Tuesday, January 31, 2017

(12)On Second Thought by Kristan Higgins


Thirty-niney-year-old Kate was still a giddy newlywed when her husband died. She thought she would ever get married, but here she is 102 days into her marriage to Nathan, the best man she had ever met.   They are at her sister's, Ainsley, house for a party when there is a freak accident and after 102 days of marriage,  Kate is a widow.  She is absolutely devastated and at a loss of how she goes on.

Ainsley and her boyfriend of eleven years are celebrating his beating cancer when Nathan had his tragic accident.  Shortly after Nathan's death, Eric dumps Ainsley on the night she was expecting to get a ring.  She moves in with Kate as she tries to pick up the pieces of her life.

The O'Leary sisters haven't always been close, the family history is dysfunctional, to say the least.  Their father is clueless at best and their mother has a passive-aggressive streak that is worthy of it's own book.  But it isn't until they are both healing from heartache that they really start to get to know each other.  Ainsley and Kate both have help healing, but will they ever truly be happy again?

It has been a long time since I devoured a book in one sitting, but it was easy to do with On Second Thought.    From the very beginning, I could relate to Kate because she was an older bride, like me.  I could relate to the feeling of giddiness she had as she sent him off to work in the morning.  I get it.  I was like that.   The sudden death of her beloved left her so stricken it was hard to not feel the tug of emotions. On the other hand, when Ainsley and her boyfriend split up, I practically cheered.  He was such a gigantic ass.  But Ainsley's emotions leaped off the pages just as Kate's did.  I enjoyed watching the sisters strengthen their relationship and start to emerge from their respective haze of grief.  I found myself crying the ugly cry at the end of the book - I won't tell you why - but I dare you to read it with a dry eye.

Bottom line - Kristan Higgins is such a talented author.  She has successfully made the leap from romance to mainstream women's fiction.  I so thoroughly enjoyed On Second Thought that I am " adding it to the "Best of 2017" list.  It was that good.

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Sunday, January 29, 2017

(11)The Fifth Letter by Nicola Moriarty


Joni, Deb, Trina, and Eden have a yearly tradition.  They get together for a holiday every year and have ever since high school. They took a break last year, but this year they resumed the tradition.  After some free flowing drinks, they agree to resurrect with a new twist.  They all are going to write anonymous letters revealing some big secret.  The others have to identify the author.  One letter reveals that a very married woman attends divorce support groups, another letter reveals that a woman has a tiny bit of a crush on another's husband.  Pretty benign stuff.  Except there is a fifth letter - a letter that is filled with such hate and threat of violence that it shocks them all.  Well, almost them all.  Joni - the main narrator of the book, seeks out a priest to help identify the writer of the fifth letter.  Will they be able to find the author before something tragic happens?

I have to say that I was a little disappointed with The Fifth Letter.  Having recently read another book about four friends on a yearly vacation (The River at Night) I felt that The Fifth Letter was just lacking. I didn't fully understand why Joni sought out a priest - especially when the fifth letter was finally revealed. It just seemed benign, almost childish.  I mean it wasn't like there was a psycho woman chasing them through the woods or anything. Both books had a friend with a controlling husband, although their outcomes were different.  I stuck with the book hoping that it would get better and really "hook" me - it just didn't.  

Bottom line - I think if I hadn't read The River at Night right before The Fifth Letter I might have enjoyed it a little more.  The concepts were vaguely similar, but the writing was so different it was glaring.  If you had to choose between the two books, I would go for the excitement in the woods.  At the very least - read them both, but months apart.

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Saturday, January 28, 2017

(10)Ready Player One by Ernest Cline


It is the year 2044 and teenager Wade Watts lives for one thing, the OASIS.  In reality,  his world is dismal and gray.  His parents are dead and he lives in a part of Oklahoma City known as the stacks.  He escapes the poverty and crime by escaping to the online world known as the OASIS.  Wade does everything the OASIS, he makes friends, he plays video games, he even goes to a virtual school.  When not in school he devotes his time trying to find the "Easter Egg" that the OASIS creator hid in the OASIS.  The person who finds it will inherit the creator's vast fortune and take over control of the OASIS.  When his avatar, Parzival, finds the first key he realizes that he is racing not only to find the egg but racing for his life.  There is an entire army of corporate slugs known ad the "Sixers" who are determined to get the egg and will do anything in their power to stop Parzival or anybody else from getting it first.  Will Parzival and his band of misfit friends find the egg before the Sixers take them out for good?

I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed Ready Player One.  It is a pop culture lover's dream.  Wade Watts or Parzival, is a complete misfit who has pinned his future on finding the egg.  He has no life outside of the OASIS - his friends live there, he goes to school there, he even has a job there.   As someone who is pretty much a homebody with a whole slew of friends that I have met virtually - I can relate. The world outside of the OASIS is very bleak and I could see the world heading that direction very quickly.  Parzival has to complete a serious of puzzles and tasks to get the next key.  The amount of 80's pop-culture in one book is astounding and so much fun!  Movies, TV Shows, Music, Games, and even 80's cereal has a role in this book. Ready Player One is being made into a movie and I cannot wait to see how it translates to the big screen - it is going to be epic!

Bottom line - even though Ready Player One is a gamer's dream book, it will appeal to everybody.  There is action, there is friendship, there is the spirit of competition, and of course all of the pop culture.  I loved the book so much I bought my gamer step-son a copy.  You will want to do the same for the gamer in your life.  I promise.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Sunday, January 22, 2017

(9)The River at Night by Erica Ferencik


Wini Allen is more than ready for her yearly vacation with her three best friends.  Over the years they have visited tropical locations, but this year Pia has signed them up for white-water rafting in the wilds of Maine.   The others are just as skeptical as Wini, but they trust that Pia has lined up an epic vacation.  They are led into the wilds by their twenty-year-old guide, Rory. None of them, except Pia, have confidence in his abilities to get them down the river.  And they were right.  A tragic accident kills Rory, destroys their raft, their supplies, and leaves the four women to get themselves out of the wilds of Maine and the river is their only way out.  They struggle through one night, freezing and starving.  The next night they are the guests of one very scary lady and her mute son.  They have lived off the grid since the 90's and Simonne is afraid that these four middle-aged women will ruin the life she has worked hard to keep secret.  The four women are now in a fight for their lives and the rough river seems like the better option of the two.  Will they make it out alive before the river or the angry woman kills them all?

It will not be long before The River at Night will be coming to a big screen near you.   Wini is a great female lead that many (myself included) could relate to quite easily.  She is divorced with no kids and completely devoted to her job.  She was a little reluctant to go on the trip but was eager to be off work.   Rachel and Sandra seemed like the kind of women that I would hang out with, but not sure I would go white water rafting with them.  Pia, the organizer, was a little more spunky.  A little more "I am gonna do what I want and the rest of you can go to hell,"  Her friends always kind of knew that about her, but the events of the trip made it blatant.  The River at Night was one of those heart-stopping page-turners that maybe should be read during the daylight - with others in the room.  I was so blown away by how natural the story flowed (pun intended) and kept me on the edge of my seat.  That is why I can see it hitting the silver screen - it was just too suspenseful to not end up a movie.

Bottom line - If nothing else The River at Night taught me to never go white water rafting in the wilds of Maine.  But it also reminded me how much I enjoyed a good thriller.  The River at Night fits the bill, just be warned, these lady's use a bit of salty language when in scary situations - as would I.

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Friday, January 20, 2017

(8)The Futures by Anna Pitoniak


Evan and Julia met in college and even though they are from two different worlds, they have been together ever since.  Evan is from a small town in Canada and landed at an Ivy League school on a hockey scholarship.  Julia is from a blue-blood family and is used to the best of everything.  The year after graduation is 2008 and Evan and Julia have moved to New York City.  Evan got a job at a popular hedge-fund and is looking to move up the ladder quickly, while Julia is working at an art gallery owned by wealthy friends of her parents.   The move has been difficult on their relationship, especially since Evan works practically day and night.  They never see each other, their communication breaks down, and they certainly never have sex.  The "special assignment" that Evan is working on for his boss will soon be the bomb that blows up their relationship.  Will Evan and Julia be able to get past it or will it be over for good?

The Futures is set in the middle of the economic crisis brought many Americans to their knees. It is interesting to me that of this couple one has always known what it was like to have money and the other one aspires to having that kind of wealth. The book is told from alternate perspectives, but the timeline is pretty consistent.  What I mean is, rather than seeing a scene from the other person's perspective, Julia picks up where Evan left off, in most cases.  It was unique.  I didn't particularly like either character for specific reasons, but I wanted to see where things ended up for them.  I liked Evan more because he was a small-town guy at heart, but I connected more with Julia, even though they both did abhorrent things, I could understand why they did what they did.   The end of the book was a little surprising to me, but I shouldn't have been surprised by the outcome.

Bottom line - I think the events of the 2008 financial crisis are still a little "fresh" for me, but I really liked The Futures.  I enjoyed following Julia and Evan as they tried to navigate adulthood during one of the most difficult financial eras of our time.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Sunday, January 15, 2017

(7)The Dry by Jane Harper


It took a tragedy to get Federal Agent, Aaron Falk to go home.  His childhood best friend killed his wife, son, and then himself.  It was Luke's father who reached out to Aaron and summoned him.  Falk had left his small Austrailian hometown years ago under a swirl of scandal when a friend of theirs was found dead in the river.  But Falk goes home and finds that his hometown has practically dried up.  The drought has taken a hit on the economy and everyone is on edge. Old family feuds are going strong and tensions are running high. Rumor has it that Luke's family farm was taking a hit and he was on the verge of losing it all. After the funeral one of the local authorities approaches Falk.  He isn't entirely sure the case is as cut and dry as it looks.  Falk agrees to stay and help the investigation and it turns out that the Sergeant was right. But who would want to kill Luke and his family?

The Dry has been getting a lot of buzz as being the next hot mystery and I understand why that it is.  Aaron Falk appears to be a good guy.  He leads a pretty quiet, if not solitary life, in Melbourne and a lot of that stems from the trauma of small town living.  And having grown up in a small town, I totally get it.  There is something very appealing about the anonymity of a big city after living in a town where everybody is up in your business.   Falk has only agreed to stay for a week and the urgency is building and the past is catching up with him.  The book has flashbacks back to when Luke and Aaron were kids and Ellie drowned.  Ellie's family have made it very clear that they believe that Aaron is responsible, even though he wasn't.  A lot of people in town also believe it to be true, which has made his visit a little more uncomfortable.   I figured out who the killer was at a very specific moment about halfway through the book.  I even highlighted the passage & thought "this is where I figured it out."   I was right, but it could have gone any other way.  - CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS

Bottom line - even though I had it figured out pretty early, The Dry was still a page turner.  I wanted to see if I was right and even though that I might not be at one point.  I am glad that I stuck it out and look forward to more from Jane Harper in the future.

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

(6)The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian


Warren Ahlberg is out of town at a conference when he gets the call that his wife, Annalee, has gone missing.  He knew it was a risk leaving Annalee home with his daughter, Lianna and Paige, but he did.  Annalee's sleepwalking has been under control, but it always gets worse when Warren is out of town.  The family accepts Annalee's disappearance with a broken heart, assuming she fell in the river.  Twenty-one year old Lianna strikes up a friendship with a detective n the case, it turns out that the detective had a sort of relationship with Annalee.  Through Gavin, Lianna learns more about her mother than she ever wanted to know.  Information about her sleepwalking that will change the Ahlberg family forever.    But will they ever find out what happened to Lianna?  Was her disappearance a tragic accident or was it something much more sinister?

Chris Bohjalian has outdone himself.  The Sleepwalker starts out as a bit of a mystery and then meanders into a fascinating story about a twist on a common ailment, sleepwalking.  Annalee and Gavin, the detective had one thing in common and met at a support group for people who have parasomnia.  They don't walk in their sleep, they do something so much more.   I enjoyed Lianna, who was desperately trying to hold her family together after her mother's disappearance.  Her younger sister was still in high school and Lianna felt a sense of responsibility for Paige. She took a semester off of college to be there.    I didn't have a good feeling about Gavin, the detective.  He was considerably older than Lianna and I thought he was a bit of a predator.     When the truth is revealed, I have to say that I was shocked.  It was not what I had expected.  -- CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS

Bottom line - The Sleepwalker was such a terrific read.  The book has all of the components of a good mystery, but the characters were so much more developed than your average mystery novel.  There is so much in this novel that is up for discussion.  You won't regret it

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Sunday, January 8, 2017

(5)The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer


The Chemist is a woman who knows too much and has been on the run for several years from the government agency that wants her dead. Her job for the government was that of a "fixer."  Her skills in the arena of interrogation made her invaluable to her agency and she saved thousands, if not millions, of lives with the information she gathered from terrorists.  Her mentor prepped her for the fact that the agency may no longer need her skills someday and when that day comes she needs to be prepared to run for her life.   When that day arrives, her mentor is killed and she runs.  Long gone is her name, Juliet.  Instead, she goes by names like Chris or Alex.  Her days are spent researching and planning her next escape.  She sleeps in a bathtub wearing a gas mask, she is fighting for her life.  Her former handler has reached out to her with a way to get her life back.  The agency is in need of her skills again in order to save the country from a planned biological attack. That is how she meets the Beach brothers.  She is led to believe that Daniel Beach is tied to the drug lord with the evil plans and uses her skills to get as much information as she can about the plot.  But it doesn't go as planned and soon The Chemist is on the run with Daniel and his brother, Kevin.  Will they ever be able to be free from the agency and lead a normal life?

Stephenie Meyer is best known for her hit YA series, Twilight.   She took a lot of flack for her heroine getting into trouble and needing to be rescued by a man (or werewolf or vampire).  She moves to the extreme opposite side of the spectrum.  Alex (as she is mostly referred to in the book) is quite the heroine.  She is incredibly intelligent and resourceful, not to mention pretty good with a gun, although she prefers other means of defense.  Not only is she quite capable of taking care of herself, but she rescues not one, but two men.  The Chemist is a pretty fast paced thriller.  It isn't really a mystery, more of a "will they survive" type of story.   While the cheese factor is considerably lower with The Chemist than her other books, there is still a smidge of cheesy romance included.   Oh and there are puppy dogs!   With one GSD as a major character!   Overall, I did enjoy the book and was satisfied with the conclusion.

Bottom line - many people may shy away from reading The Chemist because of the author's cheesy reputation, but they shouldn't.  The Chemist is a great espionage thriller with a strong female heroine, and that is very rare for the spy thriller genre.

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Saturday, January 7, 2017

(4)Troublemaker by Leah Remini


This time last year everybody was talking about a documentary on Netflix.  This year everybody is talking about Leah Remini and her A&E show about Scientology.   I have watched the first couple of episodes and have been left speechless by the actions of this "church,"  I have had Troublemaker on my "TBR" list for quite a while.  So, I dusted it off and got to know Leah Remini.

I have been a fan of Leah Remini ever since we discovered the King of Queens. She is just as feisty in real life as her on-screen persona, Carrie.   She talks about her childhood from her early years in New York, to her family's joining the Church of Scientology and moving to Florida.  It is absolutely crazy when you read everything she did and had to do while in the Sea Org. One of the most shocking things to me was how dismissive the "church" was in regards to education for the children.   As long as they were doing everything they were supposed to in the church, they really did not care about traditional education.    Leah then goes on to talk about her family moving to California and how hard she hustled to break into the business.

Leah talks about her famous friends, her hours spent at the church, and the success of her career.  The King of Queens, The Talk, and her removal from The Talk.  Then she talks about the famous TomKat wedding and how that was the beginning of the end for her involvement in the church. She really started to question things at the wedding when she saw so many "devout" people breaking policy and doing things the church strictly forbade.  Yet it was her that got in trouble for questioning the whereabouts of the wife of the church's leader.  It was fascinating to read and I couldn't stop reading.   Her hurt and anger were so evident with every word she wrote.  She truly felt betrayed by an organization she had been loyal to and had spent so much time and money on in her life.

Bottom line - In Troublemaker, Leah Remini has written a brutally honest memoir about her life.  The majority of the book is about Scientology, but that was the majority of her life.  But I learned one thing, what you see is what you get with Leah Remini.  I respect that in a person and I respect the fact that she has taken on Scientology with the hopes of exposing them for what they do.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

(3)Everything You Want Me To Be by Mindy Mejia


Life in Pine Valley, Minnesota is quiet and peaceful, some would even say that it was boring.  That is until one spring day the body of eighteen-year-old Hattie is found in an old barn. Things like this just don't happen in Pine Valley and the whole town is buzzing with who could have killed Hattie.   She was brutally murdered and it is up to Sheriff Del Goodman to find out who killed her and why.  As more information is revealed you learn that Hattie was not the good girl that everybody thought she was.  She had dreams and aspirations and was not willing to let anybody get in her way.  Will the Sheriff be able to solve Hattie's murder before the whole town goes crazy with fear and rumors?

Everything You Want Me To Be is pretty much every parent's worst nightmare, especially if they are the parent of a teen.   The title of the book one of the most accurate titles ever - almost heartbreakingly so.  The book is told from three different viewpoints - Hattie's, Del's, and Peter Lund.  Peter is Hattie's high school English teacher and was forced to move to Pine Valley to care for his wife's sick mother.  The timeline jumps around a bit, leading up to the crime (Hattie and Peter) and after the crime (the Sheriff).   Hattie has grand illusions of leaving Pine Valley for New York City but is hindered by her age and naivete.  Hattie was like most teenage girls, she was extremely confident and possessed a self-assurance that many adults would envy.   Peter Lund was a jerk.  I thought he was a jerk from the very beginning, but he played such a big role in Hattie's life, he was important to the story.  There were also friends of Hattie's that had huge parts in the story, like her friend Porsha and boyfriend.  Ultimately, the killer is revealed and I wasn't that shocked.  I hadn't figured out the killer, but it wasn't that shocking.  - CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS

Bottom line - I really enjoyed Everything You Wanted Me To Be.  It wasn't the type of mystery that has you on the edge of your seat, but the complexity of the story and the characters really made it a gripping novel.

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Monday, January 2, 2017

(2)Results May Vary by Bethany Chase


Caroline Hammond is an art curator at the show of an up and coming photographer.  She gets a sneak peek of his work that was too provocative for the show and is shocked to reveal that the intimate photos are of her husband, Adam, was having an affair with a man.  Caroline is beyond devastated.  Caro and Adam have been together since high school, they have been together for so long that Caroline can't imagine her life without him.  As they work through the revelation of the affair, more secrets are revealed and Caro questions whether or not she ever really knew her husband.  While he begs her forgiveness and asks to come home every time they talk, Caroline is exploring her options.  Including her colleague, the handsome widower.   Caroline has a lot of decisions to make, including the fate of her marriage.

Results May Vary was a gripping novel about a woman whose world was destroyed with just one photograph.  It is heart-wrenching how much she hurts from her husband's betrayal.  She was completely devoted to him and the author did such a great job at conveying those emotions.  I felt horrible for her.  Caro had a best friend (male) and a sister to help her get through the worst of it. But there were secrets there, too.   Ultimately Caroline had to do what was best for her and I am confident that I would have made the same decision.  I was happy with the ending in so many different ways.

Bottom line - Results May Vary was a great novel about a  woman faced with making a heartbreaking decision.  Lots of great discussion to be had with this novel - a great selection for your next book club selection.

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Sunday, January 1, 2017

(1)The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena


Anne and Marco Conti had a perfectly normal evening.  They went to their neighbor's house for a dinner party, but because of a last minute cancellation by their babysitter they left their six-month-old, Cora, home in her crib.  They had the baby monitor with them and checked on her every thirty minutes, so what was the harm?  When Anne and Marco go home well after midnight and full of wine they are shocked to discover the front door is open and Cora is gone.  They are absolutely destroyed by her disappearance and cannot imagine who would take their baby.  As the investigation goes on, it becomes apparent that things are not what they seem.  Not with Anne, not with Marco, and not with The Couple Next Door.  Will the Conti's find out what happened to their daughter and will their marriage survive it?

The Couple Next Door had some great elements of surprise, but it also had some serious plot flaws that left me shaking my head.  Why would police investigating the abduction case seek out former classmates of Anne - from fifteen years ago? It just isn't plausible.  The author did it to introduce possible mental illness issues, but it left me scratching my head.  There were a lot of twists and turns to the story and it was almost hard to keep up.  Like the creepy neighbors, with their camera. They hint that their camera caught something important, but you don't know what it is until almost half-way through the book. Then there are Anne's wealthy parents that can't stand Marco.  Then there are Marco's business failings. It is a lot.  Some of the plot twists were pure brilliance, but it was still a lot to keep up with.   The end was just another plot twist and kind of sad, but not in the way you are thinking. CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS. 

Bottom line - while you may need a flow chart to keep all of the twists and turns straight, The Couple Next Door is one of those mystery novels that will keep you guessing until the very end.

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Why I Read...

I remember the carefree summer days when I used to ride my bike to the public library to pick out new books. I would go almost daily to find books to read. I read to learn. I read to explore the world. I read to escape. I read because not reading is not an option.

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