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Sharp Objects

⇒When you shake the family tree and more than a few rotten apples fall out.⇐


Author: Gillian Flynn

(3.95 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Psychological Thriller

Published 2006by Broadway Paperbacks

Format: Paperback

Pages: 254 (Paperback)

#SharpObjects


I like checking days off a calendar — 151 days crossed and nothing truly horrible has happened. 152 and the world isn’t ruined. 153 and I haven’t destroyed anyone.


About one fourth of the way into this book, I had parts of my review already written. In my head, it was complimentary and mostly lighthearted. Then I kept reading.

While I knew Sharp Objects would be telling a dark story (hellooo, murder), I wasn’t prepared for this next-to-hell level of depravity. Ummm, Gillian, Gone Girl, Dark Places, Sharp Objects? Your therapist is working overtime, sweetie. But I’m glad for it because this book was terribly fantastic.

Here’s the Goodreads blurb: Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, reporter Camille Preaker faces a troubling assignment: she must return to her tiny hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. For years, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed in her old bedroom in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Dogged by her own demons, she must unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past if she wants to get the story—and survive this homecoming.


I’m almost afraid to write this review because I don’t want to give anything away. This is when I could use a little of Flynn’s skill because she gives NOTHING away. Reading Sharp Objects is like lifting off the top of the first Matryoshka doll and finding a rotten egg in there instead of another doll. And then a cockroach inside the egg. And then Ebola inside of the cockroach. Not exaggerating. This story is all kinds of messed up.

They always call depression the blues… Depression to me is urine yellow. Washed out, exhausted miles of weak piss.

Our first-person perspective comes from Camille Preaker, who pretty much proves she’s unreliable and dangerously flawed before we’ve even made it out of the first chapter. But this is the ticket we paid for, so buckle up ’cause it’s gonna be a bumpy ride. As the layers of Camille’s past are peeled away during her visit home to Wind Gap, Missouri, the murders of two young girls almost take a back seat to Camille’s personal family drama. Who are these weirdly damaged people?! Once you meet her mom, stepdad, and half-sister, you start to understand why Camille did a stint in the psych ward; you really can’t blame her. After reading this book, I’m thinking that checking out the Talkspace app may not be such a bad idea.

How do you keep safe when your whole day is as wide and empty as the sky? Anything could happen.

So the book’s subject and events are dark, but I didn’t find it gloomy or depressing. Flynn wraps up all the impending danger and distress like a little present and then stands back like a sinister villain to watch us unwrap it. It’s like watching Black Mirror on Netflix when you think you know what’s going on, but then all of a sudden you’re like, “Wait, what the heck happened just now?!” Same feeling.

Readers of Gone Girl will love Sharp Objects – if they haven’t already read it (I know I’m behind the crowd on this one). It’s suspenseful, gritty, mysterious, and strange. There are almost too many triggers to list for sensitive readers, and if I did try to list them, some might spoil the cleverly crafted plot development.

There isn’t much pretty or clean about it, but it is, in fact, a masterpiece. From the first few paragraphs, I knew Flynn was going to be a force to be reckoned with, and I love her now for that.

To refuse has so many more consequences than submitting.

Camille’s family portrait should be the top-right-corner graphic on the Wikipedia page for “dysfunctional”. (Is dysfunction-in-denial an entry?) As this book ended, I wanted to go hug my family and tell them thank you for always being good to me even if every single one of them is cuckoo-crazy! Oh, and I also kept touching my teeth with my tongue too. Read it, you’ll get it then.


Gillian Flynn

Gillian Flynn is an American author and television critic for Entertainment Weekly. She has so far written three novels, Sharp Objects, for which she won the 2007 Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for the best thriller; Dark Places; and her best-selling third novel Gone Girl.


Vox

**Many thanks to NetGalley, Berkley Publishing, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

by Christina Dalcher

SmellRating3

(3.81 stars – Goodreads rating)

Expected Publication: August 21, 2018, by Berkley Publishing Group

Genre: Dystopian Fiction / Sci-Fi

Format: Kindle Edition

Pages: 336

#Vox  #NetGalley

VoxThink about where you’ll be — where your daughters will be — when the courts turn back the clock… Think about waking up one morning and finding you don’t have a voice in anything.

Let me get this out of the way first, and then you won’t have to hear anything else about my comparisons of Vox to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, because they really, really do have a lot in common: 

  • the oppression of women including the banning of reading, writing, and free speech
  • the vilification of Christianity
  • programming/reprogramming of the children
  • classification of women in terms of social standing & “virtue”
  • violent deaths for opposers
  • a mother attempting/considering escape for the sake of her daughter(s)
  • and an underground resistance movement

In addition, Dalcher also uses the flashback method (as Atwood did with Handmaid) to take us back to life before the new government created this new “Pure movement”.

Dalcher doesn’t shy away from the Atwood association though, and she lists her as a literary influence on Goodreads (along with Shirley Jackson and Stephen King). So, there!

Ok, so the two books are a lot alike; HOWEVER, there are also some key differences that made me view The Handmaid as scary but empowering, and Vox – not so much.

Monsters aren’t born, ever. They’re made, piece by piece and limb by limb, artificial creations of madmen who, like the misguided Frankenstein, always think they know better.

So here’s the plot summary: Dr. Jean McClellan used to be one of the foremost neurolinguistic scientists in the United States. Past tense, because ever since the new president took office and set up the loquacious Reverend Carl Corbin as a White House advisor, women aren’t allowed to speak, let alone work as scientists – or anything – anymore.

Women have been stripped of their careers outside of the home, all their bank accounts, cell phones, laptops, access to birth control, and – most invasively – their voices. According to the new government, the female population is only allowed 100 words a day. Any more than this and a band on their wrists administers a painful electric shock that increases in intensity with every additional word. The ultimate goal is to force women back into “more traditional” roles within the home: cooking, cleaning, and raising families – whether they want to or not.

Jean inwardly rails against the establishment, but she does so silently, until the day an opportunity presents itself that may offer a way for her and her daughter to buck the system and get to speak again. But will the cost be too heavy a price to pay? And is her husband truly being supportive or just secretive?

I’ve become a woman of few words.

OK, so I’ll review first and rant later.

This is a hard review to write. I have to separate how I feel about the subject matter from how I feel about the writing/plot development/characters/etc., and if you’ve ever reviewed any type of controversial book before, you know that is not an easy thing to do.

As dystopian novels go, this one was packed full of frustrating circumstances, despair, oppression, and all the negative emotions you can imagine a dystopian novel would contain. No, all the characters aren’t likable (even, surprisingly, the main character), and most of them aren’t given a whole lot of backstory, so don’t expect a lot of character development here. It’s a quick read and most of the true action is stuffed into the final few chapters.

But the premise is extremely compelling and it does draw you into the story easily. I did read this mostly in one sitting because I was so interested to see how it all played out in the end.

Vox certainly serves as a cautionary tale reminding us that evil ideas prevail when good people do nothing – especially when we don’t go out and vote! You know that totally “woke” friend who is always pushing everyone to call their congresspeople and to oppose this cause and that cause? Listen to her. If nothing else, this book taught me that much.

Did I love it? No. Was it worth a read? Sure. Of course, there are plot points that are infuriating and potentially dangerous in the wrong hands, but isn’t that almost a requirement for good dystopian fiction? This book made me angry, sad, frustrated and – at times confused,  but I left it knowing that someone’s words caused all those feelings in me, and isn’t that kind of the point of reading?

I wonder what the other women do. How they cope. Do they still find something to enjoy? Do they love their husbands in the same way? Do they hate them, just a little bit?

Now for the rant – and, don’t worry, I’ll keep it short. I’ll just put it right out there: I’m a Christian. I NEVER push my beliefs down anyone’s throat nor do I devalue anyone else’s faith. So, it was VERY painful to read this book and see all the many, many, many times the main character maligned Christianity as a religion and its followers as a whole. There was no separation of “these certain religious fanatics” or “a specific group of extremists”. No. It was the entire religion and everyone who believes in it. That made me angry and it separated me from the story. I couldn’t relate to the characters, who were obviously suffering and deserved my sympathy, because of that gross and blatant injustice.

And I’m personally astounded by all the times Christianity is portrayed as the villain in mainstream media without anyone condemning that practice. We will defend the rights of Islamic Muslims to not be categorized as terrorists and the rights of Catholic men to not be pigeonholed as pedophiles, etc., but with Christians, hey! it’s free game! I take issue with that.

You obviously don’t need to be told that all Christians are not extremists. All Christians are not judgmental separatists who dream of a controlled society where diversity is non-existent. Most Christians are just hardworking, God-loving people who are just trying to live good, compassionate, charitable lives. To lump us all with the images of a few power-hungry radical individuals was a gross misrepresentation, and I take exception to that.

OK, rant over. But know, that while I did harbor that resentment throughout the book, I did not rate the book based on my personal feelings about the subject matter. And I’m not attacking the author either for the opinions of her main character!

Phew, I feel better getting that out of my system!

According to my personal rating scale, I gave Vox 3 stars: “This book was alright. Might be worth reading for most, but there are several things about it that will keep me from recommending it to all.” Three stars is not necessarily a bad rating from me. Lots of what I read ends up in this category. It was a solid book and will appeal to a vast majority of readers. If you pick this one up, here’s my two-cent advice: Read it for what it is, try hard not to compare it to other stories, and find at least one character you can relate to. Good luck!

Release day for Vox is August 21st so pre-order now! Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository


About the Author

Christina DalcherChristina Dalcher

Website

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Christina Dalcher earned her doctorate in theoretical linguistics from Georgetown University. She specializes in the phonetics of sound change in Italian and British dialects and has taught at universities in the United States, England, and the United Arab Emirates.
Her short stories and flash fiction appear in over one hundred journals worldwide. Recognitions include the Bath Flash Award’s Short List; nominations for The Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions; and multiple other awards. She teaches flash fiction as a member of the faculty at The Muse Writers Center in Norfolk, Virginia. Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency represents Dalcher’s novels.
After spending several years abroad, most recently in Sri Lanka, Dalcher and her husband now split their time between the American South and Naples, Italy.
Her debut novel, VOX, will be published in August 2018 by Berkley (an imprint of Penguin Random House).

(Bio courtesy of Goodreads)


 

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Ace of Shades

by Amanda Foody
SmellRating3
(3.87 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published April 10, 2018, by Harlequin Teen (Owlcrate Exclusive Edition)

Genre: Fiction / YA / Fantasy

Format: Hardcover

Page Count: 408 pages

Triggers: Drug use, mild sexual references, altered profanity, pedophilia, and violence

#Ace of Shades  #Owlcrate

Ace of Shades (The Shadow Game #1)Some say the City of Sin is a game, so before you arrive – ask yourself, dear reader, how much are you prepared to lose?

-The City of Sin, a Guidebook:
Where to Go and Where Not To

Tropps is the game of choice in New Reynes, otherwise known as the City of Sin. The players begin with 3 cards. Here are yours: A gangster, a schoolgirl, and a mystery? That’s a questionable hand, for sure. If this were a typical round of Tropps, I’d advise you to fold. However, the game you are playing is far grander and deadlier than your standard casino offerings. To win is to become a legend. To lose is to die.  -Amanda Foody

Ace of Shades is the story of Enne Salta, a proper, disciplined young school-girl whose virtue is tested in New Reynes, the City of Sin when her mother, Lourdes, goes missing for months. Enne meets Levi Glaisyer, one of New Reynes’ resident gang leaders, and together they try to solve the mystery of Lourdes’ disappearance.

Image result for ace of spadesTo be frank, reader, you’d be better off not visiting the city at all.

Hey, nice quote. Maybe that was good advice because Ace of Shades did not wow me. Sorry! (Not sorry.)

New Reynes is a bad place. It’s deceitful, dangerous, and everyone inside of it is evil. We are reminded of this over and over again. Maybe if we had been introduced to a kinder, gentler city first – like Bellamy, Enne’s hometown – for contrast, we’d be able to tell the difference for ourselves instead of being reminded of it over and over again.

Enne only enters New Reynes to find her missing mother, Lourdes. She does not intend to stay because she needs to return to Bellamy in order to graduate and finally become a true and proper lady. But once New Reynes has its grip on you, corruption is inevitable (or so we keep getting told).

Image result for ace of spadesIn the City of Sin, secrets are their own sort of currency, and reputation holds more power than fortune.

This is going to read like a non-sequitur, but you know what I like best about Star Wars and The Hunger Games? You win the hand if you said, “Not the politics!

Although politics is central to each story, keeping track of affairs of state becomes tedious in the middle of an otherwise great action tale. However, just like in those blockbusters, politics is an essential part of this story too and it’s part of the world-building strategy Amanda Foody uses to furnish all the characters with motivations for surviving in the City of Sin. With several different street gangs, Mafia families, and blood-thirsty ruling governments – each with their own powerful leader, there are a lot of moving parts in this story and you’re not sure who Enne and Levi should fear the most.

The inclusion of politics did, however, give AoS the perfect vehicle to introduce some pretty important themes: The Dangers of Classism, How Power Corrupts, and The Individual vs. Society. Important? Yes. Interesting? Marginally.

Avarice, pride and lust — these are all modest desires. What the City of Sin truly Image result for ace of spadescraves is destruction.

Foody drops us into the City of Sin in this dual-perspective (Enne’s and Levi’s) YA fantasy laced with gang wars, dark magic, and a deadly card game that won’t be denied a soul or two. 

There’s a lot of backstory vital to Enne’s self-discovery that doesn’t become clear. Ever. (Like, what made Lourdes leave Bellamy in the first place? What made the Mizers so hated? How did Enne escape the House of Shadows as a baby? Etc.) And while there is a good amount of world-building, a lot of it feels initially like a big info-dump with several strings that are left hanging even after the epilogue’s last period.

Three stars because the book wasn’t un-enjoyable, but I was left with questions that shouldn’t require a series to resolve.

But for people that rated this one higher than I did, the epilogue was good enough to yank them right into the next book of the series, King of Fools, due April 30, 2019.

Not sure if I will be interested in traveling back to the City of Sin. Ask me again in April next year (if my TBR hasn’t stretched into infinity by then!)

Check out the first chapter of Ace of Shades for yourself courtesy of Amanda Foody HERE.


About the Author

Amanda FoodyWebsite

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Amanda Foody has always considered imagination to be our best attempt at magic. After spending her childhood longing to attend Hogwarts, she now loves to write about immersive settings and characters grappling with insurmountable destinies. She holds a Masters in Accountancy from Villanova University and a Bachelors of Arts in English Literature from the College of William and Mary. Currently, she works as a tax accountant in Philadelphia, PA, surrounded by her many siblings and many books.

ACE OF SHADES is the first novel of THE SHADOW GAME series. Her debut, DAUGHTER OF THE BURNING CITY, released in July 2017.


 

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The Widow

by Fiona Barton
SmellRating4
(3.49 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published January 17, 2017, by Berkley Books

Genre: Fiction / Suspense / Crime Mystery

Format: Trade Paperback

Page Count: 344 pages (including an excerpt of The Child)

** Warning: Mild Spoilers**


TheWidowShe has no idea what I’ve been through. No one has really. I’ve never been able to tell anyone. Glen said that was best.

Two-year-old Bella Elliott went missing from her front garden on one October afternoon. Immediately, the police suspected that someone had taken her and they began their search for Bella and the suspects in earnest. That search eventually led detectives to the front door of Glen and Jean Taylor.

What follows is the account of the case built against unassuming Glen Taylor – its promises and missteps, its discoveries and its secrecies – told by the detective in charge of the case, the reporter who got exclusive access, and Glen’s wife (now widow) who supported his innocence relentlessly.

You see, Glen was disappearing from my life really. He was there but not there, if you know what I mean. The computer was more of a wife than I was — in all sorts of ways, as it turned out.

The primary “star” of the book is Jean (prefers Jeanie) Taylor, the accused’s wife. After her husband is suddenly killed in a freak accident, the detectives and press are hounding her to finally spill her secrets. What does she know about baby Bella’s kidnapping? Is Glen guilty of the crime? Is she also involved? Jeanie’s stalwart defense of her husband thwarts the investigation repeatedly, but everyone can tell – even the reader – that Jeanie knows more than she’s saying. And those secret things are revealed only gradually, like a slow-dripping faucet leak – building up and then eventually dropping down once the pressure is too much to take.

Jeanie is an immensely interesting and layered character. She garners sympathy because on the surface she appears to be damaged goods – the unlucky widow of an accused kidnapper and pedophile. But as Jeanie’s layers are peeled back, sympathy is replaced by anger, pity, understanding, and judgment in incongruent amounts. For some, she will be entirely relatable. For others, she will be an embarrassment to women for not being stronger, more forthright, or more independent.

It’s quite nice really, to have someone in charge of me again. I was beginning to panic that I’d have to cope with everything on my own…

Fiona Barton writes an engrossing and nail-biting novel about family loyalty wrapped in the cover of a frantic crime mystery. My personal loyalties and trust ping-ponged from character to character, often changing from chapter to chapter. Who is guilty? Who is truly innocent? 

If Glen and Jeanie did steal Bella, where is she now? Could Jeanie have acted alone and she’s just outsmarting everyone by allowing Glen to take the fall? That wouldn’t have been too far-fetched since she was desperate for a child after years of dealing with Glen’s sterility. Could that longing have pressured her into doing something terrible?

But if that was the case, why would Jeanie be wary of Glen after the first investigation falls apart and he is freed? She doesn’t want to go back to their house with him, but her loyalty compels her to do so without complaint. This is one of the moments when I wanted to slap her out of her stupor. SAY SOMETHING, JEANIE! But she doesn’t. Again.

All I keep thinking is that I’ve got to go home with him. Be on my own with him. What will it be like when we shut the door? I know too much about this other man I’m married to for it to be like before.

Barton’s supporting characters are equally as interesting: Glen with his secret porn addiction and control-freak tendencies; Kate Waters, the intrepid reporter who fights her own personal sympathies to get to the dirt of the story; and Bob Sparkes, the veteran detective who has been unable to help letting Bella’s case get too close to him.

The Widow is a book I was reluctant to put down – even when real life responsibilities were pulling at me. It sucked me in! I love an unreliable narrator, it makes the mystery even more, well… mysterious! Plus, I love a great whodunit not told exclusively from the POV of the police force. We’ve got almost everyone’s perspective here – even the grieving mother’s. It adds depth to the suspense and the action is in more places at the same time.

Readers who love an easily read crime mystery with great character development and a fast plot (that doesn’t feel rushed) will enjoy The Widow.  Although it felt good to be able to foretell certain aspects of the story (I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Glen’s accident wasn’t entirely accidental), it took nothing away from the tense build-up and ultimate “aha-moment” denouement. I would definitely recommend it to others.


About the Author

Fiona BartonWebsite

Twitter

My career has taken some surprising twists and turns over the years. I have been a journalist – senior writer at the Daily Mail, news editor at the Daily Telegraph, and chief reporter at The Mail on Sunday, where I won Reporter of the Year at the National Press Awards, gave up my job to volunteer in Sri Lanka and since 2008, have trained and worked with exiled and threatened journalists all over the world. The worm of my first book infected me long ago when, as a national newspaper journalist covering notorious crimes and trials, I found myself wondering what the wives of those accused really knew – or allowed themselves to know. Much to my astonishment and delight, The Widow was published in 36 countries and made the Sunday Times and New York Times Best Seller lists. It gave me the confidence to write a second book, The Child, in which I return to another story that had intrigued me as a journalist. My husband and I are still living the good life in south-west France, where I am writing in bed, early in the morning when the only distraction is our cockerel, Titch, crowing.

(Bio adapted from Fiona Barton’s website)


 

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The Water Cure

by Sophie Mackintosh

SmellRating4

(3.9 stars – Goodreads rating)

To Be Re-Published January 8, 2019, by Doubleday

Genre: Fiction / Dystopian Science-Fiction

Format: Kindle Edition

Page Count: 256

#TheWaterCure  #NetGalley

The Water CureEven if it is a failed utopia, at least we tried.

Grace, Lia, and Sky live with their parents in a house beside a sandy beach. That sounds like the beginning of a wonderful story, doesn’t it? Who would have thought that such a benign beginning could result in such a tangled web of disappearances, deceit, and danger?

King believes he has rescued his family by secluding them in a home by the bay. He and their mother taught them to protect themselves from the toxicity of the world by performing rituals and ceremonies of cleansing. The three girls had to prove themselves strong, loyal, and loving – to their parents, to each other, to themselves. But not to men.

There were men who naturally caused great harm. It is built into them. You had warned us. You are one, though you would never admit it.

Men weren’t present in their lives. Only King. This was for their protection because men were the cause of all the harm and poison in the world. Being hidden away from them was the only way to survive.

But when King disappears during a routine supply run and is presumed dead, and Mother also does not return from her trip beyond the sea border, the sisters are stuck on their beach with three castaways. Men. And this changes everything.

… loss is a thing that build around you… what feels like safety is often just absence of current harm, and those two things are not the same.

Told through the POVs of the sisters, Sophie Mackintosh’s debut novel, The Water Cure is a palpably tense look through a dystopian window at a family’s search for a unique utopia, and what they end up finding instead.

This is The First Book of Calamity Leek meets The Handmaid’s Tale meets My Absolute Darling in all of each of their weird wackiness and horrifyingly resolute honesty about what makes society (and separation) so imperfect.

This is a stunning debut novel with writing that behaves like watercolors, painting each new page with dynamic emotion: angst, elation, peace, dread. It was unusual, confusing, and eerie in all the best ways. And I could easily see this playing out on the big screen, although it would take a master director to get it entirely right.

Many thanks to NetGalley, Doubleday, and the author for the opportunity to read and review a copy of this book.


About the Author

Image result for sophie mackintoshWebsite

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SOPHIE MACKINTOSH won the 2016 White Review Short Story Prize and the 2016 Virago/Stylist Short Story competition and has been published in Granta magazine and Tank magazine, among others. The Water Cure is her first novel.

(Bio courtesy of Google)


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Select Few

by Marit Weisenberg

SmellRating3

(3.95 stars – Goodreads rating)

To-Be Published October 9, 2018, by Charlesbridge Teen

Genre: Fiction / Fantasy/ Sci-Fi

Format: Kindle Edition

Page Count: 368 (Hardcover)

#SelectFew  #NetGalley

Select Few (Select, #2)I couldn’t shake the feeling of something pulling me down from this sunny world into a dark place waiting just beneath.

Select Few, Marit Wiesenberg’s 2nd book in the Select series, begins with Julia Jaynes essentially hiding from the world. She’s avoiding the FBI, avoiding the paparazzi, avoiding nosy neighbors, and – most of all – avoiding being discovered by her dangerous and powerful father, Novak. She’s also desperately trying to keep her boyfriend, John, and his newly discovered powers off of Novak’s radar. Julia’s doing a lot of hiding and all the while hoping to someday be able to live a normal life.

One of Julia’s problems is that she doesn’t have a clear idea of what “normal” looks like for her. Does it mean college and a future with John, or does it mean constantly running and staying undercover with Angus in order to keep John safe? These are the decisions that Julia waffles through keeping her conflicted throughout most of the story.

John’s point of view added depth to the narrative and helped cement the romantic undercurrent between Julia and John despite their intense conflicts and separation throughout the book.

Although the resolution was fast-paced, the action of the main story was very slow. It seemed like most of the excitement came while reading the characters’ flashbacks to activities performed in the first book. And for a fantasy/sci-fi story, I expected a tad more fantasy and sci-fi.

Many thanks to NetGalley, Charlesbridge Teen, and the author for the opportunity to read and review an advance copy of this book.


About the Author

Marit WiesenbergWebsite

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Marit Weisenberg has a master’s degree from UCLA in Cinema and Media Studies and worked as a film and television executive for a number of years in Los Angeles. She currently lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and two daughters. SELECT is Marit’s debut novel for young adult readers.

(Bio courtesy of Teenreads.com)


 

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Our Kind of Cruelty

by Araminta Hall
SmellRating4
(3.52 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published May 8, 2018, by Macmillan Audio

Genre: Fiction / Thriller

Format: Audiobook 🎧

Page Count: n/a (Hardcover, 288 pgs)


Our Kind of CrueltyI crave you

Relationships are hard. Yes, that’s a cliché and an understatement (especially when it comes to this particular relationship), but it would make a great tagline for this story of one couple’s complex connection.

Mike and Verity had a passion-filled romance. Then they broke up. Hey, it happens. Seriously, it happens thousands of times a day, every day, in every corner of the globe. But it’s how individuals handle breakups that makes all the difference in the world. Our Kind of Cruelty is the story of Mike’s romance with Verity, his obsession with her and their game, The Crave, and everything that happens after one fateful night he spends away from her.

We have to keep a tight hold of each other to stop the other from floating away.

OK, confession time… What was your worst breakup experience? Was it sad? Intense? Terrifying? Most people do have at least one very memorable breakup in their past. in hindsight, would you have handled it differently? Probably, or maybe not? This book made me really analyze all the breakups I’ve ever had. And that one creepy stalker situation that eventually worked itself out. Actually, I thought about my stalker situation (which wasn’t violent or physically threatening, but was definitely creepy) a lot while listening to this book. And I’ll tell you why…

Mike loves Verity. He adores her. He is obsessed with her. Over and over again he states that he needs her to help him to make decisions on this or that, or that he needs her to show him how he should respond in certain social situations. Mike believes that Verity is his true-North compass. He also believes that she is incomplete without him. That she won’t be able to function successfully in the world without him. Even when she does move on after the breakup and eventually gets married to someone else, Mike knows it isn’t real and that V is just baiting him to make their own romance stronger.

That’s a strong obsession. Delusion? Yes, you could use that word too. What separates love from obsession? Where is the line between connection and delusion? My stalker thought he knew me better than anyone else. He could tell me my favorite flower, color, car, and football team. He knew verbatim things I’d said 10 years prior. He knew about all my friends and members of my family. But we never even dated. He called it love. I called it something else entirely.

…sometimes two people need each other so much it is worth sacrificing others to make sure they end up together.

Araminta Hill has written a compelling, yet creepy, romance (eek! I hesitate to even type that!) that shows us that perception is key. The book is intelligent, sharp, and suspenseful. Written from Mike’s perspective, we are forced to see his side and feel his feelings – even though we’re screaming in our heads, “No! You’re getting it all wrong! How can you think that way?” Mike’s character is unreliable and delusional, yet he’s pitiable because of his rough background. But the things we learn about Mike – from his own account – are still unsettling and point to an undercurrent of violence that even he has never managed to understand or erase.

Our Kind of Cruelty definitely leaves you guessing at the end. Is Mike believable? Has Verity been in on it the entire time? Or is she just another unwilling victim in Mike’s fantasy romance? Hill leaves it up to you to decide. 

As for my take on it, I have decided that perceptions like Mike’s are how we end up with enough stories to fill up the ID channel 24/7. Entertaining, yet infinitely eerie.


About the Author

Araminta HallGoodreads

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Araminta Hall began her career in journalism as a staff writer on teen magazine Bliss, becoming Health and Beauty editor of New Woman. On her way, she wrote regular features for the Mirror’s Saturday supplement and ghost-wrote the super-model Caprice’s column.

(Bio from Goodreads)


 

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Warm Transfer

by Laura Holtz

SmellRating3
(4.33 stars – Goodreads rating)

To Be Published May 29, 2018, by Gatekeeper Press

Genre: Fiction / Women’s Lit

Format: Kindle Edition

Warm Transfer: A NovelThe problems in their marriage stemmed from something subtler, a toxicity that she couldn’t name. It was insidious and devastating, but it was also elusive and Tamsen struggled to put a label on it.

A few of my pet peeves: slow drivers, repeating myself, the improper use of “your” vs. “you’re”, and waiting on hold on the phone. Arrggghhhh! My blood pressure went up just by typing that! “On hold” means that time is wasting. “On hold” means that what you want isn’t happening yet. And “on hold” means that someone else is in charge of your time and is making decisions for you.

Tamsen Peel is on hold. She ended her career in order to marry and raise her children. She delayed any further commitments to work once her son was diagnosed with Doose Syndrome. And she buried her personal aspirations under duties to her family, her social clubs, and her controlling husband’s high-class clients. That is until Victor’s abusive tendencies toward her became more than she could bear.

Warm Transfer is one woman’s journey back to herself through queues of indecision, guilt, self-reproach, and something just a little darker niggling at her memories. Themes present are finding internal courage, combatting emotional and verbal abuse, and realizing self-worth in order to make positive life changes.

Tamsen has tried to take control of her situation more than once and only ended up getting disconnected – from her support systems, her financial backup, and her young children. She decides that what she needs is a warm transfer – someone to stay on the line with her until her transfer is made successfully. But ultimately it will be up to her to make the right connections.

Laura Holtz has written a story that could be played out in any social circle – not just in the high society of Chicago. It’s an encouragement to single mothers, divorcees, and women from all walks of life who are wondering, “What happens next?” The book is a fairly predictable slow-burn that had an overall theme to which I could relate and appreciate, and it was worth the read.

Ten percent of proceeds from this book will go to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN).

Many thanks to NetGalley, Gatekeeper Press, and the author for the opportunity to read and review this book.


About the Author

Laura Holtz

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Laura graduated from Northwestern University back when applications were submitted in hard copy and Allison Hall was still a single-sex dorm. She spent her junior year studying in London where she developed an appreciation for Charles Dickens and clotted cream. She took a mid-career break from her job in sales promotion to accept a graduate teaching fellowship and earn a master’s degree in Special Education. When the head of the creative department at her former agency went on maternity leave, however, Laura could not refuse the offer to step into her dream job. She remained in the corporate world until she had children.

(Bio courtesy of Amazon)


 

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Illuminae

by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff
SmellRating4
(4.32 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published October 20, 2015, by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Genre: Fiction / Sci-Fi / YA

Format: Paperback

Page Count: 599 pages

#Illuminae #IlluminaeFiles


Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1)I am the ship and the ship is I. If I breathed, I would sigh. I would scream. I would cry.

If a nuclear missile hits a battleship in the dark void of space and there are less than 1,000 people on board (but 99% of them are afflicted with a zombie virus), does it still make a sound?

Kady Grant is about to find out.

Her only resources are her techy brain, her trusty datapad, and the possibly insane (definitely murderous) AI system with a God complex known as AIDAN.

I know them. All of them. Better than they know themselves. All this in the time it takes God to blink.

I don’t know what you were doing when you were 17 years old, but I wasn’t exactly a tech-savvy hack-master with the capability to rescue thousands of people and escape a cadre of virus-riddled infectants who are bent on revenge. I mean, if you were that bad-ass then please accept my congrats and a standing ovation. However, I get excited when I can just get Microsoft Word to perform correctly.

So, Kady Grant has a lot on me. She escaped the BeiTech Industries attack on the colony established on planet Kerenza, and now all she has to do is survive so that she can tell the story of that attack to the Universe.

BeiTech killed the people of Kerenza, and if you find this, you have to tell the ‘verse what happened.

This was a book like none I’ve ever read before. The events that play out in deep space between the Alexander fleet (including ships Alexander, Copernicus, and Hypatia) are relayed to us via intercepted emails, IM chats, transcribed video surveillance, classified office memoranda, etc. The 6000+ people on board the three vessels are flying for their lives from the one remaining BeiTech battleship, the Lincoln, that is bent on eliminating all witnesses.

AIDAN has also let loose a squad of passengers infected with the fatal and mind-bending  Phobos Beta virus, and now they’re spreading it to others on board. There’s chaos among the stars and eventually, it all comes down to 17-year old Kady to save everyone.

They don’t need this girl in neuroprogramming, they need her in psych ops, eyeball to eyeball with the guys who need to see things a little differently.

The action is constant and fluid, and the format of Illuminae will keep you turning pages long past your bedtime. Even now, AIDAN’s creepy voice (as I imagine it) is ringing in my head, “Am I not merciful?

Although there were familiar themes present (AIDAN is obviously 2001: A Space Odyssey -inspired; HAL could be “his” generation 1.0), that doesn’t take anything away from what makes this book remarkable.

Read it.

Illuminae is followed by Gemina (published in 2016) and Obsidio (published in 2018), and each book in the trilogy focuses on the same invasion of Kerenza from the perspective of a different pair of surviving teenagers. If you’re into science fiction and lots of YA action (with just a touch of romance), you’ll enjoy this futuristic space adventure.


About the Authors

Amie’s Website

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Jay’s Website

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Amie Kaufman is a New York Times, USA Today and internationally bestselling author of science fiction and fantasy. Her multi-award winning work has been published in over 35 countries and is in development for film and TV. A couple of her career highlights so far include professional wolf-howling lessons, and working as a story consultant at NASA.

Jay Kristoff is the #1 international, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of THE NEVERNIGHT CHRONICLE, THE ILLUMINAE FILES, and THE LOTUS WAR. He is the winner of five Aurealis Awards, an ABIA, has over half a million books in print and is published in over thirty-five countries, most of which he has never visited.

(Bios courtesy of Goodreads)


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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

by Gail Honeyman
Rating: 
(4.35 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published May 9, 2017, by Viking – Pamela Dorman Books

Genre: Fiction / Contemporary Adult

Format: Hardcover

Page Count: 327 pages


Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely FineI do exist, don’t I? It often feels as if I’m not here, that I’m a figment of my own imagination.

In horror movies, there is that one part (that may happen over and over again) where the mood changes. The scene gets darker, the music is more ominous. Maybe even all the action is just a touch slower. As viewers, we know that this is the moment when something is about to happen. The bad guy is coming.

That’s what it was like for me while I was reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Because, of course, she isn’t. And there are bad, bad things lurking around her that definitely deserve a dark setting and ominous music.

But on the surface, Eleanor is making her awkward way through the world: sticking to her routine, correcting everyone’s grammar, and drinking copious amounts of vodka. It’s the normal life of an introvert for her – and, after all, who’s to say what “normal” is anyway?

If I’m ever unsure as to the correct course of action, I’ll think, ‘What would a ferret do?’ or, ‘How would a salamander respond to this situation?’ Invariably, I find the right answer.

I actually saw some of myself in Eleanor. While I’m (thankfully) nowhere near as awkward in public as she is, we do share some of the same introverted tendencies:  being committed to a routine that varies very little from day to day (or at least from week to week), and often having limited contact with other people for long stretches of time. Even in this modern age of technology and all the world’s advancements, there is still a lot of alone-ness going around.

Honeyman sets up Eleanor at times to be a pitiable character, highlighting her loneliness and her painfully cumbersome social interactions. But at other times, we see her as a complicated success story. No, really. She’s a survivor that really shouldn’t even be as well off as she is. And so you can forgive all of her idiosyncrasies because there’s so much depth to her as a person.

…I’d probably want to pluck out my own eyes, to stop looking, to stop seeing all the time. The things I’ve seen cannot be unseen. The things I’ve done cannot be undone.

So now, back to my horror movie analogy – you know by now that I’m not the spoiler type, so I’ll just say that Eleanor is an introvert and part of the story is her learning to function differently in society. She’s figuring it out basically alone. How to shop for clothes, how to get her hair styled, how to interact at a party, how to dance! But Eleanor has a boogyman, and sometimes the darkness creeps in. In the midst of several distinct triumphs, there are setbacks that threaten to destroy all the progress she’s made. Her secrets overwhelm her and are too scary to face.

But no one had ever shown me the right way to live a life, and although I’d tried my best over the years, I simply didn’t know how to make things better. I could not solve the puzzle of me.

Gail Honeyman writes a captivating contemporary tale about an unusual woman who is battling some tough demons. It is subtly suspenseful and Eleanor is entirely frustrating while simultaneously being entirely loveable. Reading this book was like watching a baby deer take its first wobbly steps into a wild world – awkward and fantastic.


About the Author

Gail HoneymanGoodreads

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Gail Honeyman wrote her debut novel, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, while working a full-time job, and it was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize as a work in progress. She has also been awarded the Scottish Book Trust’s Next Chapter Award 2014, was longlisted for BBC Radio 4’s Opening Lines, and was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. She lives in Glasgow.

(Bio courtesy of Goodreads)