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Things You Save in a Fire

⇒RELEASE DAY REVIEW! Sometimes the biggest life changes can turn out to be the very best.⇐

**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: Katherine Center

(4.33 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Romance

Format: Kindle

Publication Date: August 13, 2019, by St. Martin’s Press

Pages: 320 (Kindle version)

#ThingsYouSaveInAFire


It’s a strange thing to know about yourself, but there it is: I’m at my very best when things are at their very worst.

For many, it’s a guilty pleasure. For me, I feel no guilt. I love them and I’m not ashamed. I sit for hours and just enjoy them back to back to back. No, I’m not talking about Thin Mints – although those are utterly delicious and addictive. I’m talking about – drumroll please – … Hallmark movies.

Yes! Hallmark movies! They are romantic; sometimes sickeningly so, but I love them. I love the general idea of them. The heartfelt optimism of them. The knowledge that no matter what goes wrong in the beginning and the middle, in the end, two very attractive people will end up together. That is the feeling I got while reading Things You Save in a Fire. Here’s the blurb:

Cassie Hanwell was born for emergencies. As one of the only female firefighters in her Texas firehouse, she’s seen her fair share of them, and she’s excellent at dealing with other people’s tragedies. But when her estranged and ailing mother asks her to uproot her life and move to Boston, it’s an emergency of a kind Cassie never anticipated. The tough, old-school Boston firehouse is as different from Cassie’s old job as it could possibly be. Hazing, a lack of funding, and poor facilities mean that the firemen aren’t exactly thrilled to have a “lady” on the crew, even one as competent and smart as Cassie. Except for the handsome rookie, who doesn’t seem to mind having Cassie around. But she can’t think about that. Because she doesn’t fall in love. And because of the advice her old captain gave her: don’t date firefighters. Cassie can feel her resolve slipping…but will she jeopardize her place in a career where she’s worked so hard to be taken seriously?

Choosing to love—despite all the ways that people let you down, and disappear, and break your heart. Knowing everything we know about how hard life is and choosing to love, anyway.. That’s not weakness, that’s courage.

This book combines everything recognizable and lovable about Hallmark movies and puts it in book form. A sudden upheaval (usually involving a change of career and/or location), an ailing or deceased close relative, an awkward or taboo relationship, and a life-altering choice that must be made within a limited amount of time. Add those tried and true ingredients to a serious crisis that threatens all newly discovered happiness and you have the formula for a truly engaging love story / story of strength, redemption, and forgiveness.

Many may read this and imagine that I am being facetious. Trust that I am not. In this current climate of gloom, doom, and general negativity, the positivity and uplifting messages found in Katherine Center’s writing are like breaths of fresh air. I felt that way while reading How to Walk Away and even more so with this new release.

It’s amazing how brave you can be when you feel safe.

More things to like about this novel: It has a strong female lead. I mean genuinely strong. Like still cries when she’s emotional, but is strong emotionally and physically. Cassie is realistic with flaws and judgment, but she grows and she is teachable. I appreciated characters who don’t automatically have everything all figured out, but they put the work in the make their lives work.

Yeah, there’s a bit of insta-love here (usually that’s a big deal-breaker for me), but here it’s kind of expected (“The lady doth protest too much, methinks”) and necessary to kick the story into second gear. All-in-all, this was a cozy summer read that left me feeling all the feels and genuinely happy that I read it. And, yes, I will gladly pick up Katherine Center’s next release.


Katherine Center

Katherine lives in her hometown of Houston, Texas, with her fun husband, two sweet kids, and fluffy-but-fierce dog.


The 18th Abduction (Women’s Murder Club #18)

⇒New Release Review: The 18th release in the Women’s Murder Club series has its share of heroes and monsters and the women work together to solve the most gruesome of murders.⇐


Authors: James Patterson & Maxine Paetro

(4.17 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Crime Fiction / Mystery

Published April 29, 2019by Little Brown & Company (Hachette Audio)

Format: Audiobook

Narrator: January LaVoy

Pages: 416 (Hardcover)

#18thAbduction #WomensMurderClub


A lot of people have a lot to say about how James Patterson writes books, but when you find a good series you stick with it. I’ve found such a series in The Women’s Murder Club, and The 18th Abduction hasn’t swayed me from that decision.

While reliably clever crime fiction and smart procedurals will always be a big draw for me, this book also has another great attraction: strong female leads. The Club is packed with clever thinkers, strategic go-getters, and passionate right-the-wrongers. And there’s enough variety between these four women and their partners to keep the interest level for their stories high enough for at least 18 more book releases.

Here’s the Goodreads blurb: Three female schoolteachers go missing in San Francisco, and Detective Lindsay Boxer is on the case-which quickly escalates from missing person to murder.Under pressure at work, Lindsay needs support at home. But her husband Joe is drawn into an encounter with a woman who’s seen a ghost–a notorious war criminal from her Eastern European home country, walking the streets of San Francisco.As Lindsay digs deeper, with help from intrepid journalist Cindy Thomas, there are revelations about the victims. The implications are shocking. And when Joe’s mystery informant disappears, joining the ranks of missing women in grave danger, all evidence points to a sordid international crime operation. It will take the combined skills of Lindsay, Joe, and the entire Women’s Murder Club to protect their city, and themselves, from a monster.


One thing that’s different about this addition of The Murder Club series is that the story line lacks most of the Murder Club members. Sure, they’re all mentioned and enter scenes cameo-style, but the events of this book mainly involve Lindsay, her husband Joe, and her partner Rich. At first I missed the constant back-and-forth between all the ladies that makes for such colorful action (narrator January LaVoy does such a great job of bringing each of them to life). However, once the story gets established, it doesn’t suffer from their absence at all.

This crime-riddled mystery is based five years in the past, so it doesn’t follow chronologically from the events in book #17. We are introduced to Anna – a spirited informant who drags Joe into tracking a tyrant whose war crimes have followed him into his sanctuary in the US. As Joe struggles to toe the line and cut red tape, Lindsay has a more “balls to the wall” approach in tracking the perpetrator of a triple abduction in the city. When the threads of these crimes tie together, the couple becomes an untouchable team.

If you are a long-time reader of this series, don’t skip The 18th Abduction. It is gritty, graphic, and tragic, but the buildup and twists make the ride truly worth the read. And even though we don’t get the full influence of all the women in this particular story, what we do get is an important account of strength and resilience in the face of horrible atrocities. And though a lot of it is hard to read (or hear), the knowledge is worth the trauma.

Readers should be aware of some intense triggers including rape, torture, kidnapping, murder, and genocide. The book includes graphic descriptions of these acts, so sensitive readers should be aware.

Lovers of the series will be happy to know that we won’t have to wait a year for the next book. The 19th Christmas will be released on October 7th of 2019 and I, for one, can’t wait to learn what fresh hell Patterson and Paetro will drag us through just in time for the holidays!


James Patterson & Maxine Paetro

Maxine Paetro is an American author who has been published since 1979. Paetro has collaborated with best-selling author James Patterson on the Women’s Murder Club novel series and standalone novels.


Fifty Things that Aren’t My Fault

⇒Witty essays about the crossroads of life, and how to celebrate each twisty turn.⇐

**Many thanks to NetGalley, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Author: Cathy Guisewite

(4.06 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Nonfiction / Humor / Essays

Format: Kindle Version

Publish Date: April 2, 2019, by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Pages: 336 (Kindle version)

#Fiftythingsthatarentmyfault


There’s absolutely no direction I can look without making eye contact with the fact that life as I knew it is over.


Let’s face it – adulting is difficult. There are taxes and bills and insurance and whatever you’re really supposed to know about changing the battery in your home’s fire alarm or changing your car’s oil. This is not easy stuff. I mean, even as I sit here, I’m struggling. I was supposed to have finished writing this blog days ago (when I finished reading the book), instead, here it is, 10:00 at night and I’m pecking away furiously at my phone (because my laptop is now officially toast), trying to write this review before my eyes involuntarily shut for the day.

I spent my whole weekend spring cleaning – only getting one room completely done – and work looms tomorrow like a big ugly Monday morning ogre. And I’m thinking about all the random things I need to accomplish this week. Is this being an adult? Cuz I don’t think I’m doing it right, and I seem to have a friend in Cathy Guisewite.

Here’s an abbreviated blurb from Goodreads…

From the iconic creator of the “Cathy”comic strip comes a collection of funny, warm, and wise essays… centered around the particular challenge of caring for aging parents and growing children, all while trying not to lose oneself in the process… Her deeply funny and relatable look at the life of a frazzled career woman became a touchstone for women everywhere, and now, in her debut essay collection, Guisewite returns with her signature self-deprecating wit and warmth, this time taking a look at her own life.

There’s no honor in mentioning what happened last night with nine “100 Calorie Packs” of Mini Oreos.

Even if you don’t immediately recognize Cathy Guisewite’s name, you probably are instantly familiar with the image of her beloved comic strip character, Cathy, especially if you grew up in a certain generation (mine!).

And while cartoon Cathy certainly had her fair share of bumpy roads, Fifty Things is about flesh and blood Cathy’s all too real life challenges, triumphs, and tripping points. Relatable? Yes. Uplifting? Enh.

Life is overflowing with expectations and obligations that use up our time, energy, and spirit and leave us feeling exhausted, insecure, and alone.

If you can get through the first couple of chapters while maintaining a positive attitude, you just might end up liking this book. I was nervous at first- it had the potential to become one big 300-plus-page gripe fest. But she saves it by being entirely candid and displaying all her jagged faults- even the ones we’ve tried to hide in ourselves.

Ok, so why should you read this book? If you’ve ever spent 37 minutes getting ready for bed, using magic face creams, special hair curlers, under eye brighteners, etc., etc. only to wake up the next morning looking exactly the same, you might relate to Cathy. If you are so excited to go shopping and come home only with a pair of earrings or a pair of shoes because they were the only things that fit, you might relate to Cathy. And if you’re in the middle of releasing adult children and corralling aging presents, you’ll definitely relate to Cathy.

Now I know what that lump is that’s still stuck in my throat- it’s What Comes Next.

As I still battle with trying to also love nonfiction, I have found that humor does help (Bill Bryson- winner, winner). So when Guisewite finds the funny in ordering takeout or trying on swimsuits, I think, “Hmmm, maybe both adulting and nonfiction aren’t that bad after all. “

Maybe.


Cathy Guisewite

Cathy Lee Guisewite is the cartoonist who created the comic strip Cathy in 1976. Guisewite was born in Dayton, Ohio and grew up in Midland, Michigan. She attended the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor where she was a member of the Delta Delta Delta sorority. Guisewite received her bachelor’s degree in English in 1972. She also holds seven honorary degrees. –Bio adapted from Goodreads.


A Spark of Light

⇒A hostage negotiation gets extremely personal when a dad has to save his daughter from a madman bent on revenge.⇐


Author: Jodi Picoult

Narrator: Bahni Turpin

(3.68 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Thriller

Format: Audiobook (CDs)

Published October 2, 2018by Random House (Random House Audio)

Pages: 384 (Hardcover) ; Audio Discs (14:30)

#ASparkofLight


Laws are black and white. The lives of women are a thousand shades of gray.


I cannot tell a lie. I am attracted by what is bright and shiny and new – especially when it comes to books! Social media and advertising does such a good job of putting new releases and pretty covers in front of us. And they are soooo enticing!

I have told myself countless times to stop being swayed by books that ride happily along on the social media popularity wave, but somehow I keep letting myself get dragged along on the bandwagon of new-release hype. A Spark of Light is one of those books that pulled me in when I should have just let it pass me by.

The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love?

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Here’s the abbreviated synopsis: The warm fall day starts like any other at the Center – a women’s reproductive health services clinic… Then, in late morning, a desperate and distraught gunman bursts in and opens fire…. Told in a daring and enthralling narrative structure that counts backward through the hours of the standoff, this is a story that traces its way back to what brought each of these very different individuals to the same place on this fateful day.

Violence, from one angle, looked like mercy from another.

What pulled me in to this latest Picoult novel? Hostages! A great hostage story is usually a sure bet. Usually. Unfortunately for Spark, the tension that should naturally build and escalate during a hostage situation didn’t get that same opportunity because of the unique narrative setup of this book.

What do I mean by that? Remember Memento – the movie told in reverse? This was Picoult’s version. I say that and then I instantly feel disloyal to Memento because I really like that movie, but this book… not so much.

We are all drowning slowly in the tide of our opinions, oblivious that we are taking on water every time we open our mouths.

Ok, here is my bad-rating disclaimer for this book: Abortion is an important topic. No matter which side of the debate you fall on, you should have the right to your own opinion. My dislike of this book is in no way directly related to my opinions about abortion.

More accurately, I wasn’t happy with the development of the story, it’s lack of true action, and the lackluster ending (beginning?) and epilogue. The feeling was more akin to sitting through a lengthy pro-life vs. pro-choice college debate with some sad backstories mixed in.

Die hard Picoult fans will rate this book highly, talk about how much they love her and all her work, and say how well she represented both sides of the argument. A Spark of Light will fare well despite my poor rating here. However, I will definitely be more wary of bandwagon book picks from now on.


Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult is the author of 24 novels. She lives in New Hampshire.


Spinning Silver

⇒This is not your grandma’s fairytale! Naomi Novik spins a new tale of Rumpelstiltskin that starts out as silver but ends up as pure gold.⇐

by Naomi Novik
SmellRating5
(4.35 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published July 10, 2018, by Del Rey

Genre: Fiction / Fantasy

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 466

#SpinningSilver

Spinning SilverBut of course a Staryk king would want a queen who really could make gold out of silver, mortal or not. The Staryk always came for gold.

When I was a child, I imagined that unicorns lived in the woods behind my grandparents’ house in the mountains of Asheville and that fairies made little mushroom houses in the tall grass.

I imagined all their magic could be shared with good little girls like me (smirk) if only I believed hard enough and if I was nice to wild animals. I even wanted to grow wings like a fairy!

Then I watched movies like The Last Unicorn, Legend, and The Dark Crystal and I realized that the world of fantasy can be a dark and scary place.

Of course I was afraid. But I had learned to fear other things more: being despised, whittled down one small piece of myself at a time, smirked at and taken advantage of.

In Naomi Novik’s second fairy tale retelling (The first is Uprooted, a reimagining of Beauty and the Beast), the author puts a new spin on the classic tale of Rumpelstiltskin in a very original way.

Originally this story has nothing to do with rainbows or pixies – none of the niceties of fairyland. The Brothers Grimm told a tale of a greedy miller who pawned his daughter off to an equally greedy king with the promise that she could spin silver thread into gold – something that she really had no clue how to do.

The king locks her inside three progressively larger storage rooms filled with straw and threatens her life unless she is able to spin the straw into gold by morning. Each night she is rescued by a vertically-challenged, opportunistic man who collects her jewelry as payment for performing the task. The final night, she’s out of baubles, so she barters away her first-born child in exchange for the little man’s spinning services in order to save her own life.

Years later, her first born child is born and little dude comes to collect his due. She is only given a reprieve when he tells her that if she can guess his name in three days, then he will let her keep her child. After two days of incorrect guesses, one of her servants overhears the little man singing a song bragging about his impending dinner to be made of the queen’s child and in the song he lets slip his name. The servant drops the dime on the little man to the queen, and she fronts him out in front of the whole court with his name: Rumpelstiltskin! <cheers, claps, bowing, curtseying, thank you, thank you>.

You were challenged beyond the bounds of what could be done, and found a path to make it true.

So that was how the Brothers Grimm framed their story. Naomi Novik kept a lot of the symbolism of the original tale, but her reimagining takes a totally different spin. See what I did there?

Spinning Silver is the story of three women with inner power that they didn’t even realize they had:

MIRYEM – The daughter of a Jewish moneylender who realizes that she is better at the job than her dad is. Maybe too good. Suddenly she’s swept up in the icy cold world of the Staryk (think Game of Thrones White Walker) changing silver coins into pure gold. With her life always under threat, Miryem has to balance protecting herself and her beloved family back home in a town so small it doesn’t even have a true name.

WANDA – The daughter of an abusive town drunk, Wanda becomes responsible for her two brothers and her own survival during a harsh winter. Her strength of character and some old-fashioned good luck propel her into an uncertain destiny, but one that she embraces more than the cruelty of the life she once knew. Seriously, the development of this character is so endearing – she can’t be overlooked as one of the book’s true champions.

IRINA – The daughter of a duke who is only interested in increasing his household in money and in position. And if he can use Irina to do that, then all the better. But when he gives her in marriage to the demon-possessed tsar, Irina has to do more than learn how to rule and protect a kingdom; she has to learn to save her own life.

These are the three heroines of the story, but there are other characters that contribute heavily to the story and make these women successful. And then there are the bad guys who are indeed bad, but they have a reason. Or a motive. Or a defense. You decide. Either way, I love to hate them, and then I hate to love them.

But I had not known that I was strong enough to do any of those things until they were over and I had done them. I had to do the work first, not knowing.

Spinning Silver is one of those books that I really wanted to read the moment it was released; however, due to a clump of NetGalley ARCS that released in July and August, I wasn’t able to get to it until now. It became available at my local library, so I snatched it up and finally read it in three days.

And now that I’ve read it, I wish I could have slowed it down and savored it more.

I love the classic fairy tales, but often retellings can be hit or miss. This one is a hit. Although it is a reimagining of the classic Rumpelstiltskin, it earns its own identity – building a unique world with strong characters and more than one terrifying antihero.

Things I love: The originality built into a story that we thought we knew; the multiple POVs; the internal strength of the heroines that seems to come from genuine heart, not trumped up attitude; the fact that there is no clear right and wrong action for the characters to be goaded into by the reader; that sometimes even the enemies surprise you.

This book is worth a re-read (in the future when my TBR list no longer resembles a literal mountain) and it has made me add Novik’s Uprooted to that pile in hopes of finding another 5-star read.


About the Author

Naomi NovikNaomi Novik

Website

Twitter

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Naomi Novik was born in New York in 1973, a first-generation American, and raised on Polish fairy tales, Baba Yaga, and Tolkien. She studied English Literature at Brown University and did graduate work in Computer Science at Columbia University before leaving to participate in the design and development of the computer game Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide. Her first novel, His Majesty’s Dragon, was published in 2006 along with Throne of Jade and Black Powder War, and has been translated into 23 languages. She has won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, the Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel, and the Locus Award for Best First Novel. The fourth volume of the Temeraire series, Empire of Ivory, published in September 2007, was a New York Times bestseller, and was followed by bestsellers Victory of Eagles and Tongues of Serpents.

(Bio taken from Naomi’s Website)



 

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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

SmellRating3

(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

Website

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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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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 Last Time I Lied

by Riley Sager
SmellRating3
(4.22 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published July 3, 2018, by Dutton Books

Genre: Thriller / Mystery

Format: Audiobook

Narrator: Nicol Zanzarella

Page Count: 370 pages (Hardcover)

#TheLastTimeILied  

The Last Time I LiedMarc’s talking about the girls, of course, buried inside every painting. Other than me, only he knows about their existence. The only thing I haven’t told him is why, fifteen years later, I continue to make them vanish over and over.

One of the scariest times of my life was the very first time I went away to summer camp. My mom sent me away from home for two weeks to some secluded lake with no one else I knew. She obviously didn’t love me!

Well, that’s what I thought at first. I ended up having a blast and I went back several times after that. I learned a lot of things about social dynamics during those trips to camp – even more so than I learned at school. Because at away-camp, you are living with these people. It’s a forced family where you have 100 siblings or more and you have to learn how to deal with many of them in very close quarters.

Riley Sager’s new book certainly took me back to that time in my life when I was nervous about being away from home and about fitting in, but it also reminded me that I had to grow a thick skin quickly in order to avoid being eaten alive by the other kids (and the mosquitoes!). Maybe it’s because I grew up in a different era when kids were kids and not just miniature adults, but the girls in this book’s Camp Nightingale felt very distant from my own personal camp experience.

Although their eventual fate remains a mystery, I’m certain that what happened to those girls is all my fault.

Emma Davis returns to the summer camp of her youth primarily to help its owner, the now elderly Frannie Harris-White, revive the camp. But Emma also returns to banish the demons that have haunted her with guilt for so long. The only way to do that is to solve the mystery of three girls who went missing at Camp Nightingale 15 years ago.

See the full book blurb here.

Girls at summer camp, a mystery, a secret journal, the handsome son of the camp director – those are ingredients for an intriguing story, right? Toss in dual timelines, a narrator who is only partially reliable, and a campground with a spooky backstory and you should have the recipe for a perfect summer read. Unfortunately, this final dish was less than perfect.

A sense of isolation drops onto your shoulders, and for a moment you wonder if the whole camp has cleared out, leaving only you behind. More horrible scenarios fill your thoughts. Cabins emptying in a frenzied, worried rush. You sleeping right through it.

The story started off well enough, but then it gradually started to suffer from cliched characters (the mean girl, the know-it-all, the fake-nice gold-digger, etc.) and repetitive action in both the past and present timelines that ended up reading as dull and lacking creativity. One example: Emma was there to run a painting class for the girls in the camp. She actually only ends up teaching one class (maybe two?). What’s the point? There ended up being several “what’s the point” moments that followed key plot points making the book lose more than a little credibility.

Although the premise was interesting and had loads of potential, the buildup never took off and the effort Sager expended toward a twisty ending was totally lost on me. And the ultimate wow-did-that-just-happen-moment? Nope, I just didn’t buy it.

Fans of his debut novel, Final Girls, tended to rate The Last Time I Lied much higher than I gave it credit for. They loved the action and thought the ending was sufficiently twisty. As always, judge for yourself. I am not disappointed that I read it, I just wish it had been more of what I was expecting from a sophomore effort.

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About the Author

Riley SagerWebsite

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Riley Sager is the pseudonym of a former journalist, editor and graphic designer.

     Now a full-time author, Riley’s first thriller, FINAL GIRLS, was a national bestseller that has been published in 25 languages. His latest book, THE LAST TIME I LIED, was published in July.

     A native of Pennsylvania, Riley now lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

(Bio from RileySagerBooks.com)



 

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The Woman in the Window

by A. J. Finn
SmellRating2
(4.0 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published January 2, 2018, by William Morrow

Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Thriller

Format: Audiobook (Audio CDs)

Narrator: Ann Marie Lee

#TheWomanIntheWindow

The Woman in the WindowMy dear girl, you cannot keep bumping your head against reality and saying it is not there.

Last year I read a book that, by the end of it, I wanted to throw against the wall. I disliked everything about that book – the writing, the forced humor, the weak plot, the … everything!

What do you do with a review of a book that you genuinely dislike?

I never trash books. Book-writing is an art and it is hard. Every book is a baby that you are laying in a bassinet on the front porch of the world. Every author gets points for at least being brave enough to release a part of themselves for others to see and critique. It’s something that I’ve never done, so kudos to all the authors out there.

But just like being a parent, I can love my child without liking everything they do. That brings me around to my review of The Woman in the Window. I did not like this book. Sorry, not sorry. It annoyed me to the point of yelling at the narrator (who really doesn’t deserve my wrath!).

Here’s the story:

Anna Fox is a recluse. She suffers from agoraphobia due to a traumatic event she experienced with her family while they were vacationing in the mountains. Since then, she lives apart from her husband and daughter, unable to leave her home even for the smallest of things. Anna becomes a voyeur, observing her neighbors through her camera lens and living vicariously through them. When, one day, she sees something she was never meant to witness, she has to finally make the decision to brave the world outside her door. 

Watching is like nature photography: You don’t interfere with the wildlife.

I know I’m supposed to sympathize with Anna because she is an agoraphobe, has panic attacks, and is depressed. I know I’m supposed to give her a pass because she has been through significant trauma, doesn’t have many friends, and has a chronic drinking problem. I know this. And yet…

Decisions! Life is all about decisions!!! If you make dumb ones, you will pay the cost!

This is NOT to say that Anna deserved any of what happened to her, but throughout the book, as she’s grappling with how to handle present-day problems, all of her decisions seem to be the exact opposite of what would actually make her circumstances better!

I struggled with this book because I try my best to relate to the main character – to have some sort of insight into the whys of what he or she does. And I just couldn’t get there with Anna. And it’s not because I haven’t suffered through trauma (I have), or depression (I have), or panic attacks (I haven’t, but does anxiety count?). But it’s because Anna made choices that weren’t in her best interest that had nothing to do with her medical diagnosis.

I’m giving this book 2 stars (“It was ok”) because I want to be supportive of those with this condition. It is debilitating and tragic and I don’t mean to make light of it in any way. I just wanted this book to be so much better than it was. Even the “great reveal” fell flat. And now, I may never drink Merlot or wear a robe around the house ever, ever, ever again. At least she helped me in that.

In my low rating, I believe that I am in the minority. It rated a 4.0 rating on Goodreads, so obviously, the hype didn’t bypass everyone. I just expected more, and, sadly didn’t get it.

But judge it for yourself! Listen to the first chapter of The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn HERE, courtesy of Harper Collins and Soundcloud.


About the Author

A.J.  FinnA.J. Finn

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A.J. Finn, pseudonym for Daniel Mallory, has written for numerous publications, including the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the Times Literary Supplement(UK). A native of New York, Finn lived in England for ten years as a book editor before returning to New York City.

(Bio from Goodreads)



 

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Lies

**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 T.M. Logan

SmellRating4

(3.97 stars – Goodreads rating)

To be published September 11, 2018, by St. Martin’s Press

Genre: Fiction / Thriller

Format: Kindle Edition

#Lies  #NetGalley

Image result for t.m. logan authorThere’s no one as blind as the person who refuses to see.

Ok, I’m about to date myself…

One summer I decided to work during the break instead of returning home from college. I stayed in an apartment with 3 other girls – all of us working during the day and collapsing into our individual rooms in the evenings. Since it was a temporary arrangement, we didn’t spring for cable TV, but for two of those weeks, we had free HBO. And by free, I mean they played the same movie over and over again: The Net.

I love Sandra Bullock, honest I do! But seriously, you can only take so much of any movie played over and over again. The Net wasn’t even a new movie that summer. And after the 4th showing of The Net, I pretty much never wanted to ever see that movie again. Sorry, Sandra.

So what does that memory have to do with this book? Well, if you’ve ever seen The Net, remember the desperation of that movie? Sandra’s character, Angela Bennett, gets her life stolen from her through a case of stolen identity. Systematically, her name, bank accounts, job, and everything identifiable about her are erased and assigned to another woman. The movie creates feelings of desperation and helplessness. That’s exactly how I felt while reading Lies.

For the first time in years, I didn’t know what the future held — only that it held less hope than when I’d woken up this morning.

Joe Lynch had a normal life. A wife. A son. A job. Then in the space of one week, his “normal” world is turned completely upside down. Lies tells the story of the differences between what one man imagines his life to be and the grim reality that suddenly taints all of his relationships.

Imagine waking up one morning just like always and by nightfall, everything you’ve ever known about your life is proven to be a lie. It’s a loss you feel like none other – a loss of trust in everything and everyone.

And imagine that on top of that, you have to escape a police investigation, fight for your job, and protect the family of the man who has single-handedly ruined your life. Ahh, you gotta love thrillers with a bunch of strings!

I felt like I was standing in someone else’s clothes, in someone else’s house, living someone else’s life. This wasn’t me. It wasn’t us.

T.M. Logan’s writing is crisp, well-paced and suspenseful. The story drags you through the gamut of emotions: anxiety, frustration, anger, and despair. My only hangup was the exhaustive “bad guy reveal” near the end.

I would recommend this book to avid readers of suspense thrillers and mysteries. The MC is immediately likable and relatable. The story develops in a way that isn’t easily “see-through”. And even when I thought I had it all figured out, my theory was destroyed by the very next chapter. I love it when that happens! Four stars for this taut, emotional thriller.


About the Author

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T M Logan is former Daily Mail science reporter, covering stories on new developments in a wide variety of scientific fields.

He previously worked as Deputy Director of Communications at the University of Nottingham and lives in Nottinghamshire with his wife and two children.

(Bio courtesy of  the Darley Anderson website)


 

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