The Heiresses by Sara Shepard

The HeiressesThe Heiresses by Sara Shepard
Published by Harper

From the publisher:

You know the Saybrooks. Everyone does. Perhaps you’ve read a profile of them in People or have seen their pictures in the society pages of Vogue. Perhaps while walking along that choice block on Fifth Avenue, you’ve been tempted to enter the ornate limestone building with their family name etched into the pediment above the door.

The only thing more flawless than a Saybrook’s diamond solitaire is the family behind the jewelry empire. Beauties, entrepreneurs, debutantes, and style mavens, they are the epitome of New York City’s high society. But being a Saybrook comes at a price—they are heirs not only to a dizzying fortune but also to a decades-old family curse.

Tragedy strikes the prominent family yet again when thirty-four-year-old Poppy, the most exquisite Saybrook of them all, flings herself from the window of her TriBeCa office. Everyone is shocked that a woman who had it all would end her own life. Then her cousins receive an ominous threat: one heiress down, four to go.

Was it suicide… or murder? In the aftermath of the tragedy, the remaining heiresses—Corinne, the perfectionist; Rowan, the workaholic; Aster, the hedonist; and Natasha, the enigma—wrestle with feelings of sadness, guilt, and, most of all, fear. Now they must uncover the truth about their family before they lose the only thing money can’t buy: their lives.

While I’ve never read the Pretty Little Liars books, I do love the TV show on ABC Family, and I’ve enjoyed Shepard’s adult novels, so it didn’t surprise me one bit that I was drawn to The Heiresses. I have to admit that this novel’s premise intrigued me a lot. Rich people, intricate family drama, and a mystery? Sign me up!

The thing about The Heiresses that’s funny is I can SEE it becoming another TV show. It’s got the perfect set-up for TV, and since it’s going to be a series, it’s only a matter of time before it becomes another Pretty Little Liars. And honestly, while I think I’d love watching this on TV, I didn’t love it as a novel. I was entertained for sure, but that’s about where my enjoyment of the novel ended.

I think there were too many characters and too many secrets for this short of a novel – while I think Shepard handled them all well, a few of the characters felt flat and one-note to me. For example, Natasha has distanced herself from the family, but after Poppy’s death she comes back, yet Shepard still gives her very little face time in the book. So the reader has no chance to get to know her, which makes the big reveal at the end (about why she left the family) kind of a let-down – there was no opportunity to care about her as a character throughout the book.

There’s a lot of stuff about these women feeling like they have to play a certain role, and be perfect because they are part of a famous family, and it just seemed kind of … superficial? Obvious? I’m not sure what the word is that I’m looking for.

The Heiresses is a planned series, but I don’t think I’ll read the rest of the books. What I will do, though, is watch the TV show if it ever happens.

Torn Away by Jennifer Brown

Torn AwayTorn Away by Jennifer Brown
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley

From the publisher:

Jersey Cameron has always loved a good storm. Watching the clouds roll in and the wind pick up. Smelling the electricity in the air. Dancing barefoot in the rain. She lives in the Midwest, after all, where the weather is sure to keep you guessing. Jersey knows what to do when the tornado sirens sound. But she never could have prepared for this.

When her town is devastated by a tornado, Jersey loses everything. As she struggles to overcome her grief, she’s sent to live with relatives she hardly knows-family who might as well be strangers. In an unfamiliar place, can Jersey discover that even on the darkest of days, there are some things no tornado can destroy?

I was a huge fan of Jennifer Brown’s first two novels for teens, Hate List and Bitter End, but she’s written several since that I haven’t read, so I was excited to dive back into her work with Torn Away. Let me tell you, this book left me an emotional wreck. From beginning to end, I held Jersey close to my heart and what happens to her in this novel is beyond devastating. I read this book in one sitting and I pretty much sobbed throughout the entire second half.

The thing about Torn Away is that the book starts with this tornado, almost from the very first page. The reader gets to know about Jersey’s life before the tornado through flashbacks and her describing things for the reader – so really, the whole book is just Jersey and what she’s going through, you don’t have much time to get to know other characters. So it’s next to impossible NOT to let this one character take over the reader’s whole heart as the story goes on.

What happens to Jersey is beyond heartbreaking. Not only does she lose her family, home, friends, everything to this tornado, but the one person left in her life (her stepfather) ends up sending her away to her biological father’s family – a family she’s never even met, let alone is close enough to where she’d want to live with them. This family is AWFUL. I cried the entire way through Jersey’s time with these people, I just could not get how it was possible to treat another person, your FAMILY member at that, so horribly. 

Oh, and about Jersey’s stepfather? Yes, he lost everything too, but my goodness what a selfish man he was. It was just truly sad to read how he basically refused to take care of her and passed her off to whoever would take her. So, so sad. 

Ultimately Jersey does end up with people who love her and her story is one of hope and resilience against the most difficult of odds. I was satisfied with the ending, after feeling so deeply for Jersey I was desperate for her to find the love and home she needed. This is an emotionally difficult read, but it’s so worth it. Jersey will crawl into your heart and stay there, and she’s not a character I’ll soon forget. Highly recommended.

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike, #2)The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
Published by Mulholland Books

From the publisher:

When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, Mrs. Quine just thinks her husband has gone off by himself for a few days—as he has done before—and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.

But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine’s disappearance than his wife realizes. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were to be published, it would ruin lives—meaning that there are a lot of people who might want him silenced.

When Quine is found brutally murdered under bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any Strike has encountered before…

Robert Galbraith, AKA J.K. Rowling, has done it again – written an engaging, thoughtful, suspenseful mystery with fully realized, interesting characters, and overall created another novel that I just could NOT put down.

The Silkworm is darker, grittier, and more gruesome than the first book in this series, but weirdly the gore didn’t bother me (much). It felt appropriate to the story and I didn’t feel that it was gratuitous at all. But I feel it’s important to warn you – there is some gross stuff happening here. The details of Quine’s murder and exactly how he was murdered are pretty horrific, but you’d just have to read the book to understand that it fit the context of Quine’s personality and his life and everything just right.

I don’t even know what to say about The Silkworm, I just enjoyed it SO much. Besides the suspense of trying to figure out the murderer (and it was quite suspenseful, there were LOTS of possible suspects with valid motives), I just loved getting to know Strike and Robin more and I loved the inside look into publishing – something it’s clear Rowling has lots of personal experience with. The way Strike and Robin are developing as characters throughout this series, so far at least, is perfection in my book. The reader is given some of them, but not too much, enough to intrigue and keep reading and keep hoping to get to know them better as the series progresses. The relationship between the two of them took an interesting course in this book but I trust Rowling not to steer them wrong. I also loved how much more involved Robin was in the private investigating, as it definitely seems like she’s going to figure even more prominently in Strike’s practice as this series continues.

I just loved The Silkworm and there’s not much else I can say about it. Galbraith is Rowling at her absolute finest and I’m so excited to continue reading these books.

 

Mini-reviews – The Death Cure and Neverwhere

The Death Cure (Maze Runner, #3)The Death Cure by James Dashner
Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers

This third book in The Maze Runner trilogy was, thankfully, a good conclusion to the series. After severely disliking the second book, I was nervous to pick up The Death Cure, but luckily for me Dashner turned it around and I was pleasantly surprised by the final installment. What made me happiest about this novel is that, for the most part, answers about this world and why things are the way they are were provided. Also, several of the relationships between characters were solidified to my satisfaction. It’s difficult to review a third book in a series for fear of spoiling the other two books, so I won’t say much else. But the ending was interesting – I thought things were all tied up, but when I was talking to a friend about it, she thought something completely different, which would have meant that Dashner ended the whole thing with an ambiguous twist. So I’m still puzzling over that. Thoughts from those of you who have read the series? Email me if you want!

NeverwhereNeverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks

This paranormal fantasy stuff isn’t usually my thing, but I’ll read just about anything for one of my book clubs, so here we are. Hmm. What to say about Neverwhere? I don’t know that I appreciated it as much as I should have. I feel like Neil Gaiman is this epic author, a guy who has tons of fans and millions of people absolutely adore his books and think he’s a genius, yet I don’t know that I necessarily got what was so special about this novel. Sure, I am overwhelmed by the creativity at work here. This is an entirely new world Gaiman dreamed up and communicated to the reader in amazing detail in just one novel – a pretty incredible feat, in my opinion. I was invested in the main character’s fate and very intrigued by the world Gaiman created. While I was entertained while reading Neverwhere, I never had the experience that I just could not put the book down. I liked this book, it was different from what I usually read and therefore a fun departure from that, but not much else. It wasn’t earth-shattering by any means, at least not for me. What else should I read by Gaiman to get a full picture of his brilliance? Because, sadly, Neverwhere didn’t exactly convince me.

Mini-reviews: Books about which I have little to say

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir
Published by Crown

If you’re not familiar with The Martian, you must have been living under a rock these past few months. EVERYONE has been raving about this book and I now understand why. Basically, it’s about this guy, Mark Watney, whose mission to Mars was aborted after a huge sandstorm occurred, which caused his crew to believe he died, so they had to leave him there. Except he didn’t die, so he has to figure out how to survive on Mars all by himself for quite a long time. While the scienc-y stuff wasn’t the easiest for me to navigate, the technicalities of it aren’t necessary for understanding the novel, so I was able to skim a lot of those parts. And there’s a point at which NASA figures out Mark is still alive, and that’s when the book really picks up speed and goes from interesting/good to great. Mark is hilarious, super sarcastic and totally makes the novel. I really enjoyed this one and I totally see what all the fuss is about.

Believers: A Journey into Evangelical AmericaBelievers: A Journey Into Evangelical America by Jeffrey L. Sheler
Published by Viking Adult

I don’t really know why I read this book. I guess it’s because I can’t resist any kind of book about any kind of faith, and I’m even more intrigued when I see a different perspective on my own faith than my perspective (which is kind of the case with Believers). The book was mostly good, well-researched, but I’m uncertain as to what exactly Sheler’s point was. I guess he wanted to figure out what Evangelical Christians are all about? It seemed to me like he was looking for generalizations, looking to find out what exactly motivates and inspires and pushes Evangelicals but what he discovered, instead, is that (shocker) Evangelical Christians are a diverse group with tons of different kinds of people in the mix. The conclusion kind of felt like he was saying “gosh, Evangelicals are people too. I didn’t expect that.” But I liked learning more about groups of Christians I was somewhat unfamiliar with – Wheaton College scholars, Focus on the Family (not personally a fan, but interesting to learn more about them nonetheless), Saddleback Church (where my in-laws are members, actually), and more. So, overall, interesting to me but not particularly enlightening.

The Lonely PolygamistThe Lonely Polygamist by Bradley Udall
Published by W. W. Norton and Company

I really did not like this book. I started reading it in audio but it was SO LONG and taking forever that I read the second half in print, and I didn’t enjoy the novel in either format. The book is about (obviously) a polygamist named Golden Richards, who has four wives and twenty-eight children. It’s told from three alternating points of view: Golden’s, his fourth wife, Trish’s, and one of his sons, Rusty’s. Despite the complicated family dynamics and tons of tragedy and even some comedy, I just did not get why I’d heard such great things about this novel. It seemed monotonous, over dramatic, and mostly the people within its pages were just plain miserable. And while the ending was heartbreaking, because I couldn’t bring myself to care about these characters, I wasn’t too emotionally affected by it. I don’t know – this one just wasn’t my thing.

This Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready

This Side of SalvationThis Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready
Published by Simon Pulse

From the publisher:

Everyone mourns differently. When his older brother was killed, David got angry. As in, fist-meets-someone-else’s-face furious. But his parents? They got religious. David’s still figuring out his relationship with a higher power, but there’s one thing he does know for sure: The closer he gets to new-girl Bailey, the better, brighter, happier, more he feels.

Then his parents start cutting all their worldly ties to prepare for the Rush, the divine moment when the faithful will be whisked off to Heaven…and they want David to do the same. David’s torn. There’s a big difference between living in the moment and giving up his best friend, varsity baseball, and Bailey—especially Bailey—in hope of salvation.

But when he comes home late from prom, and late for the Rush, to find that his parents have vanished, David is in more trouble than he ever could have imagined…

This is another book I learned about through another blogger, but this time it was Michelle who raved about This Side of Salvation. It peaked my interest because books about different kinds of faith almost always appeal to me. Apparently the author also wrote a paranormal series? I’m not super into fantasy but she’s an excellent writer and now I’m interested to see what else she’s got out there. Anyway, let’s get to the book.

I was drawn into this novel immediately. Smith-Ready does this really great thing where she alternates telling the story between now (right after the parents disappeared) and then (starting from about a year before the disappearance). This keeps the energy of the novel up, as David and his sister are frantically trying to figure out what happened to his parents, while at the same time constructing the back story and helping the reader get to know these characters and their motivations. I liked this a lot because I was kept VERY invested in what was going on, in both time periods. I do tend to like when authors do that, though, so I might be a little biased.

The characters in this novel are great. David carries a lot of pain in his heart because of the death of his brother, but he doesn’t quite know how to express it, as his parents have taken their grief to a whole different level and aren’t really interested in dealing with David’s. I liked seeing the brother-sister dynamics between David and his sister, Mara, because they actually liked each other a lot and got along well, despite the fact that they were two very different teenagers. And when their parents went missing, they were truly there for one another, they put their heads together and came up with a plan, instead of fighting or arguing.

I liked David’s girlfriend, Bailey, and I particularly liked that Smith-Ready wasn’t afraid to write a girl with more sexual experience than her boyfriend. This is treated SO well in this book, there is no shame or negativity at ALL attached to the fact that David is a virgin and Bailey is not – it just IS. It’s so, so easy for books to take sex, especially when teens are involved, to this good girl/slut dichotomy, and the author stayed so far away from that, which was fantastic to see.

While the truth about what happened to David’s parents is fairly predictable, that’s really not the point. This Side of Salvation is more about the relationships between these people, about the potential reconciliation of this family, and about how everyone has to grieve – and recover from grief – in their own way. The ending was pretty perfect and I loved where Smith-Ready took these characters by the time the book was over.

Highly recommended! I’m glad I gave myself the opportunity to read this new-to-me author.

The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon

The Colour of MilkThe Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon
Published by Ecco

From the publisher:

Mary is a sharp-tongued farm girl, and she will do anything to learn to read and write. But as she does so through four seasons of one extraordinary year, she discovers that nothing comes for free. Told by a narrator whose urgent, unforgettable voice will break your heart, The Colour of Milk is an astonishing novel.

I’d never heard of this book until Jill reviewed it, and she spoke so highly of the novel that I couldn’t help but pick it up right away. You guys, The Colour of Milk is a devastating novel. Heartbreaking, sob-inducing, difficult to read, but oh so worth it. It’s also quite beautiful.

Mary’s life circumstances are beyond what most people can comprehend. The story takes place in the 1800’s, so obviously life was different from it is today, but for our fifteen-year-old narrator, things are particularly difficult. Her family lives in dire poverty, and the only reason they have food to eat is because of the farm that Mary and her three sisters are forced to work on, all day every day. Her father is abusive and besides working the girls practically to death, he beats them when they do not perform to his standards. When Mary’s father decides he can’t afford four daughters, he sells her to a Vicar who lives close by so she can care for his sick wife – but her new home brings even more cruelty and trauma than her father’s had.

There’s so much to love about this novel. It’s difficult to understand how tragic Mary’s life really is, but what’s even more difficult to understand is how she manages to keep a mostly positive attitude throughout all of it. She is a character you can’t help but admire, and the way the book is written – as if this poor farm girl with zero formal education is writing it herself – endears the reader even more to our narrator.

Mary becomes “free” in an emotional and mental sense when she learns to read and write, and I love what The Colour of Milk is saying about the power of words to help and to heal a person. I can’t even imagine what it would be like not to have the privilege of the written word in my life, but Mary is a girl who had to seriously struggle in order to learn to read and write. It made me sit back and think how the written word has gotten me through some really tough times, and how it truly has the power to change lives. It was pretty incredible to read about that through Mary’s eyes.

The end of this book shattered me. And that’s all I’ll say about  it.

Read The Colour of Milk! It’s a slim novel with a lot to say. I promise, you will fall in love with Mary just like I did.

The Scorch Trials by James Dashner

The Scorch Trials (Maze Runner, #2)The Scorch Trials by James Dashner
Published by Delacorte Press

From the publisher:

Solving the Maze was supposed to be the end.

Thomas was sure that escape from the Maze would mean freedom for him and the Gladers. But WICKED isn’t done yet. Phase Two has just begun. The Scorch.

There are no rules. There is no help. You either make it or you die.

The Gladers have two weeks to cross through the Scorch—the most burned-out section of the world. And WICKED has made sure to adjust the variables and stack the odds against them.

Friendships will be tested. Loyalties will be broken. All bets are off.

There are others now. Their survival depends on the Gladers’ destruction—and they’re determined to survive.

I really liked The Maze Runner but this one? Not so much. Allow me to start with what I did like – the book is almost impossible to put down. There is SO much going on, one thing right after another, you can’t possibly stop at even a chapter break. There is always the hope that after the next obstacle the boys face, new information will be obtained. Something in this crazy world will start to make sense. The new characters that they meet in the Scorch will illuminate something for them. One can only hope.

Unfortunately, I felt like this didn’t happen. It felt, to me, like the author threw a bunch more challenges and setbacks and obstacles at the characters and the story just didn’t move along enough. It was all action and no information – and by the second book in a series, I want some more information. I don’t like feeling THIS in the dark about what’s really going on in a world.

I liked the addition of some new characters, and the complexities added to some of the existing characters’ personalities (Teresa, specifically), but I still wasn’t clear on who these new characters actually are – do they work for WICKED? Do they actually have the Flare? What the heck, Dashner?

I guess for some readers the not knowing is part of the fun of the series. But for me, by the end of book two, the complete lack of information got old. I wanted some answers, and I wanted them right then and there. Guess I’ll have to read the third book to (hopefully) get those answers!

 

Overseas by Beatriz Williams

OverseasOverseas by Beatriz Williams
Published by Putnam Adult

From the publisher:

When twenty-something Wall Street analyst Kate Wilson attracts the notice of the legendary Julian Laurence at a business meeting, no one’s more surprised than she is. Julian’s relentless energy and his extraordinary intellect electrify her, but she’s baffled by his sudden interest. Why would this handsome British billionaire—Manhattan’s most eligible bachelor—pursue a pretty but bookish young banker who hasn’t had a boyfriend since college?

The answer is beyond imagining . . . at least at first. Kate and Julian’s story may have begun not in the moneyed world of twenty-first-century Manhattan but in France during World War I, when a mysterious American woman emerged from the shadows of the Western Front to save the life of Captain Julian Laurence Ashford, a celebrated war poet and infantry officer.

Now, in modern-day New York, Kate and Julian must protect themselves from the secrets of the past, and trust in a true love that transcends time and space.

This book reminded me of The Time Traveler’s Wife in that it is well-written, with good characters, and features time travel and a romance. It’s definitely a wonderful novel in its own right, and is very different from the book I just mentioned, but I wanted to give you an idea of the feel of this book – because those elements make the two pretty similar.

From the moment I picked up Overseas, I was pulled into the story and didn’t want to leave. I liked Kate quite a bit and was just as skeptical as she when Julian was SO into her from the second they met – he felt so strongly for a perfect stranger, at least that’s how it appeared to her (and the reader). Once the plot moves along, though, it becomes clear that things aren’t exactly what they seem and Julian might have reason to feel so deeply for Kate from the onset.

There is a bit of over-protectiveness on Julian’s part that annoyed me – at one point, he and Kate go away together to an isolated cabin for weeks and weeks and he pretty much insists that she stay inside those four walls while he’s at work during the day – but you later find out that he does have a reason for his concern. Still, I didn’t love that aspect of his personality and I mentally applauded Kate when she decided to go against his wishes and spend a day in the city with an old friend.

But truly, this is a beautiful love story at its core and I did enjoy every moment I spent with Overseas. Kate and Julian are very passionate, and the reader can feel their love through the pages. There is a sense of urgency running through the second half of the novel, once the time travel aspect is brought to the surface and it becomes clear that someone or something is out to destroy their relationship. The very end of the novel had me racing through the pages, desperately hoping that all would work out for the two of them.

Reading Overseas was a highly enjoyable experience! I really appreciate everything about Beatriz Williams – her ability to craft an engaging story with plot twists, the way she constructs likable characters, her beautiful writing, and boy can she write a romantic, sexy book! I am looking forward to seeing what else this truly talented author has in store for me in the future.

Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

RoomiesRoomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

From the publisher:

When East Coast native Elizabeth receives her freshman-year roommate assignment, she shoots off an e-mail to coordinate the basics: television, microwave, mini-fridge. That first note to San Franciscan Lauren sparks a series of e-mails that alters the landscape of each girl’s summer — and raises questions about how two girls who are so different will ever share a dorm room.

As the countdown to college begins, life at home becomes increasingly complex. With family relationships and childhood friendships strained by change, it suddenly seems that the only people Elizabeth and Lauren can rely on are the complicated new boys in their lives . . . and each other. Even though they’ve never met.

I’m a huge fan of Sara Zarr and always read her books, but Tara Altebrando is a new author for me, so I went into this book with a mix of curiosity and excitement. It turned out that these two author’s voices work extremely well together, and the two of them wrote an engaging, fun, adorable novel about that weird time in life between high school and college.

Elizabeth and Lauren are very different people, and over the course of the summer they take the time to get to know one another through email, in the hope that when they begin living together it will be slightly less awkward. I had fun getting to know these two girls and the book brought back powerful memories for me of my own summer between high school and college. It’s such a unique time – full of anxiety, excitement, bittersweet feelings of leaving home for the very first time, all of that and more was captured in Roomies very well.

While the book had a premise that resonated with me and likable characters, I’m finding that I don’t remember a whole lot about it almost a month after reading it. So, I would say this is a very enjoyable read, but not one that really will stick with you. I did like that the last part of the book was just before they met for the first time in their dorm room, leaving it open to a possible second book about their time at college, which I wouldn’t shy away from reading. So, overall, good book but nothing that knocked my socks off.