the dilemma of reading

the dilemma of reading

"Oh, all stories are the same, aren't they? Men and women fall in love or out of love. People are born; people die. It all ends happily or it all ends sadly, and the difference matters only to the people involved.”

--Gabrielle Zevin, Margarettown

Review
3.5 Stars
Conversations With Friends/Sally Rooney
Conversations with Friends - Sally C. Rooney

A sharply intelligent novel about two college students and the strange, unexpected connection they forge with a married couple.

Frances is twenty-one years old, cool-headed, and darkly observant. A college student and aspiring writer, she devotes herself to a life of the mind--and to the beautiful and endlessly self-possessed Bobbi, her best friend and comrade-in-arms. Lovers at school, the two young women now perform spoken-word poetry together in Dublin, where a journalist named Melissa spots their potential. Drawn into Melissa's orbit, Frances is reluctantly impressed by the older woman's sophisticated home and tall, handsome husband. Private property, Frances believes, is a cultural evil--and Nick, a bored actor who never quite lived up to his potential, looks like patriarchy made flesh. But however amusing their flirtation seems at first, it gives way to a strange intimacy neither of them expect.As Frances tries to keep her life in check, her relationships increasingly resist her control: with Nick, with her difficult and unhappy father, and finally even with Bobbi. Desperate to reconcile herself to the desires and vulnerabilities of her body, Frances's intellectual certainties begin to yield to something new: a painful and disorienting way of living from moment to moment.

Written with gem-like precision and probing intelligence, Conversations With Friends is wonderfully alive to the pleasures and dangers of youth."

 

I think I was really excited about this because my favourite movie is Conversations With Other Women, so I thought it was obviously going to be just as great, having a similar title.

 

This was solid. This was good. I ultimately enjoyed this. But I think to an extent, it was also too literary--not that that's necessarily a bad thing--when the storyline could have merited more fun and play to give it some livelihood.

 

The character relations in this book were golden, and what drove it forward. I found myself really relating to Frances in her general apathetic manner, and the way she kind of simply let life happen, and that was probably what kept me intrigued by and moving through this book.

 

Ultimately though, I can't think of a good reason why I'd tell my mum or anyone else that they should read this book, and while it was solid and I did ultimately make it through, it was slow without really giving cause for the slowness.

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review
3.5 Stars
The Secrets She Keeps/Michael Robotham
The Secrets She Keeps - Michael Robotham

In the bestselling tradition of The Girl on the Train and In a Dark, Dark Wood, from the internationally bestselling author whom Stephen King called “an absolute master” of the psychological thriller, comes a riveting suspense novel about the unlikely friendship between two pregnant women that asks: how far would you go to create the perfect family?

Agatha is pregnant and works part-time stocking shelves at a grocery store in a ritzy London suburb, counting down the days until her baby is due. As the hours of her shifts creep by in increasing discomfort, the one thing she looks forward to at work is catching a glimpse of Meghan, the effortlessly chic customer whose elegant lifestyle dazzles her. Meghan has it all: two perfect children, a handsome husband, a happy marriage, a stylish group of friends, and she writes perfectly droll confessional posts on her popular parenting blog—posts that Agatha reads with devotion each night as she waits for her absent boyfriend, the father of her baby, to maybe return her calls.

When Agatha learns that Meghan is pregnant again, and that their due dates fall within the same month, she finally musters up the courage to speak to her, thrilled that they now have the ordeal of childbearing in common. Little does Meghan know that the mundane exchange she has with a grocery store employee during a hurried afternoon shopping trip is about to change the course of her not-so-perfect life forever…

With its brilliant rendering of a shocking kidnapping plot and the secrets some women hold close, The Secrets She Keeps delivers a dark and twisted page-turner that is absolutely impossible to put down.

 

My emotions were a whirl with this well thought out book.

 

Though it was a bit length for the genre, this was a really quick read because of how gripping the plot was. I felt a real connection to both of the characters and emphasized with the way each of them felt. I became quite invested in the fate of all involved.

 

The entire concept was incredibly well plotted and thought through. This was reflected in Agatha's character--she was precise and methodical. Meg had more going on than seemed on surface level which helped me to become quickly invested. I loved the details Robotham included and how they all tied together. The policework involved was also quite intriguing to read about.

 

At the beginning, Agatha gave me the creeps, but flashbacks and pointed details really drew me to her and by the end, though I also wanted to shake some sense into her, I wanted to see her growing up a bit and being happy.

 

The ending had a few surprises, including a relationship that I hadn't quite seen developing and a very solid finale. This was a rare book where the ending was quite satisfying in that I didn't want to read more about the characters because I knew enough to safely envision the rest of their lives.

 

Though this book wasn't outstanding, it was enjoyable and very easy to get lost in.

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review
2.5 Stars
Hello, Sunshine/Laura Dave
Hello, Sunshine: A Novel - Laura Dave

Sunshine Mackenzie truly is living the dream. A lifestyle guru for the modern age, Sunshine is beloved by millions of people who tune into her YouTube cooking show, and millions more scour her website for recipes, wisdom, and her enticing suggestions for how to curate a perfect life. She boasts a series of #1 New York Times bestselling cookbooks, a devoted architect husband, and a reputation for sincerity and kindness—Sunshine seems to have it all. But she’s hiding who she really is. And when her secret is revealed, her fall from grace is catastrophic. What Sunshine does in the ashes of destruction will save her in more ways than she can imagine.

In our modern world, where celebrity is a careful construct, Laura Dave’s compelling, enticing novel explores the devastating effect of the secrets we keep in public…and in private. Hello, Sunshine is a fresh, provocative look at a woman teetering between a scrupulously assembled life and the redemptive power of revealing the truth.

 

This was fine. This was solid. This was enjoyable. This wasn't addictive.

 

I felt like this was just so close to me loving it, but I never really became completely drawn in. Why? I'm not sure. This had solid writing, an interesting plot, and some well-drawn characters. But meh.

 

First of all, "spoiler" alert, the big fall from grace is simply that she didn't write her own recipes and isn't from where she said she's from. If she had been a bestselling author, I might have felt differently, but I found it hard to take the big deal seriously because they're recipes, and especially with the internet, recipes are so widely spread that anyone could have created them.

 

Our main character is immediately introduced as unlikeable and not entirely honest and I loved that about her until she proved to be quiet mediocre and kind of likeable but definitely not unlikeable. I think I got too excited about having a villainous main character that to then have her be jovial was not terribly fun. The book doesn't take her through any big changes personality-wise and she doesn't really grow or change.

 

Her new job and her family was probably the redeeming aspect of this book--she has an adorable niece and her sister has some interesting friends. The interactions amongst them were fun to watch, though their history was strange. I loved reading about her new job within the restaurant industry and her strange boss. I wanted to see more of that.

You'll probably enjoy reading this. I did. But it's not one I'll write home about.

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review
5 Stars
Final Girls/Riley Sager
Final Girls - Riley Sager

Ten years ago, college student Quincy Carpenter went on vacation with five friends and came back alone, the only survivor of a horror movie–scale massacre. In an instant, she became a member of a club no one wants to belong to—a group of similar survivors known in the press as the Final Girls. Lisa, who lost nine sorority sisters to a college dropout's knife; Sam, who went up against the Sack Man during her shift at the Nightlight Inn; and now Quincy, who ran bleeding through the woods to escape Pine Cottage and the man she refers to only as Him. The three girls are all attempting to put their nightmares behind them, and, with that, one another. Despite the media's attempts, they never meet.

Now, Quincy is doing well—maybe even great, thanks to her Xanax prescription. She has a caring almost-fiancé, Jeff; a popular baking blog; a beautiful apartment; and a therapeutic presence in Coop, the police officer who saved her life all those years ago. Her memory won’t even allow her to recall the events of that night; the past is in the past.

That is, until Lisa, the first Final Girl, is found dead in her bathtub, wrists slit, and Sam, the second, appears on Quincy's doorstep. Blowing through Quincy's life like a whirlwind, Sam seems intent on making Quincy relive the past, with increasingly dire consequences, all of which makes Quincy question why Sam is really seeking her out. And when new details about Lisa's death come to light, Quincy's life becomes a race against time as she tries to unravel Sam's truths from her lies, evade the police and hungry reporters, and, most crucially, remember what really happened at Pine Cottage, before what was started ten years ago is finished.

 

 

Once I'd picked this one up, there was no way for me to put it down.

 

I actually explained the premise to my boyfriend halfway through and he guessed the ending then and there, but I thought he was wrong and remained in suspense through the novel. There were many possible ways it could have gone that all were plausible and I loved how this kept me guessing. I did not trust a single character.

 

The book starts off with Quincy baking and the constant theme of flour and eggs simply adds to the mystique of the topic. It’s horrifying to think of someone with such simple pleasures going through something so horrible, and it’s all the more intriguing to discover the cracks in her shell and the way she’s still dealing with her traumatic past.

 

The way that the "Final Girls" interacted with that particular label made the story all the more fascinating. The three were nothing like each other and I enjoyed learning about their personalities and their backgrounds.

 

There were horrifying scenes that had me wincing that I really enjoyed—they definitely brought me into the story and made me suffer alongside Quincy.

 

One arbitrary reference to race in this book really bothered me—it was incredibly needless and pulled me out of the book completely. I’m not sure what the reasoning behind that choice was, as other than that, the book was perfectly lovely.

 

I do highly recommend this as a thriller that will keep you in suspense.

Review
3 Stars
Everything We Left Behind/Kerry Lonsdale
Everything We Left Behind: A Novel - Kerry Lonsdale

From the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Everything We Keep comes the highly anticipated sequel. Told from one man’s two perspectives, Everything We Left Behind effortlessly blends suspense, mystery, and romance in an exploration of loss, resilience, and the compelling need to protect the ones we love at all cost.

Two months before his wedding, financial executive James Donato chased his trade-laundering brother Phil to Mexico, only to be lost at sea and presumed dead. Six and a half years later, he emerges from a dissociative fugue state to find he’s been living in Oaxaca as artist Carlos Dominguez, widower and father of two sons, with his sister-in-law Natalya Hayes, a retired professional surfer, helping to keep his life afloat. But his fiancée, Aimee Tierney, the love of his life, has moved on. She’s married and has a child of her own.

Devastated, James and his sons return to California. But Phil is scheduled for release from prison, and he’s determined to find James, who witnessed something in Mexico that could land Phil back in confinement. Under mounting family pressure, James flees with his sons to Kauai, seeking refuge with Natalya. As James begins to unravel the mystery of his fractured identity, danger is never far behind, and Natalya may be the only person he can trust.

 

Well, I did not realize that this was a sequel until I just sat down to review it. Oops. In that regard, this book can definitely stand alone.

 

Ironically, my biggest issue with this book was that I felt thrown in. I wanted more backstory. I didn't understand what had happened and I wanted it in laymen's terms. I wanted more on Raquel. I wanted to know the family dynamics. I guess I should have read the first book before reading this and maybe I wouldn't have had these issues!

 

Having said that, I thought this was a quite solid book despite the strange premise. It was challenging for me to really comprehend the strange dissociative fugue state that James-Carlos had, and to relate to how it might be to wake up one day in this state, but I enjoyed reading about how this often happened after trauma. It did feel too convenient as a trope, but I got over that since this is a book. I would have recommended it alone, which says a lot.

 

I also wasn't terribly enthralled with the Natalya/James-Carlos relationship. Natalya was Carlos's deceased wife's half-sister, and I thought it just could have been much tidier if she had been a best friend, or a next door neighbour, or something that would just keep family out. There were too many "true loves" in this book for me to feel passionately about any--it's hard to believe that Aimee was James's true love his whole life when he then has no problems going to the sisters.

 

I did really admire the way that James-Carlos both cared immensely for their children and worked to do everything in their power to keep them happy and safe. This was really admirable, and made me care so much more about all of the characters.

 

If you enjoyed the first book, then this one will probably satisfy you. But you should probably read the first one before diving into this one simply so that the premise will be more clear and so that you care more about these characters than I did.

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review
2.5 Stars
Death of a Bachelorette/Laura Levine
Death of a Bachelorette (A Jaine Austen Mystery) - Laura Levine

Freelance writer Jaine Austen thought working for a knock-off reality show in the tropics would be paradise. But when she and her kitty Prozac find themselves trapped between a dimwitted leading man, catty contestants, and a cold-blooded murderer, the splashy gig becomes one deadly nightmare...
Jaine's life has been a royal pain since she started penning dialogue for Some Day My Prince Will Come--a cheesy dating show that features bachelorettes competing for the heart of Spencer Dalworth VII, a very distant heir to the British throne. As if fending off golf ball-sized bugs on a sweltering island wasn't tough enough, Jaine must test her patience against an irritable production crew and fierce contestants who will do anything to get their prince...
But Jaine never expected murder to enter the script. When one of the finalists dies in a freak accident, it's clear someone wanted the woman out of the race for good--and the police won't allow a soul off the island until they seize the culprit. Terrified of existing another day without air conditioning and eager to return home, Jaine is throwing herself into the investigation. And she better pounce on clues quickly--or there won't be any survivors left...

 

While this book was pretty outrageous and at points juvenile, it was still a fun read.

Strange would probably be the best way to describe the concept of this book. From strange natives with strange ceremonies to strange producers with strange ideas of success, the story was riddled with oddities and unexpected absurdities.

 

I was not Jaine's biggest fan--she's not the brightest, and she's pretty ditzy at points. However, she was the fun type of ditzy and I was amused by her antics and by her drama queen attitude that somehow managed to be less obnoxious than that of the remaining few competitions.

 

This isn't necessarily the book for you if you're a huge fan of reality TV shows as there was surprisingly little to do with the show actually mentioned. The plot was insane, however, and there was definitely drama within love that was quite entertaining.

 

I wasn't the biggest fan of this book. There are chick flicks out there with more character building and believable premises. But if you're into super absurd things, you might enjoy this.

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review
4 Stars
Here and Gone/Haylen Beck
Here and Gone: A Novel - Haylen Beck

Here and Gone is a gripping, wonderfully tense suspense thriller about a mother's desperate fight to recover her stolen children from corrupt authorities.. It begins with a woman fleeing through Arizona with her kids in tow, trying to escape an abusive marriage. When she's pulled over by an unsettling local sheriff, things soon go awry and she is taken into custody. Only when she gets to the station, her kids are gone. And then the cops start saying they never saw any kids with her, that if they're gone than she must have done something with them... Meanwhile, halfway across the country a man hears the frenzied news reports about the missing kids, which are eerily similar to events in his own past. As the clock ticks down on the search for the lost children, he too is drawn into the desperate fight for their return.

 

This book was quite harrowing, and had my nerves all over the place as I read it and became invested in the lives of all involved.

 

From the very beginning, I was scared for this family--the opening scene has Audra driving through arid desert with few inhabitants, looking over her shoulder at every turn. Surely enough, as we know it will, the worst happens. I couldn't put this one down--it sickened me and I was desperately anxious to reach the end and have good things happen to these characters.

 

This wasn't particularly a mystery novel as we knew throughout what had happened, how it had happened, and why. Nonetheless, I felt compelled to race through this book to find out what would ultimately occur.

 

Underneath the ultimate plot of kids disappearing, there were some interesting tropes. Abuse was handled well in this book, and Audra's background with her husband was sickening. A lady who she stays with plays a role I did not expect and had a fascinating personality.

 

I felt like Danny, the man mentioned in the blurb, was kind of unnecessary. I wish he hadn't existed or that he'd been better worked into the plot. Though this is not at all a romance, it felt very much like a knight-in-shining-armour trope. His background was interesting to read about though, and I would have enjoyed more of him instead of less.

 

There were two children who I felt received the unfortunate end of the stick and I would have liked to have seen this resolved; however, this might have been out of the scope of the book so I can understand why their ultimate fates weren't included.

 

Overall, this was a really engaging read that I recommend quite highly

.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review
4 Stars
Single-Minded/Lisa Daily
Single-Minded: A Novel - Lisa Daily

Alex has planned and executed her life with laser focus since she first met her future husband at the play-doh table on the first day of kindergarten. They have a terrific life, a gorgeous house on the bay, and fantastic careers they love. There’s only one problem: Alex’s husband Michael is gay, a fact he neglected to mention in the 23 years since they first met.

Now, Alex’s perfectly planned life has completely fallen apart, her biological clock is starting to feel like the timer on a nuclear device, and she finds herself drooling over her completely-dreamy-but-definitely-off-limits client, a star chef opening a hot new restaurant. Armed with dating guidance from her oddball collection of advisers—including her gay ex-husband, a foul-mouthed political consultant, a perkily masochistic yogi, and a pot-smoking octogenarian—Alex navigates the booby-trapped world of modern dating, in her search for a second chance at love.

 

Daily is a splendid writer and my heart was in my throat through many of the scenes of this book. I think at heart this book stood out to me as a romance, though it did also address issues of self-worth and how one can view and value themselves as the world around them changes.

 

I can relate to Alex in how driven she is and in how she plans for things to go in a certain way so that she can meet success. I definitely would have liked to have seen more about her business--the scenes were she had events that could make or break it were really interesting and I was fascinated by her job as an environmental psychologist and wanted to learn more.

 

I loved seeing her entering the world of dating. I generally enjoy this, but it was especially great as she was a very put together character who just simply had never really been on a date in her life and because of that, there were many pitfalls that she had to work with throughout.

 

Her first "Tinder"-esque dates especially were intriguing, and I was curious about her friend's idea of needing to date a certain number of people of certain types before being able to marry. The "fish" especially resonated with me--that most people will have one person that is perfect in many ways, but there's something that just makes the relationship incompatible.

 

I felt like several scenes were sped through and could have used more detail to build up suspense and to really put me in the scene. I also wish there had been more resolution about a certain intriguing portrait.

 

This is a lovely women's fiction novel that I found to have quite a satisfying romance. I recommend it as a light read.

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review
4 Stars
Crimes Against a Book Club/Kathy Cooperman
Crimes Against a Book Club - Kathy Cooperman

Best friends Annie and Sarah need cash—fast. Sarah, a beautiful, successful lawyer, wants nothing more than to have a baby. But balancing IVF treatments with a grueling eighty-hour workweek is no walk in the park. Meanwhile, Annie, a Harvard-grad chemist recently transplanted to Southern California, is cutting coupons to afford her young autistic son’s expensive therapy.

Desperate, the two friends come up with a brilliant plan: they’ll combine Sarah’s looks and Annie’s brains to sell a “luxury” antiaging face cream to the wealthy, fading beauties in Annie’s La Jolla book club. The scheme seems innocent enough, until Annie decides to add a special—and oh-so-illegal—ingredient that could bring their whole operation crashing to the ground.

Hilarious, intelligent, and warm, Crimes Against a Book Club is a delightful look at the lengths women will go to fend for their families and for one another.

 

Hilarious and a little bit absurd, I really loved this one!

 

The plot is so very strange but so very novel and engaging. I absolutely adored the way that it unraveled and how all of the elements introduced in the beginning came together quickly. The plot alone could have carried me easily through this book as I was immensely curious to see what would happen.

 

But the characters added another whole layer to it. They were all strangely lovable, even the ones that I simultaneously disliked. The manner in which everything came together was quite clever. At times, it reminded me of high school drama books but for adults and it definitely had the cliquey prestige that we all love to hate.

 

The morals of this book were questioning and questionable and immensely fascinating to me. I was highly entertained by the conflict between Annie and Sarah and how their friendship evolved and changed, as well as by the family dynamic that surprised me near the end.

 

For a light drama and a fun women's fiction read, I recommend this.

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review
2 Stars
No Turning Back/Tracy Buchanan
No Turning Back: A Novel - Tracy Buchanan

You’d kill to protect your child – wouldn’t you?

When radio presenter Anna Graves and her baby are attacked on the beach by a crazed teenager, Anna reacts instinctively to protect her daughter.

But her life falls apart when the schoolboy dies from his injuries. The police believe Anna’s story, until the autopsy results reveal something more sinister.

A frenzied media attack sends Anna into a spiral of self-doubt. Her precarious mental state is further threatened when she receives a chilling message from someone claiming to be the ‘Ophelia Killer’, responsible for a series of murders twenty years ago.

Is Anna as innocent as she claims? And is murder forgivable, if committed to save your child’s life…?

 

While the premise of this book was quite interesting, the successive plot was wrapped up in a way that relied a lot on believing a coincidence that I just couldn't buy.

 

I had a lot of trouble getting into this book. I enjoyed the sentiment behind how passionate Anna was as a mother, but I felt like she wasn't well developed as a character otherwise. She's got a career as a radio presenter, but she has to take a lot of time off. This isn't her fault, but it takes away a lot of her interest.

 

I will definitely say that I was surprised by the ultimate end; I did not see it coming at all. But I was surprised and I didn't really buy it because it didn't fit in with anything I'd read to that point. It was a unique ending, but not one I was particularly pleased by.

 

I guess I just feel like the police should have handled this one. Anna wasn't the one investigating. The novel focused on how the events affected her, but I just didn't really care. I wanted to be in the action.

 

This is worth a shot, but it was sadly not my cup of tea. It took me forever to read it because I kept getting distracted by more engaging books.

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review
4.5 Stars
Mad/Chloé Esposito
Mad: A Novel (Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know Trilogy) - Chloé Esposito

In this compulsively readable debut, set between London and Sicily over one blood-drenched week in the dead of summer, an identical twin reveals the crazy lies and twists she'll go through to not only steal her sister's perfect life, but to keep on living it.

Alvie Knightly is a trainwreck: aimless, haphazard, and pretty much constantly drunk. Alvie's existence is made even more futile in contrast to that of her identical and perfect twin sister, Beth. Alvie lives on social media, eats kebabs for breakfast, and gets stopped at security when the sex toy in her carry-on starts buzzing. Beth is married to a hot, rich Italian, dotes on her beautiful baby boy, and has always been their mother's favorite. The twins' days of having anything in common besides their looks are long gone.

When Beth sends Alvie a first-class plane ticket to visit her in Italy, Alvie is reluctant to go. But when she gets fired from the job she hates and her flatmates kick her out on the streets, a luxury villa in glitzy Taormina suddenly sounds more appealing. Beth asks Alvie to swap places with her for just a few hours so she can go out unnoticed by her husband. Alvie jumps at the chance to take over her sister's life--if only temporarily. But when the night ends with Beth dead at the bottom of the pool, Alvie realizes that this is her chance to change her life.

Alvie quickly discovers that living Beth's life is harder than she thought. What was her sister hiding from her husband? And why did Beth invite her to Italy at all? As Alvie digs deeper, she uncovers Mafia connections, secret lovers, attractive hitmen, and one extremely corrupt priest, all of whom are starting to catch on to her charade. Now Alvie has to rely on all the skills that made her unemployable--a turned-to-11 sex drive, a love of guns, lying to her mother--if she wants to keep her million-dollar prize. She is uncensored, unhinged, and unforgettable.

 

My mouth hung open throughout the reading of this book, which definitely pushed its limits.

 

I laughed out loud so many times while reading this and my boyfriend probably has a bruise from the amount of times I poked him in order to get his attention because I just had to share the amount of hilarious things that were written.

 

Alvie is abrasive. She's over the top. She's ridiculous. She's absurd. You're not meant to like her. I loved her--I loved to hate her, really. I cannot fathom so much as contemplating the actions that she took or having her priorities and desires, but she sure cracked me up.

 

I felt like the latter half kind of got too much for me--I enjoyed the lighter side of things, but the mafia did get involved, there were guns, and there was blood. I laughed less and was open-mouthed more with incredulity at the absurd events that were taking place. Very few of the characters in this book were actually as they seemed or as I had predicted them to be.

 

The plot similarly became ridiculous. The book started off as a more explicit sort of Kinsella novel with a less likable protagonist and much stranger scenarios, but then turned into a kind of mystery, then to a thriller, then just to an absurdist telling of a story.

 

Put your judgemental side away and read this book right now--it's sure to have you in hysterics. I'm cautiously but eagerly anticipating the next book.

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review
4 Stars
The Heirs/Susan Rieger
The Heirs - Susan Rieger

Brilliantly wrought, incisive, and stirring, The Heirs tells the story of an upper-crust Manhattan family coming undone after the death of their patriarch. Six months after Rupert Falkes dies, leaving a grieving widow and five adult sons, an unknown woman sues his estate, claiming she had two sons by him. The Falkes brothers are pitched into turmoil, at once missing their father and feeling betrayed by him.

In disconcerting contrast, their mother, Eleanor, is cool and calm, showing preternatural composure. Eleanor and Rupert had made an admirable life together -- Eleanor with her sly wit and generosity, Rupert with his ambition and English charm -- and they were proud of their handsome, talented sons: Harry, a brash law professor; Will, a savvy Hollywood agent; Sam, an astute doctor and scientific researcher; Jack, a jazz trumpet prodigy; Tom, a public-spirited federal prosecutor.

The brothers see their identity and success as inextricably tied to family loyalty - a loyalty they always believed their father shared. Struggling to reclaim their identity, the brothers find Eleanor's sympathy toward the woman and her sons confounding. Widowhood has let her cast off the rigid propriety of her stifling upbringing, and the brothers begin to question whether they knew either of their parents at all.

A riveting portrait of a family, told with compassion, insight, and wit, The Heirs wrestles with the tangled nature of inheritance and legacy for one unforgettable, patrician New York family. Moving seamlessly through a constellation of rich, arresting voices, The Heirs is a tale out Edith Wharton for the 21st century.

 

For anyone who adores characters and the way that each person's history might contribute to a larger picture, this is a must read.

 

This was a gorgeous exploration of the spiderweb way that one man's connections interact with the world and, without having the clichés found in a butterfly effect novel, the way that the decisions people make affect generations to come.

 

This is split up into chapters that loosely focus on characters and the way that the main events had played into their lives. Rupert and Eleanor had five sons, each of whom is well drawn and has a distinct personality from the others. Rieger's ability to create people that feel absolutely real is astounding, and while I was excited to read about new characters, I also found myself aching to know about the interplay between them all.

 

I enjoyed the general atmosphere of this book and the way that it read. While there wasn't a clear and distinct plot and it felt at points like a collection of short stories, I enjoyed the way it begun and the succinct way that it wrapped itself up, simultaneously giving answers and creating questions.

 

Rieger's talent for breathing life into characters is one I look forward to seeing again in the future.

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review
4 Stars
Practicing Normal/Cara Sue Achterburg
Practicing Normal - Cara Sue Achterberg

The houses in Pine Estates are beautiful McMansions filled with high-achieving parents, children on the fast track to top colleges, all of the comforts of modern living, and the best security systems money can buy. Welcome to normal upper-middle-class suburbia.

The Turners know in their hearts that they're anything but normal. Jenna is a high-schooler dressed in black who is fascinated with breaking into her neighbors' homes, security systems be damned. Everett genuinely believes he loves his wife . . . he just loves having a continuing stream of mistresses more. JT is a genius kid with Asperger's who moves from one obsession to the next. And Kate tries to manage her family, manage her mother (who lives down the street), and avoid wondering why her life is passing her by.

And now everything is changing for them. Jenna suddenly finds herself in a boy-next-door romance she never could have predicted. Everett's secrets are beginning to unravel on him. JT is getting his first taste of success at navigating the world. And Kate is facing truths about her husband, her mother, and her father that she might have preferred not to face.

Life on Pine Road has never been more challenging for the Turners. That's what happens when you're practicing normal.

Combining her trademark combination of wit, insight, and tremendous empathy for her characters, Cara Sue Achterberg has written a novel that is at once familiar and startlingly fresh.

 

I often say that I'd like to read about the everyday lives of well-developed characters simply because people are interesting and the way that they interact with the world is intriguing. This book brought me that in a satisfying way, though it had a distinct plot as well.

 

While reading this book, I truly got to know Kate and her daughter Jenna. I came to understand Everett and the way that he thought. And I came to appreciate and adore JT with his Asperger's and his unique way of viewing the world. The family itself is very insular, but I got to know secondary characters too through the ways that they interacted with the family.

 

Jenna was my favourite character--she has a tendency to break into houses and came to know many of her neighbours in that fashion. She's also quite intelligent and aware of what's going on. I loved the way she was vulnerable as she started exploring romance despite the cynicism of her grandmother.

 

And her grandmother, wow, she definitely kept things moving and provided a source of much of the conflict within this book. Her character also raised important questions of depression and the way we treat the elderly that I found to be quite poignant.

 

The plot wasn't quite interesting--if I described it to you, I'm not sure that it would persuade you to read this. In theory, it focused on a mystery of birth, and in Kate's sister trying to find their long-gone father. But instead, the strength of this book came from more of an exploration of characters as they navigated certain situations.

 

Nonetheless, this book was quite enjoyable, and I'm looking forward to more from Achterberg.

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review
2.5 Stars
How To Survive a Summer/Nick White
How to Survive a Summer: A Novel - Nick White

A searing debut novel centering around a gay conversion camp in Mississippi, and a man's reckoning with the trauma he faced there as a teen.
Camp Levi—nestled in the Mississippi countryside—is designed to "cure" young teenage boys of their budding homosexuality. Will Dillard, a Midwestern graduate student, spent a summer at the camp as a teenager, and has since tried to erase that experience from his mind. But when a fellow student alerts him that a slasher movie based on the camp is being released, he is forced to confront his troubled history and possible culpability in the death of a fellow camper.
As past and present are woven together, Will recounts his "rehabilitation," eventually returning to the abandoned campgrounds to solve the mysteries of that pivotal summer, and to reclaim his story from those who have stolen it. With a masterful confluence of sensibility and place, How to Survive a Summer introduces an exciting new literary voice.

 

I wanted to love this book so much more than I did, but it was unfortunately juvenilely written and hard to slough through.

 

One character aptly assumes at one point that our narrator doesn't want to talk about his story because he may feel it's just another example of a gay boy growing up and getting out of a small town, moving from a rural area to a metropolitan area and not terribly worthy of sharing. This was the most poignant moment of the novel, because I think a lot of people do feel this way when they should know that their perspective is also important.

 

I don't know. I was so psyched for this book but it didn't captivate me or compel me. It wasn't as gruesome as promised, not that I wanted to see gruesome specifically, but I expected there to be more shock factor for how the book was sold. There was one character who was very fucked up and I think that this was much more the problem in the story than the idea of "stomping out the gay."

 

I feel like there could have been more. Will's current life is very strange and aimless and could have better been written into its own story. His relationships with a guy he's interested in and a friend who's more a mentor were both very strange and were described as more intimate than they really are.

 

I kept getting bored and wanting to give up. Ultimately, the ending was super unsatisfying also, and I was left in limbo wondering what I had just read. While I think this topic matter is important, I would have liked to see this story differently done in a manner that would be much more captivating. I felt like the title was false advertisement, honestly.

 

This was disappointing. If you're interested in the topic manner it might be worth your time, but it was far from the slamdunk I was hoping this would pull on my emotions.

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review
3.5 Stars
The Idea of You/Robinne Lee
The Idea of You: A Novel - Robinne Lee

Solène Marchand, the thirty-nine-year-old owner of an art gallery in Los Angeles, is reluctant to take her daughter, Isabelle, to meet her favorite boy band. But since her divorce, she’s more eager than ever to be close to Isabelle. The last thing Solène expects is to make a connection with one of the members of the world-famous August Moon. But Hayes Campbell is clever, winning, confident, and posh, and the attraction is immediate. That he is all of twenty years old further complicates things.

What begins as a series of clandestine trysts quickly evolves into a passionate and genuine relationship. It is a journey that spans continents as Solène and Hayes navigate each other’s worlds: from stadium tours to international art fairs to secluded hideaways in Paris and Miami. For Solène, it is a reclaiming of self, as well as a rediscovery of happiness and love. When Solène and Hayes’ romance becomes a viral sensation, and both she and her daughter become the target of rabid fans and an insatiable media, Solène must face how her romantic life has impacted the lives of those she cares about most.

 

While this book was overtly explicit in places, Soléne's tone made the book a lot of fun to read.

 

If you're not comfortable with a relationship with a significant age gap, then don't read this, simply put. I thought this book did a great job of exploring the double standard of age relations and for confronting why many of us have an inherent opposition to a specific type of relationship between two consenting adults.

 

Soléne was an intriguing character simply in the way she handles herself. On one hand, she has a really fantastic job that she's persevered at for years and has found a lot of success with, even in a challenging world, but on the other hand she seems to be constantly worrying about needing to have a man in her life and how she's too old to find a new man. I did adore her tone and realism, however. She had a lot of dry humour and deadpanning that highly amused me.

 

I had a lot of fun also seeing the person behind the face of a boy band. There's a moment where the band is nominated for a Grammy award that really struck me--Hayes was so genuine in that moment. He had a tendency to believe that he could buy whatever he wanted, also, and in a way he grew up through this book.

 

I adored the emotions of first love, of motherhood, and of being thirteen, which were all realistically and adeptly portrayed. Isabelle was a standout character; I could see myself several years ago in her and in the way she handled the relationship. She was surprisingly mature yet very real.

 

Kudos for the Kehinde Wiley reference--I enjoyed the art gallery aspect of this book a lot. And that ending, wow. There was a lot of very explicit scenes which wasn't quite what I was expecting, but I was able to read through them.

 

Though it wasn't a complete standout, I enjoyed this book for the depth of emotion the characters felt.

Review
3 Stars
The Last Place You Look/Kristen Lepionka
The Last Place You Look - Kristen Lepionka

Nobody knows what happened to Sarah Cook. The beautiful blonde teenager disappeared fifteen years ago, the same night her parents were brutally murdered in their suburban Ohio home. Her boyfriend Brad Stockton—black and from the wrong side of the tracks—was convicted of the murders and is now on death row. Though he’s maintained his innocence all along, the clock is running out. His execution is only weeks away when his devoted sister insists she spied Sarah at an area gas station. Willing to try anything, she hires PI Roxane Weary to look at the case and see if she can locate Sarah.

Brad might be in a bad way, but private investigator Roxane Weary isn’t doing so hot herself. Still reeling from the recent death of her cop father in the line of duty, her main way of dealing with her grief has been working as little and drinking as much as possible. But Roxane finds herself drawn in to the story of Sarah's vanishing act, especially when she links the disappearance to one of her father’s unsolved murder cases involving another teen girl.

The stakes get higher as Roxane discovers that the two girls may not be the only beautiful blonde teenagers who’ve turned up missing or dead. As her investigation gets darker and darker, Roxane will have to risk everything to find the truth. Lives depend on her cracking this case—hers included.

 

Very much a detective novel, this book was kind of all over the place in the topics it covered but was a solid read.

 

One of my initial thoughts about this book was "wow, this chick drinks all the time." Thankfully, while this started off as overtly descriptive, it turned into an interesting facet that allowed Roxane to grow up a little bit throughout the novel. I never really gained an appreciation for her, however, and though she was sympathetic and tough, she simply never resonated with me.

 

I liked that her two major relationships never turned the novel into a romance but had plenty of elements of adult relationships. They were rather different in nature but each again had her maturing a little and contributed to her backstory. I really loved that she was bisexual but that she didn't have to talk about it.

 

More so than the mystery itself, this book was driven by the relationships. She also formed a cool friendship with Shelby, a teen who managed to be caught up in the drama. It was definitely more a detective novel, but the parts I mainly cared about were by far these relationships.

 

This book aptly demonstrated all the problems that can happen with corruption in the government and was quite alarming at some points but hopefully could serve as a wakeup call.

 

I'm not over the top about this book and am not likely to read the sequels, but it was a fairly solid detective story.

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.