Category Archives: Rated B

Review: Switching Gears by Chantele Sedgwick

Title: Switching Gears by Chantele Sedgwick
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Romance
Length: 288 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

Still mourning the loss of Lucas Nelson, the boy she loved in secret for years, seventeen-year-old Emmy Martin turns to her passion for mountain biking to try to fill the empty void in her life. But just when things start looking up, Emmy discovers her mom has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Confused and angry that her parents didn’t tell her sooner, she throws herself into mountain biking like never before.

When Cole Evans, the rich boy who usually doesn’t care about anything but himself, offers to train her for the biggest mountain biking race of the season, she accepts, determined to beat her nemesis, Whitney, and prove she’s good enough for a sponsor. The more time she spends with Cole, the more she realizes he’s different than she’d expected, and, to her surprise, she’s falling for him. Torn between the deep feelings she still has for Lucas and her growing ones for Cole, she knows she must choose a path: one offers her the chance to love again, while the other is blocked by the overwhelming heartache for the boy she lost.

As she drifts further away from her family and closer to her dream of being sponsored, a terrible accident threatens any semblance of peace and happiness she has left. Instead of closing herself off to the people she loves, Emmy must learn to rely on those she has pushed away if she’s going to have any chance of getting her life back again.

Review:

Switching Gears by Chantele Sedgwick is a poignant young adult novel about loss, family and unexpected love. This companion piece to Love, Lucas that can be read a standalone.

Following the tragic loss of her best friend and secret love, Lucas Nelson, seventeen year old Emmy Martin’s life is still off kilter.  An avid mountain bike racer, she is disappointed when she comes in second place in a race against her nemesis Whitney.  She is still also smarting over losing her team captain spot to relative newcomer Cole Evans.  So when Cole offers to coach her after she agrees to race against Whitney, Emmy turns him down without hesitation.  However, their paths continue crossing as she trains on her own and she begins to realize there is more to Cole than she previously believed, but is Emmy ready to move on to a new relationship?

Emmy is initially not an easy young woman to like.  She is prickly, closed off and refuses to let anyone except her best friend Kelsie get close to her.  Emmy is extremely close to her mom which is why it is so upsetting when she learns her parents have been keeping secrets from her and her brother Gavin.  After learning the truth about her mother’s recent diagnosis, Emmy refuses to talk to her parents and she begins avoiding spending any time at home.  Instead, she throws herself into training for the upcoming race against Whitney and as she continues running into Cole, she is surprised when she begins to realize she might be falling for him.

Kelsie is a wonderful secondary character and she is extremely loyal to Emmy.  She easily overlooks her friends moodiness and she is quick to agree to anything Emmy asks her to do.  But Kelsie refuses to let her friend wallow in her grief and she gently, but consistently, urges Emmy to consider giving Cole a chance.  Their friendship is refreshingly lacking in angst or drama and Kelsie’s upbeat personality is a nice contrast to Emmy’s numerous issues.

Cole is a fantastic love interest for Emmy and he refuses to give up on her no matter how unpleasant she is to him.  At first he seems like he might be a little too perfect but underneath his clean cut, wholesome facade is a normal teenager dealing with the same issues as other kids his age.  Cole accepts Emmy’s refusal to let him help her train without putting up a fuss but he is not fazed by her attempts to keep him at arms’ length. His persistence pays off and a tentative friendship forms between them which eventually deepens into a real relationship.

Switching Gears by Chantele Sedgwick is a sweet young adult romance that is fast-paced with engaging characters.  The storyline is well written with realistic problems and issues to overcome.  The ending is a little overly melodramatic but the epilogue is nice.  All in all, an enjoyable young adult novel that readers of all ages will enjoy.

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Filed under Chantele Sedgwick, Contemporary, Rated B, Review, Romance, Sky Pony Press, Switching Gears, Young Adult

Review: The Nearness of You by Amanda Eyre Ward

Title: The Nearness of You by Amanda Eyre Ward
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: 240 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

In this profound and lyrical novel, acclaimed author Amanda Eyre Ward explores the deeper meanings of motherhood—from the first blissful hello to the heart-wrenching prospect of saying goodbye.

Brilliant heart surgeon Suzette Kendall is stunned when Hyland, her husband of fifteen years, admits his yearning for a child. From the beginning they’d decided that having children was not an option, as Suzette feared passing along the genes that landed her mother in a mental institution. But Hyland proposes a different idea: a baby via surrogate.

Suzette agrees, and what follows is a whirlwind of candidate selection, hospital visits, and Suzette’s doubts over whether she’s made the right decision. A young woman named Dorothy Muscarello is chosen as the one who will help make this family complete. For Dorrie, surrogacy (and the money that comes with it) are her opportunity to leave behind a troubled past and create a future for herself—one full of possibility. But this situation also forces all three of them—Dorrie, Suzette, and Hyland—to face a devastating uncertainty that will reverberate in the years to come.

Beautifully shifting between perspectives, The Nearness of You deftly explores the connections we form, the families we create, and the love we hold most dear.

Review:

In The Nearness of You, Amanda Eyre Ward explores the intricacies of motherhood and surrogacy.

Due to her family’s history of mental illness, cardiac surgeon Suzette Kendall decided early in life that she would not have children.  Her husband of fifteen years, Hyland, finally made peace with her decision before they married but he has recently had a change of heart.  Although she is not completely convinced motherhood is right for her, she and Hyland decide to use his sperm to impregnate a surrogate.  After selecting twenty-one year old Dorrie Muscarello to carry their baby, will Suzette and Hyland’s dream of becoming a family come true?

Suzette’s childhood with a mentally ill mother was quite a nightmare and her decision to not have kids of her own was solidified after she experienced difficulties during college.  Not once in all the years of her marriage has she regretted the decision and she never had any reason to believe that Hyland would change his mind.  Suzette has serious reservations about adding to their family, but she wants to make Hyland happy so in spite of her ambiguous feelings about parenthood, she agrees to her husband’s plan.

Suzette and Hyland’s search for a surrogate is more complicated than they believed so they ignore the agency’s warning that Dorrie might be a risky choice since she is relatively young and childless. Her reasons for becoming a surrogate are financially motivated since she dreams of going to college in order to escape her rather dismal life. The first insemination attempt is successful, the pregnancy is progressing smoothly and the Kendall’s are excited about Dorrie’s upcoming ultrasound.

From the prologue, readers are aware that something horrible has happened but what that could be remains unclear.  The first chapter then goes back to the point where Suzette and Hyland decide to have a baby and then follows the search for a surrogate and subsequent pregnancy until the point right before Dorrie’s ultrasound. The second part of the novel follows what happens next and these chapters unfold from various characters’ points of view.  The third part of the novel fast forwards back to the present and recounts the series of events leading up to the prologue. 

An insightful glimpse into the difficulties and pitfalls of surrogacy, The Nearness of You by Amanda Eyre Ward is a well-written novel that tugs on the heartstrings.  The characters are richly drawn and mostly sympathetic despite some of the choices they make. While not everything that happens throughout the story is completely unexpected, there are some nice twists and turns that are thought-provoking. The novel’s conclusion is a little abrupt and unsatisfying and readers will left wondering what comes next for the characters.

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Filed under Amanda Eyre Ward, Ballantine Books, Contemporary, Rated B, Review, The Nearness of You, Women's Fiction

Review: The Devil Crept In by Ania Ahlborn

Title: The Devil Crept In by Ania Ahlborn
Publisher: Gallery Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Horror, Supernatural
Length: 384 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

An unforgettable horror novel from bestselling sensation Ania Ahlborn—hailed as a writer of “some of the most promising horror I’ve encountered in years” (New York Times bestselling author Seanan McGuire)—in which a small-town boy investigates the mysterious disappearance of his cousin and uncovers a terrifying secret kept hidden for years.

Young Jude Brighton has been missing for three days, and while the search for him is in full swing in the small town of Deer Valley, Oregon, the locals are starting to lose hope. They’re well aware that the first forty-eight hours are critical and after that, the odds usually point to a worst-case scenario. And despite Stevie Clark’s youth, he knows that, too; he’s seen the cop shows. He knows what each ticking moment may mean for Jude, his cousin and best friend.

That, and there was that boy, Max Larsen…the one from years ago, found dead after also disappearing under mysterious circumstances. And then there were the animals: pets gone missing out of yards. For years, the residents of Deer Valley have murmured about these unsolved crimes…and that a killer may still be lurking around their quiet town. Now, fear is reborn—and for Stevie, who is determined to find out what really happened to Jude, the awful truth may be too horrifying to imagine.

Review:

With a possibly unreliable narrator, supernatural elements and a mysterious disappearance of a  twelve year boy,  The Devil Crept In is the latest eerie and somewhat creepy horror novel by Ania Ahlborn.

Ten year old Stevie Clark is best friends with his twelve year old cousin Jude Brighton and when Jude goes missing, he is the only person in town who takes his disappearance seriously.  Due to his stutter and overactive imagination, Stevie is a bit of a social pariah in town which makes his friendship with Jude that much more important to him.  Everyone in town considers Jude a troublemaker so it is little surprise that the general consensus is he has run away from home.  Stevie knows without a doubt that his cousin would never voluntarily abandon him, so Stevie gathers his courage to help search for Jude.  A grisly discovery indicates Jude might be the victim of foul play so Stevie decides to investigate his best friend’s disappearance in earnest.  Deciding to venture to the spooky house that Jude is so fascinated with, Stevie is frightened by what he sees, but Jude’s sudden reappearance puts an end to any further investigation.  At first relieved his best friend has returned unharmed, Stevie becomes frightened by the differences he notices in Jude.  Although no one seems aware that anything is amiss, Stevie is determined to understand what happened to Jude in the woods but will anyone believe him once he uncovers the truth?

Told in three parts, part one delves into Jude and Stevie’s somewhat tragic childhoods and follows Jude’s disappearance and Stevie’s search for his cousin.  Stevie is an incredibly sympathetic ten year old boy but his various problems make him an unreliable narrator.  At one time a happy, normal child, he inexplicably began stuttering and experiencing night terrors and hallucinations.  His home life worsened dramatically following his father’s abandonment and his mom’s involvement with an abusive and volatile man who does not hesitate to mete out corporal punishment.  Although always rambunctious, Jude essentially turned into a surly juvenile delinquent after this father’s death.  The two boys are now inseparable and Stevie is quite forgiving after he occasionally becomes the object of Jude’s mean streak.

The second part of the story provides the backstory of Rosamund “Rosie” Aleksander, an emotionally damaged recluse once married to a local doctor.  Rosie is inconsolable after a tragic loss and her attempt to escape her pain leads her to a stranger and a mysterious retreat. Returning to her beautiful home in the woods, Rosie’s deepest wish comes true but in a particularly cruel twist of fate, her dream soon turns into a horrific nightmare that tests her deepest bond.

Part three is where the two storylines come together with a terrifying supernatural twist that will put even the most ardent horror fan on the edge of their seat when evil is unleashed in the aftermath of Jude’s disappearance.  Stevie finally uncovers the ghastly secret about the strange occurrences that have happened in and around town over the last several years.  Just as he is piecing together the events that have plagued the town, Stevie also learns the stunning truth about what happened to Jude and in the aftermath of his discoveries, his life goes in a very shocking direction.

Although initially a little slow-paced, The Devil Crept In by Ania Ahlborn catapults to an adrenaline filled and sinister conclusion.  An imaginative and suspense-laden novel that I highly recommend to fans of the horror genre.

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Filed under Ania Ahlborn, Contemporary, Gallery Books, Horror, Mystery, Rated B, Review, Supernatural Elements, The Devil Crept In

Review: The Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy

Title: The Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy
Publisher: Harper
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Supernatural Elements
Length: 368 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

In this electrifying literary debut, a young woman who channels the dead for a living crosses a dangerous line when she falls in love with one of her clients, whose wife died under mysterious circumstances.

In an unnamed city, Eurydice works for the Elysian Society, a private service that allows grieving clients to reconnect with lost loved ones. She and her fellow workers, known as “bodies”, wear the discarded belongings of the dead and swallow pills called lotuses to summon their spirits—numbing their own minds and losing themselves in the process. Edie has been a body at the Elysian Society for five years, an unusual record. Her success is the result of careful detachment: she seeks refuge in the lotuses’ anesthetic effects and distances herself from making personal connections with her clients.

But when Edie channels Sylvia, the dead wife of recent widower Patrick Braddock, she becomes obsessed with the glamorous couple. Despite the murky circumstances surrounding Sylvia’s drowning, Edie breaks her own rules and pursues Patrick, moving deeper into his life and summoning Sylvia outside the Elysian Society’s walls.

After years of hiding beneath the lotuses’ dulling effect, Edie discovers that the lines between her own desires and those of Sylvia have begun to blur, and takes increasing risks to keep Patrick within her grasp. Suddenly, she finds her quiet life unraveling as she grapples not only with Sylvia’s growing influence and the questions surrounding her death, but with her own long-buried secrets.

A tale of desire and obsession, deceit and dark secrets that defies easy categorization, The Possessions is a seductive, absorbing page-turner that builds to a shattering, unforgettable conclusion.

Review:

With a hint of the supernatural and an intriguing mystery, The Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy is a fascinating novel where the grieving have the opportunity to channel their loved ones during visits to the Elysian Society. The bereaved are able to interact with their wives, husbands, children, friends, etc during their sessions with workers known as “bodies” who ingest a mysterious pill called a “lotus” to aid the process.  The body is completely unaware of what transpires between the client and their loved one and despite the personal nature of their interactions, the body remains emotionally detached from the people using the Society’s services.

Eurydice “Edie” has been a body for much longer than most of the Elysian Society employees and like her co-workers, her life is shrouded in mystery.  Many of the bodies supply a false name and few discuss anything personal about themselves.  Edie has no trouble keeping an emotional distance from her clients but when she begins channeling Patrick Braddock’s wife, Sylvia, she is drawn to both him and his deceased wife.  Discovering some of fellow employees work with some of their clients outside of the Society, Edie offers to channel Sylvia at Patrick’s home.  Edie then  begins taking risky chances in an effort to get as much information as she can to satisfy her curiosity about  Patrick’s marriage and the circumstances of Sylvia’s death.

Edie is initially an emotionless and passionless narrator with very little in her life outside of her work.  She has no outside interests nor she does she have any friends.  She barely recognizes her co-workers and her interactions with them both on the job and in her time off are quite limited.  Edie does not reflect on the circumstances that brought her to the Society so she appears to be nothing but a blank slate as she somewhat dispassionately channels the dead.  However, seemingly incongruous details about Sylvia spark her curiosity and  she is unexpectedly attracted to Patrick.  As she becomes more deeply entrenched in Patrick’s life, the easier it is for Edie to channel Sylvia.

While Edie is crossing into dangerous territory with Patrick, she becomes unwittingly involved in a murder investigation.  A young woman, dubbed  by the press as “Hopeful Doe”, has recently been found murdered and someone connected to the case tries to use the Elysian Society to uncover her identity.  Edie refuses to break the Society’s rules to help this person, but not everyone she works with understands the ramifications of channeling the spirit of a murder victim.  Could this woman and her death have anything to do with the Elysian Society?  The police certainly think so but Edie is not as convinced they are on the right track. Will an unexpected discovery change her mind? Will she do anything with information she unearths?

The Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy has an imaginative storyline that is quite compelling.  There are quite a few twists and turns as Edie’s obsession with Sylvia leads to a surprising relationship with Patrick. Poised to enter a new phase in her life, Edie is blindsided when someone uncovers the truth about her past.  The revelations about Edie’s past are a bit underwhelming but overall, the novel is a refreshingly unique and captivating read.  A very impressive debut that I immensely enjoyed and highly recommend.

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Filed under Contemporary, Harper, Mystery, Rated B, Review, Sara Flannery Murphy, Supernatural Elements, The Possessions

Review: I Liked My Life by Abby Fabiaschi

Title: I Liked My Life by Abby Fabiaschi
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: 273 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

A story from debut author Abby Fabiaschi that is “as absorbing as it is illuminating, and as witty as it is heartbreaking.”

Maddy is a devoted stay-at-home wife and mother, host of excellent parties, giver of thoughtful gifts, and bestower of a searingly perceptive piece of advice or two. She is the cornerstone of her family, a true matriarch…until she commits suicide, leaving her husband Brady and teenage daughter Eve heartbroken and reeling, wondering what happened. How could the exuberant, exacting woman they loved disappear so abruptly, seemingly without reason, from their lives? How they can possibly continue without her? As they sift through details of her last days, trying to understand the woman they thought they knew, Brady and Eve are forced to come to terms with unsettling truths.

Maddy, however, isn’t ready to leave her family forever. Watching from beyond, she tries to find the perfect replacement for herself. Along comes Rory: pretty, caring, and spontaneous, with just the right bit of edge…but who also harbors a tragedy of her own. Will the mystery of Maddy ever come to rest? And can her family make peace with their history and begin to heal?

Review:

I Liked My Life by Abby Fabiaschi is a poignant yet remarkably uplifting novel about healing, grief and moving forward after enduring a tragic loss.

Brady Starling and his seventeen year old daughter Eve are struggling to understand devoted wife and mom Maddy’s recent death.  Their lives rarely intersect as Brady continues to use work as way to avoid his pain.  Eve no longer has anything in common with  her friends and classmates and already feeling numb with grief, she is becoming increasingly isolated in the weeks leading up to summer break.  Unbeknownst to both Brady and Eve, Maddy is still watching over them and trying to help them work their way from grieving to healing.  She is also doing a little beyond the grave matchmaking  as she tries to find the perfect woman to help both Brady and Eve heal from their heartbreaking loss.

Brady and Eve are floundering in the aftermath of Maddy’s death as they realize how much she did to ensure their lives ran smoothly. They are also trying to understand why the seemingly happy wife and mother would have wanted to end her life. As they realize how incredibly self-absorbed and unappreciative they were of Maddy, they are wracked with guilt that they missed signs she was depressed and unhappy enough to commit suicide.

As they try to work through their tangled emotions, Brady and Eve seem to have little common ground and initially, most of their interactions are so filled with anger and pain they cannot connect.  Brady’s default mode is avoidance and unfortunately, Eve is emulating his less than healthy behavior.  After they finally get a much needed wake-up call, they begin the arduous task of rebuilding their shattered family.  A sometimes daunting task, but with a little effort on both of their parts, Brady and Eve begin to make progress but their newfound peace is often quite fragile.

Maddy is certainly doing all she can to help her family recover from her loss.  She finally discovers she can send thoughts and energy to help Brady and Eve with the healing process.  Some of the people in her family’s lives are a little easier for her manipulate than others and while some of her efforts are misconstrued, most of her attempts are successful.  After much searching, Maddy has found the person she feels is the perfect woman to help Brady and Eve deal with their pain and sorrow, but will her matchmaking yield the results she is hoping for?

I Liked My Life is a well-written novel that deals with very difficult subject manner in a surprisingly humorous and startlingly insightful manner.  The characters are wonderfully complex with all too realistic foibles and frailties.  The storyline is oftentimes heartbreaking as Brady and Eve try to understand the reasons for Maddy’s suicide while at the same time, they are struggling to come to terms with their new reality. I absolutely loved and highly recommend this beautifully rendered debut by Abby Fabiaschi.

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Filed under Abby Fabiaschi, Contemporary, I Liked My Life, Rated B, Review, St Martin's Press, Women's Fiction

Review: Killing Jane by Stacy Green

Title: Killing Jane by Stacy Green
Erin Prince Series Book One
Publisher: Vesuvian Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 340 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

What if everything you’ve ever heard about Jack the Ripper is wrong …

A young woman is brutally murdered in Washington D.C., and the killer leaves behind a calling card connected to some of the most infamous murders in history.

Jack the Ripper

Rookie homicide investigator Erin Prince instinctively knows the moment she sees the mutilated body that it’s only a matter of time before someone else dies.

She and her partner, Todd Beckett, are on the trail of a madman, and a third body sends them in the direction they feared most: a serial killer is walking the streets of D.C.

The clock is ticking.

Erin must push past her mounting self-doubt in order to unravel a web of secrets filled with drugs, pornography, and a decades old family skeleton before the next victim is sacrificed.

The only way to stop a killer is to beat them at their own game.

Review:

Killing Jane, the first book in Stacy Green’s Erin Prince, is a perplexing mystery with somewhat dark and disturbing subject matter.

Rookie homicide detective Erin Prince’s first case as a lead investigator is the particularly brutal and gruesome murder of Bonnie Archer.  As Erin quickly discovers, Bonnie is a well-liked woman in her mid twenties who has managed to turn her life around after years of addiction.  She is enrolled in an adult education program where she is close to getting her GED and volunteers to tutor other students in her spare time.  However, Erin soon learns that Bonnie is involved in some very unsavory things that are a direct reaction from her still unresolved issues from her childhood.  After another grisly murder, Erin and her new partner, Todd Beckett, are under extreme pressure to catch the murderer before he or she kills again.

Although new to homicide, Erin is a veteran police detective who previously worked in sex crimes which makes her so-called “rookie” mistakes during the investigation quite puzzling. She is incredibly insecure and plagued with self-doubt.  From a wealthy and privileged background, Erin relates a little too closely to the people she is questioning and her skewed perspective makes her rather insensitive, impatient and downright antagonistic during interviews.  She is prone to angry outbursts which make her appear  argumentative, unprofessional, childish and overly emotional.  When she calms down, Erin realizes she should have held her tongue and although she is quick to apologize, she NEVER seems learns from her mistakes.

Todd is a seasoned investigator who is nothing like his disagreeable, unsympathetic and unlikable new partner. Although he is patient, methodical and analytical, he does eventually become frustrated with Erin’s propensity to fly off the handle at the least bit of provocation.  Todd is much more open-minded about  possible scenarios for the murders they are investigating and although he has doubts about Erin’s theories, he does not entirely discount her suppositions.

Their investigation yields few viable leads but Erin and Todd diligently follow what little evidence they uncover.  Stonewalled by Bonnie’s family, they nonetheless continue chipping away until they discover the truth about their victim’s past.  They try to be sensitive with her parents but Erin does not hesitate to push them for answers.  After the second vicious killing, Erin and Todd are determined to find the connection between the victims but they both feel like they are going in circles since their investigation quickly stalls.  Will they put together the pieces of the of puzzle and arrest the murderer before it is too late?

Killing Jane  is an intriguing police procedural that fans of the genre will enjoy.  This first outing in the Stacy Green’s Erin Prince series is full of unexpected twists and turns.  Although the case is solved by the novel’s end, the conclusion is ambiguous enough that readers will wonder whether or not the perpetrator will return in future installments.  All in all, a solid start to the series but hopefully the lead protagonist will be a little more likable in the next book.

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Filed under Contemporary, Erin Prince Series, Killing Jane, Mystery, Rated B, Review, Stacy Green, Vesuvian Books