Monday, April 16, 2018

My take on: The New Neighbors

On the outside, Jack and Sydney appear to be the perfect couple. They got a great deal on a new house. Everything is as it should be. But....it doesn't last in The New Neighbors by Simon Lelic.

Jack and Syd are "The New Neighbors" in their community. Their new house is full of the previous owner's stuff, records, music, papers, and books. Jack and Syd could simply get rid of everything and start fresh, but they're delighting in unearthing treasures in each room. But their delight soon turns to frustration, to despair, and eventually fear.

This house is full of secrets.

Secrets from the past.

Secrets that destroy Jack and Syd's relationship.

Secrets that could cost Jack and Syd their freedom--literally and figuratively.

It all starts with a smell. A rancid smell coming from the attic. Jack finds more than just the source of the smell, he also finds a shoebox. A shoebox filled with relics from Syd's past. Relics that could cause deep emotional pain for Syd. Rather than be honest about what he found, Jack chooses to keep it a secret.

Yes, secrets are a recurring theme in this book.

While Jack is struggling with his recent discovery, Syd is struggling with her own demons. Her abusive childhood is never far from her memory. Those memories come to the forefront when Syd takes a liking to her teenage neighbor, Elsie. Syd sees so much of herself in Elsie. For years Syd tried to hid or rationalize her father's repeated physical and emotional abuse, and now she's afraid Elsie is doing the exact same thing. Elsie does her best to deny anything is wrong, but Syd can see the sadness and fear in her eyes. Elsie's father warns both Syd and Jack to stay away from his daughter, but it's not something either one of them can do. As a social worker, it's Jack's duty to report suspected cases of abuse. But even if he wasn't a social worker, Jack would still want to help. It's in his DNA, it's apart of his humanity to help. Syd can't just sit on the sidelines either. Syd ran away from her abusive household and started a new life for herself, but it came at a steep price. She left her little sister, Jessica, behind to face their father's wrath. What will happen to Elsie if Syd does nothing?

I don't think it's a spoiler to say that a murder occurs. The hows and whys of that murder serve as a catalyst for the entire book. The story is told in Jack and Syd's alternating perspectives. It reads like a long stream of consciousness. Jack and Syd are reacting to everything in the moment; how they felt each step of the way and what they did. You feel like you're inside their heads. So much so, it's hard to know what to believe. Jack is a suspect in the murder, and things he's said along the way certainly made me think he was capable. But it's too obvious for him to be the murderer. But what about Syd? She comes across as so emotionally fragile, I didn't think she was capable of murder. When push comes to shove, Syd struggles with just about everything. This book definitely kept me guessing from end to end. Just when I thought I had it all figured it out, I really didn't. When all is revealed, I realized the signs/clues to the murderer were there the whole time. I'm not always a fan of books with so many twists and turns, but it worked here! I highly recommend diving into this book!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Berkley) in exchange for an honest review.  

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

My take on: The Belles

There are several heavily hyped YA books out this year, and The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton is one of them.

Is this book worth the hype?

I think so.

Why?

I think the concept is original. In Orleans, beauty is a commodity. It's a commodity that not everyone can afford. Only very special women, called Belles have the power to control beauty. The Belles harness that power, and figuratively speaking turn ugly ducklings into swans. The people of Orleans are borne with grayish skin and red eyes. Darker skin is the ideal, and the only way to achieve this is to go to a Belle. The Belles hold a lot of power. In the wrong hands, this power could bring down a kingdom.

Again, I think the concept of this story is great. Now, did I like the execution? Nope. Fair warning, mild spoilers ahead!

Let's start at the beginning. Camellia Beauregard is a Belle, and she dreams of the coveted position of being "the favorite." What does that mean? The royal family picks the favorite, and that Belle gets to live at the palace. The favorite gets the coveted beauty assignments for the royal family. It's an opulent life that Camellia wants. But she's competing against her fellow sisters. Camellia is not like the others in that she rarely follows the rules. She's always testing the boundaries of her power and the patience of the head Belle, Madame Du Barry.

Camellia is like a lot of YA heroines, the rules apply to everyone but her. She can break the rules because she's special and knows everything. This is a YA trope that I'm soooooo sick of. I guess that was strike one for this book.

What was strike two? Why does anyone want to be the favorite? It wasn't really clear to me why this is a thing to obsess over. Like life will be over if someone doesn't get this position. Initially Camellia isn't the favorite and it makes her feel like a failure. But when she finally becomes the favorite, her life becomes worse and not better. So was it really worth it? Being the favorite also comes with a price. Camellia ends up being at the beck and call of Princess Sophia, who wants more than to become beautiful. Sophia wants what Camellia has. She wants Camellia's power, and that puts the new favorite in an awkward position. The Queen will do anything to prevent her daughter from ascending to the throne. Sophia would do more harm than good to Orleans. Sophia delights in causing others pain, emotionally and physically. What will Camellia do?

This book had a lot of potential, but it reads like the first book in a series. Because it's the first in the series, so much time is spent on world-building and introducing characters. I also felt there were a lot of unnecessary characters. The author made an earnest effort to have a diverse group of characters, but there were some that just felt like throwaways. For instance, there are gay characters in the book. But I didn't feel making those characters gay added anything to the story. There's a random sexual assault, so tread lightly. It wasn't until the last 100 pages that I felt the book found it's footing. And then the last page of the book is literally a cliffhanger!! I hope book 2 is better, yes I will be buying it! Despite my issues with this book, I do want to know how Camellia's story ends!

Rating: Give it a try

Monday, April 9, 2018

My take on: The Wild Inside

I don't quite know what to say about The Wild Inside by Jamey Bradbury. It's one of those strange books you can either really love or really hate. l'm somewhere in between.

The book is set in Alaska, and I think the author did a good job of setting the scene. The imagery was very vivid, I felt like I was in the Alaskan wilderness.

The main character, Tracy, is heavily tied to her remote village. It's been two years since Tracy's mother died, and she's had to grow up fast. At just 17, Tracy was raised on hunting, trapping, and training the family dogs. She has dreams of racing with the dogs in the Iditarod. But that might not happen because her father is against it. Trying to convince her father she should race is an uphill battle, one that Tracy will have to put aside after a chance encounter with a stranger in the woods.

Out in the woods, checking traps, Tracy is attacked by a stranger. When Tracy regains consciousness, the mystery stranger is gone but a bloody knife is nearby. Did Tracy fight back? What happened to the mystery man? Her questions are soon answered when this man shows up at her home. What does he want? Why is he here?

This had the makings of a good story. But what really soured me on this book? The GRAMMAR!! I'm not a full-on grammar snob, but I shouldn't have to read passages 2-3 times to get your point. I read an advanced copy, and I'm aware that galleys are not perfect. Galleys or ARCs are uncorrected proofs, so it comes as no surprise when I see errors. But The Wild Inside is different. After just a couple pages, I thought "There's a lot of grammar mistakes in this book." More than normal. That is until I read further. The unusual grammar is clearly a deliberate choice. And because of that choice, I just couldn't get into this one. It was not for me.

Rating: Meh

Notes: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours.




Sunday, March 25, 2018

My take on: Salt to the Sea

I know I've been missing in action lately, but know I'm always reading. I've started and stopped several books lately, including The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth and Between the Blade and the Heart by Amanda Hocking. I'm a lover of either fast pacing or a good storyline, and some of the books I stopped reading lately fell a little short in those departments.

However, Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys had both fast pacing and a good storyline. Inspired by real-life events, four teenagers, each with a secret, seek freedom from the chaos of World War II. All four come from different backgrounds but fate will bring them together.

Joana has fled war-torn Lithuania for East Prussia. She's the nurse and defacto leader of a tired, injured, and war-weary group of people -- both young and old. People look up to her and seek her advice. But who can Joana turn to? Who can she lean on? She's clearly harboring some secret -- a secret that's causing her deep emotional pain.

Emilia is deeply guarded and shy. She's afraid to reveal her Polish heritage, as it could land her in a concentration camp. But she has a deep attachment to Joana and Florian, whom she sees as a knight in shining armor. Florian saved Emilia from death at the hands of soldiers. Emilia hangs on Florian's every word and follows him everywhere. At first, Florian is annoyed by Emilia's behavior but he grows to love her like a sister. Florian is a hard nut to crack. He's running from something and gets very cryptic when anyone, especially Joana, tries to question him.

Joana, Emilia, Florian, and the rest of this rag-tag group make their way through the woods. It's a trip full of highs and lows. They make their way to a port lined with ships bound for greener pastures. Aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff is a very eager to please young man. Alfred is deeply loyal to Hitler, and aspires to rise the ranks of the Third Reich. Like Joana, Emilia, and Florian, Alfred is seeking freedom from his past. But the reality is that Alfred will never be anything more than a low-level dockhand.

I confess I bought this book last year, and it's been sitting on my TBR ever since. But I'm making an effort to read more of my own books. At the start of this year, I vowed to read Salt to the Sea. I'm glad I did because I realize I need to read her other books. Each chapter is short and engaging. With each chapter, I found myself routing for these characters (with the exception of Alfred). A character like Alfred is just not a likeable character, and I'm sure that was intentional on the author's part. Told from four points of view, Salt to the Sea is a thrilling and well-written take on an important period of history.


Rating: Superb

Sunday, February 25, 2018

My take on: Twist of Faith

Ava Saunders has always had a difficult relationship with her adoptive mother, Claire. Growing up, Ava never understood the nomadic lifestyle Claire subjected her to. Moving from town to town, never setting down roots or making lasting friendships was the norm for Ava and Claire. Questioning Claire about her past, has never resulted in answers for Ava. All Ava knows about her past, is that she was left on the steps of a convent as an infant. How or why she came to be there remains a mystery. Now that Claire has died suddenly, Ava is determined to solve that mystery. A photo of an abandoned house, found in Claire's belongings, could be the first piece of the puzzle in Twist of Faith by Ellen J. Green.

Ava's life was a mess before and after Claire's death. She's managed to hold down a job at the local courthouse, but the end of each day is lost in a sea of alcohol. Her moments of clarity are spent delving into her past. She's convinced that photo is the key to everything, and Ava's not the only one. Someone is following her. That someone might have even broken into Ava's home. Things have been moved and the picture is missing. Is Ava getting too close to the truth? Perhaps, and that means she can't continue this quest on her own. Ava's friends and co-workers, Joanne and Russell get pulled into the fray. Russell is a cop and uses his connections to get information. The deeper they investigate, the more danger they encounter.

The chapters are short and to the point, making it a bit of a compulsive read. With each chapter I kept reading. I wanted to know what was the big mystery. The book is told from multiple perspectives, which sometimes made the story difficult to follow. But I thought the author did a good job of planting seeds in each chapter. As a character, Ava was annoying because I kept wanting her to grow up. What Ava was lacking, Joanne made up for with her sassiness and strength. Russell was often the voice of reason but occasionally he let his attraction to Ava cloud his judgment. I think where the book came up short was the ending, specifically the last page. You have to read the book to know what I'm talking about. I didn't expect the cliffhanger, for me it came out of left field. Overall, it was a worthy read.


Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Thomas & Mercer) in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, February 5, 2018

My take on: The Woman in the Window

For every book I read, I have different reasons for picking it up. Sometimes it's a great cover. An intriguing synopsis. Or it's written by an author I've read before. For The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn, the blurbs were the kicker for me. Gillian Flynn, Stephen King, Ruth Ware, and others are quoted on the book jacket--singing its praises. Yes, the word of other authors sways my opinion.

So were they right to gush over this book? In my opinion: YES!

Our main character, Dr. Anna Fox is an agoraphobic recluse, living her life vicariously through her neighbors. She knows when they leave in the morning and when they return at night. What they eat for dinner. Even what their book club picks are. And who is committing adultery. When Anna's not spying on her neighbors with her trusty camera, she's drowning herself in bottle after bottle of wine. Personal hygiene is an extra curricular activity for Anna. Once a proud therapist, Anna's only deep connection is with her fellow agoraphobics on the internet. She dishes out advice to others, but lacks the emotional fortitude to deal with her own issues. It's too heartbreaking to face the problems in her own life. She's separated from her husband, Ed, and daughter, Olivia. Are Ed and Olivia the reason Anna has not left her house in nearly a year? It's hard to know. Anna is such an unreliable narrator, it's hard to separate fact from fiction.  The only thing readers know for sure is Anna's deep-seated love for old Hollywood noir films. Watching movies are the rare moments of joy for Anna, but now they could be distorting her perceptions of reality.

The Russells are Anna's new neighbors. Shy, teenage Ethan is the first to make contact with Anna. Visiting Anna in her home and learning about her love for old films. Eventually, Ethan's mom, Jane, also forges a friendship with Anna. All of this out of the watchful eye of her husband, Alistair. Jane is fearful of something, perhaps it's Alistair? Before Anna can discover the source of her new friend's fear, Jane disappears. And that's because Anna is certain she witnessed Jane's murder. But did Anna really see what she thinks she saw? Or was it the alcohol playing tricks on her?

Anna is the only one certain a crime has been committed. What about Alistair and Ethan? Both of them swear Anna has never met Jane. When the police get involved, Alistair is forced to produce his wife and she looks nothing like the woman Anna met. What's going on? Who is the real Jane? Is any of it real? It's so hard to know what's going on, but I loved the ride from start to finish. Each chapter is short and to the point. I liken them to potato chips, it was hard to stop at just one chapter. I was thoroughly entertained. When the movie version of this eventually comes out, I hope the producers stay true to the book!

Rating: Superb

Notes: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

My take on: Family Tree

It's been awhile since I read a chick-lit/romance novel, so I welcomed the opportunity to review Family Tree by Susan Wiggs.

This book was a pleasant surprise. I was expecting it to go the predictable route: a sad woman returns to her hometown after life in the big city and falls in love again with her high school boyfriend. Yes, some of those elements are in this book but the path to get there (for me) was different and unexpected.

Annie Rush and Martin Harlow are a powerhouse couple. He's the star of the hottest cooking show, The Key Ingredient, and Annie is the producer. They have it all. Their lives are about to change, and not just because Annie is pregnant. Betrayal at the hands of her husband and a freak accident leave Annie at rock bottom. The only way back up is to return to the family maple farm and her hometown of Switchback, Vermont.

Annie's accident is somewhat of a blessing and a curse. For the past year, Annie has been in a coma. When she finally awakens, life as she knew it is gone. She has to start all over again. She has to learn how to walk and talk all over again. She can remember some things, but there are large gaps in Annie's memory. Gaps that might be hard to fill, her family and friends, including her old boyfriend Fletcher, are doing all they can to help Annie remember the past.

The book alternates between the past and present. The present-day narrative is all about Annie's struggles rebuilding her life and her trust in men. Her father left the family decades ago and her husband betrayed her. In the past, we get to see how Annie and Fletcher's love story blossomed and eventually fizzled. In high school, Annie and Fletcher were crazy in love with each other -- until Annie had to make a choice. Fulfilling her dreams of attending college in New York or staying in Switchback with Fletcher? She chooses college but vows to have a future with Fletcher. That future goes up in flames quickly when Fletcher has to stay in Switchback, nursing his father back to health after a devastating accident. Despite how much it hurts, Annie had to face the fact that there was no room for her in Fletcher's life. But in the present-day, fate might give Annie and Fletcher another chance. End to end, I really enjoyed this story. This book is just like your favorite comfort food, you want to curl up in a ball and devour it!

Rating: Superb

Notes: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours.


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