One Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline

9781250099563_3fe1aOne Perfect Lie is due for publication from Macmillan on April 11, 2017.

I always enjoy Scottoline’s stand-alone novels. They are quick reads because they are hard to put down, with just enough mystery mixed into the story line to keep readers guessing until the very end. The topics of her novels are varied so that when you read them, it doesn’t feel like a mystery you’ve read many times already with the same general story line. I appreciate that, on account of the large number of mysteries that I read. Unique is good!

One Perfect Lie is trademark Scottoline – equal parts thrilling and entertaining. “Chris Brennan” has just secured a teaching job at Central Valley High School in Pennsylvania. Handsome, quick-witted, and perfect for the job, he is hired without much trouble. He’ll also be the assistant baseball coach, allowing him to get even closer to some of the students and find a much-needed baseball player to serve as a pawn . The only catch is that Chris isn’t a teacher at all, so why is he at Central Valley and what kind of game is he playing? As the intriguing stranger gets to know the students and their families, the mission he is on becomes a bit more personal, even if know one knows his real name or the reason he is hiding out at Central Valley as “Coach Brennan.”

Readers will find out Chris’s true identity and purpose about halfway through the novel, so I won’t reveal it here. What would be the fun in that?!  When one of his fellow teachers is found dead, the stakes increase and Chris has to decide what is most important to him – keeping the secrets and sticking to the mission or finally letting down his guard and feeling like he has a home. No family of his own, Chris grew up in foster care, leading him to live a pretty private adult life perfect for the type of work he is caught up in at Central Valley. He’s a very likable character, despite appearing to be the “bad guy” in the beginning of the story. Once you find out why Chris is at Central Valley, your opinion of him will likely change.

I will mention that there are quite a lot of other main characters in the story, including baseball players Jordan, Evan, and Raz and their respective families. There is even a hint of possible romance involved. Each of the young men and their family have their own unique situations and challenges. Scottoline weaves their stories in with Chris’s mission to add to the richness of the story. I just chose to focus my review on Chris’s character, but rest assured there is a lot going on in this story!

Thank you to Macmillan for the early review copy of this book.

Starr Fall by Kim Briggs (Book Review & Giveaway)

51rBBKqt6QLAs a thank-you to readers, author Kim Briggs, has generously donated a copy of Starr Fall to giveaway to one lucky person. To be entered in the giveaway, please leave a comment on this post by Friday, March 24th, 2017. Winner will be notified by email.

*****

Preparing to take an entrance test for the Leadership Academy, high school junior, Starr Bishop, has no idea how much her life will change in a matter of hours. Starr is a typical high school student, highly successful, heavily involved, and popular. Everyone loves her and she is athletic (a star swimmer),  beautiful, and smart – the whole package. It turns out that The Organization wants her to be their lead assassin and lead the other recruits. After completing the test, Starr is held against her will and told that she will be trained as an elite assassin. Her two best friends have been killed by the Organization, their deaths staged to look like a car accident. Thanks to her excellent swimming skills and brave determination, Starr is able to escape from the Organization. Now she is on the run from them, with virtually no information about why they chose her and what exactly they want her to do. What she does know is that they are extremely dangerous and will stop at nothing to find her. As she tries to figure out how best to hide, an unlikely guardian angel turns up to help – Christian Evergood. Christian may put up a front at school as a Goth loner, but he turns out to be a regular teenage boy who can’t resist Starr’s charm. Part Cherokee and very knowledgeable about nature, Christian is also sexy and mysterious. He has a place to hide and a plan, so he decides to protect Starr with his life, no matter the cost. What has he got to lose? Starr is a strong female character who doesn’t need anyone to save her; but when help shows up out of the blue in the form of Christian, she decides to go with the flow. And readers will be so glad she did.

The story is written in completely in Starr’s point of view. The sequel, Starr Lost, which was released in January 2017, actually switches back and forth between Starr’s and Christian’s point of view. I certainly would like to see what is going on in Christian’s mind! Briggs has done an excellent job of developing interesting, unique characters in both Starr and Christian. There is quite a bit of mystery to the story, as well. Starr, who readers later find out is actually named Jessica, has secrets regarding her grandparents, who try to kidnap her in their mansion after not having seen her for many years. There is quite a bit more romance to this story than in most suspense novels. However, I say that as a good thing! The romantic scenes are more implied than explicit, which  I appreciate. A few of the scenes are very tense, such as when the Organization first kidnaps her and when she is locked inside the mansion by her grandparents, to name a few. The ending is abrupt and clearly leads into the next part of the series. Like myself, readers will be excited to continue Starr and Christian’s love story, as well as figure out more about the Organization and how Starr will avenge her friends’ deaths.

This is a well-written series starter which teens and adults alike will enjoy. As I mentioned, the romance is not explicit and the language is pretty tame, so the book is appropriate for even younger teens and tweens.

*****

Thanks for reading, and thanks to Kim for donating a copy of Starr Fall to give away to a lucky reader!

To enter to win the book, please leave a comment on this post. Contest ends Friday, March 24th, 2017. Winner will be notified by email. 

 

A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell

9780062497772_c19aeA Simple Favor will be released on March 21, 2017.

The story unfolds through the points of view of three separate unreliable narrators. One is Emily, a woman who goes missing and is presumed dead. Two is Emily’s loving, devoted, and distraught husband, Sean. The third is Stephanie, Emily’s best friend, and the mother to Emily’s son Nicky’s best friend, Miles.

Stephanie is a stay-at-home mom and blogger. Her blog is about the everyday excitement (as well as mundane day-to-day happenings) of raising a child, and it has quite a following. Stephanie’s husband was killed a few years prior in an accident, so she has been raising Miles on her own. Upon meeting Nicky’s mother, Emily, Stephanie is instantly drawn to her and soon considers them to be best friends, just like their sons. Stephanie seems jealous of Emily’s marriage and her prestigious career as a marketing manager for a well-known fashion brand. While Emily is wearing the latest fashion and turning heads, Stephanie is playing “Captain Mom.”

As friends and neighbors, Stephanie and Emily often help each other out with childcare, so Stephanie doesn’t think twice about saying “yes” and keeping Nicky as a simple favor for Emily when she has to work late one evening. However, when Emily doesn’t return, text, or call Stephanie after many days, she becomes very worried. Stephanie reaches out to Emily’s husband, a business man who is often away on trips and not too present as a Dad to Nicky. Together, they try to piece together their last conversations with Emily in the hope that they can find her alive and well. When Emily’s body turns up at a cabin in the Michigan woods a few months later, the plot thickens; and soon readers don’t know if any of the characters can be trusted. I won’t give away any more details, because I am a big believer in spoiler-free reviews. However, you won’t want to put this book down once you get started. It is fast paced with surprises and thrills around every corner.

A Simple Favor has many definite, undeniable similarities to Gone, Girl. Fans of The Girl on the Train, Gone Girl, and The Luckiest Girl Alive will not want to miss this irresistible psychological thriller from Darcey Bell.

Thank you to Harper Collins for an advanced digital review copy of this title.

 

The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas

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The Darkest Corners offers fast-paced thrills and suspense. The main character, Tessa, is sort of an unreliable narrator, causing readers to wonder whether she can truly be trusted, or if she is in on some secret herself. As more of Tessa’s family history and past is revealed, readers may start to feel sorry for her, rooting for her to make it out of the nightmare her life has become.

We first meet Tessa as she travels from Florida, where she lives with her aging Gram, back to her hometown. She hasn’t been back in 10 years, and is only going to say goodbye to her father, who is in prison and dying of cancer. He has been in prison for most of her life, and the memories of her father from childhood are mostly sad and violent. Tessa ends up staying with her former best friend and childhood playmate, Callie, who she also hasn’t seen in 10 years. Callie was born into a loving, stable family whereas Tessa came from the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak. Despite their differences, they were best friends once, prior to being separated at the age of 8. Now, neither wants to admit the truth of what actually happened 10 years ago to the other.

While they are in a sort of standstill with each other, one of their mutual old friends, Arial, goes missing and her body is found shortly thereafter. Her murder matches that of the Ohio River Monster, a man named Stokes, who is only behind bars because of 8 year old Callie’s and Tessa’s testifying that he abducted and then killed Callie’s cousin, Lori. So, if Stokes is still locked up, does that mean the Ohio River Monster is still on the loose and has been the whole time? Add into the mix that neither Tessa’s mother or sister have contacted her in 10 years and she is unable to locate either of them. What does that mean for Tessa? Who can she trust, and why is her family in hiding? Tessa has to figure out who the real serial killer is before it’s too late.

The ending is totally unexpected and will throw readers for a tailspin, in a good way, of course. I very much enjoyed this book and would recommend it to suspense, mystery, and thriller fans.

 

The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter

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This is a heartbreaking, raw story of mental illness and how it can systematically unravel the bonds between a family. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the story, but it was so much more than a young adult coming-of-age story. Of course, there is some young romance and dating involved, but poor Cassie was forced to grow up so early in her life, and was therefore wise beyond her years. For these reasons, the plot is more mature than some young adult novels, and adults would enjoy it as much as teens.

I won’t reveal too much of the plot because you will enjoy it much more learning the story as I did – in bits and pieces of Cassie’s past as she remembers them, discovering moments that have been hidden or repressed in her own memory.

Cassie was placed in a mental institution by her mother, out of the blue, and against her will at the age of 15. She spent two and a half years there, with no support from her family and most everyone believing that she was lying. Even the therapist assigned to her, Dr. Meeks, didn’t believe her or support her. When she turns 18, she emancipates herself and leaves the institution to attend college at her mother’s alma matter. Her only regret is leaving the only true friend she has ever had, James, behind at the institution. Readers get the truth behind why Cassie was at the institution in snippets and flashbacks of her life and tumultuous relationship with her mother. At times, it is hard to read, to imagine what Cassie went through all her life. Once I read the full story of what all happened to her, when she finally revealed it to Liz, near the end, tears streamed down my face.I felt so horrible for Cassie, yet so proud of her ability to carry on and try to find herself. This is a beautiful story, and a unique look at mental illness and perception. Not everything is as it seems.

I was intrigued by the title of this book, and after reading it, I couldn’t think of a more fitting title. Drowning doesn’t always have to be in the literal sense of drowning in water. Unfortunately, as young Cassie is well aware, she spent most of her life drowning.

This is a debut novel and it packs a huge emotional punch. I’ll not be forgetting Cassie or her story any time in the near future. I hope Kletter writes many more stories. I highly recommend this book, if for nothing else but a reminder to everyone to have compassion and empathy for others.

Fans of We Were Here, Everything, Everything, and All the Bright Places will surely enjoy this novel.

First Comes Love by Emily Giffin

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The bad news is that we have to wait until June 28th for this beauty to be published! The good news is that it is totally worth the wait! I love, love, LOVE this book. I’ll try to do it some justice with my review.

First Comes Love is filled with highly relatable family situations and candid conversations among the characters. The characters are likable, despite their flaws. They seem real, and Giffin goes a wonderful job of making them come to life. At times, the scenes are hilarious, while at others tender and heartfelt.

The story begins as the family is approaching the 15 year anniversary of Daniel’s tragic and untimely (at the age of 25) death due to an auto accident which was of fault to no one. Each character’s outlook on life and circumstances for the past 15 years demonstrate the different ways loss & grief can affect relationships between siblings, spouses, parents/children, and even best friends.

Sisters Meredith and Josie are about as opposite as can be, with regard to their personality and life choices. Yet, their tumultuous relationship is refreshing, as it proves that they can put love first despite their differences and overcome some major rough times. They likely wouldn’t have a thing to do with each other, save for Josie’s love for her younger sibling Meredith’s 4 year old daughter, Harper. Meredith is a high profile lawyer and busy mother, living with constant stress and strain in her marriage to Nolan, her late brother Daniel’s best friend. Josie is a 1st grade teacher, life of the party, but worried about finding “the one” because she is getting closer to 40 and has always wanted to be a mother.

Nolan & Meredith’s marriage is particularly true-to-life, because in reality no marriage is perfect. Marriage takes work by both parties, whether the parties love each other or are “in love,” or both. Giffin makes a point that with social media, everyone seems even more worried about keeping up appearances and appearing perfect in front of the world. It is mentioned by one of the characters that everyone assumes that everyone else has the perfect life and marriage, when in reality most everyone struggles at some point – and that’s ok. Life wasn’t meant to be perfect. It’s meant to be lived. Much of the beauty found in life is revealed in times of tragedy and struggle. Everything about this book is relatable, which makes me love it more.

Emily Giffin has a knack for realistic fiction and she slams a home run with this one. I truly loved The One & Only (released May 2014), but I enjoyed this story so much more because of the message it sends – love truly does come first.

I already miss these witty characters, and wish I could spend more moments in their lives. I want to be there for Josie and Gabe, but also for Nolan and Meredith as they are all about to experience a major life change when the story comes to an end. Sequel, please? 

 

 

Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman

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Wilde Lake will be published May 3, 2016 by Harper Collins.

Wilde Lake is an atmospheric, family-centered, legal suspense novel which will keep readers interested with a quick paced plot, as layers of buried secrets are uncovered one at a time. Each family member:  Lu, AJ, and their father, is hiding secrets of their own, and they all come to light, some very tragically, in the final chapters.

The story line might sound familiar to an old classic, To Kill A Mockingbird. This was by design, according to the author. She wanted to portray the idea that a crime, namely rape, committed in 1980 is looked at differently at the time, both legally and socially, than it would be in 2015.

Setting plays a large role in the story, beginning with the way the Brant family ended up in Wilde Lake, back when it was a newly developed area, offering such promise for success. Lu’s mother was talked into moving there against her wishes. Interestingly, the Brant family has become very important to the area, and are well-known for having two state attorneys in the family, Lu’s father, and Lu herself.

The dynamic between Lu and her older brother, AJ, adds a richness to the story. From as far back as Lu can remember, she has been in AJ’s shadow, trying to measure herself to him, while others are drawn to him and his talents like a magnet. Their relationship is strained, and ultimately broken when Lu finds out the truth about the night when teenage AJ saved his best friend Davey’s life and was deemed a hero. Is he really the hero that everyone believes he is? Is Lu forgetting something important about those events; or was she not privy to what really happened during her childhood?

The story switches back and forth between present day Lu at age 45, all the way back to when she was only 6 years old. Lu’s mother passed away when she was 1 week old, so she was mainly raised by Teensy, a nanny hired by their family.  Her father was a prominent lawyer and political figure who spent more time in the courtroom than he did at home. As snippets of Lu’s childhood and her upbringing are revealed, readers may better understand Lu’s demeanor and outlook on life. In the present, Lu, the first ever female state’s attorney in the state of Maryland, is prosecuting a case against a young man who murdered a woman who comes home to her apartment to find him, a stranger, there. Their town doesn’t see many murder trials, so Lu wants to do her best to seek the truth and prove herself worthy as the newly appointed state’s attorney. The more involved she becomes in the investigation, the closer she gets to uncovering some long buried family secrets.

I enjoyed this novel, and would recommend it to any fans of suspense and/or legal suspense.