Review: I See You by Clare Mackintosh

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

Every morning and evening, Zoe Walker takes the same route to the train station, waits at a certain place on the platform, finds her favorite spot in the car, never suspecting that someone is watching her…

It all starts with a classified ad. During her commute home one night, while glancing through her local paper, Zoe sees her own face staring back at her; a grainy photo along with a phone number and a listing for a website called FindTheOne.com.

Other women begin appearing in the same ad, a different one every day, and Zoe realizes they’ve become the victims of increasingly violent crimes—including murder. With the help of a determined cop, she uncovers the ad’s twisted purpose…A discovery that turns her paranoia into full-blown panic. Zoe is sure that someone close to her has set her up as the next target.

And now that man on the train—the one smiling at Zoe from across the car—could be more than just a friendly stranger. He could be someone who has deliberately chosen her and is ready to make his next move…

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

It took me a little while to get into I See You. It starts out a little slow, mostly establishing the characters. But once it fully settles into the main mystery I was hooked.

The story follows Zoe, a woman who finds her picture advertising a dating site she’s never heard of in the paper, Kelly, a police office trying to gain some redemption from past mistakes, and snippets from the anonymous villain. At first I found the switch in POV between Zoe and Kelly a little jarring, almost feeling like they were two completely different stories. Once we get further into the story, though, I found myself really enjoying each perspective. While they both had their flaws, they were likable characters that I was rooting for the whole time. I also really liked Kelly’s new DI, Nick.

I thought the author did a good job of conveying Zoe’s paranoia. While the book didn’t really have the creepy atmosphere I was expecting, it snuck up on me later, when I wasn’t reading. The idea of how most of us are creatures of habit and how easy it would be for anyone to use that predictability against you is a scary thought. I’ve always been someone who closes all the blinds as soon as it gets dark enough outside for people to be able to see in. The thought of being watched has always creeped me out and I think this book will make me a little more paranoid than I already am.

The mystery was pretty well done. I suspected several people of being behind the website all throughout the book and while the villain was one of my suspects, it still surprised me. I think it worked, though. And I LOVED the ending.

Overall, I enjoyed I See You. Though it started out a little slow for me, it did end up really sucking me in and I had a hard time putting it down. The mystery was well done and kind of terrifying in how plausible it is. I would definitely recommend it to mystery/thriller fans. Just be prepared to be looking over your shoulder after you do.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

4 stars

Review: Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

Just what is it that attracts some women to the most evil of men? The seductive, twisty, exhilarating new thriller from Sharon Bolton.
He loves her. He loves her not.
He’s a serial killer. A murderer of young women, all killed in brutal attacks.
But despite his conviction, he’s always stuck to his story — he’s innocent and he’s been wrongly imprisoned. And now he wants someone to investigate, and more importantly, to write his story.
At first Maggie, a barrister and true-crime writer, is reluctant to even acknowledge his requests, ignoring his letters. But this is a very charismatic and persuasive man, good-looking and intelligent.
Eventually even she can’t resist his lure…

I loved this book! I’ve just discovered Sharon Bolton this year and I think this just might be my favorite of her books.

Daisy in Chains is told from the perspectives of Hamish, the convicted serial killer in prison, Maggie, the lawyer and true crime author that is considering taking on his case, and Pete, the detective responsible for putting Hamish behind bars and hoping to keep him there. Interspersed with the narrative of the three main characters are chapters that include newspaper and magazine articles, draft chapters of Maggie’s potential book on Hamish, e-mails, and letters. I love this kind of storytelling when done well and it’s done really well here.

The mystery was really well done. Bolton did a great job of keeping me guessing the whole time. I suspected multiple people the whole way through. There was one major plot twist that I guessed kind of early in, but it was just the tip of the iceberg in regards to how things turned out and I loved that I was still surprised by the ending. There are a lot of things that I want to say about the twists and the ending, but I really don’t want to do any spoilers. I’ll just say the mystery was clever and layered. Even if you guess one or two of the layers, there are still more surprises waiting for you.

Overall, I really enjoyed Daisy in Chains. It was such a great mystery with likable characters and just enough twists to keep me on my toes. I definitely recommend this one to mystery/thriller fans.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4.5 Stars

4.5 stars

Review: The Young Wives Club by Julie Pennell

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

In Toulouse, Louisiana finding your one true love happens sometime around high school. If you’re lucky, he might be the man you thought he was. But as four friends are about to find out, not every girl has luck on her side in this charming debut novel perfect for fans of The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and Desperate Housewives.

Laura Landry’s quarterback husband was her ticket out of Toulouse. But when a devastating football injury sidelines him, they’re forced to move back to the small town she was so desperate to leave. As Brian starts drinking instead of rehabbing his knee, Laura must reevaluate what her future looks like…and if it includes her husband.

For years, Madison Blanchette has been waiting for bad-boy musician Cash Romero to commit to her. When wealthy George Dubois asks her out, she figures she may as well wait in style. Life with George means weekend trips to New Orleans, gourmet meals, and expensive gifts. At first she loves how George’s affection sparks Cash’s jealousy, but when George proposes to Madison, she finds herself torn between two men…

All Claire Thibodeaux wants is to be the perfect wife and mother. If she can do everything right she won’t end up like her mom, a divorced, single parent trying to make ends meet. But when Claire’s husband Gavin, a well-respected local pastor, starts spending late nights at work and less time in their bed, she can’t help but fear that history is about to repeat itself…

Gabrielle Vaughn never thought she’d end up with someone like her fiancé. The son of a prominent congressman, Tony Ford is completely out of her league—which is why she lied to him about everything from having a college degree to the dark truth about her family. She knows she has to come clean, but how do you tell the love of your life that your entire relationship is a lie?

As these young wives come together to help each other through life, love, and heartbreak, they discover that there are no easy answers when it comes to matters of the heart.

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

The Young Wives Club will be available February 14, 2017.

I had such a hard time putting this book down! It’s a really character-driven story about friendship and relationships and learning from your mistakes. The chapters switch POV between four young women and the relationship and life troubles they face.

*While I don’t consider any of the below descriptions a spoiler, some readers might find it mildly spoiler-ish, so proceed with caution*

Gabrielle

Gabrielle was probably my favorite of the bunch. However, her problem is one of my pet peeves in books, which is when one simple conversation could solve all the problems, but that conversation doesn’t come until close to the end of the book. Gabby has had a hard life and when she meets a nice, cute guy in a bar she lies a little about her life. (I loved Tony, by the way. He was so sweet and pretty much just the perfect guy – I was just waiting for him to do something awful because no guy can be that great.) She doesn’t expect to see him again, but she does and they fall in love and the lies spin out of control. The truth about Gabby, obviously, has to come out some time, though. I still didn’t like how Gabby handled it, but I did like how it all resolved in the end.

Madison

Madison was probably the hardest of the girls for me to like. She was one of the youngest, recently graduated from high school, and had the most growing up to do. She’s in a non-committed relationship with the clichéd bad boy musician, has no real future goals, her dad has recently been diagnosed with cancer, and her family is approaching financial crisis. When her dad’s former boss, George, comes to visit and shows a bit of an interest in her, she decides to milk it. While they both know what she’s doing, it still came across as a little too manipulative to me. But on the other hand, George is in his early thirties so I can’t feel too bad for what he puts himself through by pursuing a teenaged girl.

While Madison was probably the most selfish character of the group, she did grow up a little as the story went on. I did really like her close relationship with her father. I also liked how her relationship with George ended up.

Claire

I really wanted to like Claire and I did for the most part, but I just didn’t respect her for so much of the story. She is the wife of a pastor, who is running a mega-church, even though he’s in his very early twenties. Claire is also very involved in the church. When she finds out that Gavin is doing very un-pastor-like things, she doesn’t confront him, but starts to question what she did wrong and then blames a third party, as well. When the confrontation finally comes with Gavin I still wasn’t satisfied with it. There was very little emphasis about what this meant to his job as a pastor or to their church or the members of the congregation. In fact, we never even find out if there’s any fall out, other than what it means to their marriage. I’m just disappointed that once again the Christian faith is so poorly misrepresented in mainstream fiction.

Laura

Laura dropped out of high school to marry and follow her football star boyfriend to college. She’s planned her whole life around him becoming a professional player, but all that is put in jeopardy when he gets hurt and they have to move back home with his parents. Laura is another character who had so much growing up to do and I think she made the most progress. She decided to go back to high school and get her diploma. While there she befriends a new guy who challenges her academically and makes her really start to consider having her own goals and not just following Brian’s. Though she wasn’t my favorite of the girls, her story arc was. Not everything turns out perfectly, but it seemed the most realistic and I was really proud of all she learned.

Overall

Overall, I really enjoyed The Young Wives Club (and it’s gorgeous cover!). It’s a well-written, character-driven story that I could hardly put down. Though the characters weren’t always very likable, I really appreciated how much growth all of them showed throughout the book. I also really liked that things didn’t just magically work out for all of them, but they had to work at it and learn to be ok if things in their life turned out a little differently than they expected. I definitely recommend this to fans of character-driven novels.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

4 stars

Review: Making Faces by Amy Harmon

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

Ambrose Young was beautiful. He was tall and muscular, with hair that touched his shoulders and eyes that burned right through you. The kind of beautiful that graced the covers of romance novels, and Fern Taylor would know. She’d been reading them since she was thirteen. But maybe because he was so beautiful he was never someone Fern thought she could have…until he wasn’t beautiful anymore.

Making Faces is the story of a small town where five young men go off to war, and only one comes back. It is the story of loss. Collective loss, individual loss, loss of beauty, loss of life, loss of identity. It is the tale of one girl’s love for a broken boy, and a wounded warrior’s love for an unremarkable girl. This is a story of friendship that overcomes heartache, heroism that defies the common definitions, and a modern tale of Beauty and the Beast where we discover that there is little beauty and a little beast in all of us.

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

The paperback edition with be available 2/21/17.

I don’t really know what I was expected from Making Faces, but the emotional tornado I lived through while reading it definitely wasn’t it. This book is incredibly heartbreaking. But, it is also incredibly hopeful. Incredibly beautiful.

I found so much of this book really relatable. Like the characters, I was a senior in high school when the 9/11 terrorist attacks happened. I remember sitting in Physics class watching as one of the towers collapsed. I also really related to Fern’s awkwardness and insecurity issues. And how, as a child of a pastor, you know that when the phone rings at an odd hour something bad has happened.

I think my very favorite thing about this book is that it positively portrayed Christian characters and the Christian faith. So often in mainstream fiction Christian characters are portrayed as wackos or extreme hypocrites. That is not the case here. Fern is kind and loving and not at all judgmental. Scripture is shared and not mocked. There is also a great message of having faith in God’s timing and His plan, even when you can’t possibly understand them. This all worked really organically within the story and never felt like you were being “preached” at, if that’s something that bothers you. I can’t even begin to explain how much I appreciate this aspect of the book.

I obviously shipped Ambrose and Fern. I really liked how their relationship developed and how they also grew as characters – and felt like there was so much more to them than just a romance. One major character that’s really central to the story and isn’t mentioned in the synopsis is Bailey. Bailey is Fern’s cousin and best friend and the son of Ambrose’s wrestling coach. He has muscular dystrophy and is confined to a wheelchair. People with muscular dystrophy do not have very long life expectancies, but Bailey has such an amazing attitude. He tries to live life to the fullest every day and do as much as he can. He has a great sense of humor. He loves his family and friends and Fern and wrestling. He was such an amazing character and one that turned me into a blubbering mess while reading.

There were only a couple of things I didn’t like. There were several times the flashbacks seemed to come out of the blue. While in most cases there was a definite separation between present and past, there were a couple other times where it just randomly switched from one paragraph to the next and it was a little jarring. Perhaps this is just a formatting issue with the ARC, though? I also did not really like the character Rita. I felt like she was so selfish and that she wasn’t so much developed as her own character, but as more of a catalyst for storylines involving Fern and Bailey.

The  paperback copy includes bonus content, which is two interviews between Ambrose and ESPN – one during his senior year in high school and one that takes place sometime between the final chapter and the epilogue. I really liked both of them and the extra bit of insight it gives into Ambrose.

Overall, I just loved Making Faces. It’s not a light book. It hurt to read at times. But it was beautifully written and included some amazing characters and really important messages. I really don’t think I can recommend this book enough. I’m definitely going to be looking up other books by this author in the future.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4.5 Stars

4.5 stars

Review: Still Life (Chesapeake Valor #2) by Dani Pettrey

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Official Synopsis:

Blacklisted in the photography business when one of her shots causes a scandal, but desperate to somehow continue in the profession, Avery Tate answered an ad for a crime scene photographer. She fully expected to be laughed at, but crime scene analyst Parker Mitchell hired her outright–taking time to teach her the trade. Now she’s half in love with the man, half terrified to even acknowledge her feelings, and completely hooked on the job–until the next crime hits too close to home.

Avery attends the gallery opening of a new photography exhibit to support her best friend who modeled for the show. The only image of her, though, is a chilling photo of her posing dead. Only the photographer insists he didn’t take the shot, and Avery’s friend can’t be found.

As Avery and Parker, along with Parker’s brilliant friends, begin to dig into the mystery, they find themselves face-to-face with a dangerous, relentless, and deadly threat which could endanger them all.

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

Still Life will be available January 31, 2017.

*Fun Fact: The cover model is Ken from the Millennials Vs Gen X season of Survivor!

What I Liked:

-I like the characters in this series. It’s been a little while since I read the first book so it took me some time to get a handle on how all the characters relate to each other, but once I did I really enjoyed them.

-I really liked both Parker and Avery and shipped them pretty hard. I thought they were both pretty well developed and both really likable. I enjoyed getting both of their POVs and pretty much every scene they were both in. I also liked how well they worked together on a professional level.

-Though the focus of the book was on Parker and Avery, we get several other POVs. Most notable was Declan, who I believe will be the focus of the next book.

-I thought the main message of the book was really well done. Avery struggles a lot with the things she’s done in her past and throughout the book she is reminded that when she came to Christ she has been forgiven and is a new creation. As someone who lives with a lot of anxiety, I spend a great deal of time worrying about the stupid or embarrassing or wrong things I’ve done in my past (whether it was yesterday or decades ago) and I felt like this was a great reminder that God is bigger than my mistakes.

-The main mystery was really interesting. There were a lot of elements to Skylar’s disappearance that I thought Pettrey weaved together really well. While I did figure out who the murderer was, it was only shortly before it was revealed.

What I didn’t Like:

-There was a secondary terrorist plotline that just didn’t really work for me. It worked as a connection to the missing member of the group and while it was interesting enough, all it did was set things up for future books in the series. Which is fine, but I wish it would’ve been a smaller portion of this story.

-Half of the people working Skylar’s case were doing so without any official credentials and I think things were just a little too easy for them. Parker and Avery don’t really have any right to question anybody, but they go through several leads who don’t ask for identification or warrants or anything and it’s not until towards the end of the book before anyone lawyers up. It just seemed a little odd to me that an FBI agent and a police officer could share case information with a bunch of random people.

-There was a lot of build up to Avery’s past and while I mentioned before that I thought the message of God’s forgiveness was really well done, there is a very short section where Avery shares with Parker the worst of the worst and it’s not something she did, so much as something that was done to her. She has obvious victim’s guilt and there was not nearly enough time devoted to that. For such an important, heavy topic I felt like it should have been handled with more care or just left out entirely.

Overall:

Overall, I really enjoyed Still Life. I really liked the characters and the relationship between Parker and Avery. I thought the mystery was pretty well done, as was the message of God’s forgiveness and being a new creation in Christ. I’ve been reading Pettrey’s work since her first book and I really think that she gets better with each new installment. I’m really looking forward to the rest of this series.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

4 stars

Review: Now You See Me (Lacey Flint #1) by S.J. Bolton

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

One night after interviewing a reluctant witness at a London apartment complex, Lacey Flint, a young detective constable, stumbles onto a woman brutally stabbed just moments before in the building’s darkened parking lot. Within twenty-four hours a reporter receives an anonymous letter that points out alarming similarities between the murder and Jack the Ripper’s first murder—a letter that calls out Lacey by name. If it’s real, and they have a killer bent on re-creating London’s bloody past, history shows they have just five days until the next attempt.

No one believes the connections are anything more than a sadistic killer’s game, not even Lacey, whom the killer seems to be taunting specifically. However, as they investigate the details of the case start reminding her more and more of a part of her past she’d rather keep hidden. And the only way to do that is to catch the killer herself.

When I read Annie’s review (on The Misstery) on Now You See Me I thought it just might be the book to pull me out of the book funk I’ve been in so far this year. I’m quite happy to say that it did the trick. This well-written twisty mystery consumed me for days.

Lacey is a low-level detective that finds herself caught up in a serial killer investigation when she’s a potential witness of the first murder. As the investigation goes on it becomes apparent that the killer is a Jack the Ripper copycat and Lacey is something of an expert on the topic. She ends up working closely with Mark Josebury, who can’t seem to make up his mind between hitting on her or suspecting her.

Lacey is the stand-offish, serious woman with something to hide that is typical of this genre, but I liked her all the same. She was hard to get a handle on sometimes and I think that added to the mystery. As the narrator, I was never sure how reliable she was being, but all the important information was relayed to the reader at just the right impactful moments. I also really liked Josebury, Dana Tulloch (the detective heading up the investigation), and the other detectives working the case. I liked seeing that the police were competent and respectable. They still had funny moments, but they were professional when they needed to be and it was refreshing to see when that is not often the case in these type of books.

I thought the mystery was really well done. The focus shifts a bit from Jack the Ripper comparisons to the copycat and his/her background around halfway through and the mystery of how it all relates to Lacey becomes a little more forefront. There weren’t a lot of big twists, but there were a lot of little subtle twists and surprises that it kept me from not being able to put the book down. Every time I thought I had the whole thing figured out, there’d be a small development that had me questioning myself. The final reveal at the end was definitely a bit of a surprise and I loved it.

Overall, I really enjoyed Now You See Me. I liked the mystery and the characters. Though I felt like the writing could get weighed down with just a little too much description at times, it was a very addictive, consuming read. I definitely recommend this to mystery lovers and I look forward to continuing the series.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

4 stars

Review: Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

In this collection of personal essays, the beloved star of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood reveals stories about life, love, and working as a woman in Hollywood—along with behind-the-scenes dispatches from the set of the new Gilmore Girls, where she plays the fast-talking Lorelai Gilmore once again.

In Talking as Fast as I Can, Lauren Graham hits pause for a moment and looks back on her life, sharing laugh-out-loud stories about growing up, starting out as an actress, and, years later, sitting in her trailer on the Parenthood set and asking herself, “Did you, um, make it?” She opens up about the challenges of being single in Hollywood (“Strangers were worried about me; that’s how long I was single!”), the time she was asked to audition her butt for a role, and her experience being a judge on Project Runway (“It’s like I had a fashion-induced blackout”).

In “What It Was Like, Part One,” Graham sits down for an epic Gilmore Girls marathon and reflects on being cast as the fast-talking Lorelai Gilmore. The essay “What It Was Like, Part Two” reveals how it felt to pick up the role again nine years later, and what doing so has meant to her.

Some more things you will learn about Lauren: She once tried to go vegan just to bond with Ellen DeGeneres, she’s aware that meeting guys at awards shows has its pitfalls (“If you’re meeting someone for the first time after three hours of hair, makeup, and styling, you’ve already set the bar too high”), and she’s a card-carrying REI shopper (“My bungee cords now earn points!”).

Including photos and excerpts from the diary Graham kept during the filming of the recent Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, this book is like a cozy night in, catching up with your best friend, laughing and swapping stories, and—of course—talking as fast as you can.

I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but when I do I go for, as I call them, Funny Lady Memoirs. Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Amy Schumer. While there were definitely things I enjoyed from each of their books, Lauren Graham’s Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in Between is by far my favorite. I have loved Lauren Graham as a long time fan of Gilmore Girls and reading this book just made me love her even more. I loved that while there was a lot more to the book than Gilmore Girls and Parenthood, there were dedicated sections to each show and even though I didn’t get any great inside scoop, I was able to tell how much these shows mean to her and that she’s happy to be connected with them.

Some fun things I learned:

-Lauren Graham was attached to another show when she was cast in Gilmore Girls and if that show had been renewed for a second season she never would have been Lorelai Gilmore.

-Lauren and Alexis Bledel (Rory) didn’t meet until after they were both cast in the show.

-While Gilmore Girls is famous for it’s super long scripts (due to how fast they talk!), Parenthood’s dialogue wasn’t as strict and allowed for a lot more “collaboration.” Which I think proves my theory that instead of lines, the script just directs them to “Stutter and Cry.”

-Lauren and her Parenthood daughter Mae Whitman are producing partners and sold an adaption of The Royal We (one of my favorite reads of 2016), which Lauren is writing. **I tried to find info for this on IMDB, but couldn’t, so I’m not sure what the status is, but I’m very excited for this!** She is also writing a second novel, but not a lot of details on that yet.

-**Mild spoiler for the Gilmore Girls reboot** When Lauren found out the Final Four Words, she didn’t think it was an ending, but a cliffhanger. Every time she mentions that to the creator of the show, Amy Sherman-Palladino just smiles. So maybe more Gilmore Girls to come?

Overall

Overall, I really enjoyed Talking as Fast as I Can. I liked that Graham didn’t seem to take herself too seriously and the whole book had such a fun feeling to it. While the parts about Gilmore Girls and Parenthood were obviously my favorites, I really enjoyed the other sections about her childhood, college, starting out as an actor, and her relationship, among other things, my favorite being a really interesting chapter where she shared some writing advice that she received. After reading this book I want even more to be best friends with her. If you are a Lauren Graham fan, this is a Must Read.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

4 stars