Mini Reviews #5 | The Secret She Keeps & The Poisonwood Bible

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Two books that I read while being on vacation… wanna know what I thought of them? Let’s see…

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Agatha is pregnant and works part-time stocking shelves at a grocery store in a ritzy London suburb, counting down the days until her baby is due. As the hours of her shifts creep by in increasing discomfort, the one thing she looks forward to at work is catching a glimpse of Meghan, the effortlessly chic customer whose elegant lifestyle dazzles her. Meghan has it all: two perfect children, a handsome husband, a happy marriage, a stylish group of friends, and she writes perfectly droll confessional posts on her popular parenting blog—posts that Agatha reads with devotion each night as she waits for her absent boyfriend, the father of her baby, to maybe return her calls. When Agatha learns that Meghan is pregnant again, and that their due dates fall within the same month, she finally musters up the courage to speak to her, thrilled that they now have the ordeal of childbearing in common. Little does Meghan know that the mundane exchange she has with a grocery store employee during a hurried afternoon shopping trip is about to change the course of her not-so-perfect life forever…

The Secret She Keeps was a compelling and thoroughly addictive read that I enjoyed while on vacation. I had previously read another book by Michael Robotham, and it was quite different, to be honest. What I liked the most about this one were the two distinct voices. I greatly appreciate when an author makes me care for a character who isn’t a really good person. The way this book was written, you couldn’t help but feel sorry for them.

As for the plot, I can’t say the book was particularly original. I had read similar stories in the past and I was almost glad that the “twist” was revealed at about 40%, as I had suspected it from the beginning. The second part of the book was less psychological and more “classic thriller”, so I knew there wouldn’t be any surprises left, which was kind of a disappointment. Still, I enjoyed reading this one a lot and I explained the entire plot to my friends, so I think that’s a pretty good sign.

Netgalley, Little Brown UK, 2017

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This story is told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it – from garden seeds to Scripture – is calamitously transformed on African soil.

The Poisonwood Bible is celebrating a brand new edition featuring this strikingly beautiful cover. This is not a new book: it came out in 1998 and it’s already considered a classic. I read this book because I wanted to dive into a completely different story and I got exactly that.

This was a fascinating tale featuring a Baptist family who moves to the Belgian Congo and tries to settle down there. The father is a preacher and his mission is to convert the whole community into Christianism. The story is told from the four daughters’ points of view and despite some sad scenes, I found the narration pretty amusing. My favorites were Adah and little Ruth May. Rachel was fun to read because of her shallow personality, but on the other hand, I didn’t like Leah at all, and she was probably the main protagonist.

My only problem with Poisonwood Bible was the length. I usually avoid longer books because I don’t think I enjoy them as much as I would if they were shorter. This was exactly what happened here. My initial enthusiasm gradually decreased when I got to a point where I thought the book might be ending but there were actually many pages left. So I struggled a lot and I’m quite sad because I think I would’ve absolutely loved this if it had been around 350 pages.

Faber & Faber, 2017

Review: All The Wicked Girls by @WhittyAuthor @BonnierZaffre

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Everyone loves Summer Ryan. A model student and musical prodigy, she’s a ray of light in the struggling small town of Grace, Alabama – especially compared to her troubled sister, Raine. Then Summer goes missing. Grace is already simmering, and with this new tragedy the police have their hands full keeping the peace. Only Raine throws herself into the search, supported by a most unlikely ally. But perhaps there was always more to Summer than met the eye . . .

You can’t imagine how happy I was when I checked out my reading calendar and saw that my next ARC was All The Wicked Girls. I had been trying to catch up on physical arcs to be able to focus my attention on Netgalley when I’m on vacation, and Chris Whitaker’s book was next on my to-read list. I was excited. And nervous. What if I didn’t love it as much as I loved Tall Oaks? After all, that one was my favorite book of 2016. High expectations were inevitable.

As soon as I read the first chapter though, I remembered why I loved his debut so so much. The writing is flawless, the story manages to grip you from the very first paragraph and you can’t wait to keep on reading to find out more. If you read the first chapter and you don’t want to know more… well, then I guess we can’t be friends 😉 It’s still July, but I already know All The Wicked Girls will be one of my favorites. It was that good. You know which book I thought of while reading this one? Mystic River. And I liked All The Wicked Girls better.

At the same time, I feel I should warn you that this is much darker and dramatic than Tall Oaks ever was. This book was like one of those epic dramas that leave you exhausted but in a good way. I don’t know how to explain it, but I could feel this was going to be a special novel just after a few pages. There was something magnetic about it, I was completely captivated. And no, this isn’t your typical fast-paced, easy-to-read thriller, it’s way more complex and deep, and I especially love the way the author explores small-town dynamics and relationships between unlikely allies. And how the weather is practically another character.

So what’s it about? All The Wicked Girls tells the story of Grace, Alabama, a small-town filled with broken people keeping secrets. And girls from near towns are disappearing. No one knows what’s going on and the only suspect is someone they call “Bird”. But who is he? Everything changes when Summer Ryan disappears. She’s Grace’s “good girl” and she wouldn’t run away, would she? But then again, she left a note… Did Bird take her? Did she take off? Meanwhile, her wild sister Raine is determined to find out what happened and so she starts investigating with the help of two other teenagers: Noah and Purv. But that’s not all. We will also follow Summer’s months before her disappearance and we might discover things we wish we hadn’t known…

The mystery was hands down fantastic, and it’s exactly the kind of story that I crave for. A southern gothic tale that is completely absorbing and leaves you breathless by the time you reach the tragic final pages.

Even though the book is completely different to Tall Oaks, it still has all those ingredients that made me fall in love with Chris Whitaker’s writing. You can’t help but love Noah from the very first scene with the badge. And he is not Manny, but there’s something about this sweet kid that reminded me of him. The relationship between the teenagers is sweet and devastating at the same time and I’m not ashamed to admit I shed a few tears.

All The Wicked Girls is an unforgettable novel and I want you all to discover its magic.

ARC, Bonnier Zaffre, 2017

Review: Blame by @JeffAbbott @GrandCentralPub

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Two years ago, Jane Norton crashed her car on a lonely road, killing her friend David and leaving her with amnesia. At first, everyone was sympathetic. Then they found Jane’s note: I wish we were dead together. From that day the town turned against her. But even now Jane is filled with questions: Why were they on that road? Why was she with David? Did she really want to die? Most of all, she must find out who has just written her an anonymous message: I know what really happened. I know what you don’t remember…

I’m going to be honest here: I probably didn’t pay much attention to the blurb when I requested Blame by Jeff Abbott. I started reading it thinking that the book would be about neighbors and secrets in a community, so when I discovered that it was about a 19-year-old suffering from memory loss, I was quite disappointed. Another one? It was not what I was expecting at all.

However, next thing I know, I put the book down and I had already read 30%. And I wanted more. I was complete addicted and I needed to know what was going on. I absolutely loved Jeff Abbott’s writing skills and the way he portrayed Jane’s search for the truth. Sure, I didn’t like Jane that much at first, but as soon as she got over that “girl on the train” state, I was completely on board. I wanted to join her and help her investigate. Sneak into private detective offices and steal secret files. Oh yes.

I usually struggle with the “middle” section, but this was one of those cases where I just couldn’t put the book down. The middle was my favorite part. So many characters, so many suspects. And everyone had a story to tell. The mystery was fascinating and it was clear that there was something sinister going on. The suspense was there the whole time and small details were introduced in every chapter: the missing note, the anonymous comments, the medical records…

As much as I loved the book, I can’t say I liked the ending. There were many storylines and clues that made for an excellent mystery, so when the big reveal came, I think I felt a bit underwhelmed. It didn’t exactly click. I had been expecting a different conclusion so that everything else made sense and I thought the author’s choice didn’t live up to the expectations.

Despite my reservations about the ending, when I later reflected on my impressions, I realized I had immensely enjoyed Blame so I had to give it a great review anyway. It was a gripping psychological thriller and the mystery was well-crafted and twisty, just the way I love them.

Netgalley, Grand Central Publishing, 2017

Review: The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde by @evepchase @MichaelJBooks

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From the present day . . . Applecote Manor captivates Jessie with it promise of hazy summers in the Cotswolds. She believes it’s the perfect escape for her troubled family. But the house has an unsettling history, and strange rumours surround the estate. To the fifties . . . When teenage Margot and her three sisters arrive at Applecote during the heatwave of ’59, they find their aunt and uncle still reeling from the disappearance of their daughter, Audrey, five years before. The sisters are drawn into the mystery of Audrey’s vanishing – until the stifling summer takes a shocking, deadly turn. Will one unthinkable choice bind them together, or tear them apart?

The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde was a lovely historical mystery book that I knew I’d like as soon as I read its synopsis. You know I can’t resist a good gothic mystery set in a big house and Applecote Manor gave me exactly that. A disappearance, some creepy scenes and a secret kept during fifty years.

Jessie, her husband, her teenage stepdaughter and their little daughter move to Applecote Manor after several years in London. While we learn about their lives, we also travel back to 1959 when the Wilde sisters moved to that same house to live with some relatives when her mother decided to flee to Morocco. Their uncle Perry and aunt Sybil are still traumatized by the disappearance of their 12 year-old daughter Audrey five years ago. No one knows what happened to her.

Flora, Pam, Margot and Dot were interesting characters and I loved how the author managed to differentiate each one of them, as they all had distinctive personalities. My favorite was little Dot. The mystery as to what happened to their cousin Audrey had me quite intrigued and I admit I didn’t expect the ending, although it didn’t shock me either. I guess it all made sense in the end.

I believe the present storyline was the weakest part. I never lost interest and I finished the book in a day, but I wanted to read more about the four sisters and less about Jessie and Bella. I don’t mind dual storylines but I didn’t think this one was necessary, especially because the mystery didn’t have any effect on the present.

I’d love to read Eve Chase’s previous book, as it also looks appealing and I love stories like this that manage to transport me to another era. Recommended for fans of historical fiction.

ARC, Michael Joseph, 2017

Review: The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson

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Superheroes have always been Leia Birch Briggs’ weakness. One tequila-soaked night at a comics convention, the usually level-headed graphic novelist is swept off her barstool by a handsome and anonymous Batman. It turns out the caped crusader has left her with more than just a nice, fuzzy memory. She’s having a baby boy—an unexpected but not unhappy development in the thirty-eight year-old’s life. But before Leia can break the news of her impending single-motherhood (including the fact that her baby is biracial) to her conventional Southern family, her step-sister Rachel’s marriage implodes. Worse, she learns her beloved ninety-year-old grandmother, Birchie, is losing her mind, and she’s been hiding her dementia with the help of Wattie, her best friend since girlhood. Leia returns to Alabama to put her grandmother’s affairs in order, clean out the big Victorian that has been in the Birch family for generations, and tell her family that she’s pregnant. Yet just when Leia thinks she’s got it all under control, she learns that illness is not the only thing Birchie’s been hiding. Tucked in the attic is a dangerous secret with roots that reach all the way back to the Civil War. Its exposure threatens the family’s freedom and future, and it will change everything about how Leia sees herself and her sister, her son and his missing father, and the world she thinks she knows.

I’ve read and loved some of Joshilyn Jackson’s books, but my last one (Someone Else’s Love Story) was quite a disappointment, so it’s been a couple years without her stories. As soon as I saw this beautiful cover, though, I realized I wanted to read her books again. And I need to catch up!

The Almost Sisters was a thoroughly enjoyable novel, a weird mix of geek references and southern secrets that I found a bit incompatible, to be honest. On the other hand, I liked the book and I adore Jackson’s writing and her ability to make me care about the characters and their problems. She makes long books feel short. Despite the two very different storylines, I really loved the characters in this novel and was rooting for Leia from the very beginning. She was delightful.

The family dynamics were perhaps my favorite part of the novel, along with the Batman scenes. I admit that’s weird for me because I usually find myself more attracted to the mystery plot and the flashbacks, but while I definitely wanted to know what had happened, the book’s lack of focus on the secret made me shift my attention to the contemporary storyline.

This isn’t one of my favorites by her, mostly because I wish I had been more invested in the “secret” part, which by the time it got revealed, it was exactly what I was expecting. Still, it was a good read and I recommend it to fans of contemporary family dramas and southern stories. She’s always fun to read and this was maybe the funniest book she’s written: it still has plenty of drama, but it isn’t a dark book at all.

Edelweiss, William Morrow, 2017