review: The Lies We Tell by Meg Carter

thelieswetell {Source: GoodReads.com}

Thank you to NetGalley and Canelo for providing me with an ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review. As always, it’s appreciated!

Official Synopsis

Can we ever escape our past?

The last time Katy saw Jude was on a school trip, when Jude was attacked by a stranger and Katy ran away. Twenty years later, Jude is back, and her reappearance coincides with a series of unsettling incidents: a stranger appears in the downstairs flat; one night Katy’s house is vandalised; her mother is mugged and her home ransacked. And Jude seems to know an uncomfortable amount about Katy’s current life…

For fans of Gone Girl and Girl on the Train, THE LIES WE TELL is an addictive, complex and completely gripping psychological thriller in which present and past intertwine to devastating effect. Forced to revisit the same rocky waters of friendship and power they inhabited when they were fifteen, as the story reaches its explosive climax, Jude and Katy realise that when it comes to memory, truth and family – nothing and no-one are what they seem.

I’m going to come right out and say that I am heartily sick of publishers comparing every.single.book.ever to “Gone Girl”. It wasn’t even that splendid of a read and the fifteen minutes are over and done with. Gillian Flynn is obviously very talented, but I have to believe that even SHE is swigging red wine somewhere and ruing the day she ever opened up her laptop and typed the literary world’s equivalent of skinny jeans. It was fun, it was a thing, and please to Jesus just let it die already. Books CAN be popular and readable without echoing the latest bestseller.

With that off my chest, I’ll say now that I enjoyed this book, but it wasn’t as engrossing as it seems from the summary. However, it’s a very entertaining read, and it kept me guessing for the first half – I just couldn’t figure out where it was going.

The Lies We Tell begins on a sunbaked day, with two friends – Kat and Jude – skiving off from summer camp to walk through a wooded copse. In a split second, their world is shattered – Jude is kidnapped in front of Kat, and the terrified girl runs away, leaving her friend to her fate.

In the present day, Kat (now Katy) is a successful creative designer, with a fiance and a baby on the way. When Jude unexpectedly reenters her life, strange things begin to happen… sinister things, that lead Katy to believe Jude – or someone else – is trying to mess with her mind, terrorize her – or perhaps settle a score?

The book switches rapidly between past and present, peeling back the lives of the two girls and tracing the steps that brought them to where they end up – Katy, memoryless, Jude, a liar. It’s a riveting path, and I really enjoyed the glimpses into Jude’s past. She’s much more enjoyable as a teenager than as an adult.

The denouement is a little convoluted, and Michael – though charming in the beginning – strikes me as a creep in the end (the app? Really?), but all in all, I really enjoyed this debut from Meg Carter. I’m looking forward to reading more of her work. She has a deft hand with the dark quagmire of the mind, and I really loved how she explored the tangled web of female friendships. Recommended to anyone who likes emotional and unputdownable psychological thrillers.

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review: The Girls She Left Behind by Sarah Graves

25487427 {Source: GoodReads.com}

Thank you to NetGalley and Bantam for providing me with this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

While I didn’t enjoy this as much as I had hoped, given the intriguing back cover blurb, this was still an interesting mystery.

The Girls She Left Behind is the first (I believe) in a series of novels about detective Lizzie Snow, a woman on a mission to find her missing niece, stuck out in the wilds of Bearkill, Maine, with a seductive ex-lover, townspeople with secrets of their own, and a deep, rivering grief for her murdered sister.

Graves sets up the series well, with a good cast of characters – including Lizzie’s newfound dog rescue, Rascal, a huge slobbering lump with lots of love to give.

However, the issue comes when the book switches perspectives – which it does a lot – with the first person perspective taken by a woman with a dark secret, and the third person all Lizzie’s. Since Lizzie IS supposed to be the main character, I found the transitions could be jarring at times. This has worked for me in other novels, so I believe it just needs a very deft hand and very distinctive voices. I think it was also confusing for me due to the often odd dialogue pacing (a character says something, new paragraph, the character is still talking – I thought a few times that the other person had spoken and then had to back-track to figure out who was saying what). So between that and the character perspectives changing chapter by chapter, I was thrown out of the story more than once.

I won’t discuss the plot because that would ruin the surprises – none THAT shocking to me, but they form the “raison d’etre” for the novel, so wouldn’t want to spoil. My biggest bone of contention is the potential in the plot. The moral dilemma at the heart of everything is fascinating, raw and terrifying. I found myself asking: what would I do? And I didn’t like the possible answers. Graves could have done so much more with this, and I hope she does in later works, because she definitely has talent.

All in all, a promising mystery. It would be improved by careful editing to weed out the confusing passages and dialogue changes, as well as a bigger focus on what I think is the biggest shocker of the tale.

review: Wrong Place, Wrong Time by Tilia Klebenov Jacobs

wrongplace {Source: GoodReads.com}

This book was *not* what I expected.

It was an entertaining read in many ways, but the summary is somewhat misleading.

Tsara Adelman visits her Uncle at his vast estate for the first time in many years to attend a party he’s holding. While there, she’s kidnapped by Mike Westbrook – a local man who believes that Tsara’s uncle is holding his child captive.

Mike intends to trade Tsara for his son, but the two rogue cops Uncle Castle sends after them have other plans. Deep in the wilderness, Tsara and Mike must fight for their lives while negotiating their own complex relationship.

Now, here’s what I thought would happen. Tsara and Mike would fall in love / have sex, there would be drama from that unintended consequence of two attractive people thrown together in heightened emotional circumstances. I also believed that a huge focus of the tension would come from the children hidden in Uncle Castle’s wine cellar, and the repercussions from whatever nefarious things he was up to with them.

Instead, the book went in the opposite direction, and I was baffled by some of the narrative choices.

1) Tsara being happily married, for one. There wasn’t any urgency or complexity there – it just *was*. Realistic, perhaps. Entertaining to read about? Not so much.

2) Mike was another wasted opportunity for me. He could have been so much more. I just didn’t believe in his reasons for doing anything he did. Not to mention, it was obvious from the get go that he wasn’t going to hurt Tsara – so any danger or sexual tension dissipated under the weight of that kind of apathy. I just couldn’t bring myself to care if he got his child back, or what happened to him.

3) The reasons Uncle Castle was keeping the kids captive. NOT exciting.

4) The book was much too long with some needless description and it became to meander toward the end. I think it could be trimmed down with careful editing.

The good?

1) Tsara was a likable character, with spunk and guts. She also had a dry sense of humour and was a stickler for grammar, which I appreciated.

2) The writing is solid, with few mistakes – if any – and once I became aware this book wouldn’t quite live up to the summary, I enjoyed the story. Especially the trial. That was an interesting choice. I’m not sure I completely believed any of it, but still, it’s nice to see an author take risks with a tale.

3) Tsara’s decision in the end, which I won’t go into here. It made me respect her as a person all that much more.

Generally speaking, this was a promising debut, however I think it needs a new summary (I thought the book would be a breathless journey through the wilderness – it isn’t) and editing to trim down some of the excess descriptions. I would be interested in reading more from this author. I think she has potential to write good mysteries – but I would recommend – as a reader – that more personal conflict is always juicy, appreciated and ups the ante – especially in a story like this one.

review: Down London Road by Samantha Young

downlondonroad {Source: GoodReads.com}

So.

Down London Road is a puzzler. In terms of On Dublin Street (which I gave 4 stars), I liked the heroine much better, I thought the characters were a bit tighter and at least things actually happened to the heroine in this one – compared to Joss whining because she has to fuck a hot, rich guy all the time.

But I gave this one 3 stars, and I need to untangle why here. I’m not even sure myself.

The Good

1. Jo. Weirdly, I liked her a lot. Her one main flaw was her refusal to accept help from friends, while banging rich guys for money/dresses AND THEN getting offended when anyone dared point out it might be better if she just … ya know, let her loved ones help her out? Every.single.time Braden said, “I can get you a job in my office” and she was all self-righteous and refused, and then ran off to hang onto her boyfriend Malcolm’s arm at a party and simper at him, well, my blood boiled. I’m all for female agency, but I think she just FELT like being contrary.

All the players from On Dublin Street are back and Jo is suddenly best buddies with all of them and invited to Sunday lunch at Elodie’s. I have decided Elodie is my favourite. The way Young describes her as tipsily asking everyone if they’d like a refill and then spilling the wine while drunkenly saying, “Oopsie” makes me want to be friends with her immediately.

Anyway, back to Jo. I liked her. She worked hard, she tried her best and her circumstances were horrible. Her Mum especially – whoa. I couldn’t imagine living with that.

2. The sex was decent. I was comparing it to Joss and Braden, and I think the sexual tension itself just didn’t measure up. But it was still pretty hot. I do wish everyone would step out of the box a bit. It’s a little vanilla, and while I don’t mean I want them to get all Christian Grey/Bella Swan or whatever her name was, I just think maybe… well, you probably know what I mean.

3. Cole. He was a darling and Young has a talent for writing teenaged boys. I fully believed everything he said, including all the shrugging.

4. Malcolm. He was a nice guy, he was attractive and he won the Euro Millions!! I’LL MARRY YOU!!

The Not-So-Good

1. Cameron. I wasn’t a fan. It wasn’t simply that he didn’t measure up to Braden (he didn’t, by a long shot), or that I kept picturing him as Adam Levine (who I don’t find attractive), it was his disgusting attitude toward Jo in the beginning. I couldn’t, for the life of me figure out how he got into her pants after the things he said to her. He was beyond a dick – and it was all based on ridiculous assumptions that barely meant anything (his Uncle married a gold digger? Cool story, bro. Nobody cares.) And his treatment of her after she spends the night at Malcolm’s and he has to help Cole out? OMG I felt RAGE. RAGE.

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2. It took them forever to have sex. And then all they did was have sex, argue about nothing and NOT TALK ABOUT ANYTHING. All their worries could have been cleared up in a 2 second conversation.

3. They made a serious relationship decision about 3 seconds after they started dating, which I won’t spoil here.

4. Cam’s moronic reaction to seeing his ex-girlfriend. I didn’t buy FOR A SECOND his reasons for acting weird. Not for a second. Sorry, guys don’t work like that.

5. The set-up to Young’s next book. I guess I just feel like not everyone is going to get along all the bloody time. If Elodie invites any more people over for Sunday lunch, there won’t be enough room for her.

Sigh. Still anxiously waiting Jamaica Lane or whatever the next one is called though. Young had me at describing Olivia as “slightly overweight”… can’t hate that. Not even a little bit. No matter how much I complain, I can’t seem to NOT read Samantha Young’s books.

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review: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

harry1 {Source: GoodReads.com}

Oh, Harry.

I resisted reading this series for a while when it first came out, mainly because it was so popular, and you know that feeling of, “well it can’t possibly be good if so many people like it”? Thankfully, I did end up reading this book and anxiously awaited the final installment when it came out in 2007.

It all begins so innocently and so wonderfully, with Harry living in The Cupboard Under the Stairs with his horrendous “family”, the Dursleys, until one day, funny things start to happen. Harry finds he has a specific set of abilities that scare the Dursleys, owls begin appearing, letters come through the fireplace and there is something that no one is telling him. Something big.

When Harry does finally find out the truth –

You’re a wizard, Harry.

– it’s pretty magical. He discovers Diagon Alley, Gringotts, Hogwarts and makes friends with Hermione and Ron. Over time, darker forces threaten his happiness, and he learns the truth about his parents’ death, the mysterious scar on his forehead, and ultimately, his own destiny.

JK Rowling perfectly captures every child’s dearest fantasy – that they will discover that they are actually a wizard, destined for amazing things and whisked off to wizarding school where they will learn to do magic and escape from their humdrum lives.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone isn’t the strongest of the series (I give that to Azkaban but it is the beginning of a beloved tale that will stand the test of time (given it’s been made into a theme park and all…), and introduced us to a cast of characters that I will never forget.

review: In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

intheunlikelyevent {Source: GoodReads.com}

Note: I won this book in a GoodReads.com giveaway from the publisher, Knopf. I thank them for the chance to read and review. All opinions are my own.

Oh, Judy.

I love Judy Blume so much. As soon as I finished In the Unlikely Event, I immediately picked up my well-read copy of Summer Sisters so I could be back in one of Judy’s worlds again.

In this tale, we follow quite a few perspectives (I admit to finding this tough and a tad confusing in the beginning, but I quickly found my groove), but the main heart of the story is Miri Ammerman, a fifteen-year-old girl living in Elizabeth, New Jersey in the 1950s. As planes plummet to earth, Miri struggles with the fever of first love, a best friend who seems to be unraveling at the seams, a rambunctious, opinionated and loving family, and a town in chaos.

Three planes did actually crash in quick succession in Elizabeth, during Judy’s childhood. Those scenes are especially vivid and all the more wrenching because you know it happened. Those balls of fire, those plane bellies upended and spilling intestines, those bits of people found strewn across the earth like piano keys. It’s all too much, and that’s reflected in the characters’ growing horror as they wonder… what is happening? Is the world ending? Is it a conspiracy to kill children? Is it just bad luck?

Could it be that the world is that cruel, that unfeeling… that dark?

I loved following Miri’s story, and I found her to be an engaging and lovely character – tart in her opinions, intelligent and as fiercely trusting as only a fifteen-year-old girl can be. The haunting touches throughout the book – Ruby (she hit me the most, like a smack, looking into that baby’s eyes), Natalie’s eating disorder, Penny and Betsey, Fred the dog, Mason… it all comes together to form a tapestry of normal life, made even more beautiful by tragedy.

Judy Blume has said this may be the last book she ever writes. If so, it’s a worthy coda to her wildly successful career. But I hope it isn’t true. I can’t wait to fall into another one of Judy’s worlds again.

She’s just that good.

review: Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

firsts {Source: GoodReads.com}

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Okay. So. Here’s the thing.

1) There is a character in this book who should just go die in a fire.
2) The honest depictions of sexuality in teenagerdom were refreshing and honest.
3) The slut shaming that goes on is really, really tough to read.
4) Zach is the cutiest cutie pie that was ever adorable.

Okay, so that’s four things.

Firsts was good, but not *great*. I could feel while reading that with careful editing, the book would have risen to another level, so I do think some pruning would be advisable. The book is about three chapters too long.

Firsts is about Mercedes, a girl with a rather odd hobby. Mercedes de-virginizes guys so that their girlfriends will have good first times. You see, Mercedes had a terrible experience when she first had sex, so she’s trying to make sure that doesn’t happen to other girls… yeah, it’s as bizarre as it sounds. She’s also having no-obligation Wednesday sex with her lab partner, hiding her secret life from her psychotically religious best friend (who made me roll my eyes on more than one occasion) and flirting with her new buddy Faye, who rolls into town with all the finesse of a Mack Truck.

As you can imagine, none of this ends well, and Mercedes is pressured into having sex on more than occasion, which I found very upsetting. Not to mention there are implicit threats of rape from one character. There really isn’t much exploration of the illegality of this and I think it’s a missed opportunity. He’s quite possibly one of the biggest douchebags in all of YA history, and I dearly wish the book had ended with a better comeuppance.

Regardless, I enjoyed this one. It’s wonderful to have a YA novel that doesn’t sugarcoat sex, or assume teenagers aren’t having it / obsessed with it. Likable writing – and like I said before, I do think that the book would bump up another star with editing – it’s way too long.

A note as well: I’ve heard Mercedes called a lot of things by reviewers (nice slut shaming, btw) but in my opinion, she’s a lot like a regular teenager. Fairly self-centered, confused, lots of feelings down below, not a lot of smarts. I know I was a total headcase at that age. Mercedes is typical, and that’s why she’s largely unlikeable – because teenagers are assholes, in case you’ve forgotten.

review: In the Waning Light by Loreth Anne White

inthewaninglight {Source: GoodReads.com}

Thank you to NetGalley and Montlake Romance for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I appreciate it, as always!

I moved this week. The house is a shambles. My husband and I have been turning corners in the kitchen, unaware of where we put the knives, or the ground cinnamon, or the plates.

But still, I read. I had to. Loreth Anne White is quickly becoming one of my favourite mystery authors, and after A Dark Lure, I knew that In the Waning Light was at the top of my must-reads list.

This tale is captivating. It has one of my book kinks – a tragic past following the heroine into the future – immediately I was hooked. This book is unputdownable. It’s the story of Meg Brogan, a true-crimes author who returns to her childhood home to write about her own sister’s brutal murder. As a teen, Sherry Brogan was viciously raped and strangled. On that night, Meg was also hurt and almost died – but her memories have been washed away, like a footprint at high tide.

Upon her return, it becomes evident that the residents of Shelter Bay are unimpressed with Meg digging around in the past. Some violently so. As Meg peels the onion of her sister’s murder, she also finds herself again – in love and life, reconnecting with her first boyfriend, Blake Sutton. Although the romance is lovely AND sexy (a rare thing), it’s her relationship with Blake’s son Noah that I found most touching. This young boy, so desperate for affection and grieving so intensely for his mother – he’s heartrending, and Meg engages with him in such a way that tells the reader she is truly a good person. Brave, strong, compassionate and pretty badass.

I guessed who murdered Sherry mid-way through, but I did NOT guess the reasons behind it, nor the circumstances. It’s a shocker, and it’s brutal and upsetting and horrifying. Loreth Anne White is not afraid to go into the darkness, nor is she afraid to take you there with her. Her sense of place is astounding. It’s one of her biggest talents as an author.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out some repetition in the phrasing and prose. When I was in creative writing class, my teacher told me that although she loved my poetry, she found I had a few favourite words and phrases, and fell back onto them time and time again. White does this often – with things like “bowels”, “black and inky”, “black and oily” and “chinkled”. It’s a little distracting – because the phrases are so raw and distinctive.

Overall, highly recommended. I cannot wait for the next mystery from White. She’s truly talented and creates worlds that you can reach out and touch, taste, feel and experience.

review: A Dark Lure by Loreth Anne White

adarklure {Source: GoodReads.com}

READ THIS BOOK READ THIS BOOK READ THIS BOOK

Now that that’s out of the way. Ahem. I LOVED this book. It’s not often that I can say that. Especially in this genre, which so often misses the mark. Either I loathe the main character, or the symptoms of PTSD are glossed over, or the mystery isn’t compelling. A Dark Lure has it all: a complicated and intelligent heroine, a complex and layered portrayal of trauma, a sexy and compassionate hero, beautiful and elegant writing AND it scared the you-know-what right out of me.

I couldn’t read it alone. That’s how frightening I found the subject matter.

A Dark Lure tells the story of Olivia West (nee Sarah Baker), who lives with the memories of a nightmare that happened over a decade past, but feels as fresh as a raw wound. Twelve years before, Olivia was kidnapped, held captive, raped and almost gutted by the Watt Lake Killer. After escaping, Olivia loses everything – her husband, her family, her child and almost her mind. She finds some solace in the wilds of Broken Bar Ranch, rebuilding her life one piece at a time with the help of her rescue dog Ace, and the cantankerous owner of the ranch, Myron McDonough.

When Myron’s health begins to fail and his son arrives, Olivia’s carefully constructed existence begins to crumble. Cole McDonough is sexy, rugged and smart – he begins to awaken desires in Olivia that she believed to be long dead. When a brutal murder occurs nearby, capturing nationwide attention for its similarities to the Watt Lake killings, and a storm threatens to enrobe the ranch in chilling white, Olivia begins to wonder if the nightmare is closer than she thinks…

Genuinely terrifying, with a thrumming romance at its centre, and a well-sketched cast of characters (plus a few twists along the way), A Dark Lure was the perfect read. Rich, weighty, satisfying and with a gasp-inducing climax.

I loved it. 5 well-deserved stars.

review: Playing With Fire by Tess Gerritsen

playingwithfire{Source: GoodReads.com}

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

4.5 stars

Honestly? You had me at Tess Gerritsen.

I love Gerritsen’s writing. Her talent for crafting strong, relatable, complex female characters is outstanding for the genre, and she writes a lovely, layered mystery too.

Playing with Fire is a departure for Gerritsen, and I could really feel that she took so much pleasure in writing the tale. In the book, we meet Julia Ansdell, a professional violinist, who stumbles upon a dusty piece of music in a lonely shop in Rome. Back home, Ansdell plays the piece – the Incendio waltz, and it is shatteringly beautiful. It also appears to trigger her three-year-old daughter Lily into brutal violence.

Frightened and disassembled by the escalating madness encroaching on her life, Julia travels to Venice, Italy, in an attempt to discover the truth about the waltz and its origins.

The novel flips back and forth between Julia’s story and that of Lorenzo Todesco, a young man growing up in the horrors of the Second World War. At the beginning, I thought these transitions would annoy me, but they were extremely well done, and the differences in tone / perspective / voice were so vivid and well captured. Bravo to Gerritsen for pulling that off so well.

Another note that I feel I should mention is how well Gerritsen portrays Julia. In the beginning, I was annoyed on her behalf. Like, her daughter does these absolutely psychotic things and no one seems to bat an eyelid? But as the novel progressed, I became unraveled, wondering… what was true? Was Julia reliable? Really wonderfully done.

In the crescendo of the novel, all is revealed, and I just couldn’t put it down. It’s at times so sad that it feels heartbreaking, but there is a sweet element of hope that rivers through the piece – and that is heartbreaking too.

Loved it. Would recommend to anyone who loves a good thriller (the bits with Lily and Julia are genuinely horrifying) and anyone who enjoys their mystery with a side of history. You’ll be enthralled.