Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Drowning Girls Book Review

The Drowning Girls by Paula Treick DeBoard


Liz McGinnis never imagined herself living in a luxurious gated community like The Palms. Ever since she and her family moved in, she's felt like an outsider amongst the Stepford-like wives and their obnoxiously spoiled children. Still, she's determined to make it work - if not for herself, then for her husband, Phil, who landed them this lavish home in the first place, and for her daughter, Danielle, who's about to enter high school.

Yet underneath the glossy veneer of The Palms, life is far from idyllic. In a place where reputation is everything, Liz soon discovers that even the friendliest residents can't be trusted. So when the gorgeous girl next door befriends Danielle, Liz can't help but find sophisticated Kelsey's interest in her shy and slightly nerdy daughter a bit suspicious.

But while Kelsey quickly becomes a fixture in the McGinnis home, Liz's relationship with both Danielle and Phil grow strained. Now even her own family seems to be hiding things, and it's not long before their dream of living the high life quickly spirals out of control.

Review by Brittany:

I requested a copy of this novel through NetGalley because the blurb intrigued me. This is my first book by this author to read, and I absolutely loved it.

I was drawn into the story from the very first page. The book starts out in the present time and switches back and forth between the present and the past. In the present, there is the body of a teenage girl floating in Liz's pool, and the chapters about the past fill in the blanks about Kelsey and her connection to Liz, Phil, and Danielle.

The book also tells the story from both Phil's and Liz's point of view, so the reader gets extra pieces of information. I like this style of writing, and it worked particularly well in this story. Liz and Phil end up at odds, with Liz believing a version of events that did not happen in the way she thinks. Having both perspectives gives the reader the truth, but it also outlines Liz's thoughts and shows how she came to those conclusions.

Kelsey's character is at the heart of the story, although the reader never gets to experience her point of view. She is clearly complex, showing multiple versions of herself throughout the story, depending on the audience at the time. She is a character who I sort of hate but also sort of love.

The ending of the book - the reveal of what happened to Kelsey in the pool - was not totally clear to me until I got there. I liked how I had an uneasy feeling about it but didn't know what had happened. There is a bit of a cliffhanger at the end, leaving the reader to wonder how things will work out for the McGinnis's.

Overall, I loved this book. The suspense kept me reading and turning pages, dying to get to the end. This author sucked me in from the first page and kept me hooked, and I felt like her story really delivered. I definitely recommend!

Notable quotes:

For a long time, I'd wanted to go back, to pin our relationship to a wall and study it, like a specimen, from every angle. I wanted to  be able to say: Here. This is where it all went wrong. This was the point at which the inevitable was not yet evitable.

But she was still there, if only in my thoughts - like the black widow Liz had spotted in our house in Livermore. Once she knew it was there, she claimed she couldn't rest easy.

Phil and I found ways to talk to each other without really talking, to apologize without really apologizing.

This was the great trick that social media had played on us. Take any image, pair it with any language, and the two were linked.

I suppose she'd lived long enough to know that sometimes it wasn't better in the morning. Sometimes, in fact, it was worse.

I didn't believe a person could ever know another person wholly, inside out, and I was okay with that. Because inside, there were some ugly things, the blood and guts, the things that were better buried, better unsaid.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Discovery of Witches Book Review

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness


Deep in the heart of Oxford's Bodleian Library, Diana Bishop - a young scholar and the descendant of witches - unearths an enchanted alchemical manuscript. Wanting nothing to do with sorcery, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery has set a fantastical underworld stirring, and soon a horde of daemons, witches, and other creatures descends upon the library. Among them is the enigmatic Matthew Clairmont, a vampire with a keen interest in the book. Equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense, A Discovery of Witches is a mesmerizing and addictive tale of passion and obsession that reveals the closely guarded secrets of an enchanted world.

Review by Brittany:

As usual, I'm a little late coming to this trilogy. I wasn't sure about picking up yet another supernatural novel about witches and vampires out of fear that it would feel the same as every other one I've read before. But this one didn't.

First, the saturation of the novel with history (which may not be accurate but feels like it) adds a certain maturity to the book. These aren't lovesick teenagers; instead, the author has written about educated adults who are old enough to make their own choices and understand the consequences. I thought it was interesting that the entire draw of the lost manuscript is that each set of creatures simply wants to understand their existence. Not so different from humans. This is also why Matthew has studied many different areas of science, including genetics and evolution. The basis of this novel seemed to be about understanding existence and purpose, which I can get behind.

As for characters, I thought Harkness did a great job introducing and developing them. Diana is determined to stay away from her magic and has done so her entire life as best she can, but now she's beginning to lose control of the power that's in her. Her desire to earn her keep in life battles with her natural instinct to use magic. Matthew, a vampire, is constantly having to overcome his natural instinct to be distrustful of witches and to possibly attack them in order to keep Diana safe. Over the course of the novel, this develops into a romance that is forbidden by the Congregation - the governmental body that serves to uphold a treaty between vampires, witches, and daemons.

Minor characters were fantastic, too. Ysabeau, Matthew's mother, is an intense character who ended up playing a large maternal role for Diana, despite the initial feelings Ysabeau has toward her. Em and Sarah, Diana's aunts, are clearly strong witches with big hearts whose concern for Diana adds a needed familial pull to the novel. Miriam and Marcus, vampires who work with Matthew, add a bit of antagonism to the tale, adding to the conflict. Satu, Peter Knox, and Gerbert are all "enemies" of Diana and Matthew, and I'm curious to read more about their stories as the trilogy progresses.

One of my favorite parts of this novel was Sarah and Em's house. It becomes a character of its own because it's haunted. Ghosts hang around all the time, and the house reshapes itself in order to invite new guests. The house also slams doors and cabinets, sighs, and reveals secrets in due time. I loved the house playing the role of a character all its own and though that added a nice touch to the story.

The book does end on a bit of a cliffhanger, leaving me ready to read more. This first book did get complex at times as there's so much history and so many pieces to the large puzzle, but I'm looking forward to reading the next one. Diana's story is one that I'm definitely interested in continuing.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Winter Rose Book Review

The Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelly

It has been twelve years since a dark, murderous figure stalked the alleys and courts of Whitechapel. And yet, in the summer of 1900, East London is still poor, still brutal, still a shadow city to its western twin. Among the reformers is an idealistic young woman named India Selwyn-Jones, recently graduated from medical school. With the help of her influential fiance - Freddie Lytton, an up-and-coming Liberal MP - she works to shut down the area's opium dens that destroy both body and soul. Her selfless activities better her patients' lives and bring immense gratification, but unfortunately, they also bring her into direct conflict with East London's ruling crime lord - Sid Malone.

India is not good for business and at first, Malone wants her out. But against all odds, India and Sid fall in love. Different in nearly every way, they share one thing in common - they are both wounded souls. Their love is impossible and they know it, yet they cling to it desperately. Lytton, India's fiance, will stop at nothing to marry India and gain her family's fortune.

Fractious criminal underlings and rivals conspire against Sid. When Sid is finally betrayed by one of his own, he must flee London to save his life. Mistakenly thinking him dead, India, pregnant and desperate, marries Freddie to provide a father for hers and Sid's child. India and Sid must each make a terrible sacrifice - a sacrifice that will change them both forever. One that will lead them to other lives, and other places...and perhaps - one distant, bittersweet day - back to each other.

Review by Brittany:
This novel is the second in the Tea Rose trilogy, the first of which I absolutely fell in love with. This one was no different.
I always love books that are part of a series but do not require that the first be read, and this one fits the bill. Of course, reading the first in the trilogy will enhance the reading experience, but it is not necessary to the story as the book recaps enough to keep the reader up to date with what's happening now.

This book saw the return of many beloved characters from the first novel. Readers get to follow up with Fiona and Joe, and Fiona's youngest brother Seamus gets some development in this novel as he's now seventeen. Sid Malone is also a returning character, and the book follows up on the big reveal from the first one. Readers also get to meet some new characters, both wonderful and awful. Ella, a nurse who works alongside India at her first job, becomes a fantastic friend to India and dreams of having a free clinic in Whitechapel just like India does. Freddie Lytton is a new character to this book, and he's one of the best villains - the type you love to hate. Frankie Betts, Sid's right hand man, plays a huge role in this novel and alters the course of the book drastically.

I loved reading about India and her dreams of making life better for Whitechapel women. These stories were so well-written that I often found myself almost grieving for some of the struggling characters that India attempted to help. I also felt her anger at the male doctor for whom she works when he denies women anesthetic during labor and the option for birth control once they have a whole litter of children.

I also loved Freddie, in a morbid sort of way. Gah, what a cruel, cruel man. When Donnelly writes from his perspective, it is clear that his main drive is money only. He is conniving and manipulative, doing anything he can to remove people he sees as obstacles. His brutality was often shocking, and some of the most brutal scenes in the book are tied to Freddie.

Charlotte, India's illegitimate child with Sid, is a wonder of a character. She's written to be incredibly perceptive and often way more grown up than a child of her age should be. She asks the right questions to illustrate how much she notices, but there are also moments when her childishness poke through - such as when she gets overexcited to see the animals in Africa.

The story line does get a bit crazy sometimes - faking deaths, breaking out of prison, climbing Kilimanjaro, hyena attacks, and much more - but I loved the drama of it. Donnelly's writing and storytelling sucks me in from the first page, and I love rolling around in the Whitechapel that she writes about. I'm definitely going to be reading the final book in this trilogy.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Kaleidoscope Book Review

Kaleidoscope by Ryan Mullaney


Awakened one morning with no memory of the past 24 hours, Keri Crawford finds herself running for her life, embroiled in a conspiracy linking her to the assassination of a high-profile senator campaigning to decriminalize KDS - the most popular new mind-altering substance.

An upstart investigator. Gun-toting mercenaries. A disgraced detective. Everyone wants to know what Keri Crawford knows. But what happens when Keri herself doesn't even know?

Review by Brittany:

This is Mullaney's third book, and I have read and reviewed all of them so far.

As is customary for this author, the reader gets dropped immediately into the action. Keri has no idea what's going on when she wakes up bruised and barefoot in an elevator in her apartment building. A man is chasing her and identifies himself as a detective, but Keri doesn't know whether to be afraid or comforted, so she continues to run and try to piece together what happened the day before.

The book is nonstop action all the way through. Keri is constantly on the run, either from the good guys or the bad guys. She can't tell the difference, and KDS has her feeling a little more paranoid than normal. As Keri struggles to remember what happened and tries to retrieve what she knows, the reader struggles along with her, piecing the story together. There were parts of the book that flashed back to the day that Keri can't remember. The time change in these scenes was a little confusing at first, but once I adjusted it fit nicely into the book.

One thing I loved about this book was Keri's relationship with her dog. Such a funny piece of info in a book like this, but it made Keri seem more like a real person to me. And in the midst of all the chaos of her life, she has this one piece of foundation - her love for her dog.

I also thought the concept of KDS was cool. It's a neat idea, a drug that can give or remove memories, and the way in which it is administered is novel and interesting. Even the packaging was intriguing - different colors indicate different moods. The whole concept of KDS was creative and well done, and I haven't read another book that created a drug in such an interesting way.

Overall, while this one doesn't quite take the place of my favorite of Mullaney's, I really enjoyed it. It's high action and suspense, and it would be a great read for fans of mystery/thrillers.