Tuesday, June 26, 2018

She Loves You (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah) - Book Review

I didn't know what I was in the mood for, so last night I sat down with a stack of books and the intent to read a few pages of each. I started with She Loves You (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah) by Ann Hood. Before I knew it, I was over halfway finished with this lovely and endearing novel. It's intended audience is middle grade children but this Beatles fan was immediately enraptured.

Trudy Mixer is the president of the Robert E. Quinn Junior High Fan Club. Until recently it has been the most popular club at the school with 24 members but suddenly the students and Trudy's best friend Michelle are flocking towards Future Cheerleader Club. Now there are only four members of the club, including Trudy. The other three members are the nerdiest, weirdest kids and Trudy is determined to win back her popularity and her best friend. When she hears that the Beatles are coming to Boston in concert, she cooks up a plan to meet Paul McCartney.

She Loves You place in 1966 when the world was changing. Stuck in the middle of the upheaval of the Vietnam War, the Hippie movement and Beatlemania, spunky sixth grader Trudy Mixer is dealing with the trauma of junior high. She's an adorable character with about as much charm as most sixth graders. She's been dumped by her best friend who has moved on to newer, cooler friends and more exciting pursuits than writing fan mail to John Lennon. Trudy's love for the Beatles is pure and will be recognized by any who has been a true fan of anything. You're going to cheer for her and her little group of fans.

Ann Hood is an excellent writer who strikes just the right note in her newest book for younger audiences. I was fully transported to the 60s even as I recalled my own middle school years in the 1980s. Middle school is middle school is middle school. That is one universal truth. I'm excited to share She Loves You with my middle school aged children when they finally wake up from their summer sleep ins.

She Loves You (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah) by Ann Hood is published by Penguin Workshop and releases June 26, 2018.

Friday, June 22, 2018

We Begin Our Ascent - Book Review

Solomon has been focused and dedicated on achieving his goal as a professional cyclist. Now, he's part of the team that will help star Fabrice win the Tour de France. The only thing that has ever distracted Sol from his success on his bike, is his wife Liz and their new baby son. But Liz and Sol are supportive of each other's careers. Liz will do anything to help Sol get ahead, even help transport illegal performance enhancing drugs. Soon, the young couple is in way over their heads.

Several years ago, I read and loved Gold by Chris Cleave. His novel focused on dedicated and competitive athletes hoping to win Olympic gold in track cycling. I was suddenly intrigued by the sport that I previously knew very little about. Cleave successfully told a brilliant and thoughtful story with the sport as the backdrop. I was hoping for something similar with We Begin Our Ascent by Joe Mungo Reed.

Once I started Reed's debut novel, I was on the fast speed bike descending down a steep hill and holding on tight. You can't brake on the descent and so I couldn't stop. I read the novel yesterday and didn't sleep until I had finished the last page. Reed tells a moving and exciting story of passion, competition and a willingness to do almost anything to win. Woven throughout the exciting bike race, Sol muses on his relationships with his wife Liz and his new baby son.  The writing is beautiful and compelling and I am a going to shout this book's praises to anyone who will listen.

We Begin Our Ascent by Joe Mungo Reed is a fabulous summer read. I was thrilled by the details of the races and all that goes in to winning. I will definitely be watching the Tour de France this summer with a lot more understanding and interest.

We Begin Our Ascent by Joe Mungo Reed is published by Simon and Schuster and released on June 19, 2018.

Friday, May 25, 2018

May Reading - Mini Book Reviews

Technically, May isn't over but today is the last day of school so I already know my time to read will be limited for the next few months. Here are some mini reviews of the books I've read or listened to this month. Thanks to Blue Rider Press, Putnam and Penguin for the review books.

Dead Pretty by David Mark is a police procedural following Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy. He's determined to find out what happened to Hannah Kelly. The missing girl has gotten into his mind and he can't rest until she is found. In the meantime, McAvoy's boss Trish Pharaoh is getting too close to Reuben Hollow who has been released from prison after testimony against him is found to be tainted. Pharaoh's reputation is at risk.

Dead Pretty is part of a series following McAvoy and though it reads fine on its own, I'm sure people invested in the series will like it better than I did. I think I'm just really tired of police procedural detective stories right now. I'm not sure why I decided to read so many this spring but it might be awhile before I pick another one up.

The mystery moves along at a fairly steady pace and there are moments of real terror. I never got invested in it and finished only because I wanted to see if I had accurately solved the mystery, which I had. Fans of the series will probably continue to enjoy this next installment.

Dead Pretty by David Mark is published by Blue Rider Press and released May 8, 2018.

**I received a complimentary copy of the novel. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Tin Man by Sarah Winman is the beautiful and haunting story of a deep friendship between Ellis and Michael. Meeting as children during a turbulent time in both of their lives, they forged a bond that was profound but not immune to the hazards of life.

I picked up Tin Man late at night with the intention to read for a few minutes before my eyes insisted on finding sleep. However, I was literally compelled to continue turning the pages. The emotion and lovely writing was intoxicating and I too fell in love with Ellis and Michael and Annie. It's a short novel but packed with so much tender and sensitive emotion.

Tin Man is an empathetic novel filled with love and grief and hope. The language is lyrical and captivating. I loved it.

Tin Man by Sarah Winman is published by Putnam and released on May 15, 2018.

**I received a complimentary copy of Tin Man. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed is about a young Pakistani girl who dreams of going to college and becoming a teacher. However, an incident at the market with a powerful man puts her family at risk and she must become a servant on his estate to pay the debt. Living and working in his house, Amal becomes aware that the village rumors about the Khan family being dangerous and vicious are more than true. She will have take action to protect her own future.

Written for a young middle grade audience, Amal Unbound is a moving story about a young girl's plight and her desire to continue her education. It is a quick read and Amal faces a variety of trials to overcome from her mother's depression after the birth of another baby to a jealous fellow servant who is constantly trying to get Amal in trouble.

Amal is an admirable character of bravery and hope. It's a valuable story for all young people to recognize the plight of other children around the world. I read it quickly and will hand it off to my children.

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed is published by Nancy Paulsen Books and released on May 8, 2018. 

**I received a complimentary copy of the book. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

I also listened to Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell and Beartown by Fredrick Backman on audio this month. Enjoyed them all. I haven't read Gone With the Wind since I was a young teenager and it is definitely a different experience as an adult. Beartown was gripping and important. Station Eleven was fascinating and completely different than what I expected. I couldn't help comparing it to Stephen King's The Stand.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Love and Ruin - Book Review

Martha Gellhorn is young, ambitious and already a writer when she has a chance encounter with Ernest Hemingway in a bar near the home he shared with his wife and sons in Key West, Florida. That initial meeting would begin as a mentor that could help Martha pursue her career goals and soon became a passionate and dangerous love affair with the famous writer. Paula McLain, who wrote about Hemingway's first wife in her novel The Paris Wife, revisits that iconic legend in her newest novel Love and Ruin.

I first fell in love with Ernest Hemingway when I was a sophomore in high school and read A Farewell to Arms. It's one of the few books that I regularly reread. Later I would read more of Hemingway's works and would count For Whom the Bell Tolls as my favorite.  The first thing that intrigued me about Love and Ruin and it's focus on Martha Gellhorn, Hemingway's third wife is that they spent their early romance in the midst of the Spanish Civil War which is the setting For Whom the Bell Tolls. Love and Ruin by Paula McLain tells their love story from Martha's perspective. A successful writer and an award winning journalist covering many of the wars from the twentieth century, Martha is a fascinating character.

Love and Ruin is intriguing and so well written that I was captured up in the tales of Martha's aspirations and energy. She is an amazing woman and frankly deserves to be known for her own achievements and not only as the wife of Ernest Hemingway. McLain gives her voice and power to tell her own story. The novel is romantic and dangerous and passionate as Gellhorn and Hemingway have their adventures around the globe.

I very much enjoyed learning more of Martha Gellhorn in Love and Ruin. Martha and Hemingway's tempestuous and ardent love story makes an exciting and raw novel and McLain does Martha justice.

Love and Ruin by Paula McLain is published by Ballantine Books and released May 1, 2018.

**I received a complimentary copy. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Two Thrillers - Book Reviews

*Thanks to Berkley and Dutton publishers for providing two thrillers this week.

Gemma owns a real estate business and is a wife and mother. It's taken years of hard work to build her life and she's very happy. After a weekend away at a business conference, Gemma is receiving disturbing messages--pictures and videos that could destroy her family. She remembers drinking more than usual at dinner and visiting with a client but beyond that her memory is hazy or completely gone. On her own, Gemma must fight for her everything she loves.

The Girl I Used to Be by Mary Torjussen started building the suspense right away but it never really ramped up to an intense level that left me breathless. The plot is revealed too early and I had a hard time pushing myself to finish. I didn't particularly care for the characters. The ending is exciting but overall this wasn't as gripping and frantic as I like my psychological thrillers.

The Girl I Used to Be by Mary Torjussen is published by Berkley and released April 24, 2018.

Detective Chief Superintendent Frankie Sheehan has just gotten back on duty after a frightening brush with a killer, when she is assigned to a suicide. The woman has hanged herself but something doesn't feel right and evidence from the autopsy, shows that Eleanor Costello has been murdered. The most like suspect, Eleanor's husband is missing. Then a girl from Frankie's hometown is murdered and there are connections to the Costello case. Frankie is willing to take all the risks to solve this case before someone else is killed.

Too Close to Breathe by Olivia Kiernan kept me up late into the night reading each frantic page as Frankie Sheehan chased down the killer. Every now and then I love a thrilling police procedural and Too Close to Breathe delivered the intensity I desired. There are plenty of twists and turns as the police uncover evidence that leads them closer to the killer and his disturbed group on the Dark Web. Not only is this fast paced and riveting, but the characters are well crafted. Frankie is smart and determined but also vulnerable and troubled. This is Kiernan's first novel and I hope it won't be her last.

Too Close to Breathe by Olivia Kiernan is published by Dutton and released on April 3, 2018.

**I received complimentary copies of the books. The reviews reflect my honest opinions. No compensation was received.*

Monday, April 16, 2018

Go Ask Fannie - Book Review

Thanks for the free book, Putnam!

The Blairs should be renamed the Bickersons. Even after they've grown up and moved away from each other, Ruth, George and Lizzie cannot stop fighting with each other. Their father, Murray, has requested that they all spend a weekend together at his New Hampshire farm and they're already at each other's throats. It's going to be a long weekend. Murray wants his older to kids to help dissuade Lizzie from dating her much older and married boyfriend. Ruth wants to convince her father to moving into a rest home. They all have a different agenda but they are united in their anger when Lizzie's boorish boyfriend ruins their mother's cookbook--the cookbook with all her written notes. It is their prized possession.

This family of four used to be a family of six. The death of their mother and brother Daniel years earlier rocked this family's core. The pain and heartbreak of that loss still lingers and effects each one of the Blairs. Perhaps this weekend, the kids can finally come to know their mother's story.

Go Ask Fannie by Elisabeth Hyde is an inviting and engaging family drama. I love the cover. After a few dark reads, this cover called to me. I loved the setting of New Hampshire since it brought back memories of our time living in the Granite State. The characters are strong and flawed and changed from the trauma of their mother's death. Even now, they are influenced by the loss of their mother in the individual choices that they make. The siblings' constant picking at each other did become tiresome. Ultimately, I found the sections focused on Lillian, the mother, the strongest and most captivating.

Hyde is a strong writer with an easy style that flows. She's serious. She's light and humorous. She captures the mundane and the delightful aspects of a family that is real and absolutely believable. It's easy to just keep turning the pages.

Go Ask Fannie by Elisabeth Hyde is published by Putnam and released on April 10, 2018.

**I received a complimentary copy of the book. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Friday, April 13, 2018

Books, Books and More Great Books

I listened to two audio books in the last week and a half. Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan and The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck were both excellent books and I talked about them constantly with my family. I would highly recommend both books.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan is based on the true story of Pino Lella. A bright teenager in Italy who loves to ski and hang out with his friends, he wants nothing to do with the Nazi who occupy his country. He's a trustworthy kid and soon he's enlisted to help the resistance. He will give up nearly all that he loves to fight against the Nazis. It's a moving and powerful book. There are a few issues with the writing style in the beginning but the books improves as it goes a long and it is definitely a valuable story from the Italian front of World War II.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan was published by Lake Union in May 2017.

I knew absolutely nothing about The Women in the Castle before I started listening to it. I honestly thought it was a ghost story or a thriller. I was pleased to discover that it is historical fiction regarding three widows who live together in a Bavarian castle following World War II. Marianne von Lingenfels is the wife of a resister. Her husband and her closest friend were executed for their roles in an assassination attempt on Hitler. After the war, Marianne sets to find a rescue her friend's wife and son and the wives of the other men involved in the failed plot. Marianne, Benita and Ania and their children make their home in Marianne's castle while Germany tries to recover from the war.

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck is so emotional and so amazing. As it discusses morality, guilt, love and redemption, it is a powerful novel that I will not soon forget. The audio version was fabulous. Cassandra Campbell delivered a wonderful performance that gave the book the right atmosphere.

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck was published by William Morrow in January 2018.

Why Kill the Innocent by C.S. Harris is the newest mystery in the Sebastian St. Cyr series. I jumped into this without reading any of the previous novels. It was fine as a stand-alone. There's a lot of intrigue and twists in the story. Any number of individuals may have killed Jane Ambrose, the musician and piano teacher to the young Princess Charlotte. My favorite part was learning more of the history of Princess Charlotte and her intense parents--the Prince Regent and his despised wife Princess Caroline.

It's always a chance to read a book late in a series and not surprisingly I missed out on much of the characterization of the St. Cyr and his wife Hero that surely has happened in previous books. However, the mystery was fun and well plotted and learning more of the history was worth it.

Why Kill the Innocent by C.S. Harris is published by Berkley Publishing and released on April 3, 2018.

**I received a complimentary copy of the book. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Yesterday, I drove up to the Salt Lake Public Library for the semi annual used book sale. It's like Christmas for me. I went with a list of books that I wanted to buy (mostly books I listened to on audio or read on my kindle and loved enough to buy hard copies) and I only found one book from my list. However, I found lots of other books to enjoy. Now that I'm looking closely at the stack, I may actually own at least one of these books already. The book sale continues through this weekend.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Peculiar Savage Beauty - GIVEAWAY!

Peculiar Savage Beauty is the story of a headstrong and fiercely independent young woman who charges into the heart of the wind- and drought-ravaged Great Plains in the 1930s, intent on battling the dust and healing the land. As a geologist working for the U.S. government, Rosa Jean “RJ” Evans must find her place in a small farming town that welcomes neither a woman in authority nor changes to their way of life. Inspired by actual historical events during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl environmental disaster, Peculiar Savage Beauty is a parable about man’s quest to dominate the land and nature’s refusal to be conquered, about unlikely alliances and unexpected love. The novel will be available in hardback and e-book on April 17, 2018 wherever books are sold.  

Jessica McCann worked for more than 25 years as a professional freelance journalist and corporate writer. Her articles have appeared in Business WeekThe WriterRaising Arizona KidsPhoenix and dozens of other magazines. McCann’s debut novel, All Different Kinds of Free, won the Freedom in Fiction Prize and was published by Bell Bridge Books. Her second novel, Peculiar Savage Beauty, will be available in hardcopy and ebook April 17, 2018. She lives with her family in Phoenix, Arizona.

I am hosting a give away of a copy of Peculiar Savage Beauty by Jessica McCann on my Instagram account. Be sure to enter there to win a copy of this exciting historical fiction novel set during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. The book releases on April 17, 2018 and is published by Perspective Books.

Connect with Jessica online at:

Monday, April 2, 2018

Girls Burn Brighter - Book Review

Poornima's father hires Savitha to weave cloth to make saris and the two girls become dear friends. Even though they brighten each other's dark days, life is not easy for the girls. They are poor and they are girls in a society that does not value them as individuals. Poornima has long grown up knowing that her father wished she had been a boy or that she had drowned as a child. Circumstances beyond their control have separated and broken the girls but Poornima is determined to find her friend.

It took me weeks to read Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao. I found myself reading a few chapters at a time and then setting it aside to read something else. I finally finished it and have been contemplating how I feel about it ever since. I've read many books that take place in India. I've read many books about girls in unfortunate situations in other countries and even in the US. I've read many books about the horrific sex trade. They are hard books to read and similarly, Girls Burn Brighter was a difficult read. We read these kinds of books to be enlightened. Hopefully, this enlightenment inspires us to fight for changes, to understand others and at the very least be aware of our own privilege. But at the heart of every novel, we want and crave a glimmer of hope for these girls. As readers we need to feel like their lives can somehow improve and that there is a way out of the suffering and pain.

The characters in Girls Burn Brighter are sympathetic and easy to care about. They are fighters. In spite of being in situations with little choice and freedom, Poornima and Savitha have a fire to find something better. Poornima's greatest desire is to find Savitha. She will travel to America to find her.  Unfortunately, Poornima was not in a position to actually free either of them if they found each other. She didn't have a plan beyond reuniting with her friend and in not truly considering whether this was a good idea, may have actually enslaved Savitha longer. I needed more than just their reunion. I really wanted them to succeed and escape from their captive lives. This hope kept me reading. The ending was so disappointing. Happy or sad, I'm almost always satisfied with the ending if it matches the theme and plot. But, I read the last eighteen pages of the book three times to see if I was missing any clues. It was vague. It was incomplete. It left me feeling frustrated and overly dissatisfied with the novel. Perhaps that was the point.

I definitely won't soon forget Girls Burn Brighter.

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao is published by Flatiron Books and was released on March 6, 2018.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Broken Girls - Book Review

Thank you to Berkley for providing a free copy of The Broken Girls.

Twenty years ago, Fiona's sister was found dead on the grounds of the abandoned girls school and Fiona has never been sure that the right person went to jail for the murder. Now, journalist Fiona is writing about the restoration of Idlewild Hall and she's on site when the body of another girl is found in the well. Fiona's story is now about much more than the restoration of a few old spooky buildings as she searches for the girl's identity, history and killer. Perhaps as she investigates, she will also find what really happened to her sister.

In 1950, four misfit girls at Idlewild Hall were put together as roommates. They've heard the rumors that the school is haunted but become more convinced as they each have experiences to confirm the presence of a ghost. They resolve to protect one another until the day one of the girls disappears.

It was fun to read another ghost story so soon. I read The Broken Girls by Simone St. James late a night after the house was quiet and the kids had gone to bed. The blend of an eerie ghost story with a contemporary crime drama was one that really did appeal at the end of the day and I felt like it worked well in this novel. St. James pulls the reader right in with freaky prologue. The setting of Idlewild Hall draws on the very unsettling nature of boarding schools and their long established function in literature as a scary place. Make that boarding school abandoned, and it's that much more spooky. St. James uses the setting and the haunting to keep her characters and the reader off balance and it works well.

The Broken Girls goes back and forth between Fiona's investigation and the girls at Idlewild. It does so seamlessly and keeps the plot lines going at a steady and dramatic pace. There is a constant threat of looming danger and it is successful for a thriller. I really enjoyed The Broken Girls. It's a quick read that I didn't want to put down once I started.

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James is published by Berkley and released on March 20, 2018.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Let Me Lie - Book Review

Though he had shown no signs of depression, Clare's father jumped to his death at Beachy Head. Seven months later, overwhelmed with grief, Clare's mother copied his suicide to a T and jumped from the same point. Now, a year later Clare is struggling to understand how her parents would choose to leave her in such a traumatic way. It doesn't feel right so when a Happy Anniversary card arrives through the mail slot on the first anniversary of her mother's death with only the cryptic message "Suicide? Think Again." Clare becomes convinced that her parents were murdered. She takes the card to the police where she meets Murray, a retired detective who works the desk as a civilian now. Murray is sure the detectives won't give the card much consideration but is moved with compassion toward Clare and decides to look into the case of the double suicides himself.

It becomes clear that someone doesn't want Clare looking into the suicides. It's too dangerous. Though she loved them dearly, Clare had no idea the secrets her parents were keeping.

Let Me Lie by Clare Mackintosh is a thriller that kept me up late at night. It's one of those books where I would tell Rand "just let me finish this chapter" but then I couldn't help but start the next one and soon he was snoring. Mackintosh keeps the action flowing while creating intriguing characters. She's skilled at throwing suspicion on everyone and throwing plot twists just at the moment I thought I'd figured it out. It's ominous and scary without being gruesome or horrific.

Mackintosh combines her experience on the police force with her skills as a storyteller to create a gripping thriller that is actually plausible. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Let Me Lie by Clare Mackintosh is published by Berkley Books and released March 13, 2018.

**I received a complimentary copy. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Silent Companions - Book Review

Elsie's new husband went ahead to prepare his neglected family estate for her arrival. He wanted it to be perfect for her and their expected baby. But Rupert died suddenly and now Elsie and Rupert's cousin Sarah must travel to the estate for the funeral instead of the grand welcome. The house is crumbling and there are disturbing noises coming from the locked garret. When they finally get into the garret to try to clean out the rodents surely making a nest, Elsie and Sarah discover a painted wooden figure, so life-like it gave them a fright. Sarah also finds a diary that belonged to an ancestor. Sure, that the wooden figure is also representing an ancestor, Sarah insists on moving it out of the garret.

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell is reminiscent of the ghostly gothic novels that I adore. There's just nothing more creepy than a dilapidated and isolated estate with an unfriendly staff and a nervous community that whispers the rumors of hauntings and death. Purcell works in all the elements in this homage to the period. While it's not flawless in delivery, I found it to be spooky fun. It maybe crosses the line into just plain creepy by the end but I couldn't stop reading late into the night.

If you love a sinister, ghost story, The Silent Companions will hit the spot. Stoke up the fire, stay clear of the deer head mounted on the wall and curl up with this eerie novel.

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell is published by Penguin Books and released March 6, 2018.

**I received a complimentary copy of the book. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Winter Sisters - Book Review

Signs of spring are in the air and the people of Albany, New York are caught completely by surprise when a blizzard descends on the East Coast. Four feet of snow fell in Albany and nearly 400 people along the North East Coast were killed by the storm, including Bonnie and David O'Donnell. Three days later when the snow stopped falling, the teachers at the local school sent the hungry and nearly poisoned children home. Emma and Claire O'Donnell, ten and seven years old, struggle in the snow to find their way home and are lost.

Dr. Mary Sutter Stipps thinks of Bonnie O'Donnell as a sister and is devastated by her death. She and her family are determined to find the missing girls though she will have to wade through the ugly underbelly of her town. The perverse truth slowly unfolds through the pages of the compelling novel.

Winter Sisters by Robin Oliveira begins with the excitement and terror of the big storm. It gets bogged down for a bit as it reintroduces the reader to characters from Oliveira's novel My Name is Mary Sutter. It is, however, not necessary to read the earlier novel in order to enjoy Winter Sisters (I didn't read the first). Eventually, the novel settles into a steady pace as it focuses on the missing girls and the Stipps family's search to find them.

Winter Sisters is a thriller and a mystery but set in 1879, it takes a less frenetic pace than many contemporary thrillers. There is time to be more thoughtful and considerate; time to examine aspects of the culture that are still pervasive today. It took me a little while to really feel the novel and connect with the characters, but once I did, I was spellbound by the mystery and Mary's desire and mission to not only solve it but to save the girls--physically and mentally.

Winter Sisters by Robin Oliveira is published by Viking and released February 27, 2018.

**I received a complimentary copy of the book. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The French Girl - Book Review

Kate is working hard to land a big client that will give her new business the boost it needs to remain solvent and attract more business, when she gets a call from Tom that sends her back ten years. Ten years earlier, Kate and her friend Lara accompanied her boyfriend Seb and three of his friends on a lazy, idyllic vacation to a French Farmhouse.

"They found her. Her body." Tom says when he calls. Severine. The French girl who lived next door to the farmhouse. Who spent the week hanging out with them around the pool. Who disappeared at the end of the weekend. But she had been seen getting on the bus to Paris. The police had questioned the six vacationers back then. They knew nothing. Now, her bones have been found in the well at the farmhouse. Severine never left. And they are the suspects.

As the friends regroup and are being questioned, Kate doesn't know who to believe. Does she really know any of her friends from that summer? As suspicion mounts against her, it could destroy her business and her future.

The French Girl by Lexie Elliott is a fun, suspenseful psychological thriller. I was thoroughly engaged and intrigued by Kate's plight as her memories shift and her relationships with her friends are questioned. Are they telling her the truth? Do they have her best interests in mind or are they setting her up? Kate is a great character. She's sympathetic but also untrustworthy as her memories are fluid. It's basically the perfect combination for a psychological thriller. There are a few times when Kate seems to repeat herself unnecessarily but overall the pace is good for a thriller.

The French Girl is a debut novel from Lexie Elliott. This is a solid, good novel with plenty of twists to keep the reader as on edge as Kate. I look forward to more thrillers from Elliott.

The French Girl by Lexie Elliott is published by Berkley and released February 20, 2018.

**I received a complimentary copy of The French Girl from the publisher. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Winter Reading - Book Reviews

I'm a little late to the Louise Penny party. Still Life is the first time I've read one of the mysteries from the prolific and beloved writer. Chief Inspector Gamache and his team make their debut in Still Life when they are assigned to investigate the suspicious death of an older woman in a quiet hamlet of Three Pines. It at first appears to be a hunting accident, but Gamache isn't so sure and soon it becomes clear that Jane Neal has been murdered.

Though this isn't my regular fare, I enjoyed Still Life. It's a lot slower paced than most of the mysteries and psychological thrillers that I usually read when I want a mystery. However, it was thoughtful and overall I liked it. I even marked a few things to talk about at our next book club meeting.

Still Life by Louise Penny was published by Minotaur Books in 2008. 

I started reading A Kind of Freedom by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton months ago and only got a few chapters in before other reading projects jumped in front. I was anxious to reduce the stack of books on my nightstand before it toppled over, so I picked it back up last week. Once I resumed reading it, I couldn't put it down.

A Kind of Freedom is short for a novel focusing on three generations of the same family, but I found it emotionally moving and impressive. There's a quiet anger that simmers just below the surface but actually has significant impact. Telling the story of three generations of African Americans in New Orleans, A Kind of Freedom is beautiful and powerful and heartbreaking. I really liked this book and couldn't stop telling Rand about it. It's an important story that speaks to a devastating truth that must be realized and changed.

A Kind of Freedom by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton is published by Counterpoint and released in August 2017.

**I received a complimentary copy of this book. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

I had trouble with Good Neighbors by J.D. Serling right away. There was something distracting about the writing style. Perhaps it was all the exclamation points! I almost didn't finish reading it because I didn't like the characters or the writing. But it seemed an interesting premise so I persevered.

Nicole and her family moved to their house when their children were very small and quickly became friends with the other three families on the street who also had small children. They spend weekends together. Their children play to together. They have barbecues and holidays. They're supposed to be a close as family. But when Paige and Glenn adopt a little girl from Russia their friendships are tested. Paige withdraws and her interactions with the little girl are suspect. The neighbors don't know what to do. Can they sit by while their neighbor and friend appears to abuse a child?

I recently moved from a neighborhood where we became very close with our neighbors. Much of Good Neighbors rings true. When you live close together, it's easy to observe situations and jump to conclusions without knowing the whole truth. As the plot unfolds, it becomes clear that this situation is not very unlike a situation that happened in my own neighborhood. However, I hope we were better friends than the characters in this book.

Though haphazard and awkward, Good Neighbors addresses an important topic. The ending is too abrupt and it missed an opportunity to really educate. These neighbors meant well but they are really terrible friends.

Good Neighbors by J.D. Serling is published by Twelve and released on February 6, 2018.

**I received a complimentary copy of the novel. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

I listened to the audio version of Island of The Lost : Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World by Joan Druett. I love true adventure narratives and this one was absolutely riveting and amazing. I kept my family constantly updated as Captain Thomas Musgrave and the men on his crew struggled for survival after being shipwrecked on the desolate Aukland Island, south of New Zealand. Their story of bravery, ingenuity, and determination to survive was incredible. I recommended it to my brother and I'll recommend it to anyone else who likes a great man vs. nature story.

Island of the Lost : Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World by Joan Druett is published by Algonquin books and released in 2007.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Back Talk - Book Review

I often find myself watching people--in the doctor's office waiting room, at the grocery store, as I drive around town. Now and then, I can't help wondering about their lives and what brought them to that particular moment. In that kindly voyeuristic way, Back Talk by Danielle Lazarin is a collection of short stories that feature women and girls. Marriage, friendship, motherhood and other family relationships are explored in thoughtful and compelling prose.

I enjoyed reading Back Talk but as I go through the stories again to write my review, I find that I'm struggling to find the right words to explain how I feel about it. I mentioned it to a friend who suggested that the book might just be that--an enjoyable read and nothing more. But I don't think so. It's desperately trying to be more.

Most of the women in the stories feel like they are just barely hanging on. They date. They care for their children. They visit their parents. No one is angry or vindictive or mean. They're all just quietly resigned to lost friendships and marriages breaking up and not finding the right partner. And it's very sad and lonely. A quiet resignation. And while I didn't exactly find myself within any of the stories, I recognized the emotion.

Anyway, I think what I'm trying to say is that I did and do like Back Talk by Danielle Lazarin. It's a meaningful collection of stories that remind us that we're all struggling. We're all trying to find love and understanding and a place to fit in this world. Perhaps if we remember that, we can all be a little more kind and thoughtful to those around us.

Back Talk by Danielle Lazarin is published by Penguin and released February 6, 2018.

**I received a complimentary copy. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Still Me - Book Review

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes is an unforgettable book. Whether you agreed with Will's choice or not, it forced the reader to think about topics through the experiences of sympathetic and human faces that made the reader ache and cry and feel. It harnessed the power of fiction to start a conversation that is important and turned Louisa Clark from just an eccentric character in a novel into a beloved character that we couldn't forget.

I wasn't sure Louisa Clark needed sequels. Initially, I was okay with just assuming that Louise would pick herself up and move on. It's what I liked about her--she was vulnerable but strong. But I couldn't resist After You and it was a given that I'd read Still Me. I'm still not fully convinced that the sequels are necessary. They lack the overall intensity of emotion of Me Before You. Ultimately, that's a good thing for Louisa. What the sequels do well is show how an emotionally fragile and broken girl can continue to live her life. It might not be easy and life may throw more curve balls but she can take it. She can continue to grow stronger and maybe even love again.

Turns out, Still Me was exactly the kind of book I needed last week. I needed a feel-good, hopeful novel with a character as adorable as Louisa. She doesn't always know the right thing to say. She's often unsure of herself. But she's kind and honest and trustworthy and all the things I would want in a friend. And that's what Louisa feels like now--a friend. Reading Still Me allowed me to root for my friend and so I loved it.

You can enter to win a free copy of Still Me on my Instagram Account @UtahMomsLife

Still Me by Jojo Moyes is published by Pamela Dorman Books and released on January 30, 2018.

**I received a complimentary copy. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Everything is Beautiful Here - Book Review

Lucia is a young, brilliant woman. She learns languages quickly and loves traveling the world. People are drawn to her fun and vibrant personality and she's stunningly beautiful. She's in college the first time she hears the voices. After a manic episode, her sister Miranda swoops in to make sure Lucia is well cared for. Overprotective and vigilant, Miranda cannot keep Lucia from her beautiful life and Lucia continues to love and live. But the episodes that leave Lucia out of control and uncertain what is real are increasing in frequency and Miranda struggles to convince her sister to keep taking the pills.

Everything Here is Beautiful is the debut novel from Mira T. Lee and it is stunning in it's quiet and tender reflections on family and mental illness. Lucia and Miranda are lovingly and gently portrayed in this novel that shows the human side of a misunderstood illness, while being a compelling novel that moved me to tears and laughter.

Lucia is at once spontaneous and witty. Her heart is huge and she loves fiercely. She lives a large and colorful life. In contrast, Miranda is careful, loyal and devoted. Their story is important and heartbreaking. Mira T. Lee writes a masterpiece.

Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee is published by Pamela Dorman Books and released on January 16, 2018.

**I received a complimentary copy of Everything Here is Beautiful. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Treacherous Curse - Book Review

Deanna Raybourn introduced the world to Veronica Speedwell in A Curious Beginnings (read my review *here*). A scientist who travels around the world to study butterflies, Veronica finds herself mixed up in a mystery and with the brutish but daring Stoker. A Treacherous Curse is the third novel in the series and Veronica and Stoker are involved in yet another dangerous intrigue.

Stoker's ex-wife's husband has vanished along with a valuable diadem from the Egyptian archaeological dig where he was working as a photographer. Could it be just another example of the Egyptian curse that has plagued the entire dig? The archeologist's are determined to have the diadem returned before their exhibition and a nosy journalist is already implying that Stoker was involved in the disappearance of de Morgan. Veronica is determined to clear Stoker's name and solve the mystery.

I fell for the spunky and witty Veronica Speedwell in her first novel. I did buy the second copy but I didn't get the chance to read it before the third novel arrived. I think it is important to read the first one to get to know the characters before reading A Treacherous Curse but I didn't find it necessary to have read A Perilous Undertaking (I do plan to read it soon). Veronica and her partner Stoker are definitely the best part of these mysteries. Raybourn creates characters that are delightful and fun. The chemistry between the two is palpable yet leaves the reader hungry for more.

The plot moves along at a steady pace though there are extensive interviews with people who were actually at the dig in Egypt. But Veronica and Stoker have several near scrapes as they discover that their own lives are in danger. The mystery keeps the reader guessing while extorting the occasional chuckle from Veronica's jocular observations and responses.

A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn is a wonderful addition to the Veronica Speedwell mysteries. I'm definitely a fan.

A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn is published by Berkley and released on January 16, 2018. 

**I received a complimentary copy of the book. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**