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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).

 

The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy

The Perfect Mother - Aimee Molloy

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

 

A mommy group dubbed as the May Mothers meet at a park twice a week to discuss being new mothers, swap stories, alleviate their anxieties, and offer advice and support.

 

It is one of the hottest summers on record.  As a break from the heat, and the babies, the members decide a night out is in order at the local hip bar.  Winnie, a single mother, had never left her six-week-old infant, Midas.  One of the May Mothers offers up her babysitter so that Winnie can join them, insisting everything would be fine.  On this stifling Fourth of July, something goes terrifyingly wrong: one of the babies is abducted right from his home.  Midas is missing and the police are asking disturbing questions that are putting Winnie's private life on display and the media can't get enough.

 

None of the other members are particularly close to the guarded Winnie, yet three of them will go to great lengths to help find her baby.  Secrets are exposes, relationships are tested, and the mothers are scrutinized.  

 

All I can say is, what a surprise!  Apparently this book will be adapted for the big screen and will star Kerry Washington (um...yes, please).  Molloy's novel is also eagerly anticipated as one of this coming summer's must reads and I would definitely recommend it as well.    

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

Then She Was Gone - LISA JEWELL

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

 

Laurel Mack's daughter has been missing for ten years.  Ellie was the perfect daughter—beloved by her family, friends, teachers, and boyfriend.  She was fifteen when she disappeared, just days before school let out for summer.  The case had gone cold, the police believed that Ellie ran away, that is until new evidence surfaces.    

 

Not only did Laurel lose her daughter, but her marriage did not survive.  She also has strained relationships with her two other children.  To stay close to her other daughter, Hannah, she cleans her flat, and she he barely sees her son, Jake, who lives with his girlfriend in another town.      

 

To her surprise and delight, Laurel meets a charming man in a cafe.  What starts out as flirtation quickly turns into something more meaningful.  Floyd is a single father of two, and before she knows it, Laurel is being introduced to his daughters.  When Laurel meets Poppy, his youngest, she is stunned.  Poppy looks exactly like Ellie.  All of the questions Laurel has pushed down for years come bubbling to the surface.  Where did Ellie go?  Did she really run away?  And why does this little girl resemble her missing daughter?    

 

Told through multiple points of view, and alternating from past to present, Jewell pens some interesting and engaging characters with enough backstory to keep the reader vested and engaged.  There is one minor plot flaw, but if you can suspend your disbelief, you may not be bothered.  

 

With an incredible hook, this is Lisa Jewell's best book yet.  Predictable?  A little.  Heartbreaking?  Yes.  Dark and twisty?  Check and check!  Although there was nothing new here, I would recommend this book for those looking for a page-turning, thrilling read.  

 

Every Note Played by Lisa Genova

Every Note Played - Lisa Genova

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

 

This stunning, raw, heartbreaking glimpse into the world of ALS from Lisa Genova will leave you emotionally spent and in awe of those living with this cruel disease, and in awe of their loved ones and the real-life superheroes that are their caregivers.  

 

Richard is a renowned pianist that sells out concerts all over the world, a fine-tuned instrument that executes his performances with precision and passion.  Fast forward eight months—Richard has been diagnosed with ALS and no longer has the use of his right arm.  The loss of his hand is like the loss of a true love, like his own divorce from Karina.  It is only a matter of time before it is his left hand, and the rest of his body.  

 

Karina hasn't moved on from her divorce from Richard, in fact she is stuck in limbo in an unfulfilling life as a piano teacher.  It is easy for her to blame Richard for where she has ended up and for the dissolution of the marriage.  

 

When the disease progresses to the point that Richard is fully paralyzed, Karina reluctantly steps in to care for him.  He moves back in with Karina, in the home that they once shared with their daughter, Grace, who is away at university.  As Richard becomes a shell of a man he once was, the couple is forced to face their regrets head on and learn what it means to forgive.  

 

What I love about Genova's books is her ability to educate her reader, not only in matters of the heart and relationships, but about actual neurological diseases and conditions that most would not be familiar with unless they were affected personally.  She doesn't "dumb-it-down", instead she elevates her reader and empowers them with knowledge.  It is this knowledge that makes her stories rich, not only in information, but in character development, yet doesn't bog down the narrative.  Her writing is poignant, sharp, and captivating.  Lisa, congratulations on this book, and your continued success—it is always a pleasure to read and review your work.    

I Found My Tribe by Ruth Fitzmaurice

I Found My Tribe - Ruth Fitzmaurice

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

This rambling, manic at times, narrative is a raw and honest book about living with MND (here in Canada known as ALS—amyotrophic lateral sclerosis—or Lou Gehrig's disease). Ruth Fitzmaurice's filmmaker husband, Simon, was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2008. He is wheelchair-bound, not able to move or breathe on his own, and can only communicate through the use of an eye gaze computer. It is these eyes that Ruth uses as the windows in which to find her husband—she knows he is still in there even though he can't speak to her, or touch her.

Ruth and Simon are parents to five children, all under the age of ten. As if that weren't chaos enough, there is a constant parade of nurses that come and go 24 hours a day, and a gaggle of pets including an aggressive basset hound. One of the many challenges Ruth faces is to find any sort of peace in the chaos, any moment of stillness and calm to keep her sane and grounded. She craves connections, whether it be to her "Tragic Wives' Swimming Club", or to her favourite nurse, Marian. Human connection is so important to survival, especially in times of tragedy.

Fitzmaurice doesn't use any type of timeline, or write in any kind of order. Instead, she chunks her staccato type narrative into mini essays. To be honest, it took me a while to get into her groove, there are times where she is all over the place and scattered and it feels like she has simply taken every thought in her head and put it on the page in order to make sense of her life. While this type of writing doesn't appeal to everyone, it works for this book. This memoir is raw, honest and heartbreaking, while at the same time showing the beauty of love. It inspires, and demonstrates the resilience of the human spirit. Ruth is unabashedly open with her thoughts and feelings and I think she is incredibly brave to bare her life in this way.

Unraveling Oliver by Liz Nugent

Unraveling Oliver: A Novel - Liz Nugent

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

 

Liz Nugent's dark and compelling thriller opens with the perfect hook: "I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her."  Told from multiple points, Nugent's debut is a chilling exploration into the nature of evil.  

 

Oliver Ryan is a handsome, charismatic, and successful children's author.  He is married to Alice, who illustrates his award-winning books.  She is a devoted wife, and their life is one of envy and privilege until one evening, Oliver knocks her into unconsciousness and beats her into a coma hovering between life and death.    

 

Those who know the couple are shocked and are trying to understand what could have driven Oliver to attack his wife so savagely.  With each chapter, the story unfolds, and the layers of Oliver's character are peeled away to reveal his manipulation, deception, and shame.

 

Nugent has a fresh approach to this genre—there is no question of whodunit, and there is no doubt as to what the crime was.  Instead she takes the reader on a ride to figure out what could have driven someone to commit such a horrific act.  For a debut, this is a solid effort, and I can't wait to see what Nugent writes next.  

Brother by David Chariandy

Brother - David Chariandy

A special thank you to NetGalley, Penguin Random House Canada, and McClelland & Stewart for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

This gorgeous and powerful novel is the winner of the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, longlisted for the 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize, a Globe and Mail Best Book, and a Quill & Quire Best Book of 2017.

 

Brother is a tight and compact novel that packs a huge punch. Chariandy explores questions of race, class, family, identity, and social standing. Set in a Scarborough housing complex during the summer of 1991, violence is at a peak as is the heat.

Michael and Francis, the brothers, are the sons of Trinidadian immigrants. Their father has disappeared and to keep them afloat, their mother works double/triple shifts so that her boys have every opportunity in their adopted homeland.

 

This coming-of-age story takes place in The Park—a cluster of town homes in the outskirts of one of Canada's major cities. The boys' options are limited as they battle against stereotypes, prejudices, poverty, and the low expectations that confront young black men; they are perceived as thieves from shopkeepers, less intelligent from their teachers, and strangers fear them. The brothers' only escape is the Rouge Valley, a lush green wilderness that perforates their neighbourhood, and it is here where they imagine a better life from what they are destined for.

 

The boys witness a tragic shooting of an acquaintance, a boy named Anton, and they are handcuffed and roughed up by the police. The police crack down on hem, and in doing so, suffocate their hopes and dreams of a better life. It is this event that drives Francis' anger and pulls away from his family and into his gang—a group of boys who are interested the exploration of music in the form of hip hop in its infancy.

 

Chariandy's novel is a devastatingly emotional piece. It opens ten years after the event that altered their family and left their mother constrained by grief. The family still live in the same rundown apartment although the roles are now reversed and it is Michael who is the caregiver to his mother in her fragile state. The narrative shifts between past and present and it is the sheer force of it that drives the story. Short in length, but lasting, this story will linger with the reader long after the last page is turned.

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Manhattan Beach: A Novel - Jennifer Egan

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

Egan's latest offering takes place in America during the Depression.  Twelve-year-old Anna Kerrigan accompanies her father to visit Dexter Styles, a man who she perceives to be important.  Anna can't help but notice the lavish house equipped with servants, toys for the children, and the pact between Styles and her father.

Years later the country is at war, Anna's father has disappeared, and she has to support her mother and disabled sister with work at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  Because of the war, women are allowed to work and perform jobs that were traditionally jobs for men.  She becomes the first female diver—an incredibly dangerous occupation—repairing naval ships.  Anna meets Dexter Styles at a nightclub and realizes that he is the man she visited with her father before his disappearance.  Styles has ties to the mob and Anna begins to understand the complexity of her father's life.    

The first section is smart, sharp, and brilliantly executed.  Egan's writing is solid, exactly what you would expect.  Then the novel makes one of many jumps in time and the story becomes scattered.  There is a complete lack of harmony and the reader is left with a rambling narrative that is a mash-up of three stories.  Hinging on boring at times, I didn't connect with the characters, or the plot, and this is disappointing because Egan has obviously done her homework.  

Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella

Surprise Me: A Novel - Sophie Kinsella

A special thank you to NetGalley, Edelweiss, and Random House for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

I have also had the pleasure of reviewing My Not So Perfect Life and couldn't wait to read Surprise Me.  Sophie Kinsella, you've done it again!  I absolutely adore your writing and your words make me smile.  (If you haven't listened to one of Kinsella's books, I highly recommend it, especially if narrated by Jayne Entwistle.)  

 

This witty and at times emotional novel takes a closer look at marriage and how we can still be surprised by those we think we know best.  Sylvie and Dan have been together for ten blissful years.  They have a lovely home life complete with twin girls, fulfilling careers, and an envy worthy relationship.  A trip to the doctor predicts that they will live for another 68 years—this gives new meaning to "until death us do part" when it spans seven more decades together.

 

To keep the marriage alive, Project Surprise Me is born.  The couple will surprise each other to keep things fresh and exciting.  But is seems that each "surprise" exposes the flaws in their relationship and drives them apart.  

 

Sylvie seemingly enjoys her work at a museum even though there are some pretty archaic systems in place—the owner, Mrs. Kendrick resists technology and Sylvie chalks this up to as charming.  Mrs. Kendrick's nephew, Robert, takes an interest in the operations of the museum and questions their methods and systems.  Is he trying to close down the museum and turn it into two-bedroom condos?     

 

Facing changes both personally and professionally, Sylvie experiences a tremendous amount of growth.  She adored her late father and has kept up the Princess Sylvie persona he created as a way to honour him, when in actual fact, she is doing herself and her family a disservice because she is not being true to herself.        

 

I fell in love with the supporting cast of characters, this is really where Kinsella excels at writing.   The tender exchanges between Sylvie's neighbours John and Owen were some of the most beautiful writing in the book.  One of my favourite quotes is when John says "Love is finding one person infinitely fascinating."

 

Kinsella's latest work is charming, thoughtful, and simply delightful.

All the Beautiful Lies by Peter Swanson

All the Beautiful Lies: A Novel - Peter Swanson

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

 

Alternating between past and present, Swanson's newest domestic psychological thriller is a standout in the genre which seems to be increasingly popular as of late.  

 

Harry Ackerson is set to graduate from college when he receives word from his stepmother, Alice, that his father has died in what appears to be a suicide.  Devastated, Harry skips his graduation ceremony and travels to his late father's home in Maine.  

 

Harry and Alice lean on one another to pick up the pieces after such a monumental loss.  For Harry, things start to become uncomfortable and awkward with Alice—he has always considered her attractive, and she has been nothing short of kind to him.  Alice is also 15 years younger than his father was.

 

A mysterious young woman named Grace makes Harry's acquaintance shortly after he arrives.  She claims to be new to the area, but she was at Harry's father's funeral.  Things aren't adding up, and Grace seems to know more than she is letting on.  Grace is not the only woman with interest in Harry, Alice is also growing closer and ends up seducing him.  The more involved Harry gets to with these women, the more he realizes that he doesn't know them at all.  Both women are hiding secrets and the truth about who they really are.  Things are not what they appear, including his father's death which is now looking like murder.

 

Swanson excels at character development and this novel is no exception.  He has a gift for writing characters that are boarder on being psychotic, yet believable.  There is a cleverness and preciseness to Swanson's storytelling without being overly dark.  With just enough plot twists, the story is not predicable or confusing.  If you like psychological thrillers, I encourage you to pick up this, or any of Peter Swanson's other books.  

Odd Child Out by Gilly MacMillan

Odd Child Out: A Novel - Gilly Macmillan

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

 

MacMillan's second instalment in the Jim Clemo series is about inseparable best friends.  Despite their vastly different cultures—Noah Sandler is British and Abdi Mahad a Somali refugee—their loyalty sees no boundaries.  After what appears to be a prank gone wrong, Noah is found floating unconscious in a canal in Bristol, and Abdi has been shocked into silence.  

 

Detective Jim Clemo is just back from a mandatory leave as a result of his last case.  Because the investigation seems cut and dried, it is assigned to him.  After tragedy strikes, it is apparent that the case it is more than just an accident.  Social tensions begin to rise as the families fight for their sons and seek the truth.  

 

Told from alternating perspectives, MacMillan's story is a slow, tense burn with a deep plot.  She effectively and deftly captures how relentless the press are.  This is especially relevant and relatable in today's climate—whether they print facts, fiction, or a little of both, people will believe it is spun the right way.  However, there are times where the narrative was clunky which accounts for some of its unnecessary bulk.    

 

While the premise is interesting, the characters were at times a bit too stereotypical and because of this, there are times where the story becomes a bit contrived.  All-in-all, a good read and I will definitely be checking in with Detective Clemo again.     

 

 

Little Broken Things by Nicole Baart

Little Broken Things: A Novel - Nicole Baart

A special thank you to NetGalley and Atria Books for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

Past secrets and strained relationships are at the heart of Nicole Baart's newest novel, Little Broken Things.  Nora, estranged from her sister, Quinn, sends a cryptic text before showing up on her doorstep with a six-year-old girl.  Nora abruptly leaves the girl in Quinn's care with the instructions to keep her safe, and not to ask any questions.  Quinn and her mother, Liz, believe that the girl may be Nora's daughter.  

 

By telling the story through multiple viewpoints—Quinn, Nora, Liz, and Nora's friend, Tiffany—Baart slowly reveals the circumstances that led Nora to leaving the little girl in her sister's care.  Other past indiscretions are also brought to light to help explain why the relationships between the women are so strained.  Not everything is how it appears from the outside; Liz kept up appearances at all costs, no matter how exhausting and this was the trade off to preserve what she envisioned her image to be as a wife, mother, friend, and socialite.    

 

At times this novel is not an easy read; Baart tackles some pretty big issues.  Even though I wasn't blown away with the ending, I still enjoyed this exploration of familial relationships.  Sometimes the most fragile bonds are with those we love the most.  

The Other Girl by Erica Spindler

The Other Girl - Erica Spindler

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

Officer Miranda Rader is known for her dedication, hard work, honesty, and integrity—she's the steadfast leader in a crisis. But Miranda wasn't always that way. She grew up as a wild small-town girl from the wrong side of the tracks. Working hard to earn the respect of her position as a police officer with the Hammond PD, Miranda has left 'Randi' in the past.

A respected and admired college professor, Richard Stark, has been brutally murdered. Stark's father happens to be the president of the college and he is putting tremendous pressure on the force to find out who killed his son. Miranda is called for duty to investigate the murder and what looks like to be a crime of passion however something isn't sitting right with Miranda. She is shocked not only at the horrific nature of the crime, but to find a newspaper clipping from her past also at the scene.

Then a retired police officer turns up dead—this officer is Clint Wheeler, the policeman that took her statement that terrible night from the newspaper article. On the surface, these murders appear unrelated, but they have one commonality, Miranda.

Miranda becomes further involved when her fingerprints are found at the scene from the first murder. Everything she has worked so hard for is in jeopardy as her character is questioned. Is she being set up? Is this related to what happened to her all those years ago? Relationships are tested, truths become lies, and evidence tainted. Will Miranda have to reinvent herself again, this time proving once and for all that she is innocent?

The story starts off strong, there is a nice hook, but it deflates quickly. There were too many conveniences in the plot and this could have been avoided if the back story or side plots were fleshed out. For a cop, Miranda is a little daft—she misses a lot of clues that are obvious to the reader. I didn't find it overly psychological in nature, and the story was lacking originally and a good twist. That being said, this was still an enjoyable read and I would definitely pick up this author again.

Look For Her by Emily Winslow

Look For Her - Emily Winslow

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

The fourth in a series, Winslow is getting better with each book.  Told from various points of view in first person narrative, this case is about a cold case of a beautiful missing girl from a small English village.

In 1976, Annalise Wood, a teenage girl disappears on her way home from school.  Her body was later discovered, the person responsible for the crime was never found.  Decades later, Annalise is a celebrity of sorts to the small town and for one woman especially.  Named after the dead girl, Annalise Williams believes that sharing the same name has bonded her to the dead girl.

DNA linked to the Annalise murder surfaces and investigator Morris Keene enlists the help of his former partner, Chloe Frohmann to finally solve the mystery and bring closure to the residents of Lilling.  As the investigation progresses, more questions arise rather than answers, the body that was perceived to be the missing girl may be someone else and that a recent drowning also has connections to the cold case.

The partnership between Keene and Frohmann is what great detective series are made of.  These characters are flawed, but endearing, and just so likeable.  The perspective of Dr. Laurie Ambrose added to the story giving it more of an edge and pushing it more into the psychological thriller genre.

My only criticism is how Winslow ties up some of the storyline.  Again, her downfall is linking too many of the supporting cast—it feels a little forced and sometimes convenient.

Finally, finally the marketing team at William Morrow has stopped using Donna Tartt to advertise these books.  

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Kevin

Young Jane Young - Gabrielle Zevin

A special thank you to NetGalley and Penguin Random House Canada for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Heavily influenced by the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Zevin tackles slut-shaming in her newest book Young Jane Young and it is glorious!  She examines the double standards, sex scandals, and misogyny that resides not only in politics, but in life.  Women everywhere face these issues and are often silenced from the shame, and the threat of losing everything they have worked so hard for.

Before becoming Jane Young the wedding planner, Aviva Grossman was an ambitious, bright intern with the congressman's office.  Aviva has an affair with her boss, the congressman himself, and blogs about it.  True to life, when the affair is made public, it is Grossman that goes down while the beloved congressman carries on.  Aviva becomes the punchline and butt of many jokes—she is labelled as fat, ugly, and a slut.  She is not employable or dateable and sees no other way out that to change her identity and move away to a remote town in Maine.

On top of running her own event planning business, Jane is also navigating being a single mother to Ruby.  Even though she has started her life over, politics doesn't seem to be out of her system and she decides to run for office.  Unfortunately for Jane, the past catches up with her (the internet is forever) and it is only a matter of time before Ruby discovers who her mother really is/was.  Ruby is the vehicle through which Jane must face not only her past, but Aviva herself.  

Told through the voices of Aviva/Jane, Aviva's mother Rachel, Ruby, and Embeth Levin (the congressman's wife), we hear all sides of the story.  Zevin's characters are not without flaws.  In fact, it is these flaws that drive the story forward and this type of narrative is the perfect vehicle to accomplish this.  She effortlessly moves from past to present without confusion.  Her writing is witty, fresh, and thought provoking.

The Visitors by Catherine Burns

The Visitors - Catherine Burns

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

I have been reading a lot of thriller/mystery books lately, and while this is not a fast-paced, page-turning type of thriller, it is still true to the genre—it is more in the gothic and psychological vein.   Burns writes a character-driven novel about a brother and sister with an almost Hitchcock feel to it.

Marion Zetland is a fifty-something spinster shut in who lives with her controlling older brother, John.  The siblings still live in their family home, a Georgian townhouse is a seaside town.  Despite having money, the house is literally decaying and is filled with garbage, dust, and secrets.  

Told from Marion's perspective, Burns' character study is no less than fascinating.  Marion is child-like, but not innocent.  She has been beaten down her whole life, first by her overbearing mother and now by her domineering brother.  Denial is her coping mechanism—when at all possible, she either daydreams or simply turns a blind eye.  Her only friends seem to be her collection of stuffed toys.  She uses these as an escape, especially to what John has locked in the cellar.

After John's has a heart attack, Marion is forced to forced to go down to the basement to face what her brother has kept locked up.  She also has to navigate the outside modern world and other responsibilities that John has normally handled.  Things start to unravel and there is a glimpse that John isn't the only one with a dark side.

If you like books that cross the line into the macabre, then this book is for you.  Like the house, it is grimy and gritty and utterly disturbing.

The Night Child by Anna Quinn

The Night Child: A Novel - Anna Quinn

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

Nora Brown is a high school English teacher.  She leads a low-key life in Seattle with her husband, Paul, and six-year old daughter, Fiona.  After dismissing her class for Thanksgiving weekend, Nora sees the face of a young girl.  She is filled with terror and confusion—is she hallucinating or could this be related to the headaches she has been having? 

The next day while on vacation, Nora sees the face again and is left shaken and disturbed.  She consults with a neurologist and eventually sees a psychiatrist to work through the visions and what they mean.  Through these sessions, Quinn moves the narrative.  We learn that Nora is the victim of a traumatic childhood and as a result has suffered a psychological breakdown.  As the plot unravels so does Nora as she begins to fear that what happened to her could happen to her daughter.  The character dissension is sharp and swift and Nora's husband—who has stepped out on their marriage—is less than supportive.  He has completely checked out of the relationship and has little patience for her.   

As stated, this book is not for the faint of heart—there is sexual violence, child abuse, death, mental illness, and suicide.