Thursday, July 26, 2018

All the Beautiful Lies

Book: All the Beautiful Lies
Author: Peter Swanson

Harry Ackerson has always considered his stepmother Alice to be sexy and beautiful, in an "otherworldly" way. She has always been kind and attentive, if a little aloof in the last few years.

Days before his college graduation, Alice calls with shocking news. His father is dead and the police think it’s suicide. Devastated, Harry returns to his father’s home in Maine. There, he and Alice will help each other pick up of the pieces of their lives and uncover what happened to his father.

Shortly after he arrives, Harry meets a mysterious young woman named Grace McGowan. Though she claims to be new to the area, Harry begins to suspect that Grace may not be a complete stranger to his family. But she isn’t the only attractive woman taking an interest in Harry. The sensual Alice is also growing closer, coming on to him in an enticing, clearly sexual way.

Mesmerized by these two women, Harry finds himself falling deeper under their spell. Yet the closer he gets to them, the more isolated he feels, disoriented by a growing fear that both women are hiding dangerous—even deadly—secrets . . . and that neither one is telling the truth-Goodreads

Review: When his father dies suddenly twenty-two year old Harry returns home to spend time with his beautiful, 35-year old step-mother. Harry ends up helping at his father's bookstore when he meets a young woman who claims his father was murdered. Harry isn't sure what to think..could his beautiful step-mother have had something to do with it? Or was it really suicide or an accident? 

Overall, I enjoyed this book but it was extremely slow. The found the back half more interesting. 

Grade: 3/5

Educated: A Memoir

Book: Educated: A Memoir
Author: Tara Westover

Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her "head-for-the-hills bag". In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father's junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara's older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she'd traveled too far, if there was still a way home.-Goodreads

Review: Fantastic. Heartbreaking. Uplifting. Go out and read this book people! This is an outstanding story about a woman born to a fundamentalist family who doesn't believe in education or modern medicine. Forced to work in her father's (unsafe) junkyard from a young age and abused by one of her siblings, Tara eventually finds her way to BYU, Cambridge and Harvard. Inspirational-a must read. 

Grade: 5/5

The Lying Game

Book: The Lying Game
Author: Ruth Ware

On a cool June morning, a woman is walking her dog in the idyllic coastal village of Salten along a tidal estuary known as the Reach. Before she can stop him, the dog charges into the water to retrieve what first appears to be a wayward stick, but to her horror, turns out to be something much more sinister...

The next morning, three women in and around London—Fatima, Thea, and Isabel—receive the text they had always hoped would NEVER come, from the fourth in their formerly inseparable clique, Kate, that says only, “I need you.”

The four girls were best friends at Salten, a second rate boarding school set near the cliffs of the English Channel. Each different in their own way, the four became inseparable and were notorious for playing the Lying Game, telling lies at every turn to both fellow boarders and faculty, with varying states of serious and flippant nature that were disturbing enough to ensure that everyone steered clear of them. The myriad and complicated rules of the game are strict: no lying to each other—ever. Bail on the lie when it becomes clear it is about to be found out. But their little game had consequences, and the girls were all expelled in their final year of school under mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of the school’s eccentric art teacher, Ambrose (who also happens to be Kate’s father).-Goodreads

Review: This is my second Ruth Ware book. I wasn't impressed with 'In a Dark, Dark Wood' and I wasn't impressed with this. Four girls are best friends as teenagers (well, in this case they were at school for less than a year together), did something bad, go their separate ways, come back together in their 30s when one of the girls summons the others and eventually the "bad deed" is revealed. While I think the premise of the book is good and this could have been interesting, the characters were flat, it lacked suspense and it was predictable. I didn't believe the tight friendship of the girls as teens and our narrator, Isa, was so dry and boring. When the bad deed was revealed I couldn't help thinking....that was it? 

Grade: 2/5

The Lies They Tell

Book: The Lies They Tell
Author: Gillian French

Everyone in Tenney’s Harbor, Maine, knows about the Garrison tragedy. How an unexplained fire ravaged their house, killing four of the five family members. But what people don’t know is who did it. All fingers point at Pearl Haskins’s father, the town drunk, who was the caretaker of the property, but she just can’t believe it. Leave it to a town of rich people to blame “the help.”

With her disgraced father now trying to find work in between booze benders, Pearl’s future doesn’t hold much more than waiting tables at the local country club, where the wealthy come to flaunt their money and spread their gossip. This year, Tristan, the last surviving Garrison, and his group of affluent and arrogant friends have made a point of sitting in Pearl’s section. Though she’s repulsed by most of them, Tristan’s quiet sadness and somber demeanor have her rethinking her judgments. Befriending the boys could mean getting closer to the truth, clearing her father’s name, and giving Tristan the closure he seems to be searching for. But it could also trap Pearl in a sinister web of secrets, lies, and betrayals that, once untangled, will leave no life unchanged . . . if it doesn’t take hers first.-Goodreads
Review: When the wealthy Garrison family is killed in a suspicious home fire, their teenage son is lucky to have been out of town surviving the flames. Pearl's father was manning the gate that night and swore he didn't see anything, but that doesn't stop him from losing work over the suspicion he had something to do with it. Six months later, Pearl finds herself hanging out with a group of wealthy boys, including Tristan Garrison. Can she figure out what happened and salvage her father's reputation?

I really wanted to love this book but it was so slow and boring. There was no mystery who set the fire, it was clear from the first chapter. Overall, a disappointment. 

Grade: 2/5

The First Time She Drowned

Book: The First Time She Drowned
Author: Kerry Kletter

Cassie O’Malley has been trying to keep her head above water—literally and metaphorically—since birth. It’s been two and a half years since Cassie’s mother dumped her in a mental institution against her will, and now, at eighteen, Cassie is finally able to reclaim her life and enter the world on her own terms.

But freedom is a poor match against a lifetime of psychological damage. As Cassie plumbs the depths of her new surroundings, the startling truths she uncovers about her own family narrative make it impossible to cut the tethers of a tumultuous past. And when the unhealthy mother-daughter relationship that defined Cassie’s childhood and adolescence threatens to pull her under once again, Cassie must decide: whose version of history is real? And more important, whose life must she save?-Goodreads

Review: The mother/daughter relationship is extremely complex for most of us. Add a mentally ill mother in that mix and it's a whole new ballgame. My heart absolutely broke for Cassie throughout the book. While I hated her mother with every fiber of my being, I could understand how Cassie continued to try to win her love. Just heartwrenching. 

Some quotes I highlighted:

Suddenly I don’t even care that I fell, because of that brief moment when I stood, and I wonder if this is what other people seem to have that I do not—this courage to fall because they have the memory of standing.

James, who insisted every day that I see my own worth beyond my mother’s rejecting eyes. But of course, a mother’s eyes are the very first mirror we look into, the image that gets imprinted on our souls—whether they gaze back at us with love or with disgust. So I don’t know how to differentiate between her perceptions of me and my own when hers were the first I’ve ever known, so deeply ingrained from the second I hit the world.

...being healthy is being able to hold and remember who people actually are instead of who we wish they were. It’s a daily struggle against a brain that tends to want to cling to fairy-tale hope, but it’s also the only way to guarantee a life surrounded by those who build rather than destroy. In the end, the loss is about letting go of what I never had in the first place.

Grade: 4.5/5

What Happened to Cass McBride?

Book: What Happened to Cass McBride?
Author: Gail Giles

Kyle Kirby has planned a cruel and unusual revenge on Cass McBride, the most popular girl in school, for the death of his brother David. He digs a hole. Drugs Cass. Kidnaps her. Puts her in a box-underground. He buries her alive. But Kyle makes a fatal error: Cass knows the power of words. She uses fear as her weapon to keep her nemesis talking - and to keep herself breathing during the most harrowing 48 hours of her life. -Goodreads
Review: After asking out Cass McBride, one of the most popular girls in school and being rejected, David Kirby kills himself. Seeking revenge, his brother Kyle kidnaps Cass and buries her alive. 

This book was a surprise. Told in alternating chapters, we follow both Cass and Kyle. Cass, while not an angel, is also not your typical "mean girl." She's goal oriented and has a life plan.When she finds herself buried alive, she has to use the only thing at her disposal, her ability to communicate with her captor, to try to stay alive. I liked her resilience. Where this book was a total surprise (for me) was Kyle. I was uncomfortable reading about Kyle's history (childhood and family dynamics), because it resonated with me. At times I felt like the author and I must have been raised in similar homes. It was eery. 

Grade: 4/5

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Kept Woman

Book: The Kept Woman
Series: Will Trent #8
Author: Karin Slaughter

With the discovery of a murder at an abandoned construction site, Will Trent of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is brought in on a case that becomes much more dangerous when the dead man is identified as an ex-cop.

Studying the body, Sara Linton—the GBI’s newest medical examiner and Will’s lover—realizes that the extensive blood loss didn't belong to the corpse. Sure enough, bloody footprints leading away from the scene indicate there is another victim—a woman—who has vanished . . . and who will die soon if she isn’t found.

Will is already compromised, because the site belongs to the city’s most popular citizen: a wealthy, powerful, and politically connected athlete protected by the world’s most expensive lawyers—a man who’s already gotten away with rape, despite Will’s exhaustive efforts to put him away.

But the worst is yet to come. Evidence soon links Will’s troubled past to the case . . . and the consequences will tear through his life with the force of a tornado, wreaking havoc for Will and everyone around him, including his colleagues, family, friends—and even the suspects he pursues.-Goodreads

Review: Another excellent installment in the Will Trent series. Will's childhood friend/estranged wife Angie has been a polarizing figure throughout this series. Here we are given a close and personal look into her life. And I have to say...Angie might not be a great human being most of the time, but she sure is interesting to read about. I was shocked to find myself rooting for her to succeed in her shenanigans.

Dark, gritty, filled with dynamic characters. Loved it! 

Grade: 4.5/5


Book: Unseen
Series: Will Trent #7
Author: Karin Slaughter

Will Trent is a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent whose latest case has him posing as Bill Black, a scary ex-con who rides a motorcycle around Macon, Georgia, and trails an air of violence wherever he goes. The cover has worked and he has caught the eye of a wiry little drug dealer who thinks he might be a useful ally. But undercover and cut off from the support of the woman he loves, Sara Linton, Will finds his demons catching up with him.

Although she has no idea where Will has gone, or why, Sara herself has come to Macon because of a cop shooting: Her stepson, Jared, has been gunned down in his own home. Sara holds Lena, Jared’s wife, responsible: Lena, a detective, has been a magnet for trouble all her life, and Jared’s shooting is not the first time someone Sara loved got caught in the crossfire. Furious, Sara finds herself involved in the same case that Will is working without even knowing it, and soon danger is swirling around both of them.-Goodreads

Review: Will is working undercover in Macon (I had a hard time imagining this) while Sara is also in Macon because her step-son Jared has been shot. Sara blames Jared's wife, Lena, for the death of her husband and is convinced Lena had something to do with what happened to Jared as well. Sara doesn't know Will is undercover and is furious when she finds out. 

As mentioned previously, while Will has grown on me, my favorite characters in this series are Faith and Amanda. This book was light on them and heavy on Sara, Will's girlfriend, who I find better in small doses. Her annoyance at Lena got old fast and her frustration at Will doing his job was even more annoying. I did enjoy the mystery part of this but it was too much Sara. 

Grade: 3/5


Book: Criminal
Series: Will Trent #6
Author: Karin Slaughter

Will Trent is a brilliant agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Newly in love, he is beginning to put a difficult past behind him. Then a local college student goes missing, and Will is inexplicably kept off the case by his supervisor and mentor, deputy director Amanda Wagner. Will cannot fathom Amanda’s motivation until the two of them literally collide in an abandoned orphanage they have both been drawn to for different reasons. Decades before, when his father was imprisoned for murder, this was Will’s home. It appears that the case that launched Amanda’s career forty years ago has suddenly come back to life—and it involves the long-held mystery of Will’s birth and parentage. Now these two dauntless investigators will each need to face down demons from the past if they are to prevent an even greater terror from being unleashed.-Goodreads
Review: It's hard to keep a series fresh after awhile but Karin Slaughter doesn't have that problem here. In fact, 'Criminal' is my favorite book in the series to date. I LOVED IT. Will Trent is not your typical alpha-male type investigator. He's a damaged man with a tragic past and I'll admit, I didn't love him at first but he's grown on me throughout the series. But my favorites in these books are the side characters, particularly Will's partner Faith and his boss, Amanda. In this installment, Amanda and Evelyn (Faith's mother) are the standout characters in one timeline as we follow their careers in the mid-70s. I thought this storyline was absolute perfection. We learn so much about Evelyn and Amanda and it provides a lot of insight into Amanda's actions in present day. I almost teared up at one point! In the present day timeline, we follow Will as he tries to solve a case that may or may not involve his father. 

Loved it!

Grade: 5/5


Book: Fallen
Series: Will Trent #5
Author: Karin Slaughter

There's no police training stronger than a cop's instinct. Faith Mitchell's mother isn't answering her phone. Her front door is open. There's a bloodstain above the knob. Her infant daughter is hidden in a shed behind the house. All that the Georgia Bureau of Investigations taught Faith Mitchell goes out the window when she charges into her mother's house, gun drawn. She sees a man dead in the laundry room. She sees a hostage situation in the bedroom. What she doesn't see is her mother. . . .

""You know what we're here for. Hand it over, and we'll let her go.""

When the hostage situation turns deadly, Faith is left with too many questions, not enough answers. To find her mother, she'll need the help of her partner, Will Trent, and they'll both need the help of trauma doctor Sara Linton. But Faith isn't just a cop anymore--she's a witness. She's also a suspect.

The thin blue line hides police corruption, bribery, even murder. Faith will have to go up against the people she respects the most in order to find her mother and bring the truth to light--or bury it forever. -Goodreads

Review: Another great book in the Will Trent series. Fast paced and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Grade: 4/5

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Song of Achilles

Book: The Song of Achilles
Author: Madeline Miller

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. By all rights their paths should never cross, but Achilles takes the shamed prince as his friend, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine their bond blossoms into something deeper - despite the displeasure of Achilles' mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But then word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus journeys with Achilles to Troy, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.

Profoundly moving and breathtakingly original, this rendering of the epic Trojan War is a dazzling feat of the imagination, a devastating love story, and an almighty battle between gods and kings, peace and glory, immortal fame and the human heart.-Goodreads

Review: The Song of Achilles is a retelling of The Illiad, told from the perspective of Petroclus, Achilles closest friend and confidant. I loved Miller's take on Patroclus and Achilles relationship, she did a good (and believable) job of creating young men who don't quite fit in but find solace in each other. The writing was beautiful and I could visualize characters (especially Thetis). The Trojan War section dragged a little for me but overall, I really enjoyed this. 

Grade: 4/5

Not That I Could Tell

Book: Not That I Could Tell
Author: Jessica Strawser

When a group of neighborhood women gathers, wine in hand, around a fire pit where their backyards meet one Saturday night, most of them are just ecstatic to have discovered that their baby monitors reach that far. It’s a rare kid-free night, and they’re giddy with it. They drink too much, and the conversation turns personal.

By Monday morning, one of them is gone.

Everyone knows something about everyone else in the quirky small Ohio town of Yellow Springs, but no one can make sense of the disappearance. Kristin was a sociable twin mom, college administrator, and doctor’s wife who didn’t seem all that bothered by her impending divorce—and the investigation turns up more questions than answers, with her husband, Paul, at the center. For her closest neighbor, Clara, the incident triggers memories she thought she’d put behind her—and when she’s unable to extract herself from the widening circle of scrutiny, her own suspicions quickly grow. But the neighborhood’s newest addition, Izzy, is determined not to jump to any conclusions—especially since she’s dealing with a crisis of her own.

As the police investigation goes from a media circus to a cold case, the neighbors are forced to reexamine what’s going on behind their own closed doors—and to ask how well anyone really knows anyone else.-Goodreads

Review: A group of women gather for a night of drinking and the next morning, one of them has disappeared with her two young children. Kristin was in the middle of a divorce, did her ex have something to do with her disappearance or did she leave on her own? The book primarily follows neighbors Clara (Kristin's closest friend) and Izzy (another neighbor hung up on her brother-in-law) in the aftermath. We are treated to a few very short sections from Kristin's point of view leading up to the disappearance. 

This book reminded me a lot of Big Little Lies, unfortunately without the humor or engaging story line. While this book deals with an important topic and really nails how things can appear perfect on the outside but anything can happen behind closed doors, it was incredibly slow, boring and predictable. 

This had a lot of potential but fell flat for me. 

Grade: 2/5

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Life She Was Given

Book: The Life She was Given
Author: Ellen Marie Wiseman

On a summer evening in 1931, Lilly Blackwood glimpses circus lights from the grimy window of her attic bedroom. Lilly isn't allowed to explore the meadows around Blackwood Manor. She's never even ventured beyond her narrow room. Momma insists it's for Lilly's own protection, that people would be afraid if they saw her. But on this unforgettable night, Lilly is taken outside for the first time--and sold to the circus sideshow.

More than two decades later, nineteen-year-old Julia Blackwood has inherited her parents' estate and horse farm. For Julia, home was an unhappy place full of strict rules and forbidden rooms, and she hopes that returning might erase those painful memories. Instead, she becomes immersed in a mystery involving a hidden attic room and photos of circus scenes featuring a striking young girl.

At first, The Barlow Brothers' Circus is just another prison for Lilly. But in this rag-tag, sometimes brutal world, Lilly discovers strength, friendship, and a rare affinity for animals. Soon, thanks to elephants Pepper and JoJo and their handler, Cole, Lilly is no longer a sideshow spectacle but the circus's biggest attraction. . .until tragedy and cruelty collide. It will fall to Julia to learn the truth about Lilly's fate and her family's shocking betrayal, and find a way to make Blackwood Manor into a place of healing at last.

Moving between Julia and Lilly's stories, Ellen Marie Wiseman portrays two extraordinary, very different women in a novel that, while tender and heartbreaking, offers moments of joy and indomitable hope.-Goodreads

Review: Lilly Blackwood has lived in an attic her entire life. The only people she knows are her mother and father. Her mother calls her an abomination and while her father spends more time with her, he won't even hug her. Her life is forever changed when her mother drags her from the attic one night and sells her to the circus as part of the freak show. Lilly, an albino, has to learn to survive on her own. In a separate timeline approx. 20 years later, we follow Julia Blackwood as she returns home to the Blackwood estate upon her mother's death. 

Yes, this book is similar to Water for Elephants and yes, the author gets several things wrong about albino's (eye color being the glaring one). That being said, I still enjoyed this thoroughly and really empathized with Lilly, especially her childhood years in the attic. I was frustrated with her decision making at the end of the book but could understand where she was coming from. Like most books with different timelines, Lilly's narrative was much stronger and interesting than Julia's. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this. 

Grade: 4/5

The Killing Lessons

Book: The Killing Lessons
Series: Valerie Hart #1
Author: Saul Black

When the two strangers turn up at Rowena Cooper's isolated Colorado farmhouse, she knows instantly that it's the end of everything. For the two haunted and driven men, on the other hand, it's just another stop on a long and bloody journey. And they still have many miles to go, and victims to sacrifice, before their work is done.

For San Francisco homicide detective Valerie Hart, their trail of victims--women abducted, tortured and left with a seemingly random series of objects inside them--has brought her from obsession to the edge of physical and psychological destruction. And she's losing hope of making a breakthrough before that happens.

But the murders at the Cooper farmhouse didn't quite go according to plan. There was a survivor, Rowena's ten-year-old daughter Nell, who now holds the key to the killings. Injured, half-frozen, terrified, Nell has only one place to go. And that place could be even more dangerous than what she's running from.

In this extraordinary, pulse-pounding debut, Saul Black takes us deep into the mind of a psychopath, and into the troubled heart of the woman determined to stop him.-Goodreads

Review: This book starts out strong-strong and extremely violent. A woman and her 2 children live in a remote Colorado town and never even bother to lock the front door. Their life is forever changed when two psychotic killers walk right in. Detective Valerie Hart has been chasing these killers for awhile and will stop at nothing to find them. 

This book started very strong and I liked the point of view of both Valerie and the killer. Valerie herself was your typical "this case has turned me into a functioning alcoholic detective that is good at my job but a hot mess in my personal life" that seems commonplace these days but I still enjoyed her as a character. It did drag in the middle and the 'big break' of how Valerie identifies the killer was beyond comprehension. I'll refrain from spoilers but I don't see that ever happening in real life. Huge reality jump.

Overall, I enjoyed this one. 

Grade: 3/5