Review: A Change of Heart

A Change of Heart, Sonali Dev

Published September 27th 2016 by Kensington

Paperback, 352 pages

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley

28439392Dr. Nikhil ‘Nic’ Joshi had it all—marriage, career, purpose. Until, while working for Doctors Without Borders in a Mumbai slum, his wife, Jen, discovered a black market organ transplant ring. Before she could expose the truth, Jen was killed.

Two years after the tragedy, Nic is a cruise ship doctor who spends his days treating seasickness and sunburn and his nights in a boozy haze. On one of those blurry evenings on deck, Nic meets a woman who makes a startling claim: she received Jen’s heart in a transplant and has a message for him. Nic wants to discount Jess Koirala’s story as absurd, but there’s something about her reckless desperation that resonates despite his doubts.

Jess has spent years working her way out of a nightmarish life in Calcutta and into a respectable Bollywood dance troupe. Now she faces losing the one thing that matters—her young son, Joy.  She needs to uncover the secrets Jen risked everything for; but the unforeseen bond that results between her and Nic is both a lifeline and a perilous complication.

I give Sonali Dev a ton of credit just for the premise of this book.  It is extremely brave to start out by murdering a character that was so great in your last book – The Bollywood Bride.  I think it was pretty brave to make Jen a less than perfect character.  Jen’s perspective is told in very brief snippets of her journal entries and she’s not all warm and fuzzy as one might expect a newlywed to be.  This this contrasted sharply with Nic’s crushing grief and memories of his beloved – again a really bold route for a romance.  So we find Nic trying to drink himself to death on a cruise ship  2 years after her murder when Jess comes and tries to snap him into action to find Jen’s killers in India.  

Honestly the truth of Jess’s story was pretty easy to figure out and once I knew what was coming I just couldn’t get past it.  Also as much as I liked Jess, to be truthful I didn’t want Nic to get past it either!   The poor guy was suffering enough and I was anticipating some painful moments when he found out why she was really there.  That kept me from feeling all the love between Nic and Jess the way I was meant to.   Based on the other reviews I’ve seen though I’m in the minority here – maybe maybe I just need lighter overall when I’m feeling like a romance?  Romance reading is an total escape for me so I need happy.  This was busy with sexy romance, mystery, and past heartbreaks and other readers are loving it.   

I do hope Dev continues with the Bollywood books in the way that I’m guessing because I like her characters and I like seeing the interaction between books.  I will absolutely read whatever she writes next!  I’m going to have to reread The Bollywood Affair though to get back to my own original Sonali Dev love affair.

Thank you Kensington and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review! 

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Review: June

June, Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

Published May 31st 2016 by Crown

Hardcover, 400 pages

Source: Blogging for Books

 

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Twenty-five-year-old Cassie Danvers is holed up in her family’s crumbling mansion in rural St. Jude, Ohio, mourning the loss of the woman who raised her—her grandmother, June. But a knock on the door forces her out of isolation. Cassie has been named the sole heir to legendary matinee idol Jack Montgomery’s vast fortune. How did Jack Montgomery know her name? Could he have crossed paths with her grandmother all those years ago? What other shocking secrets could June’s once-stately mansion hold?

Soon Jack’s famous daughters come knocking, determined to wrestle Cassie away from the inheritance they feel is their due. Together, they all come to discover the true reasons for June’s silence about that long-ago summer, when Hollywood came to town, and June and Jack’s lives were forever altered by murder, blackmail, and betrayal.

I absolutely loved Miranda Beverly-Whittemore’s last book, Bittersweet, a dark and kind of gothic summer romance and mystery.  I couldn’t wait to dive into more family secrets in June.  I’m always fascinated by a plot with a mysterious will.  When it’s the will of a movie star with a fortune – even better!  

When we meet Cassie she’s living alone in her grandparents mansion in rural Ohio.  She’s inherited the home after her beloved grandmother’s death and she’s holed up and letting the world pass her by.   I admit I  was a bit frustrated with Cassie at first.  I wanted her to do something – anything! So it was much easier to be drawn back into the past to the story of the young and beautiful June, Jack the movie star, and Lindie the girl across the street. As I became more caught up in the past it helped me to become more interested in Cassie’s modern mystery and I was glad when Cassie started getting caught up in the past as well.  I liked getting June’s story through Lindie rather than June herself.  Lindie was quite the observer and I think gave a much richer perspective than June would have. 

This was a slow burn, but Beverly-Whittemore ended in directions that I didn’t expect at all with both the past and modern stories.  What I really loved was the personality that the old house had.  Not in a creepy haunted house way at all – more a romantic and mystical presence.  This is definitely a good book to sit and finish the summer with!

Thank you Blogging for Books for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review!

Review: All the Missing Girls

All the Missing Girls, Megan Miranda

Kindle Edition, 384 pages

Expected publication: June 28th 2016 by Simon & Schuster

Source: e-ARC from publisher via NetGalley

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Megan Miranda’s novel is a nail-biting, breathtaking story about the disappearances of two young women—a decade apart—told in reverse.

It’s been ten years since Nicolette Farrell left her rural hometown after her best friend, Corinne, disappeared from Cooley Ridge without a trace. Back again to tie up loose ends and care for her ailing father, Nic is soon plunged into a shocking drama that reawakens Corinne’s case and breaks open old wounds long since stitched.

The decade-old investigation focused on Nic, her brother Daniel, boyfriend Tyler, and Corinne’s boyfriend Jackson. Since then, only Nic has left Cooley Ridge. Daniel and his wife, Laura, are expecting a baby; Jackson works at the town bar; and Tyler is dating Annaleise Carter, Nic’s younger neighbor and the group’s alibi the night Corinne disappeared. Then, within days of Nic’s return, Annaleise goes missing.

Told backwards—Day 15 to Day 1—from the time Annaleise goes missing, Nic works to unravel the truth about her younger neighbor’s disappearance, revealing shocking truths about her friends, her family, and what really happened to Corinne that night ten years ago.

When I heard this was a mystery told in reverse I was really unsure how I’d feel about it.  I have to say that this book was basically a mind fuck. We start in the present as Nicolette returns to her rural home town of Cooley Ridge to help convince her ill father to sell her childhood home.  She leaves her fiancé behind and he’s unaware that Nicolette will be facing down both memories of her high school best friend’s disappearance and her physical high school boyfriend who she’s never really said goodbye to.

We then go two weeks into the future when there’s been another disappearance and Nicolette is being told to run – I won’t tell you who from. The book goes through each day and then flashes back again.  This was such a great way to tell a mystery!  I thought that I had everything figured out as Nic flashed back through each day – and I was always wrong! I loved how Miranda was able to drop clues that made so much sense in the end but totally threw me off as I was reading.  

If you need a summer thriller this is it!  Suspenseful and well written – definitely one to read at the beach!

Thank you Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Review: Girls on Fire #WeekofReviews

Girls on Fire, Robin Wasserman

Published May 17th 2016 by Harper

Hardcover, 368 pages

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Girls on Fire tells the story of Hannah and Lacey and their obsessive teenage female friendship so passionately violent it bloodies the very sunset its protagonists insist on riding into, together, at any cost. Opening with a suicide whose aftermath brings good girl Hannah together with the town’s bad girl, Lacey, the two bring their combined wills to bear on the community in which they live; unconcerned by the mounting discomfort that their lust for chaos and rebellion causes the inhabitants of their parochial small town, they think they are invulnerable.

But Lacey has a secret, about life before her better half, and it’s a secret that will change everything..

Let me just say, I’m among a few black sheep on this book.  I saw Michelle at That’s What She Read raving about this story of unhealthy high school friendships in the 90s and I couldn’t wait to pick it up.  As one who had my share of unhealthy high school friendships in the 90s I thought this description sounded amazing.  But for me, it just wasn’t.  

It isn’t the writing – I thought that was great.  Something about Hannah and Lacey’s story just went too far for me.  It went from feeling real to just shy of ridiculous.  Yes friendships are that intense as Hannah and Lacey’s was – two girls against the world.  Music can be a lifeline as with Lacey’s beloved Kurt Cobain, drugs are there for experimenting and horrible things happen between teenagers.  But all in all it was just too much for me – the drugs, the perception of satanism, the sex, the violence – too much!

Shannon at River City Reading has this post praising The Girls by Emma Cline and Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe both of which I’m dying to get my hands on.  It sounds like maybe these will give me the look back into the teenage girl that I wanted from Girls on Fire.  If I ever get off the library hold list that is!

Thank you Harper and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Visit Estella’s Revenge for more #WeekofReviews! 

Review: Sweetbitter

Sweetbitter, Stephanie Danler

Publication: May 24th 2016 by Knopf

Hardcover, 368 pages

Source: ARC gifted from a friend

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“Let’s say I was born when I came over the George Washington Bridge…”

This is how we meet unforgettable Tess, the twenty-two-year-old at the heart of this stunning first novel. Shot from a mundane, provincial past, she’s come to New York to look for a life she can’t define, except as a burning drive to become someone, to belong somewhere. After she stumbles into a coveted job at a renowned Union Square restaurant, we spend the year with her as she learns the chaotic, punishing, privileged life of a “backwaiter,” on duty and off. Her appetites—for food, wine, knowledge, and every kind of experience—are awakened. And she’s pulled into the magnetic thrall of two other servers—a handsome bartender she falls hard for, and an older woman she latches onto with an orphan’s ardor.

These two and their enigmatic connection to each other will prove to be Tess’s hardest lesson of all. Sweetbitter is a story of discovery, enchantment, and the power of what remains after disillusionment.

I think this is my favorite read of 2016 so far.  I don’t think I’m ever going to feel the same way dining out at a nice restaurant.  Tess leaves her childhood home and her life as she’s known it behind at 22 and heads to New York to find her adult path.  She almost never looks back.  She lucks into an apartment to share and a job at an unnamed restaurant in Union Square where she’s hired as a backwaiter.  The training, the hazing, the bar towels, the wine, the food, the semi-incestuous staff relationships, the management, the FOOD, the drugs.  So many things are going on in a restaurant and I had no idea!

Tess navigates new friendships and toxic relationships with the bravado and bluster every 22 year-old should have.  She’s brave and she’s thoughtless and I just loved her story.   The writing is intense and enthralling.  I loved the slips into stream of consciousness as Tess lived out her days at the restaurant.    

Once you admit you want things to taste like more or better versions of themselves – once you commit to flavor as your god – the rest follows.  I started adding salt to everything.  My tongue grew calloused, abraded, overworked.  You want the fish to taste like fish, but fish times a thousand.  Times a million.  Fish on crack.  I was lucky I never tried crack.

Read this with a glass of wine – skip the crack.  Then come talk to me about it!  I’m going to be reading this again soon and then hoping to be out at a great restaurant watching the staff.

Review: My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry

My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry, Fredrik Backman

Published June 16th 2015 by Atria Books

Hardcover, 372 pages

Source: Library

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From the author of the internationally bestselling ‘A Man Called Ove’, a novel about a young girl whose grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters, sending her on a journey that brings to life the world of her grandmother’s fairy tales.

Elsa is seven years old and different. Her grandmother is seventy-seven years old and crazy, standing-on-the-balcony-firing-paintball-guns-at-men-who-want-to-talk-about-Jesus-crazy. She is also Elsa’s best, and only, friend. At night Elsa takes refuge in her grandmother’s stories, in the Land of Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas where everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal.

When Elsa’s grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters apologizing to people she has wronged, Elsa’s greatest adventure begins. Her grandmother’s letters lead her to an apartment building full of drunks, monsters, attack dogs, and totally ordinary old crones, but also to the truth about fairytales and kingdoms and a grandmother like no other.

If you haven’t read A Man Called Ove I have to respectfully ask what the hell you’re waiting for?!  Frederik Backman broke my feelings into tiny pieces and he tried to do it again with last year’s My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You I’m Sorry.  I was afraid that Backman wouldn’t work magic twice and so I waited too long to pick this up. I was wrong.   

Elsa’s grandmother is batty – totally batty.  We meet Elsa and her Granny after they’ve broken into the zoo and granny has been arrested.  Not what you expect for a woman with her 7 (almost 8) year-old grandmother.  Elsa basically broke my heart.  She’s smart and precocious and she’s bullied and so lonely.  Granny tells her stories to help her to be brave and to fall asleep at night.  They journey every night to a fairy tale world with warriors and Beasts, dreams and magic.  Every child needs someone like Granny in their lives because she was brilliant and amazing.   

Having a grandmother is like having an army.  This is a grandchild’s ultimate privilege: knowing that someone is on your side, always, whatever the details.

But then Granny dies.  Elsa is left friendless and without her champion.  Her mother is 8 months pregnant with her new half-sibling, affectionately called Halfie, and Elsa is excited but unsure of her place in her family.  Elsa and her Granny were neighbors in an apartment building of odd characters.  There’s Alf, who drives a cab; the boy with the syndrome; and Britt-Marie, who is a nag bag to name a few.  Granny leaves Elsa with a letter for one of these neighbors with an apology and ends up leading Elsa on a quest to find magic and friendship.  Once again Backman made me laugh out loud and cry while reading.  I loved how strong and brave Granny was and what she taught Elsa along the way. 

If I can’t convince you will all of the above let me leave you with this quote:

And there’s a Russian playwright who once said that if there’s a pistol hanging on the wall in the first act, it has to be fired before the last act is over.  

Any book that references Chekov’s gun on the wall has to be a winner!  Read it!  I didn’t make the mistake of waiting to read Backman’s next book.  I’ve already devoured his May 2016 release and will review it soon!  But I will say for now that you don’t want to miss it.  Backman is magic – if magic brings both tears and laughter while reading.

Review: Jane Steele

Jane Steele, Lyndsay Faye

Published March 22nd 2016 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Kindle Edition, 427 pages

Source: Penguin First to Read

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“Reader, I murdered him.”

A sensitive orphan, Jane Steele suffers first at the hands of her spiteful aunt and predatory cousin, then at a grim school where she fights for her very life until escaping to London, leaving the corpses of her tormentors behind her. After years of hiding from the law while penning macabre “last confessions” of the recently hanged, Jane thrills at discovering an advertisement.  Her aunt has died and her childhood home has a new master: Mr. Charles Thornfield, who seeks a governess.

Burning to know whether she is in fact the rightful heir, Jane takes the position incognito, and learns that Highgate House is full of marvelously strange new residents—the fascinating but caustic Mr. Thornfield, an army doctor returned from the Sikh Wars, and the gracious Sikh butler Mr. Sardar Singh, whose history with Mr. Thornfield appears far deeper and darker than they pretend. As Jane catches ominous glimpses of the pair’s violent history and falls in love with the gruffly tragic Mr. Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him—body, soul, and secrets—without revealing her own murderous past?

“Reader, I murdered him.”  

Who doesn’t want to read this book based on that line?  So let me tell you, Reader, it was amazing.  I was a bit unsure at first as I read, wondering just how beloved Jane Eyre could be turned into a murderess.  Then Jane Steele herself holds Eyre up as a model of nearly all goodness and I realized how very different these characters would be.  Jane Steele is orphaned and is sent by her aunt to away to school, these facts and that she later becomes a governess are pretty much where her similarities to Jane Eyre end.  Jane Steele is funny!  She’s smart.  She’s quick on her feet.  Most importantly she realizes violence is necessary to save herself at times.  

As excited as I was to read this book I did not think I would get too attached to our murderess but I really did.  I was expecting a cold-hearted sociopath.  What Faye delivers is a child who is lost without her mother, preyed on by a creepy cousin and then delivered into a school that sounds like hell.  No wonder she turns to murder!  Really when you consider what she’s been through she is very brave!  Jane is also loyal and remarkably honest.  She grows into a remarkably thoughtful young woman, despite her views of herself.  

I’ve seen some complaints in reviews about the second half of the book where Jane returns to Highgate House being slow.  I thought this half was nearly faster than the beginning and the gothic feel much lighter.  I loved the addition of the Sikh party at Highgate House and how comfortably teaching Jane about their religion and history in India flowed with the story.  The romance was sweet and completely appropriate for the book.   I was nervous for Jane while she wrestled with the question of how to meld her past and  her hopes with  Mr. Thornfield (and I loved Thornfield!).  In the end I was just delighted and completely entertained.

Now that I’ve read my second successful Jane Eyre related book (Re Jane was another great book!) I am definitely going to have to go back to the classic.  

4 stars!

Thank you GP Putnam and Penguin First to Read for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!