Review: One Little Secret by Cate Holahan

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

Everyone has a secret. For some, it’s worth dying to protect. For others, it’s worth killing.

The glass beach house was supposed to be the getaway that Susan needed. Eager to help her transplanted family set down roots in their new town – and desperate for some kid-free conversation – she invites her new neighbors to join in on a week-long sublet with her and her workaholic husband.

Over the course of the first evening, liquor loosens inhibitions and lips. The three couples begin picking up on the others’ marital tensions and work frustrations, as well as revealing their own. But someone says too much. And the next morning one of the women is discovered dead on the private beach.

Town detective Gabby Watkins must figure out who permanently silenced the deceased. As she investigates, she learns that everyone in the glass house was hiding something that could tie them to the murder, and that the biggest secrets of all are often in plain sight for anyone willing to look.

A taut, locked room mystery with an unforgettable cast of characters, One Little Secret promises to keep readers eyes glued to the pages and debating the blinders that we all put on in the service of politeness.

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

One Little Secret will be available July 9, 2019. 

I’m so sad to say that I found One Little Secret a little disappointing. I loved the previous book I read by Cate Holahan (the cleverly written Lies She Told) and had high expectations for this one. Unfortunately, while not a bad book, the mystery and the writing ended up falling a little short for me.

One Little Secret is told in alternating chapters from the POVs of three women. Jenny is a successful sports medicine commentator in an abusive marriage. Susan is a stay-at-home mom with a drinking problem and a workaholic husband. Together, with their husbands, they are renting a beach house with their other neighbors, Rachel and Ben. The third POV is from Gabby, the detective that investigates when one of the vacationing women is found dead. Out of the three of them, the only really likable character was Gabby, but I don’t feel like we ever really got to know her that well. I found both Jenny and Susan very frustrating. All three couples on vacation seemed pretty dysfunctional. I was actually expecting a lot more scandal from them, though, and was a little disappointed in how straightforward and cliched everything seemed to be.

I also felt like this almost read more like Women’s Fiction than Mystery/Thriller. While Holahan did do a good job of making me second guess myself at times, the mystery didn’t really involve anything surprising. Everything that happened seemed so coincidental and a little unbelievable. Also, I felt like every break in the case kind of just fell into Gabby’s lap instead of involving any real detective work from her. There was also a side plot involving the date rape of a young woman at a party that just barely tied into the main mystery. It felt tacked on as an effort to make some sort of relevant comment on today’s culture and was not given the attention such a topic deserves. The story seemed to focus much more on the women’s marriage, family, identity, and self-worth. The murder seemed almost an afterthought.

Overall, One Little Secret, was an ok read, but did not live up to my expectations. While the multiple narrators helped move the story along, I never really connected to any of the characters, which made it hard to care about what happened to them. While this isn’t one I would pick up again, I’d still be interested in reading more from this author.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 3 Stars

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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

Review: I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Sophie Kinsella, an irresistible story of love and empowerment about a young woman with a complicated family, a handsome man who might be “the one,” and an IOU that changes everything

Fixie Farr has always lived by her father’s motto: “Family first.” But since her dad passed away, leaving his charming housewares store in the hands of his wife and children, Fixie spends all her time picking up the slack from her siblings instead of striking out on her own. The way Fixie sees it, if she doesn’t take care of her father’s legacy, who will? It’s simply not in her nature to say no to people.

So when a handsome stranger in a coffee shop asks her to watch his laptop for a moment, Fixie not only agrees—she ends up saving it from certain disaster. Turns out the computer’s owner is an investment manager. To thank Fixie for her quick thinking, Sebastian scribbles an IOU on a coffee sleeve and attaches his business card. But Fixie laughs it off—she’d never actually claim an IOU from a stranger. Would she?

Then Fixie’s childhood crush, Ryan, comes back into her life and his lack of a profession pushes all of Fixie’s buttons. She wants nothing for herself—but she’d love Seb to give Ryan a job. And Seb agrees, until the tables are turned once more and a new series of IOUs between Seb and Fixie—from small favors to life-changing moments—ensues. Soon Fixie, Ms. Fixit for everyone else, is torn between her family and the life she really wants. Does she have the courage to take a stand? Will she finally grab the life, and love, she really wants?

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

I Owe You One will be available February 5, 2019. 

I adored this book. It’s been awhile since I’ve read a Sophie Kinsella novel and I’ve forgotten just how addictive they can be. Once I started it I could hardly put it down.

I really expected I Owe You One to be romance-heavy, but it wasn’t as central to the plot as I thought it would be. That wasn’t a bad thing, though. The story focuses a lot on Fixie’s relationship with her family and with her own issues of confidence and self-worth. Fixie got her nickname by always needing to fix things – messes, people, etc. Her siblings, Jake and Nicole, take advantage of her, as does Ryan, the man she’s had a crush on for most her life. Throughout most of the book I just couldn’t get over how awful those three people were. I was really frustrated by how Fixie let herself get steamrolled over and how she couldn’t speak up for herself. As the story goes on, though, she learns to speak up and practice a little tough love.

Even though the romance wasn’t as central as I expected, it did still play an important part in Fixie’s story. I just loved Seb. He was such a genuinely good person. I loved his sense of humor and how sweet he was. That’s not to say he’s perfect, of course. When he and Fixie first meet he’s dating someone else – who is of course awful and very ill-suited for him and that was frustrating. There’s a point where his and Fixie’s relationship hits a rocky spot and I wish they would have communicated a little more effectively, but I liked how it all turned out.

Overall, I really enjoyed I Owe You One. I liked Fixie and Seb and the quirky cast of supporting characters. I even liked Jake and Nicole by the end of the story. I liked Fixie’s character growth and her relationship with Seb. I was a little disappointed that the IOUs didn’t really pay as large a role in the book as I expected, but I did like how it was utilized. This is probably my new favorite Kinsella novel and I definitely recommend it to fans of Contemporary and Women’s Fiction.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

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Synopsis:

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Liane Moriarty, author of Big Little Lies, comes her newest novel, Nine Perfect Strangers: Could ten days at a health resort really change you forever? These nine perfect strangers are about to find out…

Nine people gather at a remote health resort. Some are here to lose weight, some are here to get a reboot on life, some are here for reasons they can’t even admit to themselves. Amidst all of the luxury and pampering, the mindfulness and meditation, they know these ten days might involve some real work. But none of them could imagine just how challenging the next ten days are going to be.

Frances Welty, the formerly best-selling romantic novelist, arrives at Tranquillum House nursing a bad back, a broken heart, and an exquisitely painful paper cut. She’s immediately intrigued by her fellow guests. Most of them don’t look to be in need of a health resort at all. But the person that intrigues her most is the strange and charismatic owner/director of Tranquillum House. Could this person really have the answers Frances didn’t even know she was seeking? Should Frances put aside her doubts and immerse herself in everything Tranquillum House has to offer – or should she run while she still can?

It’s not long before every guest at Tranquillum House is asking exactly the same question.

Combining all of the hallmarks that have made her writing a go-to for anyone looking for wickedly smart, page-turning fiction that will make you laugh and gasp, Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers once again shows why she is a master of her craft.

I enjoyed Nine Perfect Strangers. I did. I just kind of wished more actually happened in it. The story is extremely character-driven. If you are someone who needs a lot more than intense character development, this might not be for you. Though there were times that I felt it dragged a little too much, I did really grow attached to the characters, so I didn’t mind it as much by the end as I did in the beginning.

I’m going to talk a little bit about the Nine Perfect Strangers:

Frances: A successful Romance author who has had her most recent book rejected. She has also gone through a rather painful and unconventional breakup which has resulted in some stress-related physical ailments. I would say the majority of the chapters were told from her POV. In a book with so many characters, it’s kind of hard to point one out one as the Main Character, but I would say Frances is it. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite love her. She was an interesting character and I definitely wanted to see what happened to her, but I could have gotten a lot less of her and been happy. I did like how everything turned out for her in the end, though.

Tony: A divorcee and retired professional athlete whose dog recently died. Tony is depressed and wants to change. I liked Tony. I enjoyed it him a lot more as the story went on and he began to open up more. I really liked how his life went after leaving Tranquillium House.

Ben and Jessica: A young, newly wealthy married couple. Ben is obsessed with his Lamborghini and Jessica is addicted to plastic surgery.  Their newly rich status and how each responds to it has put a strain on their marriage and they are interested in couples counseling. I have to admit that I liked Ben a lot more than I liked Jessica. I really would’ve liked more POVs from Ben.

Napoleon, Heather, and Zoe: A family that have been grieving a loss for three years and are trying to move on. They each carry some guilt and some secrets. I could take or leave Heather and Zoe, but I really liked Napoleon. He was one of my favorite characters and I wouldn’t have minded some more from him, either.

Carmel: A recently divorced mother of four. Her children are on a trip of a lifetime with her ex-husband and his new wife and she doesn’t know what to do with herself. She goes to the retreat to lose weight, even though she doesn’t really need to. I didn’t really care that much about Carmel, but she was another one I really liked how her life went in the final chapters.

Lars: An incredibly attractive divorce lawyer who is addicted to wellness retreats and is avoiding his longtime boyfriend who wants to have a baby. Lars was pretty much exactly the type of character you would expect him to be based on that description. I liked him and felt we got just enough of his POV.

In addition to the nine perfect strangers, we also get POVs from Masha, the owner of the resort, and her employees, Yao and Delilah. Masha is kind of a brilliant psychopath. She used to be a high-powered executive until she had a major health crisis and had to make some big changes. She opened Trainquillium House to help others change their lives, as well. Or so it seems. Yao is completely devoted to Masha and the message of the resort. I really enjoyed his character arc from beginning to end and he was probably my second favorite character. We only hear from Delilah once or twice and I was fine with that. The resort was a job to her, nothing more, and she definitely hadn’t drunk the Kool Aid (or the green smoothie).

Overall, I enjoyed Nine Perfect Strangers. For awhile I was a little frustrated that it didn’t seem like anything was really happening, but once I got invested in all the characters I was able to appreciate the story for what it was. I do not think this book will be everyone’s cup of tea, but I liked it enough to tip my rating up a bit.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: The Sweet Gum Tree by Katherine Allred

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Synopsis from GoodReads:

This is a suggestive romance (love scenes are not graphic). Sweet tea, corn bread, and soup beans—everyday fare for eight-year-old Alix French, the precocious darling of a respected southern family. But nothing was ordinary about the day she met ten-year-old Nick Anderson, a boy from the wrong side of town. Armed with only a tin of bee balm and steely determination, Alix treats the raw evidence of a recent beating that mars his back, an act that changes both of their lives forever.Through childhood disasters and teenage woes they cling together as friendship turns to love. The future looks rosy until the fateful night when Frank Anderson, Nick’s abusive father, is shot to death in his filthy trailer.Suddenly, Nick is gone—leaving Alix alone, confused and pregnant. For the next fifteen years she wrestles with the pain of Nick’s abandonment, a bad marriage, her family and friends. But finally, she’s starting to get her life back together. Her divorce is almost final, her business is booming, and she’s content if not happy — until the day she looks up and sees Nick standing across the counter. He’s back…and he’s not alone.Once again Alix is plunged into turmoil and pain as Nick tries to win her love, something she resists with all her strength. Only one thing might break the protective wall she’s built around her emotions—the truth about Frank Anderson’s death. But when that truth comes out and those walls crumble, neither Alix nor Nick is prepared for the emotional explosion that could destroy as well as heal.

First of all, I want to say thanks to Brandie for putting this book on my radar! I never would have picked it up if I didn’t know how much she loved it.

-Almost all of my GoodReads friends that have read this either marked it as 5 stars or 1 star, so I wasn’t really sure what to think going into it. After reading it, I think I understand. It’s incredibly easy to get sucked in by the lovely writing, strongly developed characters, and overwhelming emotion of the story. However, if you start to pick apart some of the little things with it, I can see how quickly that rating might go down. For me, the good outweighed the bad, but of course I still have to point some things out.

-There is a lot of cheating in this book and it was handled so oddly. With little exception it was met with either apathy or almost instant forgiveness. It just didn’t feel very realistic. And cheating in books always brings my enjoyment level down a tad.

-There was also a lot of sex. None if it was graphic, which I appreciated. But, it just felt like a little much. There were passages like, “We made love. And then we made love again. And then we made love again. Oh, and then we made love again….” Like, it just didn’t add anything to the story.

-The story is told in Alix’s first person POV in an omniscient style. (It’s eventually revealed she’s writing all this in a journal.) I didn’t mind this for the most part, but almost every chapter ended in some type of ominous warning about the next chapter which I thought was kind of cheesy. Especially because most of the time, things didn’t really play out as ominously as expected.

-Lack in communication caused pretty much every conflict in the book and that’s kind of one of my pet peeves.

-Ok, I’ll focus on the positive things now. The characters in this book were pretty great. They are real and flawed and relatable. Yes, they all made stupid decisions from time to time, but they all found some redemption, as well, which I really liked. I especially loved Alix’s grandfather, The Judge.

-I really enjoyed the small town, southern setting. It was jut the right amount of descriptive writing for me. And speaking of the writing, it really was quite beautiful, as well as addicting.

-The romance was kind of epic. I loved seeing Alix and Nick grow from childhood to adulthood. I really believed in their love and wanted them to be together. They had a ton of obstacles they had to overcome, most of them of their own making, but it was such a wonderful slow burn to them actually being together. I liked that it wasn’t easy and that they had to work at it. After everything they went through I would’ve been disappointed if their happily ever just simply happened.

Overall, I really did enjoy The Sweet Gum Tree. It was completely addicting and I could hardly put it down. While I did obviously have some issues with it, I thought it was beautiful and emotional and I can’t stop thinking about it. I will definitely be reading it again in the future.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: Good Luck with That by Kristan Higgins

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

New York Times bestselling author Kristan Higgins is beloved for her heartfelt novels filled with humor and wisdom. Now, in her newest novel, GOOD LUCK WITH THAT, she tackles an issue every woman deals with: body image and self-acceptance.

Emerson, Georgia, and Marley have been best friends ever since they met at a weight-loss camp as teens. When Emerson tragically passes away, she leaves one final wish for her best friends: to conquer the fears they still carry as adults.

For each of them, that means something different. For Marley, it’s coming to terms with the survivor’s guilt she’s carried around since her twin sister’s death, which has left her blind to the real chance for romance in her life. For Georgia, it’s about learning to stop trying to live up to her mother’s and brother’s ridiculous standards, and learning to accept the love her ex-husband has tried to give her.

But as Marley and Georgia grow stronger, the real meaning of Emerson’s dying wish becomes truly clear: more than anything, she wanted her friends to love themselves.

A novel of compassion and insight, GOOD LUCK WITH THAT tells the story of two women who learn to embrace themselves just the way they are.

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

Good Luck with That will be available August 7, 2018.

Oh, do I have some thoughts on this one! Since lists are an important part of the book, I’m going to go that route with my review.

-Kristan Higgins has always been one of my favorite Romance authors. I’ve read all her romance books multiple times. Her last few books have moved into Women’s Fiction which I was resistant to. However, Higgins is a very talented author and despite some of the issues I had with this (I’ll get to those, don’t worry), I enjoyed almost every moment of reading it.

-We’ve all seen the pre-publication hate for the topic of Good Luck with That. I seem to remember the original synopsis was a bit different than it is now? I thought that’s why people came out so hard against it, but please correct me if I’m wrong. While I do have a level of trust in Higgins writing, I was still a little weary of reading this. I’m happy to say that while it still definitely had it’s moments, it was not nearly as offensive as I thought it was going to be. Yet another example of why people should not be allowed to rate a book before reading it.

-I felt like the main message of the story was really to live your life now instead of waiting for some arbitrary goal that may or may not ever be achieved. For the women of the novel, that was waiting to do things until they lost weight, but I think this idea will still be relatable to people from all walks of life. There was also a message that people of all shapes and sizes have a hard time with self-acceptance.

-I really liked both Marley and Georgia. They were very well-developed characters. There was never a time when I was sad to see the POV change between them. I also really loved Georgia’s nephew, Mason. He was so sweet and I loved his relationship with Georgia. I also enjoyed the romantic interests, Will and Rafe. Most of the rest of the secondary characters were not so great, though. Their behavior was so over the top that they didn’t feel very realistic.

-Even though the book was not as offensive as I expected, there is still a healthy (unhealthy?) level of fat shaming going on, as well as an underlying level of disgust towards the overweight. I feel kind of motivated to work out more and eat better, but not because I’ve been inspired to live a happier and healthier life, but because I feel straight up shamed into it.

**Ever so slightly Spoiler-y on a romantic interest – but it’s something you will probably figure out much sooner than it’s revealed, anyways** One of the characters has PTSD and agoraphobia and I REALLY disliked how Marley responded to it. She was a tiny bit sympathetic, but mostly when she wanted him to go out somewhere with her she told him he should just get over it because “she’s worth it.” People with severe mental health issues like that cannot just “get over it”, no matter how much they want to please their loved ones. It felt incredibly insensitive and irresponsible how this whole plotline was dealt with and I really expected more from Higgins. I also thought it kind of paralleled a storyline with Georgia and Rafe, where he thought she shouldn’t be insecure in her appearance since he found her attractive. In that scenario, however, it’s conveyed how incorrect that line of thinking is.

-By the end of the book, I didn’t really feel like Good Luck with That was a “body-positive” or a “fat-shaming” book. It definitely had aspects of both, but the central message was really more about friendship, family, and living life to the fullest, despite your circumstances. I think fans of Higgins writing and Women’s Fiction will enjoy it. While there are parts that some may find offensive, the story really is about so much more than those parts.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: The Paris Wedding by Charlotte Nash

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Synopsis from GoodReads:

Ten years ago, Rachael West chose not to move to Sydney with high-school sweetheart Matthew. Instead she stayed on the family wheat farm, caring for her seriously ill mother and letting go of her dreams. Now, Matthew is marrying someone else. And Rachael is invited to the wedding, a lavish affair in Paris, courtesy of the flamboyant family of Matthew’s fiancée – a once-in-a-lifetime celebration at someone else’s expense in Europe’s most romantic city.

She is utterly unprepared for what the week brings. Friendships will be upended, secrets will be revealed – and on the eve of the wedding, Rachael is faced with an impossible dilemma: should she give up on the promise of love, or destroy another woman’s life for a chance at happiness?

If you enjoy reading Rachael Treasure and Rachael Johns, you’ll fall in love with this deliciously poignant story about family and friends, and love lost and found.

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

The Paris Wedding will be available June 12, 2018. 

The Paris Wedding was the perfect weekend read. Full of family, love, and self-discovery, I never wanted to put this one down.

Rachael once had plans to go away to school with her boyfriend, Matthew, but when her mother was diagnosed with a rare form of MS, she decided to stay and take care of her. Now that her mother has passed away and she’s feeling adrift, she finds herself longing for Matthew and the future they were supposed to have. Then she receives the invitation to his wedding. The invitation includes a full week of events in Paris, all expenses paid, for her and a guest. She and her best friend, Sammy, decide to go so she can finally have the closure with Matthew she needs to finally move on. However, Matthew doesn’t seem entirely happy with how his life has turned out or about getting married and Rachel begins to wonder if there’s hope for that missed future after all.

To muddy the waters even further, Rachel begins to spend much of her time in Paris with photojournalist Antonio, who is photographing the week’s events as a favor to the bride. There is a slight love triangle, which I don’t usually appreciate, but I didn’t find myself minding it here. It wasn’t actually a huge part of the plot or the main source of drama. That said, I was totally team Antonio. Though he’s very opinionated and can come off a little pretentious and judgmental, he challenged Rachael in a way I think she needed. He was definitely one of my favorite characters in the book.

I really enjoyed the Paris setting, too. While I would be perfectly happy to never leave my apartment, this book definitely had me wanting to go to Paris. I enjoyed the description of not just the scenery, but how the city made Rachael feel. I liked that she learned a lot about herself while she was there, both good and bad. I also liked that she wasn’t transformed by that week alone. It was really just the start of her journey, not the whole story.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Paris Wedding. I liked the characters, the setting, the family dynamics, and the message of self-discovery. There is some cheating in this book, which always brings a book down for me, but it wasn’t really romanticized or the central part of the story. That and a few things being a little too predictable were the only real complaints I have about this book. This is my first book by Charlotte Nash and I know I’m looking forward to reading more from her.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars