Friday, May 27, 2016

Julie's Review: A Fine Imitation

Author: Amber Brock
Series: None
Publication Date: May 3, 2016
Publisher: Crown Books
Pages: 304
Obtained: Amazon Vine
Genre:  Historical Fiction, Mystery
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: Mystery thrown in with high NYC society in the mid 1920 and the expectations of women
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Summary: Set in the glamorous 1920s, A Fine Imitation is an intoxicating debut that sweeps readers into a privileged Manhattan socialite's restless life and the affair with a mysterious painter that upends her world, flashing back to her years at Vassar and the friendship that brought her to the brink of ruin. Vera Bellington has beauty, pedigree, and a penthouse at The Angelus--the most coveted address on Park Avenue. But behind the sparkling social whirl, Vera is living a life of quiet desperation. Her days are an unbroken loop of empty, champagne-soaked socializing, while her nights are silent and cold, spent waiting alone in her cavernous apartment for a husband who seldom comes home. Then Emil Hallan arrives at The Angelus to paint a mural above its glittering subterranean pool. The handsome French artist moves into the building, shrouds his work in secrecy, and piques Vera's curiosity, especially when the painter keeps dodging questions about his past. Is he the man he claims to be? Even as she finds herself increasingly drawn to Hallan's warmth and passion, Vera can't suppress her suspicions. After all, she has plenty of secrets, too--and some of them involve art forgers like her bold, artistically talented former friend, Bea, who years ago, at Vassar, brought Vera to the brink of catastrophe and social exile. When the dangerous mysteries of Emil's past are revealed, Vera faces an impossible choice--whether to cling to her familiar world of privilege and propriety or to risk her future with the enigmatic man who has taken her heart. A Fine Imitation explores what happens when we realize that the life we've always led is not the life we want to have.  

Review: Fine Imitation is a story about what happens when you are stuck in a life that you didn't particularly ask for but were born into? What happens when you find yourself so bored that you don't know what to do with yourself? If you are Vera Bellington you fill your days with teas and lunches and a bit of shopping if the mood strikes you. You then wait for your husband to come home from work to eat if he's not traveling. Marriage isn't really what Vera thought it would be but she pretty much assumes that it's the same for everyone as well.

We meet Vera during her Vassar days where she meets and befriends a vibrant young lady named Bea Stillman. They strike up a quick friendship and quickly become inseparable. Vera does things that she wouldn't have done before meeting Bea. This sets Vera's path in motion a bit quicker than she'd like.

Fast forward 10 years and Vera is settled into her marriage and into her role as a society wife. Until the building hires an artist to paint a mural above the swimming pool. This triggers something in Vera about her life and what she wants. There's a bit of a mystery surrounding the artist which lends itself to intrigue among the women in the building.

Vera is a likable character, even if as a "modern" woman we can't fathom the life she lives. Her social circle is small and narrow, as are her experiences. Everything for Vera is well orchestrated and planned. Her husband, Arthur, is stand-offish and a workaholic. There is no warmth in that marriage, it is more like a business arrangement. It's really not a question of will she or won't she have an affair with Emil, it's more like how long will she try to put space between them?

I wanted to know more about her and Bea. Why Vera never explained herself to Bea or why Bea couldn't understand Vera's awkward position? I also was disappointed we never learned what happened to Cliff. I know he was just a catalyst for Vera to experience life outside her bubble, but I still wanted to know what happened to him.

This was a quick read and a great debut novel. I'm definitely looking forward to what this author will write next.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Julie's Review: Heist Society

Author: Ally Carter
Series: Heist Society #1
Publication Date: June 24, 2014
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Pages: 304
Obtained: Gift from friend
Genre:  Young Adult, Adventure
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: A fun start to the adventures of teen cons
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Summary: When Katarina Bishop was three, her parents took her on a trip to the Louvre…to case it. For her seventh birthday, Katarina and her Uncle Eddie traveled to Austria…to steal the crown jewels. When Kat turned fifteen, she planned a con of her own—scamming her way into the best boarding school in the country, determined to leave the family business behind. Unfortunately, leaving “the life” for a normal life proves harder than she’d expected. Soon, Kat's friend and former co-conspirator, Hale, appears out of nowhere to bring Kat back into the world she tried so hard to escape. But he has a good reason: a powerful mobster has been robbed of his priceless art collection and wants to retrieve it. Only a master thief could have pulled this job, and Kat's father isn't just on the suspect list, he is the list. Caught between Interpol and a far more deadly enemy, Kat’s dad needs her help. For Kat, there is only one solution: track down the paintings and steal them back. So what if it's a spectacularly impossible job? She's got two weeks, a teenage crew, and hopefully just enough talent to pull off the biggest heist in her family's history--and, with any luck, steal her life back along the way.  

Review: Heist Society is a fun book about a group of teen cons trying to do the right thing. The right thing involves stealing back stolen paintings because Kat's dad's life is on the line. So Kat's old friend, Hale, breaks her out of the boarding school to bring her back into the fold.  Kat isn't quite happy to see Hale until she finds out that her dad is in trouble. 

I like Kat a lot. She's a typical teenager but she's whip smart. She needs to be if she's going to pull off a major heist and secure her dad's safety. Kat's team isn't rag-tag but they are young. These teens are experienced in their own line of work. She has assembled the best team she knows in the short amount of time she has but she still needs one more to make their con even better. So she brings new guy, Nick, into the team.

I liked how there was history with the team that we as readers don't fully understand but slowly learn how the relationships are interwoven. I also liked how their con didn't come off perfectly because this was the first time doing it on their own.

I will definitely be reading the other books in this series and I gave it to my almost 11 year old to read because I think she'll like it.

Jenn's Review


Monday, May 23, 2016

Julie's Review: The After Party

Author: Anton DiSclafani
Series: None
Publication Date: May 17, 2016
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Pages: 384
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: Captivating
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Summary: Joan Fortier is the epitome of Texas glamour and the center of the 1950s Houston social scene. Tall, blonde, beautiful, and strong, she dominates the room and the gossip columns. Every man who sees her seems to want her; every woman just wants to be her. But this is a highly ordered world of garden clubs and debutante balls. The money may flow as freely as the oil, but the freedom and power all belong to the men. What happens when a woman of indecorous appetites and desires like Joan wants more? What does it do to her best friend? Devoted to Joan since childhood, Cece Buchanan is either her chaperone or her partner in crime, depending on whom you ask. But as Joan’s radical behavior escalates, Cece’s perspective shifts—forcing one provocative choice to appear the only one there is. A thrilling glimpse into the sphere of the rich and beautiful at a memorable moment in history, The After Party unfurls a story of friendship as obsessive, euphoric, consuming, and complicated as any romance.  

Review: After Party is the story of friendship and how far you would go to save a friend who you thought needed to be saved. It's about finding out how little you know about those closest to you. CeCe and Joan have been friends since they were little girls because they bonded not because their mother's were friends. Joan's mother didn't come from money, she married it and CeCe's mom had money, that's how things worked in Houston. Somehow, Joan and CeCe stayed close throughout childhood and young adulthood.

That is until Joan starts to act differently again. See Joan's erratic behavior isn't new to her circle of friends, this has happened before. It's the speed at which it's re-occurring that concerns CeCe. As a reader you question CeCe's motives at times. Is she too involved in wondering what Joan is doing? Is she stepping over boundaries of their friendship? And what about Joan? Does she even want CeCe around? Does she value their friendship?

I kept turning the pages because I wasn't quite sure where Ms. DiSclafani was going to take the novel. It definitely had a creepy/stalker vibe to it at times but then I also saw it through CeCe's eyes where she was just trying to help her friend. I loved the themes that she brought into the novel: friendship, motherhood and marriage. It also highlighted for me how as a society we have changed some aspects for women and yet some things remain the same.

I flew through this book because I wanted to know what the hell was up with Joan. Was she losing it? Was it an act to separate herself from the society women she wanted nothing to do with? Was she just trying to be different? Prove that she could break free from  her mother's ideals?

Ms. DiSclafani has such a gift for storytelling. I was hooked from the first line of the novel. She is subtle in the way she addresses issues and will keep you thinking long after you put the book down. Although I don't participate in a book club, this would be an excellent choice for one.


Friday, May 20, 2016

Julie's Review: What Lies Between Us

Author: Nayomi Munaweera
Series: None
Publication Date: February 16, 2016
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Pages: 320
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.75/5.0
Bottom Line: Heartbreaking and honest look at how experiences shape us
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Summary: In the idyllic hill country of Sri Lanka, a young girl grows up with her loving family; but even in the midst of this paradise, terror lurks in the shadows. When tragedy strikes, she and her mother must seek safety by immigrating to America. There the girl reinvents herself as an American teenager to survive, with the help of her cousin; but even as she assimilates and thrives, the secrets and scars of her past follow her into adulthood. In this new country of freedom, everything she has built begins to crumble around her, and her hold on reality becomes more and more tenuous. When the past and the present collide, she sees only one terrible choice.

Review: What Lies Between Us will break your heart from some of the very first pages of the novel and it really won't repair it. Ms. Munaweera will stitch it up a bit during the middle of the book but then she'll rip those open in the end. I'm not saying that you shouldn't read this book, I'm saying the contrary. You need to read this book. It is a powerful story about cultural differences and what it means to be a woman in those cultures. It is also about motherhood and how there's a stigma out there that being a mother means you need to be perfect. Ms. Munaweera stresses that there are no perfect mothers, that we all are at fault in one way or another but that we should support each other.

This beautifully written novel is told in the form of flashbacks to the woman's childhood in her country of Sri Lanka. She leads a fairly easy life with her mother, father and servants. Her mother can be moody and standoffish but she never was without love. She might have been starved for her mother's affections at times but she knew her mother loved her. She had friends and her life is full. Until her life suddenly falls apart; because of the culture and patriarchal society, her mother and her pick up and move to the United States.

We see the main character grow from a young girl to a young women to a young mother. We experience her heartbreak and her joy from her point of view. We only know her story through her eyes, through her experience. You empathize with her because of all she's been through. You know that she's done something horrible but it isn't until all the pieces start to be put together that you cringe and hope that it's not going to go down that path.

This book left me gutted and it will stay with me a long time. Ms. Munaweera tackles many issues in the novel that are not easy to read about. I closed the book bawling because the main character didn't have to end up where she was if perhaps she was more open about what she had been through but here is where the cultural differences come into play big time. It is a book about being a woman and what that means.

I can't wait to see what Ms. Munaweera writes next because her writing is some of the most powerful that I've ever read. Her books will stay with me forever.


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Julie's Review: Don't You Cry

Author: Mary Kubica
Series: None
Publication Date: May 17, 2016
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
Pages: 320
Obtained: Edelweiss via publisher
Genre:  Psychological Thriller, Suspense
Rating: 4.75/5.0
Bottom Line: A slow build until the very end
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Summary: In downtown Chicago, a young woman named Esther Vaughan disappears from her apartment without a trace. A haunting letter addressed to My Dearest is found among her possessions, leaving her friend and roommate Quinn Collins to wonder where Esther is and whether or not she's the person Quinn thought she knew. Meanwhile, in a small Michigan harbor town an hour outside Chicago, a mysterious woman appears in the quiet coffee shop where eighteen-year-old Alex Gallo works as a dishwasher. He is immediately drawn to her charm and beauty, but what starts as an innocent crush quickly spirals into something far more dark and sinister than he ever expected. As Quinn searches for answers about Esther, and Alex is drawn further under the stranger's spell, master of suspense Mary Kubica takes readers on a taut and twisted thrill ride that builds to a stunning conclusion and shows that no matter how fast and far we run, the past always catches up with us in the end.

Review: Don't You Cry is a suspense/psychological thriller where the author builds and builds the two story lines until they both collide and explode. I don't mind a slow build up as long as the pay-off in the end is good and this end is worth that wait.

We start off the novel with Quinn waking up on a typical Sunday with a hangover and waiting for her roommate, Esther to return from church with her usual coffee and bagel but Esther doesn't return and as Quinn starts looking around her room, she starts to notice things that are out of place.  She's not quite sure if she should panic yet or not. So in order to find clue to where Esther might have gone to, she starts to look through her things for clues. Of course, what she finds isn't really helping to calm her nerves. She starts to panic wondering if Esther is even the person she thought she was and if she knew her at all.

Quinn is a bit insecure and that doesn't help when things start getting strange. Quinn becomes needy and paranoid. Not only does she doubt who Esther was, she starts to question her own ability to be a good roommate and friend. Even that being said, I liked Quinn. There was a normalcy to her. The fact that she didn't really know what she wanted to do with her life/job, how she was always just a little short on rent but found money to go out and how she really did like living with Esther.

We our introduced to 18 year old Alex as he works his job washing dishes in a small cafe, in a small town in Michigan. He is mesmerized when a young woman, who he's never seen, walks in while he's on his shift. It's all he can do to concentrate on his job. He even makes up a name for her since he's too shy to actually ask her for her name.  He eventually does befriend her and by then he's in so deep, he can't see the warning signs.

I wasn't really sure which direction Ms. Kubica was going to go with this one. I couldn't wait to see how she linked the two stories together. It truly wasn't what I expected when she brought them together and by then you just wanted to flip the pages to see what the heck was going to happen.

Ms. Kubic's narrative and writing gets better with each novel she writes with her ability to master the suspense genre. If you like novels that keep you guessing and then make you turn the pages as fast as you can, then Don't You Cry is definitely for you.


Monday, May 9, 2016

Julie's Review: I Let You Go

Author: Clare Mackintosh
Series: None
Publication Date: May 3, 2016
Publisher: Berkley/NAL
Pages: 384
Obtained: publisher via NetGalley
Genre:  Psychological Thriller
Rating: 4.75/5
Bottom Line: Worthy of the hype
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Summary: On a rainy afternoon, a mother's life is shattered as her son slips from her grip and runs into the street . . . I Let You Go follows Jenna Gray as she moves to a ramshackle cottage on the remote Welsh coast, trying to escape the memory of the car accident that plays again and again in her mind and desperate to heal from the loss of her child and the rest of her painful past. At the same time, the novel tracks the pair of Bristol police investigators trying to get to the bottom of this hit-and-run. As they chase down one hopeless lead after another, they find themselves as drawn to each other as they are to the frustrating, twist-filled case before them.

 Review: I Let You Go is a novel that starts slowly but builds to the twist that literally turns the whole novel and the meaning of the title on a dime. Jenna is someone your heart immediately goes out to. She's lost everything that was precious to her in one quick second and leaves that life behind. She ends up in a small town on the coast where she hopes to fade into anonymity but quickly realizes in a a small town that its hard to do. She has to make a living so she uses the beach as creative influence. Of course, just when her life seems to be getting back into a groove, it is all thrown off kilter again.

We are also put into the lives of the detectives involved in the case, Ray and Kate. They will go to great lengths to work the case even when they've been told to shut it down. Kate has such a passion for finding out what happened to Jacob, that she's willing to work on it off the clock. There's a bit of subplot of tension between Ray and Kate and it's the only party of the book that I didn't really feel was necessary. It didn't add anything to the overall story for me.

I swear I didn't think that another book would live up to the hype of a "twist that changes everything" but this one really did. I kept trying to guess what it could be and failed miserably. I'm glad I did because it really changes the feel of the whole book for me. The story took on a different tone and a different direction. For me, it became creepier and darker but that made it that much more interesting.

If you are a fan of psychological thrillers, then I have to say you should definitely read this one and the author Clare Mackintosh will definitely go on my "to be read" author list.