Review | gods with a little g

gods with a little g by Tupelo Hassman

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“If you were flying in a plane over Rosary, California, the first thing you’d see is me, a skinny white girl with messy hair and a big backpack, waving you on. ‘Keep going,’ I’d say.” *

Helen is tired of living in Rosary, a town named by Catholics but now run by Thumpers (Bible-thumping evangelicals) who have alienated the surrounding towns.

“Rosary is like that bully in the schoolyard who looks around when the dust settles and says, ‘Where did everybody go?'” *

Rosary doesn’t want to be isolated from their neighboring city Sky but they don’t condone their lifestyle choices and they certainly don’t want them to influence the teens of Rosary.

Little do the Thumpers know Helen and her group of misfit friends, the self-proclaimed Dickheads, spend their afternoons at Fast Eddie’s Tire Yard drinking beer and their nights dialing in to a Sky radio station that discusses topics that are off-limits in their hometown.

gods with a little g follows Helen through her junior year: navigating life with her best friends Win and Rain, coming to terms with her dad’s first relationship since her mom died, and harboring a secret crush on bad boy Bird …who may become her stepbrother (awkwaaaard).

Full of lovable quirky characters in a modern dystopia, gods with a little g is a unique and gritty coming-of-age story that doesn’t shy away from complicated and relevant topics like gender identity and abortion.

Thanks to Farrar, Straus, and Giroux and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  gods with a little g is scheduled for release on August 13, 2019.

*Quotes included are from a digital advanced reader’s copy and are subject to change upon final publication.

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Review | Wanderers

Wanderers by Chuck Wendig

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I’ve been hearing buzz about Wanderers for several months now and was thrilled to have Memorial Day weekend to curl up and read it!

Shana Stewart wakes up one morning on her family farm and notices her sister Nessie wandering down the road.  When Shana catches up with Nessie, she believes her sister is sleepwalking.
As Nessie walks through town, seemingly unaware of her own actions and unable to be awakened, another person soon joins her.

Shana doesn’t know where her sister and the growing number of sleepwalkers are headed but they are slowly making their way across the country with an intense determination and their number is climbing steadily. The group becomes known as the flock and the friends/family who follow and protect them known as shepherds.

America is soon divided about the meaning of the sleepwalkers.  Is it a terrorist attack?  The beginning of Armageddon?  A disease?

Along their journey, readers meet a vibrant cast of characters, including an aging rock star, a preacher whose family and faith are in crisis, a wealthy businessman trying to escape the shadow of his family’s legacy, and a group of scientists with the CDC; including the disgraced Dr. Benjamin Ray whose involvement is sanctioned by a mysterious piece of artificial intelligence known as Black Swan.

When Black Swan alerts Dr. Ray and his team to a body discovered in the Everglades, it appears at first to be entirely unrelated to the sleepwalkers until an epidemic sweeps the country and everything from government to religion crumbles in the chaos, the only constant being the sleepwalkers steadily moving toward their unknown destination.

It’s up to Dr. Ray, his team, and the shepherds to protect the flock from a violent militia that preys on people’s fear and faith and discover how everything connects before the world as they know it ends.

Wanderers is an epic saga that covers everything from politics, science, religion, good vs. evil, and the power of technology with a rich cast of characters that add to the story sometimes in superficial and other times vital ways.

This book will certainly be compared to Stephen King’s The Stand but it manages to hold its own with a modern message and by focusing on the actual apocalypse rather than its aftermath.

Now for the negatives:
At 800 pages, there is of course a lot of build-up; we’re introduced to so many characters who shape the entire story and that takes time.
Readers are completely in the dark for the entire first half of the book; we know the events but not how or why they’re connected so it can be frustrating to wade through almost 400 pages without any real movement on the plot itself.
The ending. Oh the ending.  All that carefully crafted build-up for a mediocre showdown (which was coincidentally my main complaint with The Stand). Everything has been building toward this moment and readers get a few pages of limited action.  It just wasn’t enough after that long journey.  Annnnnnnd then readers are given a rushed “five years later” catch-up that concludes with an open ending.
I need closure, Mr. Wendig!

All that said, it’s a fantastic journey that I was completely invested in, personally.  The plot is heavy but entertaining, the questions raised are both compelling and thought-provoking, and most of the characters are well-developed.

If you enjoyed The Stand, odds are that you’ll enjoy this novel also.
If this 800 page behemoth seems daunting, it’s a coin toss to recommend:  on the one hand, it was a highly entertaining saga of an apocalyptic epidemic and I enjoyed the long journey, but on the other hand, the pay-off wasn’t completely satisfying with a rushed finale and frustrating open ending.

Thanks to Del Rey Books and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  Wanderers is scheduled for release on July 2, 2019.

Review | Southern Smoke

Southern Smoke: Barbecue, Traditions, and Treasured Recipes Reimagined for Today by Matthew Register

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Southern Smoke begins by giving readers a brief introduction to the basics of barbecue: from selecting a grill or smoker, the type of fuel you’ll use, and a brief guide to the most common woods used for smoking to how to set up your grill and get smoking! There’s also some handy lists of useful items, guidelines, and tips and tricks.

From there, the recipes are divided into chapters: North Carolina, The Low Country, Memphis and the Delta, and The Southern Bakery. Each chapter shares dishes and traditions from that region with clear and easy to follow instructions.

There are several classic Southern staple recipes for buttermilk fried chicken, fried skillet cornbread, mac and cheese, low country boil, and Brunswick stew included throughout as well as plenty of fried or pickled foods. I liked the small collection of supper menus at the end of the book included for inspiration.
There are recipes for smoked Boston butt, ribs, tenderloin, chicken quarters, turkey, and shrimp to fire up your smoker.

I gauge a cookbook by the end result so I’ve used this Memorial Day weekend to test some of the recipes and can safely say the Memphis dry-rub ribs and chocolate chess pie with pecans are both incredible!

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I’m looking forward to making the okra fries with comeback sauce this summer and have enough strawberries left to make the sweet buttermilk biscuits with strawberries. I’m also excited to try collard chowder, fried catfish with dill pickle aioli, and James Island Shrimp Pie.

Overall, I love the layout and design of this book: from the helpful information shared in the introduction to the recipes divided into chapters with ingredients that are fairly accessible in most grocery stores and instructions that are easy to follow.

Thanks to Quarto Publishing Group – Harvard Common Press and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. Southern Smoke: Barbecue, Traditions, and Treasured Recipes Reimagined for Today was released on May 7, 2019.

Review | Fake Like Me

Fake Like Me by Barbara Bourland

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A young un-named painter with potential is poised to make waves in the art community with her collection of seven billboard-size paintings.  When her apartment goes up in flames and decimates the entire collection, she lies to her gallery and says that six have been safely crated and stored; only the final painting she was still working on has been destroyed.
The gallery decides it’s in their best interest to have her to re-create the final piece, which has already been sold, in total secrecy.

Now homeless and without a single piece for her show, she searches frantically for a studio available on short notice where she can re-create all seven pieces in their entirety in just three months.

The artist is in awe when an acquaintance gets her a spot at the exclusive artist retreat known as Pine City in upstate New York. Pine City isn’t just a resort, it’s also the name of the collective of five artists who own it.

Carey Logan was a member of Pine City, and the idol of our main character.  Carey’s work was brilliant and her life ended far too soon when she purposefully stepped into a lake and drowned.

When our no-name artist arrives at Pine City, she finds it’s full of secrets. The retreat is shadowed by Carey’s presence and yet none of the dead artist’s friends will speak about her; she has been removed from every photo on the grounds, and none of the remaining collective will share their work.

Across the lake is Max, our MC’s childhood friend who has been famous most of her life for being wealthy and then earned fame with her photography skills.  Max swears total secrecy when she learns that her friend is re-creating her entire show but soon it appears Max has motives for keeping her secret.

Carey Logan not only designed the home Max now lives in, but she was represented by Max’s husband, Charlie.

The MC learns that Charlie’s gallery is in a legal battle with Pine City over a rumored final piece of art by Carey Logan.
What was the final piece?  Why is Pine City so secretive about their work and the legacy of Carey Logan?

Fake Like Me fits solidly into the women’s fiction genre but it also surprised me by being a dark satire as well as a thriller set in the glamorous contemporary art scene.
The characters are overwhelmingly pretentious and take themselves far too seriously, but as in all good satires, it was incredibly entertaining.
I wasn’t expecting the mystery surrounding Carey Logan to be so compelling; I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to uncover the truth.

Thanks to Grand Central Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  Fake Like Me is scheduled for release on June 18, 2019.

Review | Stranger Things: Darkness on the Edge of Town

Stranger Things: Darkness on the Edge of Town (Stranger Things Novels #2) by Adam Christopher

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I’m a huge fan of the Netflix show Stranger Things.  I adore the characters, the small town mystery, and the creep factor.  The show relies on the nostalgia viewers have for pop culture and fond memories of their own childhood to make this a binge-worthy show.

I’m thrilled to see that Del Rey is beginning to release official Stranger Things novels that give fans of the show some character back stories!

Darkness on the Edge of Town begins at Christmas in 1984.  Police Chief Jim Hopper is enjoying a quiet evening with his adopted daughter, El (Jane).  El is growing restless in the cabin because her friends are out of town visiting their relatives for the holiday.  Out of boredom she looks through boxes in the basement and finds two she’s curious about; one is marked “Vietnam”, the other “New York”.
Hopper isn’t ready to discuss Vietnam but he knows El won’t let him off easy so he agrees to tell her about the last big case he worked as a detective for the NYPD.  With a pot of coffee brewing, he sits down to share a piece of his past.

The summer of 1977 has NYC residents on edge with the serial killer known as Son of Sam still loose on the streets.
Jim Hopper has a fresh start in New York after returning from Vietnam. Hopper has slipped back into civilian life by climbing the ranks in the NYPD to become a detective and enjoys a quiet life with his wife and young daughter.  He’s recently been assigned a new partner, Rosario Delgado, and already they’re working an alarming case.
A third body has been found and it appears that the city has a second serial killer at large. The brutal murders appear ritualistic and cards with bizarre lines are found at each scene.

When a federal agent shows up to take over the case, Hopper and Delgado aren’t ready to stop their own investigation.
As Hopper pieces together the truth, he’s forced to go undercover to infiltrate a notorious gang known as the Vipers and discover their involvement with the three murders.
What Hopper discovers is a dangerous man known as Saint John who returned from Vietnam with a dark message.

When a blackout plunges the boroughs into chaos, Hopper must escape the Vipers and the mobs in the streets to make sure his family is safe and stop Saint John from fulfilling his prophecy.

Darkness on the Edge of Town is an interesting glimpse into Hopper’s past.  Fans of the show know that he’s no longer married and his daughter died but we don’t have any insight into his life before the events of Stranger Things.  While this book doesn’t address his family tragedies, it does offer a look at his devotion to his family and explain why he chose to go into law enforcement (without going into detail of his two tours of Vietnam).

If you’re looking for the whole cast, this isn’t the book to read.  The entire book focuses on Hopper’s undercover investigation in 1977 with only brief returns to the present timeline of Stranger Things (1984) for Hopper and El to discuss the story he’s telling her.

Overall, this is an entertaining story that feels true to the character of Jim Hopper and is a fun addition to the Stranger Things franchise.

Thanks to Del Rey and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  Stranger Things: Darkness on the Edge of Town is scheduled for release on May 28, 2019.

 

Annnnd because I’m a big nerd, I created a Choose Your Own Adventure book cover inspired by Stranger Things in 2017 and it seems appropriate to share here.

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…and, also, this was our 2018 Christmas card:

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Review | A Philosophy of Ruin

A Philosophy of Ruin by Nicholas Mancusi

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Oscar Boatwright’s life is crashing in slow motion.

He’s received news his mother died on a flight home from Hawaii.  His father arrives at his home, stunned and still numb.

To make matters worse, Oscar learns his mother’s depression had overwhelmed her and led his parents to spend tens of thousands of dollars on seminars with self-help guru Paul St. Germaine.

Now Oscar’s dad has not only lost his life savings but the wife he longed to save from deep depression …and he still owes thousands to St. Germaine.

Oscar’s extremely modest income as a philosophy professor barely covers his expenses and student loan debt so he’s hopeful his wealthy sister will be able to help their dad in his dire financial situation.  It isn’t long before his sister confides she and her husband are separating and their finances haven’t been great since the market turned.

Just when life seems it can’t possibly get any worse, Oscar has a drunken one night stand with a woman he meets in a bar … and finds her sitting in his class the next day.
Dawn isn’t just his student, she’s also a drug dealer.  While Oscar attempts to remove himself from the awkward situation, he’s drawn further into Dawn’s world, and she knows some of his story.  Enough to know Oscar won’t say no to helping with a large drug run, both out of fear she’ll blackmail him and because he can’t possibly turn down $30,000 in his current situation.

Numb from his recent loss, disillusioned by the past, and uncertain of his future, Oscar sets out with a simple plan: drive a borrowed Land Rover to a GPS programmed location several hours away, pick up a backpack, and return to campus.  That’s it.

His simple plan takes a dramatic turn when Oscar believes he’s being followed by a black truck. What follows is an abrupt and terrifying turn into chaos.

A Philosophy of Ruin begins with a man struggling to come to terms with his mother’s mental illness and sudden death and evolves into the story of a man trying to escape a dangerous drug run.
Mancusi manages to deliver this novel in a controlled way though the events are a dramatic and sudden spiral.  I could compare the plot and delivery to the television show Breaking Bad which has a similar tone and theme.
The ending was abrupt and lacking for me personally but this was still an overall fantastic novel!

Thanks to Hanover Square Press and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  A Philosophy of Ruin is scheduled for release on June 18, 2019.

Review| Recursion

Recursion by Blake Crouch

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“We think we’re perceiving the world directly and immediately, but everything we experience is this carefully edited, tape-delayed reconstruction.” *

It’s been eleven years since NYC detective Barry Sutton’s sixteen-year-old daughter was killed in a hit and run.  He’s still grieving that loss and the subsequent disintegration of his marriage when he begins to investigate a suicide involving the new phenomenon False Memory Syndrome.

“Eight months ago, the Centers for Disease Control identified sixty-four cases with similiarities in the Northeast. In each case, a patient presented with complaints of acute false memories. Not just one or two. A fully imagined alternate history covering large swaths of their life up until that moment. Usually going back months or years. In some instances, decades.” *

Meanwhile, scientist Helena Smith has been given unlimited funding to continue her research on mapping memories of dementia patients. Helena works non-stop to design a chair that will allow subjects in advanced stages of Alzheimer’s to reactivate mapped and stored memories. She’s determined to perfect the design before her own mother’s memories are lost forever.
As testing begins, Helena finds herself at odds with billionaire benefactor Paul Slade when it appears they are no longer working toward the same goal.  Helena wanted a chair that would allow people to relive their memories.  Slade shocks her with the news that the chair actually allows people to return to the past.

Running across multiple timelines, Recursion takes readers through the past and present in a race to save a world suffering the far-reaching effects of False Memory Syndrome from self-destructing.

I had a hard time putting this book down!  It’s compulsively readable with a compelling story, likeable MCs, and multiple action-packed timelines that come together seamlessly once you can keep them straight!

Thanks to Crown and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  Recursion is scheduled for release on June 11, 2019.

*Quotes included are from a digital advanced reader’s copy and are subject to change upon final publication.

Review | The Paper Wasp

The Paper Wasp by Lauren Acampora

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Abby had a promising art career to look forward to after high school but finds herself still living at home with her parents and working as a cashier.  She spends a lot of her time flipping through the magazines by her register hoping to spot her former BFF Elise, who is quickly gaining popularity as a Hollywood actress.

Abby learns that Elise will be at their ten year high school reunion and she decides to attend in hopes of speaking with Elise once again.  She’s surprised to find that Elise remains kind and warm as ever, praising Abby’s art and confiding she hopes they can be close again one day.

Abby surprises Elise soon after the reunion when she calls her from the airport to say she’s in California without a plan.  Caught off guard, Elise invites Abby to her home but her uncertainty soon turns to happiness to have someone in which she can confide.

Abby is only too happy to accept Elise’s invitation to stay at her home.  She quickly realizes that Elise’s professional career is thriving but the young actress is lonely.

Acting as a supportive friend, Abby is soon part of every aspect of Elise’s life, even becoming her personal assistant.
Masking her jealousy and ulterior motives, she becomes the only person Elise can trust, ultimately leading to a dark finale.

“I let you believe the world awaited me with the same hunger it awaited you. But the truth was that, as you were born to be seen, I was born to crouch in the shadows. I was the hidden source, quietly generating the scenes you played out. I knew this, even if I didn’t yet recognize mine as the superior gift.” *

The Paper Wasp is a chilling book.  What starts as a seemingly average tale of a woman down on her luck who does some relatively innocent social media stalking to keep up with a more successful former friend becomes a story of obsession, ambition, and finally psychotic behavior.  Some of the events seem random or unimportant but they eventually come together for the ending.  Sprinkle in a dash of magic realism in the form of premonitory dreams/visions and you have a rather odd novel.
I like odd, mostly because it’s so open to interpretation.

Thanks to Grove Press and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  The Paper Wasp is scheduled for release on June 11, 2019.

*Included quote is from a digital advanced reader’s copy and is subject to change upon final publication.

Review | We Were Killers Once

We Were Killers Once by Becky Masterman

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Minotaur Books sent me an ARC that immediately lured me in:  a modern crime novel inspired by the actual murders of the Clutter family in 1959, which was the focus of Truman Capote’s true-crime masterpiece, In Cold Blood.

I realized this was book four in a series (and ohhhhh how I’ve whined in the past about picking up in the middle of a series) but crossed my fingers that We Were Killers Once would work as a standalone because the premise is fascinating.

When the four Clutter family members were brutally murdered in their Kansas home, it left the country in fear.  It wasn’t long before Perry Smith and Richard (Dick) Hickok were captured, convicted, and eventually executed for the crime. The men were at one point suspected of murdering the Walker family in Sarasota, Florida while they were on the run but were never charged.

We Were Killers Once takes a look at the possibility that an unknown third person was involved in the Clutter family murders and was also responsible for the Walker family murders.  The even bigger what-if:  What if Richard Eugene Hickock left behind a written confession before his execution that cleared up all doubt and lingering questions?

Jerome Beaufort’s life sentence has been commuted after 33 years in Central Mississippi Correctional Facility.  He’s led a life of crime though he’s only been arrested on drug charges.  No one knows his involvement with Perry Smith and Dick Hickok.

“When Hickok and Smith were still alive he had lived in fear that they would rat him out. Then he stopped worrying when they died.  Then he started worrying again with this whole forensic science business.” *

Beaufort’s too old to return to prison and the possibility his DNA at the Walker crime scene will eventually be revealed keeps him up at night.  Before he can enjoy the rest of his life he has to make sure he has nothing to worry about.

When he sets up a “chance meeting” with Detective Ian Meadows, the cold case investigator assigned to the Walker case, he learns that there’s rumor of a confession Hickok wrote right before his execution to a priest.  A priest that Detective Meadows has tracked down and plans to visit.

“He had gone into the bar thinking he was following up on the Walker case, and come out knowing that there might be a document that linked him not only to the Walkers, but to the Clutters, too. He couldn’t be sure he was safe unless he got to Hickok’s priest before Meadows did.” *

Beaufort does in fact make it to the priest’s deathbed before Meadows and is able to kill him without arousing suspicion, but only after he’s certain he has the name of the man who may now possess Dick Hickok’s confession.

Retired FBI agent Brigid Quinn has settled into a quiet life with her husband Carlo, a former Catholic priest.  She’s told Carlo about her fascination with the Clutter murders, which she heard her father discuss with other policemen around their kitchen table when she was a girl.
Brigid has no idea that Carlo was chaplain for a time at the prison where Hickok served his time.  He has a memento from that time that will greatly interest his wife and realizes it will make a perfect anniversary gift.
Unfortunately, Carlo doesn’t know what’s hidden within the memento and that there’s a dangerous man on his way to collect it.

We Were Killers Once has an exciting premise but unfortunately the delivery relies too much on coincidence and convenience.  The “what if” is endlessly fascinating, but it didn’t feel realistic that this unknown third person would check on the case after 50+ years, I’d think he’d stay as far away as possible to remain under the radar.  His meeting with the detective who happens to have a new lead after all these years seems waaaaay too convenient.
Brigid marrying someone who has a small link to the case she’s most fascinated with seems like too big of a coincidence, not to mention the fact that the link puts them in the direct path of Beaufort.

Brigid Quinn is an interesting character; we’re given a brief look into her past as an agent as well as her strengths:  she’s a small woman so criminals will not consider her a threat but she has a sharp eye, reads people well, and knows how to use a weapon or two.  There are characters that have obviously appeared in previous books and enough details are given that readers will not feel completely lost but vague enough you may want to go back and read the first three books.

This story was poorly constructed around an exciting “what-if”.  It was an average thriller with a weak plot thanks to the way too convenient circumstances.  However, I’m curious about Brigid Quinn and may pick up the first book eventually just to find out more about her.

Thanks to Minotaur Books for sending me a digital ARC via NetGalley for review.  We Were Killers Once is scheduled for release on June 4, 2019.

*Quotes included are from a digital advanced reader’s copy and are subject to change upon final publication.

Review | The Farm

The Farm by Joanne Ramos

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“Golden Oaks hired women to be surrogates. If you were chosen to be a Host you lived in a luxury house in the middle of the countryside where your only job was to rest and keep the baby inside you healthy. According to Mrs. Rubio, Golden Oaks’ clients were the richest, most important people from all over the world, and for carrying their babies Hosts were paid a great deal of money.” *

Jane is a struggling single mother who wants nothing more than to provide a better life for her daughter Amalia.  When she is fired from her job as a nanny, her older cousin Evelyn – known as Ate – suggests applying to be a surrogate (Host) on a farm in the Hudson Valley known as Golden Oaks.  Ate will watch Amalia for the months that Jane is away at the Farm and when she delivers the baby of an anonymous Client, she’ll return to her child with a great sum of money to start a better life.

Jane’s life is closely monitored at Golden Oaks.  Hosts are unable to leave the grounds without permission, they must wear fitness trackers that monitor their vitals (and their location), and their use of the phone and internet is limited.  Clients are in control of several aspects of their Hosts lives, including if and when they leave the grounds or if they are allowed visitors.
Jane is determined to stay connected with Amalia, who is growing quickly and she fears will forget Jane during her absence.  As the months pass and Ate’s calls and texts become less frequent, Jane becomes desperate to find out how well Amalia is being taken care of as she learns that her daughter is often being left with sitters she knows nothing about.

Golden Oaks seems to be using a visit with Amalia as a bargaining chip to keep Jane in line when Hosts begin to ask too many questions and rumors spread about a current uber-wealthy Client and the bonus the lucky Host will receive on delivery of a healthy baby.

The story is told in the alternating narratives of Jane; her cousin Ate; her roommate Reagan; and Mae, the director of Golden Oaks.  Readers are given these shifting perspectives to explain Host motivations, Client expectations, and the extreme lengths Golden Oaks will go to in order to keep Hosts in line and Client money flowing.

“Because in America you only have to know how to make money. Money buys everything else.” * 

The Farm fell short for me.  While I was interested in the plot and there were certainly some creepy undertones, the delivery was flat.
While the reasoning for each narrator’s decisions were explained, I never felt any connection or emotional response to them.  The climax was underwhelming and the resolution was an absolute disappointment given what we’ve learned about the characters.

The Farm looks at several provocative themes like motherhood, money, and the lengths we’ll go to in order to provide for those that we love.
Unfortunately, the overall storytelling was one-dimensional and underwhelming.

Thanks to Random House and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  The Farm is scheduled for release on May 7, 2019.

*Quotes included are from a digital advanced reader’s copy and are subject to change upon final publication.