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Review: CODE NAME HÉLÈNE by Ariel Lawhon

Review:  CODE NAME HÉLÈNE by Ariel LawhonCode Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon
Also by this author: I Was Anastasia
four-stars
Published by Doubleday Books on March 31, 2020
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 464
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..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the things I love about reading historical fiction is that I often learn of important historical figures that were previously unknown to me.  Such is the case with Ariel Lawhon’s latest novel Code Name Hélène.  Set in Europe during World War II, Code Name Hélène follows the adventures of Nancy Wake, an Australian-born socialite who is living in Paris when World War II breaks out.  When we first meet Nancy, she is working hard, trying to be taken seriously as a journalist in a man’s world.  When the war breaks out, however, Nancy finds her true calling as a spy and ultimately becomes one of the leaders of the French Resistance.

I had never heard of Nancy Wake and was fascinated to learn what a huge part she played during the war.  I was also a big fan of the way the author delivers Nancy’s story to us, using several interweaving timelines, one for each of the code names Nancy acquired through her work for the Resistance.  We get to see Nancy in action as an oblivious mistress, Lucienne Carlier, as she smuggles documents and people across borders to safety.  When the Nazis learn of Nancy and quickly become frustrated by her uncanny ability to evade capture, they nickname her ‘The White Mouse” and put a steep price on her head. Knowing she is in imminent danger, Nancy flees France and begins training with the Special Operations Executive where she earns a new code name, Hélène, and is air dropped back into France with a new mission. As Madam Andre, this final mission is to do whatever it takes to arm the French Resistance and drive the Germans out of France.

I was completely riveted by Nancy’s journey from start to finish.  It is fraught with danger and suspense at every turn, and I just found myself more and more inspired by Nancy’s formidable presence and spirit.  She’s fearless, brash, resourceful, and has a take-no-prisoners attitude.  Working in what could only be described as a man’s world and wearing her signature Chanel red lipstick, Nancy ultimately commands respect from all of those around her, even those who initially refuse to accept the authority of a woman in a war zone. Heck, at one point, she even kills a Nazi with her bare hands!

As awe-inspiring as her career in espionage was, I also loved that the author chose to include a glimpse into Nancy’s personal life as well, most especially her relationship with Henri Fiocca, the love of her life.  Watching how the war impacted their relationship was almost as gripping as watching Nancy order men around as a Resistance fighter.

Code Name Hélène is an inspiring story of bravery, resilience, love, and sacrifice.  If historical fiction and strong women are your thing, this is a book you want to check out.

four-stars

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is the critically acclaimed author of THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS, FLIGHT OF DREAMS, and I WAS ANASTASIA. Her books have been translated into numerous languages and have been Library Reads, One Book One County, and Book of the Month Club selections. She is the co-founder of SheReads.org and lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, four sons, and black Lab—who is, thankfully, a girl.

Review: THE HONEY DON’T LIST by Christina Lauren

Review:  THE HONEY DON’T LIST by Christina LaurenThe Honey-Don't List by Christina Lauren
Also by this author: My Favorite Half-Night Stand
four-stars
Published by Gallery Books on March 24, 2020
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Women's Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I admit that I was very late to jump on the Christina Lauren bandwagon, but ever since I read my first book by them, I’ve been hooked and their latest collaboration, The Honey Don’t List, has only made my love for their books continue to grow.

What a fun read this was!  Celebrity scandals have always fascinated me anyway, so I was drawn to this story as soon as I realized what it was about.  The fact that the story begins in a police station with the celebrity assistants being interviewed only served to whet my appetite all the more. Something dramatic and potentially scandalous has clearly happened and I was immediately flying through the pages wanting to know what had transpired.

Melly and Rusty Tripp are the celebrities in question.  Famous in the world of home décor and remodeling, Melly and Tripp have captured the hearts of their fans, not just because of their design talents but also because they have such a wonderful relationship.  They are America’s sweethearts and they’ve even written a book about their lives together and have a new Netflix series in the works. To cap off their success and promote their new book and show, the Tripps are going on a book tour together.  There’s just one problem: they actually despise each other.  Enter the real stars of The Honey Don’t List, the two personal assistants, Carey Douglas and James McCann, who have been tasked with the nearly impossible task of keeping the book tour from imploding by making sure Melly and Rusty don’t kill each other or otherwise expose that their marriage is basically a sham.

I adored both Carey and James from the start.  I was tremendously sympathetic to them both right away since my instinct would have been to resign.  Carey can’t resign though because 1) she desperately needs the health insurance, and 2) she has been with Melly since the beginning and feels obligated to be there for her. Even though she is high maintenance, Melly has been like a mom to Carey.  James is equally stuck in his position, primarily because his last job ended in disaster, with the firm he worked for wrapped up in some huge scandal.  James needs to rebuild his resume and a hugely successful organization like Melly and Rusty’s is just what he needs. I love a good underdog story and both of our protagonists are clearly cast in that role.

The book tour is of course a total train wreck with plenty of laugh out loud moments, which is exactly what I was hoping for from a Christina Lauren read.  What really had me captivated though was the growing relationship between Carey and James as they are forced to team up and try to save the day, so to speak.  Even though they initially don’t like each other very much, it’s clear they have off-the-charts chemistry.  I loved all of their moments together, whether they were scheming about how to do damage control with respect to Rusty and Melly or whether they were just truly opening up to one another and having meaningful conversations.  There are also plenty of flirty and sexy moments as the pair gets closer and closer, so yes, there’s lots of rom-com style goodness in The Honey Don’t List, also exactly what I’m looking and hoping for when I pick up a Christina Lauren book.

Hilarious and heartwarming, The Honey Don’t List is the perfect book to pick up if you’re looking to escape reality for a while. It’s sure to leave you with a smile on your face.

 

 

four-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.

Review: You Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

Review:  You Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks & Sarah PekkanenYou Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks, Sarah Pekkanen
Also by this author: The Wife Between Us
three-half-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on March 3, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 343
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..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Authors Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen are a dynamic duo when it comes to writing dark and twisty psychological thrillers that keep readers on the edge of their seats, and their latest offering, You Are Not Alone, continues the trend.  You Are Not Alone is a dark and disturbing read that explores what happens when an emotionally vulnerable young woman finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The story follows Shay Miller, whose life is just overall in a disappointing place for her.  She is working a temp job with no prospects of a permanent position on the horizon, she has no real friends to speak of, and she is in love with her roommate Sean, who already has a long-time girlfriend.  Shay finds herself mostly isolated and therefore vulnerable. When Shay happens to be in a subway station and witnesses a young woman commit suicide, she becomes obsessed with learning more about the victim.  She knows her obsession is unhealthy, but she feels compelled nonetheless to find out what led her to take her own life.

I found myself incredibly sympathetic to Shay and the position she has found herself in.  She feels a connection to the suicide victim in part because she can so easily put herself in that woman’s place and can imagine feeling like there’s nothing worth living for. I can understand why she feels it’s so important to find out what exactly drove this woman to do what she did.  She’s thinking of herself and what could drive her to that same point.

The story, and Shay’s life, takes a drastically different turn when she decides to attend the memorial service for the suicide victim and meets Cassandra and Jane Moore, who are sisters and who were also both close to the deceased.  Shay is fascinated by the ultra-charismatic sisters and her obsession with the victim soon expands to include them as well, especially since they seem very eager to befriend her.  Shay is desperate for friends and begins to imagine herself taking the victim’s place in the sisters’ circle of friends. Seems to easy and too good to be true, right?

Good things start happening for Shay as she deepens her connection to the sisters…until suddenly, they don’t. Out of nowhere, Shay finds herself inexplicably caught up in the investigation into the death of the suicide victim as well as another crime.  The authors ratchet up the tension and suspense as Shay desperately tries to figure out what is going on and how she’s going to get herself out of the mess she has found herself in.  I had a few minor issues with pacing early on in the story, but once I got to this part of the book, I flew through the rest of the pages trying put together the pieces of this wild and crazy puzzle.

You Are Not Alone is a disturbing and complex tale of manipulation, danger, and revenge.  If you’re into dark, twisty, and suspenseful reads, this is one that needs to go on your must-read list.

three-half-stars

About Greer Hendricks

GREER HENDRICKS spent over two decades as an editor at Simon & Schuster. Prior to her tenure in publishing, she worked at Allure Magazine and obtained her Master’s in Journalism from Columbia University. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times and Publishers Weekly. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and two children, The Wife Between Us is her first novel.

Follow Greer Hendricks on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

About Sarah Pekkanen

Internationally bestselling author Sarah Pekkanen’s newest book is THE PERFECT NEIGHBORS. She is also the co-author of the upcoming THE WIFE BETWEEN US (out in January 2018).

Her prior novels are: THINGS YOU WON’T SAY, CATCHING AIR, THE BEST OF US, THE OPPOSITE OF ME, SKIPPING A BEAT, and THESE GIRLS.

Sarah’s linked free short estories, published by Simon&Schuster exclusively for ereaders, are titled “All is Bright,” and “Love, Accidentally.”

Sarah is the mother of three young boys, which explains why she writes part of her novels at Chuck E. Cheese. Sarah penned her first book, Miscellaneous Tales and Poems, at the age of 10. When publishers failed to jump upon this literary masterpiece (hey, all the poems rhymed!) Sarah followed up by sending them a sternly-worded letter on Raggedy Ann stationery. Sarah still has that letter, and carries it to New York every time she has meetings with her publisher, as a reminder that dreams do come true.

Her website is www.sarahpekkanen.com and please find her on Facebook Instagram and Twitter @sarahpekkanen!

Review: FOUL IS FAIR by Hannah Capin

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

* * * * *

“Something wicked this way comes…”

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

 

 

PURCHASE LINK:

Wednesday Books

 

SUMMARY:

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

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

They picked the wrong girl.

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

 

three-half-stars

About Hannah Capin

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

MIni Reviews: The Historical Fiction Edition

 

It’s time for another roundup of the ARCs I read in January.  This time I want to focus on a couple of lovely historical fiction novels that I read, one set in WWII and the other set during WWI.

 

MIni Reviews: The Historical Fiction EditionThe Whispers of War Goodreads

Author: Julia Kelly

Publication Date: January 14, 2020

Publisher:  Gallery Books

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

Julia Kelly’s The Whispers of War is an engaging work of historical fiction that focuses on three friends, Marie, Nora, and Hazel, and the challenges they face when World War II reaches the shores of England.  The author deftly uses a dual timeline to both ground her readers in the present and take us back in time. She begins in the present with Marie’s granddaughter, Samantha, who has travelled to London after Marie’s death to present Nora with a keepsake Marie wanted her dear friend to have.  Samantha has also been charged with writing a eulogy for her grandmother so she takes the opportunity of meeting Nora to pick her brain about Marie’s early life.  Although Nora is the gateway to the past, the author presents the WWII timeline from the perspectives of Nora, Marie, and their other good friend, Hazel.

As much as WWII historical fiction has always fascinated me, the friendship of these three women was what really sold me on this book.  Marie is German-born, and although she has lived in England nearly all of her life, the threat of war with the Nazis has her on edge, especially as rumors abound that those with German blood could be placed in internment camps.  Nora, on the other hand, is English by birth and actually works for the British government at the Home Office.  She takes advantage of her position to keep Marie apprised of what’s really going on with respect to possible internment camps.  In sharp contrast to both Nora and Marie is Hazel, who works for a matchmaking company. Ever the optimist and even in the face of war, she’s in the business of helping people find love.  These three women are such an unlikely trio, but the bond of friendship they share is just beautiful to see, especially when contrasted with the ugliness of war as more and more people turn on Marie because of her German background.

Using WWII and Marie’s experiences as its backdrop, The Whispers of War explores some pretty big themes – friendship, sisterhood, what happens when loyalties are tested, politics, women’s rights issues, and even a little romance.  Marie’s story is pretty incredible and I loved learning more about her alongside her granddaughter.  If you’re into WWII historical fiction and/or stories that feature strong female characters, you’ll want to check out The Whispers of War4 STARS

 

 

MIni Reviews: The Historical Fiction EditionThe Vineyards of Champagne Goodreads

Author: Juliet Blackwell

Publication Date: January 21, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

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

Set in the beautiful Champagne region of France, Juliet Blackwell’s latest novel The Vineyards of Champagne follows Rosalyn, an American woman who is traveling to France to find new wines for her company to distribute in America.  Rosalyn, still reeling from the loss of her husband, isn’t excited about the trip but her boss thinks it will be good for her.  On the plane, Rosalyn meets Emma, an Australian woman with a larger-than-life personality and who is working on a project that piques Rosalyn’s interest.

Emma has a packet of letters that belonged to her grandmother, who was corresponding with a young French soldier named Emile LeGrand during WWI.  The letters were written by Emile, and Emma is heading to France in hopes of finding out more about the French soldier and hopefully finding her grandmother’s side of the correspondence.  Rosalyn is drawn in by Emma’s enthusiasm for the project, and so what started as a business trip for Rosalyn slowly becomes a trip about healing and moving forward, as she and Emma dive deeper into the letters and learn more about Emile and about what life was like in the Champagne region during WWI.

This was such an easy book to fall in love with.  I adored both Emma and Rosalyn from the moment they met.  I felt tremendous sympathy for Rosalyn because of her loss and how much she was struggling to cope but could tell right away that Emma was going to be good for her with that live-out-loud personality of hers.  I also loved the quaint little town that Rosalyn stays in while she’s there, as well as the array of wonderful secondary characters, especially Jerome, a champagne maker who catches Rosalyn’s eye.

The biggest draw for me in The Vineyards of Champagne though was what I learned about WWI.  The history that unfolded through the letters just made for such a fascinating read. I had no idea that the citizens of this region in France had taken shelter during the war in underground caves beneath the champagne houses. The women and children basically lived in underground cities, educated the children there, and periodically came up to harvest the grapes to keep champagne production going.  How amazing is that?

The Vineyards of Champagne is a story of love and loss, resilience and survival, and above all else, friendship and hope.  4 STARS

 

Review: DON’T READ THE COMMENTS by Eric Smith

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

PURCHASE LINKS:

AmazonBarnes & NobleIndie BoundKoboGoogle – Books-A-Million

 

SUMMARY:

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

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

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

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

And she isn’t going down without a fight.

 

four-stars

About Eric Smith

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

Review: THE GOD GAME by Danny Tobey

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

Lose, you die!

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

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

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

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

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

four-stars

About Danny Tobey

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

Review: BIG LIES IN A SMALL TOWN by Diane Chamberlain

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BIG LIES IN A SMALL TOWN review

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

* * * * *

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

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

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

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

five-stars

About Diane Chamberlain

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

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

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

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

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

Review: HOW QUICKLY SHE DISAPPEARS by Raymond Fleischmann

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

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

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

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

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

three-half-stars

About Raymond Fleischmann

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

Review: A LOVE HATE THING by Whitney D. Grandison

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

PURCHASE LINKS:

HarlequinAmazonBarnes & NobleIndie BoundKoboGoogle – Books-A-Million

 

SUMMARY:

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

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

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

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

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

four-stars

About Whitney D. Grandison

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