Review: The Last House Guest by Megan Miranda

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

From the acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of All the Missing Girls, a suspenseful new novel about an idyllic town in Maine dealing with the suspicious death of one of their own—and her best “summer” friend, who is trying to uncover the truth…before fingers point her way.

Littleport, Maine, has always felt like two separate towns: an ideal vacation enclave for the wealthy, whose summer homes line the coastline; and a simple harbor community for the year-round residents whose livelihoods rely on service to the visitors.

Typically, fierce friendships never develop between a local and a summer girl—but that’s just what happens with visitor Sadie Loman and Littleport resident Avery Greer. Each summer for almost a decade, the girls are inseparable—until Sadie is found dead. While the police rule the death a suicide, Avery can’t help but feel there are those in the community, including a local detective and Sadie’s brother, Parker, who blame her. Someone knows more than they’re saying, and Avery is intent on clearing her name, before the facts get twisted against her.

Another thrilling novel from the bestselling author of All the Missing Girls and The Perfect Stranger, Megan Miranda’s The Last House Guest is a smart, twisty read with a strong female protagonist determined to make her own way in the world.

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

The Last House Guest will be available June 18, 2019. 

I’ve been reading a lot of Contemporary lately and have started getting a little bored with it. I wanted to change things up a bit and The Last House Guest was just the addictive mystery that I needed.

Megan Miranda’s writing is really addicting. Though there were times I thought it was a little repetitive and that she was trying maybe just a little too hard to create a creepy atmosphere, there is just something really compelling about her writing. Even when I figured things out much sooner than they were revealed, I had to keep reading.

The story is really character-driven, which I have come to expect from Miranda. This isn’t a fast-paced suspense, but there are plenty of small, impactful reveals along the way to keep you reading.  One of the “big” reveals towards the end of the book was my very first guess early on in the story. I thought it was so obvious that I was kind of annoyed that it took so long to come out. However, there was another twist soon after that I had only recently begun to suspect, so I liked that it was still able to surprise me a bit, even though I guessed most things.

When you’re reading a story so character-driven, the characters can really make or break the book. Fortunately, I found Avery likable enough. She had some issues, but she was compelling and I wanted to see good things happen for her. Where it lost me a bit was with Sadie’s character. Right from the start she comes across as the “poor, little rich girl” cliche. She acted out to get attention from her family. She was also calculating and it was pretty obvious to everyone but Avery that Sadie had an agenda when it came to her. It was really hard to care about whether Sadie was murdered or not. It was also kind of frustrating to see how much Avery cared about Sadie when the friendship did not mean the same to Sadie.

Overall, I did enjoy The Last House Guest. Even though the mystery was not as surprising as I hoped and I had a hard time caring about Sadie, I liked Avery and I found the writing really addictive and compelling. I never wanted to put the book down and that is why I’m bumping my rating up to 4 stars. I think if you have liked Miranda’s previous books, you will enjoy this one, as well.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

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Review: Just One of the Groomsmen by Cindi Madsen

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

Addison Murphy is the funny friend, the girl you grab a beer with—the girl voted most likely to start her own sweatshirt line. And now that one of her best guy friends is getting married, she’ll add “groomsman” to that list, too. She’ll get through this wedding if it’s the last thing she does. Just don’t ask her to dive for any bouquet.

When Tucker Crawford returns to his small hometown, he expects to see the same old people, feel comfort in the same old things. He certainly doesn’t expect to see the nice pair of bare legs sticking out from under the hood of a broken-down car. Certainly doesn’t expect to feel his heart beat faster when he realizes they belong to one of his best friends.

If he convinces Addie to give him a chance, they could be electric…or their break-up could split their tight-knit group in two.

Hiding the way he feels from the guys through bachelor parties, cake tastings, and rehearsals is one thing. But just as Tucker realizes that Addie truly could be the perfect woman for him—he was just too stupid to realize it—now she’s leaving to follow her own dreams. He’s going to need to do a lot of compromising if he’s going to convince her to take a shot at forever with him—on her terms this time.

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

Just One of the Groomsmen will be available May 28, 2019. 

I loved this book so much! It was such a fun, sweet Friends-to-More story and I couldn’t get enough of it.

I don’t really like to use words like “swoony” or “feels”, but Addie and Tucker made my cold, black heart feel all the feelings. I loved their friendship and I loved how it turned into more. The friendship lines aren’t really crossed until about halfway through the book and the slow burn was everything. I actually maybe enjoyed the first half of the book a teensy bit more because of it.

I also really loved their group of friends. It made me nostalgic for my high school days where I had a great group of guy friends and I was often the only girl hanging out and they definitely sometimes forgot I was, in fact, a girl. I really enjoyed when they were all together  and how they joked around with each other. I could have used a lot more of that, actually. I don’t feel like we got to know all of the guys as much as I liked to. I would love for this to be a series so that could be rectified.

The only thing I didn’t really like was that there were a few too many sex scenes once Addie and Tucker got together. I could’ve done with a few less of the graphic scenes, with more focus on the relationship instead.

Overall, I loved Just One of the Groomsmen. It was fun and romantic and everything I hope for when I pick up a Contemporary Romance. I definitely recommend this one to fans of the genre.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: The Bride Test (The Kiss Quotient #2) by Helen Hoang

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, he feels irritation when people move his things or contentment when ledgers balance down to the penny, but not big, important emotions—like grief. And love. He thinks he’s defective. His family knows better—that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. When he steadfastly avoids relationships, his mother takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride.

As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. When the opportunity arises to come to America and meet a potential husband, she can’t turn it down, thinking this could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn’t go as planned. Esme’s lessons in love seem to be working…but only on herself. She’s hopelessly smitten with a man who’s convinced he can never return her affection.

With Esme’s time in the United States dwindling, Khai is forced to understand he’s been wrong all along. And there’s more than one way to love.

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

I really wanted to like this book a little more than I did. There was a lot to like about it, but overall it ended up just being ok for me.

What I Liked

  • Learning a little bit about Vietnamese culture. I would’ve liked to have seen a lot more, honestly, but I thought it added a different dimension to the story than a lot of other “arranged marriage” type books I’ve read and I liked that.
  • I LOVED the relationship between Khai and his brother Quan. It made the whole book for me. Quan was so understanding and protective and patient with Khai, but he also didn’t treat him with kid gloves, either. I just loved pretty much every scene that had the two of them together and I could’ve used a lot more Quan.
  • Khai is on the autism spectrum and I thought it came across as a pretty accurate portrayal. I liked watching his journey as he learned things about himself throughout the book. I enjoyed the chapters from his POV the most.

What didn’t work for Me

  • This is my fault more than the book’s, but I thought this was a Women’s Fiction book, but it’s straight up Romance. I was expecting something with a little more substance and a little less description of body parts and sex. It left me a little disappointed in the overall plot.
  • I had to continually remind myself that Esme was only 23. I know that she was coming to a new country and all and was naive in some things, but she wasn’t a wide-eyed innocent type of character, either. She just seemed so immature so much of the time and I found myself frustrated a lot by her interactions with Khai.
  • Speaking of her interactions with Khai, I wish that someone would have more fully explained Khai’s autism to Esme earlier in their relationship. So often she’s left frustrated and hurt after their interactions and had she understood him a little more, I felt she would have been able to respond in a more positive way and they could work out their issues together. There are a few times throughout the book that he’s able to explain something about himself and she adjusts how she approaches him and had she understood his autism earlier, they would have had way less issues. I’m not saying that there wouldn’t have been times she wasn’t frustrated or hurt, but I think it would have forced her to communicate her feelings and thoughts to him.
  • I felt like the pace was pretty slow and nothing really happened for long stretches of time. It took me quite awhile to really get into the story and to start caring about the romance between Esme and Khai. There were a few cute moments, but I never really fell in love with them.

Overall

Overall, The Bride Test was just ok for me. I liked the inclusion of Autism and Vietnamese culture, and loved the brotherly relationship between Khai and Quan, but Esme’s immaturity and the heavy Romance content left me a little underwhelmed. It’s not a book I would plan on reading again, but I think there will be a lot of people out there who will really enjoy it.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 3 Stars

Review: The Killer Across the Table by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

The legendary FBI criminal profiler, number-one New York Times bestselling author, and inspiration for the hit Netflix show Mindhunter delves deep into the lives and crimes of four of the most disturbing and complex predatory killers, offering never-before-revealed details about his profiling process, and divulging the strategies used to crack some of America’s most challenging cases.

The FBI’s pioneer of criminal profiling, former special agent John Douglas, has studied and interviewed many of America’s most notorious killers—including  Charles Manson, ”Son of Sam Killer” David Berkowitz and ”BTK Strangler” Dennis Rader—trained FBI agents and investigators around and the world, and helped educate the country about these deadly predators and how they operate, and has become a legend in popular culture, fictionalized in The Silence of the Lambs and the hit television shows Criminal Minds and Mindhunter.

Twenty years after his famous memoir, the man who literally wrote the book on FBI criminal profiling opens his case files once again. In this riveting work of true crime, he spotlights four of the most diabolical criminals he’s confronted, interviewed and learned from. Going deep into each man’s life and crimes, he outlines the factors that led them to murder and how he used his interrogation skills to expose their means, motives, and true evil. Like the hit Netflix show, The Killer Across the Table is centered around Douglas’ unique interrogation and profiling process. With his longtime collaborator Mark Olshaker, Douglas recounts the chilling encounters with these four killers as he experienced them—revealing for the first time his profile methods in detail.

Going step by step through his interviews, Douglas explains how he connects each killer’s crimes to the specific conversation, and contrasts these encounters with those of other deadly criminals to show what he learns from each one. In the process, he returns to other famous cases, killers and interviews that have shaped his career, describing how the knowledge he gained from those exchanges helped prepare him for these.

A glimpse into the mind of a man who has pierced the heart of human darkness, The Killer Across the Table unlocks the ultimate mystery of depravity and the techniques and approaches that have countered evil in the name of justice.

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

The Killer Across the Table will be available May 7, 2019. 

I don’t often read Non-Fiction, but profiling has always fascinated me. Mindhunters has also been on my Watch List, so when I realized John Douglas is the inspiration for that show, I knew I had to read The Killer Across the Table.

John Douglas is a pioneer in profiling for the FBI. He and his colleague, Bob Ressler, started interviewing violent criminals to learn more about their motivations, which can ultimately help law enforcement in identifying, catching, and prosecuting the guilty. The book focuses on four different killers, ranging from a one-time (though horrific) offender to a serial killer. Included in each chapter is detailed background information about the subject, anecdotes of his interviews with other criminals that relate in some way to the current subject, details of the interview, and analysis of what it all means.

I found the book really interesting. It does not shy away from any of the gruesome facts, so it may not be for all readers. The four main subjects were Joe McGowan, Joseph Kondro, Donald Harvey, and Todd Kohlhepp. I had never heard of any of these men before picking up this book, but I will not soon forget the atrocities they committed. While the many anecdotes on previous cases were very interesting and added to the main case being discussed, it did get a little confusing at times with all the names and details being thrown around. There were also a few times where Douglas comes across pretty arrogant, mockingly dismissing the opinions of other professionals that he disagreed with. However, he is obviously very knowledgeable and dedicated to what he does, so I could look past the more arrogant moments.

Overall, I enjoyed The Killer Across the Table. I think profiling work is so interesting and I liked learning a little more about the process. I definitely recommend this one to true crime fans.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: Bridesmaids by Zara Stoneley

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

Meet Rachel, the beautiful bride with BIG plans for the perfect day! The venue is a castle and the dress is designer. It’s just a shame her husband is a rat.

Maddie and Sally have only one thing in common – they both love the same man!

Beth is a newly single mum with a mystery baby daddy. Surely the father isn’t someone the girls all know?

And then there’s Jane, the glue holding them all together, but being dumped doesn’t make her the happiest bridesmaid…especially with gorgeous flatmate Freddie complicating things.

Will the bride say, ‘I Do!’? Or will her bridesmaids save the day…and find love along the way?

The most hilarious, feel-good rom com of the year!

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

Bridesmaids will be available April 26, 2019. 

Bridesmaids was a fun, quick read that I really enjoyed. I’m going to go the list route on this one.

-Based on the synopsis I thought this was going to be more of an ensemble story with multiple POVs. However, it’s told from the first person POV of Jane, the bride-to-be’s best friend. I had to adjust my expectations a bit, but it worked for me. Jane was a little hard to like at first. She came across pretty self-absorbed and kind of snotty, but as the story went on I liked her a lot more.

-Rachel, the bride, is always described as being so nice and caring and selfless, but I didn’t always get that. I mean, she was nice, but she did lots of selfish things. Jane had recently gone through a pretty terrible break-up right before she was supposed to be married and did not handle it well and is pretty skittish about the whole wedding idea. But, Rachel 100% expects her to be there as a bridesmaid and to even plan her hen party (or bachelorette party to us, Americans), which is where she was dumped by her fiance. Rachel also asks two other women to be bridesmaids even though one of them is now married to the other one’s ex-boyfriend, who is definitely not over the break-up. It was kind of a train wreck sometimes, but I couldn’t look away.

-I think my favorite thing about the book was Freddie, Rachel’s flatmate. He was so funny and sweet and wonderful. I loved every scene he was in. I loved his friendship with Rachel and I loved how their relationship turned to more than friends. I shipped them so hard.

-There are are several secrets and scandals between the wedding party. I’ll admit one of my pet peeves in books is when one honest conversation could solve all the problems. But, it didn’t really bother me here. As I said earlier, sometimes when they all got together it was kind of like a train wreck, but it was an entertaining one I had to keep reading. I thought the identity of Beth’s baby’s father was kind of obvious, but it added to the soap-opera like drama and I was here for it.

Overall, I really enjoyed Bridesmaids. While I did have some issues with some of the characters’ behavior, the story was full of Lifetime level drama and was exactly the type of read I was in the mood for. I also absolutely loved Freddie and his relationship with Jane. This was my first book by Stoneley, but I plan on checking out more of her books when I’m in the mood for some good Chick Lit.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: Summer by the Tides by Denise Hunter

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

From the bestselling author of The Convenient Groom (now a beloved Hallmark Original movie) comes a heartfelt story of family secrets, forgiveness, and unexpected romance.

Following a painful betrayal, Maddy Monroe’s love life is a wreck, and her restaurant career is in shambles. When her grandmother goes missing, she and her estranged sisters converge at the family beach house in Sea Haven, North Carolina. Being with uptight Nora and free-spirited Emma at the place where their family broke apart is a struggle, and undercurrents of jealousy and resentment threaten to pull the sisters under. In the midst of the storm, sparks begin to fly between Maddy and Gram’s maddening neighbor, Connor Murphy.

As the sisters pack up the family belongings, memories of idyllic, slow-paced summers are resurrected. But long-buried secrets also come to light as Maddy discovers that all was not as it appeared that last summer in Sea Haven–nor today in the seemingly perfect lives of her sisters.

As family tensions rise and Connor causes tumult in Maddy’s heart, the sisters must find a way to accept each other for the women they’ve become before the bitterness of the past destroys their hope for a future.

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

Summer by the Tides will be available May 21, 2019.  

Summer by the Tides is one of my new favorite Denise Hunter novels. A perfect blend of family, faith, and romance, it was everything I hope for when picking up one of Hunter’s books.

Maddy loses her job and her boyfriend all at the same time so there is nothing holding her back from going to look in on her grandmother when she gets a call from her concerned neighbor. The concerned neighbor also called Maddy’s two estranged sisters, Nora and Emma. Nora and Emma had a falling out twenty years prior and are both still holding grudges. It makes things really uncomfortable when they all show up at their grandmother’s and then decide to stay there to help fix the place up. All the characters were pretty likable, though sometimes frustrating. The secrets that are discovered during their stay were not anything surprising – except there was an extra twist on one that I wasn’t expecting.

I really liked the concerned neighbor, Connor. He was such a sweet and stand-up guy. I loved his relationship with his sisters. I really shipped his growing relationship with Maddy, too. He was exactly the kind of guy that Maddy needed and he was extremely patient with her skittishness. Things did get just a little too cheesy at times when it came to the romance, but I’ll take sappy over graphic any day.

Overall, I really enjoyed Summer by the Tides. It was a cute, quick read that I flew right through. I liked the message of faith and trusting in God and felt it was incorporated really well into the characters’ lives and didn’t come off as preachy. I liked seeing Maddy and her sisters work through their issues and discover family secrets. I liked that reconciliation was shown as a process and small steps and not just a magical fix where everything is all of a sudden fine. I definitely recommend this one to Denise Hunter fans.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: The DNA of You and Me by Andrea Rothman

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

A smart debut novel—a wonderfully engaging infusion of Lab Girl, The Assistants, and Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine—that pits the ambition of scientific discovery against the siren call of love.

How does smell work? Specifically, how do olfactory sensory neurons project to their targets in the olfactory bulb, where smell is processed? Justin McKinnon has hired fresh-faced graduate student Emily to study that question. What Justin hasn’t told Emily is that two other scientists in the lab, Aeden and Allegra, are working on a very similar topic, and their findings may compete with her research.

Emily was born focused and driven. She’s always been more comfortable staring down the barrel of a microscope than making small talk with strangers. Competition doesn’t scare her. Her special place is the lab, where she analyzes DNA sequences, looking for new genes that might be involved in guiding olfactory neurons to their targets.

To Emily’s great surprise, her rational mind is unsettled by Aeden. As they shift from competitors to colleagues, and then to something more, Emily allows herself to see a future in which she doesn’t end up alone. But when Aeden decides to leave the lab, it becomes clear to Emily that she must make a choice: follow her research or follow her heart.

A sharp, relevant novel that speaks to the ambitions and desires of modern women, The DNA of You and Me explores the evergreen question of career versus family, the irrational sensibility of love, and whether one can be a loner without a diagnostic label.

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

I was a little hesitant to pick up this book because of the heavy scientific content, but I admit I was drawn in by that beautiful cover. I thought it conveyed whimsy and lightness that would balance out the science jargon. However, my initial instinct was correct and the story ended up being way too science-heavy for me.

I felt like The DNA of You and Me ended up being more of a science lesson with a little bit of romance and self-reflection thrown in. And unless you are already familiar with the science, it’s probably not a lesson you will learn anything from. The author herself is a scientist that studies the sense of smell and perhaps because of this didn’t find it necessary to do any world building, if you will, for those of us that haven’t been in a lab since high school. Large portions of this book felt like reading another language. I also found the subject matter incredibly dull. The story was never able to make me care about the research of the sense of smell.

I probably could’ve overlooked the science heavy content if the rest of the story made up for it, but the characters and romance really felt lacking to me, as well. I never really connected to Emily, even though there were many aspects of her that I felt should have been relatable to me. I honestly thought her actions were kind of sociopath-like in the beginning as she manipulated the situation to get closer to Aeden. And Aeden was awful. He treated her horrifically in the beginning. Somewhere along the way he ended up with genuine feelings for Emily, but I couldn’t tell you when. The romance was dysfunctional and confusing with a total lack of chemistry.

Overall, The DNA of You and Me was not the book for me. The cover is basically the only good thing I can say about it. The characters were not likable or engaging, the romance was dysfunctional, and the story was just really dull. If you are interested in science and have some familiarity with the subject matter, you might well enjoy that part and be able to overlook the characters and romance. I should’ve stuck with my initial instinct to pass on this one, though.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 1 Star