Friday, May 29, 2015

Julie's Review: The Far End of Happy


Author: Kathryn Craft
Series: None
Publication Date: May 5, 2015
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Pages: 368
Obtained: Author Via Suzy Missirlian
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Crime
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: Gripping family drama that will have you quickly turning the pages to see the resolution
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Summary: Ronnie's husband is supposed to move out today. But when Jeff pulls into the driveway drunk, with a shotgun in the front seat, she realizes nothing about the day will go as planned. The next few hours spiral down in a flash, unlike the slow disintegration of their marriage-and whatever part of that painful unraveling is Ronnie's fault, not much else matters now but these moments. Her family's lives depend on the choices she will make-but is what's best for her best for everyone? Based on a real event from the author's life, The Far End of Happy is a chilling story of one troubled man, the family that loves him, and the suicide standoff that will change all of them forever. ~amazon.com  
Review: From the moment you start reading The Far End of Happy you are waiting for the other shoe to drop. You know that the book isn't going to have a happy ending. You pretty much feel it from the opening pages of the novel but while it does have a tragic ending, part of me truly thinks that Ronnie and her boys will be ok. Will the events haunt them? Yes. Will they always remember what happened? Yes. I also believe they will move on and be happy in their lives.

The novel is told from three different POVs: Ronnie, the wife; Beverly, the mother-in-law and Janet, Jeff's mother. The one we spend the most time with is Ronnie as Jeff's wife she is the one with the most insight into her husband's frame of mine. Beverly is wrestling with a hidden secret that has affected her for the past 35+ years. She doesn't know how to deal with the current situation without dealing with the past. She also knows she needs to come clean about the past with Ronnie. As with most things we hold close to us, there is never a right time to tell someone about a secret you've kept but I still wonder about Bev's timing on this one.

Janet doesn't understand what Jeff's doing. Early on she quickly blames it all on Ronnie. Ronnie is too demanding, she expects to much from her husband. As we slowly learn Janet's story, it isn't all that happy herself. We learn things about Jeff's background that might have been incredibly important to Ronnie.

What is crystal clear to me is that women carry things on our shoulders that are too hard to bear by ourselves; yet we don't ask for help. We want to be strong for ourselves, our children, our family but we also have to know when to lean on others. Bev needed to let go of the past and to quit romanticizing a past she didn't get to live. Ronnie needed to trust her gut and to be honest with others about her life. Janet needed to learn to show love through other means than money. The only way she knew how to help Jeff was to bail him out of his problems. Except sometimes when you think you are helping, you are really hindering.

The Far End of Happy is an intense novel. It will stir up all types of feelings in you, they won't all be easy to deal with at times. Ms. Craft does an excellent job of making you feel like you are right there with Ronnie, Janet and Beverly. These characters and what they have gone through will stay with you for a long time after you close the novel.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Julie's Review: Enchanted August


Author: Brenda Bowen
Series: None
Publication Date: June 2, 2015
Publisher: Pamela Dorman
Pages: 320
Obtained: Amazon Vine
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction
Rating: 3.75/5
Bottom Line: Fun, eclectic characters is a gorgeous setting
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Summary: A sparkling summer debut of love and reawakening that transports the classic The Enchanted April to a picture-perfect island in Maine. Its a rainy summer in Park Slope, Brooklyn, when two unhappily married women, Lottie Wilkinson and Rose Arbuthnot, spot a tattered ad on their children's preschool bulletin board: Hopewell Cottage Little Lost Island, Maine. Old pretty cottage to rent Spring water, blueberries, sea glass. August. Neither can afford it, but they are smitten. To share expenses, they find two companions: Caroline Dester, the exquisite darling of the independent movie scene, and elderly Beverly Fisher, who is recovering from heartbreaking loss. Transformed by the refreshing summer breezes, steamed lobsters, and cocktail hours on the wrap-around porch, the unlikely quartet gradually begin to open up to one another, and ultimately rediscover their capacity to love and be loved. With a cast of quirky and endearing characters set against the beauty of an idyllic New England summer, Enchanted August brilliantly updates a beloved classic and offers readers a universal fantasy: one glorious summer month away from it all. ~powells.com  

Review: Enchanted August is the perfect summer read if you are curled up on the beach or pool. Ms. Bowen does a fantastic job of making you want to find a cottage on some remote island in Maine for a month. Now, as school around here goes back in session in August, I'm not sure I could take that whole month and really unless your uber-rich, who can. I like to suspend reality for these books and just wish I had that kind of money.

I liked the eclectic mix of characters and the fact that none of them are friends when they first arrive at the house. There is one big shocker when they all first arrive at the cottage and it does take a little bit to put aside your assumptions. It does take a while for the 4 of them to click since 2 of them really want to be left alone.

I wouldn't say that any particular character stood out for me because I really did like them together as a quartet. Beverly, Rose, Lottie and Carolyn are each trying to figure life out. I do think that perhaps Lottie has it figured out the best out of them. She knows that something is up with her husband but instead of hounding him about it, she takes off for a month leaving their son's care up to him. She just knows that he'll end up at the island as well. 

I liked the idyllic sound of days spent going to the library, the market and getting the food brought in daily. I'm sure that last one isn't cheap either. I like the idea of doing a lobster boil on the beach but it does seem like a lot of work but one that might pay off in the end.

Ms. Bowen does a great job of wrapping the novel up in a way that you know the characters will be fine but it's not a perfectly wrapped bow. I liked that it was one of the more realistic points of the book.

I enjoy books like Enchanted August because you get caught up in them easily and finish them just as quickly.


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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Julie's Review: Yes, Please!


Author: Amy Poehler
Series: None
Publication Date: June 24, 2014
Publisher: Harper Collins
Length: 7 Hours, 31 Minutes
Narrator(s): Amy Poehler, Seth Meyers, Carole Burnett, Kathleen Turner, etc
Obtained: purchased
Genre:  Memoir
Rating: 3.75/5
Bottom Line: Was hoping for more funny than I got
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Summary: Amy Poehler is hosting a dinner party and you're invited! Welcome to the audiobook edition of Amy Poehler's Yes Please. The guest list is star-studded with vocal appearances from Carol Burnett, Seth Meyers, Michael Schur, Patrick Stewart, Kathleen Turner, and even Amy's parents - Yes Please is the ultimate audiobook extravaganza. Also included? A one-night-only live performance at Poehler's Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. Hear Amy read a chapter live in front of a young and attractive Los Angeles audience. While listening to Yes Please, you'll laugh, you'll cry, and you'll become convinced that your phone is trying to kill you. Don't miss this collection of stories, thoughts, ideas, lists, and haikus from the mind of one of our most beloved entertainers. Offering Amy's thoughts on everything from her "too safe" childhood outside of Boston to her early days in New York City, her ideas about Hollywood and "the biz", the demon that looks back at all of us in the mirror, and her joy at being told she has a "face for wigs" - Yes Please is chock-full of words, and wisdom, to live by. ~audible.com  

Review: I adore Amy Poehler. I think she's funny and I think in a lot of ways she's continuing to pave the way in tv for females. She's also a huge advocate for positive images for young girls (see Smart Girls ). So, I was expecting a little more hilarity than what I got. That's not to say that it wasn't funny because it was but not the guttural laughing I expected.

I can't say that I'm surprised that at some point in Amy's life there was some drug usage. I was more amazed to learn that she doesn't even smoke dope when she writes. She needs her head clear when she writes.

I loved the various narrators along with Amy especially with Seth Meyers. Their chemistry is palpable even through the ear buds. Besides Tina Fey you can tell that they are best friends. I loved watching them together on SNL.

My favorite parts were the behind the scenes tidbits of SNL and Parks and Recreation. I love that the crew and cast of Parks and Recs called Rob Lowe "ROLO".

I liked hearing about her childhood and growing up in working class Boston.

I definitely will be keeping my eye on Amy and what she does now that Parks and Recs is over. I think she's very funny but I'm not sure if a memoir is the best use of her talents.


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Friday, May 15, 2015

Julie's Review: Bellweather Rhapsody


Author: Kate Racculia
Series: None
Publication Date: May 13, 2014
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Pages: 352
Obtained: purchased
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 3.75/5
Bottom Line: Captivating
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Summary: Fifteen years ago, a murder-suicide in room 712 rocked the grand old Bellweather Hotel and the young bridesmaid who witnessed it, Minnie Graves. Now hundreds of high school musicians have gathered in the hotel’s cavernous halls for the annual Statewide festival; Minnie has returned to face her demons; and a colossal snowstorm is threatening to trap them all in the hotel. When a young prodigy goes missing from infamous room 712, the search for her entwines an eccentric cast of conductors and caretakers, failures and stars, teenagers on the verge and adults trapped in memories. A genre-bending page-turner, full of knowing nods to pop culture classics from The Shining to Agatha Christie to Glee, Bellweather Rhapsody is a wholly winning new novel from a writer to watch. ~powells.com  

Review: Bellweather Rhapsody is a coming-of-age and murder mystery rolled into one. It has the band and choir geeks that are competing at the state level. Some of them hope to become famous, some of them hope to just survive, and to also discover who they are or perhaps reveal who they are to others. We meet the Hatmaker twins, who are talented in their own ways; Alice dreams of being famous and Rabbit dreams of telling his secret.

There is also the mystery of what happens to semi-famous, Jill Faccelli, who seems to have killed herself but then the body disappeared. To add onto that mystery a big snowstorm is about to come down on the hotel as they ramp up for the concerts.

Minnie Graves also shows up to face her demons about that fateful night 15 years ago when she was witness to murder suicide. She's come back to reclaim her life. To put behind her the fears that have held her captive for almost 2 decades.  She and Alice bond over the mystery of room 712 and help each other face their fears. For all of her bravado, Alice had her own issues.

The adults in this book are a trip. For people who should be chaperon the teens, they are acting like teens themselves. In a lot of ways the adults were still searching for themselves just as much as the kids.

I adored Ms. Racculia's first book,This Must Be the Place and felt that it was perhaps a stronger book. She's a wonderful storyteller who has a way of writing strong but quirky characters. Although for anyone who has been in choir or band, you will understand the ins and outs of a competition like this. Plus it's set in the 1990s and well for those of us who were old enough to live through it, the trip to a more recent past was fun.

I know that Ms. Racculia has sold the rights for the movie to this book and frankly I can't wait to see it on the big screen. Bellweather Rhapsody is definitely a book that will transfer well onto film. I am anxious to see who they chose to cast in the movie. Ms. Racculia has a way of writing eclectic characters in a way where you see a little of yourself in the characters.

I look forward to whatever Ms. Racculia writes next and will definitely read it.

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Monday, May 4, 2015

Julie's Review: Sisters of Heart and Snow


Author: Margaret Dilloway
Series: None
Publication Date: April 7, 2015
Publisher: Putnam
Pages: 400
Obtained: purchased
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Rating: 5.0
Bottom Line: Family focused on the ties the bind us and the ones that separate us
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Summary: The critically acclaimed, award-winning author of How to Be an American Housewife returns with a poignant story of estranged sisters reunited when a request from their ailing mother reveals a long-buried family secret. Rachel and Drew Snow are sisters. Though they were confidants and cohorts as little girls, their lives have followed completely different paths. In fact, as adults they appear to occupy different planets. Rachel hasn't returned to her childhood home since being kicked out by her strict father after an act of careless teenage rebellion. Despite the estrangement from her parents, Rachel married a good man and is a mother to two strong-minded teens—she has a full, authentic life. Drew, younger by four years, followed her passion for music and works a variety of side jobs to supplement gigs and recording sessions. Shes now at an impasse, longing for the stability that has always eluded her. Both sisters recall how close they were, but the distance between them seems more than they can bridge. When their deferential Japanese mother, Haruki, is diagnosed with dementia, the family is surprised when she gives Rachel power of attorney. But no one is more surprised—and angered—than Rachel's domineering father, Killian. Killian's relentless anger, Haruki's seeming favoritism: each is a wedge in the gulf dividing the sisters. In a rare moment of lucidity, Haruki mysteriously asks Rachel to find a book in her sewing room. To get into the house, let alone find the book, Rachel needs her sisters help. But finding the book turns out to be just the beginning. The book—which tells the tale of real-life female samurai Tomoe Gozen, an epic saga of love, loss, and conflict during twelfth-century Japan—reveals truths about Drew and Rachel's relationship that resonate across the centuries, and helps them connect in a way that turns their differences into their strongest asset. The two sisters realize that courage is not just for the bold warrior women of ancient times, but for them, as well. ~powells.com  

Review: Sisters of Heart and Snow is one of the best books I've read yet this year. I loved the focus on sisters who were bound by family and torn by family. I also loved the historical story of two women who should have been enemies because of their situation and found a way to be sisters. It is the weaving of these stories together that gives Sisters of Heart and Snow a strong story. Rachel and Drew have been separated and estranged since Rachel was kicked out of the house at 16. They have kept in touch over the years but aren't particularly close. Neither one understands the other and frankly they don't take the time to get to know each other. It isn't until their mother is sick and in a nursing home that they begin to seek out each other.

It is in their quest to understand the book that their mother left to them where they start to bond. This is not to say that things aren't bumpy along the way because they are. It really is like they are strangers learning the ins and outs of their personalities. Rachel has been independent and married for 20 years with her own family, whom she has come to rely on. Drew is a bit lost. An extremely talented musician who has drifted from job to job. It isn't until she stays with Rachel for a bit that she begins to feel grounded and at home. While Drew wasn't kicked out of the house, it wasn't exactly a picnic living at home for her either. To sum it up pretty easily, their dad is an ass. I'll let you read the book to count the ways. And while his secret about Haruki might have been damning in the beginning, it certainly isn't when he reveals it to Rachel. Although we do know what he was holding over her head all these years and why she couldn't break free of him.

Interwoven into the story is the story of Tomoe Gozen who's strength and bravery speak to both Rachel and Drew but in different ways. Tomoe is a female samurai who is one of the strongest and most feared of the army. The men listen to her and respect her because she is skilled but also because she has the respect of their leader. It is her friendship/sisterhood with another woman that should have been her enemy that Rachel and Drew draw strength from during their tribulations.

I loved learning about Tomoe and her skills, bravery, loyalty and beauty. I can only imagine how men both feared and re veered her. This is my first book by Ms. Dilloway but I can tell you that it won't be my last. I loved how she wove both tales of "sisterly" love into a stunning, heartfelt novel. I could identify with each of the women in the novel for various reasons.

If you are looking for a novel that brings the family drama and that you can fall into immediately, then look no further than Sisters of Heart and Snow
.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Julie's Review: The Mapmaker's Children


Author: Sarah McCoy
Series: None
Publication Date: May 5, 2015
Publisher: Crown Publishing
Pages: 320
Obtained: Amazon Vine
Genre:  Historical Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.75/5
Bottom Line: A gorgeous novel with two strong heroines
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Summary: When Sarah Brown, daughter of abolitionist John Brown, realizes that her artistic talents may be able to help save the lives of slaves fleeing north, she becomes one of the Underground Railroad’s leading mapmakers, taking her cues from the slave code quilts and hiding her maps within her paintings. She boldly embraces this calling after being told the shocking news that she can’t bear children, but as the country steers toward bloody civil war, Sarah faces difficult sacrifices that could put all she loves in peril. Eden, a modern woman desperate to conceive a child with her husband, moves to an old house in the suburbs and discovers a porcelain head hidden in the root cellar—the remains of an Underground Railroad doll with an extraordinary past of secret messages, danger and deliverance. Ingeniously plotted to a riveting end, Sarah and Eden’s woven lives connect the past to the present, forcing each of them to define courage, family, love, and legacy in a new way. ~powells.com

Review: The Mapmaker's Children is a novel that brings the past and the present together in a wonderful way. Instead of the two main characters being directly related, they are instead woven together by an item. I knew that Eden's journey was going to be a tough one from the get go. My first thought was "she is so angry" and it's not that she didn't have reason but she was dealing with it all wrong. The one thing she's wanted her life for she's struggling to attain and everyone is in her way. I knew that she'd find her way but I was hoping that it wouldn't be too late for her happiness.

It didn't take me long to get wrapped up in either story. For different reasons, I admired both women greatly. Sarah Brown was such an inspiration the way she kept up with her father's goals of abolishing slavery and dedicated herself to the cause. Some would say that she gave up her own personal happiness but I disagree because helping the Underground Railroad (UGRR) was her destiny. Her paintings and her genius of how to incorporate them to free the slaves changed the course of history.

Eden's journey wasn't so direct as Sarah's. She was lost and wasn't so sure of her path at this point in her life. It wasn't until a mystery, a young girl and a dog entered her life that she started to find her voice again. It was this mystery that made Eden feel grounded for the first time in years; it lifted her fog, it righted her path.

Ms. McCoy writes both women as strong but vulnerable in different ways. It is the fact that she writes them as someone you can identify with that sucks you into the story. I also loved that I learned some facts about the UGRR that I didn't know.

If you haven't read her other historical fiction, The Baker's Daughter, then that's a must read as well. As for what she writes in the future, I can't wait to read it.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Julie's Review: Orient


Author: Christopher Bollen
Series: None
Publication Date: May 5, 2015
Publisher: Harper
Pages: 624
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  Crime, Mystery
Rating: 4.5/5
Bottom Line: Twisty, fascinating look at a small town when a stranger comes around
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Summary: As summer draws to a close, a Small Long Island town is plagued by a series of mysterious deaths— and one young man, a loner taken in by a local, tries to piece together the crimes before his own time runs out. Orient is an isolated hamlet on the North Fork of Long Island—a quiet, historic village that swells each summer with vacationers, Manhattan escapees, and wealthy young artists from the city with designs on local real estate. On the last day of summer, a teenage drifter named Mills Chevern arrives in town. Soon after, the village is rocked by a series of unsettling events: the local caretaker is found floating lifeless in the ocean; an elderly neighbor dies under mysterious circumstances; and a monstrous animal corpse is discovered on the beach not far from a research lab often suspected of harboring biological experiments. Before long, other more horrific events plunge the community into a spiral of paranoia. As the village struggles to make sense of the wave of violence, anxious eyes settle on the mysterious Mills, a troubled orphan with no family, a hazy history, and unknown intentions. But he finds one friend in Beth, an Orient native in retreat from Manhattan, who is determined to unravel the mystery before the small town devours itself. Suffused with tension, rich with character and a haunting sense of lives suspended against an uncertain future, Orient is both a galvanic thriller and a provocative portrait of the dark side of the American dream: an idyllic community where no one is safe. It marks the emergence of a novelist of enormous talent. ~powells.com  

Review: At 624 pages, Orient looks intimidating but it isn't for long because Mr. Bollen pulls you in quickly. It is fairly clear that even though Mills is an outsider to Orient it isn't him who is causing the chaos there. The residents of Orient aren't comfortable with change; they don't like the outsiders coming in and taking over "their" town.

While solving the mystery of the murders and other mysterious goings-on in Orient is the readers main focus, it is also an interesting study of the residents themselves.  There are a bunch of characters in that small town, both old and new residents. Even before Mills arrives they are already wary of him. They are determined to think only negative of him and are immediately suspicious of him.

What Mr. Bollen does very well is keeping you guessing who the murderer is by laying a ton of red herrings. As a reader you are uncovering the clues at the same time as Mills and Beth. What I like about this type of narrative is that you aren't "yelling" at the characters because you know who it is and are dying for them to figure it out. 

I was actually completely surprised by the ending. My mind went in a completely different direction with what was going to happen.

While the book is told from both Beth and Mills perspectives, it is the other characters that keep the novel moving along. For a small town, there sure is a lot of dirty laundry. I'm sure that we'd all be shocked about our neighbors from time to time too. The subplots are just about as intriguing and fascinating at the murder mystery. There is a lot going on in Orient.

I believe that there is a bit of something in the novel for everyone. If you like character driven novels, you will like these characters. If you like plot driven novels, you will like the way Mr. Bollen paves the road to the ending.

I'm anxious to read what Mr. Bollen has up next and perhaps that is the best review a reader can give.


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Monday, April 13, 2015

Julie's Review: All The Bright Places


Author: Jennifer Niven
Series: None
Publication Date: January 6, 2015
Publisher: Knopf
Pages: 400
Obtained: via a friend
Genre:  Young Adult
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: Heartbreaking, gut-wrenching and beautifully written
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Summary: Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him. Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself — a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.  ~powells.com


Review: All the Bright Places is one of those breathtaking novels that consumes you. Whether you are an adult that reads this or a teen, you will see bits of yourself, your friends and your family in these characters.Theo Finch is an outsider, Violet Markey is an insider in their world at Barlett High School. It is a fateful day that brings them together under some less than stellar circumstances. It is also when Finch decides to take things into his own hands and partner with Violet on a school project.

It's not that you can't see the writing on the wall. You know that a couple things are going to happen: 1) They will fall in love with each other, Finch quicker than Violet 2) One of them will end up more broken than the other one. I was quick to adore Finch. He's likable and self-effacing. Like all teenagers he doesn't know who he is. He keeps "trying on" new personalities, when really the best one is him just being himself, if he could figure out who that really is. He wants to think that he's letting Violet see the real him but I think he's being what he thinks Violet wants him to be. He never really lets her or anyone else in. No one really knows the struggles he has gone through.

Violet is wandering after the death of her sister, Eleanor. She feels survivors guilt and doesn't know how to move on. It isn't until Finch pairs up with her for a school project that she begins to live again. It opens up her eyes to the good around her.  I loved that Violet's outlet was writing and that while she couldn't do the same thing she did with her sister, she decided to something different. I also loved that she branched out and found like minded people.

Reading this as an adult and parent, I think it just highlights the troubles that teens can go through. I think that it's always hard to go through those years, everyone comes out scarred in some way, but teens these days have other factors we didn't have, like social media. I also realize that as a parent you have to let your teen experience things that perhaps you'd like to protect them from. It allows for growth. (P.S. remind me of this when mine are in their teens)


We are all broken in some way, it is up to us to figure out how to fix ourselves and perhaps see ourselves how other people see us because most of the time they see the better part of ourselves.

This story will make you feel hopeful, sad, happy and it will break your heart. These characters will stay with you long after you have closed the book.

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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Jenn's Review: All Fall Down


Author: Ally Carter
Series: Embassy Row #1
Publication Date: January 20, 2015
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Pages: 320
Obtained: purchased
Genre:  YA
Rating: 3.5
Bottom Line: An underwhelming start to a new series
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Just get it at the library
Blurb: This exciting new series from NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author Ally Carter focuses on Grace, who can best be described as a daredevil, an Army brat, and a rebel. She is also the only granddaughter of perhaps the most powerful ambassador in the world, and Grace has spent every summer of her childhood running across the roofs of Embassy Row.

Now, at age sixteen, she's come back to stay--in order to solve the mystery of her mother's death. In the process, she uncovers an international conspiracy of unsettling proportions, and must choose her friends and watch her foes carefully if she and the world are to be saved.


Review:  I adore Ally Carter's books and couldn't wait for this one to come out.  Both Heist Society and Gallagher Girls are series I love so much that I enjoy re-reading them.  I was desperate to love the Embassy Row series too, the setting is fascinating, the premise has promise, but so far I just don't.

From the blurb, you know going into this that Grace is not a reliable narrator.  That would be okay if there was an anchor provided by the other characters but her friends flitted in and out of the story too much, mostly because Grace was busy pushing them away.   I think I was most disappointed with the lack of character development for the surrounding cast --- Ally Carter always has such a fascinating array of supporting characters and I felt as if I barely got to know them, which is a shame because it would have helped the story immensely.

The pace of the book went from frenetic to stumbling.  Perhaps it was meant to portray Grace's state of mind but it only succeeded in frustrating me.  I felt for Grace but I can't say that I ever connected to her character.  I understand that Grace is suffering from post traumatic stress, along with a myriad of other things, but she is out of control and there isn't a single adult in her life that steps in to take care of her.  (In fact, her grandfather puts her in her dead mother's unchanged bedroom!  That's not just negligent, it's cruel.)  Yes, her family is grieving too and at least they got her therapy but that was obviously not enough.  Without giving away the plot twist I will say that keeping the truth from her was not the best policy.  Especially when, after more than a year, they can see that it's not only not working it's making things worse.

The plot twist at the end comes suddenly and unravels everything in a snap.  I was more than a little incredulous over where things ended.  It was the ending of the book that solidified my interest in the rest of the series.  But the fact that the hook came in the last chapter reinforced the pervasive feeling that this book was just plot exposition for the rest of the series.  In retrospect, I suppose the first book of the Gallagher Girls series could also be considered in the same manner, but that was a far more enjoyable read than All Fall Down.  If anyone can pull this series together it's Ally Carter, so I will still be pre-ordering my next Embassy Row installment, but overall, I was underwhelmed.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Julie's Review: The Stranger


Author: Harlan Coben
Series: None
Publication Date: March 24, 2015
Publisher: Dutton
Pages: 455
Obtained: purchased
Genre:  Crime, Thriller
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: A deeper, fascinating look into living the American dream at all costs
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Summary: The Stranger appears out of nowhere, perhaps in a bar, or a parking lot, or at the grocery store. His identity is unknown. His motives are unclear. His information is undeniable. Then he whispers a few words in your ear and disappears, leaving you picking up the pieces of your shattered world. Adam Price has a lot to lose: a comfortable marriage to a beautiful woman, two wonderful sons, and all the trappings of the American Dream: a big house, a good job, a seemingly perfect life. Then he runs into the Stranger. When he learns a devastating secret about his wife, Corinne, he confronts her, and the mirage of perfection disappears as if it never existed at all. Soon Adam finds himself tangled in something far darker than even Corinne's deception, and realizes that if he doesn't make exactly the right moves, the conspiracy hes stumbled into will not only ruin lives—it will end them. ~Amazon.com

Review: The Stranger is exactly what I want and expect out of a Harlan Coben thriller. It's what he does so well: taking ordinary people and putting them in extraordinary situations to see how they react. It's a study of human psychology and resilience in unusual circumstances.

Adam Price is living the dream. He's got two great boys, a loving and beautiful wife. He also loves his wife. Unfortunately, things aren't  always as they appear. Corrine has been keeping a secret from Adam and his world falls apart when a complete stranger tells him the secret. As anyone would, Adam begins to investigate what the stranger told him. He quickly falls down the rabbit hole into a world where things quickly spiral out of control. It is pretty apparent that Adam is in over his head.

What Mr. Coben does so well is he keeps you guessing by throwing different issues or secrets into the mix. He likes to steer you in several directions and to keep you changing your theory. It really isn't until he starts to reveal the missing pieces of the puzzle that you say "AH HA".

There's a reason that Mr. Coben is one of the best thriller/mystery writers out there. He takes idealistic situations and turns them on their head. There's always some plausibility with his stories but he always ratchets it up a notch. I will say it's never unbelievable.

When reading his books you can always identify people you know in your neighborhood, school or heck even your friends. It's obvious he's a good at reading people and getting into their heads.

If you've never read him then The Stranger is a great one to start with or any of his other stand-alone novels. If you want to start a series then I definitely recommend his Myron Bolitor books.



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