The Wife Between Us – Review

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“Assume nothing.”

The Wife Between Us warns us on the very cover to assume nothing. It tells us explicitly to expect a ride where we can’t see the road ahead. It tells us, and still, the assumptions came. Still I tried to see.

There are three people involved in this book: Richard, his ex-wife and his current fiancé. Throughout the book though, we only get the perspective of the two women. Richard is the thing that ties them together, but this book is about the women.

We are taken down a road of perceptions. How we perceive ourselves, how other people perceive us, how we perceive those perceptions. And the writers have taken it a step further and involved the reader into these impressions. They rely on how we understand and predict characters, plot, twists. This novel is fiction, but it is also interactive. We are part of the twists, whether we like it or not.

The subtlety in the writing is stunning. Hendricks and Pekkanen lull us into the very assumptions they warn us against. They woo us into believing that the warning is a hype, that there can’t possibly be another angle we haven’t thought about. Until the first twist hits you.

But unlike a roller coaster, where you can see the escalation and prepare for it, the first twist hits you like a car crash. Sudden. Abrupt. Unseen. Unexpected. I sat up in bed, my brain demanding that I stop and reevaluate everything I had read up until that point. And this isn’t happening at the end of the book, this is merely a third of the way in.

Even after the hit, once again, the authors take us down a calmer road. They once again woo us into trusting our own beliefs. They convince us that we can’t possibly be surprised again, now that we know their game, we can anticipate the next move. Except we can’t.

Again and again, this novel slams into you. Taking everything you think you know and using it against you. It is brilliant and shocking and such a fantastic ride!

It’s difficult to write this review, since there is so much written within the narrative that you simply have to experience yourself. It isn’t a book I can’t tell you about without taking away from your own ride. Just know, that it is fantastic. The psychology both in the writing of the characters and in how the writers use the readers own natural assumptions is breathtaking.

This book will be compared to many novels that have swept through the literary world. But those comparisons don’t do the novel justice. This book IS the next big thing. This is the book that thrillers will be compared to and held up to. This is the book that you will talk about and recommend and obsess over.

I know that this review is very vague. I find myself struggling with how to write a review that captures the essence of what I read. Listing every synonym to fantastic, stunning, phenomenal, etc doesn’t seem to be appropriate, yet I hesitate to put in any details. To give away any hints would be criminal.

I said before that this book is interactive. The reader is submersed into the characters in a way that I’ve never experienced before. When the narrators are unnerved, so are we. And the way we are lulled into trust and complacency is the same way that the women involved in the book are. They think they know what’s happening. We think we know what’s happening. They want to believe it will never happen again. We want to believe it will never happen again.

Over and over, the twists hit us as they hit the characters, and the visceral reactions you will feel are spectacular in their execution.

The dark themes of abuse, mental illness, power and control are chilling, in both their accuracy and their understated abundance. These themes are hard to decipher in real life, and the authors have ensured that they are hard to decipher within these pages as well. This is a book that deserves to be analyzed and examined and discussed. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever experienced in a novel.

The Wife Between Us comes out January 9, and if there’s one book you need to get, it’s this one. Click the banner at the top of the page, or the links below to pre-order your copy today!

THE WIFE BETWEEN US

Thank you St. Martin’s Press for sending me an early copy to read and review!

Rethinking Possible – Review

“For a family who knew so much – whose faith was so deep, love so abiding, and minds filled with mottos designed to keep us focused on the possibilities that were surely ahead – we knew nothing that could have prepared us for that kind of loss.”

Rethinking possible is listed as a memoir. A reflection of one woman’s journey into readjusting her expectations after life decided it wasn’t going to go along with her plans. But more than a story of her journey, there is a message of resilience and optimism that is stunning to read.

Becky Galli was raised as a preacher’s kid in the South. With two strong parents determined to raise their children with a sharp focus only on the possibility of life and a knack for finding the silver lining in any situation, her childhood was full of predictability and hope. Their family motto was ‘what’s planned is possible’ and they firmly believed it.

Even after an accident put her brother in the hospital, she believed he would make it, that he would achieve everything he planned. The shock of his death forever changed their family, tearing it from the solid unit they were to something different.

“I was in a life that wasn’t my own. Didn’t even have the wardrobe for it.”

It’s easy to get up after getting knocked down once, though, and life progressed for Becky according to her now revised plan. After graduating, she married and began to work on her career. With two type A personalities focusing on their life goals, they were determined that nothing would stand in their way. She even gave birth, on schedule, after Joe received his MBA and before she was 30. Everything was right on track. Until it wasn’t.

Galli faces several devastating hits when she learns two of her four children are disabled, and one developmentally delayed. The struggle of facing the extraordinary challenges in raising a family like that is remarkable, but had it’s costs. In her case, it was her marriage. As if divorce isn’t devastating enough, she was hit with a rare inflammation that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Nine days after her divorce finalized.

“After all we’d been through, adventure had become our family’s euphemism for plans with uncertain outcomes. Forget plans; we mostly clung to possibility. Our lives had become one steady stream of rethinking possible.”

The most remarkable thing about this memoir isn’t the amount of tragedy in Rebecca Galli’s life, although she gets more than her fair share. The thing that moved me the most is that she isn’t a saint and she isn’t a victim. She does the best she can every day. Some days are good, and some days aren’t. But every day she does the best with what she has.

“You allow yourself the luxury of wallowing in your own self-pity. You are entitled. Go ahead, experience your pain. But don’t stay down there too long because you can drown, I’ve learned.”

Often when I read memoirs, I can feel a bit chastised. Not because of anything that the author did, or wrote, but because of the way they present their attitudes on life. Some days I throw myself giant pity parties of one. I try not to, but I do. And then you read about someone’s life and how optimistic, or cheerful, or stoic they can be about tragedy and trauma. Sometimes it’s inspiring, and sometimes it’s a bit of a punch to the gut.

But Galli lets you see the good and the bad. She vents. She questions. She wallows. And then she gets up. She finds a new perspective. She moves forward. I get that. I relate to it. I identify with it. She doesn’t always show herself in the best possible light, and so she feels real to me. She’s the woman I would want to call when life gets a little shaky. She may not have the answers, but you know she’s going to at least listen and try. She isn’t going to judge your pain or minimize how you feel.

“Life in all it’s unfairness can never take your attitude. That alone is yours to keep and change. No one does that for you. That is power.”

Life can often feel overwhelming. It can feel hard and big and just too much. There is laughter and happiness and the thousands of tiny moments worth living. But there is also pain, and with pain can come suffering. Galli was hit with a lot of pain, both physical and emotional. But she weathered each storm, and managed to accomplish some impressive feats regardless of the difficulty. She learned acceptance, and she learned that sometimes we have to accept things more than once.

“I found a new motto: ‘Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional’.”

This book came to me at a time when I really needed it the most. Life can sometimes feel like you’ve been thrown into a cage match with no training or warning and are expected to somehow survive. You get up only to get knocked right back down. It is a constant barrage of learning, and adjusting, and accepting. It isn’t easy. But rather than make your struggles feel trivial in comparison to hers, Galli makes them relatable. She makes you feel understood.

And because she writes about her journey in such an honest way, you find that she makes you feel like you’ve just received the pep talk you needed. Her revelations about her own struggles are pointed and clear. Reading through this book, I felt like I was being cheered on, even though this wasn’t about my life. Galli gives you permission to accept life day by day, to be kind to yourself, and to realize that no matter what, you may never have all the answers.

This is a quick read. I was shocked at how fast I read through it. Though the subject matter is heavy, Galli writes with a skilled levity that brings light and warmth to even the toughest of passages. Sometimes the only thing you can do is laugh, even when you want to cry.

Regardless of what you’re going through in your life, or have gone through, this is a book that will reach everyone. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll stop and ponder the wisdom she offers. I know I will be thinking about her words for a long time.

Thank you Booksparks and She Writes Press for sending me a copy to read and review!

The Grip Of It – Review

“I worry he’ll think I’ve been keeping secrets. And then, because I don’t want to keep secrets, I keep more secrets.”

The Grip Of It is an eery novel about one couple’s struggle to live in a haunted house. Of course, they didn’t know it was haunted when they first moved in, but with each passing day, their grip on reality slips further and further from their grasp.

James and Julie decide that a move into a nice small town, away from their city problems and city life is the perfect solution to their most recent marital woes. Well, Julie decides this. And James goes along with her, because maybe it really will help. It can’t hurt to take his gambling problems far away from their constant allure. It can’t hurt to settle down somewhere with a slower pace to find their bearings once more. It can’t hurt.

“The span between hurt and help is not a span at all: a fine dotted line,”

When they are shown the older house, complete with hidden rooms and secret passages, they thrill at the idea of living somewhere so unique. When their offer for lower than the already low asking is accepted, they rejoice at their new start.

But almost right away, things begin to feel off. The neighbor stares through his window at them almost constantly, never acknowledging them, never talking to them. The house makes noises, at first vague and odd, but increasing in intensity and frequency. Items move without them moving it. But the time bruises begin to appear on Julie’s body and they question if they should move, it appears the house already has them firmly in it’s grasp.

“James and I are living in a Latin mass, memorizing ritual, reciting mysteries we’ve given up on deciphering, foreign syllables unrolling in order.”

This book had me on the edge of my seat until the end, when, well, things sort of took a confusing turn. Ending a horror story is a daunting task. Do you let them escape unharmed, the house waiting for the next victim? Do they become part of the haunting? Is it all a dream or a descent into madness? And how do you tie it up to the ending you want without making it feel predictable or cliche? Jac Jemc manages to write her ending so that it isn’t cliche, or predictable, but I also wonder if it was an ending at all.

The thing with supernatural subject matter is that often they leave us with a bit of a vague answer. The reader is required to form some opinions and the author drops them at a crossroads of paths. Usually, it is only a few paths, but they are there, ready to allow our imaginations to continue the journey and to follow our subconscious to our own conclusions. I really enjoy these types of books because they stay with me long after the pages have ended. These are the characters you think of like old friends you lose touch with. They exists, somewhere, because their endings were never written.

That said, this ending had more than a few crossroads at the end, and I’m not entirely sure it felt even close to wrapped up for me. We were being led down a path, but then at the last minute, Jemc turned on the light in the room and revealed that maybe there had been multiple paths happening all at once without our knowing. This is a trick we see sometimes in horror or suspense. M. Night Shyamalan does this trick exceedingly well in his movies. Except in his movies, we want to rewatch the story to revel in all the details we missed. The experience is added to, not changed.

With The Grip Of It, I felt like I needed to reread the entire book from the beginning to even try and figure it out. It wasn’t to add to my experience, but rather a need to understand it. Options and paths were added at the end, that felt at odds with what we were initially presented with in the beginning. In all, I felt somewhat confused.

There are vague endings full of uncertainty, and then there are vague endings that are entirely uncertain. The Grip Of It was the latter for me. Perhaps I didn’t pick up enough clues, or the right clues along the way. Maybe it was meant to be as ambiguous and unsettling as the characters felt. If so, then that part was well done. Like Julie and James, I have no idea what was real and what wasn’t. The house was haunted but there are so many loose ends, details that were presented but never answered. It’s difficult to not feel as if I reached the end only to find pieces missing.

But maybe that’s the point. Maybe this was less about the haunting and more about experiencing the haunting with them. We feel the unease, and the creepiness building in intensity until we are dying with curiosity to know what’s happening. We have to know, we want to know, but maybe some things aren’t knowable. Perhaps the greatest horror of all is never knowing.

Thank you FSG Originals for sending me a copy to read and review!

The Nine – Review

“It was a bloody awful way to die. It had been a bloody awful way to live.”

The Nine is a debut fantasy novel and what an incredible debut it is!!! Townsend has built an incredible world, full of interesting species and a plot with enough twists and turns to make the read feel like you’re on a roller coaster. And the characters!

Rowena Downshire is a young girl trying to make it in a cutthroat world. Her mother, and only living relative, is locked in a debtors prison. Everything she earns, and most of what she steals, goes to paying down that debt. But, with new charges always being added, the battle feels never-ending to her. Her job as a courier for a black market delivery boss is the best life she can hope for, even if he is cold and brutal and unforgiving.

When Rowena is robbed delivering a mysterious book that seems to write itself to the even more mysterious and feared Alchemist, Rowena is terrified Ivor is going to kill her for the blunder. Deciding to risk going straight to the Alchemist instead, she finds herself in the middle of a complex and deadly mystery.

“It was the question Rowena had been dreading. She’d been under the Alchemist’s roof for nearly an hour and barely had anything been said of the package.”

Revered Phillip Chalmers didn’t intend on being part of anything historical or groundbreaking. His research with his partner Doctor Revered Nora Pierce was exciting, but he should have known she would push boundaries. Now, days before they are give the keynote speech in front of their peers, Nora has gone missing. When a young girl courier delivers a note from Nora making him fear the worst, he insists on giving the girl the book that started it all. Except, when the door to his office shatters later that night, he realizes that he should have known it wasn’t going to be that easy.

Rowena and The Alchemist, also known as The Bear, turn to Anselm Meteron, former mercenary and all around nefarious character for help. They have a history extending far back, though how exactly they are intertwined comes much later in the book.

“Something in the cold calm of Anselm Meteron’s voice told Rowena there were very few games he played that were at all fair to his opponents.”

Rowena, The Alchemist and Meteron must figure out who took the book and why, and how the missing Reverend Chambers fits into the puzzle. Of course, that isn’t easy with bribed officials trying to put you in jail, along with the deadly aigamuxa hunting down anyone even loosely associated with the book.

There is a lot happening within these pages. It isn’t just the primary mystery driving the plot forward, but also the smaller mysteries within the characters. The Nine is an amazing blend of both plot and character driven momentum and each page demands to be turned so that you can be closer to unraveling the answers to all the questions presented. It is complex in all the very best ways!

The world building is fascinating. It feels as if it could be our own world propelled far into some distant future, but the addition of the species the lanyani and the aigamuxa makes it clear it is a world far different from ours. With nods to steampunk, this world is detailed and unique.

One of the most fascinating parts of the plot was the blending of religion and science. In fact, this is one of the key tenets of the plot, the book that God wrote to keep track of his experiment, The Nine.

“Magic was just what the ignorant called systems they couldn’t understand in an organized universe.”

It was very interesting to read how they veered from the Old Religion to incorporate religion and all it’s tenets into a pillar of science. The tenets of the science was well done as well. Not overly explained, but not vague and uninteresting. I actually really liked how it was presented, examined and how it tied into the plot. Not to mention the Grand Experiment, which I won’t get into for fear of spoilers.

We get many more characters sprinkled throughout these pages, and even the more minor characters are very fleshed out. Rare was one of my favorites, although, she did drive me crazy with some of her decisions. City Inspector Gammon, Beth and Lord Regenzi were some of the more notable side players, and it was very interesting how their importance was woven in. But none of them quite weaseled their way into my heart the way Anselm did.

“My name is Anselm Meteron, and I’m a villain with a penchant for self-aggrandizement and a portfolio of maladjusted habits.”

I mean, come on! How can you NOT love someone who introduces themselves like that?! I want to be friends with Anselm and all his maladjusted habits. Also, is it bad form to steal that line for all future introductions?

In all, this was a very fast, very enjoyable read. The Nine is a first in a series, and I know I am dying for book two! The ending isn’t quite a cliff hanger so you do feel satisfied, but there are enough loose ends that when you start thinking about the book, you get questions bubbling to the surface. Amazing debut and I am thrilled I was able to read this!

The Nine is released TODAY! If you love complex fantasy with amazing characters, awesome world building and a ton of mystery, this book is definitely for you!

Thank you Prometheus books for sending me a copy to read and review!

After Midnight – Review

“Alix knew she was in trouble.”

We open with that line, immediately pulling us into a story full of scandal and intrigue. Alix, blackmailed into impersonating her twin sister Lily, begins her misadventure by thinking Lily’s husband Nicholas to be an oblivious fool. Lily has assured her he pays no attention to her and will be completely unaware that she isn’t Lily. Alix agrees because she has to, and only hopes she can find the piece of paper hiding somewhere within the house that will free her of the ridiculous sham.

“It was not a dream that memory returned to her, but the deplorable act of the outrageous scheme that ensnared her.”

It’s difficult to unthread all the plots within this novel, without giving too much away. The base of the story, the blackmail, is very well done, and feels realistic when reading. It is easy to see the scandal Lily creates, the selfish person she is, and how she can corral Alix into participating in this scam.

“She was worse than a siren, simply devouring any man foolish enough to look at her.”

Nicholas, however, is far from dull, obtuse or unaware, and quickly begins to notice that things with his dear wife are not at all what they should be. It takes him quite awhile though to fully piece together what he thinks is happening. I really enjoyed how his disgust and contempt for his wife clouds his judgement and thinking. Not because it simply works to move the plot along, but also because I felt his struggle. What would it be like to live with someone you couldn’t ever trust, so much so, that you constantly second guess and are suspicious of every little thing they say or do?

“She turned to her minions and left him gazing after her in puzzled silence. He could barely stand to look at her, and yet he was as dazzled as if he had glimpsed the sun eclipsing clouds in her eyes.”

While impersonating Lily, Alix begins having nightmares, and her murky past starts to become somewhat clear to both us, and to Alix herself. Her uncle, Quentin, makes a journey to France in order to help uncover the secrets that Alix is desperate to remember.

There are a lot of side plots happening in this novel, and for the most part, they were easy to keep track of, and made the novel much richer for them. The one I didn’t quite understand was Robert’s role. I didn’t really understand role he played in the grand scheme of the novel, and within the specific plot he was written into. Most of the pieces with him felt unnecessary to me, and it felt like the pieces of the puzzle that he revealed, could have been more impactful through Quentin.

I also got frustrated with Quentin’s story. After all the time we spend with him, I felt like there still weren’t many answers of what actually happened that caused him to flee to England with his niece in tow, and live as a servant for two decades. It felt very vague, and everything in France wrapped up a little too easy for him to have been worried literally about dying if they came back.

The history, the touch of romance and all the scandal and intrigue made the book fun to read. I wanted to know what happened to Alix the entire time, and the pacing of that story unfolds nicely. I also really enjoyed Jenny, her maid. The relationship they develop, even knowing that Jenny has been in on it from the beginning, was quite lovely to read. In upcoming books, I hope that the tiny nugget of mystery that was written about why Jenny works for Lily comes out. That tiny detail drove me crazy. I wanted to hear more about that story!

“Times change.”

“And history remains.”

“It depends on who’s writing it.”

Overall, this book was very enjoyable. It ends rather abruptly, which felt less like a cliffhanger and more like hitting a brick wall, but there is a sequel coming June 2018, so at least there are answers coming! There are many, many things I need to know about. And if the book picks up where this one left off, I have no doubt that more scandal, mystery and intrigue is sure to follow!

If you enjoy historical fiction full of multi-threaded plots and mystery, this book is definitely for you. The added scandals of nobility make it even more fun to read! I look forward to reading the sequel next summer!

Thank you BookSparks for sending me a copy to read and review!

Sip – Review

“The sun was up, so the dark could start. All about the ground, all in the same direction, shadows sprawled. And this is what he was after.”

Oh how deliciously dark Sip is! A novel where we find ourselves 150 years in the future. A future where people can drink their shadows and change their bodies to float and distort in ways not possible before. But there is a heavy price. Once you drink, you must always drink. And if you drink too much, you are lost forever.

We follow two main characters, Murk, a shadow addict, and Mira, a girl who can hide her shadow. Mira’s mother is a shadow addict herself, but her fate is far worse than Murk. For when an addict sips your shadow, if they don’t stop they can steal the entire thing. And you are left the shell of who you once were, forced to sip shadows or face the madness beyond.

Of course, Murk doesn’t have life easy either. His leg was stolen from him. Chopped and taken, sold to the black market to be kept alive for a time on a machine invented for creating shadows. But he lost his leg before he lost his shadow, which offers him some protection as his shadow will never be whole.

This world is dark and gruesome, full of violence,  and run wild with madmen. But within this world are pockets of people trying to live normal lives, away from these addicts. Called domers, for they live beneath a dome. Blocking the sunlight and moonlight so that the addicts can’t steal their souls. The perimeter blocked by a perpetually running train and guarded by soldiers trained to shoot if anyone gets too near.

“Bored soldiers slaughtering innocents predates the naming of war, will go on after the words we call it are broken.”

Mira’s ability to control her shadow catches the interest of a domer, Bale. But his interest is expensive, and he gets thrown out of his dome as a penalty for not shooting her on sight.

Now the three of them, an unlikely trio, set off to test the theory that if you kill whomever stole your shadow before Halley’s Comet appears again, after the comet passes, you will return to normal. Mira desperately wants her mother back, and so she sets off on her quest. Time running out, since the comet is due within days.

Sip does not hold back on the brutal reality of a world overrun with addicts. I actually found the use of shadow addicts an interesting way to show the desperation and extremes addicts will go through for one fix, for one more high, for just one more. In a world where they are the majority, things can become chaotic and bleak very quickly.

We don’t see the world outside of the rural Texas area that Mira, Murk and Bale live, but we hear hints of other dome communities scattered about. All with trains running in circles to protect them. I thought it was fascinating how the addiction was also like a virus, contagious and rampant, and hit before people knew how to fight it. It is a unique dystopian unlike anything I’ve ever read before.

This book is dark in nature but shines bright within the characters it creates. Mira and Murk, unlikely friends, but friends all the same. And even Bale, with his knowledge of nothing but life within the dome will cause you to root for them, to root for their success. Because the journey is difficult, and filled with unexpected stops and obstacles along the way.

If you can’t stomach gritty, raw violence or the stark yet simple brutality of an apocalyptic future dominated by ruthless addicts, this is not a book for you. It will make you cringe, and your stomach turn, for death and violence is simply the way of life in this world, and Carr does not shy away from immersing the reader into the full experience of it.

“Some madnesses are so bizarre that they entice witnessing. Those in the bar who had been preoccupied with debauchery, who had been lost in the melee of drinking and lustful deeds, tapered their pursuits in order to watch this grimy operation.”

It is a book that requires you simply accept things as fact without necessarily understanding them. I didn’t ever get the full sense of why people could drink their shadows, or how it made them addicts. It isn’t that Carr doesn’t offer a brief history through the characters eyes, he does. But it is done in the way you would expect stories to be told. Vaguely, details lost or misunderstood with each telling, the decades between the event and the present altering it, diminishing it, leaving only what they deem important. You don’t get science, or factual information. However, not understanding didn’t take away from the rich narration of this world, or make it’s reality any less detailed.

The before and the after are less relevant to this story than the here and now. Which, if anyone has ever dealt with addiction, first hand or otherwise, it felt like this focus on the present story was a nod to the adage ‘One Day At A Time’ that you hear in meetings and therapy over and over. For addicts, there is only today, and so in that same way, we get the present. It felt poetic to me.

If it feels that perhaps the book may be ‘too out there’, or ‘weird’, I assure you it’s my own reluctance to delve into too many details. The world sounds difficult to picture, and the concepts may be hard to envision, but once you dive into this world, as gruesome and violent as it is, it is worth the journey. Once you begin, the characters pull you in and the sheer determination they have to move forward will move you forward too. It is a dark world. A violent one. Full of mayhem and criminality that makes the Wild West look like playtime in preschool. But you still can’t help but hope with the characters that life can always get better.

For my dark readers out there, this is a novel you do not want to miss! I will be reading Carr’s short stories and will for sure read anything he puts out next. I am a fan!

Thank you Soho Press for sending me a copy to read and review.

Today Will Be Different – Review

“Because the other way wasn’t working. The waking up just to get the day over with until it was time for bed. The grinding it out was a disgrace, an affront to the honor and long shot of being alive at all.”

Today Will Be Different is exactly the book I needed to read! The story about a woman, Eleanor Flood, struggling with her identity in so many ways. She is a writer, but she keeps avoiding her editor and pushing back the book. (minus the editor, SO RELATABLE) Excuses build, pressure mounts, anxiety looms!

The book opens with a mantra of all the things she will do differently. She will be present. She will make eye contact. She’ll spend time with her son and make effort with her husband. She will be kind to strangers and smile. There is more, but you get the idea. Her goal is to be the person she wants to be, not the person she generally is. Which is, quite frankly, a mess.

There is something to the theory that the Universe gives us what we need, and we see that theory shine as the day unfolds for Eleanor. First her son, Timby, says he is sick and the school makes her take him home. Determined to teach him a lesson, they end up going to her husband’s office, where his staff thinks they’ve been on vacation. They haven’t. She is forced to take Timby to a lunch she tried to cancel, only to find out that it was with a former colleague. And he doesn’t know that parts of her past were definitely, assuredly, and soundly put to rest in the past. Now Timby is asking questions he shouldn’t be asking, Eleanor still doesn’t know where her husband is, and nothing in her day unfolds anything like what she envisioned when she woke up.

“The world isn’t your friend,” Joe told Eleanor. “It’s not designed to go your way. All you can do is make the decisions to muscle through and fight the trend.”

I completely related to Eleanor. Not just with her sarcasm, or the way she really does try to make better decisions. It is a struggle sometimes to remember to be grateful, or to smile at strangers, or to remember the little things when the big things feel so big. It isn’t that you mean to fall in a rut with your marriage, or to get frustrated when your kid is being a kid. It just can happen sometimes. We all need reminders to help us stay on track. And when reminders don’t work, well, getting knocked with a hard dose of reality usually does the trick.

And that’s what this book is about. Eleanor has been in a rut. A big rut for a long time. But her husband was always the steady hand guiding her on the tightrope she felt balanced on. She knew him. She could rely on him. So, when he isn’t in the office, the giant flare of ‘what ifs’ force Eleanor into a full panic. Which, again, I think is completely understandable. Everything is fine. Until it isn’t.

While Eleanor scrambles through her day trying to solve the mystery of Joe, she is dragging along her third grade son, and the conversations these two had were amazing.

“Gee, I said. “I always thought you didn’t get my jokes.”

“I get them,” he said. “Most of the time they’re just not funny.”

Anyone who has had a child too smart for their own good can probably relate to that! The other thing I adored about this book, is this is all one day. It may seem that filling a book with the mundanity of a single day would be tedious and boring. Except, it isn’t. The brilliance in this, is of course, we’ve all had days like that. Maybe not in these exact circumstances, but I know I have had more than one day that seems to stretch into an eternity of disaster. We empathize with Eleanor more and more as the endless procession of he day just keeps unfolding, and she just tries to stay afloat.

The book sounds like it should be an eye-rolling romp through first-world problems. But the thing that makes it leap from tolerable to entertaining is that Eleanor completely admits to the ridiculousness of her life, and her problems. She is up front about why her life shouldn’t be as hard as she makes it. She is self-deprecating and full on admits that her problems are tame in nature to people with more serious obstacles in their way.

“If I’m forced to be honest, here’s an account of how I left the world last week “worse, worse, better, worse, same, worse, same. Not an inventory to make one swell with pride.”

This book may not resonate with everyone. I get that. We don’t all have mid-life crises looming or wonder how our lives landed in such different places than we aimed. It isn’t that life is bad. It’s just not how we pictured. It runs away with itself, and we can be helpless passengers. The trick is in admitting that we allow the train to derail. That we slip into the gentle comfort of mediocrity so that we can then blame the world for our misfortune or bad luck. Today Will Be Different gently nudges us into this realization that life is indeed what we make of it. That we cannot rely on the steady husband or the tenacious child to hold us afloat. That we must face the secrets of our past, and that we must choose the life we want to live. Of course, all of this is easier said than done.

It is easier to accept difficult truths through laughter, and this book, if nothing else will let you laugh. Eleanor is a character in every aspect of the word. And perhaps, through the people she meets, or the situations she finds herself in, you may also find that you can laugh at yourself as well.

Thank you Little, Brown for sending me a copy to read and review! I LOVED it!!!

Ocean’s Fire – Review

“Your beliefs shape the world we see. Change your beliefs, change your world.”

Ocean’s Fire follows the journey of Skylar Southmartin picking up the pieces of her life after her mother’s death. Choosing to stay closer to home to finish her degree, Skylar wants to figure out why the plan to resurrect her mother didn’t work. She did everything right, and still it didn’t work.

The good news is that her position at the local University reunites her with her childhood love, Argan, and their connection from childhood graduates to a far more adult relationship. Unfortunately, local rockstar, Joshua, also has an alluring connection to Skylar that she can’t seem to fight. To top it all off, there is a powerful force working to ensure a centuries long prophecy comes true.

“Everyone is capable of great love and great destruction. You feed one flame or the other.”

I am decidedly on the fence about this book. On the one hand, I really enjoyed the supernatural premise and mysticism that the author created. On the other, there were so many side plots and rushed character development that I spent most of the book very confused.

I’m not against romance, or love triangles, or even a steamy sex scene in books. However, they have to serve a purpose in driving the plot forward. The triangle between Joshua, Argan and Skylar just felt like it was there to write a few sex scenes (a few that bordered on abusive in nature), and nothing else. I understand what the author was trying to do with these characters and the tension, but I just didn’t feel it.

The pacing of the story also lends to the rushed feeling. We jump forward in time quite a bit, so we are told that dramatic things are unfolding, but we don’t really feel it. The emotional connection to the entire story, and specifically to Skylar’s struggle wasn’t there for me at all, which made the book feel very flat and one-dimensional to me. Insane things happen but rather than build into these discoveries, we are presented them in a sentence or two and everyone accepts it and moves forward. It’s a case of too much “telling” and not enough “showing”. We are told a lot, but the depth of emotion just isn’t shown so that we feel it along with the characters.

There were a lot of great moments in the book. And for those parts I was swept away into the reading. But there was just so much happening in this plot, it was hard to stay in that swept away feeling.

It’s difficult to give examples of what I liked and what I didn’t, because they are so mixed together and intricate to the plot, that I feel I would be giving away massive spoilers if I tried. I really think this is an example of why Stephen King famously says, “Kill your darlings”. There is a lot to process, in terms of plot, unnecessary characters and side interactions that don’t drive the overall story forward or help with individual character development. This book could have been so much better with those moments removed and the plot line tightened up so that we felt this tension and stress and more of the supernatural feel of the novel. Too much of it felt like a contemporary novel with the characters playing at mysticism, rather than actually being about the mysticism.

Ocean’s Fire is the first in a trilogy, and perhaps the second and final book will help develop the characters to be more in depth so that all the details in the first book make sense. I am curious about how the story progresses, and what happens next. Especially that with the ending we are given, who is good and who is bad seems a little undefined. I’m not sure if that’s to set up for future redemptions but would like to find out. I hope the original disaster that we are presented with gets more explanation too, as I really have no idea what happened there.

Thank you BookSparks and She Writes Press for sending a copy to read and review.

Traitor’s Hope – Review + GIVEAWAY

TRAITOR'S HOPE

Traitors lurk around every bend. Mishi’s mind is betraying her, and she fears her kisō and katana will betray her next. Taka’s heart abandons her for a person she cannot possibly trust. Now that the two friends are obliged to help re-establish peace in the land of Gensokai, the only question is where the next betrayal will come from and if Mishi and Taka will have the strength to survive it. 

I was thrilled to be able to dive right into Traitor’s Hope after finishing Blade’s Edge earlier this week! You can find my review HERE. A huge thank you to Rockstar Book Tours for hosting this tour and including me as a tour stop! Click the picture above to find more tours and be sure to check out all the blog stops on this tour, by clicking the links below!

First, I loved the first book. LOVED! The world building! The characters! The magic! I loved it all! I even loved the darkness that the world presented. Traitor’s Hope kept the same pacing and tone from Blade’s Edge and leveled up!

We still get narration from Taka and Mishi, both grown and traumatized in their own ways from the war fought. Instead of hearing from Tsuko this time, we get the perspective of Kusuko instead.

Assassin turned ally, Kusoko was one of the most interesting characters in the book. Her story of how she came to be a hishi assassin highlights the cruelty and brutality of the crumbled regime. But we get so much more than a heartbreaking story from Kusoko. We get an interesting look at the psychology of lifelong abuse and brainwashing. The depth we get from her is quite astounding, and made her not just an integral part of the story, but really brought to life what the New Council was fighting against.

The themes in this book are no less severe than in Blade’s Edge. We are still in the aftermath of war, with factions attempting to start a new one. The island of Gensokai is no less violent than before, and it still holds on to it’s negative views on anyone other than male Kisoshi. The war may be over, but the old regime is not going to be easily reformed.

“The illusion of power can make men blind to many things.”

And there is a lot to love in this sequel! First, I adore that even though this is the second in a series, and the story is obviously building on the first book, the story isn’t reliant on the first book. You could easily read this on its own, and while the experience won’t be quite as deep or rich, it would be enjoyable still. The second thing is that we get a glimpse of what a society looks like after a war. Often in a series, we get the ending of the series at the end of the conflict. So we don’t get to explore what the next steps in that rebuilding of society looks like. Here we do, and folks, it isn’t as easy as we would hope.

“I hadn’t considered that there would be men evil enough to keep harming innocents even once they knew the truth of their own actions.”

As the society is dismantled and rebuilt, we also get more information about the elemental magic kiso. Learning more about how the elements work, and even how they can combine both within an individual and with Kisoshi working together was fantasy at it’s best! I wish we could have gotten a bit more with my favorite Dragon and Tree Kami, but I get it, rebuilding a society isn’t about training, so we didn’t see quite as much of them.

And talk about plots! Plots with plots, schemes within schemes! The brilliance of the title is that you go in suspecting someone of being treacherous. What you don’t expect is how many people that could possibly be! I gave up trying to figure out who was going to betray who, because the double crosses on the double crosses became impossible to guess. I really liked that each character presented, both old and new, were as vividly complex as before. And this complexity made predicting treachery nearly impossible. But it isn’t simply treachery between characters. McClain shows us the danger in betraying our true selves.

In keeping with the first book and taking an unflinching look at tough themes, this book dives deep into exploring PTSD. The emotional wreckage that violence leaves is real. And even if you’ve been training for war, the reality of it is often very traumatic. I loved that McClain really let us see how deep these wounds can be in a character. How patience and time and understanding can help heal those wounds.

“She was very afraid of what lay beneath the visions that haunted her dreams, both waking and sleeping.”

Finally, we get to see a budding same sex romance. It’s fantastic to see an author seamlessly introduce the budding sexuality of her characters and include diversity in that development. The romances are slow, and sweet, written more from the emotional development rather than focusing on the physical. That was refreshing and added to the emotional growth of each character.

This is a world I am deeply in love with. I love the characters, and want to know what happens next. I love how McClain isn’t afraid to explore some really intense topics, and she does them justice. Whether it’s revisiting old characters, or getting to know new ones, the dialogue and personalities are such  joy to read! This is a series that I will be continuing as long as she writes them!

Thank you Rockstar Book Tours for the opportunity to participate on this tour; as well as the chance to read and review these books! They are phenomenal!

New Cover

Title: TRAITOR’S HOPE (Blade’s Edge #2)

Author: Virginia McClain

Pub. Date: October 14, 2017

Publisher: Artemis Dingo Productions

Pages: 284

Formats: Paperback eBook

Find it: AmazonBuy The Paperback, Goodreads

 

V and Artemis

About Virginia: 

Virginia thinks dangling from the tops of hundred foot cliffs is a good time. She also enjoys hauling a fifty pound backpack all over the Grand Canyon and sleeping under the stars. Sometimes she likes running for miles through the desert, mountains, or wooded flatlands, and she always loves getting lost in new places where she may or may not speak the language.

From surviving earthquakes in Japan, to putting out a small forest fire in Montana, Virginia has been collecting stories from a very young age. She works hard to make her fiction as adventurous as her life and her life as adventurous as her fiction. Both take a lot of imagination.

She recently moved to Winnipeg with her husband (a Manitoba native) and their dog.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

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1 winner will receive a signed paperback set of BLADE’S EDGE & TRAITOR’S HOPE, US Only.

3 winners will receive eBook sets of BLADE’S EDGE & TRAITOR’S HOPE, International.

CLICK THE SAMURI SWORD TO ENTER
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Be sure to follow the rest of the blog tour, and visit the previous stops too!

Tour Schedule:

Week One:

10/9/2017- Two Chicks on Books Interview

10/9/2017- Blushing Bibliophile– Review

10/10/2017- Arvenig.it– Guest Post

10/10/2017- Bibliobakes– Review

10/11/2017- Kati’s Bookaholic Rambling Reviews– Excerpt

10/11/2017- Ashley M. Delgado– Review

10/12/2017- A Dream Within A Dream– Excerpt

10/12/2017- Don’t Judge, Read– Spotlight

10/13/2017- BookHounds YA– Guest Post

10/13/2017- Adventures Thru Wonderland– Review

Week Two:

10/16/2017- Novel Novice– Excerpt

10/16/2017- Nick Bryan Dot Com– Review

10/17/2017- Books at Dawn– Guest Post

10/17/2017- YA and Wine– Excerpt

10/18/2017- Fire and Ice– Spotlight

10/18/2017- A Gingerly Review– Review

10/19/2017- My Nook, Books & More– Excerpt

10/19/2017- Jena Brown Writes– Review

10/20/2017- Seeing Double In Neverland– Interview

10/20/2017- Ramblings From An Alternate Reality– Review

Berserker – Review

“She was a Berserker, cursed to fly into action whenever anyone she loved was in danger. A killer who would be compelled to murder elegantly, viciously, and without remorse.”

Berserker is the story of a family blessed with the Nytte. Or cursed with it. It depends on who you ask.

The story is told through the alternating narration of Hanne, Owen and Rolf. Hanne is the oldest daughter in her family. Her older brother Stieg, and her younger brother Knut all have a variation of the Nytte. The youngest, Sissel, shows no sign of the Nytte. Owen is a cowboy in America trying to find his way in the wild frontier; with plenty of his own demons to fight along the way.

After an incident forces the siblings to pack up and flee their home in Norway. They head to America, where they have family living in Montana. They hope to be able to find someone with the Berserker gift to help Hanne keep her gift under control.

“Embrace the Nytte,” Aud said, as Hanne scrambled backward in the pine needles and dried leaves. “Open your heart to it, or it will be the ruin of you. And your siblings, too.”

Rolf is an interesting character, and I won’t say much about him though to avoid spoilers. His is mission finding the Nytte in children and ensuring that the gifts do not die out. The role he plays with Hanne and her siblings brings a richer understanding of the legend of the Nytte, and it keeps some of the mythical elements entwined in the plot.

“Rolf kept his eyes trained on the faces of the crowd. Despite the hectic and daunting landscape that presented itself, what Rolf saw again and again, on all manner of faces, was hope.”

Once the family gets to America, they manage to make it through immigration and onto the train that will take them to Wolf Creek where their uncle lives. But they have been pursued from Norway and fleeing the men who chase them causes their path to collide with Owen’s. Literally. Owen agrees to take them the rest of the way.

“It was a strange spell that had been cast. Disaster had been so narrowly averted, and by such sudden heroics. No one could think of quite what to do next.”

The relationships between the siblings was written well. Sissel goes from being a bratty younger sister, jealous of her older siblings, to quite loving and doting when necessary. There were a few times when her tantrums felt a little shallow, but overall, it felt natural. Tantrums and jealousy aside, it was nice to read how they all worked together as a team and really only wanted the best for each other.

Owen and Daisy, his dog, were great characters. It is through them that we get a real sense of the frontier, and how hard life could be back then. In his agreeing to be their guide, we also get to read details about what travel was like then too. He is teaching them at the same time he is teaching us. I thought that was really well done.

“Perhaps even the most friendly town might seem hostile when you were on the lookout for it.”

This book is a mix of western folklore and mythology. The blend was unique and refreshing to read. It was a very fast read, at only 288 pages, and they all flew by. Laybourne does a really good job mixing enough information to really submerse us deep into both the reality of the frontier with the legend of ancient mythology, all while driving the plot forward.

What I rally liked was how each of the characters all struggled with acceptance in some way. Owen, to accept that he was good enough, even if his family thought he wasn’t. Hanne’s struggle for acceptance is a little more complicated. Her impulse to kill when her loved ones are in danger must be controlled, so she isn’t necessarily looking to ‘accept’ that aspect of herself. Sissel and Rolf both struggle with acceptance as well, though I don’t want to give anything away. And acceptance means different things for each of the characters, some leading to tragedy and others to triumph. I really enjoyed the complexity of each of these characters and how their journeys were both internal and external.

“Feelings didn’t seem to care if they made sense.”

We read books to get lost in a story, but the best stories teach us something as well. Legends and folklore often had morals to them. Endings to help us see a bigger truth either about ourselves or the world at large. So, it felt right that a book based on legend and folklore would have a moral wrapped up in it as well.

Overall, this was a fun read with a good story. It did feel a touch on the younger side of YA to me, so some of the conversations and plot pacing felt a little simplistic to me. But, it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the book.

Thank you NetGalley and MacMillan for approving my request to read and review this book!