Review: ALL THE FLOWERS IN PARIS by Sarah Jio

Review:  ALL THE FLOWERS IN PARIS by Sarah JioAll The Flowers in Paris by Sarah Jio
four-stars
Published by Ballantine Books on August 13, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

ALL THE FLOWERS IN PARIS Review

 

Sarah Jio’s All the Flowers in Paris is a beautifully written and compelling story about family, love, survival, and the sacrifices people are willing to make for their loved ones.  Jio uses a dual timeline format to intertwine the lives of two women who each lived in the same apartment in Paris, albeit decades apart and under very different circumstances.

One timeline is set in 2009 and follows a woman named Caroline who has been in an accident and now has amnesia.  Once she is finally discharged, since no family have come to claim her, the hospital staff takes her to the apartment listed on her identification and there she slowly begins the process of piecing her life back together.  As she encounters people around the neighborhood who knew her and watches them gingerly skirt around her, Caroline realizes she must have been living a pretty sad and lonely existence.

To keep herself from dwelling on her amnesia, Caroline strikes up a friendship with the handsome chef at the restaurant she frequents.  But as their relationship blossoms, she starts to regain a few vague memories of a man and a young child but can’t figure out where they fit into her life.  Are they loved ones?  If so, where are they now?

The other timeline is set during 1943 at the height of WWII and follows a young widow named Celine who lives with her father and is raising her young daughter alone in Nazi-occupied Paris.  When a German officer takes an interest in Celine and she rebuffs him, he exposes her family’s Jewish heritage, forces their flower shop out of business, and then imprisons Celine’s father and tries to take her child from her as well.  He imprisons Celine in his apartment, but not before her daughter breaks free and sneaks in with her.  Celine now must not only fight for her own survival, but she must also hide her daughter right under the enemy’s nose in hopes that they’ll both be rescued.

One thing that really struck me while I was reading was that both Caroline’s and Celine’s storylines were compelling enough that they easily could have been standalone stories.  I enjoyed both characters immensely and was very invested in both Caroline’s plight to get her memory back and Celine’s plight to survive the Nazis and protect her family at all costs. My one complaint with the book was actually that I thought it took a little too long to actually have the storylines start moving toward one another.  They felt like standalones for a pretty big chunk of the book.  When the two timelines finally did fully intertwine, however, via a diary Caroline finds hidden in a closet in her apartment, the end result is so moving and so powerful that it had me shedding more than a few tears.

If you’re a fan of WWII historical fiction, stories set in Paris, and stories about family and the sacrifices people make for love, All the Flowers in Paris is the book for you!

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Two women are connected across time by the city of Paris, a mysterious journal, and shocking secrets, sweeping from World War II to the present–for readers of Sarah’s Key.

When Caroline wakes up in a Paris hospital with no memory of her past, she’s confused to learn that she’s lived a sad, reclusive life for years in a sprawling apartment on the Seine. Slowly regaining vague memories of a man and young child, she vows to piece her life back together–though she can’t help but feel she may be in danger. A budding friendship with the chef of a charming nearby restaurant takes her mind off of her foggy past, as does a startling mystery from decades prior…

In Nazi-occupied Paris, young widow Celine lives a quiet life with her father, the local florist, and her daughter, Cosi. When a ruthless German officer discovers the family’s Jewish ancestry, he blackmails Celine, forcing her to become his mistress in exchange for the others’ safety. The trio plans an escape, but their mission goes horribly awry and Celine’s beloved father and daughter are sent away to a cruel fate. Initially distraught, Celine fears the worst. Yet she soon discovers that Cosi has snuck away and followed her into captivity. More motivated than ever, Celine must now fight to hide and protect the person she loves most.

Parallel timelines intersect when Caroline discovers Celine’s diary tucked away in a closet, and it is revealed that the walls of her apartment harbor dark secrets. With the help of a local student from the Sorbonne, she realizes that she may have more in common with Celine than she could ever imagine.

four-stars

About Sarah Jio

Sarah Jio is the New York Times bestselling author of ALWAYS, published by Random House (Ballantine), as well as seven other novels from Penguin Books, including, THE VIOLETS OF MARCH, THE BUNGALOW, BLACKBERRY WINTER, THE LAST CAMELLIA, MORNING GLORY, GOODNIGHT JUNE, and THE LOOK OF LOVE. Sarah is also a journalist who has contributed to The New York Times, Glamour, O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, SELF, Real Simple, Fitness, Marie Claire, and many others. She has appeared as a commentator on NPR’s Morning Edition. Her novels are translated into more than 25 languages. Sarah lives in Seattle with her three young boys.

Review: THINGS YOU SAVE IN A FIRE by Katherine Center

Review:  THINGS YOU SAVE IN A FIRE by Katherine CenterThings You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center
five-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on August 13, 2019
Genres: Romance, Women's Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

THINGS YOU SAVE IN A FIRE Review

 

Katherine Center’s Things You Save in a Fire is a heartfelt, engaging story about family, love, and the power of forgiveness.  It follows Cassie Hanwell, a young woman who unexpectedly has to uproot her life and relocate from Texas to Boston to take care of her ailing mother.  Cassie is a superstar firefighter at her precinct in Texas, but it’s a whole new ballgame when she has to start over in another city.  Then there’s also the fact that Cassie’s mother abandoned her when she was 16 and Cassie has pretty much written her off ever since.  Moving in with her after all these years is awkward, to say the least.

I’m just going to throw it out there right now and say that Things You Save in a Fire was a 5 star read for me.  It’s just one of those wonderful books that checks off all the boxes I look for in a read.  The writing is excellent, the characters are well developed – both the main characters and the secondary characters, and Cassie’s journey is such a compelling one to follow on every level.

I really adored Cassie from the moment we are introduced to her.  Cassie, a female firefighter trying to make it in what is traditionally a male-dominated profession, is impossible not to root for.  She’s one of those messy, complex characters that I love so much.  She’s scrappy, smart, strong, and she’s very good at what she does – the best honestly, and she knows she has to be if she’s going to be taken seriously.  While she’s calm, cool, and collected when it comes to putting out fires and saving lives, she’s the opposite when it comes to all areas of her personal life, especially her rocky relationship with her mother and her non-existent love life.  Cassie has made a conscious choice not to date and not to fall in love.  She doesn’t have the time or interest in doing either…until she meets the Rookie.

Don’t even get me started on how precious the Rookie is.  He’s adorable, like a Golden Retriever in a firefighter’s uniform.  He’s sweet, polite, and he even bakes a mean chocolate chip cookie.  He’s practically perfect in every way that matters and Cassie is finding him pretty hard to resist in spite of her no dating rule. But it’s not all sunshine and roses for the Rookie either. He has a few messy layers too, in the form of a secret he has carried around since he was a child that weighs him down, a secret that could potentially crush his father if he were to ever find out.

Aside from really enjoying reading about Cassie and the Rookie individually, I was of course rooting for them to get together.  They were hired at the firehouse on the same day and their chemistry was immediately off the charts.  The more time they spent together, whether it was being tied to a flagpole all night as part of a hazing prank or sharing a late-night omelet (of course cooked to perfection by the Rookie), the more I wanted to scream at Cassie to abandon her no dating rule.

What I loved the most about Things You Save in a Fire is how multi-layered the story was and how every aspect of it was equally compelling.  Aside from loving the Cassie/Rookie relationship as it developed, I also enjoyed reading about the firefighting aspect of it – all of it, the pranks, the actual fighting of fires, the EMT training, and of course how the all male dynamic evolves once they have a woman in their midst.  It was all quite fascinating to read about.  I’m also all about a story that features a complicated family dynamic and that is exactly what I got with Cassie agreeing to move in with her ailing but estranged mother.

As fantastic as all of these elements were though, the themes of Things You Save in a Fire are what really captured my heart.  Yes, it’s a story about a woman making it in a man’s world, but it’s also an incredibly moving story about family and the power of forgiveness.  And finally, and most importantly, it’s a story about strength and finding the courage to let love into your heart.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

From the New York Times bestselling author of How to Walk Away comes a stunning new novel about family, hope, and learning to love against all odds.

Cassie Hanwell was born for emergencies. As one of the only female firefighters in her Texas firehouse, she’s seen her fair share of them, and she’s excellent at dealing with other people’s tragedies. But when her estranged and ailing mother asks her to uproot her life and move to Boston, it’s an emergency of a kind Cassie never anticipated.

The tough, old-school Boston firehouse is as different from Cassie’s old job as it could possibly be. Hazing, a lack of funding, and poor facilities mean that the firemen aren’t exactly thrilled to have a “lady” on the crew, even one as competent and smart as Cassie. Except for the handsome rookie, who doesn’t seem to mind having Cassie around. But she can’t think about that. Because she doesn’t fall in love. And because of the advice her old captain gave her: don’t date firefighters. Cassie can feel her resolve slipping…but will she jeopardize her place in a career where she’s worked so hard to be taken seriously?

Katherine Center’s Things You Save in a Fire is a heartfelt, affecting novel about life, love, and the true meaning of courage.

five-stars

About Katherine Center

Katherine Center is the New York Times bestselling author of How to Walk Away, the upcoming Things You Save in a Fire (August 2019), and five other bittersweet comic novels. Six Foot Pictures is currently adapting her fourth novel, The Lost Husband, into a feature film starring Josh Duhamel, Leslie Bibb, and Nora Dunn. Katherine has been compared to both Nora Ephron and Jane Austen, and the Dallas Morning News calls her stories, “satisfying in the most soul-nourishing way.” Katherine recently gave a TEDx talk on how stories teach us empathy, and her work has appeared in USA Today, InStyle, Redbook, People, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, Real Simple, Southern Living, and InTouch, among others. Katherine lives in her hometown of Houston, Texas, with her fun husband, two sweet kids, and fluffy-but-fierce dog.

Review: THE PERFECT WIFE by J. P. Delaney

Review:  THE PERFECT WIFE by J. P. DelaneyThe Perfect Wife by J.P. Delaney
Also by this author: The Girl Before
three-half-stars
Published by Ballantine Books on August 6, 2019
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 432
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE PERFECT WIFE Review

 

J. P. Delaney has become one of my go-to authors when I’m in the mood for a suspenseful psychological thriller with a unique storyline. I really enjoyed his previous novels The Girl Before and Believe Me for this reason and he’s done it again with his latest effort, The Perfect Wife.

The Perfect Wife follows Abbie, who as the story opens, wakes up not knowing who she is or where she is.  Tim, the man who is with her when she wakes up, says that he is her husband and begins to fill in some of the gaps in her memory, telling her that she is an artist and a mother.  What he tells her next is rather unsettling.  Tim, a giant in the Silicon Valley tech industry, informs Abbie that she was in a horrific accident five years ago that took her from him. Through the magic of a technological breakthrough in the field of artificial intelligence, he has managed to bring her back from the dead.  The Abbie we are following in the story is actually an AI robot that is basically a clone of Tim’s real wife.

The technology is such that even many of Abbie’s memories were able to be uploaded into the AI unit. What starts to happen, however, is that the more AI Abbie pieces together about the real life relationship between her alter ego and Tim, the more she questions what Tim’s motives really are and his version of the accident that took Abbie from him.  Is he really just a sad guy who misses his wife and wants to preserve her memory (in a slightly creepy way) or is there more to it?

I really enjoyed the many twists and turns of the story as AI Abbie gets closer and closer to unraveling the mystery of what happened to the real Abbie and what Tim’s role in it was.  There’s plenty of suspense and I just loved the sci fi twist, especially having the story told from the perspective of the AI so that we can see her piecing together all of the key details needed to solve the mystery.  The AI tech speak was interesting too, even if I didn’t necessarily understand all of it or wholly buy into the idea of being able to upload memories into an AI unit. It was still fascinating to even consider the possibility.  I also liked the exploration of the moral implications – would such a thing even be considered ethical since you’re basically artificially cloning a person without his or her consent?

I also liked that in addition to the science fiction angle and the mystery/psychological thriller angle, the story has even more layers that deal with marriage and family.  The author does an especially nice job of realistically depicting all of the challenges that come with raising a child who is on the autism spectrum.

The only real downside for me with The Perfect Wife is that I didn’t really connect much with any of the characters.  I felt like an outsider observing them in a clinical way.  My preference is always for characters that I find relatable or that I feel something for, so in that sense, the read was a little off for me.  Even so, it was still a very solid read for me.

If a psychological thriller with a sci fi twist and a wholly original plot sounds like something you would enjoy, J. P. Delaney’s The Perfect Wife should be on your must-read list.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

The perfect life. The perfect love. The perfect lie. From the bestselling author of The Girl Before comes a gripping new psychological thriller. . . .

Abbie awakens in a daze with no memory of who she is or how she landed in this unsettling condition. The man by her side claims to be her husband. He’s a titan of the tech world, the founder of one of Silicon Valley’s most innovative start-ups. He tells Abbie that she is a gifted artist, an avid surfer, a loving mother to their young son, and the perfect wife. He says she had a terrible accident five years ago and that, through a huge technological breakthrough, she has been brought back from the abyss.

She is a miracle of science.

But as Abbie pieces together memories of her marriage, she begins questioning her husband’s motives–and his version of events. Can she trust him when he says he wants them to be together forever? And what really happened to Abbie half a decade ago?

Beware the man who calls you . . .

three-half-stars

About J.P. Delaney

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

Review: SAY YOU STILL LOVE ME by K. A. Tucker

Review:  SAY YOU STILL LOVE ME by K. A. TuckerSay You Still Love Me by K.A. Tucker
four-stars
Published by Atria Books on August 6, 2019
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, 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..

 

 

 

 

 

 

SAY YOU STILL LOVE ME Review

 

I’m always a sucker for a good second chance romance, so when I heard K.A. Tucker’s Say You Still Love Me featured one, I knew I had to read it. And it was everything I love in a second chance romance too. It has two incredibly likeable main characters that I loved, both individually and as a couple, a dual timeline that give us glimpses both of when they first met and fell in love and when they reunited years later, and, finally, a bit of mystery as we gradually learn what happened to end their relationship all those years ago.

Kyle and Piper were both such great characters, equally likeable as adults and as teenagers.  I especially enjoyed following Piper, who as an adult, is now a successful businesswoman preparing to take her place as the head of her father’s company as soon as he retires.  It’s fun to watch her transform from those awkward teenage years to a competent and confident corporate VP, doing whatever it takes to earn the respect of her father’s longtime employees.  I also had a major soft spot for Kyle, whose family clearly comes from the wrong side of the tracks.  He’s practically the only member of his family who hasn’t been in jail, and his family’s illustrious history dogs him everywhere he goes.

The use of a dual timeline was one of my favorite parts of Say You Still Love Me.  In addition to watching Kyle and Piper interact as adults in the corporate world, I was a huge fan of the flashbacks to summer camp where Kyle and Piper first met as teen counselors.  I loved the nostalgic and almost magical vibe that the summer camp atmosphere always seems to provide, as well as the fact that Piper and Kyle were just so sweet together.  Even though they come from opposite sides of the tracks, all of their differences just melt away at camp and they’re just a boy and a girl falling in love for the first time.

The biggest draw for me, however, was the wanting to know what exactly happened to break them up after that summer since they had seemed so perfect for each other.  The answer to that question is a slow burning one that gradually reveals itself as we move through the story, and it really made what was already a great story even more compelling since Piper hints repeatedly that Kyle broke her heart.

There’s so much more I could say about Say You Still Love Me, but I’m just going to leave it at – if you enjoy second chance romances, the romance between Kyle and Piper is one you’re going to love!

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Life is a mixed bag for Piper Calloway.

On the one hand, she’s a twenty-nine-year-old VP at her dad’s multibillion-dollar real estate development firm, and living the high single life with her two best friends in a swanky downtown penthouse. On the other hand, she’s considered a pair of sexy legs in a male-dominated world and constantly has to prove her worth. Plus, she’s stuck seeing her narcissistic ex-fiancé—a fellow VP—on the other side of her glass office wall every day.

Things get exponentially more complicated for Piper when she runs into Kyle Miller—the handsome new security guard at Calloway Group Industries, and coincidentally the first love of her life.

The guy she hasn’t seen or heard from since they were summer camp counsellors together. The guy from the wrong side of the tracks. The guy who apparently doesn’t even remember her name.

Piper may be a high-powered businesswoman now, but she soon realizes that her schoolgirl crush is not only alive but stronger than ever, and crippling her concentration. What’s more, despite Kyle’s distant attitude, she’s convinced their reunion isn’t at all coincidental, and that his feelings for her still run deep. And she’s determined to make him admit to them, no matter the consequences.

four-stars

About K.A. Tucker

K.A. Tucker writes captivating stories with an edge.

She is the USA Today bestselling author of 17 books, including the Causal Enchantment, Ten Tiny Breaths and Burying Water series, He Will Be My Ruin, Until It Fades, Keep Her Safe, and The Simple Wild.

Her books have been featured in national publications including USA Today, Globe & Mail, Suspense Magazine, First for Women, and Publisher’s Weekly. She has been nominated for the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Romance 2013 for TEN TINY BREATHS and Best Romance 2018 for THE SIMPLE WILD. Her novels have been translated into 16 languages.

K.A. Tucker currently resides in a quaint town outside of Toronto with her family.

Review: THE ESCAPE ROOM by Megan Goldin

Review:  THE ESCAPE ROOM by Megan GoldinThe Escape Room by Megan Goldin
three-half-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on July 30, 2019
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE ESCAPE ROOM Review

 

Megan Goldin’s The Escape Room is a suspenseful thriller and just an all around wild ride.  It follows four Wall Street investment bankers, Sylvie, Vincent, Sam, and Jules, who are called into the office unexpectedly after hours to participate in what is apparently a mandatory team building activity.  Accustomed to working in an environment that is competitive to the point of being cutthroat, everyone is surprised and more than a little annoyed to be forced to take part in this activity.  What’s even more surprising, however, is the activity itself, which is one of those Escape Rooms that are so popular now and that it takes place with them locked in an elevator together.

The clues presented in the elevator are intensely personal and appear designed to get the colleagues to turn against one another.  No matter what they do and how many clues they work together to solve, the elevator doors remain locked.  What do they have to do to escape what is fast becoming a claustrophobic prison and who is Sara Hall and why does her name appear in one of their clues?

Because this is a thriller I don’t want to say too much more about the plot itself except that it obviously becomes so much more than just a simple Escape Room.  The characters themselves weren’t especially likeable or easy to relate to, which could have made this a challenging read for me since I do usually prefer to feel some kind of connection to the characters I’m reading about, but the story itself was so riveting that even with unlikeable characters, I still couldn’t stop turning the pages. The writing was crisp, fast-paced, and uses a dual timeline structure to advance the plot and eventually reveal what exactly is going on, who is responsible, and most importantly, why it was done. I did guess correctly on a couple of things early on in the book, so that was a little disappointing, but overall I still found this a very entertaining read.

If you’re looking for a suspenseful read that is a compulsive page turner, look no further than Megan Goldin’s The Escape Room.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Vincent, Jules, Sylvie, and Sam are ruthlessly ambitious high-flyers working in the lucrative world of Wall Street finance where deception and intimidation thrive. Getting rich is all that matters, and they’ll do anything to reach the top.

When they are ordered to participate in a corporate team-building exercise that requires them to escape from a locked elevator, dark secrets of their team begin to be laid bare.

The biggest mystery to solve in this lethal game: What happened to Sara Hall? Once a young shining star—”now gone but not forgotten”.

This is no longer a game.

They’re fighting for their lives.

three-half-stars

About Megan Goldin

Megan Goldin was a journalist before she became a writer. She reported from the Middle East for the Associated Press, Reuters, the (Australian) ABC and other news outlets. She worked in Asia as a reporter and editor for Reuters and Yahoo!. She is the author of The Escape Room, which will be released in the U.S. and UK in 2019, and The Girl In Kellers Way.

Review: THE BOOK CHARMER by Karen Hawkins

Review:  THE BOOK CHARMER by Karen HawkinsThe Book Charmer (Dove Pond, #1) by Karen Hawkins
four-stars
Published by Gallery Books on July 30, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE BOOK CHARMER Review

 

I have to admit that I requested Karen Hawkins’ latest novel The Book Charmer from Netgalley solely based on the beautiful cover and the fact that it was clearly a book about books.  That combination was irresistible to me, even without having read the synopsis.  Thankfully once I settled down and actually read the synopsis, I knew my instinct to select this book was a good one as it’s marketed as a book perfect for fans of Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic and Alice Hoffman is one of my favorite authors.

I found The Book Charmer to be a truly magical read in every sense of the word, and although I feel like I could ramble about this book for days, I’m just going to share a few of the things I enjoyed most.

 

  1. Dove Pond. I adore books that are set in small towns and the town of Dove Pond stole my heart right away. It’s a quaint little southern town located in North Carolina.  It’s one of those little towns where all the residents know each other and make it their business to know about everyone new who comes to their town. They may seem like busybodies on the surface, but the residents will have your back in a heartbeat if you find yourself in trouble.  And yes, the town has its fair share of quirky characters which sometimes made me chuckle, but the sense of community in Dove Pond was overall just truly heartwarming.  It’s like one big happy family.
  1. Grace Wheeler. The Book Charmer features fiercely independent women as its protagonists and Grace Wheeler is one of them.  Grace has moved to Dove Pond and is just taking things day by day, trying to adjust to recent changes in her life that have left her as her niece Daisy’s primary caregiver and in a similar role for her foster mother, Mama G., who is suffering from dementia.  The only reason Grace is in Dove Pond is because it’s where Mama G. grew up and doctors have told her that a familiar environment would help Mama G. cope with her deteriorating memories.  I loved Grace right away  because of her determination to put her family first at all costs and because of her sense of independence.  She is determined to leave Dove Pond as soon as she possibly can and has no interest in putting down permanent roots there, including making friends.  She just simply doesn’t have the time or energy to devote to that.

(As a side note, I also really appreciated how Hawkins handled writing about someone who is experiencing dementia – how it impacts them and how it impacts everyone around them.  As someone who has a family member who is currently suffering from dementia, I found myself nodding my head at what was going on with Mama G. throughout the book.  Hawkins handles this subject matter delicately and accurately).

  1. Sarah Dove. While Grace is doggedly determined to leave Dove Pond as soon as possible, equally stubborn Dove Pond resident, Sarah Dove, has other ideas.  Sarah is the town librarian, which of course endeared her to me right away, because…books! But I also adored Sarah because she was just so adorably quirky.  She also has a special gift when it comes to books – I don’t want to say too much about it, but if you’re in Dove Pond and Sarah gives you a book, it’s definitely in your best interest to take it, whether you think you want to read it or not!  Sarah also has a gift when it comes to knowing what Dove Pond needs and as soon as she meets Grace, she decides Dove Pond needs Grace. Sarah therefore makes it her mission to make Grace fall in love with the town and its residents.
  1. Relationships. At its heart, The Book Charmer is a book about relationships.  It has a strong focus on family, especially found families, and on the importance of friendships (whether you’re looking for them or not).  And yes, for all of the romance fans out there, there is a hint of a romance in the book as well. I don’t want to say much about that either except to say that Trav, the male love interest, is described as looking like Khal Drogo from Game of Thrones Yes, please! (And you know I of course loved that this book had GoT references in it!) 
  1. Magical Realism. Sometimes magical realism is hit or miss for me, but it really works in this charming, special little town.  This is where the comparison to Alice Hoffman’s books were so apt because Hawkins’ use of magical realism is subtle like Hoffman’s is and really gives you that feeling that those little magical elements could actually be possible.

  

If you’re looking for a heartwarming read that features a small town setting, lovable characters, and a strong focus on family and friendships, I highly recommend adding Karen Hawkins’ The Book Charmer to your reading list.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

New York Times bestselling author Karen Hawkins crafts an unforgettable story about a sleepy Southern town, two fiercely independent women, and a truly magical friendship.

Sarah Dove is no ordinary bookworm. To her, books have always been more than just objects: they live, they breathe, and sometimes they even speak. When Sarah grows up to become the librarian in her quaint Southern town of Dove Pond, her gift helps place every book in the hands of the perfect reader. Recently, however, the books have been whispering about something out of the ordinary: the arrival of a displaced city girl named Grace Wheeler.

If the books are right, Grace could be the savior that Dove Pond desperately needs. The problem is, Grace wants little to do with the town or its quirky residents—Sarah chief among them. It takes a bit of urging, and the help of an especially wise book, but Grace ultimately embraces the challenge to rescue her charmed new community. In her quest, she discovers the tantalizing promise of new love, the deep strength that comes from having a true friend, and the power of finding just the right book.

“A mesmerizing fusion of the mystical and the everyday” (Susan Andersen, New York Times bestselling author), The Book Charmer is a heartwarming story about the magic of books that feels more than a little magical itself. Prepare to fall under its spell.

four-stars

About Karen Hawkins

New York Times and USA Today best-selling author Karen Hawkins is known for her wonderfully humorous and emotion-tugging historical and contemporary romances. The author of over 30 novels, Karen writes for a living between shopping for shoes, playing around on Facebook and Pinterest, looking for fun items for Hawkins Manor, and napping, although usually not at the same time. Sometimes, for fun, she takes Instagram pictures of her two rescue dogs, Sadie and Teke, and posts them online.

Yeah, she’s a wild one.

Karen lives in snowy Massachusetts, with her husband, aka Hot Cop, and her two dogs. Her children are both out of college and have become productive, non-violent members of society. Karen writes six to eight hours a day when not obsessively reading research books on Regency-era Scotland, snacking on chocolate, or looking out the windows of her house and thinking about gardening. Her hobbies include sculpting, oil painting, playing badminton, and — ok, ok, she doesn’t have any hobbies, but if she did, she’s sure they’d be something refined and fascinating.

Review: ASK AGAIN, YES by Mary Beth Keane

Review:  ASK AGAIN, YES by Mary Beth KeaneAsk Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
four-half-stars
Published by Scribner on May 28, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

ASK AGAIN, YES  Review

 

Mary Beth Keane’s latest novel Ask Again, Yes is a poignant and powerful exploration of what happens when an unexpected tragedy rocks the lives of two neighboring families.  It follows Kate Gleeson and Peter Stanhope, who grew up together in a suburban neighborhood in New York.  Although their fathers are both NYPD police officers, the two families really don’t have much to do with one another.  Peter’s mother Anne is especially standoffish, so after a few early attempts to make friends, Kate’s mom gave up. In spite of that awkwardness, Kate and Peter still find each other and become best friends.  In the spring of their 8th grade year, just as their relationship is blossoming into more that friendship, tragedy strikes and an unthinkable act of violence pushes the two families even further apart.  Peter’s family is forced to leave, and he and Kate are forbidden from contacting each other. Kate and Peter do eventually reconnect as adults, but can they have any kind of relationship when the events of the past still haunt both them and their families?

* * * * *

This novel just really moved me on so many different levels.  I was immediately drawn to the friendship between young Kate and Peter.  Keane does such a wonderful job of portraying their relationship as they move from the innocence of childhood to the excitement of falling in love for the first time.  Both characters are so well drawn and everything about the evolving of their relationship just felt so authentic.  What happens between the two families would be considered tragic no matter what, but it was especially heartbreaking to see what it does to these two very likeable children.

I also found myself incredibly invested in both families, not just because of Kate and Peter, but because all of the characters in this book feel so realistic.  Everything for them is messy and complicated, just like real life.  The intimate look Keane gives us into their lives — their reactions to things that happen, their strengths and weaknesses as they try to cope with the aftermath of that tragic event, etc. — all of it just made me feel like these two families could easily be my own neighbors.

Aside from the intimate look into the lives of these two families, what also drew me to Ask Again, Yes are all of the themes it explores.  Yes, it’s a story about family, friendship, and love, but it’s also a story about mental illness, tragedy, and the power of forgiveness.  I also love that it gives us the perspective of how something that seems one way when we’re children can seem like something entirely different when we reflect back on it as adults, especially the idea that no one is as innocent or guilty as they may seem.

If you’re looking for a moving family drama that will tug at your heartstrings, Mary Beth Keane’s Ask Again, Yes is a book you should add to your must-read list.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A profoundly moving novel about two neighboring families in a suburban town, the friendship between their children, a tragedy that reverberates over four decades, and the power of forgiveness.

Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope are two NYPD rookies assigned to the same Bronx precinct in 1973. They aren’t close friends on the job, but end up living next door to each other outside the city. What goes on behind closed doors in both houses—the loneliness of Francis’s wife, Lena, and the instability of Brian’s wife, Anne, sets the stage for the stunning events to come.

Ask Again, Yes by award-winning author Mary Beth Keane, is a beautifully moving exploration of the friendship and love that blossoms between Francis’s youngest daughter, Kate, and Brian’s son, Peter, who are born six months apart. In the spring of Kate and Peter’s eighth grade year a violent event divides the neighbors, the Stanhopes are forced to move away, and the children are forbidden to have any further contact.

But Kate and Peter find a way back to each other, and their relationship is tested by the echoes from their past. Ask Again, Yes reveals how the events of childhood look different when reexamined from the distance of adulthood—villains lose their menace, and those who appeared innocent seem less so. Kate and Peter’s love story is marked by tenderness, generosity, and grace.

 

four-half-stars

About Mary Beth Keane

Mary Beth Keane attended Barnard College and the University of Virginia, where she received an MFA. In 2011, she was named one of the National Book Foundation’s “5 under 35,” and in 2015 she was awarded a John S. Guggenheim fellowship for fiction writing. She currently lives in Pearl River, New York with her husband and their two sons. She is the author of The Walking People, Fever, and Ask Again, Yes.

Review: THE BEST LIES by Sarah Lyu

Review:  THE BEST LIES by Sarah LyuThe Best Lies by Sarah Lyu
four-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on July 2, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Mystery, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 352
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 BEST LIES Review

 

Sarah Lyu’s exciting debut The Best Lies opens with a death and a police interrogation.  Remy Tsai’s boyfriend Jack has been shot dead, and the police are trying to get to the bottom of what happened.  All they know when the story opens is that the shooting took place at night in Remy’s best friend Elise’s home, Remy may or may not have been present, and it was Elise who pulled the trigger and ended Jack’s life.  Was it murder? Was it self-defense?

This is one of those books where I can’t say much at all without spoiling it, but I will say that I loved the opening.  The tension of the interrogation scene, coupled with finding out that such an awful thing had happened, immediately drew me in and had me wanting to know more.

I found Remy to be a tremendously sympathetic character.  She’s an emotional wreck when the story opens, trying to wrap her head around the fact that the boy she loves is gone and that her best friend is the one who took him away from her.  I can’t even imagine being in that kind of situation and the author does a wonderful job of showing us just how emotionally spent Remy is from the ordeal. Remy also comes from a home where her parents scream, fight, and threaten divorce constantly, so for Remy, it hurts all the more to have lost Jack, who was the one bright spot in her life.  Her emotional state makes her a somewhat unreliable narrator, which adds yet another layer to the story.  Can we trust anything she is saying about that night?

I didn’t like Elise as much as I liked Remy, but I still thought she was an interesting character. I had sympathy for her because she comes from an abusive home, but at the same time, I found some of the things she does to be somewhat juvenile and I sometimes wondered what Remy saw in her.  She does have what I’d consider to be a magnetic personality though so I’m thinking that was part of the allure.

The author also drew me in with the way she lets the story unfold.  The story is presented to us in two timelines, one in the present and one in the past.  In the present timeline, we are following Remy in the aftermath of the shooting as both she and the police try to make sense of what happened that night.  In the past timeline, we get to see how Remy meets both Elise and then Jack, and how their relationships evolve over time and how we end up where we are in the opening scene of the book. Lyu seamlessly weaves together these timelines into a complex and intricate story that is not just a crime thriller but that also explores what happens when friendships take a dark turn.

The Best Lies held my attention from start to finish as I waited with bated breath to find out the truth about what happened that night.  The story is both suspenseful and heartbreaking and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys mysteries and to anyone who gravitates to stories that deal with grief.  It’s a dark read but, at the same time, an emotional one.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Remy Tsai used to know how her story would turn out. But now, she doesn’t even know what tomorrow will look like.

She was happy once. Remy had her boyfriend Jack, and Elise, her best friend—her soulmate—who understood her better than anyone else in the world.

But now Jack is dead, shot through the chest—

And it was Elise who pulled the trigger.

Was it self-defense? Or something deeper, darker than anything Remy could have imagined? As the police investigate, Remy does the same, sifting through her own memories, looking for a scrap of truth that could save the friendship that means everything to her.

Told in alternating timelines, Thelma and Louise meets Gone Girl in this twisted psychological thriller about the dark side of obsessive friendship.

four-stars

About Sarah Lyu

Sarah Lyu grew up outside of Atlanta, Georgia, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. She currently resides in Birmingham, Alabama, with her husband and dogs. She loves a good hike but can often be found with a book on her lap and sweet tea in hand. The Best Lies is her first book. You can visit her at SarahLyu.com.

Review: WHEREVER SHE GOES by Kelley Armstrong

Review:  WHEREVER SHE GOES by Kelley ArmstrongWherever She Goes by Kelley Armstrong
three-half-stars
Published by Minotaur Books on June 25, 2019
Genres: Mystery, Thriller, Fiction
Pages: 292
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..

 

 

 

 

 

WHEREVER SHE GOES Review

 

Kelley Armstrong’s newest book Wherever She Goes is a gripping psychological thriller that explores the lengths one woman will go to when she believes the police aren’t doing their jobs.

Single mom Aubrey Finch is in the neighborhood park one day and meets a young woman and her little boy.  After some brief small talk, they go their separate ways, but the next time, Aubrey is in the park, she sees the same little boy being pulled unwillingly in an SUV which then speeds away.  There’s no sign of his mother anywhere, so panicked and concerned for the boy’s safety, Aubrey phones the police.  When they arrive on the scene, the reaction Aubrey gets is not at all what she is expecting.  Because there’s no parent around reporting that their child has been abducted, the police refuse to believe Aubrey’s story and even go so far as to accuse her of being a mentally unstable attention seeker.  Aubrey knows what she saw, and so, frustrated by law enforcement’s lack of action, she decides to take matters into her own hands to bring the little boy home safely…

Wow, what a wild ride this was.  I had tremendous sympathy for Aubrey for so many reasons.  I can’t even imagine trying to report something as important as a child abduction to the police and having them blow me off.  I also honestly can’t imagine law enforcement behaving so irresponsibly, but it definitely serves as an effective device to move the story along and spur Aubrey into amateur sleuth mode.  Even more so than the way she was treated by the police, however, my sympathy for Aubrey lies in the fact that she is newly divorced and trying to make it on her own without help from anyone.  Her own child is living with her ex-husband full time now (Aubrey’s idea) because she’s living in a not-so-great neighborhood where the rent is cheap in hopes of saving up money for a better home that is more suitable for a child.  I commend her for her independence in this matter but also felt bad for her because not having custody of her child immediately opens her up to all kinds of judgment from strangers.  Everyone assumes she has done something terrible to not have her child living with her.

Aubrey also has her fair share of secrets that she has been hiding for years.  I’ll admit that the fact she’s hiding something about herself, coupled with the way people kept questioning her sanity did give me pause as to whether or not Aubrey was a reliable narrator.  I liked her so much though that I wanted her to be right so I was glued to the book to see what, if anything, she would find when she started looking for proof that there really was an abduction.  The author does a fantastic job building up suspense here because when Aubrey starts trying to locate the woman she met in the park that day, she opens up a can of worms that is way more than she bargained for.

My only real complaint about Wherever She Goes is that I actually felt more invested in Aubrey’s personal dramas and in finding out about her past than I did in the abduction storyline.  Both were interesting, of course, but the witnessing of a crime and having no one believe your story just felt a little stale to me, like it has been done many times before (The Girl on the Train and The Woman in the Window immediately come to mind).  Aubrey’s personal story grabbed my attention and held it more since it was the more unique of the two.

Even with that one little quibble though, Wherever She Goes is still a very entertaining read.  There were plenty of plot twists to keep me guessing and I found the ending to be very satisfying.  I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys psychological thrillers and domestic dramas.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

From New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong comes a brand new psychological thriller about the lengths one woman will go to in order to save a child.

“Few crimes are reported as quickly as a snatched kid.”

That’s what the officer tells single mother Aubrey Finch after she reports a kidnapping. So why hasn’t anyone reported the little boy missing? Aubrey knows what she saw: a boy being taken against his will from the park. It doesn’t matter that the mother can’t be found. It doesn’t matter if no one reported it. Aubrey knows he’s missing.

Instead, people question her sanity. Aubrey hears the whispers. She’s a former stay-at-home mom who doesn’t have primary custody of her daughter, so there must be something wrong with her, right? Others may not understand her decision to walk away from her safe life at home, but years of hiding her past – even from the people she loves – were taking their toll, and Aubrey knows she can’t be the mother or wife she envisions until she learns to leave her secrets behind.

When the police refuse to believe her, she realizes that rescuing the boy is up to her alone. But after all the secrets, how far is she willing to go? Even to protect a child.

three-half-stars

About Kelley Armstrong

Kelley Armstrong has been telling stories since before she could write. Her earliest written efforts were disastrous. If asked for a story about girls and dolls, hers would invariably feature undead girls and evil dolls, much to her teachers’ dismay. All efforts to make her produce “normal” stories failed.

Today, she continues to spin tales of ghosts and demons and werewolves, while safely locked away in her basement writing dungeon. She’s the author of the NYT-bestselling “Women of the Otherworld” paranormal suspense series and “Darkest Powers” young adult urban fantasy trilogy, as well as the Nadia Stafford crime series. Armstrong lives in southwestern Ontario with her husband, kids and far too many pets.

Review: WILDER GIRLS by Rory Power

Review:  WILDER GIRLS by Rory PowerWilder Girls by Rory Power
three-half-stars
Published by Delacorte Press on July 9, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Horror, Mystery
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

WILDER GIRLS Review

Rory Power’s Wilder Girls is an atmospheric read that takes a hard and disturbing look at what happens when a mysterious plague-like disease called the Tox infects the entire population of an all-girls boarding school. When Wilder Girls opens, many are already dead, both teachers and students, and the entire island has been in quarantine for eighteen months.  Boats periodically come and drop off supplies for the quarantined survivors, but aside from that and the occasional promise that the CDC is doing everything they can to find a cure, there is no contact with the outside world.

The whole idea of the Tox drew me in right away.  Powers does a wonderful job of creating an eerie and terrifying atmosphere by plunging her readers right into the action and showing us what the Tox has done to the girls.  Even with our first glance around the school, we see a girl whose arm has suddenly grown reptilian-like scales on it, another girl whose eye has sealed shut and now appears to be growing something beneath the seal, and even a girl who appears to have grown a second spine that protrudes out of her back. And that’s just scratching the surface of ways this disease is manifesting itself.  The mood is dark and desperate, there aren’t nearly enough supplies being sent, and most social conventions have flown out the window as the name of the game is survival.  I read somewhere that this book is considered a feminist retelling of Lord of the Flies, and from those first moments, I definitely felt a similar vibe between the two books.

I also liked that the opening scenes really got my wheels turning with question after question and even got my inner conspiracy theorist humming.  What the heck is the Tox?  Why are everyone’s physical symptoms so different?  Why the total isolation, without even radio contact? Is the government responsible for the tox?  If not, is it something alien?   And on and on, you get the idea. This is a book that will definitely make you think and it’s also a quick read because you’ll find yourself just dying to get all of your questions answered.

In addition to being fascinated by the deadly Tox, I also really enjoyed the friendship of the three main characters, Hetty, Byatt, and Reese.  These three girls are very loyal to each other and do everything they can to make sure all three of them have the best chance of survival.  When Byatt unexpectedly disappears. Hetty and Reese make it their mission to find out what has happened to her.  What they find as they search for her is every bit as disturbing as the Tox itself and adds tremendous tension and suspense to what is already a book that you won’t want to put down.

*****

So why only 3.5 stars if this book has so many great things going for it?  Well, I did have a few issues with it.  The first is that I didn’t find the explanation for the Tox to be thorough enough for my liking.  As interesting as it was, I felt like it was explained in a very vague way.  Also, even though I liked the dynamic of their friendship, I didn’t feel emotionally invested in the three main characters.  I don’t want to say that I didn’t care about what happened to them because that’s not true, but I just felt like they were at arm’s length and would have preferred getting to know a little more about each of them.  One final issue I had was the ending, which was just way too open-ended for my liking.

Wilder Girls really is an entertaining read, especially for horror fans and if you don’t mind an open-ended read.  I wanted more from it since it was one of my most anticipated reads of the year, but it’s still a good read overall.  Be forewarned though that it is violent and gory, there are many deaths, as well as mentions of self-harm and suicide.  It’s not a read for the faint of heart.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

It’s been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty’s life out from under her.

It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don’t dare wander outside the school’s fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.

But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there’s more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true.

three-half-stars