Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Good as Gone Book Review

Good as Gone by Amy Gentry

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Thirteen-year-old Julie Whitaker was kidnapped from her bedroom in the middle of the night, witnessed only by her younger sister. Her family was shattered, but managed to stick together, hoping against hope that Julie is still alive. And then one night: the doorbell rings. A young woman who appears to be Julie is finally, miraculously, home safe. The family is ecstatic—but Anna, Julie’s mother, has whispers of doubts.  She hates to face them. She cannot avoid them. When she is contacted by a former detective turned private eye, she begins a torturous search for the truth about the woman she desperately hopes is her daughter.

Review by Brittany:

As mentioned in a previous review, I subscribe to Book of the Month, and this was one of the selections that they offered. I've been loving mystery/thrillers lately, so I picked this book because the blurb was very intriguing.

Gah. This book hooked me from page one and became a one-day-read. The story opens up with Jane telling the story of Julie's abduction as she remembers it. Then it jumps forward to the day Jane returns home, giving the reader a glimpse into what life is like for the Whitakers now, eight years later. It is clear that relationships have become strained and that nothing is the same as it was.

One way this writer kept me in suspense was to make me doubt if Julie was genuine. Is it really her? Or is this someone posing to be Jule for some reason? Is it about money? The story switches from the present to Julie's life in the past, working backwards to the time of Julie's abduction to reveal if this person is actually Julie or not. Either way, this girl's story is painful and traumatic, and I found myself often thinking, "I don't care if she's Julie; she needs to be safe." It's interesting to me that this writer wanted the reader to doubt if Julie was genuine, but then roped us into not caring. It made for good reading, and I honestly couldn't decide throughout if this person was really Julie or someone else.

At the end of the story, the truth comes out about this person and what happened to lead her to their door. And some of the unanswered questions about Julie's abduction also come to light, leaving all of the characters with the feeling that they really had no idea what was going on in their own home.

I loved this book. I was hooked from the start, wondering about the new Julie and piecing together her life. This was a very well-written, suspenseful novel.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Winter People Book Review

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon


West Hall, Vermont, has always been a town of strange disappearances and old legends. The most mysterious is that of Sara Harrison Shea, who, in 1908, was found dead in the field behind her house just months after the tragic death of her daughter.
Now, in the present day, nineteen-year-old Ruthie lives in Sara's farmhouse with her mother, Alice, and her younger sister, Fawn. Alice has always insisted that they live off the grid, a decision that has weighty consequences when Ruthie wakes up one morning to find that Alice has vanished. In her search for clues, she is startled to find a copy of Sara Harrison Shea's diary hidden beneath the floorboards of her mother's bedroom. As Ruthie gets sucked into the historical mystery, she discovers that she's not the only person looking for someone they've lost. But she may be the only one who can stop history from repeating itself.

Review by Brittany:

I picked up this book after seeing it recommended on Facebook by a book blogger who had nothing but glowing things to say. From there, I read the blurb and decided that this book would be one worth trying out.

Wow. I had no idea quite how much I was going to enjoy this one. The book opens up with a note from the editor of Sara's published diary, and from there the book splits between the past and the present. I enjoyed reading from the perspective of Sara and husband Martin, and getting bits and pieces of their story as I learned about Ruthie and Katharine, two women who seem to have nothing in common until the climax of the story. I think having different perspectives coming together to reveal the mysteries of both the past and the present was extremely well done in this novel.

I also loved the paranormal aspect to this story. The winter people are also called sleepers, and they are essentially zombies. People can use black magic in order to revive a loved one who has passed, although it is temporary and the people don't come back to you the way they left you. The book chronicles Sara's experiences with wanting to bring back her 8-year-old daughter, Gertie, and what happens in the aftermath of her attempt to do so. That ties in to Ruthie's search for her mother and what's happening in the present.

What struck me the most about this novel - and what I think will stay with me - is the complete sadness of the tragedies in the book. There was so much sadness and so many terrible things that happened to the characters in the book, particularly the ones from history, that spiraled to create this huge mess they are all now in. Sara's experiences with losing her family members as she grew up and then losing her daughter at such a young age left me aching for all that she'd been through. Who could blame her for wishing for one chance to see her daughter again? The way the author spun the story to start with one terrible event - not revealed until the end of the book - and had it all unravel from there, creating havoc as it went along, was a beautiful storytelling technique and kept me hooked throughout.

I absolutely loved this book. It kept me turning pages and eagerly reading whenever I could, a sure sign of a good book. I definitely recommend.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Things We Wish Were True Book Review

The Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

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In an idyllic small-town neighborhood, a near tragedy triggers a series of dark revelations.

From the outside, Sycamore Glen, North Carolina, might look like the perfect all-American neighborhood. But behind the white picket fences lies a web of secrets that reach from house to house.

Up and down the streets, neighbors quietly bear the weight of their own pasts—until an accident at the community pool upsets the delicate equilibrium. And when tragic circumstances compel a woman to return to Sycamore Glen after years of self-imposed banishment, the tangle of the neighbors’ intertwined lives begins to unravel.

During the course of a sweltering summer, long-buried secrets are revealed, and the neighbors learn that it’s impossible to really know those closest to us. But is it impossible to love and forgive them?

Review by Brittany:

I one-clicked this book on Amazon because of the blurb. I like the Desperate Housewives sort of idea, where neighbors know each other on the surface but have no idea what's actually going on behind closed doors. I think that is truer than we often want to admit in the world around us, and suspense novels like these usually take it up a notch.

While this book kept me turning pages, it was less about the suspense and more about the characters and relationships that were being built. Zell, an older woman whose children have long since moved out, was one of my favorites. She is they type of woman who goes out of her way to help other people, which can sometimes put you in a position to know too much about what's going on in other people's lives.

My favorite tangled relationship in the novel was between Jencey and Bryte. Two woman who were best friends once upon a time now can barely move beyond the surface to address the things that happened in the past. Jencey was being stalked and up and left home, never returning after leaving for college. What got left behind was Bryte, her best friend, and Everett, her high school sweetheart. In the wake of Jencey leaving, Bryte picked up the pieces for Everett, and now they're married. This makes for a complicated rekindling, and the author made these moments just as awkward as you'd think they'd be. In the tangle of this relationship is Everett, a man who loves his wife yet can't help but think about the what-ifs when Jencey comes back into town. I felt like this triangle was pretty true to life, people struggling to come to terms with the past and to deal with the repercussions it has on the present.

Of course, secrets slowly get revealed - who was Jencey's stalker? What is Bryte keeping from Everett? What does Zell know about her neighbor's wife leaving? - and this adds to the suspense. The author did a great job of keeping some realism to things that people were hiding while maintaining the heightened suspense of figuring it all out.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It wasn't quite as heart-poundingly suspenseful as I was anticipating, but the character and relationship development added an unexpected layer of enjoyment. I definitely recommend this one!

Notable quotes:

Did life add or take away from who we are at sixteen?

This is who they were. This was the choice they'd all made.

...she could sympathize with his reticence to be somewhere people were having a good time. It took a lot out of you: celebrating when you wanted to do anything but.

The day, she concluded, hadn't been bad or good. It had been a day like any other, another bead in a very long string.

Her inexplicable unease about Jencey was either women's intuition or complete paranoia. Or residual from their past, creeping in, never fully vanquished no matter how much they all moved on.

She wanted to tell her that this reality wasn't the only one there was, forever. That nothing stayed the same.

And yet, Jencey understood, there were the things she wished were true, and there was what was actually true.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Secret Place Book Review

The Secret Place by Tana French

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In this "dizzyingly addictive"* novel, Detective Stephen Moran has been waiting for his chance to join Dublin’s Murder Squad when sixteen-year-old Holly Mackey arrives in his office with a photo of a popular boy whose body was found at a girls’ boarding school a year earlier. The photo had been posted at “The Secret Place,” the school’s anonymous gossip board, and the caption says “I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM.” Stephen joins with Detective Antoinette Conway to reopen the case—beneath the watchful eye of Holly’s father, fellow detective Frank Mackey. With the clues leading back to Holly’s close-knit group of friends, to their rival clique, and to the tangle of relationships that bound them all to the murdered boy, the private underworld of teenage girls turns out to be more mysterious and more dangerous than the detectives imagined.

Review by Brittany:

I am a long-standing fan of French's Dublin Murder Squad series, and this installment didn't disappoint.

The entire book takes place over one day, adding snippets of the girls' lives leading up to the day that Chris Harper died, with Moran and Conway working to piece together a murder that happened a year ago. When new evidence comes in, they head out to Kilda's, the boarding school where Chris Harper's body was found a year before. At the time, minimal progress was made, and the crime was left unsolved. Now, Conway and Moran are working together, interrogating the same group of girls who were interrogated before. They slowly start to realize that, a year ago, these girls were keeping some secrets very close to the chest.

I love the way that French wrote these teenage girls. They are all around 16 years old, a tough age where it's all cat-fights and sticking close to your best friends. French encapsulates this feeling exactly, setting all the girls up to fight with their "enemies" and constantly use the murder investigation as a way to give them grief. What better way to get back at someone you don't like than to throw some suspicion over them for murder?

I enjoyed watching the partnership between Moran and Conway build throughout the daylong investigation. They give each other little jabs every now and then but are also able to bounce ideas off of one another to try to get to the bottom of what exactly is happening in the school. When Mackey shows up and tries to shake them up, it's a no go - these two are well teamed up.

The climax of the novel is well done. I felt surprised enough by the ending to appreciate it, but no so surprised that it felt outside the realm of possibility. There's a certain gritty, dark feeling to all of French's novels that really appeals to me, and this one had that same feeling that I crave whenever I pick up one of hers. I loved this book and think it makes a great addition to the series.

Notable quotes:

"This fucking place. Trips you up every time you turn around. Whatever you do, turns out it was the wrong call."

Fair play to teenage girls; I'd never have been able for it.

She was right; course she was. You don't get a second first time.

Be scared you're fat, be scared your boobs are too big and be scared they're too small. Be scared to walk on your own, specially anywhere quiet enough that you can hear yourself think. Be scared of wearing the wrong stuff, saying the wrong thing, having a stupid laugh, being uncool. Be scared of guys not fancying you; be scared of guys, they're animals, rabid, can't stop themselves. Be scared of girls, they're all vicious, they'll cut you down before you can cut them. Be scared of strangers. Be scared you won't do well enough in your exams, be scared of getting in trouble. Be scared terrified petrified that everything you are is every kind of wrong.