Review: Barbed Wire Heart by Tess Sharpe @sharpegirl @GrandCentralPub

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Release: 2018
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Genre: Mystery & Thriller

Never cut the drugs-leave them pure.
Guns are meant to be shot-keep them loaded.
Family is everything-betray them and die.

Harley McKenna is the only child of North County’s biggest criminal. Duke McKenna’s run more guns, cooked more meth, and killed more men than anyone around. Harley’s been working for him since she was sixteen-collecting debts, sweet-talking her way out of trouble, and dreading the day he’d deem her ready to rule the rural drug empire he’s built.

Her time’s run out. The Springfields, her family’s biggest rivals, are moving in. Years ago, they were responsible for her mother’s death, and now they’re coming for Duke’s only weak spot: his daughter.

With a bloody turf war threatening to consume North County, Harley is forced to confront the truth: that her father’s violent world will destroy her. Duke’s raised her to be deadly-he never counted on her being disloyal. But if Harley wants to survive and protect the people she loves, she’s got to take out Duke’s operation and the Springfields.

Blowing up meth labs is dangerous business, and getting caught will be the end of her, but Harley has one advantage: She is her father’s daughter. And McKennas always win.

From a powerful new voice in suspense fiction comes the unforgettable story of a young woman facing the most difficult choice of her life: family or freedom.

Wow.

How is it possible that I haven’t seen more reviews for this book? I feel so stupid that I waited so long to read Barbed Wire Heart, because I’ve had it for months but somehow I always ended up reading other novels. A couple of days ago I decided I was in the mood for something gritty and decided to start it… Around 40% I had already decided that this was one of my favorite books of the year. When I finished it, I knew I would never forget it.

I knew why I had requested. I read a blurb like this, and I’m instantly sold. But I honestly didn’t expect to love it this much. You know how father-daughter books seem to be so popular right now. And I love those premises. I’ve read so many: The Twelve Lives of Samuel HawleyMy Absolute DarlingThe Marsh King’s DaughterA Lesson In Violence… And I’ve loved some of them (ahem, the last two), but this one was so unique and addictive that I believe it should become much more popular than it is! Oh, and if you’ve seen Winter’s Bone, I think this was a bit similar, too.

This might not be for everyone because it’s such a dark and violent book. It’s not creepy, like some psychological thrillers are, Barbed Wire Heart is dark because the world the characters live in, North County, is dark. And Harley McKenna is such a badass character that I could’ve read an entire series about her. I don’t even know which genre this book falls into… Is it action? Contemporary? I think the author labels it as a feminist thriller so let’s call it that.

There are so many things I loved about this novel! First of all, the writing. Tess Sharpe’s writing is straight-forward and emotional at the same time. There were so many sentences that I wanted to write down! Also, the plot is full of action and the author even throws in some surprises along the way. The book structure was fantastic. The main story in the present is told chronologically, but there are some flashback chapters that help you understand why Harley became the woman she is now and believe me, some of the things she has experienced are not pretty. At all. Plus, at first, you might think you don’t know exactly what is going on, but don’t worry, everything will make sense at the end.

I hope I’ve convinced you to read this gem. If not, I’ll send Harley McKenna to do it for me 😉

Many thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for providing me a copy in exchange for an honest review

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Review: The Heart’s Invisible Furies by @john_boyne

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Cyril Avery is not a real Avery or at least that’s what his adoptive parents tell him. And he never will be. But if he isn’t a real Avery, then who is he? Born out of wedlock to a teenage girl cast out from her rural Irish community and adopted by a well-to-do if eccentric Dublin couple via the intervention of a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun, Cyril is adrift in the world, anchored only tenuously by his heartfelt friendship with the infinitely more glamourous and dangerous Julian Woodbead. At the mercy of fortune and coincidence, he will spend a lifetime coming to know himself and where he came from – and over his three score years and ten, will struggle to discover an identity, a home, a country and much more.

After many recommendations from blogger friends (and especially from Renee), I finally sat down and read one of the most popular books this past year. And no, I didn’t read it all in a sitting, but I could have. It’s THAT good.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies was a beautiful, funny, sad, poignant and ultimately inspiring saga that tells the story of Cyril Avery, a young Irish boy who’s adopted by Maude and Charles -a very peculiar couple-. After getting to know her birth mother and her circumstances, we get to see him grow up, make friends, fall in love and find out who he really is. This book spans many years and is set in Dublin, Amsterdam and New York…

This is one of those books that I wish I hadn’t known anything before I read it, so I will be brief today. This is an absolute gem of a novel. It’s hilarious at times (seriously, the dialogues were witty and laugh out loud funny) and it will also make you cry. After all, aren’t those the best stories? Plus, there are lot of fun coincidences that made it even more enjoyable.

This was not a short book, but I flew through it like it was. It’s one of the most captivating sagas I’ve ever read and I would recommend it to absolutely everyone. Cyril Avery isn’t perfect and he behaves in a selfish way more than once, but I felt like I was inside his head and I could totally understand why he did those things.

In the end, crime fiction and mysteries are my favorite type of books, but John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies made me forget about those for two uforgettable days.

Doubleday, 2017

Review: The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor

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In 1986, Eddie and his friends are just kids on the verge of adolescence. They spend their days biking around their sleepy little English village and looking for any taste of excitement they can get. The chalk men are their secret code; little chalk stick figures they leave for each other as messages only they can understand. But then a mysterious chalk man leads them right to a dismembered body, and nothing will ever be the same. In 2016, Eddie is fully grown, and thinks he’s put his past behind him. But then he gets a letter in the mail, containing a single chalk stick figure. When it turns out his other friends got the same messages, they think it could be a prank… until one of them turns up dead. That’s when Eddie realizes that saving himself means finally figuring out what really happened all those years ago. Expertly alternating between flashbacks and the present day, The Chalk Man is the very best kind of suspense novel, one where every character is wonderfully fleshed out and compelling, where every mystery has a satisfying payoff, and where the twists will shock even the savviest reader.

The Chalk Man has been one of the most talked about books in the last few months. Everyone was reading it and writing about it. Some raved about it, others were a bit disappointed. It seemed to be quite a polemic book, but still, I couldn’t wait to dive into it because of the comparisons to IT, Stranger Things and Stand By Me (I’m a big fan of those three). So I finally sat down one morning and read it from beginning to end.

The Chalk Man was a truly addictive read for me. I didn’t think about anything else while I got to know about the kids and the chalk figures: I read it compulsively, trying to guess what had happened all those years ago. I liked the atmosphere, the 80s flashbacks and wanted to know what was going on in the present, too. I didn’t love the characters that much, but that was okay because I was really enjoying the story. Sometimes that happens.

However, when I got to the ending, I realized I didn’t feel as satisfied as I had hoped. I liked the book enough and thought it was well-written, it had great ideas and enjoyed some aspects that I can’t really mention now because of spoilers. But the main mystery ended up being a major disappointment. I usually love this kind of “tragic endings” but I didn’t care much about this one.

I liked CJ Tudor’s writing and the way she kept me guessing until the very end. It’s obvious that she loves the 80s and all that “retro nostalgia”, and I really appreciate that. This was a great debut novel, but I think the mystery lacked a bit of that “memorable” feeling I look for when reading this type of books. Also, Nicky’s character was kind of underused and I wanted to know more about her (despite her obvious similarities to IT’s Beverly).

Overall, I enjoyed The Chalk Man and would recommend it if you enjoy mysteries and coming of age stories. At the same time, I can’t really say it I will remember it forever.

Netgalley, Michael Joseph, 2018

Review: The Road to Bittersweet by Donna Everhart @wordstogobuy @KensingtonBooks

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Set in the Carolinas in the 1940s, The Road to Bittersweet is a beautifully written, evocative account of a young woman reckoning not just with the unforgiving landscape, but with the rocky emotional terrain that leads from innocence to wisdom. For fourteen-year-old Wallis Ann Stamper and her family, life in the Appalachian Mountains is simple and satisfying, though not for the tenderhearted. While her older sister, Laci—a mute, musically gifted savant—is constantly watched over and protected, Wallis Ann is as practical and sturdy as her name. When the Tuckasegee River bursts its banks, forcing them to flee in the middle of the night, those qualities save her life…

The Road to Bittersweet came exactly at the right moment for me. This past month has been a bit difficult because of work stuff and I tried to keep myself busy, so I didn’t read as much as I usually do. However, I loved this book from the moment I started it, and even though it took me almost a week to finish it, I must say I adored every page. I had a feeling it would eventually drag a little because of the slow pace, but the truth is that it kept me engaged the whole time. I highly recommend it.

The Education of Dixie Dupree was one of my favorite books last year and I was excited to dive into Donna Everhart’s new novel. That being said, I was instantly surprised when I started reading it because although both books are set in the southern United States, in my humble opinion, they have nothing else in common. Dixie Dupree was a tougher read, dealing with darker themes and featuring a more cynical perspective. On the other hand, The Road to Bittersweet had more of an “epic” feeling and I think it was much more hopeful and innocent in some ways.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a happy book. It’s actually so dramatic that for the first 50%, I kept wondering how could anyone endure so many tragedies and still be willing to go on. I loved the Stamper family and wanted them to be happy, but Donna Everhart kept making that particular goal less clear with every page. So I guess the title fits perfectly, since this novel truly felt like a journey. The Road to Bittwesweet tells us all about Wallis Ann’s coming of age (although not your usual one by any means) and how families never give up, even under the worst of circumstances.

The book was emotional (I cried when something terrible happened) but it never felt overly sentimental, I think it portrayed everything in a very realistic way and I loved the writing. As for the characters, Wallis Ann was amazing, I loved everything about her and I could understand her jealousy and insecurities as well. She was fourteen years old, after all. She was the main protagonist of the story, but it was nice to read about Laci, Seph, the parents, and Clayton too.

All in all, this was such a beautiful book that I would recommend it to all those looking for a different kind of historical read, one that deals with a family’s struggle to live happily ever after. I removed part of the blurb because I feel it reveals way too much and it’s better to read it without knowing some things.

Edelweiss, Kensington, 2017

Review: The Secrets on Chicory Lane by @RaymondBenson @skyhorsepub

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Sixty-one-year-old Shelby Truman, a romance novelist, has received a request to visit her childhood friend, Eddie, who is on Death Row. Though mentally ill, Eddie is scheduled to be executed for the disturbing, brutal murders of his wife and unborn child. As Shelby travels home to Texas for the unnerving reunion, she steps back into memories of her past, recalling her five-decade-long relationship with Eddie in order to understand what led the beautiful but troubled boy who lived across the street to become a murderer. Shelby and Eddie used to visit an abandoned fallout shelter in his backyard, their “secret hiding place” where they could escape Eddie’s abusive father, enjoy innocent playtime, and, later, adolescent explorations. As they grow increasingly close, a tragedy occurs one July fourth, an event that sets in motion a lifelong struggle against an Evil–with a capital “E”–that has corrupted their all-American neighborhood. With only a few days left for Eddie to live, Shelby braces herself for a reunion that promises to shed light on the traumatic events that transpired on her street, changing everything Shelby thought she knew about the boy on Chicory Lane.

I don’t know what I expected from The Secrets on Chicory Lane but it was definitely not what I got. And I don’t really know how to describe this book. Is it a mystery? Not really. But it’s definitely suspenseful. And it’s also sad and memorable and it won’t leave anyone indifferent.

I admit I wasn’t sure I would like it when I started reading. The writing was not what I expected and at first, I didn’t feel I’d enjoy the novel’s structure. This was a weird one. The narration was told entirely from Shelby’s point of view, only she tells us her life story instead of focusing on the present matters. I thought the present would be important, but it was not. Yes, we know that Shelby is traveling to Texas, but what actually matters are her thoughts, as she recalls her relationship with Eddie during five decades, from the time when they were kids until the last time she saw him during the trial.

While I didn’t think much of it during the first chapter, as soon as I started reading about Eddie and Shelby’s relationship, I was hooked. Theirs was one unforgettable tale and I was so immersed in their story that I almost didn’t want to finish the book. Shelby was a character that grew on me as I got to know her better. I definitely thought she made some mistakes (who hasn’t?) but she was a good person overall. Eddie… truthfully, I didn’t like him from the very first moment he was introduced, but I felt sad for him anyway.

As much as I liked The Secrets On Chicory Lane, I can’t say I was surprised by how the story progressed. I thought I knew what had happened and eventually, I was right. It was still heartbreaking and it definitely made me feel uneasy, but I believe it was the right way to finish the story.

This is not a happy book by any means and it touches several themes that make it a tough read sometimes. This book makes you reflect on how childhood experiences can affect our life paths, and how easily things could’ve been different.

Netgalley, Skyhorse Publishing, 2017