book review: The Lies We Tell by Jamie Holland

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{Source: NetGalley.com}

Thank you to NetGalley and Smith Publicity for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I appreciate it!

Initially I felt I was too old for this book. It’s told from the perspective of a very young teenager, and I wasn’t sure that the emotional pull was there. I came away from the end of the book feeling differently – yes, the heroine is somewhat childish, but the message here is disconcerting, raw and intimate.

At the centre of The Lies We Tell is Martie Wheeler, a young girl rocked by the sudden death of her father, the disappearances of two sisters from a nearby mall (echoing the real-life vanishing of the Lyon sisters in 1975) and the resignation of President Nixon. Struggling to find her place in a world that is rapidly changing, Martie grapples with her anxieties concerning her father’s death, her sister’s disintegration, a move to a new state and her mother’s grief.

There is no clear plot beyond the inner workings of Martie’s mind, but that’s okay. She’s living in a turbulent time, and Holland skillfully evokes the 70s in the United States without being too heavy handed. Her portrayal of a young girl is also well sketched. Martie sometimes seems immature or simplistic – and what teenage girl isn’t?

In the end, Martie discovers the lies surrounding her life and family. While you know why her mother and sister wanted to protect her, you can see why the truth would be so devastatingly heartrending to bear. When you peer through the looking glass and see the other you, unaware, so completely unaware of what’s true and what’s not.

A very promising debut from an author that clearly likes to immerse herself in certain times and use the outer environment to shape her characters’ inner torments and dreams.

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book review: The V Girl by Mya Robarts

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{GoodReads.com}

 Thank you to NetGalley, Xpresso Book Tours and Mya Robarts for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I appreciate it!

From its hypnotic cover and intriguing description, I knew I was in for an interesting read with The V Girl, the first novel from author Mya Robarts. What I didn’t expect was to unveil a stirring and horrifyingly accurate portrayal of rape culture, the decaying state of equality, and the brutality of war.

The V Girl should be required reading for anyone who thinks feminism is a bad idea. (If you believe that, get off the planet, but that’s another blog post altogether). It’s the tale of Lila Veraz, a young girl living in a future North America, where rape and sexual slavery are sanctioned by the government – even celebrated, in crude and terrifying “recruitment” ceremonies.

Desperate to lose her virginity before the troops arrive, Lila decides to ask her best friend Rey to help her. While she’s not in love with Rey, Lila does recognize that he’s conventionally good looking, gentle, and won’t hurt her. When she meets a visitor to their area, Aleksey, Lila’s plans are stymied by her immediate and searing attraction – and fear.

For Lila’s past is one mired in pain and grief over the rape and kidnapping of her beloved mother. Aleksey stirs memories that she’d prefer were buried deep. As they stumble toward each other, and away, Aleksey and Lila will uncover how it’s possible to love – and live – while surrounded by rape, torture, cruelty and the banality of evil.

Not to say it’s all pain, however. The relationships between Lila and her friends, family and Aleksey are well sketched, and often extremely moving. Her sexual awakening is also very lovingly done, with the choice of when, where and who with, so explicitly hers – despite the rape culture she lives within – that it made me want to cheer.

The V Girl isn’t perfect, of course. Some parts are mildly confusing, and I didn’t feel that Robarts ‘sense of place’ had evolved to its full potential, however, those are minor quibbles.

The V Girl is a brilliantly and beautifully told story of human endurance – in particular female endurance – in the face of deprivation, torture and sexual sublimation, and our ability to love, despite it all.

book review: Modern Girl’s Guide to Friends with Benefits by Gina Drayer

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{Source: GoodReads.com}

Thank you to NetGalley and Victory Editing for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I appreciate it!

Charming. Groundbreaking? No. But this book was a light, fun read.

“Best friends” since high school (I put this in brackets because in no way do these two really seem like best friends), Megan and Peter have kept it platonic for the most part. Thrown together in a cabin while on a ski trip in Vail, they take things to the next level – or, really, Megan decides to take things to the next level and climbs all over Peter’s protestations like a creep. (Seriously, if a guy did this, it would not be cool).

Despite the slightly weird beginning, soon they’re off to a sizzling start, banging all over the place and having phone sex. As in all romances, feeeeeelings threaten to ruin everything. As does Meg’s overbearing and irritating family and Peter’s cluelessness about women.

The good? Meg and Peter do have some pretty nice sex scenes, and for the most part, they do seem to care about each other. Meg’s dog Benny is irrepressibly cute and I just wanted to read about him wiggling all over the place like a furry bunny! Meg’s response to a certain amount of slut shaming that goes on later in the book is badass and made me like her much more than I did in the beginning.

The not-so-good? Meg has a whiff of brat about her, especially in her interactions with her friends in the opening pages. There is also quite a bit of cliche in this book, and the ‘modern girl’ stuff is beyond annoying… I skipped all of them after the first one.

All in all though, this is a fun book and it really doesn’t claim to be anything else. Recommended for anyone who likes their New Adult romance with a dose of humour and a strong female character.

book review:All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

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{Source: GoodReads.com}

Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I appreciate it!

Wow.

The end is the beginning is the end. Told in reverse, this breathtaking mystery is not only superbly written, with a sleight of hand that rivals some of the best thriller writers, but it’s also rivered with real emotional weight.

I first came across this style of starting at the end in Sarah Waters’ The Night Watch (quite possibly one of my all time favourite books). In Waters’ novel, we know most of what we will know – superficially speaking – by the first few pages. We know who broke whose heart. We know who the characters became. What we don’t know is why or how. We don’t yet know their motivations or the spilled blood they left in their wakes.

In All the Missing Girls, we may start at the end, but the suspense never flags. Quite the opposite, actually. I found myself anxiously flipping pages (as much as you can on a Kindle!), riveted by the choking suspense and the unraveling of the main character, Nicolette. After leaving her home of Cooley Ridge a decade previously due to the disappearance of her wild and beautiful best friend Corinne, Nicolette is back to care for her ill father and tie up his affairs – including the sale of her childhood home.

Over a period of 15 days – told from Day 15 to Day 1, we follow in Nicolette’s footsteps as another girl vanishes, a new investigation is opened, Nic races to find out the truth of what happened to Corinne and why her hometown seems to swallow young girls, like a voracious monster with long, sharp teeth.

Through her journey, we meet the cast of her teenage years – her long suffering and heartbroken ex-boyfriend Tyler, her brother Daniel, still suffocated by fury and misplaced rage, and her friends – Bailey, Jackson and Corinne, Corinne so fierce and daring, so damaged and damaging.

For make no mistake, Corinne is at the heart of this, throbbing with blood and life, even after 10 years. How are she and Nicolette so entwined? What did happen to her? Who saw? Who wants to bury the past? How far will one small town go to protect its own?

Is there a monster in the woods?

Brilliantly written and absolutely unputdownable, All the Missing Girls is my choice as mystery of 2016. You’ll be stunned, shattered, touched and ultimately – I think – torn about what happens, but you’ll never be bored.

How could you be, with so many monsters waiting at your heels…

All the Missing Girls will be released on June 28th, 2016.

 

Book Review: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

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{Source: GoodReads.com}

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Ballantine for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. It’s always appreciated!

This is a beautiful, unsettling and exquisitely written book. Lovingly researched and inspired by the true story of the Ravensbrück “lapins” (Rabbits) and their “godmother”, Caroline Ferriday.

Ravensbrück was a women-only concentration camp run by the Nazis during World War II. Having just finished Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields, I have a grotesque knowledge of the innumerable cruelties inflicted by women upon other women during the war, and had planned to learn more about Ravensbrück by reading the highly lauded If This Is A Woman: Inside Ravensbruck: Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women (still do). But I got my first taste of what life was like inside the camp from Lilac Girls, and oh, I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.

I’d never heard of Caroline until reading Lilac Girls (<— click to pre-order, seriously, you should), but raced to find out more information about her once I realized that she did live, and that she did do such wonderful things for the survivors of Ravensbrück. These were women who were forced to undergo medical experiments while imprisoned at the camp. Ravaged, infected with bacteria, sterilized and tortured, these women – those who were not murdered by the Nazis – ended up being known as the Rabbits, and were brought to the United States for treatment by Ferriday in the 1950s.

In Lilac Girls, Martha Hall Kelly tells not only Caroline’s story, but also that of (I believe, fictional) Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager working for the Resistance who ends up in the death camp, and German doctor, Herta Oberheuser, who accepts a position at Ravensbrück in order to further her medical career, which has been stymied by Hitler’s position on women in male-dominated environments.

Initially, Caroline’s tale did not thrill me, nor did Herta’s. I felt anxious to get back to Kasia, anxious to learn what happened to her, to her mother and sister, to her friends and her love. I felt repelled by having to be inside Herta’s brain, watching with dawning horror as she lost what shred of humanity she had left, becoming riddled with rot. And yet, soon, I was drawn into each of the stories with equal fervor.

I wanted to know about Caroline’s work, about her quiet, steadfast love for Paul, about Kasia’s suffering and unwavering aching love for her family, about Herta’s (vile) thoughts and actions, watching her justify and excuse herself, even as she attempted to hide. The banality of evil. Doing her duty. Just doing her duty. It became so real to me through Lilac Girls, how these people became what they did, how they had the soul excised from their bodies like a troublesome splinter. How the survivors rose, like flames, to return to their old lives… but how could they? How could they ever truly forget? The blackness remains in their bellies, like a tumour. I remember reading a quote once from a Holocaust survivor, who said they felt they had died in Auschwitz, but no one knew it. They had come back, but never truly come back. It’s beyond heartrending. It’s unfathomable, that much pain, like a tsunami, destroying cities and hearts and bodies.

Martha Hall Kelly has captured that pain, that sisterhood in suffering, that thread of love that no one – not even the Nazis – could break, the help that people gave, the millions of dead disappeared gone, the reunions and the reunions that never were and never could be. The true essence of what it means to lose everything, and then try to claw your way back.

There are certain books about the Holocaust that haunt me ceaselessly (The devastating A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead being the most relentless), and I know that Lilac Girls will be one of them.

An absolute triumph.

Book Review: The Girl in The Ice by Robert Bryndza

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{Source: GoodReads.com}

Thank you to NetGalley and Bookouture for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. Much appreciated as always!

So, I started to write this review last night and got completely sidetracked by The Golden Globes.

My faves from Outlander didn’t win (boooo) but at least Leonardo DiCaprio picked up a well deserved prize (and standing O!) for his performance in The Revenant. Leo has been my celebrity bf since I was thirteen, so I have boundless affection for him and couldn’t string a sentence together after watching… much less write a coherent review for what is actually a very, very good book!

The Girl in The Ice introduces DCI Erika Foster, a lonely, damaged, grieving young woman who is trying to get back to work after the violent death of her husband. She’s assigned to a case far from home, in the brutal streets of London, where a young socialite has been found dead – encased in ice and murdered in a savage fashion. Worse, she’s the daughter of a prominent politician, so the heat is on to not only find the killer, but also to ensure the girl’s reputation stays intact.

It’s an interesting set-up and it only gets better. I wasn’t expecting to love this mystery as much as I did. I’m quite picky with my thrillers – preferring Val McDermid style rawness, and this completely did it for me. Not only is Erika Foster a compelling character (she reminds me a bit of Helen Grace from M.J. Arlidge’s series) but the twists and turns of the mystery itself managed to utterly surprise me. I had ZERO idea who the murderer was. I mean, I thought I knew, but I was way, way off and bravo for that!

Not to mention, it didn’t feel like a surprise for surprise’s sake, a la many of the books released after Gone Girl. Instead, it felt like taking an immensely satisfying and intriguing journey toward the truth. It never felt fake or unearned. I love when thriller writers smack you across the face with a denouement that you can then go back and say YES YES I see how we got here! It’s magical.

Congratulations to Robert Bryndza for this strong debut. I’m looking forward to reading much, much more from him and getting to know DCI Erika Foster as she begins this ‘new normal’ chapter of her life.

review: The Circle by Bernard Minier

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{Source: GoodReads.com}

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press / Minotaur Books for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. This was an absolute pleasure!

When I received this book for review on NetGalley, I used it as an excuse to go back and re-read The Frozen Dead, Minier’s first foray into the world of Commandant Martin Servaz, and easily one of my favourite mysteries of all time. The combination of thrills, oppressive horror, gorgeous prose, unreal sense of place and a slightly twisted hero just hits my sweet spot, every single time.

The Circle is the second of the series (so far the third hasn’t been translated into English, which is an abomination) and anyone who feared that Minier couldn’t live up to the terrifying beauty of The Frozen Dead can rest easy. He does, and then some.

While this could be read as a standalone, I wouldn’t recommend it. The wonderful thing about Minier’s writing is that he isn’t afraid to go farther than the average mystery writer. He’s creating an entire universe of complexities with this series, and it’s stunning to watch. Servaz is back of course, but so is his daughter Margot, his detective pals Irene Ziegler and Esperandieu, serial killer and Mahler enthusiast Julian Hirtmann, and the little demons that nibble away at Servaz’s brain day in and day out.

In The Circle, Servaz is investigating the gruesome death of Professor Claire Diemar. The prime suspect in the murder? Servaz’s ex-lover’s son, Hugo. Further complicating matters is the seeming reappearance of Julian Hirtmann, who escaped incarceration and now appears to be stalking Servaz… and those he loves best.

In a race against time – and Mr. Death – Servaz scrambles to find out the motivations behind Diemar’s killing, and crucially, who will be next.

As ever, Minier’s writing is smooth, lyrical and intelligent. His sense of place continues to astound, with his descriptions of the French Pyrenees under the squalls of summer storms as raw and electrifying as bolts of lightning.

Nothing ever seems forced or untrue. The twists and turns of the plot unfold beautifully, as Minier peels the onion for us, revealing bit after tantalizing bit. We are detectives too, following in Servaz’s footsteps as he dives deep into the history of a small French town, gathering evidence in his arms like poisonous flowers.

And all the while, the tension builds to such a staggering pitch with an organic finesse that made me feel like applauding.