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Mini Reviews – Must-Read February Releases: The Thriller Edition

 

It’s time for a new batch of mini reviews and this time it’s February ARCs, specifically three amazing thrillers that need to go on your must read list.  I don’t want to say much about these since with thrillers, it’s usually best to go in knowing as little as possible, but I do want to share a few highlights of what I loved about each book.

 

Mini Reviews – Must-Read February Releases: The Thriller EditionA Good Girl's Guide to Murder Goodreads

Author: Holly Jackson

Publication Date: February 4, 2020

Publisher:  Delacorte Press

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

 

Holly Jackson’s A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is a YA murder mystery that follows Pip, who has been thinking about a local murder investigation from a few years earlier, the outcome of which has never set well with her.  The case in question involved local high school students, Andie Bell and Sal Singh.  Andie went missing and Sal, who was her boyfriend at the time, immediately becomes the prime suspect in her disappearance.  When Sal takes his own life, everyone assumes that he killed Andie and committed suicide and thus the case was closed. Pip doesn’t buy it. Sal was one of the sweetest people she has ever known and she refuses to believe for one second that he hurt Andie.  Pip therefore decides to use her senior project as an opportunity to re-examine the case and find the real killer and she enlists Sal’s younger brother, Ravi, to help her.

This was such a fun read for me. I loved watching Pip in action.  She’s a very sharp young lady and has a real knack for being able to sift through clues and put together the pieces of a five year old murder mystery.  There were plenty of twists and turns to keep me guessing as Pip followed the evidence and recorded her findings in her project journal. I also really loved that we were given the excerpts from Pip’s journal so that we could get inside of her head and follow her thought patterns as she sifted through what she found.  In addition to the thrill of feeling like I was right there with Pip as she investigated, there was also growing tension and suspense as Pip starts receiving anonymous threats warning her to back off or else.

While the case itself and Pip’s journey toward the truth is riveting, I also really enjoyed A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder because of the growing friendship between Pip and Ravi.  Ravi of course never believed his brother was capable of murder and has always wanted the opportunity to prove Sal’s innocence.  Instead of having that chance, however, Ravi, as the brother of an accused murderer, has pretty much been ostracized by the community. I loved that Pip reached out to him and gave him the opportunity to help clear his brother and get closure, and I especially loved that a true friendship between Pip and Ravi grew from them working on this project together.  I’m also excited that this book is the first in a series so I’m hoping we’ll get more of both Pip and Ravi in the next installment.

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is one heck of a wild ride and I highly recommend it to fans of YA thrillers.   4.5 STARS

 

 

Mini Reviews – Must-Read February Releases: The Thriller EditionThe Sun Down Motel Goodreads

Author: Simone St. James

Publication Date: February 18, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

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

 

I’m going to predict right now that Simone St. James’ latest novel The Sun Down Motel lands on my Best of 2020 list.  This book, hands down, blew me away, and there’s no way I’m going to be able to write anything here that will do it justice.  I devoured the book in less than 24 hours and it had me so hooked that I simply refused to put it down and do anything else until I knew how it ended.

The story follows two young women, Viv and Carly, 35 years apart, who both become entangled in the secrets that haunt an old run-down, roadside motel called the Sun Down Motel, located in the tiny town of Fell, New York.  In 1982, Viv Delaney was working as a night clerk at the motel when she unexpectedly went missing and was never heard from again.  In 2017, we meet Carly, who is actually Viv’s niece and who has left college and come to Fell, NY, trying to find the truth about what happened to her aunt. When Carly visits the Sun Down, while trying to retrace her aunt’s footsteps, she sees they are looking for a new night shift clerk, her aunt’s old shift. Carly can’t explain why but she feels compelled to take the job while she’s in town looking for leads on Viv.  And that’s when strange things start happening at the Sun Down Motel, like something out of The Twilight Zone.  The strange happenings at the Sun Down, as well as the mystery and secrets that surrounded them, absolutely enthralled me, as did the use of the dual timeline to show Viv investigating them in 1982 and then Carly experiencing and investigating the same things 35 years later in 2017. Would Carly find out what happened to Viv all those years ago…or would Carly disappear as well?

I don’t want to say anything else because both Carly and Viv’s journeys are best experienced with as few spoilers as possible going in. I will say though that this is absolutely one of the most suspenseful, atmospheric, mysterious, and haunting books I’ve read in a long time.  5 STARS

 

Mini Reviews – Must-Read February Releases: The Thriller EditionThe Dark Corners of the Night (UNSUB, #3) Goodreads

Author: Meg Gardiner

Publication Date: February 18, 2020

Publisher:  Blackstone Publishing

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

 

Anyone who follows my blog knows that I’m a huge fan of the UNSUB series and that The Dark Corners of the Night is one of my most anticipated reads of 2020. I’m happy to report that my love for the series has only grown with this third book because author Meg Gardiner really knocked it out of the park.  While the cover of the book is super creepy, let me just say that the story itself is even creepier. My skin crawled as I read about the horrific adventures of the killer who has been dubbed “The Midnight Man.”

The Midnight Man sneaks into family homes in the Los Angeles, CA area under the cover of darkness.  He deliberately chooses families, and he murders the parents but leaves the children alive as witnesses to his unspeakable acts.  As the body count quickly starts to rise and local law enforcement officers realize they are dealing with a serial killer, they call in the FBI, which is where the protagonist of the UNSUB series, FBI behavioral analyst, Caitlyn Hendrix, enters the picture.

As with the first two novels in the series, it is absolutely riveting watching Caitlyn and her team carefully piece together a behavioral profile for this UNSUB and gradually work their way toward a list of possible suspects.  I love the sense of trust and camraderie that has developed between the members of the FBI team in these first three books, but I also liked the bit of tension that I saw here between the local law enforcement.  It was an uneasy alliance between the two groups even though they were both there trying to achieve the same goal: to catch a killer.

Caitlyn is always a big draw for me when I start a new UNSUB book, but she really drew me in even more than usual in this one, for a couple of reasons.  First, as she’s learning more and more about the profile of the Midnight Man, she starts to see something of herself in him. He reminds her of her past and it disturbs her so much that she has to fight to keep it from impacting her work.  Second, The Dark Corners of the Night also signals that we are finally starting to circle back around to an unresolved case that was left hanging at the end of the first book.  My one disappointment with the second book was that it wasn’t really touched on, so I was thrilled to see it revisited here with some teasers to advance the plot.

I think the books work fine as standalones but are absolutely outstanding as a series read in order, especially when it comes to watching for developments with that unsolved case that keeps dogging Caitlyn.  If you’re into thrillers and especially into shows like Criminal Minds that delve into the FBI world of analyzing criminal behavior, I highly recommend the UNSUB series.  5 STARS

Book Reviews: February Contemporary Releases

 

It’s time for another roundup of ARCs I’ve been reading.  This time I want to share a couple of adult contemporary novels I read recently and really enjoyed, The Antidote for Everything by Kimmery Martin and Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes by Kathleen West.

 

Book Reviews: February Contemporary ReleasesThe Antidote For Everything Goodreads

Author: Kimmery Martin

Publication Date: February 18, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

Genre:  Contemporary Fiction

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

The Antidote for Everything is a powerful and emotional read that explores the all too relevant and timely topic of LGBTQ discrimination.  Set in Charleston, SC, the story follows what happens when two doctors buck the system and fight for the rights of their transgender patients who have suddenly and unexpectedly been denied access to medical care at a local hospital.

Dr. Georgia Brown, the protagonist, is a respected urologist at the hospital in question.  She is on her way to a conference in Amsterdam when she hears the news about patients being turned away from her best friend and fellow doctor, Jonah Tsukada, who is also part of the LGBTQ community.  When Jonah refuses to comply with the administration’s new policy, he is fired and the hospital starts circulating vicious rumors about him.  When Jonah fills Georgia in on everything that has happened, she is equally distraught, both for her own patients and of course for her best friend, and vows to join the fight with him as soon as she returns home.

The doctors’ fight against discrimination made for a truly powerful and riveting read, but it honestly was the characters that made me love this book so much.  Georgia is smart, feisty, and fierce, and Jonah is just everything I’d want in a best friend. It killed me to think that someone would go out of his or her way to tank his career just because they didn’t approve of his or his patients’ sexual orientation.  The wit, the banter, and the unwavering support between Georgia and Jonah just captivated my heart.  Both characters are complicated, messy, and sometimes don’t make the best decisions, but for me, that was part of their charm and what made them feel so real.

In addition to the gripping drama and scandal that surrounded the hospital, there was also a romance on the side for Georgia that really balanced out the story for me.  Georgia has never been lucky in love, but when there is a medical emergency on her plane to Amsterdam and she’s the only doctor on board, a potential Mr. Right, whose name is Mark, falls right into her path.  Their chemistry had me smiling, even though the rest of the book had me equal parts sad, angry, and frustrated for Jonah, Georgia, and their patients.

With a discrimination story and subsequent scandal that felt like something that could appear in the headlines of any media outlet these days, The Antidote for Everything grabbed my attention from the opening scenes and held my interest to the very last page.  If you’re into medical dramas, stories about social justice, and stories about friendship and loyalty, give The Antidote for Everything a try. 4 STARS

 

 

Book Reviews: February Contemporary ReleasesMinor Dramas & Other Catastrophes Goodreads

Author: Kathleen West

Publication Date: February 4, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

Genre:  Contemporary Fiction

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

Kathleen West’s debut novel Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes is an entertaining read that focuses on the cutthroat world of school politics and teachers who find themselves at the mercy of helicopter parents and social media trolls.

The story follows Isobel Johnson, an English teacher at a prestigious school who prides herself on challenging her students to open their minds and consider a variety of perspectives when reading literary classics.  When the school starts receiving complaints about what she’s teaching and an anonymous Facebook page starts attacking her reputation, Isobel learns the hard way that the parents wield all of the power and that her own colleagues won’t defend her. I adored Isobel so much! She’s such a well drawn character, and I really admired her strength. It would have been very easy to immediately give in to the parents’ demands, but Isobel is determined to stand her ground even if the consequence could be losing her job.

While Isobel had my heart, I also felt for Julia Abbott, an over-the-top theater mom who barges into the school while class is still in session to find out if her son was cast in the school play.  In a moment of excitement when she sees her son’s name on the cast list, Julia enthusiastically pumps her fist…and accidentally punches a student in the stomach.  The incident is caught on video and immediately goes viral. Chaos ensues and Julia finds herself quite the outcast. While Julia isn’t an especially likeable character, her situation is a sad one and I liked that the author ultimately made her a sympathetic character instead of just a crazy stereotype.

Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes really struck a chord with me as I watched these two women fight to defend themselves and my emotions were all over the place.  There were moments that made me angry and frustrated, and there were also moments that made me laugh.  Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes is a delightful and engaging read as well as one that tackles some pretty serious issues that many teachers face. I highly recommend it and look forward to reading more from Kathleen West.  4 STARS

Backlist Briefs: A Round-Up of My January Backlist Reads

 

Those who follow my blog know that one of my big goals for 2020 is to read more of the books I own.  My goal is to read at least 50 of the unread books that are currently sitting on my shelves.  I had a pretty good January so I’m feeling like this goal can definitely be achieved and hopefully even surpassed.  Rather than try to post individual reviews for each of my backlist reads, especially since there were 9 of them in January, I decided an end of the month round-up with my gut reaction to each book would be a much more efficient way to share my reads.  So, without further ado, here’s a round-up of my January backlist reads.

 

 

THE FLATSHARE by Beth O’Leary.  I was drawn to The Flatshare because of the premise – two strangers who, because of their opposite work schedules, are sharing a one-bedroom apartment.  The main characters, Tiffy and Leon, were so lovable, both individually and together as their relationship gradually evolves when they become post-it note pen pals, writing each other the cutest little notes every day. The Flatshare is just an all-around entertaining read that features humor, flirty banter, a wonderful cast of secondary characters, romance and more than a few hilariously awkward moments. 4 STARS

ONE DAY IN DECEMBER by Josie Silver.  One Day in December is such a charming and heartwarming read, but also one that had my emotions in knots at times.  Everything about the story just sucked me right in.  I adored Laurie from the very moment we meet her. Laurie is feeling down, and as she’s sitting on a bus pondering her sad situation (nowhere job, lack of love life), her eyes lock with a handsome man standing on the bus platform. Somehow she knows this man is meant to be her soulmate. Laurie pines for her “bus boy” for a year, looking for him everywhere she goes. Laurie finally finds him at a Christmas party and it’s clear that he recognizes her too, but there’s just one big problem – “Bus Boy” whose real name is Jack, is dating Laurie’s roommate and best friend, Sarah. I loved Laurie and Jack, but I also loved Sarah, which just made everything all the more gut wrenching. I was glued to the book because I just had to know how it was going to work out. I loved the balance between the funny, rom-com moments, the potentially heartbreaking moments, and the overall heartwarming ones. I had such a wonderful experience reading One Day in December that I immediately requested an ARC of Silver’s next book and look forward to diving into it. 5 STARS

GET A LIFE, CHLOE BROWN by Talia Hibbert.  I have to admit that the super cute cover is what first drew me to Get a Life, Chloe Brown.  Chloe suffers from chronic pain and leads a pretty dull and quiet life. After a near death experience she decides it’s time that she starts living her life again.  I loved Chloe right from the start and thought it was absolutely adorable that she drew up an actual plan for how to get a life, complete with a numbered list of things to do. I fell in love with her even more when she recruited Red Morgan, the sexy tattooed handyman to help her.  The chemistry between Red and Chloe is off the charts and I loved all of their adventures together as Chloe put her “Get a Life” plan into motion.  If you’re looking for a read that will put a smile on your face, this is your book!  4.5 STARS

 

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ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE by Gail Honeyman.  Eleanor Oliphant is a character that I won’t soon forget. She’s painfully awkward in social situations. Because of her social awkwardness, she lives a lonely life.  I felt so sympathetic toward Eleanor because it just seems such a sad way to live. I also found her quite funny, particularly the way she would comment to herself about other people and their social awkwardness. I adored the blossoming friendship between her and Raymond, the IT guy at work. They’re both pretty clueless about social interactions but somehow they still just work together.  It was really cute. We also learn the heartbreaking truth about Eleanor’s past and begin to understand why she’s the way she is. So yes, this book had my emotions all over the place – chuckling to myself one moment, near tears the next. This was just such an unexpected gem of a book and I highly recommend it, especially the audio version. The narrator captures Eleanor’s personality perfectly. 4.5 STARS

ELLIE AND THE HARPMAKER by Hazel Prior.   This was one of my most anticipated reads of last year, but it ended up just being an okay read for me.  I liked the unique idea of a friendship (and maybe more) developing from a mutual passion for harps. I also loved the quirky, endearing characters, especially Dan the Harpmaker, whose kindness knows no bounds. The friendship between Dan and Ellie was really sweet, but even with that, the story fell a little flat for me and I can’t really put my finger on why.  3.5 STARS

MIRACLE CREEK by Angie Kim.  This book caught my attention when I learned that it was set in my home state of Virginia.  And all I can really say is WOW.  Miracle Creek is a riveting courtroom drama that focuses on the fallout from the explosion of a hyperbaric chamber at a special treatment center that has left two people, one only a child, dead. What follows is a heart-wrenching story filled with secrets, lies, and plot twists galore. I really loved reading this dark tale and as I followed the drama unfolding in the courtroom as we got closer and closer to the truth of what happened, I felt my jaw drop several times.  Truly a stellar debut from Angie Kim and I look forward to reading more from her.  4 STARS

 

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THE WHISPER MAN by Alex North.  The Whisper Man is gripping thriller about a small town with a dark past.  Widower Tom Kennedy and his young son Jake have moved to the town of Featherbank in hopes of getting a fresh start.  Twenty-five years ago a serial killer nicknamed ‘The Whisper Man” killed five young boys in the town. The Whisper Man has long since been caught, but another young boy goes misses not long after Tom and Jake move to town. When Tom and Jake, find themselves caught in the middle of this terrible nightmare, the story takes an even darker and more twisted turn. Suspenseful, atmospheric, and disturbing, The Whisper Man had me turning the pages late into the night, and of course, looking over my shoulder the entire time.  4 STARS

MY SISTER, THE SERIAL KILLER by Oyinkan Braithwaite.  I listened to the audio version of this book and enjoyed it overall. It’s a dark read but not really what I was expecting based on the title. I thought it would be a suspenseful thriller but it’s actually more of a family drama about the relationship between two sisters. My only real complaint with the story is that I wish it was longer so that the main characters could be fleshed out a bit more. Still a very solid read though. 3.5 STARS

A TORCH AGAINST THE NIGHT by Sabaa Tahir.  I found the second installment of Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes series to be every bit as riveting as the first installment.  I’m all for an action-packed story and that is definitely the case with this book.  There are numerous fight scenes, which were a pure adrenaline rush, and there’s also some fantastic character development, especially with Laia, who is growing up right before our eyes, and then surprisingly with Helene, a character I thought would only play a minor role. This is definitely one of the more interesting fantasy series I’ve read in a while.  4 STARS.

 

 

 

 

Reviews for THE LOOK ALIKE and BEHIND EVERY LIE

 

It’s time for another roundup of ARCs I’ve been reading.  This time I want to share a couple of fantastic thrillers that I’ve read recently, The Look Alike by Erica Spindler and Behind Every Lie by Christina McDonald.

 

Reviews for THE LOOK ALIKE and BEHIND EVERY LIEThe Look-Alike Goodreads

Author: Erica Spindler

Publication Date: January 28, 2020

Publisher:  St. Martin’s Press

Genre:  Thriller

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

Erica Spindler’s latest novel The Look Alike is a gripping psychological thriller that follows Sienna Scott, a young woman who, while a college student, discovered a dead body in the snow one night as she was walking back home from the campus library.  The campus and local police were never able to solve the case.  Sienna is also dealing with some troubles at home. Her mother suffers from a condition that makes her both paranoid and delusional.  She believes that everyone is out to get her and, specifically, that they’re going to hurt her by hurting her daughter. These circumstances create such a suffocating environment for Sienna that her father finally tells her she should leave home so that she can have some semblance of a life. Sierra stays away for 10 years but returns home to care for her mother after her father passes away.

As soon as Sierra returns, that unsolved murder begins to dominate her thoughts and a nagging thought she had all those years ago returns – She and the dead woman were wearing the same jacket that fateful night.  When strange things start happening – prank phone calls, a strange van driving past her house at all hours of the day and night, etc. – Sienna becomes even more convinced that she may have been the intended target and is now in danger. Is she right? Or is she just letting her imagination get the better of her?  Or is it possible her mother’s condition is hereditary?

Wow, this book was such a wild ride! It was so suspenseful and filled with twists and turns that kept me guessing until the end. Every time I thought I had the murderer figured out, the author would introduce a new clue that would send me spinning off in another direction. I devoured The Look Alike in just a couple of sittings because I needed to know what happened and which girl was truly the killer’s target.

I was also very much drawn in by the characters.  I felt tremendous sympathy for Sienna for all that she has had to contend with, and I felt equally sympathetic toward Sienna’s mom. Yes, she can be suffocating at times, but it’s the mental illness that makes her that way.  Imagine thinking day in and day out that someone is out to hurt you and your child. That would be pure hell for any parent.   With her latest novel, The Look Alike, Erica Spindler has crafted both a riveting murder mystery and an intense family drama about mental illness.  I highly recommend it!  4 STARS

 

 

Reviews for THE LOOK ALIKE and BEHIND EVERY LIEBehind Every Lie Goodreads

Author: Christina McDonald

Publication Date: February 4, 2020

Publisher:  Gallery Books

Genre:  Thriller

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

With a title like Behind Every Lie, it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re in for a read filled with twists and turns, and author Christina McDonald does not disappoint. Behind Every Lie opens with a young woman named Eva Hansen frantically running down the street. She is clearly afraid, possibly in shock, and is covered in blood.  She stops for a moment, to take stock of her situation and then everything abruptly goes dark.  When Eva awakens, she is in the hospital being treated for, against all odds, a lightning strike.  Eva has no memory of what happened to her leading up to the moment she was struck by lightning, which becomes a real problem when a police detective shows up at the hospital and tells her that her mother has been stabbed to death.  Eva was found near her mother’s house and covered with blood, so she is automatically the prime suspect.  Even with no memory of what happened that night, Eva is sure there’s no way she could have killed her own mother so she flees the hospital and sets out to find the real killer and clear her name.

Those who follow my reviews know that I’m a sucker for a story that features a dual timeline and McDonald uses one here to great effect.  The story unfolds from both Eva’s perspective in the present and her mother Kat’s perspective in the past.  As Eva uncovers more and more details about her mother’s life, the more she realizes her mother lived a life filled with secrets and lies and that by extension, Eva’s entire life has been nothing but a lie.  She also realizes that whoever else knew about her mother’s secret could very easily be the person who killer her.

Unreliable narrators can be hit or miss for me, but I really like the way it was used here.  Eva is unreliable quite simply because she has amnesia brought on by the lightning strike.  I loved the twists and turns that each returning memory added to the story, especially when the doctor said that she couldn’t necessarily trust those memories at first.  The bits and pieces Eva keeps remembering have her doubting her own innocence even as she’s finding evidence that there may be a real killer out there somewhere.

Behind Every Lie grabbed me from the opening scene and kept me riveted to the end.  If murder mysteries, dual timelines and unreliable narrators are your thing, be sure to add Christina McDonald’s Behind Every Lie to your must-read list.  4 STARS

Early Mini Reviews: SPECTACLE and THE SISTERHOOD

Early Mini Reviews: SPECTACLE and THE SISTERHOODSpectacle by Jodie Lynn Zdrok
Published by Tor Teen on February 12, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A YA murder mystery in which a young reporter must use her supernatural visions to help track down a killer targeting the young women of Paris.

Paris, 1887.

Sixteen-year-old Nathalie Baudin writes the daily morgue column for Le Petit Journal. Her job is to summarize each day's new arrivals, a task she finds both fascinating and routine. That is, until the day she has a vision of the newest body, a young woman, being murdered--from the perspective of the murderer himself.

When the body of another woman is retrieved from the Seine days later, Paris begins to buzz with rumors that this victim may not be the last. Nathalie's search for answers sends her down a long, twisty road involving her mentally ill aunt, a brilliant but deluded scientist, and eventually into the Parisian Catacombs. As the killer continues to haunt the streets of Paris, it becomes clear that Nathalie's strange new ability may make her the only one who can discover the killer's identity--and she'll have to do it before she becomes a target herself.

Review:

Jodie Lynn Zdrok’s debut novel Spectacle is a book I really wanted to love.  It’s a YA murder mystery set in Paris during the 1880s, and it features a female protagonist, Nathalie, who is a newspaper reporter and who also happens to have supernatural visions that could come in handy when it becomes clear a killer is on the loose in her city, targeting young women.  It sounds great, doesn’t it?

And there are quite a few things I did enjoy about it.  I liked that the novel reads as part thriller, part historical fiction, and that it even has a little supernatural twist.  I thought the author did an especially nice job of capturing 1880s Paris and of filling her murder mystery with lots of creepy twists and turns, many of which kept me guessing until the very end, and I was also very intrigued with the idea of the main character being a teenage girl who writes the daily morgue report for the local newspaper.

My struggles with the book, unfortunately, were many as well.  The pacing felt very slow at times and Nathalie felt rather underdeveloped even though she had several subplots swirling around her. While I felt like some of the subplots helped show how Nathalie ended up working where she’s working, unfortunately, they didn’t offer me anything else to make me feel much of a connection to her.  I also found her incredibly frustrating in that she knew full well there was a murderer on the loose who was targeting young women but yet was constantly out walking about the city by herself and at one point even makes a trip down into the Catacombs.

The ending also felt rather awkward. I think it was meant to be open-ended, but the way it just trailed off, it just felt like pages were missing. Between that, the lack of connection I felt to the main character, the slow pacing, and the fact that I predicted who one of the murder victims would be as soon as the character was introduced, I ended up pretty disappointed.  Hopefully other readers will have a better experience with this since it does have such an interesting and unique premise.  2.5 STARS

 

 

Early Mini Reviews: SPECTACLE and THE SISTERHOODThe Sisterhood by A.J. Grainger
on February 12, 2019
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Seventeen-year-old Lil’s heart was broken when her sister Mella disappeared. There’s been no trace or sighting of her since she vanished, so when Lil sees a girl lying in the road near her house she thinks for a heart-stopping moment that it’s Mella.

The girl is injured and disorientated and Lil has no choice but to take her home, even though she knows something’s not right. The girl claims she’s from a peaceful community called The Sisterhood of the Light, but why then does she have strange marks down her arms, and what—or who—is she running from?

Review:

A.J. Grainger’s The Sisterhood is a dark and twisty tale that centers around two sisters, Lil and Mella, and the fallout that takes place when Mella runs away from home after a fight with Lil.  Lil feels responsible and is heartsick about it, especially after months and months go by without a single sighting of Mella anywhere.  When Lil stumbles across a girl lying unconscious and injured in the road not far from her house, she decides that she needs to do everything she can to help the girl.  When the girl, whose name is Alice, regains consciousness, she confides in Lil that she is from The Sisterhood of the Light, which she claims is a peaceful and nurturing community.  Lil is suspicious, especially considering Alice was clearly running away from this group when she was injured and because she has what appear to be burn marks all over her arm. Lil decides to dig deeper – who is this Sisterhood, where are they located considering she’s never heard of them until finding Alice, could any of this tie in to what happened to Mella?

I found this story to be absolutely riveting.  The mystery of where Mella was had already grabbed my attention, but then from the moment Lil stumbled across Alice unconscious and bleeding in the road, I couldn’t put the book down because I just had to know what happened to her.  Then when Alice wakes up and starts going on and on about what sounded like a cult, I was totally hooked and ended up devouring the book in a single afternoon.

The story is told primarily from Lil’s perspective, alternating occasionally with some wild and sometimes creepy chapters from inside The Sisterhood, which I thought was a very effective way to have the story unfold.  Lil is a very likeable and complex character and the author does a wonderful job of showing all the conflicting emotions going through her head as she is desperately missing her sister, while also trying to put on a brave face for her mom, who is also just falling apart because of Mella’s disappearance.  Lil feels like she failed Mella, and now she’s determined to help Alice as a way to do what she didn’t do for her own sister.  Some of Lil’s choices end up being a little questionable and not well thought out, but those flawed choices made her feel all the more real and relatable.

With its mysteries of what has happened to Mella and Alice, its creepy cult-like group, and its emotional impact as poor Lil puts herself through the wringer worrying about her sister, The Sisterhood is a captivating read from start to finish.  I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good mystery.  4 STARS

About A.J. Grainger

A. J. Grainger was born in Reading, where she went to the same school as Jane Austen but not at the same time. She now lives in London with her husband and works as a children’s books editor. She loves writing and editing because it means she gets to talk about books all day. She likes novels with plenty of twists and turns that keep you guessing right up until the end. She is also a total sucker for love stories.

A. J. keeps a blog at www.ajgrainger.com, where she talks about books, writing, editing, making things and procrastinating.

About Jodie Lynn Zdrok

Jodie Lynn Zdrok holds two MAs in European History and an MBA. In addition to being an author, she’s a marketing professional, a freelancer, and an unapologetic Boston sports fan. She enjoys traveling, being a foodie, doing sprint triathlons, and enabling cats. Spectacle is her debut.

Mini Reviews for THE ACCIDENTAL BEAUTY QUEEN & MY FAVORITE HALF-NIGHT STAND

Mini Reviews for THE ACCIDENTAL BEAUTY QUEEN & MY FAVORITE HALF-NIGHT STANDThe Accidental Beauty Queen by Teri Wilson
four-stars
Published by Gallery Books on December 4, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

In this charming romantic comedy perfect for fans of Meg Cabot and Sophie Kinsella, critically acclaimed author Teri Wilson shows us that sometimes being pushed out of your comfort zone leads you to the ultimate prize.

Charlotte Gorman loves her job as an elementary school librarian, and is content to experience life through the pages of her books. Which couldn’t be more opposite from her identical twin sister. Ginny, an Instagram-famous beauty pageant contestant, has been chasing a crown since she was old enough to enunciate the words world peace, and she’s not giving up until she gets the title of Miss American Treasure. And Ginny’s refusing to do it alone this time.

She drags Charlotte to the pageant as a good luck charm, but the winning plan quickly goes awry when Ginny has a terrible, face-altering allergic reaction the night before the pageant, and Charlotte suddenly finds herself in a switcheroo the twins haven’t successfully pulled off in decades.

Woefully unprepared for the glittery world of hair extensions, false eyelashes, and push-up bras, Charlotte is mortified at every unstable step in her sky-high stilettos. But as she discovers there’s more to her fellow contestants than just wanting a sparkly crown, Charlotte realizes she has a whole new motivation for winning.

Review:

After a stressful work week, I was in the mood for a light and fun read to ease me into the weekend. I came across Teri Wilson’s The Accidental Beauty Queen, and as soon as I read the synopsis, I knew this was exactly the kind of story I was searching for. As soon as I started reading about Charlotte, her twin sister Ginny, and their beauty pageant misadventures, I was hooked.  Their story is sweet, heartfelt, and just downright hilarious.

Charlotte was the biggest draw for me. She’s an elementary school librarian, and a huge fan of both Harry Potter and Pride and Prejudice. Truly a heroine after my own heart.  I loved that she’s such a huge book nerd and that she’s so completely devoted to her twin.  When an allergic reaction sidelines Ginny with a swollen, blotchy face, Charlotte agrees to switch places and compete in the preliminary rounds of the pageant to keep her sister’s dream of winning this pageant alive.  Charlotte knows that the pageant is important to Ginny, not just for the prestige, but also for sentimental reasons. It’s a pageant that their mom won years ago before she passed away from cancer.  I was touched by Charlotte not wanting to let her sister down, even if it meant doing something that she was completely uncomfortable doing.  Wilson also does a beautiful job of portraying this sisterly dynamic.  I’m a sucker for a good sibling story anyway, and this was realistic and moving, and just everything I wanted it to be.

There were lots of other things to like about this story as well.  I was also a fan of how the actual pageant was portrayed.  Instead of the cattiness I was expecting Charlotte to encounter, it was nice to see that each pageant scene had more of a supportive sisterhood vibe to it.  Another point of interest to me was Grey, one of the pageant judges and someone Charlotte continually bumps into throughout the book.  Grey is super charming and he’s also quite bookish, so I just adored it when he and Charlotte would talk nerdy to each other. Their chemistry was off the charts, and their banter was sprinkled with Harry Potter and Pride and Prejudice references.  Pure perfection!

In short, The Accidental Beauty Queen was everything my book-loving heart desired and then some.  4 STARS

 

 

Mini Reviews for THE ACCIDENTAL BEAUTY QUEEN & MY FAVORITE HALF-NIGHT STANDMy Favorite Half-Night Stand by Christina Lauren
Also by this author: The Unhoneymooners
four-stars
Published by Gallery Books on December 4, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

By the New York Times bestselling author who “hilariously depicts modern dating” (Us Weekly), My Favorite Half-Night Stand is a laugh-out-loud romp through online dating and its many, many fails.

Millie Morris has always been one of the guys. A UC Santa Barbara professor, she’s a female-serial-killer expert who’s quick with a deflection joke and terrible at getting personal. And she, just like her four best guy friends and fellow professors, is perma-single.

So when a routine university function turns into a black tie gala, Mille and her circle make a pact that they’ll join an online dating service to find plus-ones for the event. There’s only one hitch: after making the pact, Millie and one of the guys, Reid Campbell, secretly spend the sexiest half-night of their lives together, but mutually decide the friendship would be better off strictly platonic.

But online dating isn’t for the faint of heart. While the guys are inundated with quality matches and potential dates, Millie’s first profile attempt garners nothing but dick pics and creepers. Enter “Catherine”—Millie’s fictional profile persona, in whose make-believe shoes she can be more vulnerable than she’s ever been in person. Soon “Catherine” and Reid strike up a digital pen-pal-ship...but Millie can’t resist temptation in real life, either. Soon, Millie will have to face her worst fear—intimacy—or risk losing her best friend, forever.

Perfect for fans of Roxanne and She’s the Man, Christina Lauren’s latest romantic comedy is full of mistaken identities, hijinks, and a classic love story with a modern twist. Funny and fresh, you’ll want to swipe right on My Favorite Half-Night Stand.

Review:

Christina Lauren’s My Favorite Half-Night Stand, which explores the many ups and downs of online dating, is another book I picked up because I wanted a light and fluffy read.  It follows Millie Morris and her all-guy friend group as they try to use online dating apps to find themselves dates to a university function.

My Favorite Half-Night Stand really delivers with the laughs. I honestly lost track of how many times I laughed out loud at Millie and the guys as they bantered back and forth while trying out these apps.  In fact, the dynamics of this group was my favorite part of the whole book.  All I kept thinking while I was reading about them in action using these apps was that this whole premise would make for such a great episode of Friends. Everything about how they interacted with one another actually made me think of Friends, which is a good thing since Friends is one of my favorite shows.

I also really liked Millie.  She’s kind of a mother hen to the guys in her circle of friends, which is funny to watch.  What I liked most about Millie though is how much emotional growth there is with her character throughout the story.  When we first meet her, she’s very closed off about anything personal.  Even her closest friends can’t really pry any personal details out of her.  As the story progresses, however, she starts to have romantic feelings towards her best friend, Reid, and so she does slowly start to open up. She unfortunately makes some questionable choices along the way as she explores her feelings for Reid, but when her choices threaten their friendship, she vows to change her ways.  I liked that Millie was kind of a mess and trying to sort herself out. That made her feel very authentic to me.  I’m also all for a good friends to possible lovers story, so My Favorite Half-Night Stand really hit the spot in that area as well.

This was my first time reading anything by Christina Laurent but it definitely won’t be my last! 4 STARS

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.

About Teri Wilson

Teri Wilson is the author/creator of the Hallmark Channel Original Movies UNLEASHING MR. DARCY, MARRYING MR. DARCY, THE ART OF US and NORTHERN LIGHTS OF CHRISTMAS, based on her book SLEIGH BELL SWEETHEARTS. She is a double finalist for the prestigious RITA Award for excellence in romantic fiction for her novels THE PRINCESS PROBLEM and ROYALLY WED. She has a major weakness for cute animals, pretty dresses and Audrey Hepburn films, and she loves following the British royal family. Feel free to visit and connect with her here at TeriWilson.net, and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Backlist Briefs: Mini Reviews for CITY OF BONES & THE CHILD

Backlist Briefs:  Mini Reviews for CITY OF BONES & THE CHILDCity of Bones by Cassandra Clare
four-stars
Series: The Mortal Instruments #1
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books on March 27, 2007
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 485
Source: Purchased
Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder― much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It's hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing―not even a smear of blood―to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?

This is Clary's first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It's also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace's world with a vengeance when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know...

Review:

I think I’m probably the last person on the planet to start reading the Mortal Instruments series, but finally decided on jump on the bandwagon as part of this year’s Beat the Backlist challenge.  I was looking for a fun and entertaining vacation read and City of Bones, the first book in this series, really fit the bill.  It’s a bit of a brick at 458 pages, but Cassandra Clare’s writing style is so fast-paced that I breezed right through the book in just a few sittings.

The worldbuilding was probably the biggest attraction for me in City of Bones. It was a fascinating journey to follow the protagonist, Clarissa Fray (Clary), as she learns about the world of Shadowhunters and Downworlders, a fantasy world that has been hidden in plain sight in NYC around her all her life.  The author does a fantastic job of weaving into her tale pretty much any kind of supernatural character you can imagine.  There are vampires, werewolves, witches, zombies, demons, and of course the Shadowhunters, who are warriors tasked with ridding the world of demons.

Aside from the fantastic worldbuilding, the characters were also a huge draw.  I was a little slow to warm up to Clary at first (I’m not even sure why honestly), but I immediately became sympathetic to her when her mother goes missing and Clary is attacked by a demon in her own home.  I especially warmed up to Clary as she began to interact with the Shadowhunters, especially Jace, who is handsome but kind of an arrogant jerk at times. (I do have to give Jace bonus points though since he is willing to help Clary find her mom.)  The author writes some hilarious banter between Jace and Clary, as well as between Jace, Alec, and Isabelle, some of Jace’s fellow Shadowhunters.  They were a fun group and I especially liked how they all had each other’s backs even in the most dangerous of situations.  Clary’s friend Simon added some entertaining nerdiness to the dynamic as well.

Even though most people have probably already long since read City of Bones, I still don’t want to give away any spoiler, so I’m just going to say that the mystery of what has happened to Clary’s mother and why Clary suddenly finds herself attacked by demons really takes the reader on a journey filled with wild and crazy plot twists.  There was never a dull moment and I was thoroughly entertained from start to finish.  I’ve read complaints that the story borrows from the likes of Harry Potter, Star Wars, and more, and while I did see some resemblance, it didn’t bother me and I still enjoyed the story overall.  The star I took off is primarily because I smelled an unnecessary love triangle brewing.  4 STARS.

 

Backlist Briefs:  Mini Reviews for CITY OF BONES & THE CHILDThe Child by Fiona Barton
Also by this author: The Suspect
three-half-stars
Series: Kate Waters #2
Published by Berkley Books on December 14, 2017
Genres: Mystery, Fiction
Pages: 448
Also in this series: The Suspect
Source: Purchased
Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

‘An engrossing, irresistible story about the coming to light of a long-buried secret.

When a paragraph in an evening newspaper reveals a decades-old tragedy, most readers barely give it a glance. But for three strangers it’s impossible to ignore.

For one woman, it’s a reminder of the worst thing that ever happened to her.

For another, it reveals the dangerous possibility that her darkest secret is about to be discovered.

And for the third, a journalist, it’s the first clue in a hunt to uncover the truth.

The Child’s story will be told.

Review:

Fiona Barton’s The Child is a compelling story about what happens when a long-buried secret unexpectedly rears its head and threatens to shatter lives.  It follows the story of what happens when construction workers who are demolishing a house uncover the skeleton of an infant.  For most, since forensics indicate the skeleton has been there for decades, the tragedy is barely a blip on their radar, but for three women, the discovery practically turns their lives upside down.

Emma is haunted by the discovery of the skeletal remains because she fears her darkest secret is about to be revealed for all the world (and especially for her mother Jude) to see.  Not unlike Emma, Angela sees the infant’s death as a reminder of the worst thing that has ever happened to her but is also somewhat hopeful that the discovery could bring her the closure she has never gotten over the years.  And then finally, there’s Kate, a journalist who makes it her mission in life to find out who this infant is and how she ended up buried in someone’s backyard decades ago.  I thought the author did a wonderful job of fleshing out each of these characters as well as their motivations for paying such close attention to what happens every step along the way as the skeletal remains are investigated in hopes of identifying the infant.

The main issue I had with The Child was the fact that even though I was interested in why each character reacted the way they did to the discovery of the remains, I can’t say that I really connected with any of them.  I felt like a bystander watching everything play out and waiting to see whose life would be the most turned upside down as the events unfolded.  Aside from not really connecting with the characters, I also felt like the plot, although very interesting, moved very slowly at times. It was very easy to set the book down and just come back to it whenever.

Overall, The Child is still a very solid mystery that, even with the pacing issues, I still wanted to know all the answers to.  And if you can hang around until the end, Holy Plot Twist, Batman! I totally did not see the ending coming!  3.5 STARS

four-stars

About Cassandra Clare

Cassandra Clare was born to American parents in Teheran, Iran and spent much of her childhood travelling the world with her family, including one trek through the Himalayas as a toddler where she spent a month living in her father’s backpack. She lived in France, England and Switzerland before she was ten years old.

Since her family moved around so much she found familiarity in books and went everywhere with a book under her arm. She spent her high school years in Los Angeles where she used to write stories to amuse her classmates, including an epic novel called “The Beautiful Cassandra” based on a Jane Austen short story of the same name (and which later inspired her current pen name).

After college, Cassie lived in Los Angeles and New York where she worked at various entertainment magazines and even some rather suspect tabloids where she reported on Brad and Angelina’s world travels and Britney Spears’ wardrobe malfunctions. She started working on her YA novel, City of Bones, in 2004, inspired by the urban landscape of Manhattan, her favourite city. She turned to writing fantasy fiction full time in 2006 and hopes never to have to write about Paris Hilton again.

Cassie’s first professional writing sale was a short story called “The Girl’s Guide to Defeating the Dark Lord” in a Baen anthology of humor fantasy. Cassie hates working at home alone because she always gets distracted by reality TV shows and the antics of her two cats, so she usually sets out to write in local coffee shops and restaurants. She likes to work in the company of her friends, who see that she sticks to her deadlines.

City of Bones was her first novel.

About Fiona Barton

In Barton’s own words…

“My career has taken some surprising twists and turns over the years. I have been a journalist – senior writer at the Daily Mail, news editor at the Daily Telegraph, and chief reporter at The Mail on Sunday, where I won Reporter of the Year at the National Press Awards, gave up my job to volunteer in Sri Lanka and since 2008, have trained and worked with exiled and threatened journalists all over the world.

But through it all, a story was cooking in my head.

The worm of my first book infected me long ago when, as a national newspaper journalist covering notorious crimes and trials, I found myself wondering what the wives of those accused really knew – or allowed themselves to know.

It took the liberation of my career change to turn that fascination into a tale of a missing child, narrated by the wife of the man suspected of the crime, the detective leading the hunt, the journalist covering the case and the mother of the victim.

Much to my astonishment and delight, The Widow was published in 36 countries and made the Sunday Times and New York Times Best Seller lists.

It gave me the confidence to write a second book ,The Child, in which I return to another story that had intrigued me as a journalist. It begins with the discovery of a newborn’s skeleton on a building site. It only makes a paragraph in an evening newspaper but for three women it’s impossible to ignore.

The Child will be published in June 2017 and I am embarking on my next novel. My husband and I are still living the good life in south-west France, where I am writing in bed, early in the morning when the only distraction is our cockerel, Titch, crowing.”

ARC Mini Reviews for LIES & THE HOUSE OF ONE THOUSAND EYES

ARC Mini Reviews for LIES & THE HOUSE OF ONE THOUSAND EYESThe House of One Thousand Eyes by Michelle Barker
four-stars
Published by Annick Press on September 11, 2018
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 354
Source: the Publisher
Amazon
Goodreads

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Who can Lena trust to help her find out the truth? Life in East Germany in the early 1980s is not easy for most people, but for Lena, it’s particularly hard. After the death of her parents in a factory explosion and time spent in a psychiatric hospital recovering from the trauma, she is sent to live with her stern aunt, a devoted member of the ruling Communist Party. Visits with her beloved Uncle Erich, a best-selling author, are her only respite. But one night, her uncle disappears without a trace. Gone also are all his belongings, his books, and even his birth records. Lena is desperate to know what happened to him, but it’s as if he never existed. The worst thing, however, is that she cannot discuss her uncle or her attempts to find him with anyone, not even her best friends. There are government spies everywhere. But Lena is unafraid and refuses to give up her search, regardless of the consequences. This searing novel about defiance, courage, and determination takes readers into the chilling world of a society ruled by autocratic despots, where nothing is what it seems.

Review:

Michelle Barker’s gripping new novel The House of One Thousand Eyes is set in the early 1980’s, a few years before the fall of the Berlin Wall.  The novel follows Lena, an orphan whose parents were killed in a factory explosion, thus leaving her to be raised by her aunt, who is a devout member of the Communist ruling party.  The bright spot in Lena’s weeks are when she gets to visit her uncle Erich, who is a famous author and who is NOT a devout member of the Communist Party.

In this novel, Barker graphically portrays what it’s like to live under a government that rules with an iron fist.  If the Communist leaders don’t like what they think you’re up to, they have ways of making you disappear so as to quash down any signs of resistance.  Lena learns this lesson the hard way when her Uncle Erich suddenly goes missing and all traces of his existence disappear along with him.  She does everything she can to try to find him or find out what happened to him, but has to do so carefully so as not to put herself on the government’s radar.  Barker increasingly builds up suspense as Lena becomes more and more distraught. Everyone she talks to denies her Uncle’s existence, even her aunt who is Erich’s own sister.  I found the story absolutely riveting as Lena refuses to give up even though there are spies and informers everywhere who would love nothing more than to turn her in and score some points with the Stasi/German secret police.

The House of One Thousand Eyes is a novel about courage, strength, and determination.  The world that Barker paints is often brutal and terrifying and so it becomes very easy to cheer Lena on as she risks everything to resist the East German’s efforts to snuff out both her uncle and free speech.  If you’re interested in seeing what life was like in East Germany before the Berlin Wall came down, I would highly recommend this book.  4 STARS

 

ARC Mini Reviews for LIES & THE HOUSE OF ONE THOUSAND EYESLies by T.M. Logan
Also by this author: 29 Seconds
four-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on September 11, 2018
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 432
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

What if you have the perfect life, the perfect wife and the perfect child—then, in one shattering moment, you discover nothing is as it seems? Now you are in the sights of a ruthless killer determined to destroy everything you treasure.

It’s the evening drive home from work on a route Joe Lynch has taken a hundred times with his young son. But today, Joe sees his wife meet another man—an encounter that will rip two families apart. Raising the question: Can we ever really trust those closest to us?

Joe will do whatever it takes to protect his family, but as the deception unravels, so does his life. A life played out without any rules. And a cunning opponent who’s always one step ahead.

Review:

T.M. Logan’s Lies is an exciting psychological thriller that will take you on the ride of your life.  It follows English teacher Joe Lynch, a loving father and devoted husband who makes what turns out to be a life altering decision – to follow his wife’s car when he happens to see her pulling into a hotel parking garage.  That one decision sets off a chain reaction of events, including a fight with a family friend named Ben who subsequently goes missing, that turns Joe’s entire life upside down and threatens his career, his family, and even his freedom.

Joe was a pretty likeable protagonist.  He’s a bit naïve at times, but I could easily see myself falling for some of the same things he did so, in that sense, I found him easy to relate to.  He’s also a great dad.  Watching him interact with his young son really made me all the more sympathetic to him.  He’s a man who definitely cares about his family above all else.

Lies is an easy read that I binge read in a couple of sittings.  It’s fast-paced and filled with plenty of twists and turns both for Joe and the reader.  The author also effectively builds up suspense with the missing family friend, by way of an active police investigation and also with mysterious messages that Joe starts receiving – messages that threaten to take everything away from him.  Lies also features a messy, and at least for me, totally unexpected, jaw dropping ending.  Kudos to T.M. Logan for keeping me guessing all the way to the end.  4 STARS

four-stars

About Michelle Barker

Michelle Barker was born and raised in Vancouver. She attended Arts One at UBC, studied for a year at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and graduated with a BA from UBC in English literature. After a short foray into comp lit, she left the Master’s program and worked as a research/editing assistant to Sherrill MacLaren. Sailed across the Pacific from Vancouver to Hawaii, had four children, lived for a summer in Montreal, a year in France, and then the Eastern Townships of Quebec for 10 years. After spending 7 years in the Okanagan, she returned to Vancouver. She received her MFA in creative writing at UBC’s optional-residency program in 2015.

Winner of gold National Magazine award in personal journalism (2002). Finalist for TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award (2016), OLA Forest of Reading Golden Oak Award (2017), Chocolate Lily Book Award (2016). Winner of 2017 Surrey International Writers’ Conference Storyteller Award.

Besides a chapbook of poetry called Old Growth, Clear-Cut: Poems of Haida Gwaii, a YA fantasy novel, The Beggar King (2013), and a picture book called The Year of Borrowed Men (2016), she has also published poetry, short fiction, and a variety of non-fiction. Her poetry has appeared in the Best Canadian Poetry anthology (2011).

Barker’s newest novel, The House of One Thousand Eyes, will be out in Fall, 2018, with Annick Press.

About T.M. Logan

Tim was born in Berkshire and studied at Queen Mary and Cardiff universities before becoming a national newspaper journalist. He currently writes full-time and lives in Nottinghamshire with his wife and two children. LIES is his first novel – published by Bonnier Zaffre in January 2017. His next thriller, 29 SECONDS, comes out in January 2018 and is currently available to pre-order. For exclusive writing and new releases from TM Logan, sign up to the Readers’ Club: www.bit.ly/TMLogan.

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for SAVE THE DATE & NOT THE GIRLS YOU’RE LOOKING FOR

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for SAVE THE DATE & NOT THE GIRLS YOU’RE LOOKING FORSave the Date by Morgan Matson
four-half-stars
Published by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers on June 5, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 417
Source: Library
Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Charlie Grant’s older sister is getting married this weekend at their family home, and Charlie can’t wait—for the first time in years, all four of her older siblings will be under one roof. Charlie is desperate for one last perfect weekend, before the house is sold and everything changes. The house will be filled with jokes and games and laughs again. Making decisions about things like what college to attend and reuniting with longstanding crush Jesse Foster—all that can wait. She wants to focus on making the weekend perfect.

The only problem? The weekend is shaping up to be an absolute disaster.

There’s the unexpected dog with a penchant for howling, house alarm that won’t stop going off, and a papergirl with a grudge.

There are the relatives who aren’t speaking, the (awful) girl her favorite brother brought home unannounced, and a missing tuxedo.

Not to mention the neighbor who seems to be bent on sabotage and a storm that is bent on drenching everything. The justice of the peace is missing. The band will only play covers. The guests are all crazy. And the wedding planner’s nephew is unexpectedly, distractingly…cute.

Over the course of three ridiculously chaotic days, Charlie will learn more than she ever expected about the family she thought she knew by heart. And she’ll realize that sometimes, trying to keep everything like it was in the past means missing out on the future.

Review:

Prior to reading Save the Date, I had never read a novel from Morgan Matson before.  I had always heard great things about her books though so when I was recently looking for a fun summer read and saw this book’s hilarious cover, I knew this was the book I had been looking for.  Everything about that cover just screams fun!  And let me tell you, this book seriously delivered too.  I devoured it in just over a day and was thoroughly entertained from start to finish.

Save the Date follows the Grant family and is set over the course of the three days leading up to daughter Linnie’s wedding.  And wow, what a three days it is!  Seriously, everything that can possibly go wrong with the wedding preparations goes wrong and then some.  The wedding hijinks had me literally laughing out loud and oh so grateful that my own wedding went so much more smoothly than poor Linnie’s.  In addition to the wedding chaos and its ensuing hilarity, however, Save the Date has a heartwarming focus on family that I adored even more than the humor.  The Grant family is what I would call perfectly imperfect and Matson does a beautiful job making each family member so loveable, flaws and all.  I was able to relate to each of them easily, especially Charlie, the youngest Grant.  It is from Charlie’s perspective that we watch the story unfold and it’s such an interesting perspective because she has always seen her family as picture perfect and practically worshipped the ground they all walked on.  Now that she’s older and watching her family reunite for Linnie’s wedding, she has to come to the somewhat painful realization that no one is perfect, not even the family that she idolizes.  It really makes her rethink her own identity and choices in life, and I loved that the novel had that coming of age theme included to really add some depth to the overall narrative.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced read that will make you laugh out loud but also shed a tear or two at a flawed but loving family coming together as a team when it counts, I’d highly recommend Morgan Matson’s Save the Date.  As I said, this is my first Morgan Matson read, but I can guarantee it won’t be my last!  4.5 STARS

 

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for SAVE THE DATE & NOT THE GIRLS YOU’RE LOOKING FORNot the Girls You're Looking For by Aminah Mae Safi
three-half-stars
Published by Feiwel & Friends on June 19, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Library
Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Lulu Saad doesn't need your advice, thank you very much. She's got her three best friends and nothing can stop her from conquering the known world. Sure, for half a minute she thought she’d nearly drowned a cute guy at a party, but he was totally faking it. And fine, yes, she caused a scene during Ramadan. It's all under control. Ish.

Except maybe this time she’s done a little more damage than she realizes. And if Lulu can't find her way out of this mess soon, she'll have to do more than repair friendships, family alliances, and wet clothing. She'll have to go looking for herself.

Review:

I’m a complete sucker for books that center around female friendships, so as soon as I heard that Aminah Mae Safi’s Not the Girls You’re Looking For features Lulu Saad and her best girl friends, I knew I had to read it.  While I did love getting to know Lulu and her friends and watching them go through their ups and downs, I have to say that overall, this was just a good read for me, not a great one.

I thought the author did a brilliant job of accurately portraying the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to friendship dynamics.  I also liked that even though these girls clearly loved each other and would have each other’s backs no matter what, it’s definitely not all sunshine and roses for them.  Some of their fights really took me back to my own high school days and made me think back to my core group of friends back then and all of the ups and downs that we managed to make it through.  Safi perfectly captures all of those messy high school relationships that we’ve all experienced and it made the book so relatable (almost too relatable at times, lol).

Along similar lines, I was also a huge fan of the portrayal of Lulu’s family, both immediate and extended.  Lulu’s family on her father’s side is Muslim and I loved seeing that side of the family interact, both with each other and with Lulu’s mother, who is not Muslim.  The awkwardness is palpable as Lulu is caught in between and then gets herself into hot water when she disrespects one of her relatives.  I have a thing for messy family dynamics so Lulu’s family was a highlight for me.

So, what didn’t I like?  There were a few times in this book where it just felt like I was following Lulu around waiting and hoping for something exciting to happen.  Thankfully, exciting things eventually did start to happen, but for a few chapters there, my attention was starting to wander.  I was also a little disappointed because I found what I think was supposed to be a huge plot twist regarding Emma way too predictable.  I still loved the plot twist and her friends’ reactions to it; I just wish I hadn’t guessed it so early on.  All of that said, however, I still think this is a wonderful read, especially if you’re into realistic and sometimes messy portrayals of families and female friendships.  3.5 STARS

four-half-stars

About Aminah Mae Safi

Aminah Mae Safi is a Muslim-American writer who explores art, fiction, feminism, and film. She loves Sofia Coppola movies, Bollywood endings, and the Fast and Furious franchise. She’s the winner of the We Need Diverse Books short story contest. Originally raised in Texas, she now lives in Los Angeles, California, with her partner, a cat bent on world domination, and another cat who’s just here for the snacks. NOT THE GIRLS YOU’RE LOOKING FOR is her first novel.

About Morgan Matson

Morgan Matson was born in New York City and grew up there and in Greenwich, Connecticut. She attended Occidental College as a theater major, but halfway through, switched her focus to writing and never looked back. She received an MFA in Writing for Children from the New School, and then a second MFA in Screenwriting from USC.

She is the New York Times bestselling author of five books, all published by Simon & Schuster.

She currently lives in Los Angeles with her rescue terrier, Murphy, in a house with blue floors that’s overflowing with books.

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

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

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

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Meet thirtysomething dad, Alex

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

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

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

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

FTC Disclosure: I received A Boy Made of Blocks for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

four-stars

About Fredrik Backman

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

About Keith Stuart

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