Review: Her Surprise Engagement (The Sorensen Family #4) by Ashlee Mallory

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

Single mom Daisy Sorensen doesn’t believe in fairytale endings—at least not for her. All she wants is to enjoy a much-needed, stress-free family vacation at a friend’s Lake Tahoe home. So of course everything that can go wrong does. Including a gorgeous man and his daughter showing up in the middle of the night.

Soon-to-be Governor Jack Harrison has had a crazy week, but he’s sure nothing can top arriving to find a bathrobe-clad, beautiful stranger in the home he’s staying in for the week. He’s wrong. When things spiral out of control the next morning, Jack makes Daisy an offer she can’t refuse. She’ll pretend to be his fiancée and he’ll help her open the bakery she’s been dreaming about.

But in between late-night campfires and days on the lake, Jack finds himself falling for the strong, stubborn woman for real.

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

I’ve been a fan of Ashlee Mallory’s The Sorensen Family series since the first book, Her Backup Boyfriend, and have enjoyed each book since. I love the relationships between the Sorensen siblings and have enjoyed getting each of their stories.

In Her Surprise Engagement we focus on the last of the Sorensen siblings, Daisy. Daisy has recently become a single mother and she’s determined to prove that she can provide for herself and her three children. She frustrated me at times because that determination came off as prideful and it didn’t seem like good parenting to turn things down that would be beneficial to her kids. However, as we get to know her a little better we see how it’s not so much pride keeping her from asking for help, but the fear of once again being in a position where she relied solely on someone else for support and how hard it would be to pick up the pieces of her life again if that support leaves. I liked how she learned that accepting some help sometimes didn’t mean she would lose her independence.

The fake-relationship storyline is always one of my favorites to read about and I liked that it was incorporated here. I thought the events that led up to it were humorous. I did think that the fake relationship turned real a little too fast, though. Jack is a love-at-first-sight kind of guy and while I thought he was sweet and romantic and did like him and Daisy together, it was a little too insta-love for me to really get behind it. They only know each other for a couple of weeks before he’s all in and I would’ve liked to have seen their relationship develop a little more before that.

Overall, I enjoyed Her Surprise Engagement. I enjoyed re-visiting the Sorensen clan one more time and thought this book did a good job of showing us all their Happy Ever Afters. I would definitely recommend this to fans of the series and Contemporary Romance.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 3 Stars

Review: The Weight of Lies by Emily Carpenter

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

In this gripping, atmospheric family drama, a young woman investigates the forty­-year­-old murder that inspired her mother’s bestselling novel, and uncovers devastating truths—and dangerous lies.

Reformed party girl Meg Ashley leads a life of privilege, thanks to a bestselling horror novel her mother wrote decades ago. But Meg knows that the glow of their very public life hides a darker reality of lies, manipulation, and the heartbreak of her own solitary childhood. Desperate to break free of her mother, Meg accepts a proposal to write a scandalous, tell-all memoir.

Digging into the past—and her mother’s cult classic—draws Meg to Bonny Island, Georgia, and an unusual woman said to be the inspiration for the book. At first island life seems idyllic, but as Meg starts to ask tough questions, disturbing revelations come to light…including some about her mother.

Soon Meg’s search leads her to question the facts of a decades-old murder. She’s warned to leave it alone, but as the lies pile up, Meg knows she’s getting close to finding a murderer. When her own life is threatened, Meg realizes the darkness found in her mother’s book is nothing compared to the chilling truth that lurks off the page.

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

I saw several rave reviews on The Weight of Lies and knew that I had to read it. While I did like the story, it ended up falling a little short of my expectations.

I liked the concept of the story. Any time a book or movie centers around a writer, I’m in. I am also a sucker for cold case mysteries. I had many theories about what really happened and kept changing my mind from chapter to chapter. Carpenter really did a good job of keeping me guessing and ultimately surprising me with an unexpected twist. I also really enjoyed the excerpts from the book that was inspired by the mystery Megan is looking into. It paralleled the story really well and I thought it was a really clever narrative device.

While it started off a little slow, it did eventually suck me in once we got further into the story. The island – and some of it’s inhabitants – was pretty creepy and I really felt Megan’s paranoia. I liked Megan, but she frustrated me often. For being as paranoid as she was, you would think she’d be a little smarter. I kept wondering why she wouldn’t password protect her computer. Or how inner monologue would go on and on about how certain people were liars and untrustworthy, but she just kept trusting them anyways.

Overall, I enjoyed The Weight of Lies, but it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. The mystery played out to it’s conclusion well, but I thought the actual ending of the book was pretty anti-climactic. I think I was expecting a more horror-inspired ending and was kind of disappointed it didn’t go that route. Also, while there is some good psychological suspense, I was expecting more. It was still a well-done, enjoyable book, though, and I think fans of the genre will like it.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 3.5 Stars

Review: The Party by Robyn Harding

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

In this stunning and provocative domestic drama about a sweet sixteen birthday party that goes horribly awry, a wealthy family in San Francisco finds themselves entangled in a legal battle, their darkest secrets revealed, and their friends turned to enemies.

One invitation. A lifetime of regrets.

Sweet sixteen. It’s an exciting coming of age, a milestone, and a rite of passage. Jeff and Kim Sanders plan on throwing a party for their daughter, Hannah—a sweet girl with good grades and nice friends. Rather than an extravagant, indulgent affair, they invite four girls over for pizza, cake, movies, and a sleepover. What could possibly go wrong?

But things do go wrong, horrifically so. After a tragic accident occurs, Jeff and Kim’s picture perfect life in a wealthy San Francisco suburb suddenly begins to unravel. A lawsuit is filed that irrevocably changes their relationship, reveals dark secrets in the Sanders’ marriage, and exposes the truth about their perfect daughter, Hannah.

Harkening to Herman Koch’s The Dinner, Christos Tsiolkas’s The Slap, and Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, The Party takes us behind the façade of the perfect family, exposing the lies, betrayals, and moral lapses that neighbors don’t see—and the secrets that children and parents keep from themselves and each other.

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

The Party will be available June 6, 2017.

This is a hard book for me to review. On the one hand, I kind of hated pretty much everything about it. But on the other hand, I couldn’t stop reading it.

The characters are awful people. All of them. All the time. I thought maybe Jeff and Kim had just been through some bad times and they would get better as the story went on. They did not. Their daughter, Hannah, and her friends were all awful. Lisa, the mother of the girl to get hurt at Hannah’s party, is awful. All of Jeff and Kim’s friends are just as horrible – the one exception being Lisa’s boyfriend, Allan, who tried to be the voice of reason in her vendetta against the Sanders. It seemed like every time a character was faced with a decision they chose the wrong one. At first I was getting so upset over their actions, screaming at them in my head to stop being idiots. But around halfway through the story, I became a little more resigned to their behavior and just began waiting for the next stupid thing. There is no one to root for in this book, so for awhile I was just rooting for all of them to have their comeuppance. Unfortunately, I didn’t find the ending to be satisfactory at all.

Even though I hated all the characters, I just kept reading. At first I wanted to see the characters redeem themselves, but even after I realized that wasn’t going to happen I still wanted to see what happened. The story is told through the POVs of Kim, Jeff, Lisa, and Hannah and I thought they were all done effectively. Even though I hated them, it has to say something about the writing that I still wanted to keep reading about them.

Overall, The Party has good writing and an interesting premise, but I absolutely hated all the characters. For awhile I did enjoy hating them, but I found it really unsatisfying that they didn’t get the level of comeuppance I was hoping for, nor did they really seem to learn anything from the experience. I’m bumping my rating up a little bit, though, because the author still made me keep reading, despite my feelings about the characters.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 3 Stars 

Review: A Court of Wings and Ruin (A Court of Thorns and Roses #3) by Sarah J. Maas

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

Looming war threatens all Feyre holds dear in the third volume of the #1 New York Times bestselling A Court of Thorns and Roses series.

Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin’s maneuverings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit-and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well.

As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords-and hunt for allies in unexpected places.

In this thrilling third book in the #1 New York Times bestselling series from Sarah J. Maas, the earth will be painted red as mighty armies grapple for power over the one thing that could destroy them all.

I’ve never been a super fan of this series, but I’ve liked it well enough to want to continue with each book and see what happens. It’s kind of hard to review books that I don’t feel strongly about one way or the other, so this will be a little abbreviated and list-like.

*BEWARE OF MILD SPOILERS*

-I had thought that I read this was supposed to be told in dual POV between Feyre and Rhys and I was pretty excited to get more Rhys. However, he gets the prologue and one chapter towards the end and the rest is Feyre. I don’t really see what the point of that was. I don’t feel like Rhys’ chapters added anything to the story. I was definitely let down by this.

-This book was WAY TOO LONG. Towards the end of the book there was a lot more happening, but a great deal of it just seemed a little pointless. I think there are several storylines that could have been cut, or at least edited down some, and the book would have felt much better paced. But this has always been a problem I’ve had with Maas’ writing.

-The romance isn’t as big a part of the plot as the last book was, so this one being marketed as YA is not quite as horrifying to me as the last one was. I liked seeing Rhys and Feyre together and working as a unit. I’m glad that there wasn’t really any relationship drama between them.

-We finally get an explanation from Mor on how she feels about Azriel and why she’s been basically stringing him (and Cassian) along for 500 years or so. I thought it was really selfish. There is also romantic tension between Nesta and Cassian, but it’s not resolved by the end of the book. Nor is anything resolved between Lucian and Elain and their mating bond. I felt a little bit that there could be something between Az and Elain, actually.

-I was happy to see Tamlin get some redemption. I’ve always felt a little bad for how Maas turned on this character after the first book (well before the first book was even over, really), so even though he still wasn’t represented that well here, he still turned out better than I thought he would.

Overall, I felt like this was a pretty good end to Feyre’s story. The series doesn’t end with this book, but from what I understand the next books will focus on other characters in this world with Feyre and Rhys and company as cameos maybe? As I mentioned above, there are some romantic cliffhangers left that I hope get resolved in the future, even if it’s just mentioned in passing. There is a lot of work that will need to be done with the fall out after the war that is still left pretty open-ended, as well. I don’t really feel a need to continue on with this story since Feyre and Rhys won’t be a big part of it, but it might be something I decide to read. I would definitely recommend this to fans of Maas and the series.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 3.5 Stars

Review: The Girl Who Was Taken by Charlie Donlea

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

Charlie Donlea, one of the most original new voices in suspense, returns with a haunting novel, laden with twists and high tension, about two abducted girls one who returns, one who doesn t and the forensics expert searching for answers.

Nicole Cutty and Megan McDonald are both high school seniors in the small town of Emerson Bay, North Carolina. When they disappear from a beach party one warm summer night, police launch a massive search. No clues are found, and hope is almost lost until Megan miraculously surfaces after escaping from a bunker deep in the woods.

A year later, the bestselling account of her ordeal has turned Megan from local hero to national celebrity. It s a triumphant, inspiring story, except for one inconvenient detail: Nicole is still missing. Nicole’s older sister Livia, a fellow in forensic pathology, expects that one day soon Nicole’s body will be found, and it will be up to someone like Livia to analyze the evidence and finally determine her sister’s fate. Instead, the first clue to Nicole’s disappearance comes from another body that shows up in Livia’s morgue that of a young man connected to Nicole’s past. Livia reaches out to Megan for help, hoping to learn more about the night the two were taken. Other girls have gone missing too, and Livia is increasingly certain the cases are connected.

But Megan knows more than she revealed in her blockbuster book. Flashes of memory are coming together, pointing to something darker and more monstrous than her chilling memoir describes. And the deeper she and Livia dig, the more they realize that sometimes true terror lies in finding exactly what you’ve been looking for.

I am usually very stingy when it comes to buying books – especially when it’s by an author I’ve never read before. However, I have seen several really great review for The Girl Who Was Taken, so when I saw the ebook was on sale it seemed like a no brainer to snatch it up. Unfortunately, I wish I would’ve waited for it to come to the library. It wasn’t a bad book, but it definitely didn’t live up to my expectations.

It took quite awhile for me to really get into the story. While the POV shifted between several characters, the main character was Medical-Examiner-in-training Livia. So much of Livia’s POV was taken up by really clinical details about autopsies and other medical things. While I appreciate the author’s very thorough research, it was just way too much for me. I felt kind of ambivalent towards her as a character. I felt like she had no personality. She had some obvious empathy, but often times she came off as kind of robotic. I also thought it was too convenient in how easy her investigation went. Everything just kind of worked out and led her to the next clue.

In addition to the shifting POV, the timeline shifted as well. I think that the flashback chapters to what led up to the night Megan and Nicole went missing is where the book really shined. The characters seemed a lot more developed and that’s where a lot of the creepy factor came in, which I enjoyed. I was always a little disappointed when the chapters shifted back to the present.

Overall, The Girl Who Was Taken was just ok for me. I thought the overall mystery was pretty well done. I had several suspects and while the culprit ended up being one of them, it wasn’t one of my top suspects. I really enjoyed the flashback chapters, as well. However the lack of personality of the main character, the overly clinical descriptions, and the somewhat open ending left me feeling underwhelmed and a little disappointed that I spent money on this.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 3.5 Stars

Review: A Different Blue by Amy Harmon

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

The Spencer Hill Press release will have bonus content never before available.

Blue Echohawk doesn’t know who she is. She doesn’t know her real name or when she was born. Abandoned at two and raised by a drifter, she didn’t attend school until she was ten years old. At nineteen, when most kids her age are attending college or moving on with life, she is just a senior in high school. With no mother, no father, no faith, and no future, Blue Echohawk is a difficult student, to say the least. Tough, hard, and overtly sexy, she is the complete opposite of the young British teacher who decides he is up for the challenge, and takes the troublemaker under his wing.

This is the story of a nobody who becomes somebody. It is the story of an unlikely friendship, where hope fosters healing and redemption becomes love. But falling in love can be hard when you don’t know who you are. Falling in love with someone who knows exactly who they are and exactly why they can’t love you back might be impossible.

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

This version of A Different Blue with bonus material will be available May 30, 2017.

This book started out a little rough for me. I found Blue incredibly unlikable and mostly unrelatable. I was super bored with the history lessons and legends. And, most of all, I was uncomfortable with Blue’s growing relationship with her teacher. There were no big lines crossed or anything, but their friendship was still inappropriate for being teacher/student. Even though Wilson is only 22 (only a couple years older than Blue), he just seemed so much older and more mature. Thankfully, the book did become a lot better for me as it went on.

Once Blue graduated, I was much more able to get on board the Wilson-Blue ship. I started to really enjoy their friendship and slow burn romance. Wilson was so smart and sweet and protective. I loved him. He did seem just so much older than his age, though. I also really liked his sister, Tiffa, and her friendship with Blue.

I did really like the overall message of redemption and Blue’s journey. She became so much more likable as the book went on, even though there were still several moments where she frustrated me. I liked how she came to respect herself a little bit more and made conscious decisions to help her become a better person.

Overall, I liked A Different Blue, but I didn’t love it. While the overall message and the relationship between Wilson and Blue were good, it started out really rough for me. It also employed a couple of my least favorite romance tropes (teacher/student relationship and another one that I’m not going to share because it’s too spoilery). I was actually not a big fan of the bonus material – an epilogue featuring Blue and Wilson’s physical relationship and a chapter from Wilson’s POV from the first day of school. I liked getting Wilson’s POV, but hearing his initial reaction to Blue falls under the uncomfortable, inappropriate teacher/student thing. However, I am a fan of Harmon and her writing and am definitely planning on reading more from her.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 3.5 Stars

Review: The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

In the masterful follow-up to the runaway hit All the Missing Girls, a journalist sets out to find a missing friend, a friend who may never have existed at all.

Confronted by a restraining order and the threat of a lawsuit, failed journalist Leah Stevens needs to get out of Boston when she runs into an old friend, Emmy Grey, who has just left a troubled relationship. Emmy proposes they move to rural Pennsylvania, where Leah can get a teaching position and both women can start again. But their new start is threatened when a woman with an eerie resemblance to Leah is assaulted by the lake, and Emmy disappears days later.

Determined to find Emmy, Leah cooperates with Kyle Donovan, a handsome young police officer on the case. As they investigate her friend’s life for clues, Leah begins to wonder: did she ever really know Emmy at all? With no friends, family, or a digital footprint, the police begin to suspect that there is no Emmy Grey. Soon Leah’s credibility is at stake, and she is forced to revisit her past: the article that ruined her career. To save herself, Leah must uncover the truth about Emmy Grey—and along the way, confront her old demons, find out who she can really trust, and clear her own name.

Everyone in this rural Pennsylvanian town has something to hide—including Leah herself. How do you uncover the truth when you are busy hiding your own?

I received a copy of this title from NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

The Perfect Stranger will be available April 11, 2017.

I think I went into The Perfect Stranger with the wrong expectations. I thought it was going to be really suspenseful and have a big twist. I spent my time trying to figure out what the big twist would be and I think in the process the smaller twists and turns of the story were not fully appreciated. This was a good mystery, but I still find myself slightly disappointed at the lack of thrill and suspense.

The book focused a lot on character development and thus the pace seemed a little slow to me. Don’t get me wrong, I love a well-done character driven story and this definitely fits that description, but again, I wanted suspense and a quicker pace. While I wouldn’t categorize some passages as flashbacks, there is a lot of Leah explaining events from her past and things are revealed to the reader slowly. While I felt this was done effectively, the reveals were never really shocking enough to pull my focus off The Big Twist I was (mistakenly) waiting for. I think if you go into this just expecting what the synopsis tells you, you will find this a well done mystery.

I thought Leah was a pretty compelling character. Though the story is told from her 1st person POV, I never really felt like I could get a handle on her. Is she telling the truth? Is she just super paranoid? Is she secretly a sociopath? Is she in danger. Is she the danger? I still don’t know if I can say she was a likable character, but I don’t think that’s the point. The other characters were interesting, but I don’t feel like we got to know any of them well enough to really care about them one way or the other. I thought the relationship between Leah and Kyle was kind of messed up, but I can also see why it would work.

Overall, The Perfect Stranger was a good mystery, but I was left a little disappointed that it wasn’t as suspenseful or shocking as I was expecting. The mystery of Leah trying to figure out the truth about Emmy and the murders was well done, but there were some other side plots that I felt there were loose ends on. I found the ending a little anti-climactic, as well, and would have appreciated an epilogue. I do think fans of character-driven mysteries would really enjoy it, though, as long as that’s what they are expecting.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 3.5 Stars

3.5 stars