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Girl Well Read

Girl Well Read 

Published book reviewer, blogger of books & book lifestyle products, wine drinker and polka dot lover. I’d love to review your book next!  Follow me on Instagram and Twitter (@girlwellread), Pintrest, Litsy, Goodreads, LibraryThing, BookLikes, and ReadFeed (Girl Well Read).

 

Girls' Night Out by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke

Girls' Night Out - Lisa Steinke, Liz Fenton

A special thank you to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

For estranged friends Ashley, Natalie, and Lauren, it’s time to heal the old wounds between them. Where better to repair those severed ties than on a girls’ getaway to the beautiful paradise of Tulum, Mexico? But even after they’re reunited, no one is being completely honest about the past or the secrets they’re hiding. When Ashley disappears on their girls’ night out, Natalie and Lauren have to try to piece together their hazy memories to figure out what could have happened to her, while also reconciling their feelings of guilt over their last moments together.

 

Was Ashley with the man she’d met only days before? Did she pack up and leave? Was she kidnapped? Or worse—could Natalie or Lauren have snapped under the weight of her own lies?

 

As the clock ticks, hour by hour, Natalie and Lauren’s search rushes headlong into growing suspicion and dread. Maybe their secrets run deeper and more dangerous than one of them is willing—or too afraid—to admit.

 

Liz and Lisa, what a ride!  This book was fantastic!  The writing is layered, dynamic, and oh so clever.  The character depictions are detailed and fierce and I was completely captivated by the timelines and narratives.    

 

What Fenton and Steinke do best is conversation.  Did you not feel like you were on this trip too?  Beyond the story are deeper themes of secrets, complicated relationships (at what point is a friendship obligatory?) and mystery.  The brilliant aspect of this book is the juxtaposition of complex friendships against a frantic search for a loved one.  Female relationships are complex, but three is never an ideal number and this ratchets the tension even further.  I would highly recommend this book.  

When the Lights Go Out by Mary Kubica

When The Lights Go Out - Mary Kubica

A special thank you to NetGalley, Edelweiss, HarperCollins, and Park Row Books for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

Jessie Sloane had been caring for her mother, Eden, and is now on her own for the first time in her life.  She takes out a lease on an apartment in an old carriage house and applies to college.  But when the college informs her that her social security number belongs to a deceased three-year-old girl, Jessie begins to doubt everything she's ever known.

 

For as long as Jessie can remember, it had only been just the two of them.  When she asked about her father, Eden never disclosed who he was.  The mystery of Jessie's life and who she is becomes further exacerbated by the grief surrounding the death of her mother as well as the lack of sleep—Jessie refuses to sleep because when she fell asleep at the hospital, her mother died, and she feels an incredible amount of guilt.  As the days go by and the insomnia gets worse, Jessie's mind starts to play tricks on her and she can't decipher what is real and what is actually happening.  

 

Twenty years earlier and two hundred and fifty miles away, Eden appears to be happily married and dreams of having a child with her husband, Aaron.  The couple is struggling with infertility and Eden's desperation for a child becomes all-consuming.  Eden makes an impulsive decision that years later has Jessie questioning her whole life—has it been a lie, or have her delusions finally gotten the best of her?

 

Told in alternating perspectives and timelines, the sharp plot is blunted by Jessie's delusions and Eden's obsessive behaviour.  The reader is stuck inside both Jessie's twisted perceptions, not knowing what is real and what isn't, and Eden's emotional breakdown.  As unreliable narrators, Jessie and Eden are the perfect vehicles to execute this psychological thriller.  

 

Kubica is at the top of her game and she pens something totally fresh in When the Lights Go Out.  I would highly recommend this book, it was a fantastic read and I enjoyed the many twists in the plot.  

Sadie by Courtney Summers

Sadie - Courtney Summers

A special thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Sadie hasn't had it easy.  Her drug-addict mother is in and out of her life and Sadie is tasked with raising her little sister, Mattie.

Mattie goes missing and is subsequently found murdered.  This absolutely destroys Sadie and after a botched police investigation, Sadie makes it her mission to bring her sister's killer to justice.  Following what little information she has, Sadie strikes out on her own to find him.

West McCray is radio personality who is working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America.  When he overhears Sadie's story at a local gas station, West becomes obsessed with finding Sadie.  He starts his own podcast that tracks her journey in the hopes of trying to figure out what happened and to find Sadie before it's too late.

Summers contemporary story is not pretty.  It's gritty, raw, and at times unimaginable.  But the sad fact is that what happens to Sadie is not unique and the world can be a dark and terrible place. 

I struggled with Sadie as a character—on one hand, she's a total badass and could be a strong female lead, but on the other, she's basically still a child that has faced some incredibly brutal situations that no one, let alone a child, should be subjected to.     

The alternating points of view is the perfect vehicle for this story.  Sadie's first person voice is vulnerable as evident through her stutter, yet strong as apparent through her sheer determination and will.  She is lost and doesn't want to be found.  The only thing keeping her going is to find and kill the man responsible for Mattie's murder.  West's narrative is true to his occupation as a radio presenter in that he is factual and purposeful.  He frames his views into consumable content, albeit somewhat flippant, because he is reporting and investigating without any personal attachment.  I took this as a comment on the impact of media and how numb we are as a society to things that should be horrific and cause for reaction/action.

The two are on a similar trajectory—Sadie to find the man responsible for her sister's death and West to find Sadie.  With each turn of the page, the reader is hoping for them to collide and Summers capitalizes on this to propel her narrative.  Her pace is spot on.

This book is not for the faint of heart.  Summers preys on the reader's anxiety and ratchets this story to a whole other level.  I actually had to take reading breaks with this one, not only to catch my breath, but because I felt suffocated by Sadie's darkness.  This novel could be a trigger warning for some because of some of the subject matter and should come with a warning to call this out.  

In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende

In the Midst of Winter: A Novel - Isabel Allende

A special thank you to NetGalley, Atria, and Simon & Schuster Canada for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. 

 

Three different people are brought together in an interesting premise that travels from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala in the recent past to Chile and Brazil in the 1970s.

 

The story opens with a minor car accident which becomes the catalyst for an unexpected relationship between two people who thought they were living in the winter of their lives. Richard Bowmaster is a 60-year-old American human rights scholar that had lived for a time in Brazil.  During a snowstorm, Richard hits the car that Evelyn Ortega is driving.  She is a young, undocumented immigrant from Guatemala working as a nanny in the city.  At first it seems like a just a minor fender bender, but when Evelyn turns up at the professor’s house needing help, the situation becomes serious.  Richard doesn't know what to do with the young woman so he calls on his tenant, Lucia Maraz for her advice.  Lucia is a 62-year-old lecturer from Chile who is attracted to Richard but has given up any hope of a more intimate relationship.  

 

These three very different people are brought together in a captivating story.  Allende's narrative moves from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala in the recent past to 1970s Chile and Brazil and sparks the beginning of a long overdue love story between the two older characters, Richard and Lucia.

 

Allende explores the timely issues of human rights and the plight of immigrants and refugees.  It is a much needed novel in these regards.  However, having the story unfold the way it does is a disservice to the weighty topics that she depicts.  The structure is disjointed—the life stories are much more interesting than the modern day storyline that binds the characters together and I felt that Allende should have used another narrative style.  The backstories are beautifully written and incredibly moving in their harsh realities but again, the present day plot takes away from this.  Perhaps this was done on purpose, to juxtapose a love story against the darkness.  

The Husband Hour by Jamie Brenner

The Husband Hour - Jamie Brenner

A special thank you to NetGalley and Little Brown and Company for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

Lauren Adelman marries her high school sweetheart, Rory Kincaid, and they seem to have it all.  They are good looking, popular, and Rory has signed with an NHL team.  Rory shocks everyone—most notably, Lauren—when he enlists in the U.S. Army.  When Rory is killed in combat, Lauren is left devastated and alone.    

 

Lauren is thrust into the public eye and escapes to her family's old beach house when she can hide and be on her own.  However, this summer she's not alone—her domineering mother and contentious sister have also taken up residence at the house.  To top it all off, Matt Brio, a documentarian has tracked her down and convinces her to meet with him.  Lauren is not ready for all of this.  Matt's hour meeting sets in motion a summer of surprises, revelations, and disruption.  She is forced to deal with her grief head on, understand the past, and look toward her future.

 

This book was utterly captivating.  And being a Canadian hockey mom, can I just say that Jamie Brenner did her homework.  

 

Brenner pens characters that are rich and layered and certainly not without flaws.  There is almost a naive quality to the three main female characters in that they don't realize their worth, strength and resilience.  The supporting cast is just as integral to the story and propel the main characters to grow over the course of the narrative.  

 

Whether it be through death, or mourning the loss of a relationship, the theme of grief is an essential part of the story.  Brenner juxtaposes this grief against self-empowerment and this is particularly effective in the growth of her characters.    

 

This is a story of relationships, love, loss, and self-discovery.  It is beautifully written and paced—the story unfolds in stages much like grief and was a thoroughly satisfying read.  This book would make an excellent book club choice.  

After Nightfall by A. J. Banner

After Nightfall - A. J. Banner
A special thank you to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Marissa Parlette and her former best friend, Lauren, have recently reconciled after not speaking for years.  Marissa had extended an olive branch and invited Lauren and her husband to her engagement party.  Only things aren't going so well, Lauren is blatantly hitting on her fiancé and doing so in front of her own husband.  After a tense and awful night, Marissa's body is found at the bottom of a cliff.  Did she fall?  Was she pushed?  Or did she willingly step off?

Desperate to make sense of the tragedy, Marissa digs in.  The party seems to have brought out the worst in her guests, even her fiancé is suspect.  The more Marissa questions, the more she is left confused.  Marissa ends up questioning everything she knows about her friends, the man she loves, and even questions herself.

I had the pleasure of reviewing The Twilight Wife and was impressed, but unfortunately this story fell a little flat for me, but Banner redeemed it at the end.

The plot is interesting with enough twists to keep the reader vested in the story.  When looking at the synopsis, this appears to be a clever book with an interesting cast of characters that are connected enough to add another layer of mystery.  However, the characters were not developed enough and neither was the backstory.  For me this was the difference between 3 and 4 stars.  
 
 

 

Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams

The Summer Wives - Beatriz Williams

A special thank you to Edelweiss and William Morrow for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Beatriz Williams' latest novel is mesmerizing.  Set in the 1950s and '60s, it is a tempestuous story of romance, class, power, secrets, and murder set on picturesque Winthrop Island.

It is the the summer of 1951 and Miranda Schuyler arrives on the elite, yet secretive Winthrop Island in Long Island Sound.  She is a naive eighteen year old who is still reeling from the loss of her father in the Second World War.

Miranda is a graduate of the exclusive Foxcroft Academy in Virginia and has always been on the cusp of high society. When her beautiful mother marries the dashing Hugh Fisher at his family summer home, Miranda is thrust deeper into the world of the elite with their pedigrees and cocktail hours.

Isobel Fisher is Miranda’s new stepsister and she takes Miranda under her wing to educate her on the clandestine ways of the Winthrop upper crust.  She is long-legged, blonde, a bit brash, and adored by her fiancé, Clayton Monk.

The other residents of the island are not wealthy summer families; they are the working class made up of Portuguese fisherman and domestic service people who earn an honest days work from the seasonal inhabitants.  Miranda finds herself attracted to  the lighthouse keeper's son, Joseph Vargas, a lobster fisherman.  He is also a childhood friend of Isobel's and attends Brown's in the hopes of bettering himself.

Almost two decades later, Miranda, now a famous actress, finally returns to the Island.  She is nursing a heartbreak and secrets of her own.  On the surface, the Island appears to be the same, but Miranda quickly realizes that things are not as they appear.  For one, the Fisher family no longer wields the same power and prestige it once did and Greyfriars, the Fisher family summer home, is in complete disrepair.  Also, Joseph has escaped from Sing Sing where he has been serving a sentence for the murder of her stepfather eighteen years earlier.  Miranda makes it her quest to bring justice to the man she once loved and still loves.

This was my first Beatriz Williams' book and I was utterly enchanted!  Williams is extremely seasoned with her character development—she lets the plot unfold through these rich, complex characters and her execution of this tumultuous story was flawless.  The setting was gorgeous as is her writing.  Speaking of gorgeous, can we take a moment to appreciate the beautiful cover?  I love the whole vintage aesthetic and it also comes through in Williams' writing.  The story was perfectly paced and just as visually stunning as the cover.  This book will be THE book of the summer.  

Things To Do When It's Raining by Marissa Stapley

Things To Do When It's Raining - Marissa Stapley

A special thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Canada for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Mae Summers and Gabriel Broadbent were childhood friends.  They grew up together at the Summers' Inn which is owned by Mae's grandparents, Lilly and George.  Mae and Gabriel were raised together—Mae was orphaned at a young age, and Gabriel needed protection from his abusive alcoholic father.  Their relationship progressed into their first loves, and the young couple were torn apart when Gabe abruptly left Alexandria Bay.

Fast forward and Mae and Gabe are grown.  Both end up back in Alexandria Bay—Mae after a romantic setback, and Gabe because of his father.  Mae returns to her grandparents Inn and finds that her grandparents relationship is suffering because of past secrets that also impact her.  Are these relationships worth salvaging and the past worth reclaiming?

Stapley's latest offering is a story about love, loss, forgiveness, and truth.  Families are complicated, and this book doesn't shy away from family drama and complex relationships.

I enjoyed the character development, setting, and premise for this story.  Sometimes when a narrative incorporates both the past and the present, it can be cumbersome for the reader particularly if they have connected with one storyline over the other.  In this case, this type of narrative worked because of well-written characters with solid development.  My only criticisms were that I wanted more of Gabe's present story, and that the ending felt rushed.  Given the pace throughout the book, the ending should not have unfolded as abruptly as it did.      

My Purple Scented Novel by Ian McEwan

My Purple Scented Novel  - Ian McEwan

A special thank you to NetGalley and Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

McEwan pens a wonderful short story about the perfect literary crime to celebrate his 70th birthday!

Written as a confession from Parker Sparrow about his friendship and betrayal of celebrated novelist, Jocelyn Tarbet, this short is riveting from the first word. He is so clever, McEwan actually makes you root for the narrator even though he has plagiarized his best friend. Gah! So brilliant.

The Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll

The Favorite Sister - Jessica Knoll

A special thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Canada for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.   

Five strong, successful women make up the Goal Diggers reality show cast set in New York City. The producers will get more than they bargain for this season when one of the women is murdered.

Brett is the fan favourite. She is only 27 and has launched a highly successful spin studio. That, coupled with her recent engagement, has only increased her popularity and made her the envy of her cast since they are all vying for the spotlight.

Kelly is Brett's older sister, business partner, and the newest cast member. The veterans of the show think she's a cling-on not understanding that growing up, it was Kelly who was the favourite, not Brett.

Stephanie is the oldest on the show, and the first black woman. She is a published author of erotic novels, but her success has come from her memoir in which she has taken some liberties and is afraid of being found out. Stephanie is married to an attractive, non-working actor with a wandering eye. Sounds like the perfect storyline for a reality show, but this season, the focus is on the rift between Stephanie and her former best friend, Brett.

Lauren a successful start-up story whose out-of-control drinking has her poised for a recovery storyline.

Finally Jen, rich and famous from her vegan food line is actually not vegan, and is incredibly ruthless behind the scenes. I pictured her to be like Gwyneth Paltrow chowing down on burgers.  

Can I tell you how riveting this was? Knoll has an incredible knack for writing conversation which is why the premise worked so well—we are also a culture that is obsessed with celebrity and social media, and this story plays right into that hand.

There are multiple characters introduced in the beginning and I had to keep referring back to the character synopsis to keep them all straight and I really hope that this is included in the published book. Certainly not a criticism, but I wanted to mention it because I found it useful. Knoll develops intriguing and complex characters with several layers and once you get into the story, you easily can tell who is speaking and whose point of view it is.  

The title of the book is clever—it speaks to the obvious sisters in the story as well as a nod to the sisterhood of women. It is these relationship dynamics that are present and integral to the narrative.  Knoll's view of the sister/sisterhood is multi-faceted and downright ruthless at times. But she's not wrong. Women are all about coming together and supporting one another however, the flip side is the incredible hypocrisy as women will turn on each other on a dime! Women have to be younger than their male counterparts, thinner, smarter, and so on and unfortunately, we are our worst critics both to ourselves and each other.  Knoll explores all of this through the lens of a reality show. I thought this was a fantastic read.  

The Next Person You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

The Next Person You Meet in Heaven: The Sequel to The Five People You Meet in Heaven - Mitch Albom

A special thank you to Edelweiss and Harper for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Mitch Albom has done it again.  In this delightful sequel to The Five People You Meet in Heaven, we once again meet up with Eddie only this time he is reunited with Annie, the little girl he saved.  This is a story of how we are connected in life and loss.

In The Five People You Meet in Heaven, we meet Eddie, a war veteran that worked at an amusement park as a mechanic.  Eddie died a hero when he saves Annie's life.  Forever scared emotionally and physically (Annie's hand was surgically reattached), Annie's life is forever changed when she endures a life of bullying even though Annie cannot remember what happened to her.  She further struggles when her guilt ridden mother suddenly uproots them and moves away.

Finally finding happiness, as an adult, Annie reconnects with her childhood love Paulo.  The novel opens with the two of them marrying.  Unfortunately their wedding day ends in terrible tragedy and Annie finds herself on her own journey to discover her five people that will show her how her life mattered—one of those people is Eddie.

I can't believe it has been fifteen years since The Five People You Meet in Heaven was published. Fans of the book have always wondered what ever became of Eddie and Annie—this is a testament to an inspiring story when it stays with readers and keeps them wondering.  

In true Albom style, this book is full of life lessons and grace.  Whether you are a spiritual person or not, this book will touch you in some way and is a gift.  The lesson that I took away was that every ending is also a beginning, sometimes we are simply just unwilling to see it as such.

Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda

Best Day Ever - Kaira Rouda

A special thank you to NetGalley, Harlequin Canada, and Graydon House for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Rouda weaves a dark tale of marriage, betrayal, and deception in this page-turning thriller.  Readers are in the mind of narcissist Paul Strom, a handsome and successful advertising executive that is trying to have the "best day ever" with his wife—Strom is a combination of a character from "Mad Men" and Patrick Bateman from American Psycho.  Paul is confident, charming, and thinks that every woman wants him.  

The story begins with Paul and his wife, Mia, leaving for a child-free weekend up at their lake house.  He's promised her that this will be the best day ever.  The couple say this phrase several times during the drive and the reader wonders what is going on with these two.  The tension is palpable and written as such that we don't know the extent of the problem, or if in fact these two even like each other.

Paul is an incredibly unreliable narrator, so narcissistic that he cannot read social cues or navigate relationships.  He thinks that women want him, when in fact he is actually stalking them and the attention that he bestows upon these victims is stalkerish and harassing plain and simple.  The comparison to Ellis' Patrick Bateman is there, although Paul is not quite as polished, and unlike Bateman, there is no likability whatsoever.

Rouda goes out on a whimper.  There needed to be more of a psychological throw down to amp it up to another star.  All-in-all, a great read for the summer and I would definitely recommend this book.

Reading with Patrick: A Teacher, a Student, and a Life-Changing Friendship by Michelle Kuo

Reading with Patrick - Michelle Kuo

A special thank you to Penguin Random House First to Read for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Michelle Kuo is a recent Harvard graduate that finds herself in a rural town in Arkansas as a Teach for America volunteer.  Wanting to make a difference in her students' lives, she is full of optimism but soon discovers how broken the system is.  Kuo tries a different tactic—she  uses quiet reading time and guided writing exercises as a way to instil a sense of self in her students.

Throughout her tenure, Kuo loses students for various reasons.  Some are as simple as truancy and others are harsh and stem from violence.  She also is inspired by some, and one of those students is Patrick who is fifteen and is still in grade eight.  Under Miss Kuo's attention, he flourishes.  However, Michelle is feeling incredible pressure from her Taiwanese immigrant parents to pursue other opportunities and ultimately leaves Arkansas after a couple of years to attend law school.

On the eve of her graduation, Michelle learns that Patrick has been incarcerated for murder.  Murder?  Patrick?  Kuo has incredible guilt and thinks that she is partly responsible because she prematurely left the school.  Determined to right the situation as best she can, Michelle returns to teaching Patrick from his jail cell while he awaits trial.  It is here that we get a sense of both of their characters.  Michelle doesn't waiver in her dedication, even when it appears as though Patrick has forgotten most of what she taught him.

In this moving and inspiring memoir of a teacher that didn't give up on her student, Patrick, Kuo shares the story of her mentorship of Patrick Browning and his incredible journey of self-discovery through literature and writing.  Kuo is also taken on her own journey as she is forced to navigate through several broken systems, racism, social standing, privilege, and relationships.

Friendship can come unexpectedly sometimes, and you never know your impact on someone else's life.  I highly recommend this wonderful story.  

The Best of Us by Joyce Maynard

The Best of Us: A Memoir - Joyce Maynard

A special thank you to NetGalley and Bloomsbury USA for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Joyce Maynard, author and journalist, discovers true love later in life.  Before she met Jim, who we are told several times, has a great head of hair—I imagine Patrick Dempsey gets told this a lot too—Maynard believes she is done with marriage.  She is fiercely independent, but open to companionship and ends up realizing that Jim is more than a companion, he is her partner.

The couple has a whirlwind romance, and marry, only to have their years together cut tragically short.  Jim is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer just after they celebrate their first year of marriage.  Raw, honest, and heartbreaking, Maynard doesn't shy away from sharing the ups and downs of marriage with the added strain of a terminal illness.  She courageously writes about Jim's final days—her writing is beautiful and reminds us that love is fleeting, as is time, and that both are a gift to the heart.  

Generation One (Lorien Legacies Reborn #1) by Pittacus Lore

Generation One - Pittacus Lore

A special thank you to Edelweiss and HarperCollins for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.  I just couldn't get into this book after several tries, but because I committed to reviewing, I limped through.  And by limped, I mean I skimmed.

There is nothing new here, just more of the same from the first series.  But there is something off and I can't put my finger on it.  Perhaps it is the writing, it was very staccato, with choppy and disjointed sentences—maybe this was done on purpose to move the story along at a more rapid pace to lay the groundwork.  I hope that this narrative style doesn't continue throughout. Needless to say, I won't be continuing with this series.  

The Mandela Plot by Kenneth Bonert

The Mandela Plot - Kenneth Bonert

A special thank you to Edelweiss, NetGalley, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Set in 1980s South Africa, The Mandela Plot centres around Martin Helger—a student at an all-boys private school in Johannesburg that doesn't quite fit in unlike his brother who is a mysterious legend.  Martin is bored with his mundane life until a beautiful American girl, Annie Goldberg, arrives.  Martin finds himself no longer in his protective bubble and is immersed into the political and societal struggles.  

Oh boy..where do I start?  I had the honour of reviewing Bonert's first book The Lion Seeker and it was a stunning debut.  But this sophomore effort coming of age tale just simply didn't resonate with me.  Honestly, I can't put my finger on it—perhaps it was the dialogue?  It was very hard for me to get into the book with several failed attempts and start overs.  That being said, once I did get into the story, I did enjoy parts of it.  The characters are complex, some are well-developed, and others, like Martin are underdeveloped.  Bonert clearly has a gift; there are some beautiful passages, but the lengthy paragraphs are unnecessary bulk and the slang stunts the reader (of note: there is a glossary at the end of the book).