Review | Valentine

Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore

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February 15, 1976. Odessa, Texas.

Fourteen-year-old Gloria Ramirez arrives on Mary Rose Whitehead’s front porch.  She has dragged her broken body across an oil field for help after being brutally raped and beaten by a young man the previous night.

Mary Rose rushes the girl inside the house with her own young daughter and stands on her porch with her gun, waiting for Gloria’s attacker whose truck is barreling down the ranch road toward her.

What follows is a heartbreaking look at Odessa’s version of justice as the town tries the case in their churches and bars while Mary Rose waits for her day in court on the witness stand.

The chapters alternate the points of view of several women and girls in the small town including Glory (the name Gloria chooses after the attack); Mary Rose; Corrine, Mary Rose’s neighbor who’s grieving the loss of her husband; and Debra Ann, the young girl who has attached herself to Corrine after her mother abruptly leaves.

Readers learn the inner lives of these characters; from their fierce determination to find a sense of self, their surprising tenderness toward each other, and their vulnerabilities that are highlighted by the frustrating lack of options in a small town only interested in taking care of their own (meaning: those that look and think like them).

I am never going to get over this book.  Reading it, as a woman and as a mother, was raw and emotional.  There are so many complicated truths of womanhood and motherhood shared in this novel that blurs the line that exists between strength and vulnerability.

I highly recommend Valentine to readers who love literary fiction full of strong characters and raw emotion.

Review | Neverwhere

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

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Richard Mayhew is a successful businessman with a beautiful fiancee named Jessica.  Life is good … right?

Or is he really stuck behind a desk and about to marry a vain woman?

Honestly, Richard hasn’t considered the reality.

That changes on the evening he is rushing to dinner with Jessica and they find a young woman crumpled and bleeding in the street.

Jessica demands they simply call an ambulance and continue to the important dinner with her boss.

Richard, in a surprising move, ignores his fiancee and carries the young woman to his apartment where he quickly discovers she isn’t from London… she’s from below.

Young Doreen, known as Door, is on the run from two sinister assassins and searching for answers about the murder of her entire family.  She appreciates Richard’s kindness but knows she needs to get back to London Below and out of Richard’s life before she causes too much damage.

Unfortunately for Richard, his good deed leads to punishment when he wakes up and discovers he simply doesn’t exist anymore.  His desk at work is gone, his bank card no longer works, and his landlord is showing his apartment to new tenants.

Richard’s only choice is to accompany Door beneath the city in hopes that someone can restore his life in the London he knows.  He is perfectly satisfied with his ordinary life and his hopeful he can return to it as soon as possible.

In order to return to ordinary, Richard and Door embark on an extraordinary adventure full of sewer people, violent assassins, rat speakers, angels, and hunters.

Atmospheric with a fairy tale quality, imaginative, and often humorous, Neverwhere is a dark but charming adventure!

Review | The Shining Girls

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

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Harper Curtis is a serial killer. He searches for young women who “shine”, finding them usually when they’re children, gifting them a toy or trinket, and returning years later to murder them when they shine brilliantly but before their potential can be realized.

Did I mention that Harper is also a time traveler?

This is where things get reaaaaally interesting!

Jumping around across 1930s-1990s, Harper leaves items with his victims that make no sense: a pack of birth control before it’s invented, a baseball card for a player who hasn’t even been born yet, a toy before it’s created.

Kirby is the one who got away. She is brutally attacked and makes it her mission to find the man responsible and her internship at a newspaper provides her with the information she needs to find other potential victims. Where the information leads her, however, makes no sense. That doesn’t matter to Kirby, she’s hell-bent on catching this man, wherever the clues may lead.

I really enjoyed this book —but not as much as I wanted to. The time jumping could be confusing and I’d have to rush to orient myself to a new character or a return to a particular event. We only get to know the shining girls through brief glimpses, which left me lacking connection and wanting more. I loved everything about Kirby and she was an amazing character to root for.

I enjoyed Buekes’s author’s note which discussed how people often forget that victims are people and resign them to the brutal details of their attacks/deaths. Beukes did an excellent job of creating authentic characters and changing their titles from victims to fighters.

I recommend The Shining Girls to readers who enjoy crime fiction/thrillers/mysteries/horror with a touch of sci-fi.

Review | Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come

Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come: One Introvert’s Year of Saying Yes by Jessica Pan

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Introvert Jessica Pan spent an entire year outside of her comfort zone.
As an introvert myself, I was uncomfortable for her most of the book as she attended improv comedy classes, performed stand-up, signed up to be sent on a mystery vacation, and made small talk with women she met on a Bumble (for friends) app.

As a thirty-something, I can completely relate to that feeling of loneliness as our responsibilities keep us from spending time with friends, which leads to drifting apart, followed by the stress of trying to learn how to make new friends. (Awkwaaaaard.)

This was an entertaining book about what happens when we say yes to things we fear. I do, however, wonder if the author’s decision to write a book about her experiences is what fueled her ability to overcome her introversion. Would she still have gone through with it without that clear goal in mind? I know for me, I’m able to overcome a lot of uncomfortable situations (that I would otherwise do absolutely everything in my power to get out of) for the people I care about or when I have something to accomplish.

At times humorous, often relatable, this is a fun book for anyone who has ever been desperate for a break from “people-ing” only to immediately lament their lack of friendships.

Review | Ordinary Hazards

Ordinary Hazards by Anna Bruno

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The work day is done and Emma is seated at the small town bar surrounded by the friends of her ex-husband Lucas. While observing their familiar banter, readers are given a peek into Emma’s memories. We learn she’s a hedge fund manager who met her husband on a blind date in the very bar in which she’s currently sitting and that she struggles with her definition of success thanks to a father who defined it by money.

As the night wears on and the alcohol continues to flow, Emma is spiraling quickly toward the one memory she wants to forget; the one that hardened her heart toward Lucas and changed her life forever.
Drama unfolds after hours and so does the past where we learn a heartbreaking truth and watch Emma make a choice between giving up and going on.

I’m struggling to rate this book. I read it quickly, which is a sign that I enjoyed it, but at the same time I never felt invested in the characters. It’s a family drama with a cast of small town characters that allow us to see their relatable flaws but I feel like we just scratched the surface in understanding their motivations. Emma’s story is heartbreaking but I didn’t connect with her until the last couple chapters.
Ordinary Hazards is depressing and hopeful at the same time but I can’t help but feel I was kept at a distance from the characters that didn’t allow me to become immersed in their lives.

Thanks to Atria Books and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. Ordinary Hazards is scheduled for release on August 18, 2020.

Review | Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger

Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger: A Memoir by Lisa Donovan

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Lisa Donovan worked her way from a server in a small town restaurant to pastry chef for renowned Southern restaurants. The road to get there held plenty of roadblocks which Donovan found a way through because of her desire to achieve and most importantly take care of her family.
She struggled as a young single mother after escaping an abusive relationship but completed college with her first child strapped to her chest. She struggled with the narrative of her life because of her family’s issues with their heritage and the abuse of their matriarchs but has honored both with her career and her journey through motherhood.
My biggest take away from this memoir (other than the obvious fact that Donovan is a talented writer) is that Lisa Donovan is a survivor. She cultivated her love of food and it became not only her passion but an impressive career, despite a male-dominated industry that did not find much value in a woman who divided her time between work and family.

She has fought every step of the way with hard work and brutal honesty that she shares with readers in the pages of Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger, giving an unflinching look into not only her personal life but also class, gender, and heritage. She isn’t afraid to call out the restaurant industry for its blatant sexism and the investors who invest more in the publicity than in the staff, while sharing her vision for the future of the industry.

**Trigger warning for sexual assault and physical/mental abuse.**

Thanks to Penguin Press and Edelweiss for providing me with a DRC in exchange for my honest review. Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger: A Memoir is scheduled for release on August 4, 2020.

Review | The Wicked Sister

The Wicked Sister by Karen Dionne

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Rachel Cunningham was only eleven when she accidentally shot and killed her mom and caused her dad to kill himself. Or, at least she believes that’s what happened. There are so many gaps in her memory from that time, including the three weeks afterward where no one knows where she was until she appeared on the side of the highway in Michigan’s remote Upper Peninsula.
Police believe it was a murder-suicide: Rachel’s dad killed her mom then turned the gun on himself in the hallway of their lodge.
For fifteen years Rachel has chosen to stay in a psychiatric facility, convinced she is the reason her parents are dead. Now she has learned new details about the murders that change the entire story and cause her to question the memory she has constantly replayed to punish herself.
In an effort to uncover the truth, Rachel checks herself out of the facility and returns to the lodge where she was raised and her older sister Diana and aunt Charlotte still reside.
Alternating the points of view of Rachel in the present and her mother Jenny in the past, readers experience the vast environment of the Upper Peninsula in a brutal fairy tale of two sisters, one good and one evil, and a fight for survival when the truth is exposed.

First, let me say that this is a far-fetched story. I had to suspend my disbelief numerous times and was continuously shaking my head at the choices Rachel’s parents made. Then, I began to understand this was supposed to read like a true fairy tale (the original dark and sinister fairy tales, not the shined-up children’s versions) and I was able to enjoy where the story led me.

I read and overall enjoyed the author’s previous novel, The Marsh King’s Daughter (read my review here), and found a similar vibe in this book, where the beauty and intricacy of nature play a large role in the overall story and add to the suspense.
I recommend The Wicked Sister to readers who enjoy atmospheric mystery/suspense and psychological thrillers.
***Trigger warnings for detailed cruelty/violence against both humans and animals.***

Thanks to G.P. Putnam’s Sons and Edelweiss for providing me with a DRC in exchange for my honest review. The Wicked Sister is scheduled for release on August 4, 2020.

Review | The Comeback

The Comeback by Ella Berman

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Grace Turner is on the fast track to super stardom as a leading actress and muse for the famous film director Able Yorke.  Able has carefully constructed Grace’s image in the media and on his film sets in an effort to keep her protected and focused. For eight years he has controlled every aspect of her life.

Then right before her first Golden Globe nomination, Grace Turner chooses to leave it all behind.

For a year, she hides out in her parent’s home in Anaheim where her mom spends all day watching reality TV and her dad serves dinner on TV trays.  Uncertain of her future, Grace tentatively chooses to return to L.A. and confront her past — everyone from the husband she walked out on, the friends she left behind, and the controlling director who sexually abused her throughout her career.

Grace is gaining strength and she is determined to make a comeback on her own terms.  Able Yorke is going to be honored with a lifetime achievement award and Grace is asked to present the award.  The power Able thought he held is now in the hands of Grace as she gains a keen sense of self and overcomes the fear that held her captive for years.

The Comeback is a powerful story and is sadly a common tale of Hollywood, as we’ve learned from the Me Too movement.  The characters and their relationships are well-developed and Grace’s story unfolds at a great pace with complex layers that reveal how deeply her trauma affected all aspects of her life.

Thanks to Berkley and Edelweiss for providing me with a DRC in exchange for my honest review.   The Comeback is scheduled for release on August 4, 2020.

Review | My Calamity Jane

My Calamity Jane (The Lady Janies #3) by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows

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In 1876, America was full of gunslingers, outlaws…. and werewolves.

Thankfully, there’s Wild Bill’s Traveling Show featuring Wild Bill Hickok and his adopted kids Calamity Jane and Frank Butler. They’re already legends in their own right, known for their quick draws, but what the general public doesn’t know is that they also hunt werewolves.

Annie Oakley arrives looking for a job, captures the heart of Frank, and is more than okay with hunting werewolves in her spare time.
When a hunt goes wrong, Jane leaves her friends behind to travel to Deadwood, a lawless town rumored to hold a cure.
The stars of Wild Bill’s Traveling Show all end up in Deadwood where it’s soon obvious a series of events were staged to lead them. Jane, Annie, Frank, and Bill are close to locating the Alpha—but not before a few surprising secrets are revealed.

This is the 3rd installment in The Lady Janies series and I’ve adored each one (you can read my review of book two, My Plain Jane, here). Humorous retellings of some of history’s/literature’s famous Janes with supernatural elements are the light hearted palate cleansers I need!
I recommend My Calamity Jane (and the other books in this series) to readers who enjoy YA, historical fiction, and classic retellings.

Review | The Eighth Detective

The Eighth Detective by Alex Pavesi

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Grant McAllister, professor of mathematics, knows there are rules for murder mysteries. Victims, suspects, and detectives must always be part of the mathematical sequence and he had the formula figured out when he self-published 100 copies of his seven-story collection of mysteries, The White Murders, 30 years ago.

Editor Julia Hart finds McAllister living on a remote island where she arrives in hopes of republishing his book. Julia has a sharp eye and is quick to notice inconsistencies in his stories that all seem to point to facts in the real-life murder of Elizabeth White. When pressed, Grant claims he doesn’t remember his stories so well now that 30 years have passed and they have nothing to do with Elizabeth White, whom he never met.

Has Grant McAllister hidden clues in his stories that could solve a real murder?

The Eighth Detective is a clever novel. Author Alex Pavesi gives readers a murder mystery set within seven mini murder mysteries. Julia reads each story and then follows it up with questions for Grant about his successful formula. She points out the mistakes she noticed, which Grant is quick to shrug off. These mistakes culminate into suspicion about Grant’s motives and even his identity, creating an eighth and final mystery to solve.

I wasn’t particularly invested in the seven short stories; they weren’t suspenseful and became somewhat tedious as I realized there was a mystery involving Grant McAllister to solve. In the end, that mystery didn’t satisfy either with the lack of character development as it only took place in short chapters after a story was completed. I did enjoy seeing how well the murder mystery formula worked with interchangeable sequences.

Thanks to Henry Holt & Co and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. The Eighth Detective is scheduled for release on August 4, 2020.