Moving on to Hollywood, Martin signed on as a story editor for Twilight Zone at CBS Television in 1986. In 1987 Martin became an Executive Story Consultant for Beauty and the Beast at CBS. In 1988 he became a Producer for Beauty and the Beast, then in 1989 moved up to Co-Supervising Producer. He was Executive Producer for Doorways, a pilot which he wrote for Columbia Pictures Television, which was filmed during 1992-93.

Martin’s present home is Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is a member of Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (he was South-Central Regional Director 1977-1979, and Vice President 1996-1998), and of Writers’ Guild of America, West.

About Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo is the #1 New York Times bestselling and USA Today bestselling author of the Six of Crows Duology and the Grisha Trilogy (Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising), as well as the upcoming Wonder Woman: Warbringer (Aug 2017) and The Language of Thorns (Sept 2017).

She was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Los Angeles, and graduated from Yale University. These days, she lives and writes in Hollywood where she can occasionally be heard singing with her band.

She would be delighted if you followed her on Twitter, elated if you visited her web site, and fairly giddy if you liked her selfies on Instagram.

Review: CHARLOTTE WALSH LIKES TO WIN

Review:  CHARLOTTE WALSH LIKES TO WINCharlotte Walsh Likes To Win by Jo Piazza
three-half-stars
on July 24, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Jo Piazza’s Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win is a timely and relevant exploration of what it’s like for a woman to run for political office at the national level. I have to admit that I picked this book up in part because I still have very strong feelings about how the 2016 Presidential election turned out and was therefore very curious to see how a book about a woman running for office written after that election would portray the political climate in America.

Charlotte Walsh is the successful head of a technology firm in Silicon Valley. She decides that she wants to run for office and after talking to her husband, packs up her family and moves back home to Pennsylvania to run for Senate in her home state.  The novel follows Charlotte and her family from the moment she decides to run and hires a campaign manager, through every step of the way up through election night.  We crisscross Pennsylvania with Charlotte as she seeks supports from the state’s very diverse population and we sit in on strategy sessions as she and her team plan their next moves.

In that sense it’s a very political novel, but it’s also so much more than that.  While the primary focus of the book is definitely Charlotte’s campaign, her family and especially her marriage are also a huge focus.  The campaign trail takes a huge toll on families, not just because everything moves at such a grueling pace but also because everything in your life past and present is suddenly on display and up for grabs by the media, the opposition, etc.  If you have any skeletons whatsoever in your closet, no matter how well you think you’ve buried them, there’s always the chance they will come back to haunt you.  All of this makes campaigning stressful and requires a great deal of sacrifice, and anyone who runs for office has to decide how much they’re willing to sacrifice to achieve their ambition.  Part of Charlotte’s journey in this book revolves around how much she is willing to sacrifice to earn that Senate seat.

I liked Charlotte from the moment she is introduced.  Those who know my reviews know I love a good underdog, and who is more of an underdog than a woman with no experience in government running for office in hopes of unseating a Senator who has had held his Senate seat for decades?  While Charlotte has to fight tooth and nail for every percentage point she gains in the polls, her opponent can tell lie after lie, behave like a condescending jerk, and even go so far as to call Charlotte a c*nt on stage at a debate and not lose a single percent in the polls.  Charlotte was an easy character to root for in many ways not just because of what she was up against, but also because for me, she represents all of the women who have decided to run for office after what happened in 2016.  Through Charlotte, Piazza gives her readers a pretty accurate snapshot of what probably every female candidate running for office is going through.

In fact, my favorite part of Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win was how truly authentic Charlotte’s campaign for senate felt.  Piazza does a brilliant job of conveying both the sacrifice that a grueling campaign can take, both physically and emotionally, on not only the candidate but also on his or her entire family, as well as the double standard and hypocrisy that is ever present when a woman runs for office versus when a man runs for office.  From the moment Charlotte announces her candidacy, she has to start answering questions, basically justifying why she is running, why her life isn’t good enough as is without running for office, and even obnoxious trivial things like why she chooses to wear the shoes she does, the nail polish she does, etc.  She is hit with this endless barrage of ridiculous questions that no one would ever ask a male candidate.

There were times when I wanted to say that the questions were over the top, but just following Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the Presidency in 2016 was enough to tell me Piazza is spot on with how she portrays Charlotte’s campaign.  While every candidate who runs for office has their life scrutinized for anything that can be used against them, a female candidate’s life is truly placed under a microscope and it’s truly appalling to see what their opponents will use as weapons against them.  In Charlotte’s case, for example, her opponent actually has the gall to imply that she would be an ineffective senator because she is the mother of young children.  He actually states that she would neglect her duties as a senator every time one of her children has so much as a runny nose, as if being a mother is a detriment or handicap.  That hypocrisy and the double standard kept me fired up and turning the pages.  The more I read, the more infuriated I got, and the more I wanted to see Charlotte kick her opponent’s butt.

I wasn’t the biggest fan of the third person point of view used in this story.  I felt like it kept me from fully connecting with Charlotte. It’s probably something that wouldn’t bother many others, but I think this would have been at least a 4-star read for me easily if the story had been written from Charlotte’s point of view in first person.

I also would have preferred a more definitive ending.  I don’t want to spoil anything so I’m not going to say much more here other than there were a few loose ends I wanted tied up that were left wide open.

Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win is a powerful read that explores themes of politics, inequality, marriage, and infidelity.  Charlotte and her family’s journey is one that should be relevant and engaging for all readers, especially women, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

From Jo Piazza, the bestselling author of The Knock OffHow to Be Married, and Fitness Junkie, comes an exciting, insightful novel about what happens when a woman wants it all—political power, a happy marriage, and happiness—but isn’t sure just how much she’s willing to sacrifice to get it.

Charlotte Walsh is running for Senate in the most important race in the country during a midterm election that will decide the balance of power in Congress. Still reeling from a presidential election that shocked and divided the country and inspired by the chance to make a difference, she’s left behind her high-powered job in Silicon Valley and returned, with her husband Max and their three young daughters, to her downtrodden Pennsylvania hometown to run in the Rust Belt state.

Once the campaign gets underway, Charlotte is blindsided by just how dirty her opponent is willing to fight, how harshly she is judged by the press and her peers, and how exhausting it becomes to navigate a marriage with an increasingly ambivalent and often resentful husband. When the opposition uncovers a secret that could threaten not just her campaign but everything Charlotte holds dear, she has to decide just how badly she wants to win and at what cost.

A searing, suspenseful story of political ambition, marriage, class, sexual politics, and infidelity, Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win is an insightful portrait of what it takes for a woman to run for national office in America today. In a dramatic political moment like no other with more women running for office than ever before, Jo Piazza’s novel is timely, engrossing, and perfect for readers on both sides of the aisle.

 

 

three-half-stars

About Jo Piazza

Jo Piazza is an award-winning journalist, editor, digital content strategist and author.

Her latest book, How to be Married will be released by Penguin Random House in April 2017.

Her novel, The Knockoff, became an instant international bestseller in May 2015 and has been translated into 13 languages.

She has written and reported for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Daily News, the New York Times, New York, Glamour, CNN, Elle, Marie Claire and Slate.

Jo regularly appears as a commentator on NPR, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC.

Her nonfiction book about progressive American nuns, If Nuns Ruled the World, was released to critical acclaim in September of 2014. The New York Times columnist Nick Kristof wrote about it in the Sunday Times: “In an age of villainy, war and inequality, it makes sense that we need superheroes. And after trying Superman, Batman and Spider-Man, we may have found the best superheroes yet: Nuns.”

Jo lives in San Francisco with her giant dog and her husband.

Review: NOT THAT I COULD TELL by Jessica Strawser

Review:  NOT THAT I COULD TELL by Jessica StrawserNot That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser
four-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on March 27, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Jessica Strawser’s latest novel Not That I Could Tell is a riveting mystery that will have you looking at your neighbors and wondering how well you really know them.  The story is set in a quiet, little neighborhood in a small town in Ohio, one of those towns where everyone thinks they know everything about everyone.  A group of women who live on the same street decide they need a girls’ night so neighbor Clara takes the lead and offers to host a bonfire at her house one Saturday night.  The moms in the group test their baby monitors and realize with glee that their monitors will work from Clara’s yard, so the party is a go.  It’s a relaxing, casual affair, just good friends, wine, and a little gossip. Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary is said or done, but by Monday morning, one of the women, a mother named Kristin, along with her two young children, has gone missing.

None of the women who were at the party that night can make any sense out of Kristin’s disappearance. As far as any of them can remember, she didn’t say anything out of the ordinary at the party and didn’t mention anything about traveling.  The police are investigating the disappearance but they just seem to be going in circles, turning up more questions than they are answers.  And then there’s Kristin’s soon-to-be ex-husband, who has all but moved back into their house.  He claims that he just wants to be there in case they come back, but things just don’t quite seem to add up.

Did Kristin take a trip and just forget to tell anyone?  Did something happen to make Kristin pack up her children and flee?  Or is something even more sinister afoot?  Is Kristin’s ex somehow involved?  Or are Kristin’s friends just reading way too much into things?  Did they not know their friend as well as they thought they did?

There’s so much to like about Not That I Could Tell, but I think my favorite thing about it is that it’s a story about so much more than just Kristin’s disappearance.  Yes, it’s about that and in that sense, it’s a completely engrossing mystery, but at the same time, it just has so many more layers to it than just a straight forward mystery.

It’s also a story about the women in Kristin’s neighborhood, particularly stay-at-home mom Clara and neighborhood newcomer Izzy.  Kristin’s disappearance triggers painful memories for both of them and the story also follows how they deal with the emotional fallout.  For Clara, it triggers memories of a tragic event involving a friend who was a victim of domestic violence.  This leads her to immediately suspect Kristin’s ex of foul play because she can’t seem to separate what happened to her friend from what may or may not have happened to Kristin.  For Izzy, who has moved to the neighborhood in an attempt to escape the heartbreak of an unrequited love, Kristin’s disappearance serves as a distraction but also as a reminder that you can’t always outrun your problems and sometimes you have to just face them head on.  Unlike Clara, Izzy tries to be more open minded when it comes to Kristin’s ex since she knows what it’s like to love someone who no longer loves you back. Izzy even starts to befriend Kristin’s ex because she feels sorry for him, which really gets Clara fired up and leads to many tense moments between them as they continue to wait for news about Kristin from the police.

The author keeps all three of these women front and center by having the story unfold from each of their perspectives in alternating chapters.  We got to watch bits and pieces of the investigation into Kristin’s disappearance come together, while simultaneously watching Izzy and Clara as they work through those emotional issues that Kristin’s disappearance has dredged up for them. Kristin’s chapters are actually the most powerful – they are concise and emotionally raw – slowly but surely painting a painful journey that takes us up to the moment of her disappearance. Kristin’s chapters were also the ones that most effectively built up suspense as they seem to indicate more and more along the way that her life was much more troubled than she ever let her friends know.

I also loved how the author really delved into the psyches of each of these women while, at the same time, advancing the storyline of such an intricate mystery.  Her characterizations are so rich and so realistic – I found both Clara and Izzy to be so relatable.  They could easily be any of my own neighbors and so I found myself very sympathetic to what they were going through.

It took me a few chapters to really get into the rhythm of this story, but once I got going, I was really hooked.

Not That I Could Tell is a gripping and suspenseful read that had me turning the pages well into the night because I so desperately wanted to know what had happened to Kristin.  It’s a domestic drama written in the vein of books like Big Little Lies and TV shows like Desperate Housewives, so if you’re a fan of either of those, I’d definitely recommend this book to you.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

When a group of neighborhood women gathers, wine in hand, around a fire pit where their backyards meet one Saturday night, most of them are just ecstatic to have discovered that their baby monitors reach that far. It’s a rare kid-free night, and they’re giddy with it. They drink too much, and the conversation turns personal.

By Monday morning, one of them is gone.

Everyone knows something about everyone else in the quirky small Ohio town of Yellow Springs, but no one can make sense of the disappearance. Kristin was a sociable twin mom, college administrator, and doctor’s wife who didn’t seem all that bothered by her impending divorce—and the investigation turns up more questions than answers, with her husband, Paul, at the center. For her closest neighbor, Clara, the incident triggers memories she thought she’d put behind her—and when she’s unable to extract herself from the widening circle of scrutiny, her own suspicions quickly grow. But the neighborhood’s newest addition, Izzy, is determined not to jump to any conclusions—especially since she’s dealing with a crisis of her own.

As the police investigation goes from a media circus to a cold case, the neighbors are forced to reexamine what’s going on behind their own closed doors—and to ask how well anyone really knows anyone else.

four-stars

Review: THE LAST TIME I LIED by Riley Sager

Review:  THE LAST TIME I LIED by Riley SagerThe Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager
Also by this author: Final Girls
four-half-stars
Published by Dutton Books on July 3, 2018
Genres: Thriller, Mystery, Fiction
Pages: 370
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 

 

 
 
 
 

MY REVIEW:

 
Last year I read and loved Riley Sager’s suspenseful thriller, Final Girls, so when I heard he had a new book coming out this summer, The Last Time I Lied, I couldn’t get my hands on it fast enough.  I got my hands on a copy and sat down one evening to read what I thought would be just a few chapters before bedtime, but instead, ended up being about half the book.  I remember the same exact thing happened to me when I read Final Girls.  There is just something so addicting about Sager’s writing – he draws you into his tale so thoroughly that you just can’t even come up for air until you’ve followed every plot twist and devoured every clue.

Like Final Girls and other thrillers, The Last Time I Lied is one of those books that I think is best to go into knowing as little as possible, but what I definitely want to share with you are some reasons why I think you’re going to want to read this book.

 

4 REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD ADD THE LAST TIME I LIED TO YOUR READING LIST:

 

  1. Complicated Protagonist. If you like your characters complex, Emma Davis is your girl. Emma, an up and coming artist in New York, attended Camp Nightingale when she was 13 years old. When the older three girls in Emma’s cabin decide to sneak out in the middle of the night, they leave Emma behind, telling her she’s too young to come with them.  That was the last time anyone saw the girls.

Fifteen years later, Emma is still haunted by their disappearance so much so that she includes the girls in each of her paintings, burying them beneath layers and layers of paints so that only she knows they’re there.  She realizes that she can’t continue like this forever, that it’s becoming an unhealthy obsession. When the opportunity to return to Camp Nightingale unexpectedly presents itself, Emma decides that she needs to go.  If she can figure out what happened to the girls, maybe after all of these years she can finally get some closure and move on…

What makes Emma so complex is that even though I felt tremendous sympathy for what she must have gone through as a 13 year old when those girls went missing and for what she has continued to go through as an adult, I still sometimes got the vibe that she wasn’t being completely honest, that she was keeping secrets.  I found myself skeptical of her version of events, which had me turning the pages even faster, because I wanted to know if I could trust her or not.  Not knowing if I could trust Emma or not really added to the overall suspense of the novel.

  1. Creepy Camp Setting. This is such an atmospheric read.  Sager does a phenomenal job of creating the eeriest girls’ summer camp ever.  Everything about the setting has a real horror movie vibe. The unsolved mystery of what happened to those girls casts a huge shadow over the camp and creates tension and suspense around every corner.  Even though it has been fifteen years, it still feels like something could happen to anyone at anytime.  The land the camp is built on is also the subject of legends and folklore that will make your hair stand on end and wonder if something supernatural is afoot on Camp Nightingale’s  lands.
  1. Dual Timeline.   The Last Time I Lied is presented to the readers in a dual timeline format.  Emma is the narrator in both timelines, the present day one and the one from fifteen years ago.  The modern day timeline follows Emma as she returns to the camp and plays amateur sleuth, trying to see if she can solve the mystery that alluded police detectives all those years ago.  The other timeline follows Emma while she was a young camper at Camp Nightingale. It follows her from her arrival at the camp up through the disappearance of her cabin mates and the ensuing investigation.  Sager does a brilliant job of weaving together these two intricate storylines, revealing key details in the modern timeline and then revisiting the past and showing why exactly the details we’ve just seen are relevant.  I found the story all the more compelling watching the details unfold in this manner.
  1. Web of Secrets and Lies. If you enjoy a mystery that is filled with plot twists that keep you guessing, The Last Time I Lied should be a book after your own heart.  There are so many secrets and lies swirling around throughout the novel that it gets very difficult to know who can be trusted, if anyone, and the lies just further the suspense and add intricate layers to the plot twists.  A popular game the girls played at the camp is Two Truths and a Lie, and the more I read, the more appropriate the game seemed because this is a book filled with people who cannot be trusted.

I especially enjoyed the detective story aspect of the novel as we follow Emma playing detective, trying to uncover some of those secrets and lies and piece together what happened to the girls fifteen years ago.  Emma even requests to stay in the same cabin she stayed in all those years ago in hopes of uncovering some clues that were overlooked that could possibly lead her to the truth of what happened to her friends.   In many ways, the story reads like a modern day Nancy Drew novel.

 

MY FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE LAST TIME I LIED:

 

As much as I enjoyed Riley Sager’s Final Girls, I actually enjoyed The Last Time I Lied so much more.  Maybe it’s the timing – reading a book about a creepy summer camp in the middle of the summer – or maybe it’s just Sager’s superior storytelling abilities, but whatever the reason, this is one of my favorite reads of the year so far.  It kept me on the edge of my seat from start to finish, which is all that I could possibly want from a thriller, so I definitely look forward to reading more from Riley Sager.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Two Truths and a Lie. The girls played it all the time in their tiny cabin at Camp Nightingale. Vivian, Natalie, Allison, and first-time camper Emma Davis, the youngest of the group. The games ended when Emma sleepily watched the others sneak out of the cabin in the dead of night. The last she–or anyone–saw of them was Vivian closing the cabin door behind her, hushing Emma with a finger pressed to her lips.

Now a rising star in the New York art scene, Emma turns her past into paintings–massive canvases filled with dark leaves and gnarled branches that cover ghostly shapes in white dresses. The paintings catch the attention of Francesca Harris-White, the socialite and wealthy owner of Camp Nightingale. When Francesca implores her to return to the newly reopened camp as a painting instructor, Emma sees an opportunity to try to find out what really happened to her friends.

Yet it’s immediately clear that all is not right at Camp Nightingale. Already haunted by memories from fifteen years ago, Emma discovers a security camera pointed directly at her cabin, mounting mistrust from Francesca and, most disturbing of all, cryptic clues Vivian left behind about the camp’s twisted origins. As she digs deeper, Emma finds herself sorting through lies from the past while facing threats from both man and nature in the present.

And the closer she gets to the truth about Camp Nightingale, the more she realizes it may come at a deadly price.

four-half-stars

About Riley Sager

Riley Sager is the pseudonym of a former journalist, editor and graphic designer who previously published mysteries under his real name.

Now a full-time author, Riley’s first thriller, FINAL GIRLS, became a national and international bestseller and was called “the first great thriller of 2017” by Stephen King. Translation rights have been sold in more than two dozen countries and a film version is being developed by Universal Pictures.

Riley’s next book, THE LAST TIME I LIED, will be published in July. It was inspired by the classic novel and film “Picnic at Hanging Rock” and one horrible week Riley spent at summer camp when he was ten.

A native of Pennsylvania, Riley now lives in Princeton, New Jersey. When he’s not working on his next novel, he enjoys reading, cooking and going to the movies as much as possible. His favorite film is “Rear Window.” Or maybe “Jaws.” But probably, if he’s being honest, “Mary Poppins.”