book review: Afterward by Jennifer Mathieu


Thank you to NetGalley, Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group and Roaring Brook Press for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I appreciate it!

This was a tough one for me to review.

It isn’t unusual for authors to see stories in events that hit the news. I’m grateful that Mathieu waited a while before publishing this. It’s – of course – inspired by the rescues of Shawn Hornbeck and Ben Ownby, who spent four years and four days respectively, in the clutches of Michael J. Devlin, a convicted child rapist.

The boys have thankfully been kept out of the spotlight since their rescues. I hope the release of this book doesn’t tear apart the fragility of any peace they have managed to find. With that said, on with the review.

Afterward is a subtle and spare novel. There are no histrionics or overwrought passages. Fitting, as it’s told largely from the perspective of Caroline, a young teenager dealing with the kidnapping – and rescue – of her little brother. When Dylan returns, Caroline struggles to understand the snatches of her speech her brother (who has autism) manages to convey. As his behavioral problems escalate and her parents’ already fractured marriage begins to crumble further, Caroline seeks out the boy who was rescued along with Dylan – hoping to find answers, and peace.

With Ethan, Caroline discovers an unlikely friendship. In Ethan, we discover a boy who was not allowed to be ‘whole’, and instead, was disassembled by his kidnapper, until only fragments of memory remain. A blessing? Or a curse? Ethan attends therapy, wrestles with conflicting feelings about his return, and strikes up a budding relationship with Caroline.

Despite a few ill-advised kisses, thankfully Mathieu does not change the focus of the book into a romance. The friendship between Ethan and Caroline is rich enough in scope without adding the complication of sex into it. But it does provide a moving portrait of how a boy might adjust after being tortured – and crucially, seduced – for so long, by his kidnapper. As Ethan opens up in therapy, the book becomes heartrendingly realistic, and doesn’t shy away from the difficult, often agonizing questions.

All in all, a very thoughtful and sensitively written book about the aftermath of trauma, from all perspectives.


book review: Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris


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

No, this is not like Gone Girl or Girl On a Train. When will the Gone Girl comparisons end? Somewhere, I bet even Gillian Flynn is asking herself that question. “Is it over yet?” she ponders, sipping a martini and killing a character off gleefully. “Can I emerge? Will people ever stop this madness?”

Perhaps not. And even though Behind Closed Doors has zero in common with Flynn’s work, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t race out right now and buy it. Because you definitely should. Spare, unflinching and great fun even in its grossness, B.A. Paris’ novel is an unputdownable knife blade into the dark heart of a marriage.

Obviously saying too much will necessitate spoilers, so I won’t. The blurb tells quite a bit, of course. Grace, the perfect wife. Jack, the perfect husband. Friends, suspecting nothing. Grace’s thinness. Jack’s over-protectiveness. What does it all mean? A simple case of co-dependency? An abusive marriage? Something darker?

And it is dark. Paris doesn’t shy away from the vileness inherent in Jack’s rotten soul, nor are his motivations or his line of work made any less horrifying than they could be. Yes, he has a bit of the gothic to him, but he reminds me of Ted Bundy – good-looking, charming, careful. You’d never suspect him. Even as he snuck up into your dorm room and took a hammer to the eggshell of your skull.

Behind Closed Doors is a lightning read. I just kept going until it was over, and unlike others, I adored the ending. Everything that needed to be said was said in that moment. In the end, a small blip in time or a conversation that seems to mean nothing, can actually mean everything.

(Harlequin Romance) book review: Green Lightning by Anne Mather


Note, sometimes I like to go back and read old school Harlequins, okay. If that’s not your particular brand of gin, don’t fuss. I also write “regular” book reviews. 

This is a great book, albeit completely wrong on so many levels, given the heroine is approx seventeen, and the hero is approx forty. Not to mention he’s been raising her since she was a kid. So, let’s get that out of the way.

Helen is a willful, spoiled orphan, living with her ‘Uncle Heath’ (actually no relation, which Mather goes to great pains to point out during the course of the novel – no small wonder, because gross).

Heath employs ‘Angela Patterson’ to look after Helen and teach her how to wear clothes well, do her hair, act in society, be ‘proper’, etc. Of course, it turns out, Angela has her sights set on Heath and wants to be his ladywife. Helen is like, um, no bitch and thwarts the ice queen at every turn.

As the book progresses, it becomes clear that Helen is hopelessly in love with Heath, and Heath is obviously attracted to her — as much as he knows it’s a felony.

Regardless, the writing is awesome and Helen is likeable and spunky. Much as I wanted her to meet someone her own age, I’m sure she’ll grow out of her love for “Uncle Heath” when she sends him to the nursing home… next year.

book review: The Season of Passage by Christopher Pike


A creepy, satisfying tale of horror. One of Christopher Pike’s best.

Dr. Lauren Wagner is one of the crew of the Nova, a manned mission into space, specifically, to explore Mars. A Russian crew already tried, but have been given up for dead, so it’s up to the crew of the Nova to find out what happened, and why.

Lauren leaves behind her boyfriend (you never quite understand why she’s with him… he’s a wet rag) and her lovely sister. They live out in the backwoods of Wyoming. Jennifer (her sister) is a troubled young soul but deeply beautiful and old beyond her years.

When Lauren and the crew (which includes Gary, a sexy Pilot whom Lauren has a mad crush on) arrive on Mars, shit starts to go down. First of all, one of the cosmonauts is “alive” but anyone with a brain could tell you he’s been drinkin’ blood to stay that way. He leads them on a path into the darkness, taking them into the depths of the red planet to a cave and a lake that will give you nightmares of the blackest kind.

Although some of the astronauts make it home, they can never quite reach Earth again. Not in the same way.

Sad, horrifying, gross. This is a great book, but the ending is haunting and indeed, Mars doesn’t look quite so beautiful against the night sky after reading.

(Harlequin Romance) book review: Betrayal in Bali by Sally Wentworth


Note, sometimes I like to go back and read old school Harlequins, okay. If that’s not your particular brand of gin, don’t fuss. I also write “regular” book reviews. 

This is a perfect old-school Harlequin by Sally Wentworth! I always really like her books.

Like revenge porn, basically.


The ‘hero’ thinks the heroine was responsible for [the death of his fiance in a drunken car wreck.


So of course, he ignores the decision of the court and takes it upon himself to ‘punish’ her suitably. Namely, by trapping her in Bali in a sham marriage and making her life Hell, including threatening her with physical violence.

As the novel progresses, he falls in love with her, natch. She’s pretty pissed with him and doesn’t really warm up until the jumbled, confusing ending. When he finally finds out the truth, it’s pretty anti-climatic.

All in all though, a solid Harlequin and I love everything Sally Wentworth does. It’s no Judas Kiss, but what is? 😉

book review: Diana: Portrait of a Princess by Jayne Fincher


This is an exquisite book about Lady Diana Spencer – who was oft-called “the most photographed woman in the world”.

Jayne Fincher actually seems to care about Diana and knew her – something I think that is lacking in most books that were written hastily in the wake of Diana’s untimely death. She even dedicates the book to the memory of Diana, something I think is important – most of the so-called “tribute” books were written by either publications that used to benefit from the paparazzi’s stalking of the princess, or by people who didn’t know her personally at all.

I was 14 when Diana died, and was devastated by it – she was a personal hero, and I grew up fascinated by her life, her emotions that always seemed so close to the surface and her troubled relationships, be it with her family or her ex-husband. I adored how much she adored her children, how she protected them and raised them to be the men they now are (I often think how proud she would be of William and Harry).

Fincher’s book is more than just a collection of gorgeous photographs (and they are gorgeous – Diana certainly was!) – it’s also a loving remembrance of a woman, a mother and a philanthropist. I think it’s a tribute Diana would have appreciated, given it was written with grace, gentleness and above all, compassion.

(Harlequin Romance) book review: The Kissing Game by Sally Wentworth


*Note, sometimes I like to go back and read old school Harlequins, okay. If that’s not your particular brand of gin, don’t fuss. I also write “regular” book reviews. 


It’s misogynistic and terrible, and yet – it’s splendid.


And that’s the book.

It’s seriously good, btw.

book review: People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry

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Searing, meticulously researched and absolutely heartrending, this is a tale of horror touching innocent lives and changing them irrevocably. It’s a “true crime” book that also explores the human condition – the three sides of the coin – evil, good, and the grey areas in between. It’s also an intelligent examination of a foreign and often maddening culture that contributed to the rape and murder of two girls (and how ever many countless more).

I didn’t know about Lucie Blackman before I read this book. As Richard Lloyd Parry astutely points out though, I did know the case of “the girl in the bathtub” – Lindsay Hawker, a young British woman who was strangled to death by her killer to keep her “from screaming for help while he raped her.” (I can’t think of anything more devastating than what I just typed, to be quite honest.) For most Westerners, the two cases seem virtually indistinguishable, but of course they are very, very different.

Lucie Blackman was a complicated woman and much of what she thought and felt – from her depressive episodes to her worries about failure, her body, her debts – were so familiar to me that I immediately felt so much empathy with her. After she traveled to Japan with a close friend to become a “hostess” (serving drinks to wealthy Japanese ‘salarymen’ in the largely multicultural area of Roppongi), Lucie disappeared while on a ‘dohan’ (an outside date with a man she’d met at work). Hostesses were required to have a certain amount of dohans each month, or face being fired. Lucie was never quite able to meet her quota – and was desperate to do so. Is that why she accepted the date? Or did she truly believe that Obara – her date for that evening – was harmless?

We will never know. What we do know is that Lucie’s body was found nine months later, buried in a rocky seaside cave, dismembered, her head encased in cement, any evidence washed away by tide and time. After a desperate search by her grieving family, the truth was almost too much to bear.

Lucie, their golden girl, dead – cut up, and left alone in darkness.

Parry paints a complex portrait of both the Blackman family (torn apart by divorce and grief), Lucie, Obara – the accused killer and rapist, and Japan’s judicial system and police force. He talked to endless people – witnesses, friends, family members, and police officers. He walked Lucie’s path and tried to discover – finally and forever – what befell her in Obara’s apartment.

It’s a startlingly involving read, made all the more evocative by how Parry approaches his interviewees. He tries not to judge (as I did – I couldn’t help but be disgusted by Lucie’s father at almost every turn, and my opinion hasn’t changed one iota) and he gets to the true heart of their own flaws, failings and yet – their humanity. Their endless love for the girl who vanished. I found Lucie’s mother’s premonitions, grief and unwavering love very, very moving.

Of course, amidst all of the questions and drama, there is Lucie. A much loved daughter and sister, a heartbreaker, a confused and lonely girl, an affectionate and giggly friend, and in the end, perhaps – a mystery. We can never know the depths of another’s heart. We can never truly know what Lucie knew in her final moments – perhaps she knew nothing at all. And wouldn’t that be a sweet mercy, for what we <i>do</i> know is that she fell into the arms of a murderous, rapacious monster of a human being – who sought only his own pleasure, and thought nothing of the women he brought to his lair – thought of them as objects for his “conquest”, for his “play”, for his killing, raping, cutting, filming, objects objects all.

People who eat darkness indeed.

book review: Cam Girl by Leah Raeder


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?

book review: Good Girl by Lauren Layne



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!!