Book Review: You Should Have Known

you should have knownCan you really miss all the signs, even if you’re looking for them?

Therapist Grace Reinhart Sachs makes her living telling people where they’ve gone wrong. She believes that there’s always a moment, usually early in the relationship, when you can see the truth about the other person – a truth you then “forget,” burying it in excuses and desires. In fact, Grace has written a book on the subject, called You Should Have Known.

Her own life seems to hold up under scrutiny: she has a loving marriage, a wonderful son. (She’s also materialistic and judgmental and clearly unaware of just how good she has it, but that’s a whole other thing.)

Then a woman Grace knows only vaguely is murdered, and her perfect husband has disappeared. As her life begins to unravel, Grace keeps asking herself: should she have known?

Unfortunately, it’s not a question the book really answers. (Mild spoilers to follow.)

Continue reading Book Review: You Should Have Known

Book Review: The Last Winter of Dani Lancing

the last winter of dani lancingI love a good ghost story.

On the surface, The Last Winter of Dani Lancing is a murder mystery, and a study of how different people react to grief. Twenty years ago, college student Dani Lancing was brutally murdered. The killer was never found. Her mother becomes consumed with the need for vengeance. Her father has conversations with Dani’s ghost. Her old beau, Tom Bevans, still pines for the girl he lost.

Naturally, they all have secrets, and each of them knows things about Dani that the others don’t. Can they come together somehow and solve a decades-old murder without losing each other in the process? Or is there a reason everyone has something to hide?

The ghost story aspect is fun, and not terribly overdone, though by the end you may find that it has a bit of a saccharine aftertaste. The mystery is a good one, and the ending didn’t feel like a deus ex machina, which can be difficult with a book like this. I’m interested enough to read more from this author.

Book Review: The Bones of Paris

The Bones of ParisLaurie R. King brings it. I forget, when I’m not reading her, how completely immersive and engrossing her stories are. Here is part of the genius of The Bones of Paris: it’s the second book in a series, but I was able to dive right in without having read the first one and make it entirely to the end not only unspoiled but eager to read the book (Touchstone) that came before. Here is more of the genius of The Bones of Paris: it’s a mystery set in 1920s Paris that manages to be both fresh and deeply suspenseful without relying on any of the cliches about 1920s Paris, which – given our collective obsession with flappers and Gatsby – is pretty impressive.

Harris Stuyvesent (…love the name) is the perfect cranky, jaded PI, following a missing persons case that turns into a disturbing look into the violent, depraved underworld of Parisian avant-garde subculture. There are references to actual people like Hemingway and Man Ray that don’t seem forced or false despite the fact that they’re essentially RPF, and when King brings finally brings in Bennett Grey (a major player in Touchstone, as I understand it) I felt like I knew the character despite not having read the first book.

Read it. You won’t be sorry.

All the ARCs

God I love Netgalley. I’m an ebook addict as it is, and now I can read things that haven’t even been published yet. It’s like someone pulled that directly from the I WANT section of my brain.

Netgalley

The flipside, of course, is that I must review all of the books I read through Netgalley – which is no problem in theory, but I kind of hate publishing bad reviews. And some of the stuff is…not so good. (Some of it is VERY good and I do a little dance every time I’m approved.) I’d been publishing all my reviews here as well as on Goodreads, but I think I’ll stick to Goodreads for everything that I don’t absolutely love. So, you know, follow me there if you want to read about my less-than-favorites. And follow here for things that blow me away, like the latest Lisa Unger book, which – have you read it yet? Go! Now!

 

Book Review: In The Blood

In The BloodTHIS is how you do a thriller.

Nothing about In The Blood is what it seems. Nobody is who you think they are. You want an unreliable narrator? Main character Lana Granger isn’t even sure she herself is telling the truth. It isn’t until you’re about three-quarters of the way through the book that you realize how cleverly Lisa Unger has obfuscated things with the use of simple pronouns.

Quite simply, this book is genius. Read it. And then read it again, slowly, now that you know the ending. It’s worth it.

Book Review: Coldwater

ColdwaterThe entertainment industry, amirite? Also drugs and alcohol. Because redemption.

Coldwater calls itself “femme noir,” which I’m not at all sure about as a genre in general or in reference to Coldwater in particular, but whatever. Our hapless heroine is Brett Tanager, a member of the Hollywood elite until her drug problem renders her unemployable. Rock bottom is hit. Life changes are made. There is a stepdaughter who goes missing and several murders that it seems only Brett can solve. Also AA meetings, and a hit-and-run that eats at Brett’s conscience.

But despite all that, it’s a really fun read. The action is fast-paced, the storyline is engaging, and Gould obviously knows a thing or two about addiction and recovery.

My main complaint has to do with the ending – more specifically, the fact that it didn’t end. There’s a whole chapter tacked on that drags out the feel-good finish and concludes with an almost cutesy “…and that’s the book you’ve just read” (I’m paraphrasing). Coldwater would have been SO much better without the last bit.

Book Review: The Orphan Choir

The Orphan ChoirCreepy psychological thriller FTW.

I love Sophie Hannah, and while I didn’t inhale The Orphan Choir the way I did, say, Little Face, I did stay up half the night reading it. I love, love, love the fact that the protagonist is so unlikable. She’s unlikable in a very real way; several times while I was reading I found myself making faces at the page and thinking how very much I would hate to be married to someone like that. It’s exhausting to be Louise Beeston. She’s paranoid and neurotic and narcissistic to the point that she can’t imagine how everything could not be about her. She keeps herself awake weeping because she’s sure her neighbor is plotting against her.

But here’s the other part: her neuroses stem from the fact that her seven year old son, a singing prodigy, has been accepted to a prestigious boarding school. I’ve got a seven year old son; I cannot imagine only getting to see him at performances and on holidays. So she’s horrible, yes, but I can sympathize with some of it.

The horror element of the story builds slowly; if you’re looking for something that will plunge you into the action, this is not the book for you. But because Louise is so self-involved, the reader actually starts feeling the horror before she does, which is a lot of fun.

The bottom line: this is a great ghost story, and a nice departure from Hannah’s other thrillers (which are fantastic in their own right).

Book Review: Killer Image

Killer Image by Wendy TysonFile under: don’t judge a book by its cover. The copy I read has a stylized fashion-plate drawing on the cover, so I was expecting a fluffy, frivolous “mystery” in which the burning question is less whodunit and more will she get the guy. Instead, KILLER IMAGE is a relatively dark murder mystery, full of plot twists and secrets.

As a main character, Alison Campbell is interestingly flawed. The secondary characters are nicely fleshed out, although they did seem a bit more like caricatures than actual people at times. Take, for example, the paraplegic brother of Alison’s assistant, who – after years of reading and TV but no actual detective training – manages to not only solve the case but is subsequently hired to consult for the police department. Or the ghost of patients past who has haunted Alison throughout the story who turns out to have (confusingly) died in a car crash (rather than in some sort of brothel-related accident, as Alison had always supposed), leaving behind a doppelgänger daughter with Alison’s name. Such details took away from the story rather than enhancing it, because, even though it would be nice to think so, things rarely end wrapped up with a neat little bow. But the main story arc is satisfying and the conclusion took shape in a strong and believable way. I especially loved the bit at the end where Alison’s abandoned clients swooped in and saved the day. (Okay, that part might not have been so believable…but it was fun.)

Book Review: Sideshow of Merit

Sideshow of MeritYou know that thing where an author interrupts the past tense narrative to say something like “little did I know how important that choice was” or something similar? It’s supposed to pique the reader’s interest, to make you want to know why that choice, which maybe otherwise might have just been logged as a thing that happened, was a Thing That Happened. It’s a useful trope.

When used sparingly, that is.

I’m willing to overlook the random formatting problems (I got my copy of Sideshow of Merit from Netgalley, after all, so I’m sure the final release will actually use paragraph breaks) and a certain amount of stylistic inconsistency, but after the tenth time the narrator broke tense I just started to get annoyed. I get it. Things happened. Choices were made. Some of them will impact things about which I have not yet been told. That’s sort of the point of a story.

Don’t get me wrong: the book wasn’t bad. The pacing was okay, and the plot was interesting enough to keep me reading. I didn’t really like the main character, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Mostly I just felt like I’d have liked to be more immersed in the story without the omnipresent author pulling me out of it. In a way, I guess, that’s a compliment to the book.

Book Recs: What I Read in 2011

I read a lot. This is partly due to the fact that I like books, but also because I read fast. Really fast. Crazy-person fast. It typically takes me two hours to get through an average-length novel. That’s as long as it takes to watch a movie, people.

As far as I’m concerned, the invention of the e-reader is probably the most awesome thing that’s ever happened to books, and possibly the worst thing that’s ever happened to my bank account. (Who am I kidding. 6pm.com and Sephora are the worst thing that ever happened to my bank account.) If I’m reading a series, I can finish one book and download the next one right away! If I’m browsing for something new, I can download the first chapter and see if I like it! If I just finished a series and am feeling bereft, I can impulsively purchase EVERY SINGLE THING THE AUTHOR HAS EVER WRITTEN even though it is 3 O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING and I REALLY SHOULD BE SLEEPING. Not…that that’s a thing. That happens. When I finish a series.

Anyway, aside from the fact that these are all YA (okay, with the exception of the Ridley Jones books), here’s what else they have in common:

  • Women authors unite! I’m not saying you have to have ovaries to write books I love with a fervor bordering on obsession; I’m just saying that it doesn’t hurt.
  • You know I really liked a book if I get to the last page and immediately turn to the beginning again to start it all over.  That was the case with every single one of these.
  • Each of these stories hits the ground running and doesn’t stop until the very end. (Yes, even the Envelopes books…although I suppose running is less accurate in that case than flying off to London for reasons which will be explained.)

Anyway, behold: my favorite books of 2011.*

The Mortal Instruments Series: City of Bones · City of Ashes · City of Glass · City of Fallen Angels (Cassandra Clare)
City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare

These books are like crack.

Wait. That’s not a good way to start a review.

I should say: I literally could not put these down, to the detriment of my ocular health and personal sanity, and I am so invested in Clary’s relationship with Jace that it borders on alarming. That’s…better, right?

Seriously, this series is amazing. Well-written, fast paced, smart, WAY hotter than YA ought to be, intricately plotted and did I mention Jace? Because, yeah.

The first three books conclude the initial plot arc, and City of Fallen Angels continues the story with a new trilogy. If you’re wary of works in progress, you can safely stop after City of Glass. I don’t know why you would, but you can. Maybe to pretend that Cassandra Clare doesn’t enjoy ripping the hearts out of her readers and making them clutch, weeping, at the empty hole in their chests? NOT THAT THE INFERNAL DEVICES ARE NEXT ON THE LIST OR ANYTHING.

The Infernal Devices Series: Clockwork Angel · Clockwork Prince (Cassandra Clare)
Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

I stumbled on these books totally by accident. I had just finished Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker (which I loved) and Clockwork Angel was one of the things Barnes and Noble thought I’d like. I’d never heard of Cassandra Clare, but I downloaded the sample chapter for fun and also because I have poor impulse control.

5 minutes later I was frantically clicking the “BUY NOW” button because if I didn’t find out what happened next I would explode. (See poor impulse control, above.)

The Infernal Devices series is a steampunk dream, all Victorian London and secret societies and shape shifters and demons and Tessa and Will and Jem OT3 Forever. Ahem.

You can view these as a prequel of sorts to The Mortal Instruments, or you could view them as a standalone series. Either way works just fine and you’re not going to get spoiled no matter which you read first (though there are lots of cool Easter eggs in both series if you know what to look for).

None of that eclipses the fact that when you get to the end of Clockwork Prince you will probably want to have a very large stack of tissues nearby. Just FYI.

13 Little Blue Envelopes · The Last Little Blue Envelope (Maureen Johnson)
13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

I started reading Maureen Johnson because of Twitter.

True story.

Someone (I don’t even know who now…Wil Wheaton? The Bloggess? Someone else entirely?) retweeted some Maureen Johnson tweets and I thought, ha, she’s kind of hilarious. So I followed her, and she is THE BEST THING ANYPLACE EVER. If her tweets are this entertaining, I thought, her books must be fantastic.

I was right. (That’s not unusual.)

I liked 13 Little Blue Envelopes. I would have loved it when I was younger, in that OH MY GOD I AM GINNY sort of way that you love books when you’re sixteen or nineteen or twenty-three. But clearly I am way too grown-up for that now, right? Then came The Last Little Blue Envelope, and it absolutely blew me away. Partly it’s the complexity of the relationships between the primary characters, which are much more fraught than they were in the first book. But mostly it has to do with Oliver.

The 1-800-WHERE-R-U Series: When Lightning Strikes · Code Name Cassandra · Safe House · Sanctuary · Missing You (Meg Cabot)
Meg Cabot's 1-800 Series

Meg Cabot makes me feel like a failure. I mean, seriously, take a look at the number of books she cranks out in the average year. The only possible explanation is that she never sleeps, or is actually comprised of several different people, like Shakespeare. Or Frankenstein.

The 1-800 series isn’t particularly highbrow or literary-minded. It’s fun and fluffy and a little bit dark. Like lots of Meg Cabot books, the heroine is plucky and a little bit unhinged.

For those of us who grew up in the 80s, When Lightning Strikes is a pitch-perfect homage to Escape from Witch Mountain. Which – who didn’t love that movie? But if you take the series as a whole, you realize the story is less about Jess Mastriani’s cool precog powers and more about learning who to trust and figuring out what matters and growing up.

What. I just like them, okay?

The Hunger Games series: The Hunger Games · Catching Fire · Mockingjay (Suzanne Collins)
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

(I want to apologize in advance to those of you who click that link. Suzanne Collins is an extraordinary writer, but whoever “designed” her web site should have their internet privileges revoked. Authors: beautiful, functional web sites make the world sing in perfect harmony, just like Coke. Or that weird alien invasion from Torchwood. I DIGRESS.)

There probably isn’t anyone on the planet who hasn’t heard how fabulous The Hunger Games trilogy is. I’m just chiming in to say it’s all true. The books are amazing. I tore through them like my life depended on it.

I also highly recommend giving the books a second go while following the excellent recaps on Mark Reads. Are ‘recaps’ even the right word for those? Basically Mark liveblogs each chapter as he reads it, and it is awesome.

Bumped (Megan McCafferty)
Bumped by Megan McCafferty

THIS COUNTS as a series because the second book (Thumped) will be out SOON. Not SOON ENOUGH, but SOON. I am patiently waiting, see? This is me, being patient.

Megan McCafferty is the woman responsible for the fabulous Jessica Darling series (Sloppy Firsts, etc.), which I loved unreasonably and may still pull off the shelf with alarming regularity. You don’t know.

Bumped has all the snarky teen-speak of McCafferty’s previous series, but also the added bonus of being a dystopian look at a future in which teens are the only members of society able to have babies. Oh no, it’s AWESOME, trust me. It’s like The Handmaid’s Tale meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Or…something like that, only good.

(Megan McCafferty’s web site is perfectly acceptable, by the way. See, authors? You do not need Flash intros or SOUNDS or huge, slow-loading graphics or a background that hasn’t been updated since 1998. Web designers are your friends.)

Beautiful Lies · Sliver of Truth (Lisa Unger)
Beautiful Lies by Lisa Unger

I’m not usually into mysteries – wait. That’s not even true. I thought I wasn’t into mysteries, and then I started reading Lisa Unger and realized that what I’m not into is badly-written mysteries.

Beautiful Lies and Sliver of Truth follow the delightfully-named Ridley Jones through a series of realizations that what she thought of as her life was a series of carefully-crafted lies. How these lies are unraveled – and how much danger Ridley is in – ratchets up the tension, but the real kick comes from the way all the pieces fit together in the end.

And even though there didn’t seem to be any missing pieces at the end of Beautiful Lies, I was amazed to find that Sliver of Truth was able to go back and find the little details I hadn’t even noticed and turn them into a new, even more intricate puzzle.

 

 

*These were not all written in 2011. I just read them in 2011. I don’t want anyone thinking I’m skimping on details here. Also, I was in no way compensated for this or any other post because no one actually reads my blog.