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Review: GOOD GIRLS LIE by J.T. Ellison

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

PURCHASE LINKS:  

HarlequinAmazonBarnes & NobleIndie BoundiBooksBooks-A-MillionTargetKoboGoogle Books

 

SUMMARY:

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

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

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

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

 

J.T. ELLISON GOOD GIRLS LIE BOOK TOUR

 

  

four-stars

About J.T. Ellison

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

Review: HUSBAND MATERIAL by Emily Belden

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

PURCHASE LINKS:  

HarlequinAmazonBarnes & NobleIndie BoundKoboGoogle Books

 

SUMMARY:

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

four-stars

About Emily Belden

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

Review: THE TURN OF THE KEY by Ruth Ware

Review:  THE TURN OF THE KEY by Ruth WareThe Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware
Also by this author: The Death of Mrs. Westaway
four-stars
Published by Gallery/Scout Press on August 6, 2019
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 337
Source: Purchased
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE TURN OF THE KEY Review

 

“Don’t come here…It’s not safe…The ghosts wouldn’t like it…”

 

As soon as I read that line, I knew that Ruth Ware’s latest novel, The Turn of the Key, was exactly the kind of creepy, spooky read I was looking for.  The novel follows former nanny and current prison inmate, Rowan Caine. Rowan has been charged with murdering one of the children she was supposed to be taking care of and is in prison awaiting her trial.  When the novel opens, we are presented with a letter she is writing to an attorney, in hopes of persuading him to take her case. The story of what has happened to land Rowan in prison then unfolds through the pages of her letter.

I loved the way Ware uses this letter to frame the entire story because it immediately sets Rowan up as an unreliable narrator. She’s desperately trying to plead her case to this attorney so of course she’s going to try to paint herself as innocently as possible. Rowan comes off as convincing overall though, describing several times throughout her letter how she was, at times, a flat-out terrible nanny.  I found her flawed yet mostly believable so she captured my sympathy pretty easily and made me want to find out what really happened.

So, what really did happen?  I don’t want to give anything away since this is a thriller so I’m just going to talk about the setup a bit, which I thought was fantastic. Rowan is job hunting and comes across an ad for a live-in nanny at a home in the gorgeous Scottish Highlands. The salary is surprisingly high and everything about the job sounds perfect, almost too good to be true.  Rowan interviews for the position and meets the children she’ll be taking care of and it’s one of the children who tells her “Don’t come here…It’s not safe…The ghosts wouldn’t like it…”  While this doesn’t exactly give Rowan warm fuzzies, she takes the job anyway.  And of course, in true thriller fashion, finds out almost immediately that it is, in fact, too good to be true and every nanny that has worked there before her has abruptly quit and moved out.  The question is why and how do we get from that point all the way to the point where Rowan is in jail accused of murdering a child and all I’m going to say is that it’s a nightmare for Rowan and one heck of a ride for the reader!

What really hooked me on this story though is how atmospheric it is.  Ware is a master of creating these creepy, sinister, almost Gothic settings and that’s the vibe that the house and its surrounding grounds have. There’s even a forbidden garden on the property that is filled with poisonous plants.  The owners tell Rowan that it belonged to the previous owners, but for goodness sakes, as parents with small children, wouldn’t you think they would have that ripped up and removed for safety reasons?  Needless to say, I was not a big fan of the parents in this book.

In an interesting twist, Ware cleverly offsets the creepy Gothic vibe of the house and grounds by making the house a “smart” house with all of the latest technological advances.  The current owners are architects so it’s their “smart” design and they have the whole house set up and controlled by an app called Happy.  Even when they’re out of town, the parents can pop in unannounced via speaker and they also have numerous cameras set up throughout the house so that they can see anything at any time.  Imagine Alexa only creepier because of what it can do and how easy it is to invade someone’s privacy.  It’s also pretty glitchy so unexpected things happen frequently, which gives Rowan the feeling that the house and Happy are out to get her as soon as the parents go out of town and she is left to fend for herself.

When things really start to go bump in the night is where Ware really excels in The Turn of the Key. She had me on the edge of my seat as Rowan is initially terrified by what she keeps hearing in the house and then ultimately furious about it and determined to get to the bottom of it.  There are twists and turns galore and enough suspense that it had me reading late into the night and then imagining that I was hearing similar sounds in my own home.  The pacing is perfect too, especially if you’re looking for a quick read.  I devoured The Turn of the Key in just a couple of sittings.

This is the third novel I’ve read from Ruth Ware and while it wasn’t my favorite – that honor still goes to In a Dark, Dark Wood – it’s a very close second.  If you’re in the mood for a creepy read with lots of twists and turns, Ruth Ware’s The Turn of the Key is a must-read!

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare—one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.

Writing to her lawyer from prison, she struggles to explain the unravelling events that led to her incarceration. It wasn’t just the constant surveillance from the cameras installed around the house, or the malfunctioning technology that woke the household with booming music, or turned the lights off at the worst possible time. It wasn’t just the girls, who turned out to be a far cry from the immaculately behaved model children she met at her interview. It wasn’t even the way she was left alone for weeks at a time, with no adults around apart from the enigmatic handyman, Jack Grant.

It was everything.

She knows she’s made mistakes. She admits that she lied to obtain the post, and that her behavior toward the children wasn’t always ideal. She’s not innocent, by any means. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty—at least not of murder. Which means someone else is.

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

four-stars

Review: THE GUINEVERE DECEPTION

Review:  THE GUINEVERE DECEPTIONThe Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White
Also by this author: Chosen (Slayer, #2)
three-stars
Series: Camelot Rising #1
Published by Delacorte Press on November 5, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction, Retelling
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 GUINEVERE DECEPTION Review

 

Everyone who follows my blog knows I love retellings. I seriously can’t get enough of them and have been especially intrigued by the influx of retellings focusing on the legend of King Arthur and Camelot.  When I heard that Kiersten White had one coming out and that it would focus on Guinevere, I knew I just had to read it.  I’ve been wanting to try one of White’s books for ages anyway, so The Guinevere Deception seemed like a perfect fit.  Sadly, however, it ended up being somewhat of a mixed bag for me.

I was hooked from the moment I realized that Guinevere was not the Guinevere from the original Arthurian legend.  Instead, she’s a witch sent by Merlin to protect King Arthur.  I loved how unique White’s take on the Lady Guinevere is and thought it was absolutely brilliant to have her placed in the castle, posing as Arthur’s wife, but really serving as a secret weapon right under any enemy’s nose.  It might just be me, but I also found it amusing that Arthur was totally cool with going along with Merlin’s plan. He hadn’t found anyone he wanted to marry yet anyway, so hey, why not?

One of my favorite parts of The Guinevere Deception was watching Arthur and Guinevere’s relationship develop.  Around every other character, Guinevere has to put up a front and play her assigned role, but when she and Arthur are alone, she has those rare moments where she can let her guard down and we get to see more of the real Guinevere.  I wouldn’t go so far as to call their relationship romantic by any stretch — it’s more of a friendship or alliance — but it’s just nice watching two people have meaningful conversations and get to know each other better.

The world building was intriguing as well. I really like the way White brings her vision of a magical Camelot to life and was especially fascinated by the role of the trees in the opening scenes.  They appear to engulf and destroy a small village, leaving behind no survivors.  That whole man vs. nature creepy supernatural vibe really sets the tone for the rest of the book and left me hungry to know so much more about this world.

There’s one other scene I adored and I can’t say much about it for fear of spoilers, so all I’m going to say is that fans of Brienne of Tarth from Games of Thrones will love it too.

So, why the average rating when I clearly enjoyed several elements of The Guinevere Deception?  In one word, pacing.  The pacing of the book is excruciatingly slow and honestly just seemed to meander aimlessly for over two-thirds of the book.  Merlin has sent Guinevere to protect Arthur but he never tells her who or what the threat is, so she just wanders around, chats with other characters we recognize from the Arthurian legend like Mordred, she ties magical protection knots, and tying the knots makes her tired so she has to rest. The knot magic was interesting at first, but after a while, I found it boring.

The characters, for the most part, felt very flat too.  The exceptions to that were Guinevere and Mordred.  Most of the other characters were unfortunately pretty forgettable.  Between this and the pacing, I just found it very difficult to get fully invested in the story and found myself full on skimming by the halfway point.

I will say that the last third of the book is pretty amazing though.  It has the action, the betrayals, and all of the excitement we were promised in the synopsis.  The real threat to King Arthur is also finally revealed, but gosh, it just took so long to get there!  I don’t want to say I didn’t care by this point, but I think an earlier reveal would have had me more invested in the story overall and in how Guinevere and Arthur would deal with the threat.  I have a feeling that the rest of the series is going to be very exciting based on all of the set up done here.

If you’re into King Arthur retellings and don’t mind a slow burn plot, I’d definitely suggest giving Kiersten White’s The Guinevere Deception a try.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

From New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White comes a new fantasy series reimagining the Arthurian legend, set in the magical world of Camelot.

There was nothing in the world as magical and terrifying as a girl.

Princess Guinevere has come to Camelot to wed a stranger: the charismatic King Arthur. With magic clawing at the kingdom’s borders, the great wizard Merlin conjured a solution–send in Guinevere to be Arthur’s wife . . . and his protector from those who want to see the young king’s idyllic city fail. The catch? Guinevere’s real name–and her true identity–is a secret. She is a changeling, a girl who has given up everything to protect Camelot.

To keep Arthur safe, Guinevere must navigate a court in which the old–including Arthur’s own family–demand things continue as they have been, and the new–those drawn by the dream of Camelot–fight for a better way to live. And always, in the green hearts of forests and the black depths of lakes, magic lies in wait to reclaim the land. Arthur’s knights believe they are strong enough to face any threat, but Guinevere knows it will take more than swords to keep Camelot free.

Deadly jousts, duplicitous knights, and forbidden romances are nothing compared to the greatest threat of all: the girl with the long black hair, riding on horseback through the dark woods toward Arthur. Because when your whole existence is a lie, how can you trust even yourself?

three-stars

About Kiersten White

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

Review: THE CHELSEA GIRLS by Fiona Davis

Review:  THE CHELSEA GIRLS by Fiona DavisThe Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis
four-half-stars
Published by Dutton Books on July 30, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE CHELSEA GIRLS Review

 

As a fan of historical fiction and a lover of all things New York City, I have had Fiona Davis’ novels on my must-read list for a while now. I had a feeling she would be a great fit for me, and I’m happy to say that my instinct was correct. Her latest novel, The Chelsea Girls, was everything I hoped it would be and more.  The story begins in Naples Italy during WWII and follows two young women, Hazel Ripley and Maxine Mead, who meet and become fast friends while serving on a USO tour together.  Once the war is over, Hazel and Maxine return to the states, specifically to New York City and the iconic Chelsea Hotel, where they are each looking to jumpstart their careers, Maxine as an actress and Hazel as a playwright.  The Chelsea Girls follows both Hazel and Maxine and focuses on how their lives and their friendship are impacted by the 1950s and specifically the McCarthy Era and the threat of Communism.

The historical aspect of The Chelsea Girls was a huge draw for me.  The 1950s is a period I’ve not encountered in many historical novels so, in many ways, it was a unique and refreshing read. Davis also does an incredible job of portraying just how destructive this period in history was for the entertainment industry.  Joseph McCarthy, the House Unamerican Activities Committee, and everyone else who bought into the hysteria and fear that Communists were infiltrating the U.S. were just relentless and ruthless in their pursuit and takedown of anyone they suspected of having Communist ties.  I was riveted by Davis’ exploration of the way they targeted the entertainment industry, and especially the way they got so many in the theater world blacklisted, destroying careers and lives, often without a shred of real evidence against their targets.

It wasn’t just the historical aspect of the novel that appealed to me though. I was also drawn to The Chelsea Girls because I knew a female friendship was at the heart of the story. And the friendship between Hazel and Maxine does not disappoint. Both characters are multi-layered and just oh so complex and their relationship follows suit.  I became completely invested in their friendship as soon as they met on the USO tour in Naples during WWII and continued to care very deeply for them as they experienced the inevitable ups and downs that come with a 20+ year friendship.  Their relationship is filled not only with love, friendship, support and successes, but also with failures, hurt, and betrayal.  Davis does a beautiful job of weaving together all those elements in such an organic way that it felt like I knew these women and was there watching their relationship evolve over the years.  I didn’t always love both characters, but I was still invested in them just the same.

A final element of Davis’ storytelling that I loved is that she makes the iconic Chelsea Hotel into a character of sorts.  This fascinated me, especially given the host of illustrious artistic types the landmark hotel housed in its day. If the Chelsea were actually a person, he or she would certainly have seen a lot!

As a side note, I also loved that as we follow Hazel’s career as a playwright, we get to follow the steps involved in staging a play on Broadway.  We see it from writing the actual script all the way through to opening night. I found it all so interesting and loved the extra layer that it added to an already multi-layered story.

The Chelsea Girls is an engaging and powerful historical read.  In addition to shedding a light on what a witch hunt the McCarthy Era really was, it’s also a moving story about female friendship and all its highs and lows.  These characters and their experiences are going to stick with me for a while and so I’d highly recommend it to any fan of historical fiction, theater, and female friendships.

Fiona Davis has me hooked now with her special brand of storytelling.  The Chelsea Girls was my first read from her, but it definitely will not be my last!

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

From Fiona Davis, the nationally bestselling author of The Dollhouse and The Address, the bright lights of the theater district, the glamour and danger of 1950s New York, and the wild scene at the iconic Chelsea Hotel come together in a dazzling new novel about the twenty-year friendship that will irrevocably change two women’s lives.

From the dramatic redbrick facade to the sweeping staircase dripping with art, the Chelsea Hotel has long been New York City’s creative oasis for the many artists, writers, musicians, actors, filmmakers, and poets who have called it home—a scene playwright Hazel Riley and actress Maxine Mead are determined to use to their advantage. Yet they soon discover that the greatest obstacle to putting up a show on Broadway has nothing to do with their art, and everything to do with politics. A Red scare is sweeping across America, and Senator Joseph McCarthy has started a witch hunt for Communists, with those in the entertainment industry in the crosshairs. As the pressure builds to name names, it is more than Hazel and Maxine’s Broadway dreams that may suffer as they grapple with the terrible consequences, but also their livelihood, their friendship, and even their freedom.

Spanning from the 1940s to the 1960s, The Chelsea Girls deftly pulls back the curtain on the desperate political pressures of McCarthyism, the complicated bonds of female friendship, and the siren call of the uninhibited Chelsea Hotel.

four-half-stars

About Fiona Davis

Fiona Davis is the nationally bestselling author of THE MASTERPIECE, THE DOLLHOUSE and THE ADDRESS. She began her career in New York City as an actress, where she worked on Broadway, off-Broadway, and in regional theater. After getting a master’s degree at Columbia Journalism School, she fell in love with writing, leapfrogging from editor to freelance journalist before finally settling down as an author of historical fiction. Visit her at www.fionadavis.net, facebook.com/FionaDavisAuthor/ and on Instagram and Twitter @fionajdavis.

Review: SISTERS OF SHADOW AND LIGHT by Sara B. Larson

Review:  SISTERS OF SHADOW AND LIGHT by Sara B. LarsonSisters of Shadow and Light by Sara B. Larson
three-half-stars
Series: Sisters of Shadow and Light #1
Published by Tor Teen on November 5, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SISTERS OF SHADOW AND LIGHT Review

 

Sara B. Larson’s latest novel Sisters of Shadow and Light is a beautiful fantasy story about love, family, and sacrifice.  It features two sisters, Zuhra and Inara, who have been living in isolation inside a Citadel for the past 15 years with only their mother and a servant for company.  They are isolated from the rest of the outside world by a sentient hedge.  The hedge not only won’t let anyone from inside the Citadel leave, but it will also actually attack anyone from the outside who tries to approach the Citadel.

One of the elements of the story that immediately jumped out at me was the worldbuilding.  While the idea of being trapped in a Citadel is somewhat reminiscent of Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer, everything else about it felt fresh and unique.  The Citadel the girls are living in is an abandoned fortress that once housed Paladin warriors.  All the girls really know about these legendary warriors is that they possessed powerful magic and that they’re now gone from this world.  That includes their Paladin father, who actually disappeared the night Inara, the younger sister was born.  He disappeared and the magical hedge appeared, trapping the girls and their mother in the Citadel.  No one really knows the circumstances behind his disappearance and his wife assumes he has abandoned his family, which breaks her emotionally. She retreats into herself, leaving the girls to raise themselves with the help of their servant. I was just so intrigued by the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the Paladins and trying to figure out how it would factor into the girls’ journey.

I love a good sibling story so what actually first drew me to Sisters of Shadow and Light was learning that the focus of the novel is actually the bond between two sisters. Inara has inherited her father’s magic but without him there to guide her, it has just become this uncontrollable roaring sound in her head that makes it impossible for her to communicate with anyone. Zuhra makes it her mission to try to figure out how to help Inara control it and while she is by no means fully successful, she does manage to calm Inara’s mind enough that they can occasionally sit down and chat and bond as sisters.

What drew me in to the story is also unfortunately what left me somewhat unsatisfied.  While I did love seeing the bond between sisters and was especially touched by Zuhra’s determination to break through the magic to reach Inara, I did feel that the character development was a little lopsided at times since we got so little from Inara firsthand.   I understand why because of the whole ‘magic roaring in her head’ business, but it still just made her feel like a secondary character for much of the story, which didn’t quite work for me.

Although the uneven character development was a bit of a letdown, the mystery surrounding the hedge still very much held my interest, especially when after fifteen years, it randomly lets a young man wander right through it and approach the Citadel.  Why has this young man been granted access after all of these years and how will it impact the sisters?  Once this young man enters, everything changes and the story blossoms into something entirely new and much more exciting than what it started as.  Long-buried truths are revealed and everything the girls thought they knew is turned on its head, especially as it pertains to both their father and the Paladins.

Even though Sisters of Shadow and Light starts off somewhat slowly as we are introduced to the characters and their world, it gradually picked up the pace and the intensity so that by the last third of the book, I just couldn’t put it down.  It also ends with an evil cliffhanger that has me anxiously awaiting the next book in the series.  I would recommend Sisters of Shadow and Light for anyone who enjoys YA fantasy, sibling relationships, mysteries, and adventure.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

“The night my sister was born, the stars died and were reborn in her eyes…”

Zuhra and Inara have grown up in the Citadel of the Paladins, an abandoned fortress where legendary, magical warriors once lived before disappearing from the world―including their Paladin father the night Inara was born.

On that same night, a massive, magical hedge grew and imprisoned them within the citadel. Inara inherited their father’s Paladin power; her eyes glow blue and she is able to make plants grow at unbelievable rates, but she has been trapped in her own mind because of a “roar” that drowns everything else out―leaving Zuhra virtually alone with their emotionally broken human mother.

For fifteen years they have lived, trapped in the citadel, with little contact from the outside world…until the day a stranger passes through the hedge, and everything changes.

three-half-stars

About Sara B. Larson

Sara B. Larson is the best-selling and critically acclaimed author of the YA fantasy DEFY trilogy (DEFY, IGNITE, and ENDURE) and the DARK BREAKS THE DAWN duology. Her next YA fantasy, SISTERS OF SHADOW AND LIGHT, comes out November 5th from Tor Teen. She can’t remember a time when she didn’t write books—although she now uses a computer instead of a Little Mermaid notebook. Sara lives in Utah with her husband, their four children, and their Maltese, Loki. She writes in brief snippets throughout the day and the quiet hours when most people are sleeping. Her husband claims she should have a degree in “the art of multitasking.” When she’s not mothering or writing, you can often find her at the gym repenting for her sugar addiction.

Review: THE FAMILY UPSTAIRS by Lisa Jewell

Review:  THE FAMILY UPSTAIRS by Lisa JewellThe Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell
Also by this author: Watching You
four-stars
Published by Atria Books on November 5, 2019
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
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 FAMILY UPSTAIRS Review

 

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell is one of the most riveting thrillers I’ve read so far this year.  What I love about Jewell’s novels is that she does such a tremendous job of creating tension, building suspense, and weaving in enough twists and turns to keep me guessing all the way to the big reveal.  What especially drew me to The Family Upstairs was the promise of a domestic drama filled with dark family secrets and Jewell does not disappoint.

I was immediately immersed in the seemingly unrelated lives of her three main characters and couldn’t wait to see how Jewell ultimately brought them all together and had their lives intertwine.  Twenty-five year old Libby Jones is one of the three main characters.  When the novel opens, Libby has just unexpectedly inherited a mansion worth millions from her birth parents, who died when she was an infant.  When Libby learns some of the mysterious circumstances surrounding her parents’ deaths and what had been going on in the house prior to their deaths, including whisperings about a cult and about some missing children, she becomes determined to learn the truth about her parents and thus begins to investigate.  Libby is a sweet, likable character and I completely understood why she wanted to know the truth about what happened to her parents.  It has been a huge hole in her family history for 25 years now that needs to be filled.

In addition to Libby, the story also unfolds from the perspective of two other characters, Lucy and Henry, who on the surface, appear to have no connection whatsoever to Libby.  When we meet Lucy, she is living on the streets with her two children.  As we follow her, we start to learn more about her past and about how she has ended up in the desperate spot she finds herself in.  When we meet Henry, he seems a little off, like he might be struggling with some sort of mental health issue.  He spends much of his time dwelling on his own past and the fact that his parents fell victim to scammers and lost their (and by extension, his) fortune.  As with Libby, I found myself completely invested in these character’s lives and desperately wanting to know how Libby, Lucy, and Henry would fit together by the end of the book.

I loved how Jewell kept me guessing throughout the story. Every time I thought I had established a connection or figured out an identity, she would throw a monkey wrench into my hypothesis and I’d have to rethink things.  I also loved having the creepy house where people died and all of its surrounding mystery in the background as well. There was plenty of suspense and atmosphere and, at times, the story read as part psychological thriller, part domestic drama, with a side of horror thrown in.

If creepy houses, mysterious deaths and disappearances, and dark family secrets pique your curiosity, Lisa Jewell’s The Family Upstairs is a must-read for you.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

From the New York Times bestselling author of Then She Was Gone and Watching You comes another page-turning look inside one family’s past as buried secrets threaten to come to light.

Be careful who you let in.

Soon after her twenty-fifth birthday, Libby Jones returns home from work to find the letter she’s been waiting for her entire life. She rips it open with one driving thought: I am finally going to know who I am.

She soon learns not only the identity of her birth parents, but also that she is the sole inheritor of their abandoned mansion on the banks of the Thames in London’s fashionable Chelsea neighborhood, worth millions. Everything in Libby’s life is about to change. But what she can’t possibly know is that others have been waiting for this day as well—and she is on a collision course to meet them.

Twenty-five years ago, police were called to 16 Cheyne Walk with reports of a baby crying. When they arrived, they found a healthy ten-month-old happily cooing in her crib in the bedroom. Downstairs in the kitchen lay three dead bodies, all dressed in black, next to a hastily scrawled note. And the four other children reported to live at Cheyne Walk were gone.

In The Family Upstairs, the master of “bone-chilling suspense” (People) brings us the can’t-look-away story of three entangled families living in a house with the darkest of secrets.

four-stars

About Lisa Jewell

Lisa was born in London in 1968. Her mother was a secretary and her father was a textile agent and she was brought up in the northernmost reaches of London with her two younger sisters. She was educated at a Catholic girls’ Grammar school in Finchley. After leaving school at sixteen she spent two years at Barnet College doing an arts foundation course and then two years at Epsom School of Art & Design studying Fashion Illustration and Communication.

She worked for the fashion chain Warehouse for three years as a PR assistant and then for Thomas Pink, the Jermyn Street shirt company for four years as a receptionist and PA. She started her first novel, Ralph’s Party, for a bet in 1996. She finished it in 1997 and it was published by Penguin books in May 1998. It went on to become the best-selling debut novel of that year.

She has since written a further nine novels, as is currently at work on her eleventh.

She now lives in an innermost part of north London with her husband Jascha, an IT consultant, her daughters, Amelie and Evie and her silver tabbies, Jack and Milly.

Can’t Wait Wednesday – GOOD GIRLS LIE by J.T. Ellison

 

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, which encourages fellow bloggers to spotlight upcoming releases that we’re excited about.  It is a meme that I have  loved participating in for over a year now, but as Jill is no longer actively posting, from now on I’ll be linking to Can’t Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings, which is a spinoff of the original WoW meme.

* * * * *

 

My selection for this week is GOOD GIRLS LIE by J.T. Ellison.  I was drawn to this book for several reasons: 1) Because I’m always on the lookout for a good thriller, 2) I’ve been wanting to try a J.T. Ellison book for a while now, 3) this book is set in my home state, and 4) this book is also set in a boarding school and I LOVE books set at boarding schools.

 

GOOD GIRLS LIE by J.T. Ellison

Publication Date:  December 31, 2019

 

From Goodreads:

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.

 

 

* * * * *

 

I’d love to hear what upcoming book releases you’re waiting on this Wednesday? Leave me your link in the comments below and I’ll stop by and check out your CWW selection for this week. 🙂

Review: THE BROMANCE BOOK CLUB by Lyssa Kay Adams

Review:  THE BROMANCE BOOK CLUB by Lyssa Kay AdamsThe Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams
Also by this author: Undercover Bromance
four-half-stars
Series: Bromance Book Club #1
Published by BERKLEY on November 5, 2019
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 320
Also in this series: Undercover Bromance
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 BROMANCE BOOK CLUB Review

 

I knew I wanted to read Lyssa Kay Adams’ new novel, The Bromance Book Club, as soon as I read the synopsis and realized it has three of my favorite things:  a sports theme, a second chance romance, and a book club. And not only does it have a book club, it’s a secret romance book club whose members are professional baseball players.  Their goal:  to use romance novels as a way to better understand women so as to improve their relationships with their wives. That just sounded like a recipe for a hilarious read so I was thrilled when Berkley approved my review request.

Let me start by saying yes, this is an absolutely hilarious read! I lost count of how many times I laughed out loud while I was reading and I just loved everything about the idea of the book club.  The group of guys that are in the book club are just so much fun together and I just loved all of their scenes.  The focus of their attention in this book is Gavin, a fellow teammate who is separated from his wife, Thea, but desperately wants to try to save his marriage.  At each of their meetings, the guys gently rib Gavin over some of the dumb things he has done in his marriage, but at the same time, their hearts are ultimately in the right place and they do whatever they can to coach him to make better choices when it comes to Thea.

While the promise of humor is what initially drew me to The Bromance Book Club, the heart of the story is what really won me over. I just truly adored Gavin and Thea.  Gavin is such a sweetheart, and Thea is too so it just broke my heart to see them at odds with each other.  I became invested in them immediately and was desperate for them to work through what had gone wrong between them.  I also loved how authentic their relationship issues felt, particularly when it came to issues with communication.  I think many readers will relate to the sad truth that a few heartfelt talks along the way could have kept Gavin and Thea from the breaking point we find them at when the novel opens.

The Bromance Book Club was everything I hoped it would be and more. It’s delightfully funny, heartwarming, and oh yes, a little hot and steamy too!  It’s also one of those books that I was immediately picturing as a film and casting the various characters in my head as I was reading, which made it even more of a fun read.  If you’re interested in a fresh take on the second chance romance trope, you definitely need to add The Bromance Book Club to your reading list.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

The first rule of book club:

You don’t talk about book club.

Nashville Legends second baseman Gavin Scott’s marriage is in major league trouble. He’s recently discovered a humiliating secret: his wife Thea has always faked the Big O. When he loses his cool at the revelation, it’s the final straw on their already strained relationship. Thea asks for a divorce, and Gavin realizes he’s let his pride and fear get the better of him.

Welcome to the Bromance Book Club.

Distraught and desperate, Gavin finds help from an unlikely source: a secret romance book club made up of Nashville’s top alpha men. With the help of their current read, a steamy Regency titled Courting the Countess, the guys coach Gavin on saving his marriage. But it’ll take a lot more than flowery words and grand gestures for this hapless Romeo to find his inner hero and win back the trust of his wife.

four-half-stars

About Lyssa Kay Adams

Lyssa Kay Adams is the pen name of an award-winning journalist who gave up the world of telling true stories to pen emotional romances. She’s also a diehard Detroit Tigers fan who will occasionally cheer for the Red Sox because her husband is from Boston.

Lyssa lives in Michigan with her family and an anxiety-ridden Maltese who steals food and buries it around the house and who will undoubtedly be a character in a future book.

Things Lyssa loves: Baseball pants, mashed potatoes, and that little clicking sound that scissors make on the cutting table at fabric stores.

Things she doesn’t love: Mean people, melting ice cream cones, and finding food in her underwear drawer.

Keep up with Lyssa on Twitter at @LyssaKayAdams. Please note: She mostly tweets about baseball pants and mashed potatoes.

Review: TWICE IN A BLUE MOON by Christina Lauren

Review:  TWICE IN A BLUE MOON by Christina LaurenTwice in a Blue Moon by Christina Lauren
Also by this author: My Favorite Half-Night Stand, The Unhoneymooners
three-half-stars
Published by Gallery Books on October 22, 2019
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TWICE IN A BLUE MOON Review

 

Tate Jones has a secret.  Her name is not actually Tate Jones; it’s Tate Butler and she is the long-lost daughter of legendary actor, Ian Butler.  After she got tired of Ian’s cheating ways, Tate’s mother filed for divorce, changed hers and Tate’s last names, and relocated to a remote community.  From those moments up until her eighteenth birthday, Tate has lived a completely sheltered life and, for her mother’s sake, has done her best to keep her true identity hidden.  When her Nana takes her on a two-week trip to London, it’s a much-needed taste of freedom for Tate and she decides to make the most of it.  She meets a handsome young man named Sam Brandis and over the course of those two weeks, she falls hard for him, so hard in fact that she confesses to Sam who she really is.  Imagine her surprise when Sam and his family abruptly checks out of the hotel without saying goodbye.  Then imagine her even bigger surprise when the paparazzi unexpectedly descends on her.  Tate unfortunately learns the hard way that her trust in Sam was misplaced.  Her world is irrevocably turned upside down.

Fast forward nearly fifteen years and Tate has followed in her father’s footsteps, becoming a successful actress in her own right.  She has signed on to play the lead role in a film that is so incredible on paper that she’s sure it will land her an Oscar nomination if she does her best work.  When she arrives on set, however, who does she come face to face with?  Sam Brandis, the young man who broke her heart and her trust all those years ago.  And even worse, he’s the writer who penned the script for her movie.  How does Tate confront Sam after all of these years?  Can she forgive him? Does he even deserve to be forgiven? And how is all of this awkwardness going to impact her work on this potentially career-making film?

 

*****

 

Christina Lauren’s latest novel Twice in a Blue Moon is a slight departure from the other books I’ve read from this amazing writing duo.  My prior experiences have been of the lively rom-com variety, filled with laugh-out-loud funny moments, while Twice in a Blue Moon comes across as a much more serious story.

While it wasn’t the light and funny story that I was expecting going in, Twice was still an entertaining and engaging read that features one of my favorite romantic tropes, the second chance romance.  After reading about Tate and Sam’s adventures in London as young adults and watching Tate fall in love for the first time only to have her heart broken, I was fully invested in seeing what happened when Tate and Sam met again and whether or not Sam could do anything to redeem himself and get Tate to forgive his betrayal.

I also just really liked Tate and felt tremendous sympathy for her. I can’t even imagine living a childhood where I had to hide who I was from everyone.  And then to finally confess your secret to someone, only to have them sell you out to the highest bidder?   All of that has got to take a psychological and emotional toll on a person and I thought Christina Lauren did a fantastic job of letting us into Tate’s headspace to experience all of her conflicting emotions, both of the moment of Sam’s initial betrayal and then again when they come face to face after so many years.  Sam was a great character too and so complex.  I loved that he was so genuinely likeable in those early London scenes that his betrayal came out of left field and had me anxiously flipping pages waiting for him to turn back up and give me a darn good reason for why he did what he did.

The one area of the book that didn’t work quite as well for me as I would have hoped was the filming of the movie.  Acting doesn’t really interest me so I got a little bored reading those scenes and the pages of script that were included.  The high point of the movie scenes were actually the secondary characters who were working on the film.  They were a lot of fun and I would have loved more time with them.  I’m sure the issue with the acting scenes is just a me thing though and even with that issue, I still really enjoyed the story overall.

While not my favorite book from Christina Lauren (that honor still goes to Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating), Twice in a Blue Moon is still a lovely read that fans of second chance romance are sure to enjoy.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS: 

Sam Brandis was Tate Jones’s first: Her first love. Her first everything. Including her first heartbreak.

During a whirlwind two-week vacation abroad, Sam and Tate fell for each other in only the way that first loves do: sharing all of their hopes, dreams, and deepest secrets along the way. Sam was the first, and only, person that Tate—the long-lost daughter of one of the world’s biggest film stars—ever revealed her identity to. So when it became clear her trust was misplaced, her world shattered for good.

Fourteen years later, Tate, now an up-and-coming actress, only thinks about her first love every once in a blue moon. When she steps onto the set of her first big break, he’s the last person she expects to see. Yet here Sam is, the same charming, confident man she knew, but even more alluring than she remembered. Forced to confront the man who betrayed her, Tate must ask herself if it’s possible to do the wrong thing for the right reason… and whether “once in a lifetime” can come around twice.

With Christina Lauren’s signature “beautifully written and remarkably compelling” (Sarah J. Maas, New York Times bestselling author) prose and perfect for fans of Emily Giffin and Jennifer Weiner, Twice in a Blue Moon is an unforgettable and moving novel of young love and second chances.

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Unhoneymooners and the “delectable, moving” (Entertainment WeeklyMy Favorite Half-Night Stand comes a modern love story about what happens when your first love reenters your life when you least expect it…

three-half-stars

About Christina Lauren

Christina Lauren is the combined pen name of long-time writing partners and best friends Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings. The #1 international bestselling coauthor duo writes both Young Adult and Adult Fiction, and together has produced fourteen New York Times bestselling novels. They are published in over 30 languages, have received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal and Publishers Weekly, won both the Seal of Excellence and Book of the Year from RT Magazine, named Amazon and Audible Romance of the Year, a Lambda Literary Award finalist and been nominated for several Goodreads Choice Awards. They have been featured in publications such as Forbes, The Washington Post, Time, Entertainment Weekly, People, O Magazine and more. Their third YA novel, Autoboyography was released in 2017 to critical acclaim, followed by Roomies, Love and Other Words, Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating, and the Publisher’s Weekly starred My Favorite Half-Night Stand, out in December.