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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Review: Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber



Blurb from Goodreads:
Serial meets Ruth Ware’s In A Dark, Dark Wood in this inventive and twisty psychological thriller about a mega-hit podcast that reopens a murder case—and threatens to unravel the carefully constructed life of the victim’s daughter.

The only thing more dangerous than a lie...is the truth.

Josie Buhrman has spent the last ten years trying to escape her family’s reputation and with good reason. After her father's murder thirteen years prior, her mother ran away to join a cult and her twin sister Lanie, once Josie’s closest friend and confidant, betrayed her in an unimaginable way. Now, Josie has finally put down roots in New York, settling into domestic life with her partner Caleb, and that’s where she intends to stay.

The only problem is that she has lied to Caleb about every detail of her past—starting with her last name.

When investigative reporter Poppy Parnell sets off a media firestorm with a mega-hit podcast that reopens the long-closed case of Josie’s father’s murder, Josie’s world begins to unravel. Meanwhile, the unexpected death of Josie’s long-absent mother forces her to return to her Midwestern hometown where she must confront the demons from her past—and the lies on which she has staked her future.
My Review:
 
I LOVE LOVE LOVED the first season of Serial so I thought the premise of this thriller sounded so good. And the similarities to Serial were pretty well done - the book vacillates between the first person narrative of Josie and each episode of the podcast reconsidering her father's murder a decade before, with a few reddit posts and tweets concerning the podcast in real time thrown in. Use of faux social media in books is becoming more prevalent every day and I generally like it. This book wasn't necessarily bad but it also wasn't very thrilling.  It started out pretty good and I could sympathize with Josie who has tried to create a new life for herself after her father's murder, her mother's disappearance into a cult and her twin sister's betrayal.  Obviously, the popularity of the podcast reconsidering whether the man in prison after being convicted of her murdering her father actually did murder him is upsetting, to say the least.  All of this had the set up and making of a great book but it just fizzled out.  There were too many threads and the author went out of her way to make the journalist authoring the podcast absolutely atrocious. I didn't get a better sense of Josie or any of the characters in the book any better than I did in the first chapter.  I think this was an interesting read but it could have been so much more.  Hopefully you have better luck!
Are You Sleeping comes out next week on August 1, 2017, and you can purchase HERE.
Nothing good happens after midnight. At least that's what Aunt A used to tell us whenever we begged for later curfews. We would scoff and roll our eyes and dramatically pronounce she was ruining our social lives, but over time I cam to see the wisdom in her words. Trouble is the only thing that occurs between midnight and morning.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Review: Shadow of the Lions by Christopher Swann



Blurb from Goodreads:
How long must we pay for the crimes of our youth? It has been almost ten years since Matthias graduated from the elite Blackburne School, where his roommate and best friend, Fritz, fled into the woods, never to be heard from again, in the middle of their senior year. Fritz vanished just after an argument over Matthias's breaking of the school's honor code, and Matthias has long been haunted by the idea that his betrayal led to his friend's disappearance.

Years later, after hitting the fast lane in New York as a successful novelist--then falling twice as hard--Matthias is stuck, a failure as a writer, a boyfriend, a person. When he is offered the opportunity to return to Blackburne as an English teacher, he sees it as a chance to put his life back together. But once on campus, Matthias gets swiftly drawn into the past, and is driven to find out what happened to Fritz. He partners with a curmudgeonly local retired cop and tries to solve the case, dealing with campus politics, the shocking death of a student, Fritz's complicated and powerful Washington, D.C., family, and his own place in the privileged world of Blackburne.

In the spirit of film noir, what follows is a tale full of unexpected turns. Shadow of the Lions is a gripping literary thriller, but also a moving coming-of-age story that is as much about the mystery as it is about the redemption of a broken friendship and a lost soul. 
My Review:
 
This was on the verge of being really interesting but the big reveal was just such a letdown for me.  I still enjoyed this, even though it meandered quite a bit, and it was a fast read.  The book started off great - a snapshot 10 years back in time at the boarding school when the MC's best friend just vanishes off campus before graduation. Fritz's disappearance sets of a downward spiral for his family and for Matthias, the MC, which culminates in Matthias coming back to teach at his alma mater where Fritz is constantly on his mind. He halfheartedly begins his search in earnest but it never felt organic to me.  Something just felt off and what Matthias ultimately discovered was weird.  Not good weird but it felt like the author didn't know how to end the book and to taper from all this build-up and just ended up cobbling a story together.  I think this could have benefited from more direction and more editing but I am interested to see what this author writes next.
Shadow of the Lions comes out next week on August 1, 2017, and you can purchase HERE. I would definitely read another book from this author, especially in this genre.  You can see some of my favorite books set in boarding schools HERE.
I had always enjoyed reading poetry, although it's a very different thing to teach others how to read it. My students felt that poets were weird, which had actually been true of some of the poets I had known at NYU. They had scared me a little, to be honest--at parties, the poets were the ones swinging from the light fixtures and trying to get the faculty, or their souses, into bed, whereas we fiction writers leaned against walls, drank early, and snuck glances at our watches. That hadn't kept me from sleeping with two of the poets. Beth was blond and warm and wrote Whitmanesque verse about rivers; Giselle was dark haired and dark spirited, with fingernails bitten to the bone, and wrote tight, acidic poems about death and betrayal, as if she were the love child of Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allan Poe. Beth said I was a lost soul while Giselle called me a fucking asshole, both of which, when you think about it, are pretty much the same thing.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Mini Reviews: Battle of Hello, Sunshine[s]!



Blurb from Goodreads:
A Prep School Girl with a Hollywood Dream

Becca Harrington is a reject. After being rebuffed by every college on her list, she needs a fresh start, so she packs up everything and moves to LA, giving herself one year to land an acting gig or kill herself trying. 

Unfortunately, not everything turns out as planned, and after a few grueling months, LA is looking like the worst idea ever. As hard as she tries, Becca can’t land an agent, she's running out of cash, and her mom is hounding her to apply to more schools. In an act of desperation, Becca and her friend Marisol start posting short videos online—with the help of their adorable filmmaker neighbor, Raj—and the videos catch the attention of a TV producer. Could this be it? Her big break? Or will she have to move back home with nothing but some bad head shots and a monstrous credit-card bill? 

Becca may not get the Hollywood ending she was hoping for, but perhaps she’ll learn there’s more than one way to achieve her dream. 
My Review:
 
I totally loved Leila Howland's book from a few summers ago, Nantucket Blue, so I was excited to read her latest offering. And it was engaging from the first sentence.  I really loved Becca - even though she was only 18, she had a dream and I was kind of awe-struck of her pursuit of it.  This felt very realistic to me and I have to say that Leila Howland writes kick-ass women MCs.  Even if they're young, they are so well developed and know what the want.  There is this pushing through life in the face of the fear that she is able to capture and that I so admire! One of the other things that Leila was able to convey in both books was super strong friendships.  I loved Becca's friendships and how she really grew and came into her own over the course of the book.  The beginning of the book started focused on a romance but the romance then took a backseat to the acting, which I thought worked SO well!
I've been trying to fall asleep for five hours. I've breathed according to a pocket-sized book about meditation, read the People magazine I bought near the bus stop in Pasadena, memorized half of a Shakespearian sonnet, and flipped the pillow to the cool side, but nothing has worked.


Blurb from Goodreads:
Sunshine Mackenzie has it all…until her secrets come to light.

Sunshine Mackenzie is living the dream—she’s a culinary star with millions of fans, a line of #1 bestselling cookbooks, and a devoted husband happy to support her every endeavor.

And then she gets hacked.

When Sunshine’s secrets are revealed, her fall from grace is catastrophic. She loses the husband, her show, the fans, and her apartment. She’s forced to return to the childhood home—and the estranged sister—she’s tried hard to forget. But what Sunshine does amid the ashes of her own destruction may well save her life.

In a world where celebrity is a careful construct, Hello, Sunshine is a compelling, funny, and evocative novel about what it means to live an authentic life in an inauthentic age.
My Review:
Even though the MC of this Hello, Sunshine is 20 years older than Becca in Leila Howland's Hello, Sunshine, she isn't nearly as comfortable in her own skin. I typically love books involving food and kitchens but this one was just lacking - I don't mind an MC that isn't perfect and that you might not even like - but Sunshine was pretty awful.  Getting past that, the setting was ok (mostly in the Hamptons) but I just felt like this book wasn't really worth reading.  I don't know that Sunshine learned anything or really grew in the book and I honestly didn't care by the end.
You should probably know two things up front. And the first is this: On my thirty-fifth birthday--the day I lost my career and my husband and my home in one uncompromising swoop--I woke up to one of my favorite songs playing on the radio-alarm clock. I woke up to "Moonlight Mile" playing on the radio (where it is almost never played) and actually thought, as you only would think if you're a total fool (or, perhaps, if you were about to lose your career and your husband and your home in one uncompromising swoop): The world, my world, is good.
Both of these books not only have the same title but they both involve an MC that has lost everything.  I think that Leila Howland was able to show more growth, strength and a good journey than Laura Dave.  Both Hello, Sunshine and Hello, Sunshine were released earlier this week on July 11, 2017, and I would definitely recommend reading some Leila Howland!!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Review: Fitness Junkie by Lucy Sykes



Blurb from Goodreads:
From the bestselling authors of The Knockoff, an outrageously funny novel about one woman's attempt--through clay diets, naked yoga, green juice, and cultish workout classes--to win back her career, save her best friend, and lose thirty pounds.

When Janey Sweet, CEO of a couture wedding dress company, is photographed in the front row of a fashion show eating a bruffin--the delicious lovechild of a brioche and a muffin--her best friend and business partner, Beau, gives her an ultimatum: Lose thirty pounds or lose your job. Sure, Janey has gained some weight since her divorce, and no, her beautifully cut trousers don't fit like they used to, so Janey throws herself headlong into the world of the fitness revolution, signing up for a shockingly expensive workout pass, baring it all for Free the Nipple yoga, sweating through boot camp classes run by Sri Lankan militants and spinning to the screams of a Lycra-clad instructor with rage issues. At a juice shop she meets Jacob, a cute young guy who takes her dumpster-diving outside Whole Foods on their first date. At a shaman's tea ceremony she meets Hugh, a silver fox who holds her hand through an ayahuasca hallucination And at a secret exercise studio Janey meets Sara Strong, the wildly popular workout guru whose special dance routine has starlets and wealthy women flocking to her for results that seem too good to be true. As Janey eschews delicious carbs, pays thousands of dollars to charlatans, and is harassed by her very own fitness bracelet, she can't help but wonder: Did she really need to lose weight in the first place? 

A hilarious send-up of the health and wellness industry, Fitness Junkie is a glorious romp through the absurd landscape of our weight-obsessed culture. 
My Review:
 
This was a fun, fast read - perfect for summer. It follows one fitness/health cliche after another set against the back-drop of NYC.  It was very similar to these authors' first book in terms of woman of a certain age at a professional crossroads, compounded by the city in which she lives.  This one, however, dealt with weight/health rather than mere fashion but I found very similar threads through both books.  This one didn't really make me think but I did like Janey quite a bit.  She voiced a lot of those struggles we all feel but I couldn't help but think I wished she were a bit deeper.  I think I had this same criticism of these authors' first book so maybe this is an area for improvement.
Fitness Junkie comes out tomorrow on July 11, 2017, and you can purchase HERE.  My review of these authors' last book, The Knockoff, is HERE.
She made a few taps on her iPhone to start playing Dr. Dre's Chronic album. Nothing got a roomful a middle-aged white women up a hill faster than gangster rap out of Compton.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Review: Some Kind of Hero (Troubleshooters #17) by Suzanne Brockmann



Blurb from Goodreads:
Navy men don’t come tougher than Lieutenant Peter Greene. Every day he whips hotshot SEAL wannabes into elite fighters. So why can’t he handle one fifteen-year-old girl? His ex’s death left him a single dad overnight, and very unprepared. Though he can’t relate to an angsty teen, he can at least keep Maddie safe—until the day she disappears. Though Pete’s lacking in fatherly intuition, his instinct for detecting danger is razor sharp. Maddie’s in trouble. Now he needs the Troubleshooters team at his back, along with an unconventional ally.

Romance writer Shayla Whitman never expected to be drawn into a real-world thriller—or to meet a hero who makes her pulse pound. Action on the page is one thing. Actually living it is another story. Shay’s not as bold as her heroines, but she’s a mother. She sees the panic in her new neighbor’s usually fearless blue eyes—and knows there’s no greater terror for a parent than having a child at risk. It’s an ordeal Shay won’t let Pete face alone. She’s no highly trained operative, but she’s smart, resourceful, and knows what makes teenagers tick.

Still, working alongside Pete has its own perils—like letting the heat between them rise out of control. Intimate emotions could mean dangerous, even deadly, consequences for their mission. No matter what, they must be on top of their game, and playing for keeps . . . or else Pete’s daughter may be gone for good. 
My Review:
 
This was one of my most highly anticipated reads for 2017 because I have been waiting YEARS for a new book in this series.  There was some talk that maybe it was over but I was so happy to be back with the Troubleshooters! No one rights better romantic suspense in the military vein than Suzanne Brockmann and I seriously loved the characters of Pete and Shay that she created in this book.  Shay is an author (romantic suspense, of course) and she was so awesome.  Everything about this was seamless.  I also think no one can write alternating/multiple POV better than SB - she is so good at creating unique voices that are still easy to read. Although I wasn't actually in love with the sub-story of Pete's daughter's romance (it felt a bit off), I was still all in for this one and devoured it in a day.  I really hope this means there might be even more books in this series coming?  Maybe?!

Some Kind of Hero comes out next week on July 11, 2017 and you can purchase HERE.  I love this series so much!
He just pulled back to look into her eyes again, and time seemed to slow and not-quite stop, but change and expand. He'd experienced something similar a few times, while out on ops with the teams. There was a name for it, that sense of being present and acutely, intensely aware: kairos. The word also meant opportunity, and he was not a fool, so he slowly leaned in and when, once more, she didn't pull away, he kissed her again. 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Review: Coming Up for Air (Hundred Oaks) by Miranda Kenneally



Blurb from Goodreads:
Swim. Eat. Shower. School. Snack. Swim. Swim. Swim. Dinner. Homework. Bed. Repeat.

All of Maggie’s focus and free time is spent swimming. She’s not only striving to earn scholarships—she’s training to qualify for the Olympics. It helps that her best friend, Levi, is also on the team and cheers her on. But Levi’s already earned an Olympic try out, so she feels even more pressure to succeed. And it’s not until Maggie’s away on a college visit that she realizes how much of the “typical” high school experience she’s missed by being in the pool.

Not one to shy away from a challenge, Maggie decides to squeeze the most out of her senior year. First up? Making out with a guy. And Levi could be the perfect candidate. After all, they already spend a lot of time together. But as Maggie slowly starts to uncover new feelings for Levi, how much is she willing to lose to win?
My Review:
No one writes more realistic, sex positive contemporary YA than Miranda Kenneally.  And her abilities in this area are a huge reason why I not only love her Hundred Oaks series but why I think this series is a must read, especially for teenage and adult women.  She always manages to capture what it was like to be in high school, at least what I felt like in high school, and her latest book, Coming Up for Air, is no exception.  I immediately connected with Maggie - she's driven and dedicated to swimming but she also has normal feelings and curiosities like every teenager.  The friendships she had were such a highlight in this book, both with Levi but also with her core group who meets every Friday.  I found these weekly meetings so endearing and reminiscent of being in high school. I also loved the descriptions of swimming -- the practices, the competitions, the traveling. This book was just so well developed in its plot and characters that I couldn't put it down.  I am sad to see this series end (this is the last book) but this book contains an amazing epilogue and I can't wait to see what Miranda writes next!  I can't recommend this series enough and I know I will re-read all of these books often.

Coming Up For Air comes out tomorrow on July 4, 2017, you can purchase HERE.  I cannot stress enough how amazing and important this series is - it is a must read for teens and adults alike.
What if fooling around with Levi is fueling stronger emotion that may or may not be real? Once it happened, feelings started blooming, as if I threw a bunch of seeds over my shoulder, and a month later, wildflowers were all over my yard. They are beautiful, but not what I had planned. Is that okay? Or will it all grow out of control and mess up our friendship?
 
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