Sunday, September 25, 2016

My take on: Behind Closed Doors

What goes on behind closed doors? You never really know. Publicly, people let you see what you want them to see. It's behind closed doors where everyone lets their hair down, where everyone can be themselves.

In her debut novel, Behind Closed Doors, B. A. Paris explores the seemingly perfect marriage of Jack and Grace Angel.

A handsome lawyer named Jack meets Grace, great. Jack meets and completely embraces Grace's sister, Millie, who has Down Syndrome, great. Jack and Grace have a whirlwind romance, great. Jack and Grace get engaged, great. Once Millie finishes school, Jack insists she move in with them, great. An accident prevents Millie from taking part in the wedding, but Jack and Grace still get married. That's when things become not so great.

Once they're married, that's when things take a turn for the worse. Jack is no longer the perfect man, who is hopelessly in love. Jack reveals himself to be a total psycho, wackadoo. Why is he this way? What is his plan for Grace? Why did he marry Grace? I can't tell you. I can't say much more without giving away the whole plot. But I will say the journey through Jack and Grace's marriage was a frustrating, yet compulsive read. What frustrated me? Both of the main characters. Jack's personality and motivations seemed a little random. It was completely out of left field, but I suppose that's the point. While they were dating, Jack said and did everything that Grace wanted to hear. He gave her no reason to suspect him of anything suspicious. But you never really know someone until you're alone with them -- alone behind closed doors. Grace was equally frustrating. It seemed like there were so many opportunities for her to break away from Jack. I get that psychological and emotional abuse can turn a person into a prisoner literally and figuratively, but there was a moment very early on for Grace to leave. A moment when most reasonable and rational people would have gotten the heck out of dodge.

Despite my frustrations with this book, my favorite character has to be Millie. It took some time, but she saw through Jack. Millie was the most rational and lovable character in the entire book. Most of Grace and Jack's friends, with the exception of Esther, aren't very perceptive. Esther knows something isn't quite right about this marriage but doesn't know what to do about it. Only Millie makes it known her disdain for Jack, and she does it in an amusing way. Overall, this was addictive read. Give it a try!


Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (St. Martin's Press) in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, September 23, 2016

My take on: Marrow: A Love Story

Marrow: A Love Story is author Elizabeth Lesser's emotional journey through her sister Maggie's cancer treatments, from start to finish. A bone marrow transplant is Maggie's best chance at survival. And Elizabeth is a perfect match. Before embarking on a medical bone marrow transplant, both sisters agree to go on a "soul" marrow transplant. If both of them are emotionally healthy, then physical health will follow.

This is a glimpse into their childhood. This is a glimpse into their relationship as sisters. Their relationships with their quirky, bookish parents. A glimpse into their relationships with their other sisters, and what it was like to grow up with four girls in the house! A glimpse into their marriages, divorces, careers, their children. It's a glimpse into their life, and ultimately the end of Maggie's life.

I thought this was an interesting concept. Getting rid of the emotional baggage can only lead to a better life. While they were on this "soul" journey, Maggie did more living and enjoying the moment than she ever had. The majority of this book is told from Elizabeth's perspective, with little notes from Maggie's personal journal -- even funny little nuggets of Maggie wanting to be an eggplant in her next life.

This is very engaging and very well-written, but...I wasn't necessarily a fan of the author's approach in telling this story. One moment this book is about a deep love a sister has for her sibling. Those moments feel very genuine, very real, very relatable. But at other times, the author focuses on how to lead a better life, a best life. There is nothing wrong with books like that, but in this book that approach feels very clinical. Is this a memoir? Or is this a self-help book? I felt like this book was caught between two worlds. The book was a little disjointed for my taste, but overall I think this will inspire many, including myself, to appreciate what you have!

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours.

Friday, September 16, 2016

My take on: Letters From Paris

Claire Broussard doesn't know what to do with her life. She's never felt quite right with her choices. She's triumphed over tragedy, surviving a trauma that took her mother's life. Rising up from her small Louisiana hometown, going to a "fancy" college and getting a good job in Chicago. But none of it's been satisfying. Now, with the death of her beloved grandmother aka "Mammaw," Claire doesn't have the solution to it all. But Mammaw had an idea, go to Paris!

Claire's journey to the City of Lights is at the heart of Letters From Paris by Juliet Blackwell.

Shortly before Mammaw's death, Claire gave up her job and her life in Chicago. Leaving behind a boyfriend and a lucrative career. Upon her return to Louisiana, Claire discovers a long-forgotten piece of artwork in the attic. The sculpture was long ago broken into several pieces, but Claire can't stop thinking of the beautiful woman's face. Claire's great-grandfather bought the sculpture in Paris during World War II. Who was this woman? What's her story? This beautiful woman is only known as "L'Inconnue" or "The Unknown Woman." Maybe Claire should just let it go. Forget about unearthing the history behind this sculpture. Mammaw didn't think so. In their final conversation, Mammaw encouraged Claire to go to Paris. At first she sees this as the ranting of a dying woman but Claire decides she has nothing else to lose.

As the story shifts to Paris, the author tells us who the mystery woman was. Alternating chapters between the past and the present, we learn that the woman forever immortalized in sculpture was Sabine. A young, impressionable, and vulnerable woman. Desperate for money, Sabine became the muse and model for a violent artist. He preyed upon her innocence and often beat her into submission. Sabine wants to find her own voice, but is unsure how.

In present day Paris, Claire finds the workshop where the sculpture was originally made. The shop is a long-running family business, operated by the surly Armand and his cousin Giselle. Soon Claire finds herself working and living in the small shop, in exchange for information on "L'Inconnue." It sounds crazy. Even though her new "job" is meant to be short term, Claire begins to feel a connection not just to the shop but to Armand and Giselle. Underneath Armand's rough exterior, is a caring person. Armand and Claire learn not just how to work together but to respect each other.

The story starts out a little slow, but in the end this is a well-rounded and satisfying book. I liked the relationship between Armand and Claire the most. At first, Armand seems like a jerk. But he just believes in being direct. He doesn't have time to waste on foolishness. Claire learns to look past his surly demeanor. While others might be put off or scared of Armand, Claire is intrigued by him. She tells him stories about Louisiana. Stories about her family. Stories about her life. Sabine's story was just all around sad. You want Sabine to find her voice and break free. Chapter after chapter, I was thoroughly engrossed in this story. Read it, I'm sure you'll like it!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Berkley) in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Excerpt from The Devil's Work by Mark Edwards!!

 About The Devil's Work by Mark Edwards

It was the job she had dreamed of since childhood. But on her very first day, when an unnerving encounter drags up memories Sophie Greenwood would rather forget, she wonders if she has made a mistake. A fatal mistake.

What is her ambitious young assistant really up to? And what exactly happened to Sophie’s predecessor? When her husband and daughter are pulled into the nightmare, Sophie is forced to confront the darkest secrets she has carried for years.

As her life begins to fall apart at work and at home, Sophie must race to uncover the truth about her new job…before it kills her.


 Read on for an excerpt!!

Prologue 

I lie in bed, scratching at the cold wall, waiting for the sound of footsteps. I knew he would come today, that there was nothing I could do about it. All I could do was hope, pray, that today’s treatment would be psychological. A test. Questions. I can’t face anything else, not today. 

Not the hose. 

Not the belt. 

Here they come: the footsteps. Slow but steady. He comes into the bedroom and orders me to follow him. We go down one set of steps, then another, through the door and into the damp, frigid air of the basement. 

‘Take off your robe,’ he tells me. 

I try to protest but he picks up the belt so I undress as slowly as possible, clinging to every scrap of warmth until I’m naked, shivering, strapped into the chair. 

He wheels the metal trolley over, cursing the wheel that has recently started to squeak. On the surface of the trolley is a leather pouch. He unfolds it and I see what’s inside. Acupuncture needles, handles the colour of dried blood, their sharp tips shining in the artificial light. 

‘Please,’ I say. ‘Please.’ 

He takes the thickest needle from the pouch and moves towards me, licking his dry lips.

Excerpted from THE DEVIL'S WORK © Copyright 2016 by Mark Edwards. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.


About Mark Edwards

Mark Edwards writes psychological thrillers in which scary things happen to ordinary people and is inspired by writers such as Stephen King, Ira Levin, Ruth Rendell and Linwood Barclay.

He is the author of three #1 bestsellers: Follow You Home (a finalist in the Goodreads Choice Awards 2015), The Magpies and Because She Loves Me, along with What You Wish Forand six novels co-written with Louise Voss. All of his books are inspired by real-life experiences.

Originally from the south coast of England, Mark now lives in the West Midlands with his wife, their three children and a ginger cat.


Twitter: @mredwards

Friday, September 9, 2016

My take on: Change Places With Me

"But a name was--well important. It gave you a place on earth that was yours alone." -- Pg. 129

I've said this before, but it bears repeating. I'm not sure what I just read. Change Places With Me by Lois Metzger was one of the more unique books I've read this year. Unique in a good way. I loved A Trick of the Light, also by Lois Metzger, and was intrigued by the premise of her latest book.

In Change Places With Me, there's something different about Rose. The people in her life are the same, but Rose is practically a new person. She used to have a different name, now she wants to be called "Rose." Why? She believes it's the perfect name to match her new outlook on life. After not caring about her appearance, Rose is now dressing to impress not just for her "friends" but for a cute boy named Nick. After years of grieving over the death of her father, Rose has finally learned to be nice to and have compassion for her stepmother, Evelyn. She's developing a friendship with her upstairs neighbor. She's building new "friendships." Her new friends happen to be some of the most popular girls in school. Girls who once hated Rose, but are now tolerating her. She's even reaching out to her estranged best friend, Kim.

Once a miserable teenager, Rose is now bursting with optimism. Anything and everything is possible. But....something might be wrong. Rose's bubble of optimism just might burst. Why? Rose is starting to have doubts herself. She's having trouble trusting her own thoughts and memories. Did something happen to Rose that she's trying to forget? Is her sudden optimism just a mask? A way of coping with pain? A way of coping with grief over her father's death?

This is a compulsive read. This is a short book, but it's not clear right away what the hook is. What's the meat of the story? It took me more than half the book to finally understand what was going on. I kept turning page after page because I wanted to know what's wrong with Rose. I can't say a lot about the second half of the book, I don't want to spoil it for people who haven't read it. I will say that this is an interesting perspective on how teenagers deal with grief and depression, and worth reading!

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

My take on: First Star I See Tonight

It's been a while since I've read a book by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, but I've never been disappointed by her books. Her latest, First Star I See Tonight, was another welcome treat.

A sassy private detective, Piper Dove, and a sexy, arrogant former star quarterback, Cooper Graham, are the very definition of opposites attract. Piper is funny, independent, and loyal. Cooper is like the big man on campus. Now the owner of a hot nightclub, Cooper wants to conquer the world. Everyone in Chicago loves Cooper, at least that's what he believes. Men want to be him, and women want to be with him. Piper, however, is in the minority when it comes to infatuation for Cooper. She's a bit repulsed by him. All Piper wants to do is finish the job she was hired to do.

Hired to follow Cooper by a very wealthy client, Piper gets just a little too close to her new shadow. It doesn't take long for Cooper to figure out that Piper is following him. When confronted by Cooper, rather than selling out her client Piper tells a rather wild story. She tells Cooper she's his stalker. Yes, instead of telling the truth, Piper tells an outrageous story. I had to laugh at that. But it also made me mad. Why tell such a stupid tale, when the truth would solve everything? Piper would rather throw away her career, than sell out a client. Eventually, Cooper learns that Piper is a private detective. He wants her for his team. It's her deep sense of integrity that attracts Cooper to Piper.

Reluctantly, Piper works for Cooper. A client like him could save her floundering business. And...he could light a fire to her non-existent romantic life. Both of them waste so much energy fighting with each other, they don't realize what they need is staring them right in the face. Piper needs Cooper and Cooper needs Piper. All the banter between them is just their form of foreplay! Yes, there are some hot moments between Cooper and Piper. When they finally let their guard down, their vulnerabilities are exposed. Cooper is more than the arrogant jock. Piper is more than a snarky know-it-all. There's a softness and sensitivity to them both. This is the eighth book in the series, but you'd never know it. There are a lot of quirky characters in this book, including Piper's wackadoo neighbors. But the romance between Piper and Cooper is at the heart of the book. Their road to love is funny, smart, and endearing.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours

Sunday, August 28, 2016

My take on: Before the Fall

One summer evening, eleven people boarded a private airplane bound for New York. The takeoff was uneventful. But just minutes into the flight, things take a turn for the worst. The plane plunges into the ocean. Just two people survive, a man who made the flight mere minutes before the door closed, and a four-year-old boy. What led to their survival and the aftermath is at the heart of Before the Fall by Noah Hawley.

Before that fateful flight Scott Burroughs lived in relative obscurity in Martha's Vineyard. He's a recovering alcoholic and a somewhat successful artist. All he wanted to do that night was get to New York, and meet with gallery representatives about his latest collection of paintings. He never imagined he would be on a private plane with a bunch of rich people. But a last-minute invitation from his new friend Margaret "Maggie" Bateman, and Scott is on the plane. Scott doesn't remember a lot about the crash. Somehow he survives, and so does J.J. Bateman, Maggie's son. With little J.J. on his back, Scott manages to swim to safety. It's a miracle! Or is it?

Scott is a hero to the media, and to J.J.'s family. But Scott doesn't think he's a hero. He doesn't want to play the part of a hero. He doesn't know how to handle the pressure. He's thrust into a role he doesn't want. Scott decides to disappear. He chooses to hide at the home of a very rich woman -- a woman he doesn't really like. But she serves a purposes, to hide him from the media. But J.J. is never far from his mind. This little boy has lost his mother, his sister, Rachel, and his father, David. J.J's aunt Eleanor and her husband, Doug, are thrust into the role of parents. Eleanor embraces her new role as mom. She wants what's best for him. Whereas Doug wants what's best for J.J.'s money. David ran a media network, and his multi-million dollar fortune is now J.J.'s. It's not long before Eleanor is questioning her husband's motives.

While Scott and Eleanor deal with the aftermath, the media continues to spin it's own story. First, Scott is the hero but then things start to turn. Bill Cunningham, a rogue anchor at David's network, turns Scott from a hero into a murderer! In Bill's mind, it's suspicious that a no-name painter made it onto a plane with a bunch of rich people. Bill wants to get the "truth" out to the world. His version of the "truth." Was Scott having an affair with Maggie? Why is Scott now shacking up with a rich woman? Was Scott somehow paid to bring the plane down? Why did Scott survive?

Bill's broadcasts are nothing more than innuendo, sensationalism, and immorality rolled into one. Which is an interesting indictment on today's media culture. I think this book reflects what a lot of people believe about the media. In this book, you have a devastating crash. The focus should be on why that happened and how. But all it takes is one person, and a different narrative takes shape. It doesn't matter if the story is wrong. All that matters is that people watch. I loved this book. Sometimes it's a sad read, but it's also a very compulsive read. As I got closer and closer to the end, I didn't want it to end. People are dead and it's hard to read what happened to them. The book alternates between the present and the past. With each passing chapter, readers learn what led up to the passengers and crew boarding the plane. You learn what these people were like. All of them had some kind of emotional issue weighing on their minds. I read that the movie rights have been sold for this book and that Hawley is writing the screenplay, I sincerely hope Hollywood does this story justice!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Grand Central Publishing). Before the Fall is one of the summer selections for She Reads.
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