book review: Cam Girl by Leah Raeder

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Raw, gritty and endlessly compelling, Cam Girl by Leah Raeder is not a book I would read again – let’s just get that out of the way – but it was still unputdownable and undeniably ambitious. Cam Girl tackles everything from gender fluidity, to the sex trade, female agency, disability issues, drunk driving, depression, anxiety, and the ravage of expectations.

(I said it was ambitious!)

Raeder does an amazing job with all of the above, although I do wish the book had a clearer focus. Often I was confused with where it was going, or what it was going to explore next. I braced myself for a Gone Girl finale, which thankfully didn’t happen to quite that extent.

Cam Girl takes place in the aftermath of a brutal car accident. Best friends (and sometimes more) Vada Bergen and Ellis Carraway have survived a crash that kills a young baseball player and leaves Vada without the use of her right hand. As an artist, Vada needs her hand like she needs to breathe, and the disability sends her ricocheting into disaster – seeking anything to numb the pain and take away the debilitating memories of the night of the accident. She breaks things off with Elle and becomes a ‘cam girl’ – selling her sexual services over webcam to hungry men – and women – eager for their ‘kinks’ to be played out on screen.

Online, Vada meets ‘Blue’, a lonely young man who pays her for private chats. But unlike the others, Blue wants to talk to Vada. To get to know her. To hear her innermost thoughts and fears and desires. Intrigued and sexually stimulated by this stranger, Vada begins to wonder if maybe she can have that fairytale future she’d always envisaged. Because after all, Blue is a man – and Ellis is… well, not.

When Ellis returns into her life, working on the ‘camming’ website’s many issues, Vada becomes even more confused. What does she want? Who does she want? And will Max – the grieving, furious, heartbroken father of the young boy who died in the accident – will he ruin everything she’s sought so valiantly to build in the wake of the tragedy? Will he reveal Vada’s darkest secret?

So… the thing is, I guessed who ‘Blue’ was right away. Disappointing, to say the least. I kept hoping I was wrong, but nope. And I also think that often in books like this – who the author wants the main character to have the most sexual tension and pull with, they just… don’t. No spoilers, but I really didn’t believe the HEA here, or why the two characters really were so in love.

However – Raeder’s prose is absolutely stunning. Check it:

Midwinter in Maine is hell. Dante’s Hell, Ninth Circle style. Ocean infused the air, salt and grit studding the breeze with a million tiny barbs. Might as well have left the blanket indoors. I used to think of myself as tough, born in a blizzard and raised on the West Side of Chicago, but I wasn’t prepared for this sheer brutality, the way each day hit you like a kick in the teeth.

– and-

Onlookers see the finished result, polished and prettified, but all the artist remembers is the labor. The grueling, gloriously bloody becoming.

– and-

Do you know how much blood is soaked into every mile of asphalt, how many graves you drive over each morning on the way to work? This world is so thick with ghosts it’s a wonder anyone can breathe.

I mean, come on now.

So, while parts of Cam Girl disappointed me and parts destroyed me and parts titillated me, the book as a whole will make you think. And isn’t that the whole point, after all?

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book review: Good Girl by Lauren Layne

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[Source: GoodReads.com]

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing – Loveswept for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. Thank you so much!

Oh my, this was SO GOOD.

I was actually surprised. Given the summary didn’t quite thrill me (not sure why, maybe it’s my instinctive distaste for country music?), I was shocked to love this as much as I did. And oh my, did I ever just eat this up, like a delicious meal. I read this in hours – which I do quite often with books – but I felt distinctly cranky when I was interrupted, which says something, as my husband LOVES to talk and normally getting interrupted doesn’t faze me one bit.

So, Good Girl is a love story, and it delivers… it really does. It’s about Jenny Dawson, a country music star who is trying to escape the glare of the tabloids – who are accusing her of being a homewrecker, and a slut, let’s be real. She’s not any of those things, but public opinion is stronger than reality – and so, she flees, to Glory, Louisiana. She seeks shelter at a home she remembers from her childhood, and unwillingly finds herself attracted to someone she knows as Noah Maxwell, the mansion’s caretaker.

Except he’s actually Preston Walcott, the owner of the grand estate, and a multi-millionaire. Instead of telling the truth to Jenny, ‘Noah’ decides to play pretend, and inadvertently begins a relationship he cannot control. For he’s as entranced with Jenny as she is with him – and their sparring quickly leads to sexual sparks.

It’s just SO GOOD (I said this above but it’s true…)

Not only is the sexual tension blinding, the flirting gorgeous, the sex scenes hot and the emotional stuff A+, but they both have these wonderful relationships with their dogs that gave me ALL THE FEELS POSSIBLE. Especially Jenny and her puppy Dolly. I knew right away that Lauren Layne is a dog mama, because you couldn’t write so lovingly about doggie personalities without being one. All the little touches were so perfect – from Dolly playing with her “new penguin toy”, to chatting with your dog and hearing squeaks back, to the way they mess with your heart unknowingly, the way they are your babies and don’t even realize, and the way they fill your heart to the brim, every single day. It was all so true and so beautifully told.

I LOVED this book, if you couldn’t tell. Buy it now, now, now!!

book review: The Hatching by Ezekiel Boone

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(Source: GoodReads.com)

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

Eughghhhhhh, I feel like I’m itching everywhere after reading this brilliant, creepy and thrilling first novel in Ezekiel Boone’s new trilogy. It reads like a love child between Stephen King and Michael Crichton – suffice to say, The Hatching is the definition of unputdownable.

Moving rapidly between countries, people and new waves of encroaching horror, The Hatching is the electrifying story of what would happen to the world under attack. Not from terrorism or weaponry or aliens – rather, what would happen to human beings if we found ourselves descended upon by an ancient race of carnivorous spiders?

Sound silly? Not even slightly, sorry. From the black tide of spiders that turn on a Peruvian tour guide, to the rivers of feeding swarms covering New Delhi and Los Angeles, and the foreboding quiet of hidden egg sacs – it’s clear that this isn’t random, or uncoordinated. Instead, these creatures seem to have a plan.

In a rarity for this type of novel, with so many intersecting story lines and different characters, I enjoyed almost every person that Boone depicted with such elegant skill. My favourite was Agent Mike Rich, still reeling from a recent divorce and juggling his commitment to his daughter and his commitment to his work. I also loved the survivalists, Gordo and Shotgun (just realizing how much it takes to go into that kind of hiding is impressive!) and Melanie Guyer, the indefatigable, unemotional and intelligent scientist.

As the tension ratchets to a fever pitch, it becomes evident that things are much worse than anyone could have ever dreamed – or birthed from their nightmares. I’m eagerly awaiting the next novel in the series – and can guarantee the movie rights are going to be snapped up soon… if they haven’t been already.

 

book review: Moth Girls by Anne Cassidy

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(Source: GoodReads.com)

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

This book fell flat for me. Disappointing, given it has such a lovely, creepy and succinct summary.

When Mandy was twelve, her two friends, Petra and Tina, vanished within the confines of a mysterious house in their neighborhood. It’s been five years, and the house on Princess Street is being demolished. As Mandy stares at the structure, she feels memories flickering on the edge of her sub conscious, struggling to break free.

The narrative shifts between past and present, exploring the fickle, cruel and emotional pull between teenage girls, the pressures of family life, the excitement of a dare, and separating the leaders from the followers. Mandy remembers more and more, and begins an investigation of her own, trying to discern what exactly happened to Petra and Tina – after all, how could two girls disappear without even a trace?

I won’t tell you any more, because that would spoil the surprise. There is a rather unexpected twist at the end of the book, and yet I still felt shortchanged and saddened by it all. It’s both far-fetched and realistic, if that makes sense.

I guess I feel that it could have happened and yet I didn’t believe in the author’s telling of it.

 

book review: The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell

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Thank you to NetGalley and Atria Books for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. Thank you so much – appreciated as always!

This was insanely British. In a lovely way.

Character-driven, sensual and complex, The Girls in the Garden (sometimes shortened to just The Girls) by Lisa Jewell is a really gorgeous, smart and lyrical sketch of families, friendships, youth and old age – almost suffocating in its realness and painful intimacy.

After their house is burnt to the ground, Clare and her daughters – Grace and Pip – move to a new flat, with a huge jewel of a community garden. There in the glow of emerald green, the residents of the flats congregate. To drink, to smoke, to talk, to fuck, to flirt, to steal moments. It’s incestuous and irresistible.

This isn’t one of those thrillers that has you turning every page, anxious to find out who the eff is the killer. Instead, it’s a moving study of fractured personalities, petty jealousies, aching grief, mental illness and people who think they know their community – until they don’t. That’s where Jewell excels – at spotlighting how we think we get those that exist around us, but how we couldn’t be more wrong. Every single person is struggling with something we know nothing about. Perhaps that person is even a loved one. A lover. A daughter. A friend.

The real star in this book is Pip, so movingly grieving the loss of her father – and Adele and her charmingly boho family. The real star too, is the assured simplicity of the writing – the story is never over wrought or over done. Instead, it’s beautifully told and the end is refreshingly without drama. Jewell never stoops to trying for a Gillian Flynn Gone Girl reveal.

She just unveils what was always there, simmering beneath our noses – almost undetectable, but there, there… ready to be awoken.

 

 

book review: Come Undone, Come Alive and Come Together by Jessica Hawkins (The Cityscape Series)

(Source: GoodReads.com)

Oh. My. God.

I don’t think I’ve been as affected by a series of books (besides Outlander) as I was with The Cityscape Series by Jessica Hawkins. I’ve read each book twice now, and itching to go back and read through for a third time. Why? Well, let me tell ya. Pour a glass of wine and listen up, because this is for sure one of the best new adult romances out there.

In Come Undone, we meet Olivia Germaine, a shy, beautiful and underappreciated editor, who is married to her jolly, friendly and completely safe husband, Bill. One night, at the opera, she locks eyes with a man across a crowded room (so cliche, but Hawkins makes it work AF) and she’s changed. Viscerally, and forever. She realizes there is something else out there. Something she never dreamt or fathomed.

Throughout the series, much happens between Olivia and David (the man from across the room). I won’t spoil it here. Suffice to say that it’s one of the most moving, sexy and tortured love stories I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading about. Hawkins packs a significant punch with her storytelling, and it’s not just sex – there is real emotional weight behind every word. I felt Olivia and David’s longing for each other – their longing for that person who understands you, who gets you – guts and all.

Throughout it all, through David’s yearning and Olivia’s indecision and their insistent and passionate and painful connection – I couldn’t help thinking of Adele’s cover of Make You Feel My Love and those perfect lyrics —-

I know you haven’t made your mind up yet
But I would never do you wrong
I’ve known it from the moment that we met
No doubt in my mind where you belong

I’d go hungry, I’d go black and blue
and I’d go crawling down the avenue
No, there’s nothing that I wouldn’t do
To make you feel my love

The storms are raging on the rolling sea
and on the highway of regret
the winds of change are blowing wild and free
You ain’t seen nothing like me yet

I could make you happy, make your dreams come true

nothing that I wouldn’t do
go to the ends of the earth for you
to make you feel my love
to make you feel my love

It’s just… them. Listen, and read and weep.

I honestly can’t recommend this series enough. Some people had a problem with certain aspects of it on GoodReads, but I think that’s an instinctual hatred of cheating – which, don’t let that dissuade you. Because let’s face it, we don’t always meet our soulmate at the right time. These books are so sexual, gorgeous, moving and intelligent. It would be a crime not to enjoy them and revel in Hawkins’ assured, searing and powerful writing.

You won’t be disappointed. Guaranteed.

 

book review: Josie and Jack by Kelly Braffet

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{Source: GoodReads.com}

What a beautifully messed up book. Just delightful.

In Josie and Jack, Braffet explores the erotic, sensual, violent and inescapable bond between brother and sister Josie and Jack Raeburn, who live with their intelligent and unpredictable father. Often away with work, their father is abusive and cruel – and his combination of apathy and brutality has shaped their young lives.

As Josie grows up, Jack draws her into his world. Without any guidance, Jack has become morally corrupt – but compelling with it, and Josie knows nothing else. She has nothing else. Soon, they are living by Jack’s rules, and everything begins to spin wildly out of control. What will they be driven to do? What will the end be?

You might be surprised.

You will be thrilled, and devastated, and intrigued, and disturbed. Josie and Jack is not for the faint of heart. It isn’t an innocent coming-of-age tale. Instead, it’s a gorgeous sketch of fucked up people, meeting fucked up ends.

The summary flirts with it, but it doesn’t take a genius to guess that Josie and Jack are a bit too close behind the scenes. Braffet wisely doesn’t elaborate, but there is enough sexual tension between the siblings to power the planet. There is also enough menace and malice. It’s a double edged sword. Their closeness is their destruction.

Highly recommended – Braffet’s debut is tightly written, evocative and electrifying.

book review: Descent by Tim Johnston

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(Source: GoodReads)

This book will not be everyone’s cup of tea. I could feel that as I began reading. Described as “a pulse-pounding thriller” on the cover – Descent is just… not that. Instead, it’s a lyrically and gorgeously written examination of what happens to a family fracturing under the weight of unfathomable grief.

While away on a family vacation in the Rockies, as a couple hopes to repair their marriage – their children go out on a run. Only one comes back. Eighteen-year-old Caitlin has vanished – and her family are immediately plunged into a nightmarish world they know nothing about. Already tenuous, their connection to one another snaps, and they each struggle to come to terms with Caitlin’s disappearance, what might be happening to her wherever she is and how long they should keep searching – years?

Forever?

Descent is powerful. The descriptions of the mountains and the landscape reflect the wild grief at the core of this book – and sometimes, it’s almost dizzying. How can you search, when it’s like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack? And yet, how can you not? Knowing your daughter, your sister is out there in the world, perhaps suffering, perhaps dead – perhaps screaming – perhaps bloodied and boneless – the not knowing is enough to drive a person insane, enough to drive a person to do things they would not normally do.

Enough to disassemble a person. Enough to disassemble a marriage, a family.

It’s painful, it’s true, and it’s all brought to startling life by Tim Johnston through the brilliance of his prose, and the emotional intelligence he brings to every facet of his writing. At the end of Descent, I had tears at the back of my throat and the feeling I only get from a truly satisfying, truly well-told and truly moving book.

The sensation of being glad I was able to read it, experience it and remember it. So while Descent may not be everyone’s cup of tea, I think it’s a fiercely written ode to the strength of women, the love of a parent for a child and the undying nature of one simple thing, as crucial as anything else on earth: wanting to live. 

 

book review: Without You by Saskia Sarginson

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(Source: GoodReads)

This is a really powerful and gorgeously written novel by an author I was unaware of until now. Since I love discovering new authors, this was a win win – now I can go buy everything else she’s written…

In Without You, Sarginson ruminates on the debilitating nature of grief and the different ways we all express it. After a boat accident leaves 17-year-old Eva lost at sea, her family struggles to adapt to the ‘new normal’. Her parents war with each other, each wanting different things from their future without Eva. Her younger sister Faith remains convinced that Eva is alive – and being held on an island not far from their home on the Suffolk coast.

And Eva? Well, Eva is alive. Captive to a tortured man named Billy, Eva is being kept chained on the very island that Faith has set her sights on – and she has no way of escaping. (This isn’t a spoiler, by the way – it’s right in the book summary!)

As her family fractures and Faith hatches rescue plans, Eva attempts to figure out why she is being held and what Billy wants from her. Their relationship evolves to a point that is almost intimate, odd (or not) considering the situation – and it’s apparent that no matter what happens, Eva will be changed forever.

 Not just a simple suspense novel, Without You is also a family drama and a well sketched and complex portrait of what I would call Stockholm Syndrome. I felt devastated for Eva at every turn, with each part of her that is turned inside out, disassembled and put back together.

The girl who was found on the island will never return – not truly, not completely. That is the true tragedy and the dark heart at the centre of the book, thrumming with its quiet ferocity and painful realism.

book review: Amy: My Search for her Killer by James Renner

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(Source: GoodReads)

Note: As I normally thank NetGalley / the publishing house here, I want to mention that I bought this book with my own money 🙂 Just so there isn’t any confusion.

James Renner is an author and a journalist, but he’s also a passionate, committed and driven investigator. In Amy: My Search for Her Killer, he takes on the moving and personal quest to find the murderer of 10-year-old Amy Mihaljevic. Personal because when Renner was a young boy, he fell in love with Amy’s photo after it was broadcast on the news. After she went missing. He just knew with the brilliant clarity of youth- they were supposed to be together.

When Amy’s body was found on a chilly February morning – lying “like a doll” in a cornfield miles upon miles away from her home, Renner’s innocence about the world snapped like a bone. Cruelly, finally, forever.

Fifteen years later, Renner sets out to write Amy’s story. Not one for half measures, he doesn’t just speak to her friends and family. Instead, he tracks down every single person he can find that were associated with the case – from the tireless police detective who vows not to retire until the case is solved – and long forgotten witnesses to Amy’s abduction. Old friends, old suspects, new suspects. He tracks clues like a bloodhound, following up with a doggedness that would impress even the most seasoned police officer. Throughout it all, he vows not to get sucked down the “rabbit hole” of conspiracy theories (of which there are a lot) and instead stay laser focused on what matters – Amy.

The book reads like a suspense novel in many ways – as Renner untangles the threads surrounding the abduction and speaks with suspects, families, witnesses and friends. It seems that every person is hiding something – whether they know it or not. From a violent and unreported rape – to seeing Amy’s kidnapper and thinking nothing of it at the time, and every kind of secret in between – these remembrances stir up emotions that most would like to forget. But it’s a murder investigation, and Renner needs to dig up these bodies whether people like it or not.

Riveting and unforgettable, Amy: My Search for her Killer is the best kind of true crime – it never forgets that at the heart of the book is a little girl who had silly, hopeful, big, true dreams for the future, and who was ripped away from the earth. And for what? A moment of sexual pleasure? A thrill killing? Revenge? We may never know, and while that galls, at least Renner applies every bit of his passion into doing justice to Amy.

While they will never be together as he imagined as a little boy, he’s honoured her memory in a way that few people would think to do, and that is the true triumph of this book. Highly recommended.