Jun 28, 2016

Review: We're All Damaged by Matthew Norman

No Spoilers Included!

Ever since I read DOMESTIC VIOLETS in 2011 I have been anxiously awaiting Norman's second book. I loved that debut novel and wondered what he would produce next. It's hard to believe that so much time has passed but when WE'RE ALL DAMAGED showed up on my Kindle Firsts promo, I snatched up my copy in a heartbeat!

What It's About:

This is a story about a guy who thought he had it all. A good job, a beautiful wife and a plan for their future together that would, one day, include a family of their own. Unfortunately for Andy Carter, his wife Karen had different plans. She blew his life apart when she told him she 'didn't want this anymore'. Now, it's a year later and Andy's life is so different he sometimes doesn't even recognize himself.  He lost his job, destroyed his best friend's wedding reception, along with that friendship, and left his Iowa hometown for New York City where he knew absolutely no one. He's working as a bartender for the only friend he has in The City when he gets a call to come home immediately. His grandfather is dying and his mother is demanding he come before that happens.

In the last year while Andy was sulking in The Big Apple, things in his old life have changed dramatically. Andy stumbles along trying to absorb the changes, not to mention the impending death of his grandpa. And then there's Daisy, the tatted up, strange woman he meets at the nursing home who says she's a friend of his grandfather...but can that really be?? Though Andy didn't think he was ready to go home yet, this is a trip he had to make. Back home, he'll see people he's known his whole life in different ways and meet new people who will change how he looks at himself.

My Thoughts:

There have been times when I've read a debut novel and loved it, only to discover the next novel by the same author fell flat.  Well, for me, that is certainly NOT the case with WE'RE ALL DAMAGED. This book was such a refreshing reading experience for me. The opening chapters, especially, were laugh out loud funny. I absolutely loved the snarky wit and characters that came alive within the pages. The Glitter Mafia which brought a very relevant social issue into the story was genius as was the battle his father had with the squirrels. He painted such a vivid picture in my mind that I couldn't quit laughing. I'll never look at a squirrel the same way again. Nancy, Andy's far right Republican mother was another brilliant character, though my views are very different from hers. All of the characters seemed so realistic to me and I enjoyed them all.

I've told you how funny this story is but it's not just funny. It's sweet, it's heartbreaking, sad, hopeful and lovely. It's about family, marriage, regret, forgiveness and awareness and compassion. As I'm sitting here thinking about the book, it reminds me again of how much I loved it. The sweetness of the story took me by surprise, especially when it brought me to tears.

WE'RE ALL DAMAGED is about a regular family in Iowa with problems that are not all that different  from other families'.  It's not a complex story but Matthew Norman, with his unique take on people, along with his incredible sense of humor makes it something very special. At 282 pages and as readable as it is, it's the perfect weekend read.  I imagine it would make for a great audiobook as well and would be perfect for a road trip this summer.  If you read and loved DOMESTIC VIOLETS, you certainly don't want to put off reading WE'RE ALL DAMAGED any longer.

Author: Matthew Norman
Publisher: Little A
Published: June 1, 2016
Length: 282 pages
Source: Amazon Kindle Firsts

Jun 14, 2016

Review: The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian (Unabridged Audio Version)

As with all my reviews, No Spoilers are included!

When a successful, happily married father of a young daughter offers to host his younger brother bachelor party, Richard Chapman thought it would be a harmless night of drinking and would make his brother happy that he'd opened his beautiful home to his friends.  He'd even convinced his wife, Kristin, to consent and it was decided that she and their daughter would go to her mother's apartment in Manhattan for the night. The 'Bachelor' was the more rowdy of the two brothers so Richard wasn't too surprised when he found out that one one of his brother's friends had hired a couple strippers. But right away Richard felt the two exotic-looking girls were not your regular bachelor party strippers. The fact that they were accompanied by two very large Russian bodyguards made Richard even more nervous. As the night wore on, the men got drunker and the girls were doing more than stripping. Suddenly all hell broke loose, knives were drawn, blood was shed and by the end the two Russians were lying dead in the Chapman's living room and the girls were no where to be found. In the aftermath of the chaos, Richard's once perfect life would be threatened on several fronts: the Russian mob, blackmail, unemployment. Not to mention his wife was contemplating divorce. He could lose everything yet he couldn't stop thinking about Alexandra, the girl with the black hair,  and if she was safe.

My Thoughts on the Story:

Surprisingly, this is the first novel by Chris Bohjalian that I've ever read. I've heard so much praise for his work from fellow bloggers/readers for many years so my expectations were pretty high.  When choosing this book, I will admit the subject matter of sex trafficking did give me pause. It's a very disturbing issue and very relevant to our times and I wasn't sure I wanted to go there, but I ultimately did. I easily found myself immersed in the story and since there weren't a lot of characters it was easy listening. Things happened pretty quickly and I was very tuned in to the story. But for me, about half-way through it slowed and I found myself waiting for something more dramatic to happen. That's not to say there weren't dramatic parts, but I guess I was just expecting more. Events near the end of the book both baffled and surprised me, in good and bad ways. Having heard such wonderful things from Bohjalian's fans, I was expecting a deeper, more involved story and I just didn't get that.

My Thoughts on the Audio Performance:

The two narrators, Mozhan Marno and Grace Experience did very good jobs of bringing these characters to life, especially the part of Alexandra, the Russian girl. She made me totally believe her character. Her accent was perfection.  Looking back, I'm glad I chose the audio version for this book because I may have become distracted if I were reading the print version during the (much) slower parts.

The bottom line for me is that it was a good listen but a little underwhelming considering all the hype about Bohjalian's work I'd heard for years. My question is: Is this typical of all his books? Or is this one an exception? I will have to read another Bohjalian novel to answer those questions. And I certainly will, maybe in print the next time to see if that affects my opinion at all. Clearly, his fans loved this book but unfortunately, for me, it was just OK.

THE GUEST ROOM (Unabridged Audio Version)
Author: Chris Bohjalian
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: January 2016
Length: 10 Hrs 10 Mins
Source: Purchased via Audible

Jun 7, 2016

Review: Ink and Bone by Lisa Unger

Before INK AND BONE I had never read a Lisa Unger book, so I was very excited when I was offered an advance copy from the publisher so of course, I jumped at the chance! I was not familiar with her work so I really didn't know what to expect. Before reading this new book, I read up on Lisa Unger a bit and was surprised to learn that on June 4 she released a novella called THE WHISPERING HOLLOWS containing three short stories featuring Eloise Montgomery, a major character in INK AND BONE. Another happy surprise was the presence of paranormal elements in this book. I suppose I was expecting a straight-forward suspense novel but I realized this book was going to be more than that. It made me even more excited to start reading.

INK AND BONE is a paranormal suspense thriller featuring Eloise Montgomery, "a reluctant" psychic medium and her nineteen year-old granddaughter, Finley, who shares more than a bloodline with Eloise. Though Finley has known for a long time that she sees things most people don't, it isn't until a year ago when she moved to The Hollows in upstate New York to live with her grandmother, that she begins exploring the 'gift' she was born with. Eloise serves as a gentle guide for Finley as she tests the power and limitations of those gifts.

It's been close to a year since eight year-old Abbey Gleason was taken while on a hike in The Hollows with her dad and older brother. All hope has been lost but Abbey's mother, Merri, can't let go or give up. She hires private detective Jones Cooper, from The Hollows, because he works with noted psychic medium Eloise Montgomery. Merri knows this is probably her last hope of finding her daughter, but it's not Eloise who is sensing things about the case. It's Finley's turn to follow the 'signs' wherever they may lead.

My Thoughts:
(Contains No Spoilers!)

This was a well thought out story that I was very impressed with. It's multi-layered with rich, interesting characters.  What I enjoy about Unger's writing style is the way she reveals impactful information along the way.  I like to call them 'nuggets' and this book has them littered throughout, which kept my attention and focus. It also made the pages fly by. There was also a big twist that totally caught me off guard!

She uses two main perspectives to tell the story - one from the parents of Abbey Gleason and the other is Finley's but there's also Eloise's point of view as well, though not as prevalent. It's interesting because it allows the reader to know exactly what each party is going through and where they are coming from.

The subject matter of the story is disturbing yet Unger doesn't get explicit with the violent acts of the perpetrator though she eludes to them more later in the book. Many writers would include details that might be hard to take, but Unger uses a lighter touch without softening the story at all. That is really good for readers who like these types of books but don't particularly care for a lot of violence.

The paranormal aspect took this book to another level and I really enjoyed it. It was definitely present without being too over the top weird. I liked that fact that Finley was just beginning to understand her abilities and that made it easier for me to accept. I felt this was a great element to the story and makes me really happy to have read INK AND BONE. I like the paranormal genre but I have a hard time finding books that I like and this one filled that void for me.

As a first time reader of Lisa Unger's work, I am thrilled to say I am now a fan!  I'll be looking into more of her books and hoping that Finley Montgomery will come back one day. There's a lot there to build on with these characters and the location. The Hollows was it's own character and it was fantastic. And don't forget, about the novella, THE WHISPERING HOLLOWS - it would make a great companion piece with this book.  I'd like to thank Courtney Brach at Touchstone and Simon & Schuster, Inc. for the opportunity to preview this novel. I'm sure it will be a big hit this summer.

Author: Lisa Unger (@lisaunger)
Publisher: Touchstone
Published: June 7, 2016
Printed Length: 352
Source: Publisher

Jun 4, 2016

Audiobook Review: Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

PRETTY GIRLS is the first stand-alone book I've read, or in this case, listened to by Karin Slaughter, though I'm a huge fan of her Will Trent Series. I was curious to see how she wrote and developed other characters apart from the series I was so used to. What I found was more intense, very complex characters, and in this case, a very difficult storyline. She takes psychological thrillers to a whole new level.

This is the story of a family deeply divided over events that started over twenty years prior. There used to be three sisters. Lydia and Claire were the oldest with Julia, a teenager, the youngest. The family was blown apart the day Julia disappeared without a trace. The not-knowing what happened to her leaves emotional scars on teh rest of the family. Claire and Lydia's relationship falls completely apart, with their mother adamately taking Claire's side leaving Lydia feeling totally alone and their father sinking into his own abyss of grief, guilt and despair. Lydia is, feeling totally ostracized from her family takes out on her own, cutting them off, with all loyalty from her family gone. It's now twenty years later and Claire's husband has been murdered right in front of her during a mugging. Claire's life is a fairy-tale compared to Lydia's, Her husband was extremely successful and she didn't want to for anything. Lydia scrimped and clawed for everything she has, which isn't much. While looking into her husband's dealings during the investigation into his murder, Claire finds shocking and frightening evidence that she didn't know her husband at all. In fact, what she discovers puts her in fear of her own life. Not knowing if she can even trust the police, she turns to the one person who has no reason at all to help her. After twenty years, Lydia knew that if Claire called her, it must be something very important, but there was no way she could have prepared herself for what was to come.

My Thoughts on the Story:
(No Spoilers!)

Having read Slaughter's Will Trent Series, I already knew that she doesn't hold back when writing her stories. I will state right off that this book, nor any of her books, really, are for the faint at heart. If you are easily offended by violence this book is probably not for you. I would have to say this is one of her most violent that I've ever read. Having said that, this was nothing less than what I've come to expect from one of the best suspense/thriller writers of our generation. It was a twisted, disturbing story but I was all in. I'm not sure what that says about me, but I read for an escape, which is why most of us read, I imagine. She is a no holds barred writer and is fearless, in my opinion. I have read that some readers thought this book in particular was too violent and there is an argument for that, I suppose, but like I applaud her unapologetic approach to writing great thrillers. It's important to not let the violence in the book take away from the incredible writing and storytelling with all of it's twists and turns. One thing I love about KS's work is that it's never predictable. She continues to surprise me with every book I read and this one was no exception.

My Thoughts on the Audio Performance:

I have listened to one or two of the Will Trent books and I didn't love the narrator but I was very pleased with Kathleen Early's performance in PRETTY GIRLS. She has a unique cadence to her voice and her storytelling kept me on the edge of my seat. In referencing her previous work, I learned that she has narrated Slaughter's Grant County Series, which I have not read. That encourages me to listen to that series as well.

At about 20 hours, this is a longer audiobook, but, for me, it flew by. At the time I was listening to this I had sold my home and was packing up to move to Ohio. It's tedious work but this audio make that task less daunthing. It kept me from being overwhilmed with what I was doing. That's why I love audiobooks. I listen when I'm cleaning or cooking and I get totally absorbed in the story and before you know it, my task is done. If you appreciate extreme psychological thrillers you should add PRETTY GIRLS to you listening list.

PRETTY GIRLS (Unabridged Audio Version)
Author: Karin Slaughter
Narrator: Kathleen Early
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Published: September 2015
Audio Length: 19 Hrs 59 Mins
Source: Purchased thru Audible

Jun 1, 2016

Review: Cometh the Hour (Clifton Chronicles #6) by Jeffrey Archer

I became a fan of Jeffrey Archer quite by accident.  About seven years I'd entered a giveaway that fellow blogger, Anna, at Diary of an Eccentric** was hosting.  The prize was the audio CD's for ONLY TIME WILL TELL, The Clifton Chronicles Book 1. I was the lucky winner and honestly wasn't familiar with the author at all.  Once I started listening I was immediately drawn to this family from Bristol, UK. Jeffrey Archer is an author I probably wouldn't have turned to on my own for whatever reason but I feel lucky that Anna introduced me to his work. Since then I've read every book in the series and I've realized and now appreciate what a wonderful storyteller he is. At the end of every installment, I know there is going to be a breath-taking cliff hanger! 

In COMETH THE HOUR, we have arrived in the 1970's and the world is rapidly changing for the Clifton/Barrington clan. Most of the story takes place in the UK, some in the US, with brief visits to Russia. There is more espionage, business back-stabbing and family secrets - some revealed, some not. This is a bit more of a serious book than some of the previous ones but Archer's quick wit is still present. 

With only one book yet to be released for this series, it is bittersweet knowing it will be coming to an end, but with only seven (total) books in the series, it wouldn't be difficult to read the entire series. Jeffrey Archer, in my opinion, is right up there with Louise Penny (Three Pines Series). What these two writers have in common is that they (I believe) write for the 'more mature' reader. I've said it all along and I stand behind that statement. If you've read Penny or Archer, I think you'd understand. So, if I could encourage a new series to someone, it would be The Clifton Chronicles. For me, it has been a total joy to read. It is very satisfying and always leaves me wanting more. 

COMETH THE HOUR (Clifton Chronicles #6)
Author: Jeffrey Archer
Publisher: St. Martins Press
Published: February 2016
Printed Lenth: 416
Source: Publisher

**Incidentally, Anna has another great giveaway happening now through June 5th. Click here for details.