Emma In The Night

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for providing an advanced reader copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

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Elevator Pitch:

Emma In The Night by Wendy Walker is the story of Cassandra (Cass) and her older sister, Emma, who disappear without a trace one night at the ages of fifteen and seventeen. Three years later Cass shows up on the doorstep of the family home without Emma, and with a story to tell. Cass is desperate to find Emma, and gives a harrowing account of the last three years. To assist in the search, Cass carefully provides every detail she can remember to FBI forensic psychiatrist, Abby Winter, who was assigned to their case when they first disappeared three years ago.

Abby has had a tough time moving beyond the case of the girls’ disappearance in the interim years, especially with her lingering questions about Cass and Emma’s home life and their relationship with their mother. Abby is especially triggered by how their mother reminds her of her own.

The book is told from the alternating perspectives of Cass and Abby, each trying to unravel the mystery of how to find Emma and what really happened that night.

Verdict:

I had a hard time putting this book down! The story is propulsive and just sucks you in. I really loved the way the author intertwined family dynamics and personality disorders. As a former therapist who has treated difficult and disturbed teenagers and parents, I found the relationships and requisite mind fucking inherent in these disorders gripping and accurate. It added another dimension that grounded it in reality.

Wendy Walker’s writing is great and her plotting is tight. I knew going in that there was an unreliable narrator, but I really wasn’t sure who that was while I was reading. I struggled with who to believe and what was real, and I enjoyed that. This kind of story can be hard to conclude in a satisfying way, but the reveal here worked.

I highly recommend this book. What a ride! Emma In The Night is being released today, August 8, 2017.

Bring Her Home

Rating: 5 out of 5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Thank you to Berkley Publishing for allowing me to read this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

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Elevator Pitch:

Bring Her Home by David Bell begins with the disappearance of Summer and Haley, two teenage best friends who are found days later in the park. Haley is dead and Summer is beaten so badly she is almost unrecognizable. Summer’s father, Bill, still grieving the loss of his wife to a bizarre kitchen accident, makes it his mission to find out what happened to his daughter and her best friend. Who did this and why? Bill soon discovers that there was a lot that he didn’t know about his daughter, her friends, and his community. As he searches for answers he uncovers secrets that could change everything he thought he knew, but he can’t stop until he learns the truth.

Verdict:

First of all, this book is fantastic! How have I never read David Bell before? I was thoroughly engrossed from page one. Bring Her Home is expertly paced with new revelations coming around every corner. The best part is that the twists and turns in the story flow naturally and don’t feel forced. My jaw dropped on more than one occasion, but I was also deeply moved. This book isn’t just a thriller, but also a touching portrait of a father’s love, no matter how flawed. Families are complicated. Teenagers (and adults) have secrets. These themes are explored with nuance, not caricature. Plus, the various payoffs regarding the central mystery are satisfying and interesting.

I highly recommend this book. Not a page was wasted. I can’t wait to read some of David Bell’s backlist!

Girl in Snow

Rating: 4 out of 5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for allowing me to read this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Girl in Snow will be released on August 1, 2017.

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Elevator Pitch:

Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka centers on the murder of Lucinda Hayes, a high school golden girl in suburban Colorado. The mystery of who killed Lucinda is explored through the eyes of Cameron, the boy obsessed with her; Jade, the girl who wants her life; and Russ, the police officer investigating her death. Within the framework of the central mystery, the inner lives and desires of everyone involved are more deeply explored. As the characters are challenged by their histories and confronted with their secrets, relationships are changed.

Verdict:

This book was a pleasant surprise. It wasn’t just a murder mystery, but an intricate exploration of each person’s thoughts, feelings, and character. I thought the author did a great job of weaving the three stories together without it feeling forced. Cameron, Jade, and Russ felt authentic to me, and the descriptions of their relationships were based in reality. Although it took me a little time to get swept up in the book due to the changing perspectives, once I did, I wanted to keep reading until the end. The answer to who killed Lucinda is eventually revealed, but the true payoff comes in the time spent with the main characters. Themes of love, obsession, identity, loyalty, secrets, and the question of whose reality is the truth; this is what made Girl in Snow an interesting reading experience.

The Readymade Thief

Rating: 3 out of 5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️

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Elevator Pitch:

The Readymade Thief by Augustus Rose tells the story of Lee Cuddy, a seventeen-year-old girl who takes the fall for a friend and is forced to run away when her family turns their back on her.  On her own and desperate, she connects with other runaways and attempts to join their community. Lee quickly learns that the group she has fallen in with is part of a larger and more nefarious secret society obsessed with the works of a famous artist. They believe that Lee is the missing link that will enable them to uncover the puzzles hidden within these works of art, thus revealing powerful secrets.

On her journey to escape from and discover the truth about the intentions of this secret society, Lee makes a tentative alliance with a young computer hacker named Tomi. Together they hide out in abandoned buildings, long deserted attractions, and the homes of vacationing families. Lee, realizing she can’t escape the reach of the secret society, is forced to confront them about why they are after her and what role she plays in their intricate conspiracy theories.

Verdict:

I liked, but did not love this book. I was very taken in at the beginning as Lee’s story unfolded, but once the story became more about the secret society and less about Lee’s coming of age, I enjoyed it less. The author did a tremendous job of researching the real life artist (Marcel Duchamp) that is the focus of the secret society’s obsession, and masterfully intertwined many existing pieces of art into this book. However, I felt that the later portions of the story were bogged down by all of the art-related minutiae and slowed down the pacing and the emotional investment in the characters. I found myself confused and ultimately feeling sort of dumb for not being able to track everything that was happening. The conclusion of the mystery sort of fell flat.

Ultimately, I am sure there are people that will strongly connect with the parts of this book that were not for me. This is the author’s debut and it is very creative and well thought out. I am sure we will be hearing more from him in the future.

The Readymade Thief will be released on August 1, 2017. Thank you to the publisher and to Edelweiss for allowing me to read this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

The Dinner

Rating: 4 out of 5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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Elevator Pitch:

The Dinner by Herman Koch takes place in a very elite restaurant in Amsterdam as two couples are meeting for, you guessed it, dinner together.  Both couples have fifteen-year-old sons who are linked by one horrendous act that no one knows they committed. The parents have to decide how to move forward with this information knowing that all of their lives are now changed forever. Told from the perspective of Paul, one of the fathers, it shines a light on the darkness people so often hide and raises interesting ethical and moral questions.

Verdict:

I loved the tension of this book. The way the personalities, relationships, and motives of the characters unfolded over the course of the meal and through flashbacks was riveting and unexpected. As is so often the case, people are not always what they appear to be. I thought the book was really well paced and by the time the dessert and coffee came around I was both dreading the conclusion and excited for it. Obviously I want to avoid spoilers, but I did not see the ending coming.

My main criticism of the book is that it all seemed a bit farfetched. I have a hard time believing that the teenage boys would do what they did, and if they did it, that they wouldn’t have gotten caught. Also, the ending, while wicked and grimly satisfying, is also unlikely in the real world.

Regardless, I don’t read books because they make perfect sense or could happen in real life. I read for escapist entertainment and I enjoyed the ride that this book took me on. I will definitely be checking out other books by Herman Koch.

Bonus Warning: DO NOT watch the movie with Richard Gere and Laura Linney. It was awful and didn’t adhere to the book in a way that did it justice. This could have been such a fantastic, creepy, surprising movie and instead it just sucks. You’re welcome.

Fates and Furies

Rating: 3 out of 5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️

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Elevator Pitch:

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff is the story of a marriage from dual perspectives. The first half of the novel is told by Lotto, the husband. The second half is told through the eyes of his wife, Mathilde. Not only do we get the story of their relationship over twenty plus years, we are given each of their histories, and thus a deeper understanding of how they ended up together and why they stayed together. An exploration of love, marriage, and family are intertwined with power, art, and sexuality, leading to some surprising conclusions.

Verdict:

I have very mixed feelings about Fates and Furies. This is a fairly long book and I found myself slogging through the first half, which is the half told from Lotto’s perspective. I admit that it took me awhile to finish, and I put the book down for large stretches which may have impacted my experience reading it. I just didn’t really like any of the characters, which isn’t exactly a requirement, but I was often bored as well; a deadly combination. The writing style also made it difficult for me to engage. The story is told from an emotional distance and I just never became invested in the story or the characters. Not to say that Lauren Groff isn’t an excellent writer, because she definitely is. Her beautiful writing kept me going during certain stretches and I can understand the praise she received.

The story of Lotto and Mathilde picked up for me in the second half told from Mathilde’s perspective. All of a sudden things became more interesting as Mathilde’s back story is revealed. Seeing Mathilde’s version of the exact same events from Lotto’s section of the book in a whole new way greatly improved this book. It just sucks that is took me so long to start enjoying it more.

If you like character driven books with beautiful writing and a healthy dose of navel-gazing, this could be for you. My rating for this book is two stars for the first half and four stars for the second half, so I’m splitting the middle with a three star rating.

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

Rating: 5 out of 5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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Elevator Pitch:

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Thomas Sullivan introduces us to Lydia, a bookseller who finds one of her regular patrons, Joey, has committed suicide in the bookstore where she works. Lydia learns that Joey has chosen her to receive his meager remaining possessions, mostly his beloved books, which she discovers have hidden messages to her in the pages. Is Joey’s suicide connected to her somehow?

Lydia upsets the tightly controlled life she has built for herself in the hopes that solving Joey’s puzzle will explain the mystery of his suicide and why he chose her. As she begins to decode the messages, Lydia is confronted with a past she has tried hard to hide from and forget about; a childhood incident of horrendous violence and a killer that was never caught. To get the answers she needs, Lydia finds herself reconnecting with her best childhood friend, her estranged father, and the long ago night that changed everything.

Verdict:

I loved this book! The story is incredibly well told and kept me guessing almost the entire way. I found myself always wanting to finish just one more chapter. As a book lover, I love a story set in a bookstore with a plot partially around books. However, do not be fooled by the setting. This is also a gripping and sometimes graphic murder mystery. The way the stories of the present and the past are woven together is masterful and believable. This story is not cheesy, predictable, or formulaic. It is a unique, interesting, tense, and emotional portrayal of resilience, friendship, family, and the heavy price tag of tiny little decisions we make each day.

What a great debut for this author! I look forward to reading more from Thomas Sullivan.

Thank you to the publisher Scribner (and Edelweiss) for allowing me to read this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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Elevator Pitch:

The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich is a dual telling of both the murder of a young boy by a man named Ricky Langley woven in with the story of the author’s own childhood trauma. Alexandria is introduced to Ricky and his crimes while doing a summer law firm internship where her job is to defend him. As she delves deeper in to the facts of Ricky’s childhood and family, she is forced to confront issues from her own complicated past, and take a sharp look at how the ones we love can shape us. Both true crime reporting and memoir; this book explores nature vs. nurture in a profound way.

Verdict:

This book did a masterful job of telling both Alexandria’s story and Ricky’s without seeming to be forced. Whether writing a memoir or writing a true crime book, it’s hard to get just one genre right, which makes this feat of storytelling even more impressive. It took a tremendous amount of guts for the author to expose herself so fiercely and be so vulnerable, but this is exactly what makes it powerful.

The Fact of a Body is not a book where you stand back while someone is reporting facts to you. I couldn’t help but become invested in the ride this book was taking me on. I appreciate that there was no black and white, and there are no easy answers. This is real life, and real life is not tied up in a bow. The Fact of a Body is well researched and reported, but it also reads like a novel most of the time.

I thought this book was a great overall read. Alexandria juggled both narratives well and beautifully wove themes from each together. Parts of it dragged towards the end during Ricky’s trial and in some of the attempts by the author to come to a conclusion, but this did not take away from the book’s overall impact. I should point out that there are multiple trigger warnings here that should be obvious, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention them. The Fact of a Body is an achievement and highly recommended.

Thank you to the publisher Flatiron Books for allowing me to read this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Pretend We Are Lovely

Rating: 4 out of 5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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Elevator Pitch:

Pretend We Are Lovely by Noley Reid follows the Sobel family during the summer of 1982, seven years after the suspicious death of the only son of the family. Francie, Tate, and their daughters Enid (ten) and Vivvy (twelve) are grappling with their various hungers, literal and emotional. The story is told from the alternating perspectives of all four Sobels, each with their own secrets and burdens. Food is a central character, with each child mirroring the issues of one parent or the other. Francie and Tate’s marriage is in trouble, and Enid and Vivvy, facing the challenges of growing up, are often left to their own devices within a family barely holding on. When Francie suddenly disappears, the things they have all tried so hard to stuff down, hide, deny, and control, must be purged in order for the family to survive.

Verdict:

This was a finely crafted story of a family, with characters that felt real. The author did a fantastic job of fleshing out all four characters; no easy feat when you are telling the story from multiple perspectives. I found myself identifying most with Enid and I felt like this was her story. However, I am sure that someone else might connect to it differently, which is the beauty of storytelling. This is the portrait of a family and all of the complex and dynamic experiences that go along with that. There is plenty of humor and warmth mixed in with the pathos and anxiety. The depiction of sisterhood was one of the best parts, and I loved the relationship between Enid and her dad.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It snuck up on me. At first I found the constant references to food distracting, but once I really got into the story, it began to weave in more seamlessly. I am a hater of the term “women’s fiction”, but I really think it would fit for this book. I believe women will make a stronger connection.

Thank you to the publisher, Tin House for allowing me to read this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book will be released on July 18, 2017.

Book Giveaway - The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir

ADVANCED READERS COPY BOOK GIVEAWAY!!

I received an extra Advanced Readers Copy of The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich. This book will be released next week on May 16th and is published by Flatiron Books. 

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I obviously don't need two of the same book and would like to spread the wealth to one of my fabulous reader friends! So, if you would like to win this book you just need to comment on this post. I will select a winner at random tomorrow night, Thursday, May 11th at 8pm PST.  Winner must have a shipping address in the contiguous United States.

**Extra entries to this giveaway can be made by commenting on the corresponding giveaway post on my Instagram @jessjudges

The Perfect Stranger

Rating: 4 out of 5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Elevator Pitch:

The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda is the story of Leah Stevens, a failed young journalist looking to escape her life in the city after a newspaper story she wrote goes awry, causing her to lose her job. Leah happens to run into Emmy, a friend and former roommate that she lost touch with years ago. Emmy is also looking for a fresh start and together they decide to pick a random spot on the map and begin somewhere new. They end up in a small, rural town where Leah takes a job as a high school teacher, and she and Emmy rent a little house on the outskirts of town. Soon after the move, Emmy goes missing. At the same time, another woman in their small town is brutally attacked. Are these two events connected? Is Emmy in danger or did she leave voluntarily? Does Emmy really exist? Leah’s journalistic instincts kick in as she tries to track Emmy down, leading to the discovery that she may have never really known the person she was living with.

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Verdict:

This is a great mystery thriller! Megan Miranda is a good writer, and the plot moves at a pace that keeps you wanting to find out what happens next. I was always reading just one more chapter when I should have been going to bed or doing other things. That is always a good sign! The story kept me guessing and had unique twists. The only thing that fell a little flat for me was the way the story wrapped up. The story is developed so well, but the conclusion was a little too tidy and abrupt for me. However, this did not take away from my overall enjoyment of the book. I never read Megan Miranda’s big hit from last year, All The Missing Girls, but it’s on my list now. If you like mystery thrillers, you should check out The Perfect Stranger.

Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for allowing me to read this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Dark Screams: Volume Six

Rating: 2 out of 5 ⭐️⭐️

Elevator Pitch:

Dark Screams: Volume Six is a horror short-story collection edited by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar. This volume brings together some fabulous writers that include Tim Curran, Stephen King, Lisa Morton, Joyce Carol Oates, Norman Prentiss, and Neil Quinn-Gibney. Each story is its own universe and the various tales are not connected. The final story, The Corpse King by Tim Curran is more of a novella length and takes up the majority of the (short) book.

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Verdict:

I had high hopes for this collection and I love horror. For the most part, unfortunately, these stories left me indifferent, which is the biggest horror of all. Stephen King is one of my favorites, and I found his contribution to be the worst of the bunch. Not scary, and the seventies lingo was completely overboard and distracting. The only story that created a sense of dread and actually made me feel something was The Comforting Voice by Norman Prentiss. This one was smart and creepy and worth the read. The Rich Are Different by Lisa Morton was probably my second favorite. It had some good sinister moments, but veered off into camp at times.

The majority of the book is taken up by The Corpse King by Tim Curran, so if you like it, you will probably have an overall positive evaluation of the book. I thought it started out interestingly enough. It’s a tale about two old-timey grave robbers and the real life and supernatural consequences that result from their chosen profession. However, it was not scary at all and I could not have cared less about what happened to them. On the positive side, there was some fun and snappy dialogue between the two main characters.

Ultimately, boredom is not what a good group of horror stories should make you feel. These are excellent writers, but this collection missed the mark for me. I am sure that there are some die hard fans out there that would disagree with me, so check it out for yourself if you are intrigued.

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group - Hydra for allowing me to read this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

The Unbreakable Code (The Book Scavenger series)

If you have a young reader in your life, you must check out the latest book (published yesterday!) from the New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chambliss Bertman, The Unbreakable Code! 

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The Unbreakable Code is the second book in the The Book Scavenger series and follows the adventures of book loving friends Emily and James as they solve puzzles, crack codes, and pursue the answers to bookish mysteries. It is a fun, smart chapter book that engages children of all ages (I know many adults that read and enjoyed the first book in the series). 

The author is currently on a book tour promoting the release of The Unbreakable Code, and those in Southern California can meet her Friday, May 5th at Once Upon A Storybook in Tustin, California. Other upcoming events throughout the country can be found here. What a fun opportunity for a young reader to meet an author of one of their books!

Now is a great time to start at the beginning. Click the image below to get the book that started it all, Book Scavenger!

"Full of heart and replete with challenging ciphers for readers to decode, Bertman’s debut is literary cousin to classic puzzlers like The Westing Game.” —Publisher’s Weekly starred review

HAPPY READING!