Friday, November 27, 2015

Guest Review: What She Knew by Gilly Macmillian


In her enthralling debut, Gilly Macmillan explores a mother’s search for her missing son, weaving a taut psychological thriller as gripping and skillful as The Girl on the Train and The Guilty One.

In a heartbeat, everything changes…

Rachel Jenner is walking in a Bristol park with her eight-year-old son, Ben, when he asks if he can run ahead. It’s an ordinary request on an ordinary Sunday afternoon, and Rachel has no reason to worry—until Ben vanishes.

Police are called, search parties go out, and Rachel, already insecure after her recent divorce, feels herself coming undone. As hours and then days pass without a sign of Ben, everyone who knew him is called into question, from Rachel’s newly married ex-husband to her mother-of-the-year sister. Inevitably, media attention focuses on Rachel too, and the public’s attitude toward her begins to shift from sympathy to suspicion.

As she desperately pieces together the threadbare clues, Rachel realizes that nothing is quite as she imagined it to be, not even her own judgment. And the greatest dangers may lie not in the anonymous strangers of every parent’s nightmares, but behind the familiar smiles of those she trusts the most.

Where is Ben? The clock is ticking...

Publication Date: December 1, 2015

Guest Reviewer Laura's Thoughts:

What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan doesn't require too much to sell it. The story is so obviously captivating. I mean, cute missing British kid. HELLO. There is no forgiving quality in the kidnapper, so we know exactly who to root for (OR DO WE). This novel begs the readers to immediately rally and solve the crime and the only way to do that? READ THE BLOODY BOOK, AND READ IT FAST.

I adored the way she chopped up the novel: through different POV's, official emails, transcripts plus a healthy spattering (ew that phrase) of Internet headlines, blogs and articles. I am a youngish gal; a member of the club that started childhood without the internet but became a person when it started creeping into the households. And maybe I'm reading all the wrong books, but I rarely bump in to novels that utilize the use of Internet to further the story and perspective. And why not! It's our whole world these days, and I appreciated how present it was in MacMillan's debut novel. It showed a different sort of awareness. She recognizes the power of the www and it's capacity to instill fear, incite accusation and promote an total robbery of privacy.

Macmillian did this one thing that really got under my skin at first, and then I went all "dude bro brilliant, just brilliant." When we first met Rachel Jenner, she was breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly in to the camera. We quickly became a character, the audience member she needed to tell her whole story too, granted we could stay quiet and stick with her. YEP, INTO IT. And didn't happen again until we were about 60% through the story.

"I'm also interested to know how uncomfortable you feel now. Whether you’re regretting our agreement. Remember the roles we allocated each other? Me: Ancient Mariner and Narrator. You: Wedding Guest and Patient Listener. Do you wish you could shuffle away yet? Refill your glass perhaps? Now that my grip is loosening whose side are you on?"

Initially, I thought maybe the author was just like, "FUDGE, remember that one time I started doing this one thing? Ok ummmm, *flips through manuscript* let's throw another audience participation post riiiight....*lands randomly on page* HERE." But I couldn't stop thinking about the placement of this passage, and I realized what a sneaky way that was of turning the tables on us! At this point, I had settled back into the role of docile, unaffected and removed reader but with this passage, the author let me know that I was not the only one judging; Rachel was gaging my character as much as I was hers. She knew (ha, title pun kinda) how she was being portrayed in the media and what the world was saying about her and she wanted to check in - hey loyal reader, ya still with me? The stakes in this story immediately felt gargantuan again and I immediately rallied beside Rachel, all over again. And with that renewed sense of duty, I rushed towards the ending.

Take away: What She Knew is the sort of book that does not offend, but doesn't really inspire either. I enjoyed the hell out of it, but I won't be thinking about it after I write this review. I would happily read MacMillan's work again. If this novel is an indication, she has a knack for addictive storytelling and she mixes it wonderfully with well-researched settings and ideas (you'll be an expert on the inner layout of a police station after this one, guaranteed). I feel like I've been reading a lot of these lately, but What She Knew is a great novel if you're looking to be wildly (albeit momentarily) entertained and never have to work too hard. Another beach read for those with a darker disposition.

Thank you publishers for a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. You dah best. :)

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Review: Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu


Rachel Walker is devoted to God.

She prays every day, attends Calvary Christian Church with her family, helps care for her five younger siblings, dresses modestly, and prepares herself to be a wife and mother who serves the Lord with joy.

But Rachel is curious about the world her family has turned away from, and increasingly finds that neither the church nor her homeschool education has the answers she craves. Rachel has always found solace in her beliefs, but now she can’t shake the feeling that her devotion might destroy her soul.

Publication Date: June 2, 2015

I liked Devoted a lot more than I expected to. The beginning was really slow for me and I just couldn’t seem to connect with the setting or the main character. I’m really glad I stuck it out. Devoted became exceptionally better as the book progressed and the author very subtly explored what it mean to be raised in a closed-off religious community.

I enjoyed Rachel as a character more so as she begins to question her group’s religious views. Her change is gradual and I found it more believable than her simply waking up one morning and realizing that the life she is living isn’t the societal norm. I also liked that her central problem wasn’t her belief in god, but rather whether she was being treated unfairly because she was born a woman.

My favorite part of the book was that the catalyst for the events was Rachel getting in trouble for reading her favorite book “A Wrinkle in Time.” She is chastised by her father for reading something unholy because of the fantasy elements contained in the novel.

There’s not a romance in the novel, but I wouldn’t have found one appropriate. The book was more about a teen girl finding her voice and being able to see that despite her family’s preaching, there was good to be found outside of her sect.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Thanks to the publisher for a copy of the novel for review!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Guest Review: Shade Me by Jennifer Brown


Nikki Kill does not see the world like everyone else. In her eyes, happiness is pink, sadness is a mixture of brown and green, and lies are gray. Thanks to a rare phenomenon called synesthesia, Nikki’s senses overlap, in a way that both comforts and overwhelms her.

Always an outsider, just one ‘D’ shy of flunking out, Nikki’s life is on the fast track to nowhere until the night a mysterious call lights her phone up bright orange—the color of emergencies. It’s the local hospital. They need Nikki to identify a Jane Doe who is barely hanging on to life after a horrible attack.

The victim is Peyton Hollis, a popular girl from Nikki’s school who Nikki hardly knows. One thing is clear: Someone wants Peyton dead. But why? And why was Nikki’s cell the only number in Peyton’s phone?

As she tries to decipher the strange kaleidoscope of clues, Nikki finds herself thrust into the dark, glittering world of the ultra-rich Hollis family, and drawn towards Peyton’s handsome, never-do-well older brother Dru. While Nikki’s colors seem to help her unravel the puzzle, what she can’t see is that she may be falling into a trap. The only truth she can be sure of is that death is a deep, pulsing crimson.

Shade Me is award-winning author Jennifer Brown’s first book in a thrilling suspense series about Nikki Kill.

Publication Date: January 16, 2016

About Guest Reviewer Joanna:

Joanna Franklin Bell is a writer living outside Baltimore, MD. Her articles can be read in "Baltimore Magazine" and various sites; her award-winning short story can be found on the "Single Dad Laughing" blog; and her books can be found on Amazon. "Muse: A Cat's Story" is her children's chapter book, "Mrs. Just-So" is her children's picture book, and "Take a Load Off, Mona Jamborski" and "That Birds Would Sing" are her novels. Her third novel, "See No Demons, Hear No Demons" will be released in 2016. Catch up with Joanna on Facebook at:

Guest Review:

My birthday is next week. I will be 42. Yes, thank you, I know. I attribute my youthful looks to my high-carb late-night diet, but I realize not everyone can keep up with that program. Well enough about me. The point is, I have solidly transitioned to adult literature, other than a constant and forever love of all things Harry Potter. I read Hunger Games with a little disappointment, rolled my eyes at the whole Divergent thing, and opted right out of The Fault in Our Stars. Teen angst? Can't do it anymore. DONE that, both in life and in literature. Moving on.

But I was given a copy of Shade Me by Jennifer Brown's publisher in exchange for an honest review, and I accepted it mostly because I didn't realize it was a YA book. I wouldn't have necessarily known it was a YA book either, after the first many chapters—I was aware the protagonist was a kick-ass teen named Nikki Kill but a teenage character does not necessitate a teenage audience. Lord of the Flies was not, you know, written for young British schoolchildren just because it stars them. Right? Right.

Nikki won my heart pretty quickly. There are lots of garbage-y stereotypical ways to write about a dark horse teen with no friends who smokes and studies martial arts, and Jennifer Brown fell into none of the traps. Nikki was actually unique and didn't try too hard to prove to the reader how bad-ass she is, making her all the more bad-ass. She has synesthesia too, and while that's interesting and unique, I still think Brown could have devolved into a preschooler's rainbow-world of red and blue and green and yellow… but I was so pleasantly surprised. Her colorful (literally, colorful) descriptions took me into awesome phrases like "ragemonster red" and "brown mist, bruise-violet swirls, sickly green waves" that wed colors to emotions. Nikki's brand of synesthesia is actually intuitive or maybe psychic—her colors can help her spot a liar or a skeptic or even an imminent death. I call it Cheater's Synesthesia, but Brown just calls it Nikki. And I liked it.

Brown falls prey to a couple of amateur writing traps that drive me nuts—her antagonist "bares her teeth," and her protagonist "squints" when she's peering closely or narrowing her eyes. I edit the hell out of both of those mannerisms when I am reading my clients' rough drafts, and I hope Brown's editor doesn't let her get away with them either. Also, I never fully followed some of the family drama and who was whose stepmother, but maybe that was intentionally left vague…? It didn't really matter, since the main thrust of the story was clear and intense and emotive. And very, very colorful.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Review: Ruthless by Carolyn Lee Adams


Ruth Carver has always competed like her life depends on it. Ambitious. Tough. Maybe even mean. It’s no wonder people call her ruthless.

When she wakes up with a concussion in the bed of a moving pickup truck, Ruth realizes she has been entered into a contest she can’t afford to lose.

At a remote, rotting cabin deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Ruth’s blindfold comes off and she finds herself face-to-face with her captor: A man who believes his mission is to punish bad girls like Ruth. A man who has done this six times before.

The other girls were never heard from again, but Ruth won’t go down easy. She escapes into the wilderness, but her hunter is close at her heels. That’s when the real battle begins. That’s when Ruth must decides just how far she’ll go in order to survive.

Back home, they called her Ruthless. They had no idea just how right they were.

Publication Date: July 14, 2015

Ruthless was a great atmospheric thriller about a teen girl’s struggle to survive against a serial killer. This book was definitely a read in one sitting kind of novel. There was so much tension as Ruth tried to escape her captor while he always seemed to be one step ahead of her.

Ruth was an imperfect character and I think that quality made her relatable. She hasn’t always been the nicest person and her aggressiveness has unfortunately led her to become a target of a deranged serial killer named “Wolfman.” The book opens with a bang as Ruth wakes up disoriented in the bed of a pickup truck. In flashback scenes, readers are given a better sense of what Ruth was like before her abduction and how her captivity changes her.

The present scenes are full of suspense and action as Ruth fights off Wolfman and runs into the woods in a dramatic escape attempt. Her struggles were truly heart wrenching, particularly the scenes where salvation seemed just out of her reach. The Wolfman’s flashback scenes aided in making his character more fleshed out. As far as Ruth’s flashbacks, I wished the author focused on more than one particular time in her life to give more insight into how she became so driven.

Fans of fast-paced YA thrillers will love Ruthless. I wasn’t sure a cat and mouse game in the woods would hold my interest, but the author threw in enough twists to keep me glued to the pages.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Thanks to the publisher for a copy of the novel for review!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Guest Review: Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams


Each of the three Schuyler sisters has her own world-class problems, but in the autumn of 1966, Pepper Schuyler's problems are in a class of their own. When Pepper fixes up a beautiful and rare vintage Mercedes and sells it at auction, she thinks she's finally found a way to take care of herself and the baby she carries, the result of an affair with a married, legendary politician.

But the car's new owner turns out to have secrets of her own, and as the glamorous and mysterious Annabelle Dommerich takes pregnant Pepper under her wing, the startling provenance of this car comes to light: a Nazi husband, a Jewish lover, a flight from Europe, and a love so profound it transcends decades. As the many threads of Annabelle's life from World War II stretch out to entangle Pepper in 1960s America, and the father of her unborn baby tracks her down to a remote town in coastal Georgia, the two women must come together to face down the shadows of their complicated pasts.

Indomitable heroines, a dazzling world of secrets, champagne at the Paris Ritz, and a sweeping love story for the ages, in New York Times bestselling author Beatriz William's final book about the Schuyler sisters.

Publication Date: November 3, 2015

About Guest Reviewer Joanna:

Joanna Franklin Bell is a writer living outside Baltimore, MD. Her articles can be read in "Baltimore Magazine" and various sites; her award-winning short story can be found on the "Single Dad Laughing" blog; and her books can be found on Amazon. "Muse: A Cat's Story" is her children's chapter book, "Mrs. Just-So" is her children's picture book, and "Take a Load Off, Mona Jamborski" and "That Birds Would Sing" are her novels. Her third novel, "See No Demons, Hear No Demons" will be released in 2016. Catch up with Joanna on Facebook at:

Joanna's Review:

This book is a perfect example of why I am a reader, a lover of literature, a voracious studier of the written word, and a sometimes writer. This book is – this week – the reason I existed and – next week – the reason I will have my head half in the clouds as I let its memory slowly roll off me. I will need to distance myself bit by bit from the characters in order to immerse myself in my own life, unfortunately, because right now they are dancing through the air next to me and demanding my attention. I just finished the last chapter five minutes ago, so you'll forgive why I sound half schizophrenic, but their voices are utterly real in my ear, and will be for days.

"Along the Infinite Sea" makes up for its lackluster and cliché title within the first few sentences of chapter one, and you'll forget what the book is called because it could have been called "Beatriz Williams Writes Some Stuff" and you should still line up at midnight to be the first to buy it at the bookstore because it's that good. So is this where I give you a short synopsis of the plot? No, I think I won't. I knew not-a-thing about it when I first opened it and am so glad I didn't. Apparently (I learned afterwards) it's a partial continuation of some family that Williams wrote about before… and I don't care. They exist in THIS book in a way they cannot possibly in any other and I'm happy to have met them here and nowhere else. Plus, their family is really not the heart of the story so I doubly don't care that they're in other books (I cheated and looked at other reviews real quick, or I wouldn't know this at all).

I did read a rough rough rough draft given to me by the publisher, in exchange for an honest review, and the fact that nothing was properly indented or paragraphed etc, especially during characters' conversations, made reading this a labor of love since I had to slow down and really figure out who was speaking… and I didn't care. I relished their conversations all the more. I found two horrifying instances where Williams uses the name Florian instead of Stefan (they're both characters and the wrong one rolled off her typing fingertips, methinks) but I have all the faith that the good proofreader at whatever trad publisher is field-goaling this forth will find it. (If not, for godssake Bea, ask me so I can tell you which sentences they are before it's too late.)

Criticism? I wish Annabelle weren't compared to Audrey Hepburn, and several times. The author could have – and did – evoke Audrey in this character without having to hammer the comparison home so. Trust us the readers please – I saw Annabelle just fine without that. I see her now. She'll walk with me these next few days. Ditto referring to Stefan and Johann as "Valjean and Javert" – Williams doesn't need to rely on another author's characters to make hers have a similar enemyship. (Enemyship – think I just made that word up.) I hope that was edited out, because I hope her editor sees how strong her writing is without stooping to using someone else's, as I see. I also wish there wasn't a strange nod to Pepper being related to Nick, which tied her to the other main family in the book, but that link wasn't explored (maybe it is in the companion books?). It was unnecessarily head-scratchy since it led to nothing.

Is that my only criticism? Umm… yup. And none of those criticisms matter at the end of the day. At the end of the book. At the end of each chapter, or even sentence. They don't matter. This book was magnificent. A triumph. Read it next to Julie Orringer's "The Invisible Bridge," Anita Shreve's "Resistance," and Markus Zusak's "The Book Thief," and oh hell, "The Diary of Anne Frank" while you're at it, and weep that this was, and is, our world, and that these authors exist in it to tell the story. I will tell you nothing else about it. Go read it. It'll make your week.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Review: Lady Bridget's Diary by Maya Rodale


Lord Darcy is the quintessential Englishman: wealthy, titled, impossibly proper, and horrified that a pack of Americans has inherited one of England's most respected dukedoms. But his manners, his infamous self-restraint, and his better judgment fly out the window when he finds himself with the maddening American girl next door.

Lady Bridget Cavendish has grand—but thwarted—plans to become a Perfect Lady and take the haute ton by storm. In her diary, Bridget records her disastrous attempts to assimilate into London high society, her adoration of the handsome rogue next door, her disdain for the Dreadful Lord Darcy, and some truly scandalous secrets that could ruin them all.

It was loathing at first sight for Lady Bridget and Lord Darcy. But their paths keep crossing . . . and somehow involve kissing. When Lady Bridget's diary goes missing, both Darcy and Bridget must decide what matters most of all—a sterling reputation or a perfectly imperfect love.

Publication Date: January 26, 2016

I adored this book! Gah, I’m such a sucker for anything remotely related to Pride & Prejudice and Lady Bridget’s Diary is no exception. The story contained both familiar plot elements from both Bridget Jones’s Diary and Pride and Prejudice.

I’ve read Maya Rodale’s historical novels and I always fall in love with the characters. Bridget and her American siblings all captured my heart and I hope Rodale plans to give them their own novels. Bridget is just like her inspiration from Helen Fielding’s books. She’s plucky and silly and speaks exactly what’s on her mind. She’s the opposite of stoic, serious Darcy and she hates him on sight. But despite her loathing, she can’t seem to escape their electrifying chemistry.

This book is such a sweet, fun tale that you won’t help, but smile throughout it. Darcy becomes the hero he’s meant to be and Bridget opens up her eyes and starts to see that she has judged him too harshly. Her diary entries were amusing, but also offers insight into just how stifling Regency society could be. There was definitely a predictability as far as the plot, but it didn’t make me stop giggling or swooning one bit. I’d highly recommend the novel to fans of historical romances set during the Regency era.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Thanks to the publisher for a copy of the novel for review!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Review: Underneath Everything by Marcy Beller Paul


Underneath Everything is a seductive, gorgeously written debut about two girls bound by an obsessive and toxic friendship, perfect for fans of Lauren Oliver and Courtney Summers.

Mattie shouldn't be at the bonfire. She should be finding new maps for her collection, hanging out with Kris, and steering clear of almost everyone else, especially Jolene. After all, Mattie and Kris dropped off the social scene the summer after sophomore year for a reason. But now Mattie is a senior, and she's sick of missing things. So here she is. And there's Jolene: Beautiful. Captivating. Just like the stories she wove. Mattie would know—she used to star in them. She and Jolene were best friends. Mattie has the scar on her palm to prove it, and Jolene has everything else, including Hudson.

But when Mattie runs into Hudson and gets a glimpse of what could have been, she decides to take it all back: the boyfriend, the friends, the life she was supposed to live. Problem is, Mattie can't figure out where Jolene's life ends and hers begins. Because there's something Mattie hasn't told anyone: She walked away from Jolene over a year ago, but she never really left.

Publication Date: October 27, 2015

Underneath Everything was an interesting story about toxic female friendships. Specifically, the book focused on the dynamic between a quieter, passive friend and the dominant, outgoing friend. Jolene and Mattie had been best friends until their friendship dissolved over a boy named Hudson.

The book is very character-driven since not much happens in terms of the actual plot. I found the secondary characters interesting, especially Jolene, but I couldn’t really muster much enthusiasm for Mattie. Her personality was sort of blah and the only trait I could really remember about her most of the time was her odd obsession with maps.

I liked the author’s writing style and I was curious about what happened the night Mattie and Jolene’s friendship imploded. The flashbacks were also a highlight of the book and I liked how ambiguous the author kept Jolene and Mattie’s relationship. I kept wondering if they were just friends or something more.

I think at the core of the novel is a girl struggling to find her identity separate from her “soulmate.” Although I wasn’t totally blown away by the story, I did think it painted an honest depiction of how complicated female friendships can become.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Thanks to the publisher for a copy of the novel for review!