Monday, November 12, 2018

Book Review: Her Pretty Face, by Robyn Harding

Kate's laughter tinkled, and Frances felt warm and happy. She was having a girls' day out. Like other women did. Like women whose children didn't require special diets and structured routines and constant research into treatments and behavioral modification therapies. Like women who didn't eschew close relationships because their past was full of terrible secrets they'd protect at all costs. As the SUV exited the freeway, Frances felt a shiver of anticipation. Today felt like the start of something.

What would you do if you found out a friend had been hiding something from you?

If it was something small, would it matter? How about if it was something larger—like she was a murderer?

That is the question that Her Pretty Face asks of us.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Her Pretty Face, by Robyn Harding
The author of the bestselling novel The Party—lauded as “tense and riveting” by New York Times bestselling author Megan Miranda—returns with a chilling new domestic drama about two women whose deep friendship is threatened by dark, long-buried secrets.

Frances Metcalfe is struggling to stay afloat.

A stay-at-home mom whose troubled son is her full-time job, she thought that the day he got accepted into the elite Forrester Academy would be the day she started living her life. Overweight, insecure, and lonely, she is desperate to fit into Forrester’s world. But after a disturbing incident at the school leads the other children and their families to ostracize the Metcalfes, she feels more alone than ever before.

Until she meets Kate Randolph.

Kate is everything Frances is not: beautiful, wealthy, powerful, and confident. And for some reason, she’s not interested in being friends with any of the other Forrester moms—only Frances. As the two bond over their disdain of the Forrester snobs and the fierce love they have for their sons, a startling secret threatens to tear them apart.

Because one of these women is not who she seems. Her real name is Amber Kunik. And she’s a murderer.

In her masterful follow-up to
The Party, Robyn Harding spins a web of lies, deceit, and betrayal, asking the question: Can people ever change? And even if they can, is it possible to forgive the past?

I haven't read a twisty mystery in a while, and I really enjoyed this book. Frances is kind of an outcast at her child's school after he pees in another child's water bottle (yes, really; she was mean to him first, though), and is labeled as one to stay away from. Frances finally meets a kindred spirit in Kate, another mother, who essentially takes her under her wing; eventually they become best friends. 

Frances has a past she's hiding as well, though it's not quite as bad as Kate's ... 

From the book synopsis, we know that one of these two women is a murderer. I figured out early on which woman was Amber, in a previous life, but there were still some twists and turns near the end which surprised me. I read this book in about two days because I couldn't put it down, and I wanted to find out what happened at the end.

I'd recommend this novel for anyone who likes mysteries, stories about friendship, or thrillers. 

4.5 stars out of 5.
{click here to purchase}

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Quick Pick book review: Girls' Night Out, by Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke

  • Opening lines: The Day After. Natalie.
    Waves lapped against the shore. It sounded as if the sea were breathing.
    In and out. In and out. Between the whitecaps breaking against the sand, there was a pause, almost as if the ocean were inhaling and preparing to release another breath. In and out. In and out. 
  • Reason I picked up the book: I'm a fan of Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke's books - I've reviewed a few of them, as well.
  • And what's this book about?
  • From the bestselling authors of The Good Widow comes a chilling novel of psychological suspense that will make you think twice about what your best friend may be hiding...

    For estranged friends Ashley, Natalie, and Lauren, it's time to heal the old wounds between them. Where better to repair those severed ties than on a girls' getaway to the beautiful paradise of Tulum, Mexico? But even after they're reunited, no one is being completely honest about the past or the secrets they're hiding. When Ashley disappears on their girls' night out, Natalie and Lauren have to try to piece together their hazy memories to figure out what could have happened to her, while also reconciling their feelings of guilt over their last moments together.

    Was Ashley with the man she'd met only days before? Did she pack up and leave? Was she kidnapped? Or worse - could Natalie or Lauren have snapped under the weight of her own lies?

    As the clock ticks, hour by hour, Natalie and Lauren's search rushes headlong into growing suspicion and dread. Maybe their secrets run deeper and more dangerous than one of them is willing - or too afraid - to admit.
  • Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys thrillers, or stories about friends (trying to) reconnect.
  • Favorite paragraph: She hung up the phone and raised her head to the sky, a dark storm cloud making its way towards her from the east. "What if I can't convince her?" she whispered to herself. She almost always let Ashley have her way. She could count on one hand the number of times she'd put her foot down about something at work. Would Ashley understand it was Natalie's turn to get her way? She stood there until the ominous cloud was directly overhead, and let her tears mix with the rain it brought, finally composing herself and walking back to where Lauren sat, as if the world she built weren't crumbling.
    • Something to know: I could definitely see this being adapted into a movie - the majority of the book takes place in Mexico, which is very picturesque. The women are all in their late 30s (one mentions she's 39) and I believe two of them just turned 40, which is another reason they wanted to take this trip together - they've known each other since college.
    • What I would have changed: Nothing I can think of.
    • Overall rating: 4 stars out of 5.
    • Where can I find this book? Click here to purchase on Amazon.
    *Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

    Thursday, November 8, 2018

    Book Review: What I Leave Behind, by Alison McGhee

    Guest review by: Becki Bayley

    At some point she has to walk out of the house into invisible air, air that has no roof or walls.

    And how do you get through? You know? When things are too much?

    Because the world, it’s full of air. Full of sky and space. Ocean, too. All of which are bigger than any crowd of human beings, on the street, at school, at Dollar Only, at restaurants. At parties.

    It’s hard to remember that, though. Hard to remember that people are tiny. They stare at you, they talk about you, but all they are? Tiny.

    Look up, artists.


    I seriously think this is one of my new favorite books. I just finished it, and I may read it again. The voice in What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee is just that good.

    Official Synopsis: 
    Book Review: What I Leave Behind, by Alison McGhee
    Sixteen-year-old Will spends most of his days the same way: Working at the Dollar Only store, trying to replicate his late father’s famous cornbread recipe, and walking the streets of Los Angeles. Will started walking after his father committed suicide, and three years later he hasn’t stopped. But there are some places Will can’t walk by: The blessings store with the chest of 100 Chinese blessings in the back, the bridge on Fourth Street where his father died, and his childhood friend Playa’s house.

    When Will learns Playa was raped at a party—a party he was at, where he saw Playa, and where he believes he could have stopped the worst from happening if he hadn’t left early—it spurs Will to stop being complacent in his own sadness and do some good in the world. He begins to leave small gifts for everyone in his life, from Superman the homeless guy he passes on his way to work, to the Little Butterfly Dude he walks by on the way home, to Playa herself. And it is through those acts of kindness that Will is finally able to push past his own trauma and truly begin to live his life again. Oh, and discover the truth about that cornbread.


    The voice of Will, and the lyrical way he told his life completely resonated with me. Over the course of the two evenings it took me to read this book, it gave me a feeling of peace.

    Will knows himself pretty well, and reads those around him in an insightful and warm way. He’s compassionate and wants the world to be a better place. Each of his chapters about lifejust a few paragraphs each, always less than a full pagepresented a memory of an interaction with the world around him. I loved every single one.

    I can’t tell if everyone else would love this book as much as me, but with less than 100 pages of actually words, I think you should give it a try. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars and I may not pass along the book like I usually do, since I already want to read it again.

    {click here to purchase}

    Becki Bayley has been a blogger for more than 15 years at SweetlyBSquared.com. She wishes her words could make someone feel as good as this book made her feel. Someday.

    Wednesday, October 31, 2018

    Book Review - To the Bridge: A True Story of Motherhood and Murder, by Nancy Rommelmann

    Guest review by: Becki Bayley

    An estimated five hundred children are killed by their parents each year in the United States, according to homicide data compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This number has been static for decades. It is also unreliable and certainly low. The picture of parents killing their children is anathema to most people and makes us susceptible to seeing even the suspicious death of a child explained away: the infant died in her sleep, the child struck his head falling off the coffee table, and who are you to say it did not happen this way? Unless a filicide, the killing of a child by a parent or stepparent, is committed in public, we may not hear about it at all, the circumstances of anonymous people killing their kids too tawdry, too sad, too somehow private to report on. The news you read this week is unlikely to include ten children being murdered by their parents.

    But ten were murdered, at least ten. The murdered children of the last week of June 2017 included a six-month-old in Fresno (June 23); a two-month-old in Hanford, CA (June 23); a two-year-old in Houston (June 24); a one-month-old in Terra Bella, CA (June 24); a two-month-old in Valdosta, GA (June 24); a four-year-old in Tullahoma, TN (June 28); a two-year-old and a six-month-old in Paron, AR(June 28); a three-year-old in Rancho Cordova, CA (June 28); and a three-year-old in Chandler, AZ (June 30).


    Any story of a parent killing their own children is jarring and hard to process. To the Bridge: A True Story of Motherhood and Murder by Nancy Rommelmann was no different. Ms Rommelmann did an excellent job of telling a lot of Amanda Jo Stott-Smith’s story of her life with her husband Jason, and the circumstances surrounding her despicable act of throwing two of her children off of the Sellwood Bridge in Portland, Oregon in the dead of the night.

    Book Review - To the Bridge: A True Story of Motherhood and Murder, by Nancy Rommelmann
    Official Synopsis: The case was closed, but for journalist Nancy Rommelmann, the mystery remained: What made a mother want to murder her own children?

    On May 23, 2009, Amanda Stott-Smith drove to the middle of the Sellwood Bridge in Portland, Oregon, and dropped her two children into the Willamette River. Forty minutes later, rescuers found the body of four-year-old Eldon. Miraculously, his seven-year-old sister, Trinity, was saved. As the public cried out for blood, Amanda was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to thirty-five years in prison.

    Embarking on a seven-year quest for the truth, Rommelmann traced the roots of Amanda’s fury and desperation through thousands of pages of records, withheld documents, meetings with lawyers and convicts, and interviews with friends and family who felt shocked, confused, and emotionally swindled by a woman whose entire life was now defined by an unspeakable crime. At the heart of that crime: a tempestuous marriage, a family on the fast track to self-destruction, and a myriad of secrets and lies as dark and turbulent as the Willamette River.


    This was a very unique book, at least among those I’ve read. The author’s interest in the topic and the specific story was clear – she wanted to understand, and help us understand, that which can never be fully understood. But by researching more than a court requires, and more than a reporter filling a headline story has time for, she provided so much more reasoning behind an action that can never be understood with logic.

    Amazingly, the background story didn’t start revealing much until after a plea and sentence were issued, and a trial was avoided. People familiar with the family didn’t speak up when they might have been subpoenaed, but still wanted their opinion of the defendant, her husband, and their relationship to be known. While a story about a woman attempting to kill two of her children doesn’t sound like something with more than one side, the author did a wonderful job of showing some of the complexities of the relationships that led to a desperate woman’s unthinkable act.

    Overall, I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars. While the subject matter was frequently alarming, the telling of it was compelling and I find myself still wondering what became of some of the people talked about in the book.

    {click here to purchase}

    Becki Bayley is mostly an introvert, who loves hearing the stories people have to tell. She tells bits and pieces of her story at SweetlyBSquared.com.

    Saturday, October 27, 2018

    Quick pick book review: Vox, by Christina Dalcher

    • Opening lines: If anyone told me I could bring down the president, and the Pure Movement, and that incompetent little shit Morgan LeBron in a week's time, I wouldn't believe them. But I wouldn't argue. I wouldn't say a thing.

      I've become a woman of few words.

      Tonight at supper, before I speak my final syllables of the day, Patrick reaches over and taps the silver-toned device around my left wrist. It's a light touch, as if he were sharing the pain, or perhaps reminding me to stay quiet until the counter resets itself at midnight. This magic will happen while I sleep, and I'll begin Tuesday with a virgin slate. My daughter, Sonia's, counter will do the same.

      My boys do not wear word counters.
    • Reason I picked up the book: I had heard about Vox when I saw another friend reading it, and it looked really good - I love dystopian literature. 
    • And what's this book about?
    • Set in an America where half the population has been silenced, VOX is the harrowing, unforgettable story of what one woman will do to protect herself and her daughter.

      On the day the government decrees that women are no longer allowed more than 100 words daily, Dr. Jean McClellan is in denial—this can't happen here. Not in America. Not to her.

      This is just the beginning.

      Soon women can no longer hold jobs. Girls are no longer taught to read or write. Females no longer have a voice. Before, the average person spoke sixteen thousand words a day, but now women only have one hundred to make themselves heard.

      But this is not the end.

      For herself, her daughter, and every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice.

    • Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys dystopian lit, or who likes The Handmaid's Tale on Hulu - this reminded me of what life could have been like pre-Handmaid's Tale (same type of world).
      • Favorite paragraph: I stood in my kitchen, wanting to explain, careful not to, while he told me we'd marched one too many times, written one too many letters, screamed one too many words.

        "You women. You need to be taught a lesson," he said, and hung up.

        I didn't call her again to ask how they had silenced her, whether they had stormed into her practice or whether they had invaded her kitchen, if they had loaded her into a van along with her daughters and spelled out the future inside a dim gray room before fixing shiny wristbands on each of them and sending them home to cook and clean and be supportive Pure Women. To learn our lesson.
        • Something to know: I do think that the author borrowed a bit from Handmaid's Tale - LGBTQ women end up in work camps (same as on the show) and women that misbehave or engage in sex before they are married (or, if they cheat on their husbands) are sent to them as well. The story is also extremely timely for our current political atmosphere and administration.
        • What I would have changed: The beginning of the story was very interesting, but then it focuses more on the affair that Jean had with a work colleague, especially when she and him are on the same team for a project that they are helping the president with.
        • Overall rating: 4 stars out of 5.
        • Where can I find this book? Click here to purchase on Amazon.
        *Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

        Tuesday, October 23, 2018

        Quick Pick book review: My Favorite Half-Night Stand, by Christina Lauren

        • Reason I picked up the book: I'm a huge Christina Lauren fan, and it sounded super cute.
        • And what's this book about?
        • From the New York Times bestselling author that “hilariously depicts modern dating” (Us Weekly) comes a sexy romantic comedy about online dating, and its many, many fails.

          With a world-famous speaker at their university, Millie Morris and her four woefully single male colleagues make a pact that they’ll all find dates. Unfortunately, Millie has more success helping them make matches online than she does navigating the onslaught of lewd pics in her own feed. But when she creates a fictional name for a new account, Millie finds herself vying for the online attention of a man she sees every day in the flesh.

        • Recommended for: Anyone who likes chick lit, or who has navigated online dating before.
          • Favorite paragraph: I'm the kind of tipsy where I should want to hug everyone, not pull my best friend's pants down. 

            GAH. 

            Strictly platonic best guy friend. Strictly platonic best guy friend.

            Heat rushes to my face and I stand so quickly my chair teeters on its back legs. Four sets of curious eyes swing in my direction, and I turn, making a beeline for the bathroom.
            • Something to know: You'll probably figure out the HEA before you get to the end of the book, but it was still enjoyable to read.
            • What I would have changed: Nothing.
            • Overall rating: 4.5 stars out of 5.
            • Where can I find this book? Click here to purchase on Amazon - this book will be in stores and online on December 4, 2018.
            *Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

            Saturday, October 13, 2018

            Book Review and GIVEAWAY: When We Were Worthy, by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen {ends 10/20}

            Guest review by: Erin Krajenke

            "I don't know you anymore," he'd said, standing in the den of their trailer, their two bodies nearly filling the whole room..."I haven't really known you since we came here." "You haven't known me?" she spat. "How about you're gone all the time now? How about I can't remember the last time we said more than two sentences to each other? How about I don't know you anymore?" He looked at her with flat, dead eyes. "So I guess that's why you went after some kid? Some good-looking kid who showed you some attention? Because you were desperate for it? ...My father warned me you were too young for me. He told he that the age difference was too great, that you'd have other interests, need different things." He gave a cynical laugh. "I just didn't think your interests and needs would be teenage boys." He thought about it for a moment. "Course, I guess he's no younger to you than you are to me. Right?" "It's not like that, Clay!" she protested. "You've got it all wrong! Please! I need you of all people to believe me. I know the way it looks - I do - but if you'll give me time, I'll prove that I didn't do what they're saying."

            …"I'm sorry for what they did to you," Leah said. Ava blinked. "What who did to me?" she asked, even though she suspected she knew the answer..."Everyone thinks those boys are so good. But they're bad…and we know, don't we? ...We're the only ones who do."...She had to know what Leah knew. And it wasn't likely Leah wasn’t going to tell her on her own. She retrieved her phone from her purse and sat down on the couch to enter the number. There was a missed call, and she hoped for a fleeting moment that perhaps Clay had called. But it was the guy from the other night, a text saying he's enjoyed meeting her, and while things hadn't worked out that night, perhaps they could see each other? Some part of her nearly texted back, the same part that had caused her to respond to Ian's tactics. The same part that had let him get close enough to her to ruin her life. Because when a guy showed her attention, she felt seen, known, loved, appreciated. She let them give her what she didn't have herself, as if the only way that validation could be obtained was if someone else - someone male - provided it.


            There were a lot of characters right off the bat in this novel, in addition to alternating chapters told from four characters point of view. I found myself having to take notes as to who was who in order to follow along, which pulled me out of the story and left me wondering what was going on and questioning the premise. I usually enjoy shorter chapters, but since the chapters were not long enough, I was unable to get a feel for the character before the next chapter started. I also had a hard time with keeping the timeline straight in the beginning since it would jump from before and after the accident, but not list it as such in the chapter heading, so I was lost on the progression of the characters and was left wondering the point of the story.

            Official synopsis:
            Book Review and GIVEAWAY: When We Were Worthy, by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen
            “Evoking Emmy limited-series winner Big Little Lies, Whalen’s novel is about a Georgia town ripped apart when an outcast boy kills three cheerleaders in a car accident, bringing secrets and simmering tensions to the surface.” —The Hollywood Reporter

            When the sound of sirens cuts through a cool fall night, the small town of Worthy, Georgia, hurtles from triumph to tragedy. Just hours before, they'd watched the Wildcats score a winning touchdown. Now, they're faced with the deaths of three cheerleaders - their promising lives cut short in a fatal crash. And the boy in the other car - the only one to survive - is believed to be at fault. As rumors begin to fly and accusations spin, allegiances form and long-kept secrets emerge.

            At the center of the whirlwind are four women, each grappling with loss, regret, shame, and lies: Marglyn, a grieving mother; Darcy, whose son had been behind the wheel; Ava, a substitute teacher with a scandalous secret; and Leah, a cheerleader who should have been in the car with her friends, but wasn't. If the truth comes out, will it bring redemption - or will it be their downfall?


            It took until the very end to realize that the main theme involved Leah and Ava’s storylines. The subject of their narratives is very prevalent in today’s news and sheds light on how people can get wrapped up in a scandal (as a victim or a predator) and struggle with doing the right thing or being brave enough to say something. While the story itself took too long to get there and I felt as though the ending was wrapped up a bit too quickly (which was the part I thought deserved the most attention), I feel as though the subject matter is important, now more so than ever, and I believe books like this can bring this issue more visibility it justifiably needs.

            3 stars out of 5 (3.5 in reality due to the important subject matter).

            {click here to purchase}

            Erin Krajenke is a chatty Virgo who is still waiting for fall to show-up and is hoping we don't skip right to winter.

            GIVEAWAY:

            Two of my lucky readers will win a copy of When We Were Worthy!

            Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Saturday, October 20th, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be contacted via email the next day and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner(s) will be chosen.

            U.S. and Canadian residents only, please.

            Good luck!

            When We Were Worthy - 2 winners

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