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
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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
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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:

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
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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:

 
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.”

Review: LETTING GO OF GRAVITY by Meg Leder

Review:  LETTING GO OF GRAVITY by Meg LederLetting Go of Gravity by Meg Leder
four-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on July 17, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 432
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:

Meg Leder’s Letting Go of Gravity is a beautiful, emotionally engaging story about a young woman named Parker and her twin brother, Charlie.  When the novel opens, Parker, as Class Valedictorian, is giving a speech at her graduation.  Parker has been wildly successful in her academic life – making straight As, achieving perfect scores on her SATs, getting accepted to Harvard where she plans to study to become a doctor, and landing herself a spot at a very competitive internship at the local children’s hospital.  Charlie, on the other hand, even though he’s Parker’s twin, is not graduating.  Instead, he is being held back because he missed too much time from school.  Why?  Because Charlie has been battling cancer.  He was diagnosed with it for the first time when he was in fourth grade, went into remission, only to have it return the summer before his senior year.

Parker is obsessed with making sure her twin is safe.  She watches over him like a hawk, reporting back to her parents anytime she fears Charlie might be doing something that will cause another relapse.  While Charlie understands where his sister is coming from, ultimately he can’t stand being around her because she makes him feel like he’s a caged animal with no freedom to do anything he wants to do.  Needless to say, their relationship is quite strained and Parker begins to wonder if things will ever be normal between them again…

 

I really loved Parker.  I thought she was just such a sweetheart and even though it drives Charlie crazy, I loved how devoted Parker is to him.  I have a sister, and she’s not even a twin, but I feel that level of fierce protectiveness for her that Parker has for Charlie.  Parker has devoted most of her life to watching over Charlie, so much so that he’s actually the main reason she’s planning to study pre-med at Harvard.  She wants to be a pediatric oncologist, specifically because of what has happened to Charlie.  Her parents are giddy about her decision, with her dad already starting to call her Dr. McCullough.  Parker, however, has been experiencing anxiety every time she thinks about going to Harvard in the fall, and when she arrives at the hospital to begin her internship, she has a full on panic attack and has to leave.  At this moment, Parker begins to seriously question if this is what she really wants.

The story is told from Parker’s perspective and this was fantastic too because the author does an incredible job of portraying all of the conflicting emotions that were at war in Parker’s head.  While Charlie may feel like a caged animal because everyone watches him like a hawk, Parker starts to feel equally caged in by her fears – fear of failure, fear of disappointing her loved ones, and of course, fear of losing her loved ones.  Being inside of Parker’s head was kind of a messy place to be because she has so much going on in there, but everything she’s thinking, feeling, and fearing just felt so realistic.

The relationships in Letting Go of Gravity were beautifully written as well. The very complex and strained sibling relationship between Parker and Charlie was my favorite, but I also loved the friendships.  Parker has three incredible friends, Finn, Em and Ruby, and they are as devoted to Parker as Parker is to Charlie.  Their support is unwavering but they are also all there to give Parker a kick in the pants when she really needs it.  There are also a couple of potential romances that come out of these friendships, but the author does a wonderful job of weaving those in gently so that they don’t get in the way of what I would say is more of a coming of age story than anything else as these friends give Parker the love and support she needs to figure out who she is and what she really wants out of life.

Lastly, this story is just packed with moving, relatable, and relevant themes, which is something that always makes a contemporary novel appealing to me.  This novel tackles how cancer and other serious illnesses impact, not just the patient, but also the entire family – the fear that comes when faced with the possibility of losing someone you love, the sacrifices you’re willing to make to do everything in your power to keep that from happening, and so on.  Letting Go of Gravity also explores anxiety and the pressure of putting too much on yourself, especially if you’re doing it for the wrong reasons, but really, even if you think you’re doing it for the right reasons.  As the title implies, sometimes you just have to let go of what is weighing you down.

 

The only real issue I had with Letting Go of Gravity was that I found some of it to be a little too predictable.  I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to spoil anything for other readers, but I guessed almost immediately how things were going to go for Parker.  I can’t say that it really lessened my enjoyment of the overall story, but I always prefer it when plot twists actually surprise me.

 

Letting Go of Gravity is a beautiful and moving book.  I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to fans of John Green, Jennifer Niven, and Brigid Kemmerer.  If you like emotional books that feature sibling relationships and great friendships, and that might make you shed a tear or two, give Letting Go of Gravity a try.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Twins Parker and Charlie are polar opposites.  Where Charlie is fearless, Parker is careful.  Charlie is confident while Parker aims to please.  Charlie is outgoing and outspoken; Parker is introverted and reserved.  And of course, there’s the one other major difference: Charlie got leukemia. Parker didn’t.

But now that Charlie is officially in remission, life couldn’t be going better for Parker. She’s landed a prestigious summer internship at the hospital and is headed to Harvard in the fall to study pediatric oncology—which is why the anxiety she’s felt since her Harvard acceptance is so unsettling. And it doesn’t help that her relationship with Charlie has been on the rocks since his diagnosis.

Enter Finn, a boy who’s been leaving strange graffiti messages all over town. Parker can’t stop thinking about those messages, or about Finn, who makes her feel free for the first time: free to doubt, free to make mistakes, and free to confront the truth that Parker has been hiding from for a long time.

That she keeps trying to save Charlie, when the person who really needs saving is herself.

four-stars

Review: ALL WE EVER WANTED by Emily Giffin

Review:  ALL WE EVER WANTED by Emily GiffinAll We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin
four-stars
Published by Ballantine Books on June 26, 2018
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 400
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:

Emily Giffin’s new novel All We Ever Wanted is an emotionally charged drama that deals with the wide ranging fallout from a party gone wrong.  The story follows Lyla Volpe, a young woman, who through hard work and good grades, has earned herself a spot at the prestigious Windsor Academy.  Because her family is not wealthy like most of the other families who have kids there, Lyla often feels she doesn’t quite fit in  Overall, she’s happy but does wish that she fit in better socially with her classmates. When the opportunity to attend a big party where the boy she has a crush on is sure to be, Lyla is immediately on board.  Things go south at the party though, when after having too much to drink, Lyla passes out on someone’s bed and a sexually explicit photo is taken of her, and along with a completely racist caption, is passed around on social media.

Finch Browning, who is actually the boy Lyla had a crush on, is the one who is accused of taking the photo, putting the racist caption on it, and sharing it with his friends.  When Finch’s parents find out, they are understandably upset, although for very different reasons.  Finch’s dad is worried that Finch’s acceptance to Princeton will be revoked if this incident goes on his school record, while Finch’s mother is appalled because what does it say about her as a parent if Finch really did do this and has so little respect for women.  Add Lyla’s father, Tom, into the mix, who would probably really just like to murder Finch for messing with his little girl, or at minimum, get him kicked out of school, and you have a recipe for contentious encounters and a highly emotional and dramatic read.

What I enjoyed most about All We Ever Wanted is how realistic and relatable the overall plot of the story is.  In this day and age of social media obsession, what happens to Lyla is pretty much every parent’s nightmare, whether you’re the parent of the girl in the photo or the parent of the boy who is accused of taking the photo and sharing it with all of his buddies.  I could easily see what happened with these students happening at pretty much any party in any community.

Not only was the situation itself realistically portrayed and relatable, but the characters were drawn equally realistically as well, especially Tom and Nina.  As a parent myself, I thought that every parent involved reacted as I expected they would.  Lyla’s father wants to protect his daughter at all costs and make those responsible for humiliating her pay, while Finch’s mother, although she of course loves her son and wants to protect him, knows that he also needs to face the consequences for his actions.  The reactions were dramatic and often messy, but they manage to be that way without falling into the melodramatic, soap opera category, mainly because it was just so easy to understand where each of them were coming from with their reactions. I felt the same about Lyla, who is torn between wanting to make someone pay and wanting to just forget that it even happened and move on with her life.

I also found All We Ever Wanted to be a powerful read in the sense that in addition to exploring all of the fallout from the actual incident at the party, it also exposes and explores a lot of other important and sometimes ugly issues: racism and prejudice, slut shaming and victim blaming, white privilege, and elitism. It even exposes those ugly people that we all know who thrive on other people’s problems because those problems make for good gossip.

Although I think the story would have been engaging no matter how it was presented to the reader, I really liked that Giffin has the story unfold from the perspective of three narrators: Lyla; her father, Tom; and Finch’s mom, Nina.  I felt like this approach added so many layers to the story that we might otherwise not have gotten if the story had come from – say, Finch—instead.  This way, we don’t hear from Finch so whether or not he actually did take the photo remains a mystery for much of the book. Instead, however, we are presented with some backstory of each of the other main characters, which further fleshes out their motivations for why they act the way they do upon learning about the photo incident.  The incident dredges up a lot of painful experiences from the past and causes both Nina and Tom to really start to question themselves, past choices they’ve made, and whether the lives they are currently living are even what they want anymore.  So, in this sense, the story is so much more than just the incident at the party and whether or not someone is going to be punished for it.

My only dislike, and I’m pretty sure we’re meant to dislike him, is Finch’s father.  He was arrogant, obnoxious, and although I did appreciate that he didn’t want to see his son’s future destroyed by a single lapse in judgment, I still found it appalling that he thought he could just throw money at a problem and make it go away.  He had no interest whatsoever in imposing any kind of real punishment on his son to teach him a lesson and he had equally no concern for Lyla who was the real victim in the whole incident.  He was just a horrible person and I felt my blood pressure rise every time he appeared in the book.

This was my first time reading one of Emily Giffin’s novels and I have to say it was just overall a very enjoyable read.  Giffin’s effortless writing style, along with such relatable characters and scenarios, made me breeze right through the story eager to find out how all of the characters would fare in the end.  I look forward to going back and trying some of Giffin’s earlier novels now that I’ve gotten my first taste of them.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

In the riveting new novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of First Comes Love and Something Borrowed, three very different people must choose between their family and their values.

Nina Browning is living the good life after marrying into Nashville’s elite. More recently, her husband made a fortune selling his tech business, and their adored son has been accepted to Princeton. Yet sometimes the middle-class small-town girl in Nina wonders if she’s strayed from the person she once was.

Tom Volpe is a single dad working multiple jobs while struggling to raise his headstrong daughter, Lyla. His road has been lonely, long, and hard, but he finally starts to relax after Lyla earns a scholarship to Windsor Academy, Nashville’s most prestigious private school.

Amid so much wealth and privilege, Lyla doesn’t always fit in—and her overprotective father doesn’t help—but in most ways, she’s a typical teenage girl, happy and thriving.

Then, one photograph, snapped in a drunken moment at a party, changes everything. As the image spreads like wildfire, the Windsor community is instantly polarized, buzzing with controversy and assigning blame.

At the heart of the lies and scandal, Tom, Nina, and Lyla are forced together—all questioning their closest relationships, asking themselves who they really are, and searching for the courage to live a life of true meaning.

four-stars

About Emily Giffin

Emily Giffin, a Chicago native, graduated summa cum laude from Wake Forest University and the University of Virginia School of Law. After law school, she moved to Manhattan and practiced litigation at a large firm for several years while she paid back her school loans, wrote a novel in her very limited spare time, and dreamed of becoming a writer.

Despite the rejection of her first manuscript, Giffin persisted, retiring from the legal profession and moving to London to pursue her dreams full time. It was there that she began writing Something Borrowed (2004), a story of a young woman who, upon turning thirty, finally learned to take a risk and follow her heart. One year later, Giffin’s own gamble paid off, as she completed her manuscript, landed an agent and signed a two-book deal on both sides of the Atlantic. The following summer, Something Borrowed, hailed as a “heartbreakingly honest debut” with “dead-on dialogue, real-life complexity and genuine warmth,” became a surprise sensation, and Giffin vowed never to practice law again.

Dubbed a “modern day Jane Austen” (Vanity Fair) and a “dependably down-to-earth storyteller” (New York Times), Giffin has since penned six more New York Times bestsellers, Something Blue (2005), Baby Proof (2006), Love the One You’re With (2008), Heart of the Matter (2010), Where We Belong (2012), The One & Only (2014) and First Comes Love (2016). Her eight novels, all filled with endearingly flawed characters and emotional complexity, have resonated deeply with both critics and readers around the world, achieving bestseller status in a number of countries, including the United States (#1), Canada (#1), United Kingdom, France, Brazil and Poland (#1). The books have been translated into thirty-one languages, with over eleven million copies sold worldwide. In addition, five of her novels have been optioned for the big screen and are in various stages of development. The first, Something Borrowed, hit theaters in May 2011, starring Kate Hudson, Ginnifer Goodwin and John Krasinski.

Giffin now resides with her husband and three young children in Atlanta. Her ninth novel, All We Ever Wanted, will be released on June 26, 2018.

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for A MAN CALLED OVE & A BOY MADE OF BLOCKS

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for A MAN CALLED OVE & A BOY MADE OF BLOCKSA Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, Henning Koch
four-stars
Published by Atria Books on July 15, 2014
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 337
Source: Purchased
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

A grumpy yet loveable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door.

Meet Ove. He's a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn't walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove's mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents' association to their very foundations.

Review:

Fredrick Backman’s A Man Called Ove follows the story of, you guessed it, a man by the name of Ove.  Ove is the quintessential grumpy old man in pretty much every way.  I actually couldn’t stand him for the first few chapters of the book.  He’s set in his ways, incredibly opinionated, and can be downright mean and rude at times.  What we also learn about him early on, however, is there’s a lot more going on with Ove than just your average grumpiness.  Ove is suffering from depression and having thoughts of suicide because his beloved wife has passed away and he’s just completely lost without her.  I felt much more sympathetic to Ove after learning this news and found myself wanting to know more about him.

My favorite part of the story therefore is how the author presents us with such a complete portrait of Ove. In addition to chapters that take us through Ove’s present circumstances, the author also includes chapters that feature life-shaping events from Ove’s past.  The more I learned about Ove, both past and present, the more lovable I found him.  I especially enjoyed the chapters that focused on how Ove met his wife.  This grumpy old man was actually downright adorable as he awkwardly pursued the girl of his dreams.

The secondary characters also added a lot of depth to the story.  The author does a wonderful job fleshing them out and making them feel like people you might actually run into in your own neighborhood. I was an especially big fan of Ove’s new neighbors.  They’re loud, kind of obnoxious, and basically introduce themselves to Ove by nearly mowing his house over with their moving trailer.  This family, especially the wife and her two daughters, are determined to make Ove an extended part of their family, whether he likes it or not, and they are always inserting themselves into his days, shaking up his entire routine.  They bring a lot of comedy and a lot of heart to the story, and they also bring their own brand of chaos to Ove’s way too orderly existence and I loved every minute of it!

If you want an utterly charming read that focuses on family, unexpected friendships, and the evolution of a grumpy old man into a not-quite-so-grumpy old man, then definitely give A Man Called Ove a try.  The humor and sarcasm is sure to make you laugh, and the overriding heartfelt message of compassion will bring a tear to your eyes.  4 STARS

 

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for A MAN CALLED OVE & A BOY MADE OF BLOCKSA Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart
four-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on September 6, 2016
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Netgalley
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Meet thirtysomething dad, Alex

He loves his wife Jody, but has forgotten how to show it. He loves his son Sam, but doesn't understand him. Something has to change. And he needs to start with himself.

Meet eight-year-old Sam. Beautiful, surprising, autistic. To him the world is a puzzle he can't solve on his own.

When Sam starts to play Minecraft, it opens up a place where Alex and Sam begin to rediscover both themselves and each other . . . When life starts to tear one family apart, can they put themselves back together, one piece at a time?

A Boy Made of Blocks is a beautiful, funny and heartwarming story of family and love inspired by the author's own experiences with his son.

Review:

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I first started reading A Boy Made of Blocks, but what I got was a beautiful, heartfelt story of Alex Rowe, a man who has somehow taken a wrong turn in life and lost his connection to both his wife and their 8-year old autistic son, Sam.  The novel follows Alex’s journey as he is determined to figure out where he went wrong and how he can turn things around so that he can get his family and his life back.

I have to admit that it did take me a while to warm up to Alex.  I couldn’t understand how he couldn’t see what he was doing wrong, that he was either treating everything to do with Sam as a chore or even worse, was ignoring it all together, saying that he was busy at work, and leaving the brunt of raising Sam on his wife.  I kind of wanted to throttle him and tell him to grow up and stop being so selfish.  The more I got to know Alex, however, the more I realized how much he truly did love his son and that he just needed to find a way to connect with him on a real level so that everything else would sort its way out.  And even though I was initially annoyed at Alex for having gotten himself into such a self-inflicted mess with his family in the first place, I grew to admire his effort and determination to right his wrong.  No matter how many missteps and wrong moves he makes, he never gives up on trying to reconnect with Sam.

I thought the author did an especially beautiful job of portraying the vulnerability of a child who has autism, the strain that trying to raise such a child can put on a marriage, and the overall determination of parents to do whatever it takes to make sure their child feels safe and secure and has every opportunity to live a happy and successful life.  Sam was also absolutely precious and I was moved to tears watching his own emotional growth as he and his Dad begin to reconnect in a meaningful way.

A Boy Made of Blocks was an emotional and moving read for me.  I think my favorite quote from the book best sums it up:  “Life is an adventure, not a walk.  That’s why it’s difficult.”  Alex and Sam’s adventure is one you won’t want to miss.  4 STARS

FTC Disclosure: I received A Boy Made of Blocks 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.

four-stars

About Fredrik Backman

Fredrik Backman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove (soon to be a major motion picture starring Tom Hanks), My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Britt-Marie Was Here, Beartown, Us Against You, as well as two novellas, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer and The Deal of a Lifetime. His books are published in more than forty countries. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with his wife and two children.

About Keith Stuart

Keith Stuart is an author and journalist. His heartwarming debut novel, A Boy Made of Blocks, was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick and a major bestseller, and was inspired by Keith’s real-life relationship with his autistic son. Keith has written for publications including Empire, Red and Esquire, and is the former games editor of the Guardian. He lives with his wife and two sons in Frome, Somerset.

Review: A STUDY IN TREASON

Review:  A STUDY IN TREASONA Study in Treason by Leonard Goldberg
three-half-stars
Series: The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes Mystery #2
Published by Minotaur Books on June 12, 2018
Genres: Mystery, Historical 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:

Leonard Goldberg’s A Study in Treason is the second book in the popular series, The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes Mysteries.  These books feature Joanna Blalock, daughter of Sherlock Holmes, and her husband, John Watson, Jr., who is (you guessed it), the son of Holmes’ sidekick, Dr. John Watson, Sr. as they follow in their parents’ footsteps and solve mysteries that are so tough they stump both local law enforcement and the finest detectives at Scotland Yard. I’ve always been a fan of the original Sherlock Holmes mysteries so I thought this would be a fun read

In this second book in the series, there is an imminent threat of war (WWI) and England and France have entered into a secret treaty that details strategies on how they will work together to defeat Germany if they actually do go to war.  The treaty is sent to the country estate of Lord Halifax so that copies of it can be produced, and even though the document is kept under lock and key and the room it is stored in is guarded at all times, somehow the document is still stolen. The local police and Scotland Yard are called in immediately, but when they can’t determine how the document was stolen from a locked and guarded room, Joanna and the Watsons are called in to lend their assistance.

 

My favorite part about A Study in Treason was actually the mystery itself.  It’s a cleverly crafted locked door mystery, filled with plenty of suspense and twists and turns that kept me guessing as to who the culprit was and how they did it, all the way to the very end.

I also loved the feeling of nostalgia that I got while reading because Goldberg does such a fine job of writing the story in the style of the original Sherlock mysteries and in capturing the atmosphere of pre-WWI England.  In that sense, I think this series makes for a great complement to the original series.  It was like meeting up with an old friend after many years.

Speaking of meeting up with old friends after many years, I also really loved seeing Dr. Watson again.  Sherlock has unfortunately passed away by the time this story is set, but Watson is still with us and it just warmed my heart to see him and especially to see how wonderful his relationship with his son is.

I also liked Joanna, well most of the time anyway. She’s quite the feminist and doesn’t put up with anyone treating her as less than capable because of her gender.  She is also truly a chip off the old block, both in terms of her personality and her investigative skills. She’s like Sherlock in a dress and is quite a fun character to follow around, as many of her mannerisms even mimic dear old dad’s.

 

As much as I liked Joanna, I unfortunately also had some issues with her as well.  Some of the clues Joanna found while investigating seemed like clues that any trained member of law enforcement should have also been able to locate.  In that sense it almost felt like other characters were being “dumbed down” to make Joanna appear more superior.

I also wasn’t a big fan of the way she would micro-manage everyone around her as if they were dimwits who couldn’t think for themselves at all.  There was one scene in particular where she wants her husband John to observe what one of their suspects is doing, but to do so without being seen.  She actually instructs him to hold his hand up next to his face to shield his face from view, as if he doesn’t have enough common sense on his own to figure out how not to be recognized.  She speaks in a similarly condescending tone to Dr. Watson at times, as if he’s a child, and I found it annoying.  Then, if they did something well or came up with an idea on their own, she would praise them as if they were pets.  I half expected her to reward them with treats every time they did something that pleased her.  That same arrogance used to occasionally annoy me about Sherlock, so I guess it’s not surprising that it annoys me with his daughter as well, lol.

 

Overall, I found A Study in Treason to be an entertaining read. If you’re a fan of Sherlock Holmes or even just a fan of mysteries, in particular, locked door mysteries, I’d definitely say to give it a try.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A continuation of USA TODAY bestselling author Leonard Goldberg’s The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Treason is a new intriguing locked room mystery for Joanna and the Watsons to solve.

The following case has not previously been disclosed to the public due to the sensitive information on foreign affairs. All those involved were previously bound by the Official Secrets Act. With the passage of time and the onset of the Great War, these impediments have been removed and the story can now be safely told.

When an executed original of a secret treaty between England and France, known as the French Treaty, is stolen from the country estate of Lord Halifax, Scotland Yard asks Joanna, Dr. John Watson, Jr., and Dr. John Watson, Sr. to use their keen detective skills to participate in the hunt for the missing treaty. As the government becomes more restless to find the missing document and traditional investigative means fail to turn up the culprit, Joanna is forced to devise a clever plan to trap the thief and recover the missing treaty.

Told from the point of view of Dr. John Watson, Jr. in a style similar to the original Sherlock Holmes stories, A Study in Treason is based partly on facts in our world and partly on the facts left to us by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Full of excitement and intrigue, this mystery is sure to be enjoyed by fans of Sherlock Holmes as well as the works of Laurie R. King and Charles Finch

three-half-stars

About Leonard Goldberg

Leonard Goldberg is an American physicist, professor of medicine, and the author of the Joanna Blalock series of medical thrillers.

His novels have been translated into a dozen languages and sold more than a million copies worldwide. Leonard Goldberg is himself a consulting physician affiliated with the UCLA Medical Center, where he holds an appointment as Clinical Professor of Medicine. A sought-after expert witness in medical malpractice trials, he is board certified in internal medicine, hematology and rheumatology, and has published over a hundred scientific studies in peer-reviewed journals.

Leonard Goldberg’s writing career began with a clinical interest in blood disorders. While involved in a research project at UCLA, he encountered a most unusual blood type. The patient’s red blood cells were O-Rh null, indicating they were totally deficient in A, B and Rh factors and could be administered to virtually anyone without fear of a transfusion reaction. In essence, the patient was the proverbial “universal” blood donor. This finding spurred the idea for a story in which an individual was born without a tissue type, making that person’s organs transplantable into anyone without worry of rejection. His first novel, Transplant, revolved around a young woman who is discovered to be a universal organ donor and is hounded by a wealthy, powerful man in desperate need of a new kidney. The book quickly went through multiple printings and was optioned by a major Hollywood studio.

Dr. Goldberg is a native of Charleston and a long-time California resident. He currently divides his time between Los Angeles and an island off the coast of South Carolina.

Review: FURYBORN

Review:  FURYBORNFuryborn by Claire Legrand
three-stars
Series: Empirium #1
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on May 22, 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 512
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:

Novels that feature strong, independent female characters and dual timelines are nearly always guaranteed to grab my attention and such was the case with Claire Legrand’s YA fantasy novel, Furyborn.  Furyborn follows two incredibly independent women, Rielle Dardenne and Eliana Ferracora, who lived centuries apart but who both play a role in an ancient prophecy known to all in their lands.  The prophecy states that two magic-wielding Queens will rise to power, a Sun Queen and a Blood Queen, and one will have the power to save their kingdom, while the other will have the power to destroy them all.

Furyborn is an exciting adventure from start to finish as we follow these two fiercely independent women as they rush forward to meet their destinies.

One of the things that I really enjoyed about Furyborn was the way the dual timeline was used to allow each woman’s journey to unfold.  With Rielle, we are presented with not only her role in the prophecy, but also the way she meets her end, in the novel’s prologue.  Rielle’s journey in the book, therefore, is more of a rewind back to show how she got to the point where we find her as the book begins.  Eliana’s narrative, on the other hand, moves more straightforward in that we simply follow her to find out where she fits into the prophecy and to where her story ultimately intersects with Rielle’s.

Out of the two main characters, I’d have to say that Eliana was probably my favorite.  As I’ve already mentioned she’s incredibly independent and strong. What I found most interesting about her, however, is that she also falls into the morally gray category.  When the Empire came in and conquered her kingdom, Eliana began working for them as a bounty hunter.  She’ll slit a Rebel’s throat in a heartbeat if there’s money involved, thus earning herself the nickname “The Dread of Orline.”  Although many of her actions are morally questionable, her heart, however, is in the right place because she’s desperate to have enough money to take care of her mother and brother.  Eliana could be arrogant and obnoxious at times, but I still ultimately liked her because of that big heart of hers.

Even though I didn’t like her quite as much as I liked Eliana, Rielle was also a pretty likable character.  What I liked about Rielle was that she fit so well into that underdog category that I’m always such a big fan of.  Rielle lives in a time where most individuals possess some magic and wield control over one of the natural elements.  During a horse race, Rielle’s best friend finds himself in mortal danger and when Rielle jumps in to try to save him, she accidentally reveals that not only does she too possess magic, but she wields control over more than the usual one element.  In trying to save her friend, she has used her magic recklessly and wreaked so much havoc that everyone in the kingdom is terrified of her.  Whispers about the prophecy and that she might be one of the Queens immediately begin.  Rielle is brought before the King where he informs her that she must face seven potentially deadly elemental trials.  She will either successfully complete each of these trials, thus proving that she is one of the two prophesied Queens or else she will not succeed and she will die.  No pressure there, right?  I just really admired the way she faced each challenge head-on, almost defiant, at times.

I was also quite intrigued by the world building in Furyborn.  This fantasy world and its magical system were quite fascinating, especially the Empirum and how Rielle was able to manipulate it, but I still would have liked a little more detail about pretty much everything.  Some parts of it were a little confusing, especially the angels, who were apparently bad and banished.  I’m hoping a second book will shed more light on some of the fantasy elements in the series.

The main reason I didn’t rate this higher even though I quite enjoyed the story overall was that it honestly felt like two separate books where I was reading a chapter from one and then a chapter from the other.  I would have liked to see more connective threads between them throughout to remind me that the two stories would eventually interconnect.

A second issue I had, and this is probably one of those ‘It’s me, not the book’ scenarios, but Rielle’s storyline started to wear thin on me after a while.  Those trials, while initially exciting, started to feel somewhat tedious. I can, admittedly, have the attention span of a gnat, but after the first couple of trials, I kept hoping that something would happen so that we didn’t have to go through all seven of them or that the author would simply gloss over the details rather than give us a play-by-play of everything that happened.  I also thought too much emphasis was placed on her costumes, each of which were custom made to match the element of the trial she was about to engage in.  It reminded me of the scenes from The Hunger Games when Katniss was dressed up as the Girl on Fire.  Since I didn’t particularly care for those scenes in The Hunger Games, it was a little ugh going through similar scenes in Furyborn.

One other area that didn’t set well with me was a scene early on where Rielle, clearly not in control of her magic, cruelly kills an animal.  I understood what the author was trying to show in this scene, but it was just very graphic and upsetting.

While it’s not a perfect read, it’s still highly entertaining overall and I do think that Furyborn is a solid beginning to what is sure to be a great new fantasy series.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Follows two fiercely independent young women, centuries apart, who hold the power to save their world…or doom it.

When assassins ambush her best friend, the crown prince, Rielle Dardenne risks everything to save him, exposing her ability to perform all seven kinds of elemental magic. The only people who should possess this extraordinary power are a pair of prophesied queens: a queen of light and salvation and a queen of blood and destruction. To prove she is the Sun Queen, Rielle must endure seven trials to test her magic. If she fails, she will be executed…unless the trials kill her first.

A thousand years later, the legend of Queen Rielle is a mere fairy tale to bounty hunter Eliana Ferracora. When the Undying Empire conquered her kingdom, she embraced violence to keep her family alive. Now, she believes herself untouchable–until her mother vanishes without a trace, along with countless other women in their city. To find her, Eliana joins a rebel captain on a dangerous mission and discovers that the evil at the heart of the empire is more terrible than she ever imagined.

As Rielle and Eliana fight in a cosmic war that spans millennia, their stories intersect, and the shocking connections between them ultimately determine the fate of their world–and of each other.

three-stars

About Claire Legrand

Claire Legrand used to be a musician until she realized she couldn’t stop thinking about the stories in her head. Now she is a librarian and New York Times bestselling author living in central New Jersey (although her heart will always live in her home state of Texas).

Her first novel is The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, one of the New York Public Library’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing in 2012. She is also the author of The Year of Shadows, a ghost story for middle grade readers; and Winterspell, a young adult re-telling of The Nutcracker. Some Kind of Happiness, her middle grade novel about mental illness, family secrets, and the power of storytelling, is a 2017 Edgar Award Nominee. Claire’s latest novel, Foxheart, is a classic fantasy-adventure and a 2016 Junior Library Guild selection. She is one of the four authors behind The Cabinet of Curiosities, an anthology of dark middle grade short fiction that was a Junior Library Guild selection, a Bank Street Best Book, and among the New York Public Library’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing in 2014.

Her latest novel, Furyborn, debuted at #4 on the New York Times bestseller list, and is the first book in the Empirium Trilogy, a young adult epic fantasy series. Her next book, Sawkill Girls, is a queer young adult horror novel and will release on October 2nd, 2018.

Her work is represented by Victoria Marini of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency.

Review: LITTLE BIG LOVE by Katy Regan

Review:  LITTLE BIG LOVE by Katy ReganLittle Big Love by Katy Regan
four-stars
Published by BERKLEY on June 5, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 384
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 requested Katy Regan’s Little Big Love from Netgalley primarily because the book’s synopsis describes it as About a Boy meets ParenthoodParenthood is one of my all-time favorite family-centric dramas and I loved it because every episode took me through a full range of emotions because I became so invested in the Braverman family:  joy, sadness, anger, frustration, love, regret – you name it, I felt it. Seeing Little Big Love compared to Parenthood therefore made it a must-read for me.  The comparison is apt too because the characters in Little Big Love captured my heart in much the same way the Bravermans did in Parenthood.

Little Big Love follows Zac Hutchinson, a 10-year old boy who is on a mission to find the his father, whom he has never met.  Zac knows he has a dad because, of course, everyone does, but all Zac knows about his is that according to his mom and grandparents, Zac’s dad “did a runner” as soon as Zac was born and never came back.  Zac has therefore spent his entire life without a dad and is obsessed with what it would be like to have one.  The older he gets, the more convinced he is that if his dad could just meet him once, he’d want to stick around.  Then, one fateful night when his mom, in a drunken state, confesses to Zac that she still loves his dad, Zac, with the help of his best friend Teagan, sets his “Find Dad Mission” into motion. Now he wants to find his dad, not just for himself, because he also thinks it would finally make his mom happy again.

Zac.  10-year-old Zac was, by far, my favorite character in this story.  He’s such a sweetheart, always thinking of others, and just the type of kid who wouldn’t hurt a fly.  It broke my heart to watch him obsess so much about not having a Dad in his life, especially once I realized how many secrets about his father his mom and grandparents were keeping from him.  For reasons that weren’t revealed until much later, it was as if all mention of Zac’s father had been banned from their household so Zac literally knew nothing about his dad, aside from his name.  Zac was also an incredibly sympathetic character because he’s being bullied at school because of his weight and because he doesn’t stick up for himself.  The kids are just so evil and relentless, and I cried for Zac several times as I was reading.  Regan really got me in the feels when it came to Zac.

Teagan.  Teagan is Zac’s classmate and best friend, and she is the spunkiest little firecracker there ever was.  She is Zac’s biggest supporter, which makes me love her all the more knowing how low Zac’s self-esteem is because of his weight and because of the constant bullying.  Teagan is also a breath of fresh air, frequently using comical expressions like “He just needs a rocket up his bum!” to bring some levity and humor into what is otherwise a pretty heavy story.  My favorite thing about Teagan is her enthusiastic support of Zac’s mission to find his dad.  She spends a lot of time watching crime and detective shows so that she can share helpful tips on how Zac should conduct his investigation and gather evidence that will help locate his dad.  It’s just adorable!

3 Points of View.  While the children were my favorite characters in Little Big Love and Zac’s chapters were my favorites because that have that honesty and tell-it-like-it-is bluntness that only an innocent child can bring, I also appreciated that the story was presented not just from Zac’s perspective, but also from the perspectives of Zac’s mom, Juliet, and Zac’s grandfather, Mick. Juliet is a single mom who is struggling to make ends meet and who is also dealing with her own self-esteem and weight issues.  All she wants is what’s best for Zac but sometimes finds herself questioning her life’s choices.  Mick, Zac’s granddad brings us the perspective of a recovering alcoholic who loves his family more than life itself, but who is weighted down by secrets that if revealed, could cost him everyone he loves.  I loved all of the layers that Regan adds to the story by using these three completely different perspectives.

Realistic Issues and Big Themes.  As I mentioned earlier, at times, Little Big Love was a heavy read.  It deals with some issues and themes that really got to me on an emotional level.  They’re issues that many families will face and perhaps they got to me all the more since I have a son Zac’s age.

There is of course the family drama with these secrets that they’re keeping and how those secrets are just weighing everyone down. But then there’s also alcoholism, bullying, loss and grief, and mental health/low self-esteem issues as well.  This whole family has been through so much, and as I said with Parenthood, I became so invested in them that their stories – the good and the bad – just really had me so emotional at times.  Bless little Teagan and her “rocket up the bum” jokes to lighten the mood and keep things from getting too heavy, lol.

Even though I really enjoyed Little Big Love overall, I did occasionally struggle with the pacing, especially in the beginning.  I adored all of Zac’s chapters and just flew through them, but I’ll admit that I struggled to get into Juliet’s story and even Mick’s at first.  I was a little put off by the secrets they were keeping because I just didn’t see where any good could possibly come from what they were doing.  Ultimately though, they won me over because it became clear that they both loved Zac more than anything else in this world and that they were beating themselves up about their choices just as much, if not even more, than I was beating them up.

Katy Regan’s Little Big Love is a moving story about a flawed but beautiful family and the things they’re willing to do to protect both themselves and the ones they love.  They don’t always make the best choices, but their hearts are in the right place, even if their heads aren’t.  I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys books that feature endearing characters, especially lovable children, as well as messy but realistic family situations.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

About a Boy meets Parenthood in this smart, big-hearted love story about a family for whom everything changed one night, a decade ago, and the young boy who unites them all.

Told through the eyes of Zac, Juliet, and grandfather Mick, Little Big Love is a layered, heartfelt, utterly satisfying story about family, love, and the secrets that can define who we are.

four-stars

About Katy Regan

Katy Regan was born and brought up in the northern seaside town of Morecambe. Her claim to fame – aside from being possibly the only person in the world to get expelled from primary school – is that at the age of 16 she went to stage school in Surrey with Posh Spice. She worked at 19 magazine for two years before joining Marie Claire in 2002. ‘Highlights’ in that position included spending ten days in the buff on a nudist resort and becoming a footballer’s wife for a week — all in the name of investigative journalism. In 2004 at the height of her career as the office roving reporter singleton, she fell accidentally pregnant by her best mate (who just remained a friend). Seeing the creative possibilities in this unconventional situation, her editor commissioned her to write a column – And then there were three! which proved so successful it ran for two years and inspired many a reader to write in to Katy with their life story. She has now taken her loyal following to her blog – The State She’s In – on the Marie Claire website. She lives in south London and shares care of her son Fergus with his dad who lives across the road.

Review: THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY

Review:  THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAYThe Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware
four-half-stars
Published by Gallery/Scout Press on May 29, 2018
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 384
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:

Even though I’m typically a huge fan of suspenseful thrillers, for some reason I had not gotten around to trying one of Ruth Ware’s popular novels yet. I don’t really have any real excuse other than I sometimes tend to shy away from hyped books and this was one of those cases, especially since I’ve seen Ware referred to as the Agatha Christie of our time and that seems like a pretty tall order for any author to try to live up to.  The synopsis of The Death of Mrs. Westaway captivated me, however, and I decided it was past time for me to try my first Ruth Ware novel.  How did it work out?  I’d say the fact that I’ve ordered copies of all of Ware’s novels since finishing this one is a pretty good indicator of how it went.  While I might not go so far as to call her the Agatha Christie of our day, Ruth Ware is a superb mystery author in her own right.

 

Sympathetic Protagonist:  Harriet Westaway (or Hal as she is more often referred to) is a character that tugged on my heartstrings from the first pages of the novel.  She is a 21-year-old tarot card reader who works on a pier in Brighton, England.  Hal fell into this line of work a few years earlier when her mother, also a tarot card reader, was struck and killed in a hit-and-run accident.  The driver was never caught and so Hal was forced to drop out of school and take up her mother’s work in order to keep a roof over her head and food on the table.  There’s no father and no other family in the picture so Hal is all alone in the world and is struggling to make ends meet.  When we meet Hal, she is up to her neck in trouble, having borrowed some money from a sleazy loan shark who keeps changing the terms of her repayment and has sent his goons to deliver a message to her, that message being threat of bodily harm or even worse if she doesn’t cough up 3,000 pounds, which she clearly doesn’t have.

Although Hal is a sympathetic character, she’s still pretty savvy and street smart, which is another thing I liked about her, as well as the fact that she also has a bit of a morally gray element that adds even more interesting layers to her personality.  When a letter from an attorney’s office arrives in the mail telling Hal she has been named as a beneficiary in the will of a Mrs. Westaway who has just passed away, Hal knows it can’t possibly be her, as she has no family.  That said, however, she can’t help but wonder if her ability to read people – so finely honed by years of reading tarot cards and telling fortunes – is sharp enough for her to fool people so that she really can claim the aforementioned inheritance.  Yes, there’s a risk she could go to jail for fraud, but if she can pull it off, it’s the answer to all of her prayers.  That in itself makes it a risk worth taking.  It’s so wrong of course, but I just couldn’t help but admire her guts and determination.

Atmospheric Quality: In addition to the wonderfully well-rounded character that is Hal, my other favorite part of the book is the atmosphere that Ware has created. Everything about the atmosphere has an air of suspense to it but it takes a turn for the creepy and Gothic once Hal arrives at the residence of the late Mrs. Westaway.  The house itself is dusty and ill-maintained, some of the windows are barred, It’s filled with endless dark corridors and stairways, and to top it off, there’s a mean old housekeeper, Mrs. Warren, that Hal seems to find lurking around every corner.  Everything about the house just had this ominous feel to it and had me wanting to yell at Hal to get out while she could.

Family Secrets – Web of Lies:  If you’re into books that focus on messy families and their dirty little secrets, The Death of Mrs. Westaway is the book for you! As soon as Hal arrives and hears the will reading, she can tell that something is amiss with the Westaway family and that she has landed herself right in the middle of a hornet’s nest.  Nothing is as it seems and although she knows she should just cut and run before she ends up in potentially deeper trouble than she already is, she feels compelled to find out the truth about the family and whatever it is they appear to be hiding.  Ware does a marvelous job with the pacing of the novel and I remained enthralled as I waited for each strand of the web of lies to unravel.

 

I don’t really have anything at all here. It was a phenomenal read that I couldn’t put down once I started reading.

 

While this was my first time reading Ruth Ware, it will definitely not be my last.  I’d recommend The Death of Mrs. Westaway to anyone who is a fan of mysteries and thrillers as well as to anyone who enjoys a good domestic drama.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10, and The Lying Game comes Ruth Ware’s highly anticipated fourth novel.

On a day that begins like any other, Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person—but also that the cold-reading skills she’s honed as a tarot card reader might help her claim the money.

Soon, Hal finds herself at the funeral of the deceased…where it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance at the center of it.

Full of spellbinding menace and told in Ruth Ware’s signature suspenseful style, this is an unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.

four-half-stars