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Trust Exercise


⇒A nostalgic re-entry into the world of teen angst, bad decisions, and sketchy friendships. Fun!⇐


Author: Susan Choi

(3.14 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Contemporary Adult / Literary Fiction

Published April 9, 2019by Henry Holt & Company

Format: Audiobook

Pages: 257 (Hardcover)

#TrustExercise


They were all children who had previously failed to fit in, or had failed, to the point of acute misery, to feel satisfied, and they had seized on creative impulse in the hope of salvation.

I remember high school very well. It was one of the best times of my life. The perceived freedom, the irresponsibility, the proximity to everything good and bad all at once – it was a great time! High school can be a very angst-filled time in a young person’s life. The personal battles of acceptance of self and of others in addition to simply trying to maintain every single day under new responsibilities and expectations can be a harrowing experience.

Reading Trust Exercise thrust me right back into that teenage mind-space where you haven’t quite got everything figured out, but you really think you know it all. It’s a confusing time. Could that be the brilliance of this book and of Susan Choi, or is it its downfall? Here’s the blurb:

In an American suburb in the early 1980s, students at a highly competitive performing arts high school struggle and thrive in a rarified bubble, ambitiously pursuing music, movement, Shakespeare, and, particularly, their acting classes. When within this striving “Brotherhood of the Arts,” two freshmen, David and Sarah, fall headlong into love, their passion does not go unnoticed—or untoyed with—by anyone, especially not by their charismatic acting teacher, Mr. Kingsley. The outside world of family life and economic status, of academic pressure and of their future adult lives, fails to penetrate this school’s walls—until it does, in a shocking spiral of events that catapults the action forward in time and flips the premise upside-down. What the reader believes to have happened to David and Sarah and their friends is not entirely true—though it’s not false, either. It takes until the book’s stunning coda for the final piece of the puzzle to fall into place—revealing truths that will resonate long after the final sentence.

Before I get into how I felt about this book, I have to give a rousing standing ovation to Choi for doing something that woefully few other authors every successfully accomplish (though they desperately attempt it) – she masters the art of writing in different voices.

Trust Exercise is written in three parts, each narrated by a different character. While the POVs are consistent in parts one and three, part two fluctuates between first person, second person, and third person-limited points of view; a real round-robin collection of thoughts and perspectives. And while part two felt a lot like dissociative identity disorder, Choi crafted all of these voices in distinctive ways and with unique patterns. Many people can’t pull that off – the voices all end up, inevitably, sounding like the author; however, this book is a notable exception.

Sarah, in part one, presents as young, a little naïve but blanketing it with trumped up bravado, and sadly solitary even though she’s surrounded by people on a daily basis. Karen comes off instantly as bitter, vengeful, and egotistical (all the word definitions, really?!). And then there’s Claire – inquisitive, skeptical, and searching for answers that will help her to define her own existence. The voices are dissimilar and distinct in ways that almost, almost made me like this book more. Almost.

Thoughts are often false. A feeling’s always real. Not true, just real.

For most, this is going to be a love it or hate it book. I’ve seen a lot of 5-star reviews and a lot of 1-stars too. Hey, either it works for you or it doesn’t. As usual, with my Libra sense of balance, I land somewhere squarely in the middle. 3 stars. Let me give you the high points: First, this is a really well-written book. Choi’s skill is undeniable. Think what you want about the story, she’s an excellent author. Period. Next, the characters are easily recognizable. You went to school with them. The other one taught your art class. And that other one was your best friend’s mom. These are people that could have easily been in your life circle, making the story immediately applicable and relevant. And finally, the breadth and expression of feeling in this story is masterful. Every emotion from anguish to acceptance jumps off the page. It is in those instances that we, as readers, are able to “see” the book in our heads, and that is priceless.

Love was some kind of chemical error.

With every hill, there is valley, and with every high a low. And with that poetic introduction, I begin the gripe-session portion of my review. I didn’t like this book as much as really, really, wanted to like it. The first part truly drew me in. I wanted to be submerged in that story, follow its development, and I would have been fine knowing that its characters and experiences were real. Its abbreviated ending disappointed me and left me feeling unglued from the rest of the book’s development.

Part two, Karen’s story, is extremely jarring. EVERYTHING changes. There is no easing into it, no subtle segue, no warm transfer. It’s as if you’re watching a movie on VHS that someone inexplicably started taping a new movie right on top of it during a critical scene. I felt uneasy and disturbed. Her whole section was uneasy and disturbing. I never settled into it. It was like an uncomfortable pair of shoes; it pinched the whole time.

The events of the story are exceedingly ambiguous and make excellent fodder for any book club meeting. You could go back and forth for many a week discussing the possibilities of what is true and what is conjecture from the perspective of each of these characters. Choi gets a lot of credit for making the book worth talking about, but could also take a lot of heat for shrouding the story in maybe a bit too much uncertainty. It is because of the elusive meaning behind Trust Exercise that I sat on this review for much longer than I usually do. I wanted to let it marinate a while, let it wash over me, and feel all the feels. Turns out, it didn’t change much about the way I rated it, but it left me with a deeper appreciation for the work as a whole. I still recommend it to others because the beauty of opinions is that everyone has one.


Susan Choi

Susan Choi was born in South Bend, Indiana and was raised there and in Houston, Texas. She studied literature at Yale and writing at Cornell, and worked for several years as a fact-checker for The New Yorker.


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Because You’re Mine

⇒RELEASE DAY REVIEW! “The truth will set you free but the lies are what keep me safe.” –Because You’re Mine

**Many thanks to NetGalley, St. Martin’s Press, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Author: Rea Frey

(4.3 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Thriller

Format: Kindle

Publication Date: August 06, 2019, by St. Martin’s Press

Pages: 358 (Kindle version)

#BecauseYoureMine


Sometimes I wonder if we ever really know the people in our lives: their hidden truths, their complexities, their lies.

The other day I learned that my best friend really enjoys getting lottery tickets as gifts. I have known her since we were in high school (let’s just say that we are well-removed from high school now), and I have never ever ever known that she loves lottery tickets.

How can that possibly be? Not only did that make me wonder what else I don’t know about her, but it also made me realize that surely there are things about me that she doesn’t know either.

And while lottery tickets and the fact that maybe – just maybe – I don my Halloween wig and use my hairbrush as a microphone to belt out Adele songs aren’t the darkest of secrets, they’re still examples of the things we don’t know about the ones we’re closest to.

Because You’re Mine is about the secrets that we keep. Here’s the blurb:

Single mother Lee has the daily routine down to a science: shower in six minutes. Cut food into perfect squares. Never leave her on-the-spectrum son Mason in someone else’s care. She’ll do anything—anything—to keep his carefully constructed world from falling apart. Do anything to keep him safe.

But when her best friend Grace convinces her she needs a small break from motherhood to recharge her batteries, Lee gives in to a weekend trip. Surely a long weekend away from home won’t hurt?
Noah, Mason’s handsome, bright, charismatic tutor—the first man in ages Lee’s even noticed—is more than happy to stay with him.

Forty-eight hours later, someone is dead.

But not all is as it seems. Noah may be more than who he claims to be. Grace has a secret—one that will destroy Lee. Lee has secrets of her own that she will do anything to keep hidden.
As the dominoes begin to fall and the past comes to light, perhaps it’s no mystery someone is gone after all…


It was hard to avoid bumping into reviews of this book on social media. It was already very popular even before its release date.
And many of the reviewers exclaimed about the ultimate “twist”, but perhaps Rea Frey tricked us all in that there was more than one twisty plot point that redirected my perception about the entire book and its characters.

It is suspenseful and the surprises work to speed up the overall action of the story which seem to drag a bit up to that point. Just a humble non-writer’s opinion here, but would it have been more suspenseful if we didn’t start the book already knowing that someone dies? It may have made me care about the story’s progression a bit more.

Overall, a good addition to Frey’s body of work. My only gripe is that I really didn’t care about any of these people in the end because I trusted none of them from the beginning!


Because You’re Mine is available today at the following links:



Rea Frey

When she’s not exercising, mothering, adulting, wifing, eating, or writing about herself in the third person, you can find her hard at work on her next book and ghostwriting for other people


The Dinner List

⇒When you invite your 5 people to dinner, what will you have to apologize for, or forgive?⇐


Author: Rebecca Serle

(3.64 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Contemporary / Romance

Published September 11, 2018by Flatiron Books

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 276 (Hardcover)

#TheDinnerList #DinnerList


Companionship. Let me sit with you in silence. Let me hold your hand and understand.

Waaaay back in 2015, I tried my hand at modern-day journaling. You’ve seen it on Pinterest and Instagram: bullet journaling, wreck-this-journal, etc. I wasn’t consistent with it, but the few pages I finished are pretty creative, even if I do say so myself.

One of those pages is titled “Last Supper Guests” and lists 12 people I would want to share a dinner party with and why. Get it? 12 people, Last Supper. Hey, I didn’t make it up. My list include Neil deGrasse Tyson (because I have exactly 1.2 million questions for him about the universe), Kelly Clarkson (because I just know that we’d be great friends), chef Bobby Flay (because, hey, somebody’s gotta cook. BBQ, please!), author Janet Evanovich (so we could sit and hash out how her characters Stephanie and Ranger can end up together), Criss Angel (because a magical evening deserves the mindfreak of magic), and the absolute best background music by Norah Jones.

That is the premise of Rebecca Serle’s The Dinner List. 20-something Sabrina Nielson spreads her young adult wings in NYC and learns a lot about love and sacrifice in a city that takes no prisoners. When she finds herself at her own 30th birthday dinner table surrounded by five people – some of whom couldn’t possibly really be there – it seems that it’s finally time to face some hard truths.

There are flowers and there are gardeners. Flowers bloom; gardeners tend. Two flowers, no tending. Everything dies.

I can imagine any university Lit professor having a field day deconstructing and analyzing this book. Not that it’s heavy or complicated – quite the opposite, in fact. It’s meaningful and relevant in relatable and extremely familiar ways. We’ve all wondered “what if?”, or what we’d say to such-and-such person if we ever saw them again. Well, The Dinner List gives main character, Sabrina, just such an opportunity.

Serle cleverly unveils Sabrina’s last 10 years through insights into each guest’s character and their contributions to her life. As we seamlessly jump from her improbable dinner party to past events that have led up to this night, we learn why these particular guests are there and why Sabrina needs each of them in order to move into the next decade of her life successfully.

Our problem wasn’t us together, it was us in the world – a world that demanded we reconcile its reality with our romance.

Picking five people to share an all-important meal with is a monumental task. For my journal, I listed 12 and I still struggled! Plus, my list isn’t designed to help me answer some existential question – I just planned on having a party!

OK, back to the book… This is a very fast read, one that can easily be done in a day, but don’t rush through it! There is great meaning in these pages, and you don’t want to miss any of the insights shared via these uniquely honest characters. The highs and lows feel genuine and I love how Serle doesn’t wait until the end to throw a monkey wrench into the whole works.

Although it is, ultimately, a love story, The Dinner List is so much more than that; it’s a life story. And I’m so glad I got to read it without being graded on how adeptly I could suss out its meaning!


Rebecca Serle

Rebecca Serle is an author and television writer who lives between New York and Los Angeles. Serle most recently co-developed the hit TV adaptation of her young adult series Famous in Love, now on Freeform. She loves Nancy Meyers films, bathrobes, and giving unsolicited advice on love.


The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein

⇒My October Spooky Reads book #3 is The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein. An unexpectedly compelling and clever retelling of a classic monster story.⇐

by Kiersten White
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(4.02 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published September 24, 2018, by Delacorte Press

Genre: Horror / Historical Fiction / Young Adult

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 304

#TheDarkDescentofElizabethFrankenstein   #Frankenstein

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth FrankensteinVictor was the only person left whom I loved. I would not let the monster take him.

Do you ever read the author’s notes at the end of the book? I have to admit that often I don’t (especially if I’m reading down to the wire and I have to write my review or my blog by a specific deadline). But I am SO glad that I stopped and read this author’s note before closing the cover on this fascinating retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

So over 200 years ago, on a dare, Mary Shelley wrote a book that is referred to now as a classic gothic science fiction novel. In White’s book, she felt it was important to highlight Mary Shelley’s genius in writing that classic through presenting her story through the eyes of a female protagonist. White writes in her notes:

… at publication, for decades after, even today, people gave all credit to the men around her. After all, how could a girl — a teenage girl — accomplish something so great? …

How much of who we are is shaped by those around us? What happens when everything we are depends on someone else? And, as always: Where are the girls? Even Mary’s wild and expansive imagination could not put a girl at the forefront of this story. They’re relegated to the background, mere caricatures. And that was where I found my story. With a girl given to a boy as a gift. With a girl whose whole life revolves around the brilliant boy she loves. With a girl who inadvertently helps create a monster. With a teenage girl, because, as Mary Shelley proved, nothing is more brilliant or terrifying than that.

I had accused Victor of creating a monster, but I had done the same.

Goodreads summarizes the book this way:

Elizabeth Lavenza hasn’t had a proper meal in weeks. Her thin arms are covered with bruises from her “caregiver,” and she is on the verge of being thrown into the streets . . . until she is brought to the home of Victor Frankenstein, an unsmiling, solitary boy who has everything–except a friend.

Victor is her escape from misery. Elizabeth does everything she can to make herself indispensable–and it works. She is taken in by the Frankenstein family and rewarded with a warm bed, delicious food, and dresses of the finest silk. Soon she and Victor are inseparable.

But her new life comes at a price. As the years pass, Elizabeth’s survival depends on managing Victor’s dangerous temper and entertaining his every whim, no matter how depraved. Behind her blue eyes and sweet smile lies the calculating heart of a girl determined to stay alive no matter the cost . . . as the world she knows is consumed by darkness.

You are mine, Elizabeth Lavenza, and nothing will take you from me. Not even death.

The Dark Descent… is a very good book but it was not the book I thought I was going to read. I wanted a spooky story for the season to flesh out my October TBR that featured a classic monster and a creative retelling to give the familiar story a fresh feel.

I got all of that in addition to an exciting and challenging story about one young woman’s determined struggle to find security and truth in a world that constantly tries to rip both away from her. And yes, it was about Frankenstein too.

Kiersten White has done a masterful job with this book by exposing monsters in all shapes and forms and giving us a heroine who chooses to defend the world from them.

The book is moody and atmospheric and is perfect for fall reading. It’s very well written with characters that grow and become richer with each chapter. And I love, love, love how White inserts Frankenstein’s monster is inserted in fits and spurts throughout the story. We get small doses of him while being overtly exposed to the true monster in Victor Frankenstein himself.

This was a truly enjoyable book that fast readers could definitely finish in one or two sittings as long as they took the time to really let the meaning of the novel sink in as the chapters fly by. I am not a fast reader, but I think that was a benefit when it comes to this book – it left more time for Elizabeth’s personality to grow on me and for Victor’s duplicitous nature to become a heartwrenching tragedy.

Four stars for this female-led novel that is absolutely perfect for fireside reading underneath big blankets with steaming hot chocolate and a dozen fresh-from-the-oven cookies! Go for it!


About the Author

Kiersten WhiteKIERSTEN WHITE

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Kiersten White is the New York Times bestselling author of many books for teens and young readers, including And I Darken, Now I Rise, Bright We Burn, The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, and Slayer. She lives with her family near the ocean in San Diego, where she perpetually lurks in the shadows.


 

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Everything I Never Told You

⇒SHELF-DISCIPLINE SEPTEMBER is well underway with my fourth off-the-shelf read this month – a haunting story of one family’s unraveling after one member goes missing.⇐

by Celeste Ng

SmellRating4
(3.82 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published November 13, 2014, by Blackfriars

Genre: Fiction / Contemporary

Format: Paperback (Trade)

Pages: 292

#EverythingINeverToldYou #ShelfDiscipline #CleartheShelves #ReadWhatYouOwn

In September I committed to reading only (ok, mostly) books from the shelves in my house. I need to do this because books deserve to be read AND because, frankly, I don’t have room to buy/store any more books! 

Everything I Never Told Youdifferent has always been a brand on his forehead, blazoned there between the eyes. It has tinted his entire life, this word; it has left its smudgy fingerprints on everything.

Some readers classified this book as a mystery, but I think of it as exactly the opposite. The first line of the book is:

“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.”

That’s the very first line. No opportunity for second-guessing or questioning. It’s right there. Spoiler Alert! And that’s how most of this book plays out. In fact, sometimes we know a little too much – things that would make the characters look better to us if we didn’t know. But that’s not what Celeste Ng is trying to do with this book. She wants us to see this family for who they are, and Lydia death for what it was. Was it all just a mistake? You decide.

And Lydia herself — the reluctant center of their universe — every day, she held the world together.

Lydia Lee is her parents’ favorite child. They don’t even hide that fact. Her mother wants her to be a doctor; her father wants her to be popular. When the Lees discover Lydia missing from their NW Ohio home, they soon discover that what they thought they knew about their beloved daughter couldn’t be further from the truth.

The Lees are a typical American family in the 70s/80s. There is a mom, a dad, two daughters, and a son. They live in an average house on an average street and they drive average cars. The father teaches and the mother takes care of the house and the children. Maybe not very exciting, but typical.

But the Lee Family is also atypical. They are a mixed Chinese-American family, and James Lee and his mixed children have been ostracized and criticized simply for not being white. Marilyn Lee is white, but she hasn’t escaped the claws of judgment and separatism either. As the only female in several math and science classes, she struggled to pursue her dreams of becoming a doctor in a world that wasn’t quite tempered for that kind of ambition.

So, on these shaky foundations, the Lee family balances their days at work, school, and home with no help or support from neighbors, colleagues, or friends. Reading about how alone this family is made me really appreciate how much support I get from friends, family and even my never-met associates on social media. Come on Lees, no friends? Really?

…she hadn’t realized how fragile happiness was, how if you were careless, you could knock it over and shatter it.

This is my second Celeste Ng book. The first was Little Fires Everywhere and I rated it a high 5 stars. Everything I Never Told You is just as well written and intriguing. The characters are entirely fleshed out – like people you’ve met before, or seen in your class, at your job, or in your family. And their tragic story will make you sad, angry, bitter, sympathetic.

Everything… is not entirely about Lydia’s death, nor is it a whodunit. There’s no long drawn out search or big community coming-together rally to plea for Lydia’s return. It wasn’t that type of town and the Lees weren’t those type of people.

Instead, it’s a story of the character of a family with their own special set of trials and triumphs. It’s about lives overloaded with love, lives going unnoticed, and lives hovering somewhere in between. It’s a showcase of all the mistakes and all the second tries that happen behind closed doors.

It’s also a display of what love looks like in several different forms. How that love infiltrates the hopes, desires, and expectations we all have for those we care about. And it’s a journey of self-discovery for each and every family member. When the scales tip, each person is forced to reevaluate in order to try to restore the balance.

I rated Everything I Never Told You a strong 4 stars. The characters are flawed and the story isn’t sunshine and roses, but both truly draw you in. And for 292 pages, you are shuffling through an earlier century with them uncertain about everything that you thought you knew about the world too.

Brava, Celeste Ng, again.


About the Author

celestengWebsite

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Celeste Ng is the author of the bestselling novels Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere. Celeste grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shaker Heights, Ohio, in a family of scientists. Celeste attended Harvard University and earned an MFA from the University of Michigan (now the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan), where she won the Hopwood Award. Her fiction and essays have appeared in One Story, TriQuarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, the Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere, and she is a recipient of the Pushcart Prize. Currently, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

(Bio adapted from Goodreads)

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The Cha-Cha Babes of Pelican Way

⇒What do you do when your neighbors are dropping dead and the police are closing in on you? Well, you Cha-Cha, of course! ⇐

**Many thanks to Andrea at Smith Publicity and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

by Frances Metzman

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(3.25 stars – Goodreads rating)

Publish Date: June 21, 2018, by Wild River Consulting & Publishing LLC

Genre: Fiction / Cozy Mystery

Format: Kindle Edition

Pages: 451 pages

#TheChaChaBabesofPelicanWay

The Cha-Cha Babes of Pelican WayWe’re the amazing cha-cha babes who live on Pelican Way. We dance till we drop or they haul us off to jail. Do they dance in prison?

Celia found new life with her retirement community in Florida, and in particular with her two friends Marcy and Deb. They all Cha-Cha together and Celia has found the greatest freedom just from dancing and being with her new best friends. But when other residents start dying inexplicably, suddenly Celia and her friends find themselves in danger and the targets of a police investigation.

The Cha-Cha Babes of Pelican Way was initially engaging and seemed to be a kooky, off-beat mystery with characters that aren’t the usual mystery book personalities. But as the book went on, I found it a little repetitive and slow. Plus, I couldn’t shake the Golden Girl references that kept popping into my head. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I felt like these characters deserved to have their own personalities and didn’t deserve my constant comparisons to Dorothy, Blanche, and Sophia (Rose was kind of mixed up in there too).

Another negative for me was that these women were only in their sixties, but the impression from the story is that their age group is slow, decrepit, and basically at death’s doorstep (until they randomly broke out into the Cha-Cha or playing doubles tennis). That bothered me. I have plenty of relatives and friends in that age group who are very active and healthy and who aren’t on 1000 different medications for all kinds of ailments.

The ultimate mystery, however, was well thought out and clever, but by the end, I think my interest in the story had waned too much for me to get excited over the ultimate resolution. (Plus the daughter in the story, Allison, totally put me off and I couldn’t stand reading her chapters!) Errrggghhhh even now her disrespectful attitude makes me want to spit!

Three stars because, although it wasn’t the book for me, a certain audience might identify more with these characters and find it an enjoyable read; however, there are things about it that might keep me from recommending it to everyone.


About the Author

Frances MetzmanFrances Metzman

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Award-winning author Fran Metzman is a graduate of the Moore College of Art and the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to publishing numerous short stories and co-authoring her first novel Ugly Cookies with Joy E. Stocke, she also teaches writing at various local colleges and universities. Her blog “The Age of Reasonable Doubt” can be found at Wild River Review, and deals with the mature (and sometimes immature) dating/ relationships and aspects of society that influence all relationships. Her short story “My Inheritance” was nominated for a Dzanc Books Award for Best of the Web. On February 1st 2012, a short story collection, The Hungry Heart Stories, was published. The stories feature tales of people in crisis, yearning for emotional sustenance, and where food occasionally intersects the empty spaces in their hearts.

(Bio taken from her website)



 

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We All Love the Beautiful Girls

⇒One boy makes a decision that ultimately affects all of his friends and family. The Butterfly Effect wreaks havoc in an affluent Canadian neighborhood.⇐

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

by Joanne Proulx

SmellRating4

(3.56 stars – Goodreads rating)

Release Date: August 28, 2018, by Grand Central Publishing

Genre: Contemporary Adult Fiction

Format: Kindle Edition

Pages: 336 pages (Hardcover)

#WeAllLovetheBeautifulGirls  #NetGalley

We All Love the Beautiful GirlsKnowing everything strips back to beautiful. Knowing everyone melts down to love.

Before I begin this review, I have to say that nothing in this book is at all what I expected. And even now, saying that, I can’t exactly pinpoint what I expected, but it wasn’t this novel.

BUT THAT IS NOT A BAD THING.

I think I was gearing myself up for another angsty love story with a dash of drama just to make a romance just a little bit more complication or impossible. There was a note of that, sure, but that was not what We All Love the Beautiful Girls was about.

Here’s part of the blurb:

One frigid winter night, Mia and Michael Slate’s comfortable world dissolves in an instant when they discover that their best friend has cheated them out of their life savings. At the same time, a few doors down, their teenaged son passes out in the snow at a party–a mistake whose consequences will shatter not just their family, but an entire community.

A simple enough premise. But that one night was just a single beat of butterfly’s wing that eventually became a hurricane that blew destruction into Old Aberdeen and changed the landscape there forever.

I smile. I pretend to be relaxed. I pretend to be fearless. I’m goot at it; I’ve been pretending to be fearless for months.

Michael and Mia begin to have marriage problems after their son, Finn, suffers a near-death experience. What follows is the story of the Slate family and their revelation of how love is measured between neighbors, friends, and family.

Joanne Proulx writes a beautifully poetic story about very ugly events in the affluent Canadian town of Old Aberdeen. We are immediately thrust into the middle of the life of a family with very little introduction, and it’s almost better that way. The characters seem to develop right before your eyes, even as you’re learning whose portion of the story you’re experiencing at the time.

Written from multiple points of view, Proulx uses subtle cadence changes and an editor’s nightmare – no quotation marks! – to distinguish the characters, but the action is linear, so it’s not confusing after you initially get your bearings.

The prose is visually elegant and descriptive without being excessively wordy. And it’s a quick read with action interspersed throughout and a steady progression toward…

AN ENDING THAT DID NOT SATISFY!

Maybe I am just a denouement junkie, but the epilogue didn’t satisfy my desire to know what becomes of the lives of these characters. But is that ultimately the mark of a good book – that you loathe leaving the characters behind?

Four beautiful stars for this elegiac account of a tortured family and their desperate grasp for normality.

*Possible Triggers: Rough sex, mention of sexual assault (not detailed), alcohol and drug use by minors, and scenes at a strip club.

Release day for We All Love the Beautiful Girls is August 28, 2018!
Get it here: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound


About the Author

Joanne ProulxJOANNE PROULX

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Joanne Proulx’s first novel Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet won Canada’s Sunburst Award for Fantastic Fiction and was named a best debut by The Globe and Mail and Kirkus Reviews. A feature film adaptation of the novel will be released in 2018. A graduate of the Bennington Writing Seminars, Joanne lives, writes and teaches in Ottawa, Canada.

(Bio taken from Penguin Random House)



 

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Not Her Daughter

⇒What would make you do the unthinkable? Sarah Walker finds out in this gripping thriller that will suck you into an emotional whirlwind!⇐

**Many thanks to NetGalley, St. Martin’s Press, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

by Rea Frey

SmellRating4.5

(4.17 stars – Goodreads rating)

Publish Date: August 21, 2018, by St. Martin’s Press

Genre: Women’s Fiction / Thriller

Format: Kindle Edition

Pages: 352 pages (Paperback)

#NotHerDaughter  #NetGalley

Not Her Daughter: A NovelI had a choice to make, a bluff to call, and a girl to protect. I had no idea what to do next.

I don’t know if you believe in astrology at all. Usually, I only give it the faintest corner of my attention. But, as a designated Libra (October 13th), I found my scales woefully unbalanced and wobbling all over the place as I read this book about a kidnapper, a mother, and the grey-eyed girl that comes between them.

As a mother myself, I automatically know which side of that battle I’m supporting, right? Not necessarily. And that’s only one reason why this book had me on the edge of my seat and at the border of my morals with every chapter.

That’s what I’m going with: my intention to keep her safe. In spite of the facts, in spite of what I’ve done. Because it feels right. Being with Emma feels right.

Here’s the gist: Sarah Walker is really minding her own business, waiting for a flight, when she witnesses something that she hasn’t been able to shake: a mother being physically and verbally abusive to her young daughter. Sarah, young and successful, but childless and just recently single again, can’t seem to forget about the beautiful grey-eyed girl with the red dress and red hairbow that seemed to desperately need someone’s help. Days later, when their paths randomly cross again, Sarah knows what she has to do, but that one decision will change everything about her life forever.

Amy Townsend is tired. She has two kids, a job, and a husband who is more like a milquetoast roommate. She’s overweight, overloaded, and just over all of it. Sure she loses her temper sometimes, what tired mother with the strain of kids and career doesn’t? Sure she lashes out at life – and her obnoxious daughter – sometimes. Does that make her a bad parent? There’s just something about Emma that just pulls the anger out of her. It’s like she’s asking for it. So Amy gives it to her.

Emma just wants to play and have fun. Hey, she’s five!

Emma was the chaos, and now, in her absence, there was even more. She was like a tiny wrecking ball, knocking down everything in her path just to see how much damage she could get away with.

Not Her Daughter had me in my emotions from the very first chapter. I am constantly concerned with where my daughter is and making sure she’s safe and happy. So, it was hard for me to (1) initially connect with what Sarah wanted to do, and (2) feel any sympathy whatsoever for Emma’s parents and their collective lack of care for their daughter. While reading, I battled with questions like: As a reader how am I supposed to feel about Sarah’s intentions? What about as a parent? Or as a moral, ethical human being? And once you read this book, you may find that, like me, those questions came with three totally different answers.

As the book progressed, I found myself flip-flopping over whether or not Sarah was a hero or a villain. I settled on Antihero. There’s no way in the world her actions could be justified, and yet…

Just for the record, I never sided with Amy, Emma’s mom. She’s a nasty piece of work and I wanted to smack her with a jelly roll every time she spoke. Mean old bat.

Written in multiple POVs, across four different timelines (“before”, “during”, “after”, and “now” – all in relation to the kidnapping), and in both first and third person, Not Her Daughter could have been quite confusing if not for Frey’s careful and patient story and character development. There’s a lot of jumping around from past to near past to present to an even more present present, but trust me, you’ll get it. It flows.

I initially liked the same characters that I ended up criticizing later, and vice versa. There are no guarantees in this book, and that makes for great storytelling. If I had any reservations, it would be that a couple of strings were left hanging for me: What happens with the relationship between Sarah and her mom? In this day and age, where was any mention of video surveillance of Sarah and Emma as they shopped or stopped for gas or ate in restaurants? Isn’t that how many kidnappers get caught? And another string that I can’t really mention because it would be a spoiler, but it left me with some questions.

4.5 well-earned stars for this wonderful read that left me battling both my ethics and my morals and still coming up with question marks. What would I have done? Would I have been as brave? As stupid? I love the books that make you question life choices this way!


About the Author

IMG_2050 copy.jpgREA FREY

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Rea Frey is the author of four nonfiction books. Her debut novel, NOT HER DAUGHTER, will be released by St. Martin’s Press August 21, 2018.

When she’s not exercising, mothering, adulting, wifing, eating, or writing about herself in the third person, you can find her hard at work on her next book and ghostwriting for other people.

(Bio taken from Goodreads)



 

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The English Wife

by Lauren Willig
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(3.77 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published January 9, 2018, by St. Martin’s Press

Genre: Historical Fiction / Mystery

Format: Audiobook (Audio CDs)

Narrator:  Barrie Kreinik

Pages: 384 (Hardcover)

#TheEnglishWife

The English WifeIt was very hard to rant while accepting a cup of tea.

So, after typing that quote I will pour my tea and decide not to rant. But I can’t rave either. The English Wife was nothing that I expected it to be, to my great dissatisfaction.

Since I listened to this via audio CDs (from my local library), I popped in the first CD and prepared myself for a perfect historical fiction about a mysterious murder and a well-to-do family in New York in the late 1800s. After the third CD, I was still waiting for the story to take off. After the fifth, I was wondering whether I had picked up the wrong case – surely this is not the book by Lauren Willig that I was so looking forward to!

It hurt to kill a dream, like tearing petals off a rose in full bloom.

Here’s why my expectations were so high: Annabelle and Bayard Van Duyvil are throwing the gathering of the season. Their Twelfth Night Ball is very well-attended and everyone who is anyone is dressed to the nines (in costume, of course). So when Janie Van Duyvil (pronounced “van DIE-vuhl”) finds her brother, Bay, dead and her sister-in-law missing during the ball, she knows it was not a murder-suicide as the newspapers later claim. Janie is sure that there is more to Bay’s death than anyone could ever imagine.

Doesn’t that sound totally captivating?

The mystery of Bay’s death and Annabelle’s disappearance is only one of the plot points: Annabelle’s past in England – complete with a shadowy bad-guy, Janie’s headstrong and worldly cousin Ann who seems to have it out for her for some reason, and Janie’s oppressive mother who clipped Janie’s wings long ago and who constantly reminds her how much she resents her.

An untimely death (or two), an internal family war, shadowy enemies, and newspaper reporters sniffing for blood in the water at every turn. How can you go wrong with all that???

Unfortunately, it did.

What a very odd thing,’ said Janie, ‘to live and leave no mark.

Told across two (very close) timelines – which was often very confusing – and also told from different perspectives, the book’s storyline felt labored and the writing over-explanatory. I felt like I was trudging through the book instead of enjoying it.

I usually really enjoy historical fiction, but this one never took off for me. It had a really s-l-o-w start and despite a compelling mystery at the heart of it, it never seemed to pick up any speed or make me any more interested.

So why three stars instead of two? Two-star books usually aren’t enjoyable AND they make me mad at some point. This one got three because I wanted it to be good so badly, there were exactly two characters that I was rooting for, and the underlying mystery was rich enough that I wanted to know what really happened. So my initial and forced interest ultimately kicked it up a star.

Buy it: AmazonBarnes & NobleIndieboundBooks-A-Million


About the Author

Lauren WilligWebsite

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LAUREN WILLIG is also the author of the New York Times bestselling Pink Carnation series and a RITA Award-winner for Best Regency Historical for The Mischief of the Mistletoe. A graduate of Yale University, she has a graduate degree in English history from Harvard and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. She lives in New York City, where she now writes full time.

(Bio from MacMillan.com)



 

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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

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(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

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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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