Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Book Review: "Five Feet Apart" by Rachael Lippincott with Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis

It's been said (although the provenance of the quote is questionable) that, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results." While this adage holds true in many aspects of my life, in this case it applies to my penchant for reading tearjerkers yet being surprised when I'm sobbing (once again on a plane, no less).

Knowing that I'd probably cry, I still couldn't stay away from Five Feet Apart, even though the movie adaptation is supposed to be released this weekend, I think. I didn't just read this book, I devoured it, all in the course of a quick plane trip. And while it elicited the expected emotions, I really wasn't expecting to love it as much as I did.

Even though her cystic fibrosis has kept her from doing some of the things she has wanted, Stella has always taken control of her disease, at least as much as she possibly can. She's a big fan of to-do lists (she loves crossing things off) and she hosts her own video series about CF on YouTube. But no matter how much control she tries to take, she can't avoid frequent extended trips to the hospital—and try as she might, she can't protect everyone around her.

What Stella and her family are hoping for is a transplant. It won't save her life completely, but it will give her more time. However, in order to be eligible for a transplant, she has to protect herself from any possible infections or viruses, which means she can't get less than six feet from anyone else with CF, even her best friend, Poe, with whom she essentially grew up in the hospital. When they're both in the hospital together, they have to rely on texting, Skype, and talking through surgical masks and from doorways.

Will has been in and out of hospitals all over the world, and he's tired of it all, especially his mother's single-minded crusade to help him beat a dangerous bacterial infection. Who knows how much money she has spent on getting him in a new drug trial? Will is just waiting until he turns 18, so he can walk away from the hospital and the drug trial, and live (and die) on his own terms.

Stella can't stand to see anyone throwing away their shot at survival, no matter how limited time must be. Will's refusal to participate in his own treatment is something she can't control, and that angers and saddens her. She doesn't love his devil-may-care attitude, and he doesn't love her control-freak tendencies.

As their friendship deepens into something more intense, they face more obstacles than they can handle. They literally cannot get more than six feet from one another. Even a sneeze could infect Stella and knock her off the transplant list. But what is the solution? Is having to keep a physical distance from one another better than not having each other at all?

You probably can predict a good amount of what will happen in Five Feet Apart (although there are some sort-of surprises), but it didn't matter to me in the slightest. In a short number of pages I became totally invested in these characters and their lives, even though I knew ultimately there would be some sorrow involved. Yes, there were some similarities to The Fault in Our Stars but I didn't necessarily feel as if Will, Stella, and Poe were masters of sarcasm and wry observations as the characters were in the former.

This book is based on the screenplay of the movie, so I'd imagine there won't be much deviation, but again, it doesn't matter. I know I'll sob in the theater just as I did on the airplane (thank goodness the lights were off), and I'll think about how much I take for granted. And then I'll smile wistfully as I think about Will, Stella, and Poe.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Book Review: "Wolfhunter River" by Rachel Caine

Imagine what it must be like to discover the man you married was a horrible serial killer, and that he was torturing and killing women right underneath your nose. For Gwen Proctor, that nightmare was her reality. But after fearing him for years and trying to keep her kids out of danger, she has finally been able to pull their lives together into some semblance of normalcy.

But peace of mind and security don't last long. Her ex-husband Melvin had acolytes all across the country, people willing to do his bidding and inflict emotional torture on Gwen and her kids. People make threats against them on a daily basis, some of them bordering on true danger. And even worse, the families of Melvin's victims continue to believe that Gwen was a part of his crimes and are determined to make her pay, even developing a documentary which they hope will finally expose what they believe to be her guilt—no matter who gets hurt in the crossfire.

One day Gwen gets a call from Marlene, a woman in a remote Tennessee town called Wolfhunter. Marlene is among those strangers who call on Gwen, asking for advice or assistance in overcoming challenges like she did. Marlene is afraid of someone, but isn't willing to divulge the reasons for her fears. Marlene asks Gwen to come to Wolfhunter but she fears it's some sort of trap. Yet when the next call from Wolfhunter comes in it's not from Marlene, it's from her teenage daughter, Vee. Marlene is dead and the primary suspect is Vee herself, even though Gwen knows it's not her daughter Marlene was afraid of.

Gwen makes the decision to help Vee out, so she heads to Wolfhunter, along with her boyfriend Sam and her children. While she knows she may be stepping into something dangerous, she has no idea of the viper's nest they'll encounter, and the ripple effects that will be felt by Marlene's murder, Vee's alleged guilt, and the simple fact of Gwen's presence in Wolfhunter. Small, rundown towns are the perfect breeding ground for evil, and as the danger intensifies, so do the crises in her own life.

Wolfhunter River is Rachel Caine's third book in her Stillhouse Lake series (after Stillhouse Lake and Killman Creek). Gwen Proctor is an amazing character—flawed, brave, vulnerable, fierce, and utterly protective of her children. I found the first two books in this series absolutely spectacular, tautly plotted and full of action and suspense, and they provided a disturbing view into the heart of evil and how it can spread.

I found that this book took a little longer to build up steam, and once it did, there was so much going on and so many things were tangled together that the plot even got a little muddled. It felt like in trying to build on the intensity of the first two books, Caine thought she had to triple the suspense. Fortunately, there is still a lot of character development, and we learn more about Sam's life before he and Gwen met.

This book might be more of a standalone than the first two books were, but I'd still recommend you start reading the series from the beginning. Caine sure does love to keep you guessing about how the plot will unfold! I'm not sure if she intends to keep writing about Gwen, but I hope she does, because she's definitely one of my favorite female characters of late.

If you're a fan of creepy, well-written, suspenseful thrillers, I'd encourage you to pick up this series, starting with Stillhouse Lake. You may find yourself wondering just how you'd react if faced with the same situations Gwen was, and whether you'd be a total badass like she is.

NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

This book will be published April 23, 2019.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Book Review: "The Secret of Clouds" by Alyson Richman

It takes a talented storyteller to get you completely hooked on a story even if you can pretty much predict everything that is going to happen. It takes even more talent to make you get all choked up even when you know what is coming.

In her new novel, The Secret of Clouds, Alyson Richman proves she has exceptional talent, because even though the plot moved as I expected it would, I was hooked on this book from the very start, and I found myself sobbing late last night as it ended.

Maggie Topper is a teacher with a true passion for what she does. She loves the feeling of reaching her students, of making connections with them, and inspiring them. She looks at each school year as a new challenge, and tries not to fall prey to the cynicism that often plagues her fellow teachers.

At the start of a new school year, Maggie is asked by the principal to take on an extra task—to tutor a student, Yuri, whose heart problem hampers him from being able to attend school on a daily basis. Maggie is reluctant at first, because the thought sparks painful memories from her own childhood, but she realizes that Yuri deserves to be inspired and challenged just like every other student she teaches.

Yuri at first rebuffs Maggie's attempts to connect with him, until she realizes she may be trying too hard. She finds the key to Yuri's intellect and his heart is through baseball—even though he cannot play the game, he is a diehard Yankees fan like his father, and has tremendous passion for the players and the stats. Little by little, she realizes how much wiser and more insightful he is than a typical sixth-grader, and he opens Maggie's eyes to the need to live life to the fullest.

Maggie and Yuri's relationship deepens, and she begins to understand just how his parents, Katya and Sasha, who emigrated from the Ukraine in the mid-1980s following the Chernobyl disaster, are torn between wanting to protect him and wanting him to be a "normal" kid, between believing he will get better and fearing for the worst. But Yuri seems to give everyone the strength he so desperately needs for himself, and touches people in ways they never quite expected.

"We can't be so afraid of experiencing pain that it interferes with the things we love."

The Secret of Clouds is in many ways, a love story—romantic love, the love between friends, parental love, the love of baseball, and above all, the love of life. Richman has created some beautifully fleshed-out characters and tugs at your emotions without being too maudlin (most of the time). Maggie's mother also is supposed to be an amazing Italian cook, so it's best not to read this on an empty stomach! (She does provide a recipe along with the acknowledgments at the end of the book.)

You may not be surprised by the book's plot, but I hope you'll be moved, and that you'll think about these characters long after. I know I will.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Book Review: "Rayne & Delilah's Midnite Matinee" by Jeff Zentner

"Sometimes small and unspectacular things can be a universe."

Josie and Delia are best friends. They're practically inseparable, prone to conversations like, "Have you noticed that if you switch the first letters of every country singer's first and last name, you end up with an amazing Star Wars name?"

Every Friday night, Josie and Delia become Rayne Ravenscroft and Delilah Darkwood, the hosts of a campy, tongue-in-cheek horror show on public access television called Midnite Matinee. They show bad horror movies, make lots of corny jokes, and quite often have to keep themselves from bursting into laughter while filming, but they try to keep improving and create something they can be (reasonably) proud of.

Their program is filmed in Jackson, Tennessee, but airs on a few markets throughout the south, enough that there are viewers who write them letters to comment on errors, offer criticism and suggestions, and share pervy thoughts that men shouldn't have about two high school seniors. Josie has dreamed of being on television for as long as she can remember, while Delia get involved mostly as a tribute to her father, who shared his love of campy horror movies with her, and then left when she was younger.

As their senior year draws to a close, so much hangs in the balance. While they both plan to go to the same college so they can continue filming the show on weekends, Josie's parents want her to pursue a television career legitimately. Josie doesn't want to let Delia down, but she doesn't know if the show is even what she still wants. And when a guest on the show catches Josie's attention in an unexpected way, it adds even more pressure to the decisions she has to make.

Everything hinges on a meeting Delia has set up with a producer who made a star out of a horror hostess back in the day. They plan to meet him at ShiverCon, a horror convention. They both dream that this meeting will take their show to the next level, which is what Delia wants more than anything, and it would solve all of Josie's problems. And maybe, while they're in Florida for the convention, Delia might track down her father...

"You don't always know at the time when you're experiencing one of those random memories you'll carry all your life. When nothing momentous happened other than driving a little too fast in the direction of Florida, at dusk, with your best friend at your side and, at your back, a guy who's really good at kissing you. Still, you remember it until the day you die."

Rayne and Delilah's Midnite Matinee is a warm, funny, poignant story of friendship, love, following your dreams, and worrying you'll always be the one left behind. At times the book gets a little too goofy, but it has such heart, and Jeff Zentner has created such terrific characters that charm you and make you care about them.

Zentner's first two books, The Serpent King and Goodbye Days, tore me apart emotionally (see my reviews here and here), but he takes a lighter path with this book, although there still are emotional moments. He is truly a talented writer, relying on so much more than teenage characters who speak as if they've been honing their sarcasm and caustic wit since birth. He really has a knack for capturing the right amount of teenage angst and emotion.

I believe Zentner is one of the best YA writers out there these days. If you prefer an utter emotional upheaval, read either of his first two books, but if you just want a fun, slightly zany, and poignant look at friendship, definitely pick up Rayne & Delilah's Midnite Matinee.

NetGalley, Random House Children's, and Crown Books for Young Readers provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

This book will be published February 26, 2019.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Book Review: "Out of the Dark" by Gregg Hurwitz

"There are no good guys. There are no bad guys. There's only what needs to be done."

Nobody writes thrillers like Gregg Hurwitz, particularly his Orphan X series. What an incredible group of books, full of pulse-quickening suspense, whip-cracking action, and at their heart, a flawed yet amazingly appealing protagonist. Like Dexter or other anti-heroes, Evan Smoak is someone you root for wholeheartedly even if you're troubled by what actions he must take.

When Evan was 12 years old, he was taken from a group home and trained to become part of the Orphan program, a deep-deep-cover operation that created intelligence assets for the U.S., assets that could be used to create all kinds of mayhem—and become assassins. Evan spent a number of years following orders across the globe as Orphan X, but after a while, he decided he needed to be free of the program.

Evan reinvented himself as the Nowhere Man, the person people turn to when they have no hope left. Evan helps one person at a time, often putting himself at great risk, but the missions give him purpose, and helping others makes him feel like he's making amends for his past sins in some way.

Although the Orphan program was discontinued a number of years ago, someone deep within the U.S. government has made it their mission to kill all of the remaining Orphans and their handlers. Evan knows he is a prime target of this person, so he has to figure out a way to strike first, to not let this person destroy all of the evidence of the chaos he had the Orphans sow. His formidable enemy? The President of the United States, who had the Orphans, particularly Evan, create chaos that was beneficial to him.

The President knows Evan is on to him, and figures the only way to catch an Orphan is with another Orphan—Orphan A, the very first Orphan the program created, and one of the deadliest. Evan must devise a plan to take down the President before he can destroy all of the evidence of his past misdeeds, but this is the biggest challenge he's ever faced—and perhaps the most dangerous.

There's a lot going on in Out of the Dark, the fourth installment of Hurwitz's Orphan X series, and it's definitely one of the best. In addition to Evan's plan to assassinate the President, which requires more intelligence, firepower, and sheer chutzpah than even he may have, as the Nowhere Man, he also has to help someone out of a desperate, dangerous situation. At the same time, he also must confront the reality that who he is, what he has done, and what he is trained to do are not the ingredients for a "normal" life, no matter how desperate he may crave some normalcy.

Evan Smoak is one of my favorite characters of late. He's smart and dangerous, although principled, and he really has a good heart despite not always knowing how to handle his feelings. I love how Hurwitz balances his strength, intelligence, and potential danger with his more vulnerable side. But for the most part, this is a book with a tremendous amount of action and suspense. It's amazing to watch Evan face off with other Orphans.

Although this is the fourth book in the series, you could start by reading Out of the Dark if you don't want to read the series in order, as Hurwitz gives you enough information for things to make sense. But this is one of the strongest series out there over the last few years, so it definitely will be worth your while to read all of them when you can.

It's a mark of how terrific this book is—and how nice it was to have a holiday Monday—that I read the entire 400-page book today. I just couldn't get enough.

NetGalley and Minotaur Books provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Book Review: "The Lost Man" by Jane Harper

I've read all three of Jane Harper's now. In addition to her exceptional storytelling ability, she is tremendously effective with the imagery she evokes. Reading The Lost Man, as well as The Dry and Force of Nature, I could feel the unrelenting heat of the Australian outback and taste the dry dust, right along with the characters.

The Bright family lives in adjoining cattle ranches in the isolated Australian outback, but they're still more than a three-hour drive away from one another. Brothers Nathan and Bub Bright meet for the first time in quite a while when their middle brother, Cameron, is found dead on a remote part of the family cattle ranch. He was a victim of the brutal heat, but no one understands what made him brave the elements with no protection, especially when he had planned to meet up with Bub that day.

When it becomes clear that there was no reason for Cameron to be outside in the heat for so long, especially when his car was running perfectly and was fully stocked with the supplies one would need in an emergency, the realization surfaces that either Cameron took his own life, or someone forced him into a situation that would end it brutally.

"They lived in a land of extremes in more ways than one. People were either completely fine, or very not. There was little middle ground. And Cam wasn't some tourist. He knew how to handle himself, and that meant he could well have been half an hour up the road, slowed down by the dark and out of range, but snug in his swag, with a cool beer from the fridge in his boot. Or he might not."

Nathan and his teenage son return to the family ranch with Bub. Cameron was managing the ranch, on which lived their mother, his wife, their daughters, a longtime family friend who was more than an employee, and two backpackers Cameron hired. Nathan's relationship with his family has always been a bit distant, as he and his family bear the scars of their violent father. His family worries about Nathan's own stability, as his life has been far from easy, and he lives out in the distance on his ranch by himself.

As Nathan and others try to make sense of Cam's last days, to determine if his behavior everyone describes as "on edge" translated into a suicide attempt, or if something more nefarious is at play, old wounds are reopened, old resentments resurface, and worries about the future cause more tension. It seems as if everyone had something to hide, and Cam's death could have had its roots in a decades-old incident that nearly everyone had forgotten about.

"Life out here is hard. We all try to get through the best way we can. But trust me, there's not a single person here who isn't lying to themselves about something."

Was Cam unsettled enough that he took his own life, or did someone kill him? If someone did kill Cam, who was it—Bub? Ilse, Cam's wife? Uncle Harry, the longtime employee? One of the backpackers, whose background isn't quite what they said it was? Or was it a figure from the past, returning to even the score?

Can the family ever regain some sense of emotional equilibrium, or will the old scars and hurts continue to block any meaningful relationships? Can Nathan survive his lonely existence, or is he becoming a threat to himself, as many in his family, including his son, fear? The Lost Man is both mystery and a novel about the bonds of family, and how they can be both comforting and troubling.

I thought this was a fantastic book. There was so much to appreciate here, from Nathan's own issues and his fragile relationship with his son, to the brutal lives the family had under their father's thumb, and how everyone was determined that the sins of the father not repeat themselves. Harper did such a terrific job getting me completely hooked on this story, and I devoured the entire book in a day.

This isn't quite a thriller, but there certainly is suspense, and I was surprised by how Harper tied everything up. I'd actually love to see the Bright family again, that's how immersed I found myself in this story. Harper has had a fantastic run of books so far, and I look forward to what's coming next.

I received an advance copy of the novel courtesy of Flatiron Books. Thanks for making it available!

Friday, February 15, 2019

Book Review: "Lie with Me" by Philippe Besson (translated by Molly Ringwald)

"This feeling of love, it transports me, it makes me happy. But it also consumes me and makes me miserable, the way all impossible loves are miserable."

Philippe is a famous writer being interviewed at a hotel in Bordeaux when he sees a handsome man walk by. The man jars Philippe's memory, reminding him of his first love, when he was in his last year of high school in 1984.

Philippe is the studious one, shy yet fiercely intelligent. He has already been marked by his peers as "different"; he bears their shouted and whispered insults, and wants nothing more than to blend in. Thomas is quiet, rarely speaks yet is often spoken to, and is popular among his peers. He is handsome, so he catches the attention of many of the female students.

The two have never spoken, yet Philippe is inexplicably drawn to Thomas. He watches him, observes him, but doesn't think Thomas notices him (or even knows who he is), and Philippe is unsure of how he feels about that fact. Does he want Thomas to know what their peers think of him, the names they've called him?

One day, Thomas approaches Philippe. He fears that Thomas might have seen him staring, might want to beat him up. But instead, Thomas asks if he might want to go to lunch in town instead of eat in the school lunchroom. He agrees, but doesn't understand what Thomas wants from him. During lunch, Thomas tells him he is struggling with his sexuality, and he can no longer fight these feelings in silence.

When Philippe asks why Thomas has chosen him, he replies, "Because you are not like all the others, because I don't see anyone but you and you don't even realize it."

The two quickly fall into a secret relationship—mostly sexual, although there certainly are overtones of romance. Outside of their encounters, they pretend not to know each other, and make no move to declare their feelings for one another. Inherently, Thomas knows that when high school is done, Philippe will leave their small French town to make his way in the world, leaving Thomas behind. And despite the intensity of their unspoken feelings, both know that this is their trajectory.

Can we ever forget the raw emotions, the intensity, the longing of our first true love? How does that relationship affect the rest of our lives? In Lie with Me, Philippe Besson poignantly captures those feelings, the way every fiber of your being is affected, the way you want nothing more than that person and cannot bear the thought of being apart. And how you mourn the end of that relationship, how it feels like no pain you've ever experienced, so much more than your heart can bear.

Besson and Molly Ringwald, who translated the novel from the French, paints a beautiful, emotional picture of a man who has made something of his life as was always expected, but when he is reminded of his first love, reminisces about that glorious yet painful time, and how indelibly their lives have changed in the years since.

Lie with Me has been called "the French Brokeback Mountain," and while there are no cowboys, and this book didn't quite make me sob the way that movie did, there is a tremendous amount of poignancy, emotion, and beauty to be had in this story. Ringwald's translation felt flawless to me—quite often when I read translated novels I find some awkwardness in the syntax or the way some expressions are relayed.

"That singular moment. The pure urgency of it. There were circumstances—a series of coincidences and simultaneous desire. There was something in the atmosphere, something in the time and place, that brought us together."

What a gorgeous, moving book this was.

NetGalley and Scribner provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available! To be published April 30, 2019.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Book Review: "The Night Olivia Fell" by Christina McDonald

The Night Olivia Fell surprised me. So often when I read thrillers there certainly are twists and turns to contend with, but it's rare that I find one that touches me emotionally as well. This one did, which made it richer than a simple thriller.

No one wants the phone to ring in the middle of the night. But Abi Knight is roused from sleep and receives the call no mother wants to hear—her teenage daughter, Olivia, has fallen from a bridge. When Abi arrives at the hospital she learns the full, horrible truth, that Olivia is brain dead and will never wake up, but the hospital needs to do everything it can to keep her alive, because she is pregnant.

A single mother, Abi has spent her whole life striving to protect her daughter from any possibility of harm. She pressured Olivia to study as hard as possible, checked her homework, gave her early curfews, made sure she always knew where her daughter was every minute they weren't together. Abi was determined that Olivia would have a more stable life than she had. So how did it all go utterly awry? How could Olivia be lying in a hospital bed, being kept alive by machines in the hopes that her baby might survive?

"I'd spent my whole life hiding, just existing behind the walls I'd built around myself. I never got the answers I needed when my mother died. I was powerless to stop my mom killing herself. Powerless to make Olivia's father choose me. Powerless to stop my daughter from—the pain of reality hit me in the stomach."

When Abi notices the bruises on Olivia's wrists, she expects the police will fully investigate what happened to her. But when the police rule the incident an accident, Abi cannot understand why no one seems to care what happened to Olivia. Abi won't let that roadblock stop her—she is determined to get answers. What happened to Olivia that night? Who is the baby's father? Was Olivia's fall an accident, or did someone deliberately try to kill her?

"What do you do when you know something and nobody will listen? When you need answers and nobody will provide them? When you can't trust anybody to help you?"

Christina McDonald does a great job in both laying out the mystery behind what happened to Olivia, and creating a richly emotional story about a mother struggling to come to terms with tragedy, and the possible glimmer of hope that lies beyond it. The narration in The Night Olivia Fell shifts between Abi and Olivia, between present day and the path of events that culminate in Olivia's fall.

While I didn't find the resolution of the mystery to be particularly surprising, it didn't affect my enjoyment of the book, or how hooked I was on it. Clearly that is because of McDonald's talent in telling this story, making you care about the characters and drawing you in fully, so you can't stop turning the pages and devouring the story.

This is a poignant story of parental love, teenage angst, the need for truth, and the realization that no matter how hard we try, we can't always escape our problems. I enjoyed this tremendously, and can't wait to see what McDonald has in store in the future!

Monday, February 11, 2019

Book Review: "Unmarriageable" by Soniah Kamal

There's that classic line from the song "Beauty and the Beast" which goes, "Tale as old as time..." It signifies a story that's been heard so many times throughout the ages, although it may take on slightly (or drastically) different forms each time you hear it.

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is definitely one of those tales as old as time. Not only have there been countless adaptations of this classic on television and in movies, both in the U.S. and abroad, but it has also been used as the basis of everything from Bridget Jones's Diary to Bollywood (Bride and Prejudice) to science fiction (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), and everything in between.

Soniah Kamal's Unmarriageable is another take on Austen's novel, this time set in modern-day Pakistan. The once-wealthy Binat family has seen its fortunes dwindle as the result of rumors and vicious jealousy. Even worse than losing the creature comforts they had come to enjoy is the damage their financial fall from grace will do to the marriage prospects for the Binats' five daughters.

While this is dismaying for many of the Binat women, 30-year-old Alysba Binat could care less. She'd be fine with never marrying, if only her mother would stop hassling her. Working as an English literature teacher at a British school in her town, Alys tries to teach her students to think independently, to want more than marriage and a family, which is what they are all raised to desire. This often gets Alys into trouble with the school's principal, who wants her to focus on the actual lessons and not trying to change the girls' aspirations.

"Yet it always upset her that young brilliant minds, instead of exploring the universe, were busy chiseling themselves to fit into the molds of Mrs. and Mom. It wasn't that she was averse to Mrs. Mom, only that none of the girls seemed to have ever considered traveling the world by themselves, let alone been encouraged to do so, or to shatter a glass ceiling, or laugh like a mad-woman in public without a care for how it looked."

When the Binats are invited to their town's biggest wedding, attended by the who's who of Pakistan and elsewhere, Mrs. Binat hopes that Alys and her older sister, Jena, will catch the eye of eligible men, and hopefully reel them in. On the first night of the festivities, Jena meets Fahad Bingla, a successful entrepreneur, and he takes a shine to her. Bingla's best friend, Valentine Darsee, also meets the Binat family and is less than impressed with them, especially Alys. Darsee tells Bingla that she is neither smart nor good-looking enough for him, which Alys overhears.

If you've read or seen any version of Pride and Prejudice before, you know what comes next, as Alys and Darsee find themselves in a battle of wills, as the Binat family tries to make sure their daughters find suitable husbands. Mrs. Binat in particular isn't interested in what Alys herself wants; she needs to think of her family for once. But will she marry for money? For love? Or will she be the rare lucky one who can find both?

Unmarriageable is a sweet, fun romp, and Kamal retains enough of the core of Austen's book while adding twists of her own. I found that it worked better for me when I stopped trying to figure out how the characters' names corresponded to the original ones (and, for that matter, stopped comparing everything to the original). She did a great job creating vivid imagery that helped me picture the different settings, the fashions, and the way the love stories unfolded.

I thought the pacing of the book was a little slow, but beyond that, it was a fun, interesting read. I liked Kamal's concept, but I honestly hope it's not a growing trend. I'm one of those curmudgeons who like the classics to stay classic, and don't see the need to update them for the modern world.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Book Review: "The Silent Patient" by Alex Michaelides

I read a lot of thrillers, so I tend to be pretty hard on them. Because, as I've mentioned, I have this tendency to suspect every single character that appears in a thriller, I'm often not as surprised as many others are when authors throw in twists and turns, or when the perpetrator is finally revealed.

While I had some suspicions about the way things in Alex Michaelides' terrific debut, The Silent Patient, might go, I will admit he pulled one over on me at one point. I really enjoyed the way he kept me guessing and was completely hooked on this story of murder, infidelity, psychological instability, and the desire to be a savior.

Alicia Berenson was an artist of some renown, but these days she's more infamous than anything else. Married to a handsome photographer for whom she is consumed by love, they seem to be the picture-perfect couple, at least to anyone on the outside looking in. One night, her husband came home late from a shoot. Moments later, he was shot five times in the face and killed, and the police found Alicia covered in his blood, as well as her own, as she attempted to slit her own wrists.

From that moment on, Alicia hasn't spoken a word. Her trial for her husband's murder was a hotbed of rumors, innuendo, and media sensationalism, but no one ever finds the answers they seek, no one understands what would have made Alicia kill her husband so brutally and then try to take her own life. With no other real choice, the judge sentences her to treatment at the Grove, a forensic unit for dangerous patients, in North London.

"And so, with no further revelation forthcoming, the disappointed media eventually lost interest in Alicia Berenson. She joined the ranks of other briefly famous murderers; faces we remember, but whose names we forget."

But psychotherapist Theo Faber continues to be fascinated by Alicia's case, and he believes that only he can reach her, can delve down into her psyche to uncover the secrets that have kept her silent for six years now. When a position opens at the Grove, he is quick to jump on it, and it isn't long before he has convinced the clinical director, Dr. Lazarus Diomedes, to let him begin treating Alicia, even if she hasn't spoken a word to any other doctor, and has displayed sometimes self-harming and sometimes violent behavior toward others.

Theo does want to help Alicia and perhaps find out the truth behind her husband's murder and the events of that fateful night. But he's also drawn to her because he believes they share a troubled childhood and even a history of emotional challenges. Theo has struggled with depression throughout his life, yet he believes he's uniquely qualified to help Alicia, and perhaps, himself.

"The real motivation was purely selfish. I was on a quest to help myself. I believe the same is true for most people who go into mental health. We are drawn to this profession because we are damaged—we study psychology to heal ourselves. Whether we are prepared to admit this or not is another question."

As Theo attempts to connect with Alicia, he faces challenges from his colleagues and the management of the Grove, who are considering closing down the aging facility, and from Alicia herself. Is she really mad, or is the silence an act? Is she a violent murderer or a misunderstood, grieving widow? Theo seeks answers as his own life seems to be imploding at the same time.

The book's narration shifts between past and present, from Theo's endeavors to treat Alicia to Alicia's reflections of the past expressed through her personal journal. I really wasn't sure what to believe about her, and I kept waiting for some surprise to come bursting out of the woodwork. Michaelides does an excellent job teasing out the suspense in small doses, making you suspect different characters along the way, while you race to figure out the truth as Theo tries to do the same.

In a sea full of thrillers, I found The Silent Patient to be a really strong one that stands apart. There were a lot of layers to this book, and Michaelides was like an orchestra conductor, making sure all of the pieces worked together. If this was his debut, there's no telling what he will come up with next. I know I'll be watching.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Book Review: "When You Read This" by Mary Adkins

I'm not crying, you're crying.

With When You Read This, Mary Adkins has written a novel that is at times funny, poignant, and frustrating (because of the characters' actions or lack thereof; not because of any shortcoming of Adkins).

This is a book that deals with being honest with yourself, facing the realities you try to hide, no matter how much they might hurt. It's a book about how we handle grief and regret, and how accepting that others may grieve, too, can actually help us. And it's also a book about how we find the strength to start again, sometimes more than once.

Iris Massey was only 33 when she died, after battling cancer. For four years, Iris worked as the assistant to PR expert Smith Simonyi, and the two managed his oddball assortment of clients with skill and more than a few outlandish ideas. Iris and Smith thought the same way about things, and each brought out the best in the other.

With Iris gone, Smith is adrift. He has more than his share of other problems, problems which threaten the future of his firm, his finances, even his freedom. His clients start leaving the firm and he's unable to find new clients to take their place—and a new, overeager intern threatens to upend everything.

Before Iris died, she started a blog about what it's like to face a terminal illness at such a young age, how difficult it is to deal with the fact that your dreams may go unfulfilled, and coming to terms with your feelings about the people in your life. Her dying request is that Smith get her blog posts published in book form, which he thinks is a terrific idea—but first he must convince Iris' prickly sister, Jade.

Jade, Iris' opinionated older sister and a chef at a Michelin two-star restaurant, is rocked by grief. She's also preoccupied with concerns about her mother's being able to cope by herself. She feels robbed by Iris' death and wants to hold someone responsible. Did the doctor not prescribe the right treatment? Was Iris' boyfriend good to her? Was Smith holding her back from pursuing her dreams? Jade can't accept the fact that her sister is gone, and she definitely can't accept the idea of publishing Iris' thoughts about dying.

When You Read This is told through emails, blog posts (sometimes illustrated with diagrams), text messages, and online therapy posts. You get a unique perspective into the minds of the characters, as you see everything filtered through their eyes. The epistolary style really draws you in, and I think it intensified the emotions I felt as the plot unfolded.

I loved this book, even if I found Carl's character to be little more than a device to move the plot along, and I had to re-read a piece near the end to be sure I understood something that had happened. Smith and Jade's characters were fascinating, however, and of course, Iris' presence was tremendously felt throughout the book. I'll admit I teared up more than once while devouring this amazing story.

How would it make you feel to read the thoughts of a family member or friend who had died? Would you be able to understand their choices, to honor their wishes? When You Read This gives you a lot to think about. It's definitely a book that will stick with me for a long time to come.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Book Review: "99 Percent Mine" by Sally Thorne

There were moments while devouring Sally Thorne's newest book, 99 Percent Mine, where I would have been like Sheldon in the GIF above if only there were a paper bag handy.

OMG, did I love this book! It literally took every ounce of self-control I had (plus the recognition I had a few conference calls this morning) not to stay up late last night and finish the entire book in one sitting.

For as long as she can remember, life for Darcy Barrett has involved two people—her twin brother, Jamie, and their best friend, Tom Valeska, whom her brother and family essentially adopted when they were younger. Darcy fell in love with Tom when she was eight, but he always seemed more loyal to Jamie than her. But when a moment of vulnerability left Darcy scared of the consequences, she took off running and never quite settled down again.

Now Darcy is back, living in her grandmother's dilapidated cottage, which was bequeathed to her and Jamie with the understanding that it would be refurbished and then sold. She keeps everyone at arm's length, including Jamie, as they have differing ideas of profiting from the cottage's sale. Her once-successful photography career has been shelved in favor of photographing objects for commercial websites, and she's ready to take off again for parts unknown.

"I've been working on this jet-black disguise for many years now, and it's bulletproof. But some people can tell that I'm a weakling, and they try to baby and help me. It must be a survival-of-the-fittest thing. But they're all wrong. I'm not a lame gazelle; I'll be the one chasing the lion."

She's unprepared when Tom, a master house-flipper, arrives at the cottage with his brand-new construction crew, ready to tackle the renovations. Seeing Tom triggers all of the same feelings of lust and love and jealousy and loneliness he always seems to, as he's engaged to his long-time girlfriend, a woman whose luck Darcy covets wholeheartedly. When she finds out that the engagement is over, Darcy wants to finally act on her feelings for Tom, changing their relationship from a brother-sister bond to one that feels like forever.

Are the risks too great? Does he feel the same way for Darcy that she does about him, and even if he does, is he willing to risk everything, including his friendship with Jamie? If Tom gives Darcy his heart (and everything else), will she just take off running again?

"A guy like that is strong in a way that's deeper than muscle and bones, because he wears his softness on the outside. I think I met my ideal man when I was eight, and no one else has ever measured up."

Like many of the romances I've read lately—great books by Christina Lauren, Jasmine Guillory, Josie Spencer, and Thorne herself—there isn't a lot that is surprising in 99 Percent Mine, but I couldn't tear myself away from it. I absolutely loved the complex relationships between Jamie and Darcy, Jamie and Tom, and Darcy and Tom—the intensity of childhood relationships and how they change, and don't change, in adulthood.

This book is hot, too. There is a lot of desire in this book, and Thorne doesn't spare a detail in raising your temperature along with her characters. The sex scenes are pretty unbelievable, too. I mean, how can you not love a line like, "I would have sex with him on a pencil sketch of this bed"?

I read Thorne's first book, The Hating Game (see my review), last month, and I was eagerly anticipating the release of 99 Percent Mine. (At least the Kindle version of this book came with epilogues for both this book and The Hating Game, which was an unexpected bonus.)

I think I enjoyed this book even more than Thorne's first because of the complexity of the relationships. While the plot is relatively predictable, not everything I was expecting to happen did, which made me happy, actually. If you're a fan of this genre, don't miss this one—a really great read when you need a good rom-com.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Book Review: "The Woman Inside" by E.G. Scott

If you like your thrillers with more twists and turns than a roller coaster, grab your safety harness and pick up a copy of E.G. Scott's new thriller, The Woman Inside! This is a crazy book, one which kept me guessing, kept me racing through the book to see how everything would turn out, and, if I'm honest, made me roll my eyes once or twice, too.

It was love at first sight for Rebecca and Paul. Both were wary of relationships (despite the fact that Paul was married at the time) and both shared dark and painful childhoods marked by tragedy, but they couldn't imagine not being together, almost as if destiny brought them together. They shared a passionate relationship and dreamed of building an amazing home on Long Island, and both contributed—Mark with his contracting business and Rebecca as a successful pharmaceutical sales representative.

Nearly 20 years later their marriage has weathered some serious ups and downs. When Mark lost his job it put a strain on their relationship, and Rebecca found herself more and more in the throes of an opioid addiction—an easy thing to feed when you sell pharmaceuticals. Mark had an affair, and it doesn't take too long for his mistress to want more than he is willing to give her—and that doesn't make her happy. As she grows more unhinged, it threatens to topple Mark and Rebecca's marriage for good, not to mention put them in danger.

"Had we really gotten so far away from each other that I'd stopped looking, and Paul knew I had? Time had passed in the intangible way that it does when you aren't paying attention. I didn't see the tether fraying to such a precarious degree."

When Rebecca discovers Mark's plans for a new life, plans that he hasn't shared with her, she is, at turns, hurt, nervous, worried, and angry. As she becomes more and more dependent on a mixed cocktail of drugs, and her supply dwindles, she can't always think clearly, but she starts to formulate plans of her own, and figure out how to make her husband pay for his betrayal. But there are other elements in play, elements that neither of them can expect.

Whenever I read a thriller, I'm automatically suspicious of everyone and everything. A character comes on the scene, I immediately craft ways they could be responsible. So while that habit is a bit distracting at times, it also takes a lot to surprise me. E.G. Scott definitely kept me guessing in places, and my suspicions weren't always correct. There was one major twist that was surprising, but at the same time I found myself exclaiming, "Really?" (Suspension of disbelief necessary.)

The Woman Inside starts out being narrated by Paul and Rebecca, shifting between the present and their past (everything from the beginning of their relationship to crucial events a few days or weeks earlier), but then Scott opens the narration up to several other characters. I think I would have preferred seeing the story only through their eyes—I found one character fairly one-dimensional, and didn't really enjoy their perspectives even as they were revealing twists.

E.G. Scott is the pseudonym for two writers. They've got a lot of talent between them, and I thought that having Rebecca narrate part of the story while she's in the midst of a drug addiction and dealing with cravings and withdrawals was a great plot device, since she's an entirely different kind of unreliable narrator. Even if I didn't love it, The Woman Inside definitely kept me hooked, and it kept me guessing, so it did a pretty good job.

Thriller fans, you might want to pick this one up!