Second Life by S.J. Watson – A Book Review

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Two things:

First, I was not a huge fan of SJ Watson’s first novel, “Before I Go To Sleep.”
Second, if you feel like you’re having a hard time getting into this novel, STICK WITH IT. Totally worth it.

Julia is a 30-something suburban mother in London who leads a rather unexciting life. When her younger sister is found murdered in Paris, Julia is compelled to solve the crime and discovers that her sister lived a rather adventurous online life. Soon she finds herself pulled into the same world, and quickly realizes that is possibly much more dangerous than she thought – especially after she meets the enigmatic Lukas.

Though the first third of the novel/setting up of the story is slow and Julia really got on my nerves, once Act Three begins you won’t be able to put this book down. Watson does an excellent job of pulling the reader into the story, and its twists and turns kept me guessing (I’ll admit, my initial thoughts on why Kate was murdered and by who were totally wrong!). Julia is not the most enjoyable protagonist- she second guesses herself on EVERYTHING. Literally. Watson has her questioning/debating almost every decision/thought/assumption. However her personality improves once she realizes the amount of danger she is in.

The secondary characters are for the most part bland (ugh, Hugh… seriously, what a wet blanket, and Adrienne is the worst best friend), but once the story between Lukas and Julia picks up, it’s easy to stop caring about them. I also didn’t feel the connection between Julia and her sister – Watson repeatedly tries to remind the reader that they was almost a psychic connection between them, but it feels pretty hollow.

While I started out not sure I would complete this book, the fast-paced plot kept me glued to the pages and made it easier to overlook the weak characters.

Available for pre-order from Amazon.com and on shelves June 9th, 2015.

Disclaimer: I received advance access to this book for the purpose of review.

“Luckiest Girl Alive” by Jessica Knoll

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4.5 out of 5 stars

Whoa. Jessica Knoll’s “Luckiest Girl Alive” was not what I was expecting in the best way possible.

Ani FaNelli is that New York girl you hate- skinny, pretty, huge engagement ring and designer handbags – she leads the kind of life that every small town girl dreams about. Bitchy, pithy and not exactly the nicest girl around, she’s done her best to distance herself from a life-changing event in her teens. However, when the anniversary of those events approaches… it becomes clear that the truth can’t be buried forever.

Will you hate Ani? Most likely yes. She reminds me of Curtis Sittenfield’s protagonist in Prep. Annoying, self-centered and shallow, she can be difficult to relate to, but by the end of the novel at least you’ll understand her and perhaps have some empathy. The novel is told from Ani’s perspective which can be a little trying at first, but don’t fight it- just give in.

I don’t want to give away anything from the plot, but I will say I was totally caught off guard and had no idea the direction that the story was going to go in. Again, while you may not love all of the characters, the writing is sharp and clean, and creates a delightful sense of unease. It may start off a little chick-lit, but the plot quickly becomes much deeper and darker. If you like Gillian Flynn’s novels, you’ll most likely enjoy “Luckiest Girl Alive.”

A definite must read for 2015! Also, it looks like the movie rights to this book have been snapped up by Lionsgate! Available for pre-order from Amazon.com and on shelves May 12th, 2015.

Disclaimer: I received and an ARC of this book for review.

“Prudence” (The Custard Protocol #1) by Gail Carriger

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Ohhh Prudence…. How I wanted to like you so much more….

The first book in what will hopefully be the “Custard Protocol” series tries so hard to hit the notes of “The Parasol Protectorate” but falls somewhat short. While the character of Prudence is lovely and is a nice blend of both her “soulless” mother and werewolf father, her companions fall a little bit short of the mark (specifically the male characters). The story Prudence (or Rue as she prefers), is tasked with investigating feels somewhat ill thought out and rushed in places; things felt incomplete and poorly explained.

The writing also seemed to be somewhere between the adult “Parasol Protectorate” novels and the YA “Finishing School” series, which led to a kind of weird experience for me as a reader – neither here nor there. That said, I did love returning to the steampunk world that Carriger has created, and it was so nice to run into some familiar faces.

Personally, I would have traded this book for another novel featuring Alexia, but I do have high hopes for the next in the series if it happens.

Available from Amazon.com and on shelves at your local bookstore. Also, Barnes & Noble has (or had) signed copies for sale, however for some reason the cover art on their exclusive edition has a call out about a special discount price printed in the design (which personally I don’t love).

Flesh and Blood by Patricia Cornwell – A Book Review

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First, let me say something – you may ask, why do I continue to read this series after panning the last four or five books? The answer is as follows… Scarpetta and her crew are like those old friends that you have fallen out with, but still want to kind of keep in touch with. Maybe you’ll meet for lunch, etc. but you never expect to enjoy yourself.

Second, if you are reading this review and have never read a Scarpetta novel, stop and do not pass go. No, for real – go to your nearest bookstore/library, and get a copy of Postmortem, which is a fantastic novel. When you’re on book #21, come back and read my review for #22 (i.e. Flesh and Blood).

In Flesh and Blood we find Scarpetta surrounded by with people who don’t make her, or the reader, happy. Benton has metamorphosed into a completely flat, know-it-all character, who spends most of the novel on his Blackberry. Marino, has suddenly become Boston’s top investigator, regardless of the fact he doesn’t sound better at his job and I don’t remember his skills being highly prized in previous novels. He’s also coking some pretty insane anger issues that have him flying off the handle every other sentence, and make it hard to believe he is a star employee. (And can we talk about the fact that we all seem to have forgotten her almost assaulted Scarpetta several books ago?!) Lucy still behaves like a teenager despite the fact she must be in her 30’s by this point.

Whereas in the early books there were often stand alone plots, now every novel seems to hinge on the fact that the whole world is out to get Scarpetta and the ones she loves. What kills me is that there are aspects of the Scarpetta novels that most of us remember and love… however, they got lost beneath a convoluted plot, phoned-in ending, and the mess that the last 5-6 books have created.

Other thoughts that contain spoilers (to view, highlight the text below):
– At this point in the series I find it totally implausible that Scarpetta, Benton, Lucy and Marino are allowed to work together on cases. How does anything they do hold up in court with their history?!
– Bryce and most of the other employees at Scarpetta’s office for the most part are the WORST. Totally unprofessional, unlikeable – it’s hard to imagine why she would have ever hired them.
– Did anyone else find it weird how Scarpetta was totally ready to brand Lucy as a killer/sociopath, but has no ongoing issues with boundaries or letting her have access to her office/databases?
– Reading the reviews, it looks like I am not the only one that was not impressed by the way the book ends. Seriously? Cut to an epilogue? And what’s with the really cheap cliff-hanger? AND I SWEAR TO GOD, IF SHE TOUCHES A HAIR ON BENTON’S OR JANET’S HEADS…. 

Overall, a better effort, but by no means a home run. If you’re a die-hard Scarpetta fan you’ll probably end up reading it and be pleasantly surprised that it’s not as bad as the last few (though I’m not sure that says much). Here’s holding out for #23…

Available from your local library (this is one I’d rent, not buy if possible), or Amazon.com.

Madam President by Nicolle Wallace – A Book Review

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Think of this as Scandal, Madam Secretary, The West Wing, and State of Affairs all wrapped up into one book. Populated by a cast of strong female characters, Madam President follows Charlotte Kramer, the forty-fifth US President, as she faces a day of terrorist attacks on US soil. Told from the various perspectives of those on her team it explores the women’s professional and personal lives. Nicolle Wallace, the book’s author, is a DC scence-ster (former White House Communications Director and political analyst for CBS Evening News), which adds a certain air of realism to her writing that makes it feel very believable.

I know this sounds awful, but there is one part of the book I found a little bit implausible: an almost entirely female administration. President, VP, Secretary of Defense, Press Secretary… While I’m not complaining, it just seemed like a little much. (Also, sidebar – it was slightly unclear to me how someone could go from Chief of Staff to Secretary of Defense and still be under 40…) That said, Wallace does a nice job of keeping the book focused on the political/current event situations at hand and does not let Madam President descend into chick-lit territory.

Overall, an enjoyable read for those who miss The West Wing and like their entertainment with a touch of politics.

Available for pre-order from Amazon.com and on shelves April 28th, 2015.

p.s. Can we talk about how fab the cover is?
Disclaimer: I was provided with an ARC of this novel by the publisher for review.

“The Witch of Painted Sorrows” by M.J. Rose – a Book Review

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This was the first MJ Rose novel I’ve picked up! While it was a little bit slow to get into, I found “The Witch of Painted Sorrows” to be a solid read. Set in glamorous Belle Epoque Paris, Sandrine has fled an abusive marriage in New York to seek shelter with her grandmother. Putting her life back together, Sandrine rediscovers of her passion for art, and soon encounters a handsome architect, Julien, with whom she becomes entangled. Together, they discover a mysterious mansion filled with paintings, and embark on a journey to understand what it is they have found. Sandrine’s fate soon intersects that of La Lune, a 16th century courtesan and witch, whose curse has touched the women of her family.

The writing is strong, and Rose does a good job of setting the scene. Though the story does contain some rather predictable plot twists (Sandrine, did you really think your husband was going to just wait for you to show back up in NYC and not go after you?), I liked the slightly unpredictable way that Rose ties up everything at the end. Some parts were a little repetitive, but I did appreciate the fact that Rose answers a lot of the questions I had.

Overall, I’d recommend this for those that enjoy historical fiction with a little touch of magic. “The Witched of Painted Sorrows” is available for pre-order from Amazon.com and on shelves March 17, 2015.

And p.s., can we talk about how fantastic the cover is?
Disclaimer: I was provided with an ARC of the novel by the publisher for the purpose of review.

Fiercombe Manor by Kate Riordan, A Book Review

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There’s something about cold weather that makes me want to pick up books about stately manor homes that hold secrets. I managed to sneak this one in before the end of 2014, and while it wasn’t a page turner, it somewhat hit the spot. To be honest, I’d almost given up on this genre after some pretty awful reads in the past year, but I’m glad I gave Fiercombe Manor by Kate Riordan a shot.

Unwed and pregnant, Alice finds herself exiled to the Gloucestershire countryside and the care of a family friend who also doubles as the housekeeper for Fiercombe Manor. While awaiting the birth of her child, Alice discovers that all may not be as it seems when it comes to the manor’s absentee owners and sets upon investigating what exactly happened to the house’s previous mistress.

Pros:
– Characters that were interesting, but not always likeable. I wasn’t particularly attached to any of them, but for the most part they avoided falling into stereotypical buckets.
– A memorable estate with lots of nooks and crannies for the story to take place in. Riordan does a nice job with her description and one can envision Fiercombe in all of its glory.
– Flashbacks, a mysterious journal… all the requirements for a book about an old estate with a past shrouded in secrecy.

Cons:
– With all of the novels that have flooded the market in this genre during the past few years it’s pretty hard to get original. The plot was rather predictable, though the journey still managed to be enjoyable.
– Totally random, but also didn’t think the 1933 setting was very realistic. If you’re going to pick such an interesting time in British history at least do something with it… or set your book in another time.
– Length… the story gets a little long in the tooth in parts and could have benefited from a tighter edit.

Nothing ground breaking, but if you’re looking for something to solve your old house/family secrets craving, I’d recommend picking this one up. Available for pre-order from Amazon and on shelves February 17th, 2015.

Disclaimer: I received an advance copy of this novel for review courtesy of the publisher.