4 star reviews, Book reviews, contemporary fiction

Only Child by Rhiannon Navin

4/5 stars

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This book opens with Zach hiding in a closet with his first grade class, their teacher trying to keep the kids quiet as a gunman rages through the school.  The kids hear the pops from the gun.  Finally, the police come and escort the teacher and students to a nearby church, but not before they see the blood sprayed over the halls and students laying dead on the ground.  Without giving too much away, this book takes you through the aftermath as one family heals from this terrible tragedy.

I thought this book was excellent and very well done.  I think it showed parents whose grief consumed them in a realistic way and who didn’t have anything left to give their child.  I think it was very real, with very flawed characters.  I am sure it is a book that will stay with me for a long, long time.

This book was narrated by 6 year old Zach.  In some ways, I found his innocence made it easier to tackle difficult topics, because although the reader understood what was going on, Zach did not seem to.  I also found that I love reading children’s views and perspectives of family life.  A book narrated by an adult would never have mentioned some of the mundane details this book mentioned, but those details added so much to the story and gave an accurate picture of the family and what they were like as individuals and together.

****

School shootings were not the issue they are now when I was growing up in the 1980s.  I am always asking myself why?  What changed in our society?

I do not subscribe to the philosophy that it is additives in our food.  Or

We are more stressed as a society.  The population has doubled since I graduated from high school in 1990, I think more people fighting for space can definitely bring us closer to the end of our ropes.  We have also become more scheduled, we do more and we have our kids do more activities and that adds strain to our days.  The special effects for movies and videogames lend themselves to more spectacular violence, so there is that.  There used to be homes for mentally ill people and that was not positive, but the alternative does not seem to be either; I think we need to find some common ground where there is government sponsored help for the mentally ill (government sponsored because once the mentally ill individual becomes an adult, they would no longer be on their parents insurance and the parents may not be able to afford the care).

I am not a proponent of taking away guns.  I think any regulation in this area will lead to people getting guns through the black market.  I am not a fan of the NRA because I feel that their stance on things is pro-gun manufacturers more than pro-gun owners and quite frankly, I think the NRA gives gun owners a bad name with their statements supporting guns that look like cell phones or plans to build guns being readily available.

I think one of the biggest issues and I know this is going to be unpopular, but one of the biggest issues is parent involvement.  I think a lot of parents have a lot going on and they are just not involved with their kids and don’t know what is going on.  It could be a mental health issue or a case of bullying pushing a kid too far or a case of a kid who feel ostracized or wants attention.  I don’t believe you have to be mentally ill to want to harm other people, I think there are times when a mentally stable person can be pushed to that.  I think if parents made more time to talk to their kids and heck, spy on their kids, that could make a difference.  Not that I am blaming parents for this, but I think it’s part of the equation.

I think we need to ask ourselves what has changed in our society in the last 25 years that could have lead to school shootings being such a prevalent issue and take measures as a society to change those things.

 

 

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4 star reviews, contemporary fiction, romance, thriller

Leave No Trace by Mindy Mejia

4.5/5 stars

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From the Publisher:

There is a place in Minnesota with hundreds of miles of glacial lakes and untouched forests called the Boundary Waters. Ten years ago a man and his son trekked into this wilderness and never returned.

Search teams found their campsite ravaged by what looked like a bear. They were presumed dead until a decade later…the son appeared. Discovered while ransacking an outfitter store, he was violent and uncommunicative and sent to a psychiatric facility. Maya Stark, the assistant language therapist, is charged with making a connection with their high-profile patient. No matter how she tries, however, he refuses to answer questions about his father or the last ten years of his life.

But Maya, who was abandoned by her own mother, has secrets, too. And as she’s drawn closer to this enigmatic boy who is no longer a boy, she’ll risk everything to reunite him with his father who has disappeared from the known world.

My Review:

4/5 stars

I loved this book and read it in one day–I don’t remember the last time I did that!

This book was like The Great Alone meets Magic Hour (both by Kristin Hannah) with a little Child Finder by Rene Denfeld.

Lucas and Josiah Blackthorne disappeared from society ten years ago and were assumed dead.  Then Lucas is caught robbing a store.  He is violent and nonverbal, so he is sent to a psychiatric facility where he meets Maya who is a speech therapist, wrestling with her own demons.

 

Beautiful setting of the Boundary Waters of Northern Minnesota, a strong female lead character, a thrilling escape, a captivating mysteray and a little romance…this book has everything.  This book also explores issues of mental health in our society and how one action can have a snowball effect and affect people for decades.  I also felt that the author made a statement about power and people who think differently or want different things than the norm.  I thought these issues were well thought out and presented and encouraged deeper thought for the reader.

4 star reviews, contemporary fiction, thriller, Women's Fiction

When the Lights Go Out by Mary Kubica

4/5 stars

I was very fortunate to get an eArc of this from Netgalley and Park Row Publishers.

I LOVE Mary Kubica’s books.  I have read them all and I loved them all.  Pretty Baby was her most unique book, different than anything I had read, but When the Lights Go Out might be a close second, if not the most unique book I have read of hers to date.

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Jessie Sloane’s mother is dying of cancer.  It was just her and her mom.  No dad, no real friends, no extended family.  So it all falls on twenty year old Jessie when her mom dies.  The stress of it all is too much for her.  She has no support and things begin to spiral out of control.

This book is a two-part narrative, with Jessie telling the contemporary story of her mother’s death, but there is another story at play: a woman’s journal entries from the late 1990s.  The journal entries tell a beautiful love story.

This is a book that can go in a lot of different directions.  There is a lot here to think about.

I enjoyed this novel immensely.  I would have liked it to have gone into more detail on certain things – but hopefully, it will give someone else the idea to flesh those parts of the story out more.  Without giving too much away, I would say that this is a story about life and family, love and struggle, what we do for love and how we identify ourselves through our relationships.

It is a very powerful novel and one that would be GREAT for book club discussions.

 

 

 

4 star reviews, Book reviews, contemporary fiction, Women's Fiction

The Perfect Couple by Elin Hildebrand

4/5 stars

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I don’t remember what year I discovered Elin Hildebrand, but I know the book was Barefoot and my girls were still in school, we still had a Swim Club membership and I sat beside the pool that summer and read every single one of the books she had published up until that point, while my girls splashed and played with their friends.  Since then, I have looked forward to her summer book.

I saved this one until we were in LBI for a few days.  I wanted to read it on the beach.  Which I did.  And I enjoyed every single second of it.

Celeste is from a lower middle class hard working, close-knit, very moral family and Benji is from a very privileged upper class family that originally came from England, but now lives in the US.  Her mom works at the Crayola Factory in Easton, PA and his mom is a well-loved novelist.  Her dad sells men’s clothing at Neiman Marcus and his dad is some sort of hedge fund manager or something financial like that.  But Celeste and Benji meet and date and decide to get married.

On the morning of their wedding, her maid of honor is found floating in the marina outside Benji’s family’s Nantucket compound.  An investigation ensues to determine if this was foul play or an accident or even suicide.

The mystery is playful.  It didn’t feel dark or sinister, yet it was very intriguing.  I kept thinking that I had figured it out, and then was wrong.  Over and over.  Which was fun and kept me reading.

There are two beautiful love stories.  I loved Shooter’s storyline and Karen’s storyline.  I think Karen and Bruce (aka Betty and Mac) ARE the Perfect Couple.

The author encouraged the reader to contemplate how class and privilege weigh in to people’s decision making.  Were the Winburys more morally corrupt because they had been given everything and just thought they could/should have whatever they wanted?  Did the Winburys make poor choices because their choices never involved survival, homes, cars, foods would never be an issue for them.  Did Mac and Betty make better choices because they had to work hard for everything they had and the threat of it being taken away was always there?  Did Mac and Betty have higher morals because they couldn’t afford not to?

I thought the author did a great job with keeping a murder mystery not too heavy or dark (who wants heavy and dark on the beach?), but still raising questions about class and privilege and still telling a fabulous story!

I would like to thank Netgalley and Little Brown for my copy.

4 star reviews, Book reviews, contemporary fiction, romance, Women's Fiction

All Your Perfects by Colleen Hoover

4/5 stars

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My Review:

Beautiful book, well-paced, inside view into someone else’s relationship and marriage.

This book goes between 7 years ago and present.  Seven years ago, Graham and Quinn met, started dating, fell in love and got married.  Present day is seven years later and they are having fertility issues that is driving them apart.  I love books that give you an inside look into someone else’s relationship or marriage because I do think we all have a story to tell and I also think it’s interesting to see what makes other people’s marriages tick.  I felt myself getting caught up in their relationship and hoping they would work things out.  I actually got tears in my eyes when they wrote letters to each other…I don’t want to say anymore because I don’t want to give too much away!

I recommend this book to fans of romance, women’s fiction and domestic dramas.  If someone is struggling with fertility issues, I think this book may be a good fit to see how another couple deals with things.

From the Publisher:

Quinn and Graham’s perfect love is threatened by their imperfect marriage. The memories, mistakes, and secrets that they have built up over the years are now tearing them apart. The one thing that could save them might also be the very thing that pushes their marriage beyond the point of repair.

All Your Perfects is a profound novel about a damaged couple whose potential future hinges on promises made in the past. This is a heartbreaking page-turner that asks: Can a resounding love with a perfect beginning survive a lifetime between two imperfect people?

 

 

4 star reviews, Book reviews, contemporary fiction, thriller

Believe Me by JP Delaney

4/5 stars

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Happy Pub Day!!

My Review:

Riveting, Intense, Edge of Your Seat Read

This book was twisted and creepy and had me staying up really late several nights because quite frankly, I was too caught up in the book to realize the time and I may or may not have been too scared to sleep.  Even when I turned off the light and all the next day, I found myself thinking about the book and counting down the minutes until I could read it again and find out what the heck happened!

I thought the eye on the cover looked like Nicole Kidman’s eye, so I kept picturing her as Claire.  I think she would make a good Claire.

I would like to thank Netgalley and Random House-Ballantine for my copy in exchange for my honest review.

From Publisher:

 

 

4 star reviews, activism, Book reviews, contemporary fiction, Women's Fiction, YA

The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir

4/5 stars

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From the Publisher:

A debut novel of family, fame, and religion that tells the emotionally stirring, wildly captivating story of the seventeen-year-old daughter of an evangelical preacher, star of the family’s hit reality show, and the secret pregnancy that threatens to blow their entire world apart.

Esther Ann Hicks–Essie–is the youngest child on Six for Hicks, a reality television phenomenon. She’s grown up in the spotlight, both idolized and despised for her family’s fire-and-brimstone brand of faith. When Essie’s mother, Celia, discovers that Essie is pregnant, she arranges an emergency meeting with the show’s producers: Do they sneak Essie out of the country for an abortion? Do they pass the child off as Celia’s? Or do they try to arrange a marriage–and a ratings-blockbuster wedding? Meanwhile, Essie is quietly pairing herself up with Roarke Richards, a senior at her school with a secret of his own to protect. As the newly formed couple attempt to sell their fabricated love story to the media–through exclusive interviews with an infamously conservative reporter named Liberty Bell–Essie finds she has questions of her own: What was the real reason for her older sister leaving home? Who can she trust with the truth about her family? And how much is she willing to sacrifice to win her own freedom?

My Review:

Essie and her siblings have been raised in the public eye on their parents’ reality television show.  Their dad is a famous televangelist and their mother is a very calculating, cunning woman who is raising her family as a “brand”.  Nothing imperfect allowed.  But Essie has a plan…will she be able to pull it off?

I absolutely loved this book.  The storyline was unique and made a strong statement about the hypocrisy of religious extremists and how [white] men and boys are viewed by our society and especially by our judicial system.  I loved so many of the characters and my heart broke for Essie.  I also despised some characters, Celia is a character you love to hate and want to see her get what is coming to her.

I am currently OBSESSED with the Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu.  There were some themes in this novel that reminded me of The Handmaid’s Tale, in terms of a very conservative religious organization.  Toward the end of the novel, Meghan MacLean Weir quotes lines for Margaret Atwood’s Variation on the Word Sleep, which is one of my favorite poems and a beautiful poem about true love.  It was so perfect to quote Margaret Atwood that I got chills and tears in my eyes.  I think Meghan MacLean Weir did a wonderful job with this topic in this novel. 

I recommend this novel to anyone who likes Handmaid’s Tale or to anyone who is interested in really looking at some of the issues with religious extremism in America.  This book explores two different types of religious extremism: a cult that follows a man who predicts that the Messiah will rise again in a cave and an evangelical minister and his family who have their own reality TV series and espouse racism and homophobia, among other things.

 

4 star reviews, Book reviews, contemporary fiction, thriller, Women's Fiction

Three Days Missing by Kimberly Belle

4/5 stars

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From the Publisher:

When a child goes missing, two mothers’ lives collide in a shocking way in this suspenseful novel from the bestselling author of The Marriage Lie.

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare: the call that comes in the middle of the night. When Kat Jenkins awakens to the police on her doorstep, her greatest fear is realized. Her nine-year-old son, Ethan, is missing—vanished from the cabin where he’d been on an overnight class trip. Shocked and distraught, Kat rushes to the campground, but she’s too late; the authorities have returned from their search empty-handed after losing Ethan’s trail in the mountain forest.

Another mother from the school, Stef Huntington, seems like she has it all: money, prominence in the community, a popular son and a loving husband. She hardly knows Kat, except for the vicious gossip that swirls around Kat’s traumatic past. But as the police investigation unfolds, Ethan’s disappearance has earth-shattering consequences for Stef, as her path crosses with Kat. As the two mothers race against the clock, their desperate search for answers reveals how the greatest dangers lie behind the everyday smiles of those they trust the most.

My Review:

Three Days Missing is about a young boy, Ethan, who goes missing on a class trip.  The story is told from the point of view of his mother, Kat, a single mom, struggling to make ends meet after she left her abusive husband and from the point of view of Stefanie, wife of the mayor of Atlanta (the city where they live).  A lot comes out about Kat and Stefanie’s personal lives.  I will be honest, I did not care for Stefanie and I wanted to discipline her uber privileged, entitled, spoiled son, Sammy.  I did not mind her husband, Sam; I actually thought he was doing a good job and was sincere.  I did, however, really like Kat and found her a very sympathetic character.  I wanted to see a romantic relationship between her and Mac, the policeman who comes to her home in the middle of the night to tell her that her son is missing and stays with her for the rest of the novel; although of course, I realize it was only three days and would have been inappropriate for her to get romantically entangled while her son was missing.  I would LOVE to see another novel with these two characters as well as with Lucas, Kat’s friend and mentor, who is an older brother figure to her, an ex-marine, very tough and rugged and sexy as hell.

While I did figure out who did it about halfway through, I still gave this 4 stars because it addressed the issue of bullying in a very honest and straightforward way.  It shows how some kids are privileged and how their parents are complicit and easily perpetuate the bullying cycle.  It also shows the heartbreak of the parent whose child is being bullied and how that feels, how the memory of holding that perfect infant is what all parents always go back to with their children.  I loved how the final chapter is the only one told from Ethan’s perspective and it dove deep into the bullying.  I also like how Kat developed a backbone in the story and how much better she felt when she finally realized what was bothering her.

I would like to thank Netgalley and Park Row publishing for my copy in exchange for my honest review.

 

4 star reviews, Book reviews, contemporary fiction, Women's Fiction

Tell Me Lies: A Novel by Carola Lovering

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From the Publisher:

Everyone remembers the one. No, not that one. The other one. The one you couldn’t let go of. The one you’ll never forget.

Lucy Albright is far from her Long Island upbringing when she arrives on the campus of her small California college, and happy to be hundreds of miles from her mother, whom she’s never forgiven for an act of betrayal in her early teen years. Quickly grasping at her fresh start, Lucy embraces college life and all it has to offer—new friends, wild parties, stimulating classes. And then she meets Stephen DeMarco. Charming. Attractive. Complicated. Devastating.

Confident and cocksure, Stephen sees something in Lucy that no one else has, and she’s quickly seduced by this vision of herself, and the sense of possibility that his attention brings her. Meanwhile, Stephen is determined to forget an incident buried in his past that, if exposed, could ruin him, and his single-minded drive for success extends to winning, and keeping, Lucy’s heart.

Lucy knows there’s something about Stephen that isn’t to be trusted. Stephen knows Lucy can’t tear herself away. And their addicting entanglement will have consequences they never could have imagined.

Alternating between Lucy’s and Stephen’s voices, Tell Me Lies follows their connection through college and post-college life in New York City. With psychological insight and biting wit, this keenly intelligent and staggeringly resonant novel chronicles the yearning ambitions, desires, and dilemmas of young adulthood, and the difficulty of letting go, even when you know you should.

My Review:

4/5 stars

There is not much of a plot in this novel, but there is a character arc.  Lucy’s character does grow at the end of the novel.  So what made this novel so good?  The fact that it gave you the opportunity to really look at someone else’s relationship.  You got a more intimate view of someone else’s relationship than you would if it were just a friend telling you about their relationship.  You knew when they had sex and what it was like and what they each felt when they saw each other and how much time they each spent thinking about each other.

I think it is true that we all have that one that got away or the first person who made us feel certain things, but I didn’t really think that was what this was about.  This novel was more about a guy, Stephen, who is extremely narcisstic and psychopathological and a girl who becomes obsessed with him.  Stephen is a typical charming, cunning, calculated psychopath.  He researches her and observes her and realizes what it will take to make her feel certain things.  Stephen doles out his love for her in small doses, just enough to make her want him, but then withholds anything real, making her always chase that elusive intimacy.

I found it interesting that Stephen’s mother was bipolar.  He had a terrible view of her and I think, of all women.  He saw his father’s love of his mother as weak and he would never want to be that way, which attributed to his psychopathic-tendencies.

Lucy, on the other hand, had an experience with her mother when she was in 8th grade that she calls The Unforgivable Thing and so she doesn’t trust her mother and she doesn’t go to her mother for advice, even though she laments that her mother would know what to do.

I spent a fair amount of time psychoanalyzing these characters, even though I am not a therapist.  I think his absent mother and her distrust and distance of her mother contributed greatly to their both becoming obsessed with each other for so many years (it starts in college and end several years later when they are both done with college and at a friend’s wedding).

I have known a Stephen, although not in any romantic way at all whatsoever, but I have seen how he treats people and I have listened to several of his ex-girlfriends talk about how he was a serial cheater, how he was charming, how he kept getting them back, etc.  This guy’s mom passed away from cancer right after he graduated from college and from what I know, his relationships  in college and before were a lot more healthy.  I found myself drawing A LOT of parallels, like Stephen could have been based on the guy that I know.

I would like to thank Netgalley for my copy.

4 star reviews, Book reviews, contemporary fiction, thriller

Somebody’s Daughter by David Bell

4/5 stars

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My Review:

Easy to read, intense, twists I never saw coming

Michael and Angela are having fertility issues, but they have a good marriage, a happy life.  Until one day, Michael’s ex-wife, Erica, shows up and says that her 9 year old daughter, Felicity, is Michael’s daughter that resembles his dead sister and that Felicity is missing.  This books takes place over the course of just one crazy, life-changing night.

The characters were very well drawn, the plot moved quickly and there were twists I never saw coming.  This was a captivating, unpredictable, fast-paced psychological thriller.

I would like to thank Netgalley and Berkley Publishing Group for my copy in exchange for my honest review.

From the Publisher: