Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir

Book: The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir
Author: Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

A young law student, an unspeakable crime, and a past that refuses to stay buried.

Before Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich begins a summer job at a law firm in Louisiana, working on the retrial defense of death-row convicted murderer and child molester Ricky Langley, she thinks her position is clear. The child of two lawyers, she is staunchly anti-death penalty. But the moment Ricky’s face flashes on the screen as she reviews old tapes, the moment she hears him speak of his crimes, she is overcome with the feeling of wanting him to die. Shocked by her reaction, she digs deeper and deeper into the case, realizing that despite their vastly different circumstances, something in his story is unsettlingly, uncannily familiar.

Crime, even the darkest and must unsayable acts, can happen to any one of us. As Alexandria pours over the facts of the murder, she finds herself thrust into the complicated narrative of Ricky’s childhood. And by examining the details of Ricky’s case, she is forced to face her own story, to unearth long-buried family secrets, to reckon with how her own past colors her view of Ricky's crime.

But Alexandria is not alone in interpreting the crime through her own life. The judge, the jury foreman, even the victim’s mother and the defense attorney—all see what happened through their own lens of experience. The trial that took place was about Ricky’s past, but also the pasts of everyone touched by the murder. In Alexandria’s hands, THE FACT OF A BODY becomes a book not only about how the story of one crime was constructed—but about how we understand our past, the nature of forgiveness, and if a single narrative can ever really contain something as definitive as the truth.-Goodreads

ReviewThis is a unique book in that it's part true-crime and part memoir. Alexandria is a staunch opponent to the death penalty which helps lead her to Harvard Law. Her first summer internship is working for a well known anti-death penalty attorney. Her first day, Alexandria is shown a video of confessed child killer Ricky Langley and she is surprised when she realizes she wants him to die. 

This book is almost two books in one, woven into each other. Both plotlines are haunting for different reasons. Alexandria was one of 4 children with an enigmatic attorney father and mother who would also later become an attorney. She was sexually assaulted by her maternal grandfather from age 3 through age 8 (along with her sisters). When her parents found out, they stopped having her grandfather stay overnight with the grandkids but there was not other action taken. They still saw him every weekend like nothing happened. As a parent, this thoroughly disgusts me on every level. Her book is not a condemnation of her parents but I can't believe they did nothing. Sickening on every level. Because of this abuse (or the abuse contributed to it) Alexandria later developed an eating disorder, had an unhealthy relationship with an older boy/young man. 

After learning about Ricky Langley, she decided to research his case. How does someone become a child killer? In the 2nd novel (alternating chapters so to speak) we learn about Rickey's family, how he came into this world, his pedophilia (he started abusing young children when he was NINE) and later, the murder. Like all true-crime, the author adds her own flare to many sections adding what people may have been thinking, feeling and even wearing to make it seem like you are really there. I thought this was more well -written than many other true-crime books I've read. 

There was a lot of repetitiveness in this but overall, I thought this was thought provoking, emotional and heartbreaking. I did find it odd that other than the one video she saw the summer internship, we never heard about what else she did there. 

Grade: 4/5

The Empire State Series

Book: A Week in New York, Autumn in London, New Year in Manhattan
Series: The Empire State Series
Author:  Louise Bay

Anna Kirby is sick of dating. She's tired of heartbreak. Despite being smart, sexy, and funny, she's a magnet for men who don't deserve her.

A week's vacation in New York is the ultimate distraction from her most recent break-up, as well as a great place to meet a stranger and have some summer fun. But to protect her still-bruised heart, fun comes with rules. There will be no sharing stories, no swapping numbers, and no real names. Just one night of uncomplicated fun.

Super-successful serial seducer Ethan Scott has some rules of his own. He doesn't date, he doesn't stay the night, and he doesn't make any promises.

It should be a match made in heaven. But rules are made to be broken. -Goodreads

Review:  Anna is visiting NY from London and has a one night stand with Ethan. Ethan doesn't date but there is just something about Anna that has him tracking her down to "surprise run into her" at brunch the next day. They commence an affair with the understanding that there are no strings attached. They will hang out until Anna leaves for London and that is that. They won't even discuss what they do for a living (they are both attorneys). In the second installment, Anna is sad and lonely in London when her law firm is bought out. She's surprised when the partner sent to manage the transition is...Ethan! They immediately start their relationship back up but things are up in the air when Ethan has to leave for NY. He doesn't want to to ask her to give up her job for him and she doesn't want to be the one to initiate the conversation. 

This book reminded me a little of 'Arrogant Playboy' in that we have a one night stand that results in the guy (who doesn't date) falling for the woman in question. Is it realistic? No, but if this is a fantasy, at least he's hard working, rich, good looking and a genuinely nice person. Unlike most romance books like this, there aren't exes threatening to come into the picture or any major drama. The main pressure point is the inability for the main characters to communicate their feelings and future plans to each other. 

Overall, I liked this, it was a fast read with a few sexy scenes. 

Grade: 3/5


Book: Caraval
Series: Caraval #1
Author: Stephanie Garber

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.-Goodreads

Review: "Remember, don't let your eyes or feelings trick you.

This book was quite a ride. Scarlett and her sister live on a small island with their abusive father. They have always dreamed about attending Caraval, an annual performance where everyone attending is part of the show. Scarlett has been writing to Legend, the organizer behind Caraval for years with no response. With only a short time before her arranged marriage, an invitation arrives. Scarlett and Tella manage to escape their father and join the game. 

There was no real world building but I still found this book to be fast paced and fun. There were elements of mystery, magic and a hint of romance. I did not see the end coming and while I was not exactly satisfied with how everything played out, I enjoyed this. I will definitely read the next one in the series. 

Grade: 3/5

The Silent Wife

Book: The Silent Wife
Author: Kerry Fisher

Lara’s life looks perfect on the surface. Gorgeous doting husband Massimo, sweet little son Sandro and the perfect home. Lara knows something about Massimo. Something she can’t tell anyone else or everything Massimo has worked so hard for will be destroyed: his job, their reputation, their son. This secret is keeping Lara a prisoner in her marriage.

Maggie is married to Massimo’s brother Nico and lives with him and her troubled stepdaughter. She knows all of Nico’s darkest secrets – or so she thinks. The one day she discovers a letter in the attic which reveals a shocking secret about Nico’s first wife Caitlin. Will Maggie set the record straight or keep silent to protect those she loves?

For a family held together by lies, the truth will come at a devastating price.-Goodreads

A heart-wrenching, emotionally gripping read for fans of Amanda Prowse, Liane Moriarty and Diane Chamberlain. -Goodreads

Review: Told in alternating narratives, we follow Maggie and Lara. Maggie is a single mom from the wrong side of the tracks who marries Nico, a widower with a teenage daughter. His first wife passed away from cancer and Maggie struggles to live in first wive's shadow and house. She is not bonding with her stepdaughter and Nico is passive aggressive. Oh, and she has to deal with a mother-in-law who loved his first wife, thinks Maggie married Nico for his money and has a house key she uses whenever she wants. 

Lara lives across the street from Nico and Maggie with her husband Massimo, a successful accountant and their young son. She's a stay-at-home mom who seems to have the perfect life. 

I think I've read too many books where the "perfect life" turns into something more sinister. There was nothing 'wrong' with this book per say, there was just nothing new here. It was predictable on every level and boring. At times I found myself actually annoyed with Lara's son, even though I understood why he acted the way he did. I think this book would have been stronger if it was written completely from Lara's point of view and started farther back in time to when she first met Massimo. Although there were a few flashbacks and reasons as to why she wouldn't leave him, I never really bought into it. 

Overall, not my favorite book. This was a book club selection and everyone enjoyed it except for two of us. 

Grade: 2/5

Killman Creek

Book: Killman Creek
Series: Stillhouse Lake #2
Author: Rachel Caine

Gwen Proctor won the battle to save her kids from her ex-husband, serial killer Melvin Royal, and his league of psychotic accomplices. But the war isn’t over. Not since Melvin broke out of prison. Not since she received a chilling text…

You’re not safe anywhere now.

Her refuge at Stillhouse Lake has become a trap. Gwen leaves her children in the protective custody of a fortified, well-armed neighbor. Now, with the help of Sam Cade, brother of one of Melvin’s victims, Gwen is going hunting. She’s learned how from one of the sickest killers alive.

But what she’s up against is beyond anything she feared—a sophisticated and savage mind game calculated to destroy her. As trust beyond her small circle of friends begins to vanish, Gwen has only fury and vengeance to believe in as she closes in on her prey. And sure as the night, one of them will die.-Goodreads

Review: Wow, what a great sequel to Stillhouse Lake. Starting off where the last book ended, the killer in Stillhouse Lake is dead but Melvin is on the loose (how he escaped from death row is glossed over, but just go with it). I think the strength of this book was that it was narrated by Gwen, her 11 year old son and Sam Cade (whose sister was killed by Melvin). Gwen and Sam are determined to hunt down Melvin and Gwen leaves her kids in Stillhouse Lake, with express instructions not to contact anyone and tell them they are there. Of course, the kids being kids, do not follow this advice with potentially devastating repercussions. Every time I read her son's narrative I was practically shouting "NO!! Don't do that!! OMG no!" 

Overall, good series. Rachel Caine writing 'disturbing' very well.  

"You never understand how vulnerable you are in this age of social media until something breaks against you, and then . . . then it’s too late. You can shut down Facebook, Twitter, Instagram; you can change your phone number and your e-mail. Move to new places. But for dedicated tormentors, that isn’t a barrier. It’s a challenge. They enjoy hitting. They don’t particularly care if the blows ever land, and it becomes a contest of who can post the most shocking, degrading material. The torrent comes from nowhere, and everywhere, and the hatred . . . it’s like poison, seeping from the screen into your brain."
Grade: 4/5

Stillhouse Lake

Book: Stillhouse Lake
Series: Stillhouse Lake #1
Author: Rachel Caine

Gina Royal is the definition of average—a shy Midwestern housewife with a happy marriage and two adorable children. But when a car accident reveals her husband’s secret life as a serial killer, she must remake herself as Gwen Proctor—the ultimate warrior mom.

With her ex now in prison, Gwen has finally found refuge in a new home on remote Stillhouse Lake. Though still the target of stalkers and Internet trolls who think she had something to do with her husband’s crimes, Gwen dares to think her kids can finally grow up in peace.

But just when she’s starting to feel at ease in her new identity, a body turns up in the lake—and threatening letters start arriving from an all-too-familiar address. Gwen Proctor must keep friends close and enemies at bay to avoid being exposed—or watch her kids fall victim to a killer who takes pleasure in tormenting her. One thing is certain: she’s learned how to fight evil. And she’ll never stop.-Goodreads

Review: Gina Royal is a stay-at-home mom with two children and a doting husband when her world crumbles around her. A drunk driver rams into their garage revealing a dead body of a young woman hanging from the ceiling. Unbeknownst to Gina, her husband is a serial killer who has been killing and mutilating young women in his garage 'work shop' that he only had access to. After being put on trial as an accessory to murder and exonerated, Gina is ready to move on with her life. But there are many people who believe she helped her husband and stalk her online and threaten her children. Forced to change their names multiple times and keep moving, Gwen, thinks she's found a place to settle down in Stillhouse Lake. Things seems to be going okay until a body is found in the lake. 

This book started off with a BANG! It was an excellent opening and I was definitely hooked. Forced to reinvent herself and protect her children, Gwen is an extremely harsh personality. While I understood her fears and desires to keep everyone safe, she was very hard to warm to as a person. 

Overall, I liked the overall plot of this book and the pacing. 

Grade: 3/5

Murder On the Orient Express

Book: Murder On the Orient Express
Series: Hercule Poirot #10
Author: Agatha Christie

Travelling on the Orient Express, Poirot is approached by a desperate American named Ratchett. Afraid that someone plans to kill him, Ratchett asks Poirot for help. Sadly the very next day Ratchett's worst fears become reality, when he is found dead in his cabin, a victim of multiple stab wounds. With nothing but a scrap of paper to go on, Poirot must piece together Ratchett’s identity before he can establish which of his fellow passengers murdered him.-Goodreads

Review: The only thing that could have made this better would be my favorite sidekick, Hastings. Once again, Christie delivers a fast paced, mystery that keeps you guessing until the end. I did read this in high school so I knew "who done it" but that didn't detract from my enjoyment rereading it. 

Grade: 4.5/5

Tuesday, January 30, 2018


Book: Roomies
Author: Christina Lauren

Rescued by Calvin McLoughlin from a would-be subway attacker, Holland Bakker pays the brilliant musician back by pulling some of her errand-girl strings and getting him an audition with a big-time musical director. When the tryout goes better than even Holland could have imagined, Calvin is set for a great entry into Broadway—until he admits his student visa has expired and he’s in the country illegally.

Holland impulsively offers to wed the Irishman to keep him in New York, her growing infatuation a secret only to him. As their relationship evolves from awkward roommates to besotted lovers, Calvin becomes the darling of Broadway. In the middle of the theatrics and the acting-not-acting, what will it take for Holland and Calvin to realise that they both stopped pretending a long time ago?-Goodreads

Review: Holland Bakker is obsessed with a subway musician, going out of her way weekly to hear him play. When her uncle, a well-known musical director is looking for new talent for an upcoming production, she knows just where to look. Her uncle loves Calvin (the subway musician who happens to be Julliard trained) but Calvin is in the country illegally and cannot accept the job. After Holland's boss suggests she marry him, she shocks everyone by doing exactly that. 

Okay-this wasn't realistic on any level but it was Christina Lauren (the writing duo) at their finest. This was adorable on every level. I loved Holland. I loved Calvin. And I loved them together. This was light, funny and a quick read. 

Grade: 4/5

A Criminal Defense

Book: A Criminal Defense
Series: Philadelphia Legal #1
Author: William L. Myers, Jr.

When a young reporter is found dead and a prominent Philadelphia businessman is accused of her murder, Mick McFarland finds himself involved in the case of his life. The defendant, David Hanson, was Mick’s close friend in law school, and the victim, a TV news reporter, had reached out to Mick for legal help only hours before her death.

Mick’s played both sides of Philadelphia’s courtrooms. As a top-shelf defense attorney and former prosecutor, he knows all the tricks of the trade. And he’ll need every one of them to win.

But as the trial progresses, he’s disturbed by developments that confirm his deepest fears. This trial, one that already hits too close to home, may jeopardize his firm, his family—everything. Now Mick’s only way out is to mastermind the most brilliant defense he’s ever spun, one that will cross every legal and moral boundary.-Goodreads

Review: Mick was a star prosecutor in Philadelphia when he decided to switch sides and join a private defense firm. When his wealthy law school friend is found fleeing a murder scene, Mick is hired to beat the murder charge. Mick tries to navigate the case while balancing financial issues, growing tension with his wife and brother. 

I'm a huge Law & Order fan and I really loved the courtroom aspect of this book. I'm not an attorney but according to reviews from attorneys, the author really nailed how a trial goes. I found this to be fast paced and I only guessed part of the ending, so I was pleasantly surprised at how it ended. 

Overall, I loved it. 

"If you did do it, and if you have any intention of going to trial rather than accepting a plea, you must not tell me or any member of the firm that you did it. Under the code of ethics, a defense counsel’s ability to question his client at trial is severely circumscribed when the lawyer knows the client is guilty.”

Grade: 5/5

The Last Mrs. Parrish

Book: The Last Mrs. Parrish
Author: Liv Constantine

Amber Patterson is fed up. She’s tired of being a nobody: a plain, invisible woman who blends into the background. She deserves more—a life of money and power like the one blond-haired, blue-eyed goddess Daphne Parrish takes for granted. To everyone in the exclusive town of Bishops Harbor, Connecticut, Daphne and her husband, Jackson—the beautiful philanthropist and the confident real estate mogul—are a golden couple straight out of a fairytale, blessed with two lovely young daughters.

Amber’s envy could eat her alive . . . if she didn't have a plan. Amber uses Daphne’s compassion and caring to insinuate herself into the family’s life—the first step in a meticulous scheme to undermine her. Before long, Amber is Daphne’s closest confidante, traveling to Europe with the Parrish family, and growing closer to Jackson. But a skeleton from her past may undermine everything that Amber has worked towards, and if it is discovered, her well-laid plan may fall to pieces. -Goodreads

Review: The Last Mrs. Parrish is an absolutely delicious read. Amber Patterson has a mission-marry the wealthy Jackson Parrish. She doesn't care that he's married with two young children. She has a plan she's been working on for years and she's going to succeed. She will let nothing-and no one, stand in her way. She's immoral, evil and it's oh so fun to be in her head. While I found the 'twist' to be easy to figure out, I couldn't stop turning the pages to see how the final chapter would play out. Loved it!

Grade: 4.5/5

The Boy In the Striped Pajamas

Book: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Author: John Boyne

Berlin 1942

When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move from their home to a new house far far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see in the distance.

But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different to his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.-Goodreads

Review: Bruno is nine years old when his father, a Nazi Commandant, moves the family to 'Out-With' for his new job. Bruno is not happy to leave Berlin, his friends or their house. He's especially unhappy with their new house as there is nothing to do and no one to play with. That is until Bruno ventures to the 'farm' he can see from his window, the place he is forbidden to go. Bruno befriends a boy the same age named Schmuel and Bruno's life is changed forever. 

If you are reading this for historical accuracy, look elsewhere. As a child of a high ranking Nazi Commandant, Bruno would have been part of the Hitler Youth. He absolutely should have known who Hitler was, what the Nazi salute was as well as what being Jewish meant. As written, Bruno knew none of these things. Although 9, he was written as a younger child, closer to age 6. Throughout the book he referred to Hitler as 'The Fury' and Auschwitz as 'Out-With' even though he was corrected on the pronunciation multiple times.  Almost every child was killed upon arrival at Auschwitz so the likelihood of Schmuel and Bruno ever meeting or becoming friends is far fetched. 

Okay, if you can look beyond all of that and read this as a fictional story of two boys caught up in a war they don't understand, this is an extremely sad tale. 

Grade: 3/5