Review: Tear Me Apart by J.T. Ellison

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

One moment will change their lives forever…

Competitive skier Mindy Wright is a superstar in the making until a spectacular downhill crash threatens not just her racing career but her life. During surgery, doctors discover she’s suffering from a severe form of leukemia, and a stem cell transplant is her only hope. But when her parents are tested, a frightening truth emerges. Mindy is not their daughter.

Who knows the answers?

The race to save Mindy’s life means unraveling years of lies. Was she accidentally switched at birth or is there something more sinister at play? The search for the truth will tear a family apart…and someone is going to deadly extremes to protect the family’s deepest secrets.

With vivid movement through time, Tear Me Apart examines the impact layer after layer of lies and betrayal has on two families, the secrets they guard, and the desperate fight to hide the darkness within.

My Thoughts:

I love that J.T. Ellison writes layered novels. The plot is never as simple as it might appear, and Tear Me Apart is no exception. The race to save Mindy’s life is difficult on its own but the question of the identity of her biological parents is made even more demanding. Almost everyone in this story lies at least once, making it tricky for the reader to know whom to trust. While I did guess part of the conclusion, I certainly did not have everything figured out. As someone who reads a lot of mysteries and thrillers, I consider a book a success if I don’t see everything coming at the end. I flew through this story in just a couple days, determined to reach the ending. Tear Me Apart is a wild ride.

The characters in Tear Me Apart are well rounded. I had no difficulties picturing each character and empathizing with them. And I’m glad that Ellison allowed these characters to feel all kinds of emotions. There is a considerable amount of shock as lies are finally revealed, but everyone still wants what’s best for Mindy and has to balance their feelings. I especially liked reading about Mindy, who is inspiring, mature, and also still a kid trying to cope with maybe never skiing again, learning she has leukemia, and that her parents aren’t her biological parents.

Ellison knows how to write strong thrillers. Much like Gillian Flynn (read my review of Sharp Objects here!), she plays with stereotypes of how women can act and what women can do. Tear Me Apart features several different women who are likeable, troubling, kindhearted, and dangerous. Ellison also knows how to keep a thriller moving. With short chapters and flashbacks, Ellison keeps the reader on the edge of their seat, making this novel a quick read.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! I’ve read a few of Ellison’s other novels, and always enjoy her work. As a fun surprise, much of this story is set in Colorado, and I loved recognizing locations and descriptions! I would definitely recommend this book, especially for fans of Karin Slaughter.

This book is…

fast paced

a page turner

surprising

unputdownable

well written

Publisher: MIRA

Genre: thriller

Page Count: 368

ISBN: 0778330001

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read Tear Me Apart? What other J.T. Ellison novels would you recommend?

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Review: The Governess Game by Tessa Dare

My Rating: 5 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

The accidental governess.

After her livelihood slips through her fingers, Alexandra Mountbatten takes on an impossible post: transforming a pair of wild orphans into proper young ladies. However, the girls don’t need discipline. They need a loving home. Try telling that to their guardian, Chase Reynaud: duke’s heir in the streets and devil in the sheets. The ladies of London have tried—and failed—to make him settle down. Somehow, Alexandra must reach his heart… without risking her own.

The infamous rake.

Like any self-respecting libertine, Chase lives by one rule: no attachments. When a stubborn little governess tries to reform him, he decides to give her an education—in pleasure. That should prove he can’t be tamed. But Alexandra is more than he bargained for: clever, perceptive, passionate. She refuses to see him as a lost cause. Soon the walls around Chase’s heart are crumbling… and he’s in danger of falling, hard.

My Thoughts:

I’m a huge fan of stories with governesses winning over their wayward charges. Case in point, who doesn’t love The Sound of Music?! And so when I read the summary for The Governess Game, I knew this book would be my cup of tea. The Cinderella vibes made for a breath of fresh air to the romance genre, as did the inclusion of two younger supporting characters. I loved that Alexandra’s career and hobby played such a central role in this story, which really rounded out her character.

I cannot think of a better word than charming to describe the characters in this book, but the word doesn’t do them justice. These characters are lovely, heartwarming, memorable, and delightful. Alexandra is a wonderful heroine. I enjoyed her wit, choice of hobbies, and kind hearted nature. Chase is purely wonderful. I found him to be particularly funny! I especially adored Chase’s young wards. I was constantly laughing at their antics and wanting to reach through the pages and give them a hug.

The story starts off strong-and in a bookshop, no less! Despite being almost 400 pages, The Governess Game moves quickly. Dare certainly has no issues with pacing and is an expert at adding romance, intrigue, and humor at just the right moments. From the very beginning, Tessa Dare tells us that Alexandra and Chase are good people, and then Dare demonstrates that through their words and actions. Dare’s strong writing is what really makes this book shine.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I loved this book! Tessa Dare is one of my favorite romance writers and her newest book does not disappoint. Dare works within conventional romance tropes to update the genre and push boundaries. I highly recommend this book, especially if you’re looking for a lighter and quick read.

This book is…

charming

laugh out loud funny

sexy

endearing

a quick read

Publisher: Avon

Genre: romance

Page Count: 373

ISBN: 0062672126

Available here from IndieBound.

Will you read The Governess Game? What other romance novels would you recommend?

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Review: A Scot in the Dark by Sarah MacLean

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Lonesome Lily Turned Scandalous Siren

Miss Lillian Hargrove has lived much of her life alone in a gilded cage, longing for love and companionship. When an artist offers her pretty promises and begs her to pose for a scandalous portrait, Lily doesn’t hesitate…until the lying libertine leaves her in disgrace. With the painting now public, Lily has no choice but to turn to the one man who might save her from ruin.

Highland Devil turned Halfhearted Duke

The Duke of Warnick loathes all things English, none more so than the aristocracy. It does not matter that the imposing Scotsman has inherited one of the most venerable dukedoms in Britain—he wants nothing to do with it, especially when he discovers that the unwanted title comes with a troublesome ward, one who is far too old and far too beautiful to be his problem.

Tartan Comes to Town

Warnick arrives in London with a single goal: get the chit married and see her become someone else’s problem, then return to a normal, quiet life in Scotland. It’s the perfect plan, until Lily declares she’ll only marry for love…and the Scot finds that there is one thing in England he likes far too much…

My Thoughts:

I thought the plot of A Scot in the Dark to be a refreshing change of pace. Instead of a typical virgin falls for friend turned lover plot, our heroine is decidedly not innocent. She makes a series of dumb choices in the name of love and now must live with the consequences. It was fun to read about Lillian and Warnick working together to save her reputation and her lack of ignorance made for some fun romps in the bedroom…and in a carriage.

Sarah MacLean always gives her female characters plenty of agency, and Lillian Hargrove is no exception. I appreciated the repetitive refrain that Lily chose to sit for the scandalous portrait. It was a conscious decision that she made, albeit a foolish one. Much of Lily’s journey is focused on owning up to her mistake and developing the courage to stand on her own two feet. And Warnick is certainly a different romantic lead than usual. His being from Scotland reinforced how little he fit in with the English aristocracy, which led to several hilarious encounters, usually him bursting out of his clothes!

Curiously, this book was a little slow in the beginning. It felt like a bit too much talk and not enough action. But the story moves along about halfway through, particularly with the addition of more characters. Other reviewers pointed out that the solution to this book’s central problem is obvious: steal the infamous painting back to protect Lily. But that never even occurred to me until it occurs to the characters in this story! Plot developments might seem obvious to some but are not so to others. This is a fun and witty novel that charms from beginning to end.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! Yes, romance novels can be a bit predictable, but that’s another reason to enjoy them. I like knowing what’s coming! This is the second book in a series and I look forward to reading the next one. Sarah MacLean books are always entertaining and I highly recommend her as an author.

This book is…

witty

charming

predictable

sexy

funny

Publisher: Avon

Genre: romance

Page Count: 342

ISBN: 0062465848

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read A Scot in the Dark? What other romance novels would you recommend?

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Review: Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

What if the person you thought you knew best turns out to be someone you never knew at all . . . ?

Andrea knows everything about her mother, Laura. She knows she’s spent her whole life in the small beachside town of Belle Isle; she knows she’s never wanted anything more than to live a quiet life as a pillar of the community; she knows she’s never kept a secret in her life. Because we all know our mothers, don’t we?

But all that changes when a trip to the mall explodes into violence and Andrea suddenly sees a completely different side to Laura. Because it turns out that before Laura was Laura, she was someone completely different. For nearly thirty years she’s been hiding from her previous identity, lying low in the hope that no one would ever find her. But now she’s been exposed, and nothing will ever be the same again.

The police want answers and Laura’s innocence is on the line, but she won’t speak to anyone, including her own daughter. Andrea is on a desperate journey following the breadcrumb trail of her mother’s past. And if she can’t uncover the secrets hidden there, there may be no future for either one of them. . . .

My Thoughts:

First and foremost, whatever you think will happen next in this book, won’t. Any guesses or theories you might develop as you read will inevitably be wrong. Despite being almost 500 pages, Karin Slaughter’s writing kept me on the edge of my seat and hardly wanting to set this book down. Although the premise initially felt over the top, Slaughter took the story in an unexpected direction that somehow grounded the story. It’s always difficult to discuss a mystery novel without giving away the ending, but through the use of well placed flashbacks, the story ultimately comes together nicely.

At the beginning I struggled to like Andrea. At 31, her actions and attitude felt unrealistic. Maybe I’m biased because I don’t know any 31 year olds who are utterly floundering, but Andrea seemed too helpless to be real. Ironically, she really matured quickly and steps up to the plate once certain events unfold. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I liked her by the end, even though I think you’re supposed to, but she was significantly less annoying by the book’s conclusion. Laura was by far my favorite character, though. At the beginning, she is the kind of mother that everyone wants to be or have, and only becomes more fascinating as her story unfolds. Slaughter grounds Laura’s character in familiar tropes, which keeps her story from becoming a soap opera. The relationship between mother and daughter felt real, which is great as theirs is the central dynamic in this story.

I was really impressed with the pacing of this book. This story got inside my head and I never wanted to put the book down. There are some pop culture references that do date this writing and pulled me out of the story each time. At almost 500 pages, I do think some parts could have been cut, especially in the middle and at the end. But Slaughter obviously knows how to write a thriller, and I’m sure her other books are equally as good.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Pieces of Her is the first Karin Slaughter book I’ve read but I think I’ll start to work my way through her backlist soon. This book makes a great summer, vacation, or weekend read due to the fast pace. I would definitely recommend this book.

This book is…

shocking

suspenseful

well written

engaging

full of twists and turns

Publisher: William Morrow

Genre: thriller

Page Count: 480

ISBN: 0062430270

Available here from IndieBound.

Will you read Pieces of Her? What other Karin Slaughter novels would you recommend?

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Mini Reviews: Now My Heart Is Full by Laura June and The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar

Now My Heart Is Full by Laura June

My Rating: ? / 5 stars (This book was a DNF for me.)

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Laura June’s daughter, Zelda, was only a few moments old when she held her for the first time, looked into her eyes, and thought, I wish my mother were here. It wasn’t a thought she was used to having. Laura was in second grade when she realized her mother was an alcoholic. As the years went by, she spiraled deeper, becoming borderline abusive, and by the time of her death a few years before Zelda’s birth, the two had drifted apart entirely.

In Now My Heart Is Full, Laura June explores how raising her daughter forced her to come to terms with her own mother’s tragic legacy and recognize the connective tissue that binds together the three generations of women. She also confronts the complicated place that women’s drinking often occupies and interrogates the culture of drinking that surrounds our ideas of motherhood, reflecting on her own decision not to drink.

In beautiful and irreverent prose, she describes how coming to grips with the fact that Zelda would never know her grandmother, while trying to be the best mother she could be, forced her to reevaluate her own mother, who tried her best to raise her children while struggling with addiction. By confronting the day-to-day frustrations of new motherhood she exposes how, even a generation later, we still do not have the language to fully discuss the change that a woman undergoes when she becomes a parent. And only by experiencing the pain and joy of it herself is she able to make peace with her mother’s memory at last and find that, to her surprise, the two have more in common than she ever knew.

My Thoughts:

As mentioned above, I did not finish this book. I read around 50 pages before calling it quits. There was just something about the writing style that wasn’t grabbing me, leaving me disinterested. I even tried setting the book down for two days before trying again. This is the sort of memoir that I would normally really enjoy, which is the reason I’m sharing these few thoughts here. I didn’t read enough of the book to give a full review, but I was very underwhelmed by what I did read. I would not recommend this book.

Publisher: Penguin Books

Genre: memoir

Page Count: 272

ISBN: 0143130919

Available here from IndieBound.

The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar

My Rating: 3 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Set in modern-day India, it is the story of two compelling and achingly real women: Sera Dubash, an upper-middle-class Parsi housewife whose opulent surroundings hide the shame and disappointment of her abusive marriage, and Bhima, a stoic illiterate hardened by a life of despair and loss, who has worked in the Dubash household for more than twenty years.

My Thoughts:

Overall, I liked this book. The story is very well written and the language is often so beautiful, I would stop to reread lines. That being said, this book does not receive a higher rating from me for two reasons. One, being that this book is incredibly sad, and two, being that this story is nonstop heartbreak. Personally, I don’t mind when a book is sad, but I need some moments of levity to break things up. I need at least a few moments of hope to entice me to keep reading. Unfortunately, this book does not deliver. I would not recommend this book unless someone were very specifically looking for a sad story about two families in India.

Publisher: Harper Perennial

Genre: fiction

Page Count: 321

ISBN: 006079156X

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read The Space Between Us? What novel set in India would you recommend? Any interest in Now My Heart Is Full?

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Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

My Rating: 5 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

January 1946: Writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a stranger, a founding member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. And so begins a remarkable tale of the island of Guernsey during the German occupation, and of a society as extraordinary as its name.

My Thoughts:

This is a book for anyone who loves words, reading, and books. I loved that the entire story is told through letters. Epistolary novels are not done very often, and are even less often successful, but this one hits the nail on the head. This style choice allowed readers to hear lots of different viewpoints, and the authors were always very clear as to whom was writing to whom. I also think the use of letters feeds into the love of stories so prominently featured here. Everyone in the literary society loves stories and books and this is made abundantly clear through their excellent letter writing abilities. And while I would never dream of spoiling the plot, the Society’s origin story is a great one!

I’m always a fan of stories set in England during and after WWII, and this book is no exception. I enjoyed hearing about how Guernsey survived the German occupation and its townspeople speak of resisting in their own quiet ways. A few characters do make difficult choices and face serious consequences, all while knowing they did what they thought was right. This book does not shy away from these choices and their consequences, but also asks the reader to ponder what they might do in this situation.

Every character in this story is well crafted. Guernsey, which is a character in this book in addition to a setting, and the people who are inhabit it are cozy, lovely, and unique. Each character imparts their own quirks through the letters they write and the heartwarming, and sometimes heartbreaking, stories they share of their past. I adored that we were even given a couple of villains to shake things up from time to time.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I loved this book! I’ve had my eye on this book for a long time now, but finally gave it a go because it’s been made into a movie on Netflix. I really loved this book. I think it’s a great choice for anyone who loves reading and great heartwarming stories. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for an enjoyable and easy read, especially for fans of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid.

This book is…

charming

sweet

funny

emotional

well written

Publisher: Dial Press Trade Paperback

Genre: historical fiction

Page Count: 290

ISBN: 0385341008

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society? What WWII novel would you recommend?

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Review: The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams

My Rating: 3 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

New York Times bestselling author Beatriz Williams brings us the blockbuster novel of the season—a spellbinding novel of romance, murder, class, power, and dark secrets set in the 1950s and ’60s among the rarified world of a resort island in the Long Island Sound . . .

In the summer of 1951, Miranda Schuyler arrives on elite, secretive Winthrop Island in Long Island Sound as a naive eighteen year old, still reeling from the loss of her father in the Second World War. Although a graduate of the exclusive Foxcroft Academy in Virginia, Miranda has always lived on the margins of high society. When her beautiful mother marries Hugh Fisher, whose summer house on Winthrop overlooks the famous lighthouse, Miranda is catapulted into a heady new world of pedigrees and cocktails, status and swimming pools. Isobel Fisher, Miranda’s new stepsister—all long legs and world-weary bravado, engaged to a wealthy Island scion—is eager to draw Miranda into the arcane customs of Winthrop society.

But beneath the Island’s patrician surface, there are really two clans–the summer families with their steadfast ways and quiet obsessions, and the working class of Portuguese fishermen and domestic workers who earn their living on the water and in the laundries of the summer houses. Uneasy among Isobel’s privileged friends, Miranda finds herself drawn to Joseph helps his father in the lobster boat, but in the autumn he returns to Brown University, where he’s determined to make something of himself. Since childhood, Joseph has enjoyed an intense, complex friendship with Isobel Fisher, and has a catastrophe that will shatter Winthrop’s hard-won tranquility and banish Miranda from the Island for nearly two decades.

Now, in the summer of 1969, Miranda returns at last, as a renowned Shakespearean actress hiding a terrible heartbreak. On its surface, the Island remains the same–determined to keep the outside world from its shores, fiercely loyal to those who belong. But the formerly powerful Fisher family is a shadow of itself, and Joseph Vargas has recently escaped the prison where he was incarcerated for the murder of Miranda’s stepfather eighteen years earlier. What’s more, Miranda herself is no longer a naive teenager, and she begins a fierce, inexorable quest for justice to the man she once loved . . . even if it means uncovering every last one of the secrets that bind together the families of Winthrop Island.

My Thoughts:

Per usual, I enjoyed how Beatriz Williams used multiple characters and timelines to flesh out her story. The Summer Wives is slightly different from many of her other stories, in that the focus is primarily on one character and the narration alternates between two time periods in her life. And then we do occasionally hear from another character, but always from the same point in time. While I enjoyed reading so much from one person’s perspective, I prefer when the two timelines are more disparate, like in most of Williams’s other novels. But the overall story was interesting, and includes romance, murder, and theatre! The plot is pretty interesting throughout, despite some slow pacing at times. The last 50 pages or so are a wild ride, and I can honestly say I did not expect things to wrap up the way they did.

I really appreciated how Williams explores class dynamics and how the characters in The Summer Wives navigate these differences. The different generations handled these dynamics in their own ways, with the older adults demanding distance and safety and the younger adults wanting to shake things up, and desperately. Williams also notes how gender dynamics of the 1950s and 1960s intersect with class and race, and that no two people have the exact same options or paths before them.

I thought all of the characters in The Summer Wives were interesting and complex. My favorite character is Miranda, our protagonist. As a bookworm myself, I appreciated how much Miranda loved reading and performing. Once again, Williams crafted several great women lead characters in The Summer Wives. And I appreciate that Williams knows there are many ways to write strong women. The characters featured here are courageous, weak, outspoken, understated, violent, and cautious. That being said, I do wish a few more of the characters were more fleshed out during the 1969 timeline. I felt there wasn’t quite enough explanation as to why certain characters developed as they did, which left some of these characters feeling rushed and forced.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I enjoyed this book! It took me a few days to get into it, but once I did,I flew through the rest. Williams is great at writing historical fiction and adds just the right amount of details and atmosphere to place the reader right in the middle of the story. If you’ve enjoyed any of Williams’s previous books, or if you’ve been meaning to give her work a try, you’ll definitely enjoy this one.

This book is…

well-written

lush with detail

surprising

moving

full of unique characters

Publisher: William Morrow

Genre: historical fiction

Page Count: 384

ISBN: 0062660349

Available here from IndieBound.

Will you read The Summer Wives? What historical fiction book would you recommend?

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Review: Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Two families, generations apart, are forever changed by a heartbreaking injustice in this poignant novel, inspired by a true story, for readers of Orphan Train and The Nightingale.

Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize that the truth is much darker. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together—in a world of danger and uncertainty.

Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions—and compels her to take a journey through her family’s long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or redemption.

Based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals—in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country—Wingate’s riveting, wrenching, and ultimately uplifting tale reminds us how, even though the paths we take can lead to many places, the heart never forgets where we belong.

My Thoughts:

Both the story and the truth behind Before We Were Yours is astonishing in the worst possible way. The more you read and discover what really happened, the more shocked you are that such a large scale operation existed for so long and did so much damage. I’m grateful to Lisa Wingate for exposing the truth and sharing this story.

I also really enjoyed how Wingate used two time periods to tell the story. By having Avery investigate, it’s easy for the reader to identify with Avery in her search for the truth. Likewise, by alternating between past and present, it’s almost impossible to put this book down. Wingate does an excellent job of pacing Before We Were Yours and also makes great use of cliffhangers to propel the story forward.

The characters in Before We Were Yours are very well-written. Wingate does a great job of showcasing each character’s intent and motivations in order to understand where everyone is coming from, including the villains. What’s also interesting about this story is that sometimes there are clearly defined good and evil characters, but that sometimes the characters aren’t so clearly defined. And in this, Wingate reflects real life. Sometimes someone does the wrong thing for the right reasons, and vice versa.

Throughout Before We Were Yours, Wingate makes some questionable language choices. She repeatedly refers to Rill Foss and her family as “river gypsies,” which is not only a slur, but not really the correct word choice. Additionally, Rill and other characters in the 1939 timeline make crass and racist observations about anyone who isn’t white, including black workers and that someone’s closed eyes make them look like a “Chinaman.” I would presume that Wingate included these details to reinforce the time period and the lack of political correctness and awareness that is better these days. But instead these remarks felt jarring and pull the reader out of the story. There are other ways to establish that the Foss family is ‘free spirited’ or that nothing about the early 1940s was perfect.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Wingate does an incredible job of highlighting this horrific situation in our country’s past. Wingate’s former career as a journalist aided in the research and writing of Before We Were Yours and the story unfolds in all the right ways. I highly recommend this book, especially for fans of The Alice Network by Kate Quinn (read my review!) and Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton (read my review!).

This book is…

shocking

illuminating

well-written

engaging

unputdownable

This book contains content warning for…

child abuse (emotional, physical, and sexual)

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Genre: historical fiction

Page Count: 342

ISBN: 9780425284681

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read Before We Were Yours? What historical fiction about a lesser known piece of history would you recommend?

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!

Review: The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

My Rating: 5 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In the new novel from the bestselling author of Final Girls, The Last Time I Lied follows a young woman as she returns to her childhood summer camp to uncover the truth about a tragedy that happened there fifteen years ago.

Two Truths and a Lie. The girls played it all the time in their tiny cabin at Camp Nightingale. Vivian, Natalie, Allison, and first-time camper Emma Davis, the youngest of the group. The games ended when Emma sleepily watched the others sneak out of the cabin in the dead of night. The last she–or anyone–saw of them was Vivian closing the cabin door behind her, hushing Emma with a finger pressed to her lips.

Now a rising star in the New York art scene, Emma turns her past into paintings–massive canvases filled with dark leaves and gnarled branches that cover ghostly shapes in white dresses. The paintings catch the attention of Francesca Harris-White, the socialite and wealthy owner of Camp Nightingale. When Francesca implores her to return to the newly reopened camp as a painting instructor, Emma sees an opportunity to try to find out what really happened to her friends.

Yet it’s immediately clear that all is not right at Camp Nightingale. Already haunted by memories from fifteen years ago, Emma discovers a security camera pointed directly at her cabin, mounting mistrust from Francesca and, most disturbing of all, cryptic clues Vivian left behind about the camp’s twisted origins. As she digs deeper, Emma finds herself sorting through lies from the past while facing threats from both man and nature in the present. And the closer she gets to the truth about Camp Nightingale, the more she realizes it may come at a deadly price.

My Thoughts:

The story in Last Time is exciting. I enjoyed Emma’s return to Camp Nightingale as she simultaneously tries to learn what happened to her cabin mates and also move through that traumatic event. The mystery surrounding the girls’ disappearances was well done, and it took me until the end of the book to put it all together. As someone who reads a lot of mysteries, I’m always pleased when a mystery or thriller catches me off guard and is able to keep me guessing. That being said, if you’re paying enough attention, you might be able to figure out the ending sooner. But, like any good thriller writer, Sager includes the right amount of twists, turns, and red herrings to keep the reader on the edge of their seat.

I really liked the detail of Emma’s artist career. The descriptions of her paintings were so vivid I felt like I could see the paintings right in front of me! Emma’s artwork is eerie, sensual, and shocking, which makes sense given what happened in her past. Riley Sager made a spot on career choice for Emma, though, and it adds considerable depth to her character. I also thought it was interesting that almost every single character in Last Time is unlikeable, which even includes Emma, our protagonist. I’m not bothered by this choice as I do love rooting for unlikeable characters, especially heroines, but it’s also tough when the reader feels at a distance to everyone involved. I think it’s helpful, even in thrillers, for the reader to like at least one main character.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I loved this book! I really enjoyed Sager’s debut novel, Final Girls, and was nervous that Last Time wouldn’t live up to the hype. But I think I enjoyed Last Time even more than Final Girls! This is a fun, engaging, and quick summer read. It would be an excellent choice for a vacation read! I highly recommend this book, especially to fans of A.J. Finn and Ruth Ware.

This book is…

unputdownable

shocking

engaging

entertaining

spooky

Publisher: Dutton Books

Genre: thriller

Page Count: 384

ISBN: 1524743070

Available here from IndieBound.

Will you read The Last Time I Lied? What thriller would you recommend?

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Review: The Room on Rue Amélie by Kristin Harmel

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

For fans of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale and Martha Hall Kelly’s Lilac Girls, this powerful novel of fate, resistance, and family—by the international bestselling author of The Sweetness of Forgetting and When We Meet Again—tells the tale of an American woman, a British RAF pilot, and a young Jewish teenager whose lives intersect in occupied Paris during the tumultuous days of World War II.

When newlywed Ruby Henderson Benoit arrives in Paris in 1939 with her French husband Marcel, she imagines strolling arm in arm along the grand boulevards, awash in the golden afternoon light. But war is looming on the horizon, and as France falls to the Nazis, her marriage begins to splinter, too.

Charlotte Dacher is eleven when the Germans roll into the French capital, their sinister swastika flags snapping in the breeze. After the Jewish restrictions take effect and Jews are ordered to wear the yellow star, Charlotte can’t imagine things getting much worse. But then the mass deportations begin, and her life is ripped forever apart.

Thomas Clarke joins the British Royal Air Force to protect his country, but when his beloved mother dies in a German bombing during the waning days of the Blitz, he wonders if he’s really making a difference. Then he finds himself in Paris, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, and he discovers a new reason to keep fighting—and an unexpected road home.

When fate brings them together, Ruby, Charlotte, and Thomas must summon the courage to defy the Nazis—and to open their own broken hearts—as they fight to survive. Rich with historical drama and emotional depth, this is an unforgettable story that will stay with you long after the final page is turned.

My Thoughts:

Room has been compared to The Nightingale and there are many similarities between the two. Both stories focus on sheltering and moving RAF pilots, as well as taking in Jewish neighbors. But Room and Nightingale differ in tone. Don’t get me wrong, Room is definitely heartbreaking. I cried several time during the last 100 pages compared to my sobbing during the last 100 pages of Nightingale. Room manages to feel like a lighter read and I think that’s because Harmel injects images and conversations about hope early on and frequently throughout the story. Also, as a reader, you know when starting this book that there will be sadness. That’s an inevitable fact about this time period. But Harmel’s messages of hope were a welcome change and a beautiful way to pay tribute to the men and women who did resist the Nazis.

Harmel writes incredible characters. Ruby and Charlotte are strong, well-rounded, and dynamic. I loved reading their interactions with one another and enjoyed their development throughout Room. These two ‘regular people’ sacrificed their own well-being and safety to do the right thing during a horrible time. Harmel makes some strong points about how chosen family can be just as powerful as relatives. I especially fell for Ruby’s involvement with Thomas and for Charlotte’s loss of her childhood. Ruby and Thomas’s love story is so pure and heartwarming. I loved reading as they fell in love. Both characters felt so real and it made their romance really come alive on the page. And as for Charlotte, I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be eleven years old when WWII broke into France. Harmel does a great job of capturing Charlotte’s resolve to help despite her limited understanding of what’s happening and why.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! I love to read well-written historical fiction, especially ones set during WWII. And Harmel definitely delivered! Harmel uses lush language to describe locations in Room, including Paris and Ruby’s hometown in California. I would highly recommend this book, especially for fans of The Nightingale and The Alice Network.

This book is…

beautifully written

a tearjerker

informative

full of interesting characters

engaging

Publisher: Gallery Books

Genre: historical fiction

Page Count: 400

ISBN: 1501171402

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read The Room on Rue Amélie? What historical fiction book would you recommend?

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