Review: What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

From the New York Times bestselling author of Tell Me Three Things comes a charming and poignant story about two struggling teenagers who find an unexpected connection just when they need it most. For fans of Sophie Kinsella, Jennifer Niven, and Rainbow Rowell.

Sometimes a new perspective is all that is needed to make sense of the world.

KIT: I don’t know why I decide not to sit with Annie and Violet at lunch. It feels like no one here gets what I’m going through. How could they? I don’t even understand.

DAVID: In the 622 days I’ve attended Mapleview High, Kit Lowell is the first person to sit at my lunch table. I mean, I’ve never once sat with someone until now. “So your dad is dead,” I say to Kit, because this is a fact I’ve recently learned about her.

When an unlikely friendship is sparked between relatively popular Kit Lowell and socially isolated David Drucker, everyone is surprised, most of all Kit and David. Kit appreciates David’s blunt honesty—in fact, she finds it bizarrely refreshing. David welcomes Kit’s attention and her inquisitive nature. When she asks for his help figuring out the how and why of her dad’s tragic car accident, David is all in. But neither of them can predict what they’ll find. Can their friendship survive the truth?

Last year I loved Julie Buxbaum’s Tell Me Three Things and I was really hoping to love What to Say Next just as much. At first, I didn’t think I would. I even put this one down to read something out before coming back to it. I’m so glad I kept reading, though, because I did end up really enjoying it.

I LOVE DAVID DRUCKER. I love him! While I wasn’t sold on the story from the very beginning, I was sold on David pretty much instantly. He’s such a different character than I’ve read before. He’s on the Autism spectrum and while I’m not exactly qualified to comment on how realistic a portrayal it was, it did seem pretty realistic to me. There were several times he reminded me a little of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. He was sweet and funny and so, so honest. I just adored him. He went through some heartbreaking moments in this book and I loved seeing him end up stronger because of it. I also really loved his relationship with his sister.

It took a little longer to warm up to Kit. She’s grieving the recent death of her father and while I think it could be cathartic for readers who are going through similar circumstances, it was a little redundant. I kind of feel awful saying that because I know there are stages of grief that everybody goes through at different rates and if it was me I would probably be much the same, but at the same time it made her kind of unlikable for awhile. (I also thought this particular storyline was a little too similar to one in Buxbaum’s last book.) However, as she learned to deal with things in a more emotionally healthy way she became a lot more likable. And her friendship with David made me like her even more. My biggest problem with her storyline has to deal with her father’s accident. I felt like there was supposed to be a bit of a mystery surrounding it, but I thought it was obvious and was a little annoyed that it wasn’t “revealed” until close to the end. It brought with it an extra bit of drama I didn’t feel was really necessary.

The story is told in dual 1st person POVs. At first I didn’t think it worked and wished we only had David’s POV. I felt like David and Kit’s stories didn’t really go together. It almost felt like reading two different books with a couple of shared scenes. Once David and Kit started to spend more time together and be a bigger part of each other’s lives, though, I started to really appreciate the style. Also, Buxbaum nailed their individual voices. There was never a time when I didn’t know which character I was reading. I also absolutely loved being in David’s head.

Overall, What to Say Next started out a little rough for me, but I ended up really loving it. I loved the growing relationship between David and Kit and watching David learn how to better interact with those around him. David Drucker has become one of my favorite characters of all time. I definitely recommend this one.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: Trust by Kylie Scott

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

Being young is all about the experiences: the first time you skip school, the first time you fall in love…the first time someone holds a gun to your head.

After being held hostage during a robbery at the local convenience store, seventeen-year-old Edie finds her attitude about life shattered. Unwilling to put up with the snobbery and bullying at her private school, she enrolls at the local public high school, crossing paths with John. The boy who risked his life to save hers.

While Edie’s beginning to run wild, however, John’s just starting to settle down. After years of partying and dealing drugs with his older brother, he’s going straight—getting to class on time, and thinking about the future.

An unlikely bond grows between the two as John keeps Edie out of trouble and helps her broaden her horizons. But when he helps her out with another first—losing her virginity—their friendship gets complicated.

Meanwhile, Edie and John are pulled back into the dangerous world they narrowly escaped. They were lucky to survive the first time, but this time they have more to lose—each other.

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

This is not the type of book I usually go for. I tend to avoid anything with a shirtless dude on the cover. However, the somewhat recent cover trend with the black and white picture and the soft color in the text is one that I really like. I also somehow missed the part in the synopsis that the loss of virginity was a plot point, which is also something I usually avoid. Despite those things, ever since I read Deanna’s (from A Novel Glimpse) review of this book I was intrigued. I’m so glad I decided to give Trust a try because I ended up really liking it.

The story starts out pretty intense with Edie becoming a hostage in a convenience store robbery. Scott did a really good job of creating the threatening atmosphere and I could feel Edie’s fear. John tries to keep the drugged up robber calm and it looks like things might be ok for awhile, before ending badly. During the fall out Edie loses her best friend and ends up changing schools, where she meets John once again.

The story is told in Edie’s 1st person POV and I felt a pretty strong connection to her. I identified a lot with her insecurities. Her new attitude from walking away from the convenience store was basically that nothing that wasn’t life and death mattered and that was kind of concerning. However, as the story goes on she does start to take the consequences of her actions (to both her and those around her) more seriously, while still being able to rise above the Mean Girl drama/insults that used to affect her. While I think she still has a way to go, I did appreciate her growth. And a lot of that had to do with John. I LOVED John. Before the convenience store he was a drug dealer and lived with his brother, who was also a dealer. Afterwards, though, he gave it up, moved in with his uncle, and started to take school more seriously. While he still indulged in some behavior I didn’t really approve of, I really respected how he got his life together and how much he changed. I loved how he looked out for Edie and was so sweet with her and I really enjoyed their friendship and shipped them to becoming more.

There were a few bits I didn’t like. Since John only dealt weed and not harder drugs and it was the only drug he sometimes did it was portrayed as no big deal. If I may get on my soap box for a moment, I think casual drug use is a really damaging thing to include in YA. While there was definitely an anti-“hard”-drug message, it felt counterproductive to include the casual marijuana use. The other thing I didn’t love was the sexual content. While I did think the subject was dealt with responsibly, there were a few scenes that I thought were far, far too explicit for YA.

Overall, I really did enjoy Trust. I liked the characters, especially John, and the relationship between him and Edie. Though I had my issues with it, it was a fast, easy read that I did not want to put down.  I’ve read a few books recently where I felt like I had to really push myself to finish, but this one I could not get enough of and is the reason I’m bumping up my final rating a bit. This is my first book by Kylie Scott and I’d like to read more from her.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: Down a Dark Road (Kate Burkholder #9) by Linda Castillo

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

In this electrifying new thriller in the New York Times bestselling series, a convicted murderer is on the run and Chief of Police Kate Burkholder must catch him before he strikes again.

Eight years ago Joseph King was convicted of murdering his wife and sentenced to life in prison. He was a “fallen” Amish man and, according to local law enforcement, a known drug user with a violent temper. Now King has escaped, and he’s headed for Painters Mill.

News of a murderer on the loose travels like wildfire and putting Chief of Police Kate Burkholder and her team of officers on edge. A nightmare scenario becomes reality when King shows up with a gun and kidnaps his five children from their Amish uncle’s house. He’s armed and desperate with nothing left to lose.

Fearing for the safety of the children, Kate leaps into action, but her frantic search for a killer leads her into an ambush. When King releases her unharmed, asking her to prove his innocence, she begins to wonder whether the police are hiding something, and she embarks on her own investigation to discover the truth.

I’m a big fan of the Kate Burkholder series. I have been looking forward to Down a Dark Road for awhile and am so happy that it lived up to my expectations.

An Amish man convicted of murdering his wife has escaped from prison. When the escapee, Joseph King, jumps chief of police Kate Burkholder and takes her service weapon, he takes her hostage, along with his kids. She tries to talk him into turning himself in while he tries to talk her into proving he didn’t kill his wife. Though the evidence against him seems insurmountable, Kate finds herself wanting to believe him due to their shared past. Kate grew up Amish and Joseph was her neighbor and friend for a couple years. He was also her first childhood crush.  I really loved the flashback portions where we see Kate’s past experiences with Joseph. Even knowing the outcome and how much I love her current boyfriend, Tomasetti, I found myself shipping young Kate and Joseph. I can definitely see why Kate had such a hard time believing he could do all the things he was accused of.

Kate, being Kate, decides to investigate even though it has to be unofficial and under the radar. I really loved how the mystery played out. There are several great moments of suspense and lots of little twists as Kate discovers new information. I had a couple of guesses who the real murderer was, but was wrong about the one I was convinced was the bad guy for most of the book. I read a lot of this genre and am rarely surprised anymore, so I love that I didn’t figure things out until late in the game.

The only thing I didn’t really like is that there wasn’t as much Tomasetti as I wanted. What we got of him was great, but I always want more. I would’ve loved to have seen a couple of chapters from his POV working the case.

Overall, I really enjoyed Down a Dark Road. It had a great mystery and is definitely one of my favorite books of the series. I love that I got to see Linda Castillo on book tour for the fourth year in a row (and she remembered my name when I went to get my book signed!!). Having the book set near the town where I grew up and recognizing a lot of the places mentioned makes a great series that much more special. I definitely recommend the Kate Burkholder series to mystery fans.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

In this relentlessly paced novel of psychological suspense, New York Times bestselling author Michelle Richmond crafts an intense and shocking tale that asks: How far would you go to protect your marriage?

Newlyweds Alice and Jake are a picture-perfect couple. Alice, once a singer in a well-known rock band, is now a successful lawyer. Jake is a partner in an up-and-coming psychology practice. Their life together holds endless possibilities. After receiving an enticing wedding gift from one of Alice’s prominent clients, they decide to join an exclusive and mysterious group known only as The Pact.


The goal of The Pact seems simple: to keep marriages happy and intact. And most of its rules make sense. Always answer the phone when your spouse calls. Exchange thoughtful gifts monthly. Plan a trip together once per quarter. . . .

Never mention The Pact to anyone.

Alice and Jake are initially seduced by the glamorous parties, the sense of community, their widening social circle of like-minded couples.
And then one of them breaks the rules.
The young lovers are about to discover that for adherents to The Pact, membership, like marriage, is for life. And The Pact will go to any lengths to enforce that rule.
For Jake and Alice, the marriage of their dreams is about to become their worst nightmare.”

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

The Marriage Pact will be available July 25, 2017.

I was in a weird book slump where nothing was sounding good to me when I decided to start reading The Marriage Pact. While it did take me a few chapters to get into it – whether because it started out a little slow or because of my mood, I’m not sure – it did eventually hook me and I could hardly put it down.

When Jake and Alice get married they receive an odd wedding present from a new acquaintance. It’s a locked box that they cannot open until they answer a series of questions about what they want their marriage to be and then wait for someone to come visit their home and explain. Inside the box is the Marriage Pact. A contract and a manual of rules to follow in a marriage, as well as a list of punishments if you break the rules. The goal of the pact is to have a lasting, successful marriage, so they agree to join. However, they soon come to realize how cult-like it is and how dangerous it is for them if they do not “make peace with the pact.”

Though I thought the book was a little too long and there was a little too much detail at times, I liked the writing style. It’s told from Jake’s 1st person POV and I found him likable, though often frustrating. I found myself disliking Alice most of the time because of how hard she was to nail down, which was also one of the things Jake loved about her.

I thought the psychological suspense aspect of the book to be really well done. I really felt Jake and Alice’s fear of the Pact. I am really fascinated by cults and the Pact is basically a cult. The punishment sessions were creepy and crazy. I never quite understood why it was so severe, though. There is an explanation late in the book about why punishment needs to exist to enforce the rules, but it still didn’t make a lot of sense to me. I guess cults don’t really make sense, though.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Marriage Pact. Though it started out a little slow for me and did get bogged down in the details a bit, for the most part it was well-paced and seriously creepy. I had fallen into a book slump before I started this and it definitely pulled me out. This is my first Michelle Richmond book and I’ll definitely be reading more from her.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

The stunning new novel from the international #1 bestselling author — a searing, spellbinding blend of cold-case thriller and psychological suspense.

Two girls are forced into the woods at gunpoint. One runs for her life. One is left behind…

Twenty-eight years ago, Charlotte and Samantha Quinn’s happy small-town family life was torn apart by a terrifying attack on their family home. It left their mother dead. It left their father — Pikeville’s notorious defense attorney — devastated. And it left the family fractured beyond repair, consumed by secrets from that terrible night.

Twenty-eight years later, and Charlie has followed in her father’s footsteps to become a lawyer herself — the ideal good daughter. But when violence comes to Pikeville again — and a shocking tragedy leaves the whole town traumatized — Charlie is plunged into a nightmare. Not only is she the first witness on the scene, but it’s a case that unleashes the terrible memories she’s spent so long trying to suppress. Because the shocking truth about the crime that destroyed her family nearly thirty years ago won’t stay buried forever…

Packed with twists and turns, brimming with emotion and heart, The Good Daughter is fiction at its most thrilling.

I received a copy of this title from the publisher via a Good Reads giveaway. It does not impact my review.

Every time I see Karin Slaughter is publishing another book that isn’tWill Trent book, I am a little disappointed. Then I read it and am angry at myself for ever thinking I would be disappointed in a Slaughter book. The Good Daughter is not quite what I was expecting, but I really enjoyed it.

The story is told through the POVs of sisters Sam and Charlie in both the past and the present. 28 years ago their home was attacked which resulted in the loss of their mother and deep physical and emotional scars for both of them. Both sisters were a little hard to like at times, but I was rooting for them. I loved Charlie’s estranged husband, Ben, who was so sweet, but definitely had some flaws of his own. Sam and Charlie’s dad, Rusty, was another difficult character. He spoke in a lot of riddles and spent his life defending the people no one else wanted to defend, which often came with some dire consequences. He did very much love his family, though, which I liked. There are also many references made to Sam and Charlie’s mother, Gamma. Gamma was her nickname (think gamma ray) and I really wish they would have called her something else. Every time I saw it, I read it as “Gramma” and which resulted in me picturing her as an old woman.

Even though there are a couple of crimes/mysteries involved in the plot, I really felt like this was much more a family drama than Slaughter’s usual mystery/suspense. A lot of time was given to the relationship between the sisters and their parents and how each of them dealt with the fall out from what happened 28 years ago. That’s not to stay the crime element wasn’t good, because it was. Slaughter really knows how to create atmosphere and spares no graphic detail when it comes to the more violent acts (readers who are squeamish of those things should be forewarned). There are nice little reveals peppered throughout the story to move the plot along and while none of them were really shocking, I appreciated the writing all the same. I did guess what happened in the present timeline before it was revealed, but the “why” was a lot more involved than I was expecting. There was also something from the past timeline that was revealed that I didn’t guess. I did think that the resolution to the mysteries were wrapped up a little too quickly, though. I was almost to the end of the book and felt like there was a lot more crime solving to go when things all of sudden were figured out.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Good Daughter. Despite the rather long chapters, the pace was really steady and I kept finding myself saying “one more chapter” far after it was time for me to go to bed. The mystery storylines were intriguing, but it was really the family relationships that stand out. There are some really intense emotional moments and this was the first time I’ve almost cried at a Karin Slaughter book. I am so excited for the opportunity to go to one of the book tour stops and meet her next month.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

One of Us Is Lying is the story of what happens when five strangers walk into detention and only four walk out alive. Everyone is a suspect, and everyone has something to hide.

Pay close attention and you might solve this.

On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.

Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.

Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.

Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.

Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.

And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.

Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose?

Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.

This is a book that I have been looking forward to for a long time and I’m so happy to report that it not only lived up to my expectations, but surpassed them.

I’m having a hard time organizing my thoughts on this so I’m just going to list it all out.

-I’m really glad that we got all 4 POVs. I really felt like I got to know all the characters and connect with them. The story is really character driven and each of the Bayview Four showed tremendous growth throughout the book. I liked all of the characters, especially Cooper and Nate, (though it did take me a little while to warm up to Addy) and really appreciated how different they all were and how the situation changed them all for the better (cue Breakfast Club reference). My only complaint with it is that they are all told in 1st person and their voices are not that unique. There were a few times (when there were two or more of the characters in the same scene) that I forgot which POV I was reading.

-The mystery was clever and well plotted. I honestly was not expecting to be at all surprised, but I was. There were parts that I suspected, but the full reveal was something I hadn’t guessed and I can’t tell you how long it’s been since I didn’t figure out what was happening long before it was revealed. I also loved that there are clues all along the way so the answer doesn’t come out of left field.

-I shipped Bronwyn and Nate so hard!! I loved watching their old acquaintance turn into friendship and then turn into more. They were so cute together (even though I’m sure Nate would hate being described as cute) and I loved every scene that had the two of them in it. There were a few times where it felt like maybe the romantic storyline was taking a little more center stage than the mystery (especially in the epilogue), but I just loved them so much that I don’t really care.

-There is a part where Buffy the Vampire Slayer is referred to as a “retro vampire show” and I have never felt so old.

-Family love. I liked that each character had at least one present and supportive family member. So often in YA the families are either mostly absent or completely awful, but not here. There were still some parental awfulness, but there was a lot more positive family relationships portrayed. I especially loved Addy’s sister, Ashton, and Bronwyn’s sister, Maeve.

Overall, I loved One of Us Is Lying. It’s a very impressive debut with a well plotted mystery and amazing character development. This is definitely one that I recommend and know that I will be re-reading it in the future. I really look forward to reading whatever McManus writes next.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: Dating You / Hating You by Christina Lauren

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

All’s fair in love and work. The first standalone romance by New York Times and #1 international bestselling author Christina Lauren (Beautiful Bastard) is a sexy, compulsively readable romantic comedy that dives headlong into the thrill and doubt of modern love.

Despite the odds against them from an embarrassing meet-awkward at a mutual friend’s Halloween party, Carter and Evie immediately hit it off. Even the realization that they’re both high-powered agents at competing firms in Hollywood isn’t enough to squash the fire.

But when their two agencies merge—causing the pair to vie for the same position—all bets are off. What could have been a beautiful, blossoming romance turns into an all-out war of sabotage. Carter and Evie are both thirtysomething professionals—so why can’t they act like it?

Can Carter stop trying to please everyone and see how their mutual boss is really playing the game? Can Evie put aside her competitive nature long enough to figure out what she really wants in life? Can their actor clients just be something close to human? Whether these two Hollywood love/hatebirds get the storybook Hollywood ending or just a dramedy of epic proportions, you will get to enjoy Christina Lauren’s heartfelt, raucous, and hilarious romance style at its finest.

I had so much fun reading this book! It was so cute and funny. I was smiling my way throughout almost the whole thing.

Ok, first I need to talk about the part I found really relatable. Evie is 33, single, child-less, does not own her own home, and feels like she’s behind on life. Other than the fact that she has an actual career and not a dead-end job she hates, ahem, it was like she was describing all of my inner life panic. I loved this passage, which is basically all things I have thought at one point or another:

I try to ignore the pressure to be coupled up, but it’s everywhere…There’s my own biological clock, quietly yet persistently ticking away…But of course there’s that niggling voice suggesting I not care about any of it, that maybe I should give in and buy the cats instead. The problem is that I don’t like them. I may be a terrible married person someday, but I know for sure I would be an even worse cat lady.

“Evie?”

“Sorry…I was just trying to figure out whether I could still be a crazy cat lady without the actual animals.”

I loved all the characters in this book. Evie and Carter were great main characters and I really enjoyed all of their friends and family, as well.  I loved that the story was told in alternating 1st Person POV between Evie and Carter. I thought each voice was well done and really felt a connection to both of them. I thought they had great chemistry and I shipped them right away. This wasn’t really the Hate-to-Love story I was expecting. It was more Insta-Love-to-Hate-to-Love and I have to say it worked for me. While I loved Carter – Loved him – he did have several moments of great dickdom, so I was able to hate him when Evie did. But he was also so sweet and charming that I could easily fall back in love with him later.

As anyone who reads many of my reviews knows, I am not a fan of lots of graphic sexual content. I’ve only read one other book by this author duo before and based on that I knew going in that there was going to be some scenes like that. I think because I anticipated it (and was enjoying all the other aspects of the book), I found I didn’t mind it as much. There was actually less than I thought there was going to be.

The one thing (besides the graphic stuff) that kind of bothered me, though, is that I was expecting more behind-the-scenes information on Hollywood and working as an agent. Other than the mention of some actors and making big deals, there wasn’t really a lot of details. I felt like this could have been set in any other type of industry and the story would have come out the same. There is one scandalous work thing with Carter that happens towards the end of the book and I did not understand why it was such a big deal. I felt like it was something that only people in that business would understand and by that point in the book I should’ve been able to understand it, but I didn’t. I think my favorite thing when it came to the work atmosphere, though, is how Evie deals with sexism. It’s a real problem that many of us face and I thought for the most part Evie handled it with strength and class.

Overall, I really loved Hating You / Dating You. I loved the characters and the romance, and the relatability of being 33 and behind on life. Even though there are quite a bit of differences, it reminded me a lot of The Hating Game by Sally Thorne, which I adored, and I think if you liked that one, you will like this one as well. I had pretty high expectations going into this and I’m really happy to say that they were met. I can see myself re-reading this a lot in the future. I definitely recommend this one to Romance fans!

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars