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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
A special thank you to NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Kit Owens and Diane Fleming have a complicated past. Before Diane transferred into her high school chemistry class, Kit was just a regular student. Diane's brilliance pushed Kit, and the two became friends—that is until Diane confessed a chilling secret to Kit that changed everything between them and almost derailed Kit's life.
Fast forward more than a decade and Kit is a scientist working in a lab. Her past collides with her work when she learns that Diane Fleming is her competition for a highly coveted opportunity to work on a groundbreaking new study led by their idol, Dr. Severin. The two former friends find themselves once again vying to get noticed, only this time, they share a secret that could derail everything that they have worked so hard for.
Abbott is a master with imagery. The theme of blood is prevalent, both in the colour red and subject matter. I enjoyed reading about the PMDD study and the hysteria that ensues as a result. This makes for interesting subject matter as well as an interesting premise.
The girls have such an complicated dynamic that blurs between friendship and rivalry—an interesting relationship to explore in today's climate where successful women are often pitted against one another. Abbot further examines this by illustrating how difficult it is for a woman to succeed in a male-dominated field like the sciences. Her character study is amazing. Diane is a complete sociopath that oddly captivates everyone she comes in contact with, including the reader.
It was dark and twisty with just enough suspense that is built by consequence. Abbot does not reveal her hand, she plays her cards one at a time, her pace is spot-on! The writing is tight, she leaves nothing to the imagination which is refreshing.
This was a thrilling page-turner and I could totally see this being adapted into a movie. Congratulations, Megan, on another master of a thriller. Well done!
A special thank you to NetGalley, Edelweiss and Park Row Books for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Lucy Sparks hits her head after suffering a winter weather related fall. When she wakes up in the hospital with her parents and co-worker, Matt, by her side, she wonders where her husband, Daniel, is. She believes that Daniel is her husband, but he's actually her ex-boyfriend that she hasn't spoken to in four years.
She is suffering from what are fictitious memory recollections and her life as she knows it is completely different from her actual life. Essentially, it's like honest lying—Lucy's memories are false, but because she can even recall such vivid detail, the memories seem incredibly real to her. Given that Lucy's memory can't be trusted and that this may be a permanent condition, it is a devastating experience for her friends, family, and especially for Matt. You see Matt is Lucy's doting boyfriend, not just her coworker which is how Lucy remembers him.
Despite Matt's best efforts, Lucy continues to have feelings for Daniel. Lucy must make a difficult choice about which life she wants to lead, who she wants to lead it with, and who she really is.
Karma Brown is one of my new favourite authors. I had the pleasure of attending an author event featuring Karma last May and she is delightful! It was a high tea and book signing at the King Eddy in Toronto that was hosted by BookClubbish. Lainey, as in gossip maven, etalk correspondent, co-host of The Social, and founder of laineygossip.com Lainey, joined Karma for a Q&A session. The women chatted about the writing process—Lainey has also has written a book Listen to the Squawking Chicken: When Mother Knows Best, What's A Daughter To Do? A Memoir (Sort Of)—what it's like being a woman in the publishing industry, and where Karma gets her inspiration from. Both ladies were well-spoken and super interesting! If you have an opportunity to attend an event with Karma, I highly recommend you do so, you won't be disappointed.
For fans of Karma's books, The Life Lucy Knew is a bit of a detour in style, but one that I liked! Without giving anything away, the ending of this novel is further developed than her other stories and in this case it really worked. Also unique to this book was all of the Canadian references and I enjoyed Toronto's presence in the story.
Karma is such a gifted writer. There were a few decisions that could have gone either way, and any of those scenarios would have worked because her writing is that good. Congratulations, Karma. Another fantastic read and I can't wait for your next book!
A special thank you to NetGalley, Edelweiss and Simon & Schuster Canada for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Lauren Weisberger is back and so is Emily Charlton!
Readers will remember Emily from The Devil Wears Prada as Miranda Priestly's chief assistant. Emily is now living in Hollywood and is an image consultant for the rich and famous. Although her roster of clients includes high profile celebrities, she is losing clients to another younger image consultant and seems to be in a downward spiral. She needs to put herself back on top—nobody does damage control like Emily, but the problem is she is hopeless when it comes to social media.
Karolina Hartwell is the ex-model wife of a senator on track for the presidency. Their life seems picture perfect until Karolina is arrested for a DUI with a Suburban full of children.
Although the women met at Runway years earlier, Miriam is the link between them. She was a partner at a prestigious Manhattan law firm, but decided to move to the suburbs of Greenwich, CT to spend more time with her children. Being a stay-at-home mom in a wealthy affluential neighbourhood sounds like every woman's dream, but Miriam is discovering that it is more stressful than her high-profile job.
The three women band together over Karolina's woes to navigate their way through life in the burbs. All is not as it appears, Hollywood has nothing over Greenwich.
Can I tell you that I tore through this book? It was completely addictive and indulgent. And the title...can we just take a moment to appreciate how clever and cheeky it is?
Weisberger has penned three very different, but as equally intriguing, characters. Fans of The Devil Wears Prada are not going to be disappointed. In my opinion, this was far better than Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns and I'm wondering if it is because this book came home to the characters that made the series what it was, Emily and Miranda.
This book should be top of your summer reads pile. Perfect for discussing with your girlfriends over your favourite cocktails! Cheers, Lauren Weisberger.
A special thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Canada for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Harriet, who goes by Hal, is down on her luck. She reads tarot cards on the Brighton pier and struggles to make ends meet. She is all alone after her mother was tragically is killed by a hit-and-run a few years earlier. When she receives a letter that bequeathes a large inheritance, Hal knows it to be a mistake but acts on it anyway. She only needs a few thousand pounds to change her luck once and for all—she deserves a bit of happiness.
She makes the trip down the English coast to attend the funeral of her "grandmother" and meet her "family". Being able to read people as well as she does, Hal quickly realizes that something is very wrong with the situation and finds herself at the centre of it because it revolves around the inheritance.
It turns out what she thought was a lie, may actually hold some truth, and someone is determined to keep it a secret.
Ruth Ware, this is fantastic! I loved it as much as The Woman in Cabin 10. You truly are a master of your genre.
She's checked all the boxes: a creepy old house, suspense, symbolism. But the best part is the writing—Ware reveals just enough to keep the reader completely enthralled, but doesn't give anything away. I especially loved the use of the tarot cards to help Hal figure out what's going on. "Don't rush—her mother's voice in her head. Build your story. Lay it out—card by card." That's exactly what Ware does. Brilliant!
A special thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Kristin Hannah's newest book takes place in Alaska in the 70s and 80s. The land is wild, unpredictable, and harsh. The Allbrights think Alaska will be their salvation, but for a family in turmoil, it will become the ultimate test of survival.
Ernt Allbright has returned from the Vietnam war a broken and volatile man. After losing another job, he makes a rash decision to move his little family north, to Alaska, where he has been left property by a fallen soldier. Here they can make a fresh start, live off the land and by their own rules.
Leni is thirteen and is the voice of reason in her parents' passionate and tempestuous marriage. She hopes that the new opportunity will lead to a better life for her family. Her mother Cora would follow Ernt anywhere, even at the cost of a relationship with her parents.
They seem to be adjusting well to life on the great frontier. They have forged relationships with some men and women in the community that show them the ropes and how to survive. Winter is coming and they need to learn how to prepare and survive the wrath of Mother Nature. When winter arrives with dark days, Ernt's mental state suffers and he turns just as dark. Life outside is nothing compared to life inside their small cabin. The women are isolated—they are on their own with no one to save them so they must save themselves.
Hannah explores the resilience of the human spirit juxtaposed against the beauty of Alaska. This is a story of love, loss, survival, and man against nature and himself. I was completely caught up in the the story, it was absolutely riveting. Hannah's writing is such a gift. Her descriptions of Alaska were sweeping and vivid. Alaska becomes a character and at times is the hero and other times is the villain.
The theme of survival dominates the story—the family are surviving the harsh winter and the women are surviving the harsh realities of living with a POW with post-tramatic stress. Cora and Leni must carefully navigate Ernst's outbursts that lead to his explosive rage and violent outbursts. Hannah does an incredible job in her execution—you hate Ernst for his abuse and yet you feel sorry for him because he is living with an undiagnosed mental illness. The reader also flip flops with their loyalty to Cora—there is a level of frustration for staying with Ernst and exposing Leni to his violence, but on the other hand you pity her because she is a victim of domestic abuse.
Hannah pens some dynamic supporting characters. I just wish she would've come up with something more original than 'Large Marge'. She creates a whole town of interesting personalities that are integral to the plot. This is no small feat.
The difference between 4 and 5 stars is because of the last part of the book. There was a disconnect and I wasn't as invested in their journey by that point. Without spoiling the ending, it didn't work for me. I wonder if her editor made her rewrite it? That being said, Hannah fans are going to love this book.
A special thank you to NetGalley and Random House for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Tension permeates a close-knit neighbourhood and happy marriage after an unexpected violent act.
Nora and Charlie Nolan seem to have it all. They live on a dead end street in a lovely home in a New York City neighbourhood. Their twins are away at college and all is well. Nora has always loved the city and Charlie loves it even more now that he has secured a highly coveted parking spot. One morning, Nora returns home from her run only to discover a terribly tragedy has occurred that has shaken her once tight community. Cracks start to appear in her seemingly charmed life, not only on the block, but at her job, and her marriage.
In Anna Quindlen's latest book, she explores motherhood, being a wife, and a woman in the stages of unravelling.
Quindlen is a fantastic writer, and this book is no exception. However, it took me a long time to get into the book and by time the story really started to develop (after the "incident"), I had checked out.
I liked the parallel between Charlie and Nora's dead-end marriage with them living on a dead-end street. But, the parking space and a mundane marriage seem to eclipse the rest of story. Or maybe because the first part of the book is so drawn out that the reader is just not as vested in any of the issues. Maybe it's because I live in the burbs, but I couldn't relate to the parking issue and felt that it had too much presence in the story. Perhaps because NYC was so integral, the city was almost a character in itself, that Qindlen dedicated so much to the parking space.
Unfortunately for me, this one is a pass. It was just okay.
A special thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
At sixteen, Anglea Wong, one of the most popular girls at school, disappeared. She left behind wonderful parents, and two best friends, Georgina Shaw and Kaiser Brody.
Fourteen years later, Angela's remains are found in the woods right near the house that Geo grew up in. Her father, a respected physician still lives in the family home. Nobody ever suspected that Geo, now an executive at a pharmaceutical company owned by her fiancé's family, had anything to do with Angela's disappearance.
Kaiser, now a detective with the Seattle PD, learns that Angela was a victim of Calvin James a.k.a. the "Sweetbay Strangler" who is also responsible for the murders of at least three other women. To Geo, Calvin James is something else—he's her first love. It was an instant attraction that grew into an intense, obsessive, and abusive relationship.
For the past fourteen years, Geo has carried the secret of what really happened to Angela until all comes to light with her arrest. Or is there more to the story? Geo is sent to prison while James has escaped from prison. Past and present collide when a string of copycat murders start happening. Did Geo set in motion a new chain of events or is she the missing piece to catch the killer?
This is my first book by Jennifer Hillier and I was impressed. Her writing is sharp and the pages flew by. Hillier developed the characters enough to not be predictable or stereotypical, but I did want more from Kai.
Told by alternating points of view between Geo and Kai, past and present, this style really served the story well and helped lay the ground work. I felt that their particular relationship in the backstory wasn't fleshed out enough. It seemed like a harmless little crush versus any kind of relationship that gave Kai the emotional baggage that he brought to any of his other relationships. I also thought that Geo was a user—she used Kai when they were friends, knowing he'd always be there for her because he was attracted to her, used her fiancé for a title/career, used people in prison for protection, and uses Kai's loyalty to protect her outside of prison. Relationships in this story seemed to always be a struggle of power, especially between Angela and Geo. Neither of the girls could stand it when the other one was receiving attention. I also found that Geo (even though she went to prison), always came out on top—without giving anything away, I'm sure when you are finished you will have the same musings as I did.
Hillier does a great job with the pace of the story. She doesn't show her hand, she plays her cards one at a time and lets the story unfold naturally. Sometimes with this genre, I feel that plot twists are forced and I didn't get that sense here. I was intrigued right off the bat when Calvin hands Geo a note in court that says "You're welcome", welcome for what?
The difference between three and four stars is for a couple of reasons. First, for a detective, Kai is incredibly daft. Is it because he was too close to the case, and actually, he shouldn't have even been on this case. Is it not a conflict of interest? He knows both the victim and the perpetrator—I guess you have to suspend your belief on that front. Second, the story was a little bit gruesome for me. If dark and twisty is your bag, you will love this book.