Category Archives: Rated C+

Review: How to Behave in a Crowd by Camille Bordas

Title: How to Behave in a Crowd by Camille Bordas
Publisher: Tim Duggan Books
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
Length: 338 pages
Book Rating: C+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Penguin’s First to Read Program

Summary:

A witty, heartfelt novel that brilliantly evokes the confusions of adolescence and marks the arrival of an extraordinary young talent.

Isidore Mazal is eleven years old, the youngest of six siblings living in a small French town. He doesn’t quite fit in. Berenice, Aurore, and Leonard are on track to have doctorates by age twenty-four. Jeremie performs with a symphony, and Simone, older than Isidore by eighteen months, expects a great career as a novelist–she’s already put Isidore to work on her biography. The only time they leave their rooms is to gather on the old, stained couch and dissect prime-time television dramas in light of Aristotle’s Poetics.

Isidore has never skipped a grade or written a dissertation. But he notices things the others don’t, and asks questions they fear to ask. So when tragedy strikes the Mazal family, Isidore is the only one to recognize how everyone is struggling with their grief, and perhaps the only one who can help them—if he doesn’t run away from home first.

Isidore’s unstinting empathy, combined with his simmering anger, makes for a complex character study, in which the elegiac and comedic build toward a heartbreaking conclusion. With How to Behave in a Crowd, Camille Bordas immerses readers in the interior life of a boy puzzled by adulthood and beginning to realize that the adults around him are just as lost.

Review:

Spanning a couple of years, How to Behave in a Crowd by Camille Bordas is a character driven young adult novel about the youngest of six children who is trying to figure out how he fits in with his genius siblings.

Eleven year old Isidore “Dory” Mazal is quite ordinary compared to his highly intelligent, grade skipping brothers and sisters.  While he might not be as smart as his siblings, Dory is much more observant and he is also more social than they are. Despite being more interested in forming friendships, his only friend at school, Denise Galet, is also somewhat of an outcast due to her ongoing depression and anorexia.  Although Dory is close to his mother, his relationship with his business traveling father is somewhat distant.  Despite sharing a room with his sister, Simone, who is also closest in age to him, they are not particularly close since she is a scholastic overachiever like their older siblings. After the family suffers a tragic loss, Dory reacts with kindhearted compassion and empathy unlike his brothers and sisters who quickly return to their normal life.

Life with the Mazal family is somewhat dysfunctional since Dory’s siblings are rather disconnected from the rest of the family. Their interactions with one another are limited to family meals and watching the occasional TV show together.  The siblings’ extremely high IQs alienate them from their peers and they have little patience or tact when dealing with anyone whom they perceive is not their intellectual equal.

Although the concept for How to Behave in a Crowd is unique, the novel is very slow paced. The plot occasionally feels disjointed since Dory’s narration hops from one anecdote to another that are not necessarily connected to each other. Overall, his narration comes across as extremely detached which makes it somewhat difficult to for the reader to feel much of a connection with the various characters. While Dory is an enjoyable lead protagonist, none of his is siblings are particularly sympathetic or likable. Camille Bordas brings the story to a very abrupt and rather unsatisfying conclusion.

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Filed under Camille Bordas, Contemporary, How to Behave in a Crowd, Rated C+, Review, Tim Duggan Books, Young Adult

Review: Shadow Girl by Gerry Schmitt

Title: Shadow Girl by Gerry Schmitt
Afton Tangler Thriller Series Book Two
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: C+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Penguin’s First to Read Program

Summary:

The brutal murder of a business tycoon leaves Afton Tangler and the Twin Cities reeling, but that’s just the beginning of a gruesome crime spree…

Leland Odin made his fortune launching a home shopping network, but his millions can’t save his life. On the list for a transplant, the ailing businessman sees all hope lost when the helicopter carrying his donor heart is shot out of the sky.

Now with two pilots dead and dozens injured, Afton Tangler, family liaison officer for the Minneapolis Police Department, is drawn into the case. As she and her partner investigate family members and business associates, whoever wants Leland dead strikes again—and succeeds—in a brazen hospital room attack.

The supposedly squeaky clean millionaire has crossed the wrong person—and she’s not finished exacting her revenge. The case explodes into an international conspiracy of unbridled greed and violence. And as Afton gets closer to unearthing the mastermind behind it, she gets closer to becoming collateral damage…

Review:

The second installment in Gerry Schmitt’s Afton Tangler Thriller series, Shadow Girl is an intriguing police procedural about a plot to murder a home shopping network mogul.

Minneapolis Family Liaison Officer Afton Tangler and her partner Detective Max Montgomery are among the first on the scene of a horrific helicopter crash. They quickly learn the crash was no accident-someone deliberately shot the helo out of sky.  The discovery the copter was delivering a donor heart for multi-millionaire Leland Odin raises some very interesting questions about why someone wants the executive dead. Their preliminary inquiries fails to offer a motive and before their investigation has the opportunity to gain speed, the killer’s second attempt on Leland’s life is successful.  Max and Afton are soon embroiled in the hunt for the person responsible for Odin’s death but will they locate the murderer before he (or she) strikes again?

Since Afton is hoping to eventually become a full-fledged detective, she is eager to help Max with the investigation. She often acts without thinking and in this case, she puts herself right in the path of danger during a suspect chase.  Afton is given a lot of leeway as she assists Max but will her impulsivity and personal feelings cloud her judgment as they struggle to solve the case?

With no motive for the murder or a viable suspect, Afton and Max are struggling to make any progress on the case when someone closely connected to Leland disappears.  A lack of cooperation by family members and business associates impedes their investigation and they often rely on gut instinct to uncover information. Through hard work, determination and a few lucky breaks, Max and Afton are finally getting close to finding Odin’s killers but a motive for the crimes remains elusive.

Since the reader is fully aware of who the bad guys are and what their next move is going to be, there is a distinct lack of tension as Shadow Girl  slowly unfolds. Despite the initial lack of knowledge for the perpetrator’s somewhat nefarious and violent plot against Odin, it does not take much to deduce the suspect’s motive for the crime. In this newest addition to the  Afton Tangler Thriller series, the lines between Afton’s position with the police force are very blurred since she acts more like a criminal investigator than a family liaison officer.  It will be very interesting to see what Gerry Schmitt has planned for her in the future installments of the series.

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Filed under Afton Tangler Series, Berkley, Contemporary, Mystery, Rated C+, Review, Shadow Girl

Review: Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown

Title: Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length:369 pages
Book Rating: C+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Who you want people to be makes you blind to who they really are.

It’s been a year since Billie Flanagan—a Berkeley mom with an enviable life—went on a solo hike in Desolation Wilderness and vanished from the trail. Her body was never found, just a shattered cellphone and a solitary hiking boot. Her husband and teenage daughter have been coping with Billie’s death the best they can: Jonathan drinks as he works on a loving memoir about his marriage; Olive grows remote, from both her father and her friends at the all-girls school she attends.

But then Olive starts having strange visions of her mother, still alive. Jonathan worries about Olive’s emotional stability, until he starts unearthing secrets from Billie’s past that bring into question everything he thought he understood about his wife. Who was the woman he knew as Billie Flanagan?

Together, Olive and Jonathan embark on a quest for the truth—about Billie, but also about themselves, learning, in the process, about all the ways that love can distort what we choose to see. Janelle Brown’s insights into the dynamics of intimate relationships will make you question the stories you tell yourself about the people you love, while her nervy storytelling will keep you guessing until the very last page.

Review:

Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown is an intriguing mystery about a grieving father and daughter who are trying to uncover the truth about what happened to wife and mother Billie Flannagan who went missing during a weekend hike.

In the year since Billie disappeared, Jonathan has made little progress working through his grief over her presumed death. He quit his job in order to write a memoir about their life together but he is floundering financially as he waits to have Billie declared legally dead in order to wrap up the financial details of her assumed death. His relationship with his daughter Olive is a bit of a mess as he avoids broaching any subject that could upset the fragile bond between them. After an unexpected discovery that Billie was not telling him the truth about some of her weekends away from home, Jonathan uncovers stunning information that gives him a very different perspective about his wife, her past and their marriage.

Sixteen year old Olive is convinced her sudden visions are psychic messages from her mother.  She is also quite certain that her mom is, in fact, still alive and she immediately begins trying to find her. She is also feeling extremely guilty that she began distancing herself from her mother in an attempt to escape her overbearing attempts to force Olive to follow in her footsteps.  This single-minded attempt to track down her mom wreaks havoc on her schoolwork and her friendships.

Although Billie has been missing for almost a year, her presence is keenly felt throughout the novel. Initially, her relationship with Jonathan is portrayed through rose-colored, romanticized glasses  but this eventually changes as he begins to fully grasp how carefully she manipulated past events and avoided answering probing questions in an attempt to portray herself in the best possible light. Olive also puts a positive spin on Billie’s intensity and her attempts to shape her daughter in her image. Billie is never a likable or particularly sympathetic character and the negative impressions of her are only reinforced with each new revelation about her past, her marriage and her parenting style.

While the premise of Watch Me Disappear is unique and should be riveting, the novel is incredibly slow-paced.  Olive is a vibrantly developed and immensely appealing character and her reactions and decisions about her mother ring true. Jonathan is a little more difficult to like due to his hands off approach to parenting his grief-stricken daughter. Equally troubling are some of his lame-brain decisions and his lack of motivation to truly fix the financial mess he has made for himself. Janelle Brown throws a few unexpected twists and turns into the unfolding story and she brings the novel to a rather stunning conclusion.

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Filed under Contemporary, Janelle Brown, Mystery, Rated C+, Review, Spiegel & Grau, Watch Me Disappear

Review: Every Last Lie by Mary Kubica

Title: Every Last Lie by Mary Kubica
Publisher: Park Row Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 336 pages
Book Rating: C+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

New York Times bestselling author of THE GOOD GIRL Mary Kubica is back with another exhilarating thriller as a widow’s pursuit of the truth leads her to the darkest corners of the psyche. 

Clara Solberg’s world shatters when her husband and their four-year-old daughter are in a car crash, killing Nick while Maisie is remarkably unharmed. The crash is ruled an accident…until the coming days, when Maisie starts having night terrors that make Clara question what really happened on that fateful afternoon.

Tormented by grief and her obsession that Nick’s death was far more than just an accident, Clara is plunged into a desperate hunt for the truth. Who would have wanted Nick dead? And, more important, why? Clara will stop at nothing to find out—and the truth is only the beginning of this twisted tale of secrets and deceit.

Told in the alternating perspectives of Clara’s investigation and Nick’s last months leading up to the crash, master of suspense Mary Kubica weaves her most chilling thriller to date—one that explores the dark recesses of a mind plagued by grief and shows that some secrets might be better left buried.

Review:

In Every Last Lie by Mary Kubica, a widow becomes convinced her husband’s car accident was murder but will she find the answers she is searching for when she begins digging into his life?

Clara and Nick Solberg are sleep-deprived parents to four day old son Felix when Nick and 4 year old daughter Maisie are involved in a car accident. Maisie emerges from the wreckage with barely a scratch while Nick suffers catastrophic traumatic brain injury that is impossible to survive. Police quickly rule the car wreck an accident but Clara, unable to accept their conclusion, is certain her husband was murdered after Maisie begins suffering nightmares and telling her mother a “bad man” is after them.  Grief stricken and exhausted, Clara starts an investigation to find evidence to support her theory that Nick was murdered, but will she find the proof she is searching for?

Clara is overwhelmed with grief and barely able to function after Nick’s death. Between the demands of caring for a newborn and trying to make sense of her husband’s unbelievable death, she is not eating or sleeping when she becomes obsessed with trying to find proof Nick was murdered. As she begins delving into Nick’s life, she uncovers information that leaves her reeling and wondering if she really knew her husband. Her behavior is increasingly erratic as she makes mindboggling decisions in her quest for answers.  Clara becomes somewhat unhinged as she begins making crazed accusations after she uncovers evidence that seemingly supports her somewhat wild theories about what happened to Nick.

Chapters from Nick’s perspective in the months leading up to his death which focus on the events occurring in the present are interspersed with Clara’s chapters in the present. These glimpses of his life outside of the home offer an unflattering portrait of secrets, lies and omissions as events slowly snowball out of his control. Desperate to fix the things that are going wrong, Nick makes questionable decisions that jeopardize everything he holds dear. After his death, Clara stumbles onto some of his activities which contribute to her growing conviction that his death is the result of foul play.

Every Last Lie is a slow-paced novel with an unusual premise and an increasingly unreliable narrator. Clara is initially a sympathetic character but her out of control behavior, suspicions, outrageous accusations and dangerous choices quickly wear thin. Mary Kubica brings the novel to a somewhat unconventional conclusion that is quite unexpected. While a few loose ends remain, there is an unequivocal resolution to Clara’s quest for the truth about Nick’s death.

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Filed under Contemporary, Every Last Lie, Mary Kubica, Mystery, Park Row Books, Rated C+, Review

Review: Toughest Cowboy in Texas by Carolyn Brown

Title: Toughest Cowboy in Texas by Carolyn Brown
Happy, Texas Book One
Publisher: Forever
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 352 pages
Book Rating: C+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

The Spark of an Old Flame

Last time Lila Harris was in Happy, Texas, she was actively earning her reputation as the resident wild child. Now, a little older and wiser, she’s back to run her mother’s café for the summer. Except something about this town has her itching to get a little reckless and rowdy, especially when she sees her old partner-in-crime, Brody Dawson. Their chemistry is just as hot as ever. But he’s still the town’s golden boy-and she’s still the wrong kind of girl.

Brody hasn’t had much time lately for anything other than ranching. Running the biggest spread in the county and taking care of his family more than keeps him busy. All that responsibility has him longing for the carefree days of high school-and Lila. She may have grown up, but he still sees that spark of mischief in her eyes. Now he’s dreaming about late-night skinny dipping and wondering how he can possibly resist the one woman he can never forget…

Review:

The first book in Carolyn Brown’s Happy, Texas series, Toughest Cowboy in Texas is an entertaining second chance at love romance.

Twelve years ago, Lila Harris left Happy, Texas with a broken heart courtesy of her secret boyfriend Brody Dawson.  Now a well-respected school teacher, Lila returns to Happy to sell her mama’s cafe but she cannot escape the town’s long memory.  Considered the town’s “wild child” because of her fun-loving, spirited antics, the townspeople still refer to her by her former nickname and she is the object of an awful lot of mean-spirited gossip. And woo whee!  Two of the Lila’s biggest detractors are Brody’s mama and Grandma and they are hoping he stays far away from her while she is in town.

Brody’s life changed direction dramatically due to circumstances beyond his control and he now has his hands full running the family ranch with his brother Jace.  He harbors quite a few regrets for the way he treated Lila while they were dating and as an adult, he is quick to apologize for his mistakes. Brody is also ready and willing to fight for her once he realizes he is still attracted to her.

The sparks fly between Brody and Lila once they are reunited but there is plenty of internal and external conflict to prevent them from acting on their attraction. With the townspeople convinced she is nothing but trouble, Lila cannot wait to leave Happy again. She is also rather reluctant to trust that Brody will not break her heart again. Brody knows that Lila is the woman for him, but his mama and grandma are dead set against them becoming a couple. Will Brody fight for Lila no matter what his family thinks? And will Lila be able to work through her reservations about living permanently in a town where she is nothing but fodder for  gossip?

Although Brody and Lila are likable characters, their relationship has a bit of an insta-love feel to it. The townspeople are rather judgmental and quick to think the worst of Lila despite the fact that they really do not know her.  It is also rather frustrating that both Lila and Brody’s families are dead set against them seeing another. The reasons are ridiculously overblown and have absolutely nothing to do with either Brody and Lila.

Toughest Cowboy in Texas  is a sweet yet steamy small town romance with a cast of eclectic but likable characters. While there are a few frustrations with some elements of the storyline, this first installment in the Happy, Texas series is an enjoyable read that I recommend to old and new fans of Carolyn Brown.

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Filed under Carolyn Brown, Contemporary, Forever, Happy Texas Series, Rated C+, Review, Romance, Toughest Cowboy in Texas

Review: In This Moment by Karma Brown

Title: In This Moment by Karma Brown
Publisher: Park Row Books
Genre: Contemporary, Women”s Fiction
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: C+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Bestselling author Karma Brown is back with a morally infused and emotionally riveting exploration of one woman’s guilt over an unexpected—yet avoidable—tragedy

Meg Pepper has a fulfilling career and a happy family. Most days she’s able to keep it all together and glide through life. But then, in one unalterable moment, everything changes.

After school pickup one day, she stops her car to wave a teenage boy across the street…just as another car comes hurtling down the road and slams into him.

Meg can’t help but blame herself for her role in this horrific disaster. Full of remorse, she throws herself into helping the boy’s family as he rehabs from his injuries. But the more Meg tries to absolve herself, the more she alienates her own family—and the more she finds herself being drawn to the boy’s father.

Soon Meg’s picture-perfect life is unravelling before her eyes. As the painful secrets she’s been burying bubble dangerously close to the surface, she will have to decide: Can she forgive herself, or will she risk losing everything she holds dear to her heart?

Review:

In This Moment by  Karma Brown is an affecting exploration of unresolved guilt and grief.

Meg Pepper is a busy working mother who has never quite made peace with a tragedy that occurred when she was a teenager. Her long buried feelings of guilt come to the surface in the aftermath of a car accident involving the twin brother of her fifteen year old daughter Audrey’s boyfriend Sam Beckett. After Meg waves Jack across the road, he is struck by an inattentive driver traveling in the opposite direction. She immediately blames herself and in the aftermath, her guilt takes a huge toll on her marriage to Ryan, her career and her relationship with Audrey as Meg begins making questionable decisions.

Even before the Jack’s accident, Meg is already struggling to keep up with the details of her personal and professional lives. She is also a little resentful that Ryan does not seem to take her career seriously. Like many working mothers, she is expected to juggle the demands of her job with motherhood and the duties around the house. After Jack’s accident, Meg becomes so guilt-ridden that she cannot sleep and when she does, she is plagued with nightmares about tragic events that occurred when she was a teenager. Sleep-deprived and incredibly stressed, Meg begins making mistakes at work and at home, she and Ryan begin bickering.

Up to this point, Meg is a very involved and protective mom who tries to ensure Audrey does not make the same mistakes she made as teenager. Before Jack’s accident, Audrey never gives her or Ryan any reason to worry about the choices she makes and they trust her implicitly. Almost immediately after the accident, Audrey’s behavior begins to change but she and Ryan are slow to realize exactly what is going on with the daughter.

With trouble brewing both at home and the office, Meg becomes her own worst enemy as she refuses to talk about her profound guilt over her self perceived role in Jack’s accident.  Although Ryan knows about what happened to her as a teenager, she cannot bring herself to admit that Jack’s accident has brought all of her unresolved feelings to the forefront. Meg’s downward spiral leads to discontent in her marriage and she makes a fateful choice that threatens her relationships with everyone she holds dear.

In This Moment by Karma Brown is a poignant and thought-provoking read but some elements of the storyline become repetitive.  Meg’s guilt over her role in what happened in both the past and present seems a little extreme and it is very difficult to understand why she won’t talk to Ryan about the things that are bothering her.  Although not everything is completely resolved, the novel’s optimistic conclusion is quite satisfying.  

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Filed under Contemporary, In This Moment, Karma Brown, Park Row Books, Rated C+, Review, Women's Fiction