Category Archives: Rated C

Review: Age of Consent by Marti Leimbach

Title: Age of Consent by Marti Leimbach
Publisher: Nan A. Talese
Genre: Contemporary, Historical (70s), Fiction
Length: 336 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

From the author of Daniel Isn’t Talking and Dying Young comes a shattering new novel, a page-turner about a sexual relationship between a grown man and a newly teenaged girl.

June was a young widow with a hopeless crush on Craig Kirtz, a disc jockey at a local rock station. To her surprise, the two struck up a friendship that seemed headed for something more. But it was June’s thirteen-year-old daughter, Bobbie, whom Craig had wanted all along. Bobbie thought her secret life—the sex, the drugs, the illicit relationship itself—could remain safely buried in the past. But thirty years later, when Bobbie discovers Craig’s attentions to her had been repeated with any number of girls, she returns home with one purpose in mind: to bring Craig to trial.

Her decision is greeted with mixed feelings. Some people think that bringing charges against someone for a crime committed so many years ago is unjustified. She’s called a “middle-aged woman with a vendetta.” She’s accused of waging war against her own family. But the past has a way of revealing itself, and some relationships lie dormant through the years, ready to stir to life at the
slightest provocation.

June remembers things differently from the way Bobbie does. Craig insists he has done nothing wrong. As their traumatic history is relived in the courtroom, Bobbie and June must come to terms with the choices they made and face the truth they have long refused to acknowledge. Told with warmth and compassion, this is a moving, deeply absorbing story of a family in crisis.

Review:

Age of Consent by Marti Leimbach is an unflinchingly honest novel about a woman who was sexually abused when she was a teenager who finally tries to get justice thirty years later.  The subject matter is dark and disturbing yet the rambling, disjointed narrative does not do the topic justice.

In the late 70s, Bobbie became the victim of a sexual predator whom her mom later married.  In 2008, Bobbie brings charges against him for the long ago crime.  What should be a compelling court case in the present becomes muddled by extraneous details and a meandering storyline that flashes back and forth between past and present.  The present day narrative is concise yet contains a few troubling coincidences that diminish the impact of the court case.  There is evidence that could corroborate key facts in the case, yet somehow the prosecutor fails to see it.  The courtroom scenes fall flat and the lack of clear resolution is a bit of a disappointment when taking into consideration the fact that a key witness has an epiphany that could turn the entire case around.

The flashbacks contain horrifying details of fifteen year old Bobbie’s abuse at the hands of twenty-eight year old disc jockey Craig Kirtz yet these details are often lost in tedious passages that do little to explain why Bobbie was drawn to a man with absolutely no charm or redeeming qualities.  Bobbie’s scenes with Craig are harrowing and her fear and disgust are palpable.  The fact she kept the relationship a secret from her mother is easy to understand since teenagers often remain silent in these types of situations.  Bobbie’s shame later in life is realistic as is her underlying belief she is somehow responsible for what happened to her as a teenager.  Bobbie’s explanation for the series of event that led up to her involvement with Craig occurs so late in the story that it almost feels like an afterthought.

However, what is most perplexing is why Bobbie’s mother, June, was so thoroughly enthralled with Craig in the first place.  Yes, his job as a disc jockey made him a “celebrity” of sorts, but his behavior is so appalling that is impossible to understand what she found so appealing about him.  And the fact that June was able to overlook and explain away certain details that should have been major red flags is mindboggling.

Age of Consent by Marti Leimbach does manage to end on positive note but overall, the novel is a bit of a disappointing read.  While some parts of the story are unsatisfying, it is a gritty and realistic portrayal of how sexual predators groom their victims and coerce them into keeping silent about the inappropriate relationship.

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Filed under Contemporary, Fiction, Historical, Historical (70s), Rated C, Review

Review: Separate Lives by Kathryn Flett

Title: Separate Lives by Kathryn Flett
Publisher: Quercus
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: 401 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Your partner of ten years, and the father of your children (though not your husband, because the two of you agreed that marriage seems so…old-fashioned), receives a text message. A text message you happen to see when you’re getting ready for work one day:

Start living a different kind of life… P 🙂 xxx

You don’t even know anyone with the initial P, but even if you did, the smiley face and kisses would send a shiver of fear down your spine that everything you and your partner have built and which seemed so strong, might be in danger of collapse. How could you miss that?

Narrated by Susie, her partner Alex, and the mysterious P, this is an achingly funny, moving and honest portrayal of modern romance, parenthood, and adultery.

Review:

Separate Lives by Kathryn Flett is a contemporary novel about the disintegration of a long term relationship amid suspicions of infidelity.

Susie Poe and Alex Fox have been together ten years and although engaged, they have never tied the knot.  They have two children, eight year old Lula and four year old Chuck and both have successful careers.  Things begin rapidly falling apart after Susie discovers a text on Alex’s phone from “P”and she immediately suspects he is having an affair.

The characters are a bit of a mixed bag and several of their relationships are interconnected. Susie is likable and sympathetic but she is not as innocent and wholesome as she first appears. Pippa’s (the not so mysterious P) motives for some of her actions are a little difficult to discern and while not completely unsympathetic, she is not exactly easy to like. Alex is a complete jerk who becomes even more detestable by the end of the novel. The Fox siblings are an interesting group of people and the story would have been much more enjoyable if they had bigger roles and more time on page than brief appearances, texts and e-mails.

Opening with Susie’s discovery of the text, the novel then unfolds from multiple points of view: Susie’s, Pippa’s and a series of texts and e-mails between Alex and his siblings.  Susie’s chapters take place in real time and her entries are full of rambling passages that are a mishmash of pertinent information and non-essential, mind numbing minutiae.  Pippa’s chapters are written letters to her Mum and they, too, are jam-packed with wordy sentences that contribute little to the overall story but do contain a smattering of relevant details.  Surprisingly, the text messages and e-mails are the most concise chapters that are easy to follow and provide interesting insight into the unfolding events. The combined narratives explain the entire story but some of the storytelling is out of sequence so key information is sometimes not revealed until later chapters.  There are plenty of twists and turns and not everything is as straightforward as it appears. While this is an interesting and unique approach to storytelling, unfortunately, the tedious, meandering chapters make it virtually impossible to appreciate overall story.

Separate Lives has an interesting storyline that unfortunately gets a little lost in the narrative until about the last quarter of the novel. Kathryn Flett introduces quite a few plot twists that are completely unexpected and the novel concludes with a few absolutely jaw-dropping revelations. All in all, it is a decent debut that requires a bit of patience to fully enjoy.

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Filed under Contemporary, Kathryn Flett, Quercus, Rated C, Review, Separate Lives, Women's Fiction

Review: Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Title: Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 400 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

From the Emmy, PEN, Peabody, Critics’ Choice, and Golden Globe Award-winning creator of the TV show Fargo comes the thriller of the year.

On a foggy summer night, eleven people–ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter–depart Martha’s Vineyard on a private jet headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the plane plunges into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs-the painter-and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of an immensely wealthy and powerful media mogul’s family.

With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the crash and the backstories of the passengers and crew members–including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot–the mystery surrounding the tragedy heightens. As the passengers’ intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy. Was it merely by dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations. And while Scott struggles to cope with fame that borders on notoriety, the authorities scramble to salvage the truth from the wreckage.

Amid pulse-quickening suspense, the fragile relationship between Scott and the young boy glows at the heart of this stunning novel, raising questions of fate, human nature, and the inextricable ties that bind us together.

Review:

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley is an intriguing mystery about the investigation into the cause of a private airplane crash that killed nine of eleven passengers on board.

The passengers on board the luxury plane bound for New York are network head David Bateman, his wife Maggie, their two children Rachel and JJ, their bodyguard Gil Baruch, Wall Street financier Ben Kipling and his wife Sarah, and struggling painter Scott Burroughs.  The crew include pilot James Melody, co-pilot Charlie Busch and flight attendant Emma Lightner.  Nothing seems out of the ordinary with the flight until sixteen minutes after takeoff, the plane inexplicably crashes into the ocean.  Scott and four year old JJ are the only survivors and after an arduous night of swimming, Scott and JJ arrive safely on the New York shore only to wind up smack dab in the middle of an intense investigation and media frenzy.

Although Scott is immediately hailed as a hero, he is also at the center of the investigation and media speculation.  Why was a recovering alcoholic and moderately successful painter on the plane in the first place?  What was his relationship with Maggie Bateman?   What is his connection to Ben and Sarah? What does Scott know about Ben’s business dealings?  Why, of all the passengers on the plane, is he the lone adult survivor?  NTSB investigator Gus Franklin gives Scott the benefit of the doubt and he treats Scott with respect and care.  The same cannot be said for FBI Agent O’Brien whose antagonistic approach angers Gus and befuddles Scott.

News anchor Bill Cunningham deliberately stirs up the public with his rabid (and often baseless) speculation and he utilizes questionable (and illegal) tactics in hopes of getting information for his news reports.  Like much of today’s news reporting, Bill is pursuing his own agenda and he blatantly skews facts to fit his increasingly bizarre theories.  Scott is genuinely bewildered by some of Bill’s questions and he goes to great lengths to avoid the limelight.

The investigation into the cause of the crash is rather straight forward but plagued by interagency fighting since they each have their own theory about what happened.  Although there is little evidence to back up some of the conjecture, other assumptions are credible.  However the novel quickly gets bogged down in chapters about the passengers and crew and while they contain nuggets of valuable information, these points are often lost in these extraneous, meandering passages. Equally frustrating are Bill’s wild accusations and vitriolic newscasts that are nothing but pure speculation.  Although Scott is a genuinely likable person who is caught up in extraordinary circumstances, he comes across as incredibly naive and rather clueless during his interactions with Bill and Agent O’Brien.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley is a perplexing mystery that is impossible to solve.  Despite the somewhat slowing pacing overall, once the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place, the novel thunders to a dramatic and completely unexpected conclusion.  All in all, an interesting mystery with a unique storyline that fans of the genre will enjoy.

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Filed under Before the Fall, Contemporary, Grand Central Publishing, Mystery, Noah Hawley, Rated C, Review, suspense

Review: A Game for All the Family by Sophie Hannah

Title: A Game for All the Family by Sophie Hannah
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 464 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

Pulled into a deadly game of deception, secrets, and lies, a woman must find the truth in order to defeat a mysterious opponent, protect her daughter, and save her own life in this dazzling standalone psychological thriller with an unforgettable ending from the New York Times bestselling author of Woman with a Secret and The Monogram Murders.

You thought you knew who you were. A stranger knows better.

You’ve left the city—and the career that nearly destroyed you—for a fresh start on the coast. But trouble begins when your daughter withdraws, after her new best friend, George, is unfairly expelled from school.

You beg the principal to reconsider, only to be told that George hasn’t been expelled. Because there is, and was, no George.

Who is lying? Who is real? Who is in danger? Who is in control? As you search for answers, the anonymous calls begin—a stranger, who insists that you and she share a traumatic past and a guilty secret. And then the caller threatens your life. . . .

This is Justine’s story. This is Justine’s family. This is Justine’s game. But it could be yours.

Review:

A Game for All the Family by Sophie Hannah is a perplexing mystery within a mystery.   Following their move from London to the bucolic countryside, Justine Merrison begins getting a series threatening phone calls she believes might be tied to her fourteen year old daughter Ellen’s writing project.

Having recently quit her stressful job in television, Justine is looking forward to doing Nothing.  The first few months of life in their new house are idyllic but the first disquieting phone calls occurs on the same day she finds out Ellen is upset about her friend George’s expulsion from school.  When Justine tries to intervene on George’s behalf, she is stunned to learn there is no George so therefore, there was no expulsion.  Despite a few doubts, Justine believes Ellen’s story and she is determined to get to the bottom of what happened and find out why the school is lying to her.  At the same time, she continues receiving telephone calls that are increasingly sinister.  She is also growing concerned about Ellen’s writing project about a murder mystery that appears to be based on real life events but her search for more information leads to one dead end after another.  Believing all of these events are somehow linked, Justine begins her own investigation but will she uncover the truth before it is too late?

The premise of A Game for All the Family is certainly unique but the execution of the story falls a little flat.  The chapters alternate between the present day events and Ellen’s story and while, initially both story arcs are interesting, there is little progression in either storyline.  The dual storylines are written in two distinct voices but Ellen’s murder mystery is so incredibly implausible that it eventually detracts from the main storyline.  With each incredulous plot twist, the novel becomes a convoluted mess of highly improbable coincidences.

All in all, this latest release by Sophie Hannah’s is an entertaining but overly long and somewhat bizarre mystery that readers will have to suspend disbelief to enjoy.

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Filed under A Game for All the Family, Contemporary, Mystery, Rated C, Review, Sophie Hannah, suspense, William Morrow

Review: Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman

Title: Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman
Publisher: Harper
Genre: Historical (90s), Mystery
Length: 368 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

On Halloween, 1991, a popular high school basketball star ventures into the woods near Battle Creek, Pennsylvania, and disappears. Three days later, he’s found with a bullet in his head and a gun in his hand—a discovery that sends tremors through this conservative community, already unnerved by growing rumors of Satanic worship in the region.

In the wake of this incident, bright but lonely Hannah Dexter is befriended by Lacey Champlain, a dark-eyed, Cobain-worshiping bad influence in lip gloss and Doc Martens. The charismatic, seductive Lacey forges a fast, intimate bond with the impressionable Dex, making her over in her own image and unleashing a fierce defiance that neither girl expected. But as Lacey gradually lures Dex away from her safe life into a feverish spiral of obsession, rebellion, and ever greater risk, an unwelcome figure appears on the horizon—and Lacey’s secret history collides with Dex’s worst nightmare.

By turns a shocking story of love and violence and an addictive portrait of the intoxication of female friendship, set against the unsettled backdrop of a town gripped by moral panic, Girls on Fire is an unflinching and unforgettable snapshot of girlhood: girls lost and found, girls strong and weak, girls who burn bright and brighter—and some who flicker away.

Review:

Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman is a disturbing exploration of the darker side of teenage girls’ friendships.

Hannah Dexter is an ordinary and wholly unremarkable teenager who is essentially friendless until befriended by newcomer Lacey Champlain in the aftermath of popular classmate Craig Ellison’s inexplicable suicide.  Lacey is the quintessential bad girl who easily transforms good girl Hannah into rebellious Dex.  Throw in resident mean girl (and Craig’s girlfriend) Nikki Drummond into the mix and it is just a matter of time before the story takes a very sinister turn.

After suffering an extremely humiliating experience made much worse by Nikki’s involvement, Hannah is bewildered but thrilled when Lacey takes her under her wing.  The two girls are soon inseparable and Hannah, who Lacey renames “Dex”, eagerly follows wherever her new friend leads.  Dex is an enthusiastic participant as Lacey introduces her to underage drinking, encourages her to experiment with drugs and prompts her to explore her dormant sexuality.  Engaging in increasingly risky behavior, events at a party quickly spiral out of control and Dex finds comfort from a very unlikely source.

Worshipping at the altar of Kurt Cobain and his angst-ridden lyrics, Lacey takes the small town of Battle Creek, PA by storm.  Ignored by her alcoholic mother and scornful of her pious stepfather, Lacey challenges authority and takes teenage defiance to a whole new level. Lacey is manipulative and seductive and underneath her rebellious exterior dwells a very troubled young woman.

Nikki is popular but bored and no one wants to get on her bad side since she is also cruel and calculating.  Surprisingly, she is type of girl whose meanness is not easily recognized and her reputation is never damaged by her bullying.  But beneath her sickly sweet persona lurks plenty of dark and menacing secrets that Nikki will go to great lengths to keep hidden.

While the premise of Girls on Fire is certainly interesting, the story quickly becomes bogged down in superfluous details and rambling, repetitive inner monologues. The overall pacing is a little sluggish and although the brief glimpses of an illicit relationship are intriguing, the slow trickle of details is frustrating and tedious.  The time period,  the small town setting and references to the news of the day are absolutely spot on and provide an interesting and perfect backdrop for some aspects of the storyline.

Dark, violent and sexually charged, Girls on Fire is a gritty and sometimes overly dramatic novel that delves into the intricacies of toxic relationships. While not always an easy story to read, Robin Wasserman does an excellent job keeping the storyline unpredictable and the novel’s conclusion is rather shocking and completely unexpected.  An overall unsettling story that I recommend to mature readers.

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Filed under Girls on Fire, Harper, Historical (90s), Mystery, Rated C, Review, Robin Wasserman

Review: Too Close to Home by Susan Lewis

too closeTitle: Too Close to Home by Susan Lewis
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: 417 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

For readers of Jodi Picoult, Heather Gudenkauf, and Elizabeth Flock comes a riveting and timely novel that delves into a modern family’s harrowing encounter with the complex world of cyberbullying.

Jenna Moore finally feels that she and her family are exactly where they should be. Leaving busy London behind, they’ve moved to the beautiful, serene Welsh coast. There Jenna, her husband, Jack, and the couple’s four children have found a little slice of heaven. In the house of their dreams, Jenna and Jack are ramping up for the launch of their new publishing business, and the kids are happier than they’ve ever been, wandering the wild, grassy moors that meet white sand beaches and wide ocean.

But a fissure cracks open. The once open and honest Jack suddenly seems to be keeping secrets, spinning intricate lies. And fifteen-year-old Paige has become withdrawn, isolating herself from her family and her new friends. Frightened of the darkness enveloping her family, Jenna struggles to hold her loved ones together. But a cruel disturbance has insinuated itself into her home, threatening to take away everything she holds dear.

Review:

Too Close to Home by Susan Lewis is a rather grim novel about a family who slowly begins to unravel. Difficult subject matter is deftly handled but the pacing is slow and the message is sometimes lost in the tedious details of day to day life.

Jenna Moore is a happily married mother of four. Despite the loss of her husband Jack’s job the year prior, they and their children have settled into a rather idyllic life in Wales following their move from London. Just as she and Jack are on the verge of launching their internet publishing company, she is struggling with writer’s block as the deadline for her next novel approaches. While Jenna could not be more thrilled with how well their life is going, slowly, but surely, cracks begin to appear in her marriage and as her once happy union begins to fall apart, so does the rest of her family.

Initially, Jenna is a likable character who is, without a doubt, an involved and caring mother. She is a little naive and trusting and since she is the creative side of their upcoming publishing company, she never thinks to question Jack’s business decisions despite a few anomalies that come to her attention. Even when faced with Jack’s increasingly secretive behavior and inconsistent explanations, Jenna remains woefully blind to what should be glaringly obvious to her. But when the full truth comes out about Jack and their business, Jenna’s over the top and outrageous behavior puts her in the completely unsympathetic category. While her anger and hurt is understandable, her inability to put her children first makes it impossible to feel sorry for her. But what is completely beyond comprehension is Jenna’s inability to see how terribly wrong things are with her oldest daughter.

At the beginning of the novel, fifteen year old Paige has everything going for her. Although she does not have a huge circle of friends, she is well-liked and popular. She is doing well in school and she is very excited about a few upcoming projects she is involved in. But the tide begins to turn for Paige after her Facebook account is hacked and a stranger befriends her online. Her situation deteriorates quickly and despite her best friend’s attempts to convince her to tell someone what is going on, Paige keeps quiet in hopes that things will improve on their own. The escalation of what is happening to her coincides with her family’s problems and Paige’s trust in the wrong person leads her down a very dark path.

While the different story arcs are interesting, the novel moves at a snail’s pace. The first half of novel is filled with superfluous details of the family’s day to day life and it is not until about the halfway point that anything noteworthy occurs. The next several chapters are sometimes cringe worthy as Jenna makes one bad decision after another regarding Jack. Paige’s situation rapidly deteriorates as her situation worsens and she continues making misguided choices. The last quarter of the novel moves at a breakneck speed once Jenna finally discovers what has been happening with Paige.

Despite its flaws, Too Close to Home is well worth reading. Paige’s storyline is sadly true to life and her reactions to the situation ring true. Although Jenna’s portion of the novel is a little hard to relate to, her circumstances are also dishearteningly realistic.  Life is not always sunshine and roses and I commend Susan Lewis for tackling such difficult (yet topical) topics in her latest release.

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Filed under Ballantine Books, Contemporary, Rated C, Review, Susan Lewis, Too Close to Home, Women's Fiction