Friday, August 18, 2017

Review: In the Shadow of Lakecrest by Elizabeth Blackwell (audio)

Title: In the Shadow of Lakecrest
Author: Elizabeth Blackwell
Narrator: Teri Clark Linden
Published: February 2017, Brilliance Audio / Lake Union Publishing
Length: 9 hours 48 minutes / 282 pages
Source: Audio - Personal copy via Audible / Print - Paperback via Publisher

The year is 1928. Kate Moore is looking for a way out of the poverty and violence of her childhood. When a chance encounter on a transatlantic ocean liner brings her face-to-face with the handsome heir to a Chicago fortune, she thinks she may have found her escape—as long as she can keep her past concealed.

After exchanging wedding vows, Kate quickly discovers that something isn’t quite right with her husband—or her new family. As Mrs. Matthew Lemont, she must contend with her husband’s disturbing past, his domineering mother, and his overly close sister. Isolated at Lakecrest, the sprawling, secluded Lemont estate, she searches desperately for clues to Matthew’s terrors, which she suspects stem from the mysterious disappearance of his aunt years before. As Kate stumbles deeper into a maze of family secrets, she begins to question everyone’s sanity—especially her own. But just how far will she go to break free of this family’s twisted past?

My thoughts: This is the first book I've read by Elizabeth Blackwell and I quite enjoyed it. I loved the gothic undertones throughout and thought the mystery was well-done! And that cover - isn't it such a beauty?

This book is filled with intriguing, twisted characters - and I loved that! Kate, in particular, was very interesting - she was quite mysterious in her own way. She was unique to say the least! She wasn't the typical softspoken, innocent, naive young woman we might expect from this type of book. Rather, she was impulsive and her ambitions led her to go after what she wanted. She definitely wasn't your typical damsel in distress - and leads to you want to be on her side! But, at the same time, I felt there were instances where she was hiding something. 

This book has a little bit of everything: secrets, family drama, an evil mother-in-law, strange rituals, and a sprawling estate. As it all comes unraveling, bit by bit, you are kept on the edge of your seat, trying to guess how it will play out. There are plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing and the atmosphere is used to it's advantage - it's moody and creepy, but not overly so. Trust is also an issue - who is actually telling the truth and who can be trusted?

I really enjoyed this gothic mystery and am looking forward to more books from this author!

Audio thoughts:
This was a good audio book to listen to - I thought Teri Clark Linden did a good job narrating it. She was able to give all the characters unique voices and her pacing and tone were spot on. She added tension to her voice when needed.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Review: The Salt House by Lisa Duffy

Title: The Salt House
Author: Lisa Duffy
Published: June 2017, Touchstone
Format: Paperback, 304 pages
Source: Publisher

In the tradition of Jodi Picoult and Lisa Genova, this gorgeously written, heartbreaking, yet hopeful debut set during a Maine summer traces the lives of a young family in the aftermath of tragedy.

In the coastal town of Alden, Maine, Hope and Jack Kelly have settled down to a life of wedded bliss. They have a beautiful family, a growing lobster business, and the Salt House—the dilapidated oceanfront cottage they’re renovating into their dream home. But tragedy strikes when their young daughter doesn’t wake up from her afternoon nap, taking her last breath without making a sound.

A year later, each member of the Kelly family navigates the world on their own private island of grief. Hope spends hours staring at her daughter’s ashes, unable to let go. Jack works to the point of exhaustion in an attempt to avoid his crumbling marriage. Their daughters, Jess and Kat, struggle to come to terms with the loss of their younger sister while watching their parents fall apart.

When Jack’s old rival, Ryland Finn, threatens his fishing territory, he ignites emotions that propel the Kelly family toward circumstances that will either tear them apart—or be the path to their family’s future.

Told in alternating voices, The Salt House is a layered, emotional portrait of marriage, family, friendship, and the complex intersections of love, grief, and hope.

My thoughts: I love when I come across a debut novel that just moves me...and that is exactly what this one was! Thank goodness for the She Read gals for picking it as a reading club pick - I'm not sure if I would have gotten to it as soon as I did otherwise. And this one deserves all the attention it can get - it's one of those books that while not a joyful read, is one that is filled with hope.

I do have to admit that I did almost stop reading this - it hit a little close to home for me...but I'm so glad I kept going because it's about so much more than just the loss of a child. This was in many ways a cathartic read as much as it was one filled with hope. But make no mistake - it is an emotional read.

I loved how this story was told from everyone in the Kelly family's point of view. This really allows us to get inside each of the 4 characters heads to see how they are dealing with, or not dealing with, their grief a year after the baby's death. I really don't think it would have packed quite the same emotional punch had the story not been told this way. 

The pain and guilt that Hope was carrying over the death of her child was so raw and honest - it was hard to read these sections without having tears streaming down my face. And then seeing how Jack channels his grief - is it any wonder they are at odds with each other? Even the daughters were struggling with the loss of their sister and seeing how they were reacting even a year later, just about broke my heart. These two characters really stole this book - they are what made it stand out as heartwarming, despite the heaviness of story. Jess, on the cusp of adulthood, is thrown into a situation where she knows more than she should, but needs to keep some of that to herself. And Kat just wants to bring everyone some peace and happiness. 

There are many poignant scenes in this book that involve the children - either with one or both of them and this is where there were tears, quite a few. Some were joyful and some were sad, but in the end, they were all good. This is such a beautiful story - that much needs to be said! But again, I don't think these scenes would have been as powerful had they not been exactly as they were created. This book is cleverly crafted - all the pieces come together just so and if just one piece is missing, it would not have the same impact. I know I am being a bit vague here, but I don't want to give anything away - you really just need to read this book - it's that powerful.

Like a house of cards, this family ultimately realizes that they need each other to lean on to move forward - a lesson that in our darkest hours, we often forget. This story is one that, while not always an easy one to read, is certainly one worth reading and one that sends a powerful, yet uplifting message. It is definitely one that will be staying with me for a long time and a book that I will be keeping on my shelf to remind me. Thank you Lisa Duffy for writing such a beautiful story!

The Salt House by Lisa Duffy is the She Reads August reading selection pick.
Head over to the She Reads website to read reviews and related posts of this book, as well as posts related to the other book club selections.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Review: Last Breath by Karin Slaughter

Title: Last Breath
Author: Karin Slaughter
Published: July 2017, Witness Impulse (HarperCollins Imprint)
Format: E-book, 176 pages
Source: Personal copy

Protecting someone always comes at a cost.

At the age of thirteen, Charlie Quinn’s childhood came to an abrupt and devastating end. Two men, with a grudge against her lawyer father, broke into her home – and after that shocking night, Charlie's world was never the same.

Now a lawyer herself, Charlie has made it her mission to defend those with no one else to turn to. So when Flora Faulkner, a motherless teen, begs for help, Charlie is reminded of her own past, and is powerless to say no.

But honor-student Flora is in far deeper trouble than Charlie could ever have anticipated. Soon she must ask herself: How far should she go to protect her client? And can she truly believe everything she is being told?

My thoughts: I am still a relative newbie when it comes to Karin Slaughter - I've only read one full-length novel and one short story before picking up this one. And I picked up this one because it's a prequel to her latest stand-alone book, The Good Daughter, which I will be reading in the next few weeks.

What I loved about this short story is that it not only introduces us to the main character of the upcoming book, Charlie Quinn, but it gives us a little bit of her backstory and some insight into her character. She has not had an easy life but despite that, she has made a good one for herself. We meet her husband, Ben and her father, Rusty Quinn, who had a part in her the tragedy that befell her when she was young. 

I also loved that this short story felt complete. Sometimes these short stories just fall short - they just manage to introduce us to a character but the plot lacks. In this case, that was definitely not the case. Not only do we get a great introduction to Charlie, but the case she ends up working on felt complete - it wasn't rushed, it felt like the story was told without leaving us hanging by giving us a partial story. And boy of boy, was it a crazy case - I definitely didn't see it playing out quite the way it did. 

I am very eager now to pick up The Good Daughter...especially if this short story is any indication of what I am in store for! 

Review: The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian (audio)

Title: The Sleepwalker
Author: Chris Bohjalian
Series: Sleepwalker, #1
Narrator: Cady McClain, Grace Experience
Published: January 2017, Random House Audio
Length: 9 hours 35 minutes
Source: Library
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Guest Room comes a spine-tingling novel of lies, loss, and buried desire--the mesmerizing story of a wife and mother who vanishes from her bed late one night.

When Annalee Ahlberg goes missing, her children fear the worst. Annalee is a sleepwalker whose affliction manifests in ways both bizarre and devastating. Once, she merely destroyed the hydrangeas in front of her Vermont home. More terrifying was the night her older daughter, Lianna, pulled her back from the precipice of the Gale River bridge.

The morning of Annalee's disappearance, a search party combs the nearby woods. Annalee's husband, Warren, flies home from a business trip. Lianna is questioned by a young, hazel-eyed detective. And her little sister, Paige, takes to swimming the Gale to look for clues. When the police discover a small swatch of fabric, a nightshirt, ripped and hanging from a tree branch, it seems certain Annalee is dead, but Gavin Rikert, the hazel-eyed detective, continues to call, continues to stop by the Ahlbergs' Victorian home.

As Lianna peels back the layers of mystery surrounding Annalee's disappearance, she finds herself drawn to Gavin, but she must ask herself: Why does the detective know so much about her mother? Why did Annalee leave her bed only when her father was away? And if she really died while sleepwalking, where was the body?

Conjuring the strange and mysterious world of parasomnia, a place somewhere between dreaming and wakefulness, The Sleepwalker is a masterful novel from one of our most treasured storytellers.

My thoughts: This is the first book I've read by Chris Bohjalian but it certainly will not be the last. It's also the first book in his new series and I have to say I found it so interesting! There is a prequel to this book, The Premonition, which I found out about after finishing this book, so I really need to get my hands on that book before the next book in this series comes out.

I found the way this story was told to be completely engaging and thrilling! A woman who suffers from sleepwalking has gone missing and it is from the perspective of her 21-year old daughter that we see how her family is handling what has happened. Interspersed within these chapters are details about the history of sleepwalking that I found to be utterly fascinating. I admit I really didn't know all the much about this topic.

I liked the characters in this book - I found them to be well-developed and interesting. I wasn't sure about the detective that we meet. I questioned the relationship that he develops with Liana, especially given their age difference and then when we find out that he has a history with her mom - my radar went up! Was this just me being overly suspicious or is there more to this that he is just not saying? 

This book is filled with intrigue and twists and turns. It really got under my skin. The confusion and grief that this family was dealing with was so palpable. I was as desperate as the family to find out what happened to the mother. And all the information we are given about sleepwalking kept me hooked.

I really enjoyed this book and loved the ending - I definitely didn't see that coming and am excited to see where this series is heading. I am anxious for the next book to come out, but definitely need to pick up the prequel to this series, The Premonition - I need to see if any pertinent information is given to us in that short story. I also plan to pick up a few other of Chris Bohjalian books as I really enjoyed his storytelling skills - any suggestions of where to start? 

Audio thoughts: This was a good audio to listen to and while both narrators were new to me, I enjoyed it. I thought that Cady McClain did a great job telling the story and Grace Experience did a good job with the history of sleepwalking. At times, it was a bit stilted, but overall, it was good.

Books in this series:

     0.5  The Premonition
     1.     The Sleepwalker  

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Review: The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda

Title: The Perfect Stranger
Author: Megan Miranda
Published: April 2017, Simon & Schuster
Format: ARC E-book, 352 pages
Source: Netgalley

In the masterful follow-up to the New York Times bestseller All the Missing Girls—“think: Luckiest Girl Alive, The Girl on the Train, Gone Girl” (TheSkimm)—a journalist sets out to find a missing friend, a friend who may never have existed at all.

Confronted by a restraining order and the threat of a lawsuit, failed journalist Leah Stevens needs to get out of Boston when she runs into an old friend, Emmy Grey, who has just left a troubled relationship. Emmy proposes they move to rural Pennsylvania, where Leah can get a teaching position and both women can start again. But their new start is threatened when a woman with an eerie resemblance to Leah is assaulted by the lake, and Emmy disappears days later.

Determined to find Emmy, Leah cooperates with Kyle Donovan, a handsome young police officer on the case. As they investigate her friend’s life for clues, Leah begins to wonder: did she ever really know Emmy at all? With no friends, family, or a digital footprint, the police begin to suspect that there is no Emmy Grey. Soon Leah’s credibility is at stake, and she is forced to revisit her past: the article that ruined her career. To save herself, Leah must uncover the truth about Emmy Grey—and along the way, confront her old demons, find out who she can really trust, and clear her own name.

Everyone in this rural Pennsylvanian town has something to hide—including Leah herself. How do you uncover the truth when you are busy hiding your own?

My thoughts: This was the first book I've read by Megan Miranda...but it surely won't be my last. I have her other book, All the Missing Girls, but never got around to reading it...and all I can say now is that I will definitely be picking it up as soon as I get a chance.

I really enjoyed this book - it kept me on my toes, guessing as to what was really going on. I found myself constantly wondering whether what Leah was telling us was real or whether she was making it all up. I was also confused...I didn't know if what was happening was really happening to Leah, if it was Leah's mind playing tricks on her or if it was someone else doing it to her. Is she reliable or is she just crazy?

The writing kept me wanting to keep going - I had to know how this would all play out. It was twisted and every time I thought I had come up with a viable guess, something new would pop up to throw that out the window.  There's something so simple about this book, yet it keeps you on edge - quite a brilliant feat to this psychological thriller! I definitely found myself flipping the pages at top speed to figure out what would come next - it's tense, taut and kept me on edge until the very end.

This was such a great story and now I definitely need to find the time to pick up All the Missing Girls pronto, especially if it's anything like this one! Megan Miranda is definitely going on my must-read she on yours?

#SRC2017 Book Spotlight: The Guineveres by Sarah Domet

Title: The Guineveres
Author: Sarah Domet
Published: July 2017, Flatiron Books
Format: Paperback, 352 pages
To four girls who have nothing, their friendship is everything: they are each other's confidants, teachers, and family. The girls are all named Guinevere--Vere, Gwen, Ginny, and Win--and it is the surprise of finding another Guinevere in their midst that first brings them together. They come to The Sisters of the Supreme Adoration convent by different paths, delivered by their families, each with her own complicated, heartbreaking story that she safeguards. Gwen is all Hollywood glamour and swagger; Ginny is a budding artiste with a sentiment to match; Win's tough bravado isn't even skin deep; and Vere is the only one who seems to be a believer, trying to hold onto her faith that her mother will one day return for her. However, the girls are more than the sum of their parts and together they form the all powerful and confident The Guineveres, bound by the extraordinary coincidence of their names and girded against the indignities of their plain, sequestered lives.

The nuns who raise them teach the Guineveres that faith is about waiting: waiting for the mail, for weekly wash day, for a miracle, or for the day they turn eighteen and are allowed to leave the convent. But the Guineveres grow tired of waiting. And so when four comatose soldiers from the War looming outside arrive at the convent, the girls realize that these men may hold their ticket out.

In prose shot through with beauty, Sarah Domet weaves together the Guineveres' past, present, and future, as well as the stories of the female saints they were raised on, to capture the wonder and tumult of girlhood and the magical thinking of young women as they cross over to adulthood.

What readers are saying: 

“Deft and lovely…The perfect weight, in all ways. It’s suitable for a vacation, and you can describe it in one inviting line, but then it keeps unfolding and deepening, taking unexpected turns.”―The New York Times Book Review

“If you’ve been seeking a divine (in every sense) debut novel, you'll savor Sarah Domet's The Guineveres…From heavenly start to earthbound finish, this book is resounding and revelatory on questions of family, faith, and friendship.”―Elle

“Thoughtful and dazzling.”―Harper’s Bazaar

“Wonderful…At times sacred, occasionally profane, The Guineveres is a heavenly read from an author worth watching.”―BookPage

“Irresistible…A book of surprising substance…There is both hilarity and heartache here…A remarkedly layered and affecting book.” Buffalo News

“The Guineveres is a wondrous look at the aches and pains of growing up…These girls’ story gives us something to believe in.”―Fort Worth Star-Telegram

“Compassionate…A coming-of-age story about young girls exploring their world and their bodies and, generally speaking, the meaning of life…A powerful story, one that will not be easily forgotten.”―BookBrowse

“Insightful…Dreamy, elegantly structured…The glimpse of a year in the life of four passionately confused adolescents serves as a striking debut.”―Columbus Dispatch

“Beautifully detailed…A moving and sweetly engaging tale. It is sad and funny, exquisitely written with a powerful depth of characterization. It truly is a gem, a worthy read.”―The Maine Edge

“A beautiful debut literary novel by an author to watch.”―PopSugar

“Excellent…Domet’s debut will lure readers in with well-developed characters, rich language, and small miracles.” ―School Library Journal

“A first novel whose tone echoes that of Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides…This phenomenal, character-driven story is mesmerizing.” ―Library Journal (starred review)

"Domet deftly weaves in the girls’ individual stories and the stories of female saints into her structure, making this a satisfying read on multiple levels.”―Publishers Weekly

“Domet’s lively writing is as original as her plot, which knits the Guineveres’ struggles together with stories of female saints. Poignant and often funny, Domet captures the fever of teenage desire by pinning it against the confines of a strict religious environment.”―Atlanta Magazine

“Sarah Domet has brought forth some kind of wonderful miracle with The Guineveres. All four Guineveres seek to survive their experiences at The Sisters of the Supreme Adoration, and their lives, so difficult and yet so thrilling to witness thanks to Domet’s assured writing, begin to approximate the divine experiences of the saints whom they study. And, best of all, Domet knows just when to look away from the divine and focus instead on matters altogether more earthbound and sinful. This is an amazing book, a unique writer.” ―Kevin Wilson, New York Times bestselling author of The Family Fang

“The Guineveres is a glorious debut. Sarah Domet is an enthralling storyteller who has an original voice and an ability to create unforgettable characters with a deep and abiding understanding of the human heart. Love, betrayal, forgiveness, it’s all here. Readers will savor and rejoice.” ―Adriana Trigiani, author of The Shoemaker’s Wife

“Sarah Domet’s The Guineveres is a revelation, the way Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides was a revelation: rarely do we see a writer so young, so brilliant, who wears her brilliance so offhandedly, so charmingly, so winningly. Rarely do we see such a young writer so masterful in her control of language, of form. We saw it in Eugenides’ first book, and now we see it in Sarah Domet’s The Guineveres. This is a writer, a book, to cherish.” ―Brock Clarke, author of An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England


The Guineveres  by Sarah Domet is one of  BookSparks "Summer Reads" reading selection picks. 
 Follow the #SRC2017 hashtag on twitter to read reviews on this book as well as reviews on the other summer books! Also, be sure to check out the BookSparks Facebook page for the #SRC2017  and other fun links. You can participate in weekly secret missions for chances to win signed copies of selected books and more! There's a new secret mission each week :)

Monday, August 14, 2017

Review: Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig (audio)

Title: Ginny Moon
Author: Benjamin Ludwig
Narrator: Em Eldridge
Published: May 2017, Harlequin Audio
Length: 9 hours 1 minute
Source: Library

Told in an extraordinary and wholly unique voice that will candidly take you into the mind of a curious and deeply human character.

For the first time in her life, Ginny Moon has found her “forever home”—a place where she’ll be safe and protected, with a family that will love and nurture her. It’s exactly the kind of home that all foster kids are hoping for. So why is this 14-year-old so desperate to get kidnapped by her abusive, drug-addict birth mother, Gloria, and return to a grim existence of hiding under the kitchen sink to avoid the authorities and her mother’s violent boyfriends?

While Ginny is pretty much your average teenager—she plays the flute in the school band, has weekly basketball practice and studies Robert Frost poems for English class—she is autistic. And so what’s important to Ginny includes starting every day with exactly nine grapes for breakfast, Michael Jackson, bacon-pineapple pizza and, most of all, getting back to Gloria so she can take care of her baby doll.

Ginny Moon is a compulsively readable and touching novel about being an outsider trying to find a place to belong and making sense of a world that just doesn’t seem to add up.

My thoughts: Every once in a while you read a book that you know will just stay with you for a long time - whether it's a particular character or the storyline or the setting...this is that book and for me, it's the main character, Ginny Moon. I loved her and know that she will be forever imprinted in my heart and I thank Benjamin Ludwig for writing this charming and heartfelt book about this little girl who may be different, but is just trying to find her place and make sense of this scary place we call our world.

I loved that this whole book was told from Ginny's perspective - I don't think this book would have had the same impact had it not. Ginny has autism, but she is charming and quirky and utterly and fastastically loveable! She 100% captured my heart. She has had a tough life up to this point - she was taken out of an abusive home only to be placed with multiple foster care families until finally being placed with her "forever family." But things aren't as settled as she would like and this is where things so awry. 

Ginny is a problem solver in her own right. She has her own way of working out problems and we see that first-hand. Often-times this gets her into trouble, but this is true to her character. 

All the characters introduced in this book were so dynamic, despite being seen through the eyes of Ginny. They were all flawed characters and that's what made them seem so genuine and realistic. There were times that I despised one or two of the characters due to their actions, especially her Forever Mom, despite the fact that she may have been acting out of fear. But again, this was all coming from Ginny's perspective - we saw everything from a 14-year's eyes!

This book is one that I would have everyone read - it's so well-written and so moving. It really takes you into the world of this young girl and shows you that really, all she wants is to be loved for who she is and don't we all want that? 

Audio thoughts: I loved listening to this book and I thought that Em Eldridge did a fantastic job bringing Ginny to life. Her voice and inflections were just right - not too babyish, not too old - just perfect! Or as Ginny would say "not approximately but exactly!"


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