Review: Final Girls by Riley Sager

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

“The Final Girls need you. . . .  The Final Girls are tough, everything survivors should be.  But the new threat is clever, ominous, even closer than you suspect. You are about to gasp. You might drop the book. You may have to look over your shoulder. But you must keep reading.  This is the best book of 2017.”—Lisa Gardner, New York Times bestselling author of Find Her

Ten years ago, college student Quincy Carpenter went on vacation with five friends and came back alone, the only survivor of a horror movie–scale massacre. In an instant, she became a member of a club no one wants to belong to—a group of similar survivors known in the press as the Final Girls. Lisa, who lost nine sorority sisters to a college dropout’s knife; Sam, who went up against the Sack Man during her shift at the Nightlight Inn; and now Quincy, who ran bleeding through the woods to escape Pine Cottage and the man she refers to only as Him. The three girls are all attempting to put their nightmares behind them, and, with that, one another. Despite the media’s attempts, they never meet.

Now, Quincy is doing well—maybe even great, thanks to her Xanax prescription. She has a caring almost-fiancé, Jeff; a popular baking blog; a beautiful apartment; and a therapeutic presence in Coop, the police officer who saved her life all those years ago. Her memory won’t even allow her to recall the events of that night; the past is in the past.

That is, until Lisa, the first Final Girl, is found dead in her bathtub, wrists slit, and Sam, the second, appears on Quincy’s doorstep. Blowing through Quincy’s life like a whirlwind, Sam seems intent on making Quincy relive the past, with increasingly dire consequences, all of which makes Quincy question why Sam is really seeking her out. And when new details about Lisa’s death come to light, Quincy’s life becomes a race against time as she tries to unravel Sam’s truths from her lies, evade the police and hungry reporters, and, most crucially, remember what really happened at Pine Cottage, before what was started ten years ago is finished.

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

Final Girls will be available July 11, 2017.

Well, then. This just might be my biggest disappointment of the year so far.

Let’s start with the things that I kind of liked. I thought the flashback chapters to what happened at the cottage were more entertaining than anything else. It reads very much like any number of horror movies and while it was basically just one big cliché, it was entertaining. There was also several chapters towards the end of the book where the writing was a little more suspenseful and even though I could guess pretty much everything that was happening, I didn’t want to put it down during that short time.

This book could’ve been a little better for me if the characters weren’t so dang annoying. I HATED them. Quincy was ok in the very beginning, but then Sam showed up and it just all went down hill from there. Sam was the clichéd bad girl psycho who was there to lead Quincy off the straight and narrow. But you can’t really feel that bad for Quincy because she was so easily manipulated and made so many bad decisions and she’s kind of a psycho herself. I spent the vast majority of this book being so unbearably annoyed by both Sam and Quincy that it just ruined the whole experience for me.

I know there are a lot of people that have really loved this book, so I’m sure I’m in the minority opinion here. But, as someone who has seen a good deal of horror movies and reads a lot of this genre, this was not very mysterious or thrilling. I also recently read another book that had a similar storyline with a girl who escapes a murderer and has no memory about what happened and the conclusion was pretty similar. Overall, this was a big disappointment for me.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 2 Stars

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: Sweetbriar Cottage by Denise Hunter

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

When Noah and Josephine Mitchell discover their divorce was never actually finalized, their lives are turned upside down.

Following his divorce, Noah gave up his dream job, settling at a remote horse ranch in the Blue Ridge Mountains of northern Georgia, putting much-needed distance between himself and the former love of his life. But then Noah gets a letter from the IRS claiming he and Josephine are still married. When he confronts Josephine for the first time in months, they discover that she missed the final step in filing the paperwork and they are, in fact, still married.

Josephine is no happier about the news than Noah. Maybe the failed marriage—and okay, the botched divorce—was her fault, but her heart was shattered right alongside his, more than he would ever believe. The sooner they put this marriage behind them, the better for both of their sakes.

But when Josephine delivers the final paperwork to his ranch, the two become stranded in his cottage during the worst spring snowstorm in a decade. Being trapped with Josephine is a test of Noah’s endurance. He wrestles with resentment and an unmistakable pull to his wife—still beautiful, still brave, and still more intriguing than any woman he’s ever known.

As they find themselves confronted with each other and their shared past, old wounds surface and tempers flare. But when they are forced out into the storm, they must rely on each other in a way they never have before. Josephine finally opens up about her tragic past, and Noah realizes she’s never been loved unconditionally by anyone—including him. Will Noah accept the challenge to pursue Josephine’s heart? And can she finally find the courage to trust Noah?

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

Sweet Briar Cottage will be available June 13, 2017.

I’ve had my up and downs with Denise Hunter books, but I have to say I loved this one. It’s my favorite one of hers I’ve read so far.

Noah decided to propose to Josephine after only a few months of dating, despite the warnings of his family and friends. When his marriage ends not too long after it started, it seems the warnings were right. After being apart for over a year Noah finds out the divorce was never finalized and he is, in fact, still married. Since Josephine feels responsible for the mix up she decides to speed things along to fix it by taking the new paperwork up the mountain to Noah’s new ranch. A broken down car and freak spring snowstorm later and they’re stuck together, all alone.

A problem I have with a lot of books by this author is that I find the female lead really unlikable. Thankfully this was not the case with Josephine. While she did make some decisions that frustrated me at times, I feel like her behavior made sense due to her background. I liked that she had reached the point in her life where she was dealing with her past and trying to understand why she did the things she did and become a better person, even though she still lived with a lot of doubts. I thought she was really realistically portrayed. I really liked Noah, as well. Though he had been really hurt by Josephine, he still cared about her and looked out for her when it counted.

I really liked how the romance played out in the story. It wasn’t the typical Contemporary read with lots of “cute” moments (though, of course, there were a couple). It was a more serious love that faced a lot of struggles. We go back and forth between the present and the past. Interspersed with the main story we see Josephine’s childhood and when she and Noah met and started dating. We see Noah’s absolute certainty and Josephine’s tenuous hope at the beginning of their relationship. I liked watching as their hard feelings and fears began to fade while they were stuck together. While I think it’s pretty obvious what broke up their marriage, the details don’t actually come out until late in the story and I kind of wish it would’ve happened a little earlier. I did really like the whole conversation they eventually had surrounding it, though. The one thing I didn’t really like about the romance was that Noah is very strong in his faith and pursued Josephine really hard even though she wasn’t. I’m not a fan of the whole “Evangelism Dating” thing and I don’t think it’s realistic that Noah would rush into marriage with someone who barely seemed to share his faith.

There is also a message of unconditional love woven into the story. Though Josephine had wanted to test Noah to see if he could love her no matter what, it’s really the promise of God’s unconditional love that she needed to accept. I felt that the message was written well into the story and didn’t come across as “preachy.”

Overall, I really enjoyed Sweetbriar Cottage. I liked the characters, the story, the romance, and the message of God’s love. I’ve read a lot of Denise Hunter’s books and this one is definitely my new favorite and I would recommend it to fans of Contemporary Romance and Inspirational Romance.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 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: When It’s Real by Erin Watt

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

From #1 New York Times bestselling author duo Erin Watt comes the addictive contemporary tale of a teen rock star in need of an image makeover and the teen girl hired to be his fake girlfriend.

Meet Oakley Ford-teen celebrity, renowned pop star, child of famous movie stars, hottie with millions of fangirls… and restless troublemaker. On the surface he has it all, but with his home life disintegrating, his music well suddenly running dry, and the tabloids having a field day over his outrageous exploits, Oakley’s team decides it’s time for an intervention. The result: an image overhaul, complete with a fake girlfriend meant to show the world he’s settled down.

Enter seventeen-year-old Vaughn Bennett-devoted sister, part-time waitress, the definition of “normal.” Under ordinary circumstances she’d never have taken this gig, but with her family strapped for cash, she doesn’t have much of a choice. And for the money Oakley’s team is paying her, she figures she can put up with outlandish Hollywood parties and a team of publicists watching her every move. So what if she thinks Oakley’s a shallow, self-centered jerk? It’s not like they’re going to fall for each other in real life…right?

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

When It’s Real will be available May 30, 2017.

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I started reading this book, but I don’t think I was expecting to love it as much as I did. But, I loved it! It was so cute and fun and was a well done Fake-Relationship story (which we all know are my favorite kind).

I thought both Vaughn and Oakley were likable characters. Oakley definitely had his egotistical jerk moments, but we see way more of him being sweet and funny and sometimes vulnerable. I liked Vaughn, but had to remind myself a few times when she did something or reacted to something in a way that annoyed me that she’s only 17. But, seriously, as far as YA heroines go, she was a pretty level headed one. I also really liked Vaughn’s family and Oak’s bodyguard.

This book had all the things I love in a good Fake-Relationship story. I loved the awkwardness of hammering out the terms of the contract and the initial antagonism between Vaugh and Oakley. I loved their fake date outings and how they slowly started to become friends and then more. I thought they were so sweet together (even though things did almost get a little too sappy at times) and I shipped them hard. After reading The Royals series, which I thought was far too explicit for YA, I was a little concerned about how graphic the sexual content would be in this one. And though there was still a little more than I prefer for YA, it wasn’t very graphic and I liked that the their feelings for each other were highlighted over the physicality. There was also some underage drinking and casual drug use, but it was also much less than The Royals series and more YA appropriate (if those things are ever appropriate for YA).

Overall, I really enjoyed When It’s Real. The writing was addictive and I never wanted to put it down. It was funny and sweet and I just had so much fun reading about Vaughn and Oakley. There was one thing, though, that kind of brought my reading experience down and it’s not the book’s fault. The e-ARC I received had some major issues on my Nook with missing text – often paragraphs at a time. I hate to even mention that because it obviously won’t be an issue with the finished copy (and I did find a solution by downloading a copy for the Kindle app for my phone so I could find the text missing from my Nook), but it kind of cast a shadow over the whole thing for me.  However, as you can tell, I still loved the story. I definitely recommend it to YA Contemporary fans.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

Lucy Hansson was ready for a perfect summer with her boyfriend, working at her childhood Bible camp on the lake. But when her mom’s cancer reappears, Lucy falters—in faith, in love, and in her ability to cope. When her boyfriend “pauses” their relationship and her summer job switches to a different camp—one for troubled kids—Lucy isn’t sure how much more she can handle. Attempting to accept a new normal, Lucy slowly regains footing among her vibrant, diverse coworkers, Sundays with her mom, and a crush on a fellow counselor. But when long-hidden family secrets emerge, can Lucy set aside her problems and discover what grace really means?

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

The Names They Gave Us will be available May 16, 2017.

When I think of Emery Lord books, I think of trying too hard.  Even though I’ve liked some of her other books (especially The Start of Me and You), I always feel like she just tries way too hard to be deep and meaningful. It comes across a little self-indulgent and melodramatic to me. While this book did have cute, funny, and even poignant moments, it still felt like it was trying too hard.

I felt like I should’ve found Lucy really relatable (pastor kids unite!), but I never fully connected with her. She was a mostly likable character, though. I mostly liked her group of friends at camp, though I wish they would’ve been developed just a bit more. I did really love Jones, Lucy’s new love interest. He was so sweet and I enjoyed pretty much every scene he was in. I also liked the camp setting and the kids there.

I have heard from people who are hesitant about this book because there is some religious content. If you are one of those people, I would say you might be slightly annoyed at times, but I don’t think it’s written in a way that will “ruin” the book for you. I have also heard from people who were very happy to see a “realistic” Christian character not be a complete psycho. To those people I would caution to not get too excited. Yes, the main character comes from a religious background and is not awful. However, this is NOT a Christian book and the overall message is not of Christian faith. There are definitely a few themes throughout that is congruent with the Christian faith, but at the end of the day the message is more one of universalism and the goodness of people. I mean, it’s still a hopeful message and is more than is in most YA, but I just want to caution my Christian friends.

Overall, The Names They Gave Us, was just ok for me. I felt like it was too long for what little was going on and a little repetitive and then it had a pretty abrupt ending. I did really enjoy Lucy and Jones’ slow burn romance, though. I think that Emery Lord fans will probably still enjoy it.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 2.5 Stars