Review: Of Curses and Kisses

Review:  Of Curses and KissesOf Curses and Kisses by Sandhya Menon
Also by this author: When Dimple Met Rishi
three-half-stars
Series: St. Rosetta's Academy #1
Published by Simon Pulse on February 18, 2020
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Retelling, Romance
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sandhya Menon’s latest book, Of Curses and Kisses, is a modern retelling of Beauty and the Beast and I really enjoyed Menon’s spin on the classic fairytale. I thought it was very original and I especially liked the fact that she set her story at an elite international boarding school.

When the story opens, Princess Jaya Rao and her younger sister, Isha, have just arrived at their new boarding school, which is nestled in the mountains of Colorado.  The sisters have relocated halfway around the world to escape some negative media attention that Isha found herself caught in the middle of.  Their parents are hoping the time away will lead the media to get bored and move on to another scandal.  Even though Jaya herself has done nothing wrong, she is completely devoted to her family and preserving the Rao reputation so she agrees to go and keep an eye on Isha. Jaya also has an ulterior motive. She knows that Grey Emerson attends the school and thinks this is the perfect opportunity to exact revenge on him.  There is bad blood between the Rao and Emerson families that can be traced back to a stolen ruby and a subsequent retaliatory curse and Jaya is certain that the Emersons are responsible for her family’s latest troubles.

Ironically, Grey Emerson is also at the school because of the curse.  His cold-hearted father believes so thoroughly in the curse that he has cut all ties with his doomed son and shipped him off to boarding school. And since the curse threatens to wipe out his family line and he’s currently the last male heir, Grey can’t help but be concerned.

As one expects when reading one of Menon’s novels, both of her main characters are quite likable.  I loved Jaya’s devotion to her family and how thoroughly she watched over her sister.  I also liked getting inside of her head once she actually meets Grey and realizes he may not be the monster she thinks he is.  I really felt for her as she becomes more and more conflicted about what she should do.  I also really liked Grey and just felt tremendous sympathy for him.  He has spent his whole life tortured by this awful curse and feeling unloved by his father.  Grey believes there’s a good chance he will die once he turns 18, so he keeps others at a distance so no one will end up devastated if he really does die.  As much as I enjoyed reading Jaya’s conflicted internal monologues, I thought Grey’s were excellent as well, especially once he starts getting to know Jaya and wants to be close to her in spite of the curse and the Rao vs. Emerson feud.  My favorite character though was actually Jaya’s sister, Isha.  Isha is a STEM girl (YES!) who just wants to live her life without feeling constricted by her family’s royal status.  Isha is a firecracker who stole the spotlight in every scene she was in, and I adored her. I wanted more of her and would totally be on board for reading a story that focused more on her.

While I really did enjoy Of Curses and Kisses, I won’t say that it’s my favorite Menon novel.  I liked the characters, but didn’t love them with quite the same intensity that I’ve loved some of Menon’s other protagonists like Dimple and Rishi or Sweetie and Ashish. I also thought the pacing was a little slow at times.  Overall though, I still thought it was a solid read and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it, especially to anyone who enjoys Beauty and the Beast retellings.

three-half-stars

About Sandhya Menon

Sandhya Menon is the New York Times bestselling author of When Dimple Met Rishi, From Twinkle, With Love, and There’s Something About Sweetie. A full-time dog servant and part-time writer, she makes her home in the foggy mountains of Colorado.

Review: FOUL IS FAIR by Hannah Capin

Review:  FOUL IS FAIR by Hannah CapinFoul Is Fair by Hannah Capin
three-half-stars
Series: Foul Is Fair #1
Published by Wednesday Books on February 18, 2020
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much to Meghan from St. Martin’s Press & Wednesday Books for inviting me to take part in their blog tour for Foul is Fair by Hannah Capin.  I’m excited to share my thoughts on this thrilling new novel.

* * * * *

“Something wicked this way comes…”

Hannah Capin’s latest novel, Foul is Fair, is a violent and disturbing tale of revenge.  It is deliciously entertaining in the darkest of ways.  While it reads like a mash-up of Mean Girls, Riverdale, and Pretty Little Liars, Foul is Fair, as you may have surmised from the title, is actually a modern retelling of the Shakespearean tragedy, Macbeth.

I’m a total Shakespeare nerd and the tragedies are my favorites, so Foul is Fair was a must-read for me.  As I was reading, I was just so impressed with the creative revenge plot the author devised to mirror the original Macbeth storyline.  Foul is Fair follows Elle, who as the novel opens, is planning a night out with her best friends to celebrate her sweet sixteen birthday.  The girls get all glammed up and attend a party at the local elite prep school.  The night turns tragic, however, when Elle is drugged and raped at the party.  Elle knows who did it, and she also remembers who just stood around and let it happen.  The name of the game for Elle is vengeance as she vows to take them all down.

With the help of her girls (or her coven as she calls them), Elle, the Lady Macbeth of Foul is Fair, changes her appearance so that she isn’t recognizable, changes her name to Jade, and finally, arranges to transfer to the prep school. Once there, she sets her plot for revenge into motion, with the first step being to seduce a boy named Mack (the Macbeth of Foul is Fair) into doing her bidding and ultimately taking the fall for anything she does in her quest for vengeance.

My favorite part of the novel is the revenge plot itself. I flew through the pages once Jade started taking her rapists down, one by one.  Her quest for revenge is more intense than anything I could have imagined, truly vicious!  Elle/Jade is a master manipulator and the mind games she and her coven play on these boys are brilliant. She practically has them drowning in their paranoia and turning on each other.  I found myself cheering the girls on in a show of solidarity but also sitting there shocked at myself for cheering such violence.  I love a read that can do that to me.

Foul is Fair works well as a Macbeth retelling, but it also felt wholly unique and unpredictable even with the numerous references and shout-outs to the original Shakespearean play peppered throughout the novel.  If you’re into Shakespearean tragedies, retellings, or even just revenge thrillers, Foul is Fair is a must-read for you too.

* * * * *

On a side note, I also want to thank the author for posting clear trigger warnings regarding the subject matter. I knew going in that, as a Macbeth retelling, Foul is Fair would be a dark revenge tale, but I was grateful for the warning that the primary thematic content “centers on sexual assault (not depicted), rape culture, and violence. Additionally, the book includes an abusive relationship, a suicide attempt, and a brief scene with transphobic bullying.”

For a more detailed description of sensitive content in Foul is Fair, please visit hannahcapin.com/foulisfair.

 

 

PURCHASE LINK:

Wednesday Books

 

SUMMARY:

Hannah Capin’s Foul is Fair is a bloody, thrilling revenge fantasy for the girls who have had enough. Golden boys beware: something wicked this way comes.

Jade and her friends Jenny, Mads, and Summer rule their glittering LA circle. Untouchable, they have the kind of power other girls only dream of. Every party is theirs and the world is at their feet. Until the night of Jade’s sweet sixteen, when they crash a St. Andrew’s Prep party. The night the golden boys choose Jade as their next target.

They picked the wrong girl.

Sworn to vengeance, Jade transfers to St. Andrew’s Prep. She plots to destroy each boy, one by one. She’ll take their power, their lives, and their control of the prep school’s hierarchy. And she and her coven have the perfect way in: a boy named Mack, whose ambition could turn deadly.

 

three-half-stars

About Hannah Capin

Hannah Capin is the author of Foul is Fair and The Dead Queens Club, a feminist retelling of the wives of Henry VIII. When she isn’t writing, she can be found singing, sailing, or pulling marathon gossip sessions with her girl squad. She lives in Tidewater, Virginia.

Review: DON’T READ THE COMMENTS by Eric Smith

Review:  DON’T READ THE COMMENTS by Eric SmithDon't Read the Comments by Eric Smith
four-stars
Published by Inkyard Press on January 28, 2020
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much to Justine Sha for inviting me to take part in Harlequin Trade Publishing’s Winter 2020 Blog Tour for Inkyard Press.  Today I’m sharing my thoughts on Eric Smith’s new novel Don’t Read the Comments.

Don’t Read the Comments follows Divya Sharma, a teen girl who has become internet famous because of her video game stream for Reclaim the Sun on the popular Glitch website.  Her stream has gained so many followers that she has received sponsorships from several big gaming companies, which means she receives a lot of gifted items and even cash.  While all of the perks are great and it’s fun being considered a celebrity of sorts, Divya also relies on the money she makes from streaming to help her mom make ends meet.  So when she encounters trolls online who threaten her livelihood, it’s a big deal on many levels. They send her messages telling her she doesn’t belong in their community and is taking money and endorsements that should go to others more talented and deserving than she is.

When they destroy her ship in the game, Divya refuses to give into them. She begins the game all over again, seeking a quiet corner of the Reclaim the Sun universe to start from scratch and rebuild her resources.  It is here she encounters the second protagonist of the book, Aaron Jericho, a teen who is equally passionate about video games but from the standpoint that he wants to actually write video games for a living. Aaron is a little starstruck at first because of Divya’s celebrity status but slowly, a friendship starts to build between them.

I really loved both Divya and Aaron.  Divya is smart, scrappy, and resourceful. She’s also a great friend and a good daughter. I loved that she was so determined to use her streaming income to help her mom achieve her dream of a college degree.  Aaron is equally likeable and is immediately a great friend to Divya. He’s also the sweetest big brother ever, even allowing his adorable little sister Mira to play video games with him and name planets he has claimed.  Divya and Aaron are just so sweet that it’s all the more wonderful that they find each other online.

Along with the relationship between Divya and Aaron, the other friendships in the novel really made Don’t Read the Comments such an enjoyable read for me. There were several feel good geeky moments throughout the story involving Divya and her Angst Armada, a group of fans/friends she has met and bonded with through the Reclaim the Sun game.  Having made many wonderful friends online myself, I found it very heartwarming to watch this group interact in such a positive way.

The author does a wonderful job of creating a balance between those feel good moments and the other darker aspects of the online gaming community.  While the story has many moments that left me smiling, it also has its fair share of tension and suspense, which is created by racism, sexism, and doxing, which takes harassment to a whole new level when it moves from online to in-your-face personal.

I have to confess that I was initially drawn to Eric Smith’s Don’t Read the Comments because of the cute cover that promises a “wonderfully geeky” read.  And yes, while it was definitely a wonderfully geeky read, Don’t Read the Comments is so much more than that.  It’s also an in-depth exploration of the online world of video game streaming, both the good and the bad.  Smith exposes the undercurrent of racism, sexism and harassment that sometimes pervades the culture, he also shows the positives such as online friendships that are born from shared interests.  I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys contemporary reads that focus on relevant and timely issues, and definitely to anyone who loves video games.

 

 

PURCHASE LINKS:

AmazonBarnes & NobleIndie BoundKoboGoogle – Books-A-Million

 

SUMMARY:

Slay meets Eliza and Her Monsters in Eric Smith’s Don’t Read the Comments, an #ownvoices story in which two teen gamers find their virtual worlds—and blossoming romance—invaded by the real-world issues of trolling and doxing in the gaming community.

Divya Sharma is a queen. Or she is when she’s playing Reclaim the Sun, the year’s hottest online game. Divya—better known as popular streaming gamer D1V—regularly leads her #AngstArmada on quests through the game’s vast and gorgeous virtual universe. But for Divya, this is more than just a game. Out in the real world, she’s trading her rising-star status for sponsorships to help her struggling single mom pay the rent.

Gaming is basically Aaron Jericho’s entire life. Much to his mother’s frustration, Aaron has zero interest in becoming a doctor like her, and spends his free time writing games for a local developer. At least he can escape into Reclaim the Sun—and with a trillion worlds to explore, disappearing should be easy. But to his surprise, he somehow ends up on the same remote planet as celebrity gamer D1V.

At home, Divya and Aaron grapple with their problems alone, but in the game, they have each other to face infinite new worlds…and the growing legion of trolls populating them. Soon the virtual harassment seeps into reality when a group called the Vox Populi begin launching real-world doxxing campaigns, threatening Aaron’s dreams and Divya’s actual life. The online trolls think they can drive her out of the game, but everything and everyone Divya cares about is on the line…

And she isn’t going down without a fight.

 

four-stars

About Eric Smith

Eric Smith is an author, prolific book blogger, and literary agent from New Jersey, currently living in Philadelphia. Smith cohosts Book Riot’s newest podcast, HEY YA, with non-fiction YA author Kelly Jensen. He can regularly be found writing for Book Riot’s blog, as well as Barnes & Noble’s Teen Reads blog, Paste Magazine, and Publishing Crawl. Smith also has a growing Twitter platform of over 40,000 followers (@ericsmithrocks).

Review: THE GOD GAME by Danny Tobey

Review:  THE GOD GAME by Danny TobeyThe God Game by Danny Tobey
four-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on January 7, 2020
Genres: Science Fiction, Thriller
Pages: 496
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The God Game by Danny Tobey is a sci-fi thriller that focuses on what happens when a video game that starts off as a welcome escape from reality goes off the rails and takes a horribly wrong and dangerous turn.

The story follows Charlie, a high school senior, and his best friends, a group of computer whizzes who call themselves The Vindicators.  The Vindicators are invited to play a secret underground virtual reality video game called The God Game.  The game is designed by hackers and it’s controlled by an AI (Artificial Intelligence) that really believes it’s God, thus it knows everything and its presence is everywhere.  The whole concept fascinates the Vindicators and they get caught up in the excitement of the game right away.

The game really appeals to the teens for several reasons:  1) it’s challenging because it doesn’t come with instructions and you have to figure things out as you go, 2) it makes them feel special to be ‘in the know’ about something no one else knows about, and 3) they can actually perform tasks and get rewarded with actual prizes like expensive electronics and even cash.

It’s all fun and games at first, but then things take a decidedly darker and more sinister turn. The game starts to threaten them if they don’t perform certain tasks, shadowy figures start following them in real life and actually attack them.  Suddenly it’s not so fun anymore, but what happens when “God” won’t let them leave the game?

****

Wow, what a wild ride this book was!  The whole premise of the video game fascinated me and so I got sucked in just as quickly as the characters in the book did.  I’ve seen The God Game compared to both Black Mirror and Stranger Things, but I’ve not watched either show so I can’t attest to that.  What I will say though is that it gave me a definite Ready Player One vibe because of the virtual reality environment that would superimpose itself right over the real world every time Charlie and his friends played.  I loved this aspect of the author’s worldbuilding, especially when the teens go into the boiler room at school and it magically shifts into something that looks way more like Middle Earth than it does a room in a school.

Aside from the brilliant virtual reality worldbuilding, I also loved the suspense and tension created each time the game raises the stakes.  I found myself just flying through the pages because I wanted to know just how far “God” would go with its threats.

As exciting as the game itself was, what also really drew me into the story was its focus on the personal lives of this group of teens and why they were so eager to escape reality and practically live within the virtual reality walls of this game.  There’s a big focus on how hard it is to be a teen – the peer pressure, the pressure from parents, and even the pressure we put on ourselves.  I think that’s a theme that many will find all too relatable, and it also makes it all the more tragic that this game, which should have been an escape from their troubles, just ends up piling on to their troubles even more.

I don’t want to say anything else because it’s really a story you just have to experience for yourself, so I’ll just say if you’re looking for an exciting sci-fi thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat, and especially if you have an interest in AI, VR, and/or video games, you should definitely add Danny Tobey’s The God Game to your reading list.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

You are invited!
Come inside and play with G.O.D.
Bring your friends!
It’s fun!
But remember the rules. Win and ALL YOUR DREAMS COME TRUE.

Lose, you die!

With those words, Charlie and his friends enter the G.O.D. Game, a video game run by underground hackers and controlled by a mysterious AI that believes it’s God. Through their phone-screens and high-tech glasses, the teens’ realities blur with a virtual world of creeping vines, smoldering torches, runes, glyphs, gods, and mythical creatures. When they accomplish a mission, the game rewards them with expensive tech, revenge on high-school tormentors, and cash flowing from ATMs. Slaying a hydra and drawing a bloody pentagram as payment to a Greek god seem harmless at first. Fun even.

But then the threatening messages start. Worship me. Obey me. Complete a mission, however cruel, or the game reveals their secrets and crushes their dreams. Tasks that seemed harmless at first take on deadly consequences. Mysterious packages show up at their homes. Shadowy figures start following them, appearing around corners, attacking them in parking garages. Who else is playing this game, and how far will they go to win?

And what of the game’s first promise: win, win big, lose, you die? Dying in a virtual world doesn’t really mean death in real life—does it?

As Charlie and his friends try to find a way out of the game, they realize they’ve been manipulated into a bigger web they can’t escape: an AI that learned its cruelty from watching us.

God is always watching, and He says when the game is done.

four-stars

About Danny Tobey

Danny Tobey is the author of THE GOD GAME, arriving January 7, 2020 from St. Martin’s press. He is a fifth-generation Texan and a graduate of Harvard College, Yale Law School, and UT Southwestern medical school. Harvard gave Danny the Edward Eager prize “for the best creative writing.” He wrote and edited the Harvard Lampoon and was anthologized in The Best of the Harvard Lampoon: 140 Years of American Humor. Danny’s first novel, the sci-fi fantasy thriller The Faculty Club, came out from Simon & Schuster. Danny is a noted expert on Artificial Intelligence. In 2019, the Library of Congress gave Danny the Burton Award for his work on AI and the law.

Review: BIG LIES IN A SMALL TOWN by Diane Chamberlain

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BIG LIES IN A SMALL TOWN review

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

* * * * *

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

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

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

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

five-stars

About Diane Chamberlain

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

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

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

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

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

Review: HOW QUICKLY SHE DISAPPEARS by Raymond Fleischmann

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

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

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

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

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

three-half-stars

About Raymond Fleischmann

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

Review: A LOVE HATE THING by Whitney D. Grandison

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

PURCHASE LINKS:

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SUMMARY:

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

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

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

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

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

four-stars

About Whitney D. Grandison

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

PURCHASE LINKS:

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

 

SUMMARY:

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

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

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

 

four-stars

About Judy Melinek

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

About T.J. Mitchell

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

Review: THE LITTLE BOOKSHOP ON THE SEINE by Rebecca Raisin

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PURCHASE LINKS:

HarlequinAmazonBarnes & NobleIndie BoundKoboTargetWalmartiBooksGoogle – Books-A-Million

 

SUMMARY:

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

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

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

four-stars

About Rebecca Raisin

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

Review: GOOD GIRLS LIE by J.T. Ellison

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

PURCHASE LINKS:  

HarlequinAmazonBarnes & NobleIndie BoundiBooksBooks-A-MillionTargetKoboGoogle Books

 

SUMMARY:

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

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

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

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

 

J.T. ELLISON GOOD GIRLS LIE BOOK TOUR

 

  

four-stars

About J.T. Ellison

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