Thursday, June 28, 2012

What Alice Forgot

What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty.

My husband just yelled at me like I was his worst enemy. My lovely Nick. My Nick. I want to tell him about it, because he'd be so angry if he ever heard somebody speak to me like that. He's the first person I want to tell when someone upsets me; my foot pressing on the accelerator, desperate to get home from work just to tell him, the moment I tell him, the moment his face lights up with fury on my behalf, it's better, it's fixed.

Nick, you will never believe how this man spoke to me. You will want to punch him in the nose when you hear. Except it's so strange, because it was you, Nick, you were the man.

Alice Love bumps her head one day in her spin class, in 2008, and when she wakes up, she has lost all her memories from the past ten years. In 1998, she was blissfully married to her husband, Nick, and pregnant with their first child; now, in 2008, they are in the middle of a nasty divorce and she has three children, two daughters and a son. She's also turned into the kind of woman who exercises every day, is mean to her neighbor, and is bent on getting whatever she wants. Alice is horrified when she learns about all this, and she wants to reconcile with her husband, but he knows that when she gets her memory back, she will hate him. The same as with her sister, Elisabeth, who has tried to conceive these past ten years but never been able to. Alice must also learn how to be a mother to three children and try to piece together her memories, so that "Young Alice" and "Present-day Alice" can again reunite.

This book was fantastic. I've never read anything else by Liane Moriarty, but I am definitely going to read more of her novels after this. The characters are Australian, and have little British-isms, almost (they say "Mum" instead of "Mom," etc.), but they are all very relatable. The humor in the novel was great, too - a few of the lines made me laugh out loud, as "Young Alice" tries to figure out what she can't remember from the past ten years. There are also side plots with Elisabeth, Alice's sister, and her writing to her shrink (keeping a diary), and her grandmother, Frannie, writing to a long-long ex-fiance, both of which help to enlighten us about Alice's situation too and how her relationships with both had changed over the past ten years.

I definitely recommend this book, and I can't wait to pick up some of Ms. Moriarty's other novels soon.

4.5 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I received payment and a copy of this book to review as part of the BlogHer Book Club. The opinions expressed, however, are my own.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Size 12 and Ready to Rock

Size 12 and Ready to Rock, by Meg Cabot.

I shoot him a dirty look since he's spoiled my plan, but he only frowns at me. Cooper doesn't like it when I "diminish my extraordinary accomplishments," as he puts it, by not introducing myself as the Heather Wells, youngest artist ever to top the Billboard charts with a debut album, and the first female to have both an album and a single simultaneously at number one (Sugar Rush).

Honestly, though, what person who is practically thirty goes around reminding people of something they did when they were fifteen? That's like using a picture of yourself as your high school's quarterback or homecoming queen as your Facebook photo.

I am a huge fan of Meg Cabot's, as you can probably tell since I've reviewed a few of her books here, so I was happy when I was offered the chance to review her newest novel, book #4 in the Heather Wells series. I've read all of the previous Heather Wells books but it's been a while; luckily, you don't need to know her backstory in order to enjoy this installment, as Cabot gently reminds her readers of salient details throughout.

Heather is again working at "Death Dorm," aka Fischer Hall, over the summer, along with a few student employees that work twenty hours a week for room and board. It's relatively peaceful there, until Tania Trace, famous pop diva and the wife of Heather's ex, Jordan Cartwright, decides to move her Rock Camp for teenagers there, as their previous location in the Catskills didn't work out. Heather is currently engaged to Jordan's brother, Cooper, but they're keeping it a secret for now - the Cartwright family doesn't even know they were dating, actually - but this all changes when Cooper is hired to be Tania's bodyguard, and Heather must find out who sent Tania some poisoned cupcakes that one of Tania's crew ate and died soon thereafter.

Tania technically stole Jordan from Heather, and this novel provides Tania with a more "human" face, as she's pregnant with Jordan's child and wanting to find the (spoiler) man she used to be married to, as he's now extorting her for money to keep that secret out of the press. Cabot's writing is always hilarious, and I found myself laughing out loud at some of the lines, a la The Princess Diaries, another series of hers. The Heather Wells series will appeal to mystery lovers as well as fans of smart writing and snappy dialogue, and although it can be read as a stand-alone novel I recommend starting the series at the beginning, since the other books in the series are very good too.

Size 12 and Ready to Rock will be in stores on July 10, 2012. 4 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I received an e-galley of this book to review. However, the opinions expressed here are my own.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Beach Colors

Beach Colors, by Shelley Noble.

Nick watched the girls join another girl. His heart tightened - just a little - when he saw her halo of red curls. She had been his talisman ever since the summer after his father died. Then she was just a kid, sharing his table at the library. Drawing pictures with the tip of her tongue pressed to the corner of her mouth as she concentrated. Pushing curls out of her face with an impatient hand. He could hardly wait until school was out and she came back to sit across from him.

Only this summer was different. She had grown up, become one of them, and that put an end to everything.

He would become a history professor someday. The army would pay for his education. And she would become - he didn't know. He just knew that she would always be a summer person, and he, just a townie.


This novel is being marketed as "the perfect book to drop in your beach bag," and I agree with that; however, at times it seemed more of a romance novel than just fiction, though generally the writing was decent throughout. Margaux Sullivan has returned to Crescent Cove, Connecticut, after her slimy husband Louis took their money and ran. Her fashion line, M Atelier, is broke, and so is she; luckily, her family has a beach house in Crescent Cove to which she is able to retreat. Everyone is glad to see her back in town, especially interim Chief of Police Nick Prescott, who had a major crush on her when she was a teenager. His life has become more complicated, though, with the arrival of his nephew Connor, after his mother abandoned Connor and his father died overseas while fighting for his country. Margaux must figure out what she wants to do with her life, and Nick must figure out if he and Margaux can strike up a relationship of sorts, or if she is just going to be another "summer person" again and go back to New York when the summer is over.

I liked the characters in this novel a lot, as they were all very easy to relate to. Margaux wants to start up another fashion line, but she's broke and will need help to do this. Nick puts his family first but can't help himself when it comes to Margaux, who likes him but finds him rather distant. The entire town, because it's so small, is super nosy, and everyone knows everything about all its inhabitants; when Nick spends the night at Margaux's for the first time, everyone is buzzing about it the next day.

However, I felt that sometimes the novel was hard to get through. The story was good, but I often found myself wishing the pace would pick up a bit, or that one of the characters would make decisions faster, if that makes sense. You could blame this on the fact that it's set in a beach town and therefore life there doesn't move fast; or you could blame it on the writing itself. My consensus is that this novel is fine for a "beach read," as it's being sold as, but don't expect it to become one of your favorite novels.

3 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I was provided with a copy of this novel to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Arranged

Arranged, by Catherine McKenzie.

Could it work? Could they really have a 95 percent success rate? Is love just a front, a distraction? Is expecting the love of my life to show up what's been keeping me from acquiring what I really want?

I brush these thoughts aside. An arranged marriage is not going to happen. Because it costs ten grand. Because it's a crazy idea. Because I'm not going to marry a complete stranger. Because marriage is about love.

Isn't it?


Anne Blythe has had it with dating - she's dated only jerks in the past few years (though of course they didn't seem like jerks at first), and every blue-eyed, black-haired man (her type) that she runs across seems to be the same. When she sees a card on the ground for "Blythe & Company: Arrangements Made" she initially picks it up because of the similarity to her last name, and doesn't do anything with it; later, however, she calls them. Anne originally thinks Blythe & Company is a dating service, but she soon finds out it's an arranged marriage service ... which both shocks and interests her. For $10,000, you get therapy sessions - mandatory - before and after your marriage, a personality test to make sure you are compatible (or at least not crazy), and a trip to Mexico where you will meet and marry your future husband or wife.

Normally Anne doesn't have that sort of money, but she's just received a $15,000 advance on her new book, and so she decides to go ahead and try it. They match her with Jack, whom she meets in Mexico and likes, and they decide to get married. But Jack and the company is not what Anne thought they were, and she will soon find out their true colors.

This was definitely a different type of book, and now I want to read Catherine McKenzie's other novel, Spin, though the subject matter is completely different (it's about celebrity rehab). It made me think whether I would enlist the services of Blythe and Company (probably not - $10,000 is a lot of money!) and whether their services are suitable in the "modern world." Blythe and Company promotes "friendship first," and that a good marriage is based on friendship and respect and possibly love will come later; however, Anne finds herself very attracted to Jack when she first meets him, which is why they still decide to get married. When she finds out that Jack has been lying to her about something big, though, she will have to choose whether to follow her instincts or follow her heart.

3.5 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I received a copy of this book to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Monday, June 18, 2012

One Breath Away

One Breath Away, by Heather Gudenkauf.

Andrew would lose that sense of safety now. All the children would. All the hard work she invested in creating a warm welcoming environment, destroyed by this terrible man. The more she thought about it, the more indignant she became. Would the children have nightmares about school? Would they begin to shake and sweat upon arriving on school grounds? Would their stomachs clench and churn as they walked up the stairs and down the hallway to the classroom? Post-traumatic stress syndrome they called it, now a proven psychological disorder. Her heart would break if this was all the children would one day be able to recall of their third-grade year. What was your third-grade teacher's name? people would ask and they would respond, I don't remember her name but I sure remember the day a man with a gun came into our classroom!

A gun? the person would exclaim. What did your teacher do?

Her former students would shake their heads sadly, hands stuffed in their pockets and say,
Not a damn thing."

I currently have a pile of books - actually two piles - to read, and I started reading one of them today. However, I later found myself out and about with no reading material at hand, and so I started reading One Breath Away on my phone, on the Kindle app. I ended up reading the entire book in a day, and it's an excellent novel. It reminded me a lot of Jodi Picoult's style of writing, especially Nineteen Minutes which was also about a school shooting, and I flew through the novel in less than four hours.

The story is told by five different narrators. One of them, Augie, is 13 years old, and she and her brother P.J. have been sent to her mother's hometown of Broken Branch, Iowa, to live with her grandparents, after an accident in Arizona where her mother was very badly burned in the kitchen while cooking. Another of the narrators is Will, Augie's grandpa, who is unsure of how to handle the situation, as Augie and P.J. are inside the school, possibly with the gunman. The other narrators include Mrs. Oliver, an experienced third-grade teacher who tries her hardest to maim the gunman; Meg, a police officer, whose child attends the school but who has skipped today to stay with her dad, Meg's ex-husband; and Holly, mom to Augie and P.J., who is in the hospital in Arizona.

I really liked the way the author set up the novel with the five different narrators, because not only did it help to tell the story, but it also helped the reader "get inside" each character's head. We also see the different relationships, between Holly and her parents, as well as her kids; Mrs. Oliver and her husband; and Meg and a few others, which moves the story along at a rapid pace. There are other characters in the story too, of course, but the narrators and the people they are intimately connected with are the ones that Gudenkauf chooses to focus on, and overall I believe that was a wise choice, as not to bog down the story.

I have reviewed another of Heather Gudenkauf's novels in the past, and like this one, it was also very good; I will definitely be reading more of her stories in the future.

One Breath Away will be in stores on June 26th.

5 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I received an e-galley of this book from NetGalley to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Q&A with Elizabeth Haynes, Into The Darkest Corner

I recently read Elizabeth Haynes' book Into the Darkest Corner, and it was a great read. I got to do a Q&A with Elizabeth via email recently, and she had some interesting questions to some of my answers.


author Elizabeth Haynes
You wrote the first draft of this novel in 2008 for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) – do you still participate in  NaNoWriMo now you’re a published author?

Definitely! I’m more into NaNoWriMo than ever before, at least partly because I’m the Municipal Liaison for Kent, U.K. so I organise write ins and events for the Kent participants. More importantly though, writing has to be fun for me. If I’m bored writing it, how can I expect people to enjoy reading it? So I write my novels in November and pretend that nobody is ever going to read my efforts, that way it stands a chance of being fresh and exciting.

Of course, the main difference now is in the editing process, which takes up the rest of the year. Previously once November was done I could relax and put the novel aside; now I rework it, research the bits that I’m unsure of, edit, check facts, and develop characters who didn’t seem important in the first draft but have turned out to be pivotal.

Will all of your novels be mysteries/suspense novels, since you are an intelligence analyst for the police, or would you be open to trying other genres too?

I only started writing in this genre when I began working for the police, as I felt that I could write with some degree of accuracy. Previously I wrote romance and it’s definitely something I might write in the future. There are a lot of fantastic romance writers out there, though, right? And there’s a danger I will go from being a good mystery writer to being a laughably bad romance writer. So I should stick to writing romance for fun.

Do you ever get ideas for books based on things that happened to you at work (or cases that you helped solve)?

Not really – mainly because real crime is often so grim and horrible and pointless that it would make a truly depressing read, or because it’s so weird that people would think it was utterly unrealistic. Mostly I get ideas for stories based on articles I read in the papers, or things I overhear. Something will spark off an idea – a kind of ‘what if…?’ question that usually transforms into something else. Or else I’m inspired by a location, or a character that’s desperate to get their story told. At that point my job does help and inspire me, because I know how a police investigation works, so I can put the story into a realistic framework. And I’m really lucky, too, that I have so many good friends in the police who can help me out when I get stuck on a technical point.

The film rights to this novel have already been sold to Revolution Films. Which actors can you see playing Catherine, Lee and Catherine’s friends (Sylvia, etc.), and would you be open to them setting it in the US or do you believe it should stay in England, like the book?

I’m going to be a bit evasive with my answer to this one because if I name an actor who doesn’t turn out to be cast as that character in the film it would feel very rude of me to have preferred someone else. Also, I think as a reader I have strong ideas about what characters look like and I would hate to have those images shattered by the author telling me that actually they should look like someone else. I have complete trust in Revolution Films to cast the right people, because they completely understand what I was trying to do with the story. It’s interesting, though, that having had some quite strong ideas about who would be perfect in the role of Lee, my opinion has changed completely having read the first draft of the screenplay – which is absolutely brilliant.

As for the setting: I think it’s a universal story, isn’t it? Obsession and trauma happens all over the world, so I believe it would work wherever it was set.

Who are some of your favourite authors, and why?

I read a lot of crime fiction and I could give you a huge list of authors I admire as a reader, and am now insanely jealous of, as a writer. I’ve also recently met authors who I’ve previously enjoyed reading, and that’s very odd. You know how when you get to meet a lot of people in a short space of time, there’s usually someone who’s a bit annoying? Well, let me tell you that I have yet to meet a mystery writer who isn’t completely lovely.

- - -

Thanks to Elizabeth Haynes for the Q&A! And if you haven't read Into the Darkest Corner, check it out when you can - I highly recommend it.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Between the Lines

Between the Lines, by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer.

Real fairy tales are not for the fainthearted. Children get eaten by witches and chased by wolves; women fall into comas and are tortured by evil relatives. Somehow all that pain and suffering is worthwhile, though, when it leads to the ending: happily ever after. Suddenly it no longer matters if you got a B- on your midterm in French or you're the only girl who doesn't have a date for the spring formal. Happily ever after trumps everything.

But what if
ever after could change?

This novel has to be one of the craziest I've ever read, but it was also very good. Although it was written by Jodi Picoult, this is not her typical work; she wrote it with her high school-aged daughter, Samantha Van Leer, and it's more Y.A. (Young Adult) fiction than what Jodi usually writes. It's about a girl, Delilah, who finds an old fairy tale book in her school library one day. She's 15 and knows that she's too old for fairy tales - that is, until one of the illustrations on the page, Prince Oliver, actually starts talking to her. She then finds out that each time the book is opened, and the characters see they have a Reader, they go through the motions of the story in the book - and when it's closed, they go back to their "normal lives." It's almost like a play, of sorts, but Oliver desperately wants to get OUT of the book, and finally get to meet Delilah "in person."

If the characters in a book exist beyond the pages in it ... that is definitely a mindbender. After reading this book I started thinking about all the other books I had read recently, and what the "secret lives" of those characters would be ... it's almost too much to think about! In this book, in the fairy tale, one of the evil characters is actually quite nice and likes collecting butterflies; Oliver is definitely not in love with Seraphima, the princess he rescues each time, though unfortunately she is oblivious to that; and his dog, Frump, actually used to be a human boy, but was transformed into a dog because of a curse.

The novel is written in three alternating chapters, with different-colored font as well - black font is for the fairy tale as it was written, blue font is for Oliver's chapters, and green font is for Delilah's chapters, which I thought was interesting since books - at least Y.A. and adult books - are rarely written in colorful fonts like that. The ending is a bit crazy too, but since this book definitely makes you utilize "suspension of disbelief," it was an apropos ending for the story.

Jodi Picoult will be going on tour in the U.S. from June 26 to July 2; click here to see if she'll be in your city. Between the Lines will be in stores on June 26th.

4 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I was provided a copy of this book to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Divorce Party

The Divorce Party, by Laura Dave.

But maybe she was wrong to assume that Gwyn and Thomas were even fairly comfortable. Even if Nate did grow up out in Montauk. Maybe she was wrong to assume.

"I don't care about that, Nate," she says. "How can you think I'd care about that? Your family's money situation ... it makes no difference to me."

"Really?"

She nods. "I promise you."

"Good," he says, putting his mouth on her forehead. "Because my family has close to half a billion dollars."


I recently reviewed Laura Dave's newest book, The First Husband, and it was great; it only makes sense, then, to read her two previous books, this novel and London is the Best City in America. Dave writes characters that do and say things that are "real" - that could happen to any of us, maybe minus your family having $500,000,000 - and that is what makes her books so great and "readable."

Maggie and Nate are engaged, and they moved to Brooklyn together so that he can open a new restaurant. She still hasn't met his parents yet, but they have invited them to their home in Montauk for a "divorce party" - the two are getting divorced, but amicably, and they want to throw a party to celebrate their 35 years of marriage. When they arrive, Maggie meets Georgia, Nate's unmarried (and un-engaged) pregnant sister, and she tells her a few things about Nate that she didn't know, including the fact that he was married once before. Maggie doesn't know how she feels about this, and must sort out her feelings before the party.

At the same time, Gwyn, Nate's mom, has learned a secret about her husband, and why they are getting divorced (hint: it's NOT because he's recently become interested in Buddhism, as he claims), and she plans to let him know that she knows his secret at the party.

A "divorce party" is an unusual thing indeed, but also quite fitting for this couple. I liked the novel a lot and part of it was that although it was in the third person, there were chapters devoted to Maggie and then chapters devoted to Gwyn, so that the author was able to tell the complete story, rather than just half of it. The characters are all completely relatable, and I think this would make a great movie; throughout it I was thinking that the scenery would look like something out of the TV show Revenge, which takes place in the Hamptons (nearby Montauk).

4 stars out of 5.

Monday, June 4, 2012

GIVEAWAY: 3 copies of Into the Darkest Corner


As promised, I am doing a giveaway of THREE (yes, THREE!) copies of Into the Darkest Corner, by Elizabeth Haynes. I recently reviewed this book and it was a great read - I highly recommend it - and now you can win a copy of the book for FREE.

Enter on the Rafflecopter widget below. The giveaway will end this Saturday, June 9th at 12:01am EST.

Good luck!


a Rafflecopter giveaway


Friday, June 1, 2012

Into the Darkest Corner

Into the Darkest Corner, by Elizabeth Haynes.

I'd always thought that women who stayed in abusive relationships must be foolish. After all, there had to be a moment, a realization that things had taken a wrong turn and you were suddenly afraid to be with your partner - and surely that was the moment to leave. Walk away and don't look back, I always thought. Why would you stay?

It wasn't about walking away anymore. It was about running.

It was about escape.


This novel starts off with an intense relationship with Catherine Bailey and Lee Brightman, a handsome, charming guy. He's a bouncer (doorman) at a club which she goes to her with her girlfriends, and she randomly runs into him one night. Their relationship quickly turns serious, at which point Lee's behavior becomes more and more strange. He also becomes very controlling, and demands to know where Catherine is at all points of the day. Catherine leaves him, but is eventually drawn back, and that is when the violence starts to spiral out of control.

Lee Brightman reminded me a lot of Christian Grey in 50 Shades - handsome, secretive, charming - but he is what Grey would be if beat up Ana (the lead female character) constantly and mercilessly. Catherine tries to escape after they reunite the second time; she is offered a job in New York City by an old friend (she currently lives in the U.K.) and decides to take it, but it doesn't work out as planned. Her friends are dazzled by Lee and don't believe her when she says he beats her - he is good at beating her in places that can be covered by a shirt or pants - and Catherine is losing more and more hope by the day.

I liked this book a lot, and its narrative structure greatly helps to move the novel along and build suspense. The novel jumps back and forth from 2003, when Catherine first meets Lee in a small U.K. town, to 2007, when Catherine - now Cathy - has a new job in London, and extreme OCD tendencies. She knows Lee is currently locked up in jail, but she can't help but check the front door: once, twice, three times ... and then more. She meets Stuart, a young psychiatrist who moves into her building, and they form a relationship, but she still can't rid herself of her OCD, and it gets worse once Lee is released from jail, after three years inside.

Near the end of the book, however, readers will see that some of her extreme OCD was justified after all, and she must prepare to fight Lee, both mentally and physically.

4.5 stars out of 5.

*Stay tuned to this blog for a Q&A with the author and a giveaway of this novel! I will have copies for three of my lucky readers.

*Disclosure: I received a copy of this book to review. The opinions expressed, however, are my own.