book review: The Season of Passage by Christopher Pike

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A creepy, satisfying tale of horror. One of Christopher Pike’s best.

Dr. Lauren Wagner is one of the crew of the Nova, a manned mission into space, specifically, to explore Mars. A Russian crew already tried, but have been given up for dead, so it’s up to the crew of the Nova to find out what happened, and why.

Lauren leaves behind her boyfriend (you never quite understand why she’s with him… he’s a wet rag) and her lovely sister. They live out in the backwoods of Wyoming. Jennifer (her sister) is a troubled young soul but deeply beautiful and old beyond her years.

When Lauren and the crew (which includes Gary, a sexy Pilot whom Lauren has a mad crush on) arrive on Mars, shit starts to go down. First of all, one of the cosmonauts is “alive” but anyone with a brain could tell you he’s been drinkin’ blood to stay that way. He leads them on a path into the darkness, taking them into the depths of the red planet to a cave and a lake that will give you nightmares of the blackest kind.

Although some of the astronauts make it home, they can never quite reach Earth again. Not in the same way.

Sad, horrifying, gross. This is a great book, but the ending is haunting and indeed, Mars doesn’t look quite so beautiful against the night sky after reading.

(Harlequin Romance) book review: Betrayal in Bali by Sally Wentworth

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Note, sometimes I like to go back and read old school Harlequins, okay. If that’s not your particular brand of gin, don’t fuss. I also write “regular” book reviews. 

This is a perfect old-school Harlequin by Sally Wentworth! I always really like her books.

Like revenge porn, basically.

*SPOILER*

The ‘hero’ thinks the heroine was responsible for [the death of his fiance in a drunken car wreck.

*END SPOILER*

So of course, he ignores the decision of the court and takes it upon himself to ‘punish’ her suitably. Namely, by trapping her in Bali in a sham marriage and making her life Hell, including threatening her with physical violence.

As the novel progresses, he falls in love with her, natch. She’s pretty pissed with him and doesn’t really warm up until the jumbled, confusing ending. When he finally finds out the truth, it’s pretty anti-climatic.

All in all though, a solid Harlequin and I love everything Sally Wentworth does. It’s no Judas Kiss, but what is? 😉

book review: Diana: Portrait of a Princess by Jayne Fincher

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This is an exquisite book about Lady Diana Spencer – who was oft-called “the most photographed woman in the world”.

Jayne Fincher actually seems to care about Diana and knew her – something I think that is lacking in most books that were written hastily in the wake of Diana’s untimely death. She even dedicates the book to the memory of Diana, something I think is important – most of the so-called “tribute” books were written by either publications that used to benefit from the paparazzi’s stalking of the princess, or by people who didn’t know her personally at all.

I was 14 when Diana died, and was devastated by it – she was a personal hero, and I grew up fascinated by her life, her emotions that always seemed so close to the surface and her troubled relationships, be it with her family or her ex-husband. I adored how much she adored her children, how she protected them and raised them to be the men they now are (I often think how proud she would be of William and Harry).

Fincher’s book is more than just a collection of gorgeous photographs (and they are gorgeous – Diana certainly was!) – it’s also a loving remembrance of a woman, a mother and a philanthropist. I think it’s a tribute Diana would have appreciated, given it was written with grace, gentleness and above all, compassion.

(Harlequin Romance) book review: The Kissing Game by Sally Wentworth

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*Note, sometimes I like to go back and read old school Harlequins, okay. If that’s not your particular brand of gin, don’t fuss. I also write “regular” book reviews. 

GLORIOUS.

It’s misogynistic and terrible, and yet – it’s splendid.

Davina and Max meet and he’s like, HOW DARE YOU HAVE A JOB and she’s all BUT I’M AN INDEPENDENT WOMAN AND I LIKE TO WORK and he’s like BUT YOU ARE ATTRACTIVE AND I WILL NOT HAVE THIS TOMFOOLERY and she’s all BUT I AM GOOD AT MY JOB YOU DICK and he’s like WELL LET’S KISS ANYWAY ACTUALLY MAYBE I’LL FORCIBLY KISS YOU OKAY and she’s a bit not into it like THAT WAS KINDA RAPEY and he takes a breath BUT YOU LIKED IT NOW COME OVER AT CHRISTMAS AND BE COOL WIT IT and she drives over and is like OKAY COOL

And that’s the book.

It’s seriously good, btw.

book review: People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry

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Searing, meticulously researched and absolutely heartrending, this is a tale of horror touching innocent lives and changing them irrevocably. It’s a “true crime” book that also explores the human condition – the three sides of the coin – evil, good, and the grey areas in between. It’s also an intelligent examination of a foreign and often maddening culture that contributed to the rape and murder of two girls (and how ever many countless more).

I didn’t know about Lucie Blackman before I read this book. As Richard Lloyd Parry astutely points out though, I did know the case of “the girl in the bathtub” – Lindsay Hawker, a young British woman who was strangled to death by her killer to keep her “from screaming for help while he raped her.” (I can’t think of anything more devastating than what I just typed, to be quite honest.) For most Westerners, the two cases seem virtually indistinguishable, but of course they are very, very different.

Lucie Blackman was a complicated woman and much of what she thought and felt – from her depressive episodes to her worries about failure, her body, her debts – were so familiar to me that I immediately felt so much empathy with her. After she traveled to Japan with a close friend to become a “hostess” (serving drinks to wealthy Japanese ‘salarymen’ in the largely multicultural area of Roppongi), Lucie disappeared while on a ‘dohan’ (an outside date with a man she’d met at work). Hostesses were required to have a certain amount of dohans each month, or face being fired. Lucie was never quite able to meet her quota – and was desperate to do so. Is that why she accepted the date? Or did she truly believe that Obara – her date for that evening – was harmless?

We will never know. What we do know is that Lucie’s body was found nine months later, buried in a rocky seaside cave, dismembered, her head encased in cement, any evidence washed away by tide and time. After a desperate search by her grieving family, the truth was almost too much to bear.

Lucie, their golden girl, dead – cut up, and left alone in darkness.

Parry paints a complex portrait of both the Blackman family (torn apart by divorce and grief), Lucie, Obara – the accused killer and rapist, and Japan’s judicial system and police force. He talked to endless people – witnesses, friends, family members, and police officers. He walked Lucie’s path and tried to discover – finally and forever – what befell her in Obara’s apartment.

It’s a startlingly involving read, made all the more evocative by how Parry approaches his interviewees. He tries not to judge (as I did – I couldn’t help but be disgusted by Lucie’s father at almost every turn, and my opinion hasn’t changed one iota) and he gets to the true heart of their own flaws, failings and yet – their humanity. Their endless love for the girl who vanished. I found Lucie’s mother’s premonitions, grief and unwavering love very, very moving.

Of course, amidst all of the questions and drama, there is Lucie. A much loved daughter and sister, a heartbreaker, a confused and lonely girl, an affectionate and giggly friend, and in the end, perhaps – a mystery. We can never know the depths of another’s heart. We can never truly know what Lucie knew in her final moments – perhaps she knew nothing at all. And wouldn’t that be a sweet mercy, for what we <i>do</i> know is that she fell into the arms of a murderous, rapacious monster of a human being – who sought only his own pleasure, and thought nothing of the women he brought to his lair – thought of them as objects for his “conquest”, for his “play”, for his killing, raping, cutting, filming, objects objects all.

People who eat darkness indeed.

book review: Cam Girl by Leah Raeder

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Raw, gritty and endlessly compelling, Cam Girl by Leah Raeder is not a book I would read again – let’s just get that out of the way – but it was still unputdownable and undeniably ambitious. Cam Girl tackles everything from gender fluidity, to the sex trade, female agency, disability issues, drunk driving, depression, anxiety, and the ravage of expectations.

(I said it was ambitious!)

Raeder does an amazing job with all of the above, although I do wish the book had a clearer focus. Often I was confused with where it was going, or what it was going to explore next. I braced myself for a Gone Girl finale, which thankfully didn’t happen to quite that extent.

Cam Girl takes place in the aftermath of a brutal car accident. Best friends (and sometimes more) Vada Bergen and Ellis Carraway have survived a crash that kills a young baseball player and leaves Vada without the use of her right hand. As an artist, Vada needs her hand like she needs to breathe, and the disability sends her ricocheting into disaster – seeking anything to numb the pain and take away the debilitating memories of the night of the accident. She breaks things off with Elle and becomes a ‘cam girl’ – selling her sexual services over webcam to hungry men – and women – eager for their ‘kinks’ to be played out on screen.

Online, Vada meets ‘Blue’, a lonely young man who pays her for private chats. But unlike the others, Blue wants to talk to Vada. To get to know her. To hear her innermost thoughts and fears and desires. Intrigued and sexually stimulated by this stranger, Vada begins to wonder if maybe she can have that fairytale future she’d always envisaged. Because after all, Blue is a man – and Ellis is… well, not.

When Ellis returns into her life, working on the ‘camming’ website’s many issues, Vada becomes even more confused. What does she want? Who does she want? And will Max – the grieving, furious, heartbroken father of the young boy who died in the accident – will he ruin everything she’s sought so valiantly to build in the wake of the tragedy? Will he reveal Vada’s darkest secret?

So… the thing is, I guessed who ‘Blue’ was right away. Disappointing, to say the least. I kept hoping I was wrong, but nope. And I also think that often in books like this – who the author wants the main character to have the most sexual tension and pull with, they just… don’t. No spoilers, but I really didn’t believe the HEA here, or why the two characters really were so in love.

However – Raeder’s prose is absolutely stunning. Check it:

Midwinter in Maine is hell. Dante’s Hell, Ninth Circle style. Ocean infused the air, salt and grit studding the breeze with a million tiny barbs. Might as well have left the blanket indoors. I used to think of myself as tough, born in a blizzard and raised on the West Side of Chicago, but I wasn’t prepared for this sheer brutality, the way each day hit you like a kick in the teeth.

– and-

Onlookers see the finished result, polished and prettified, but all the artist remembers is the labor. The grueling, gloriously bloody becoming.

– and-

Do you know how much blood is soaked into every mile of asphalt, how many graves you drive over each morning on the way to work? This world is so thick with ghosts it’s a wonder anyone can breathe.

I mean, come on now.

So, while parts of Cam Girl disappointed me and parts destroyed me and parts titillated me, the book as a whole will make you think. And isn’t that the whole point, after all?

book review: Good Girl by Lauren Layne

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[Source: GoodReads.com]

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing – Loveswept for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. Thank you so much!

Oh my, this was SO GOOD.

I was actually surprised. Given the summary didn’t quite thrill me (not sure why, maybe it’s my instinctive distaste for country music?), I was shocked to love this as much as I did. And oh my, did I ever just eat this up, like a delicious meal. I read this in hours – which I do quite often with books – but I felt distinctly cranky when I was interrupted, which says something, as my husband LOVES to talk and normally getting interrupted doesn’t faze me one bit.

So, Good Girl is a love story, and it delivers… it really does. It’s about Jenny Dawson, a country music star who is trying to escape the glare of the tabloids – who are accusing her of being a homewrecker, and a slut, let’s be real. She’s not any of those things, but public opinion is stronger than reality – and so, she flees, to Glory, Louisiana. She seeks shelter at a home she remembers from her childhood, and unwillingly finds herself attracted to someone she knows as Noah Maxwell, the mansion’s caretaker.

Except he’s actually Preston Walcott, the owner of the grand estate, and a multi-millionaire. Instead of telling the truth to Jenny, ‘Noah’ decides to play pretend, and inadvertently begins a relationship he cannot control. For he’s as entranced with Jenny as she is with him – and their sparring quickly leads to sexual sparks.

It’s just SO GOOD (I said this above but it’s true…)

Not only is the sexual tension blinding, the flirting gorgeous, the sex scenes hot and the emotional stuff A+, but they both have these wonderful relationships with their dogs that gave me ALL THE FEELS POSSIBLE. Especially Jenny and her puppy Dolly. I knew right away that Lauren Layne is a dog mama, because you couldn’t write so lovingly about doggie personalities without being one. All the little touches were so perfect – from Dolly playing with her “new penguin toy”, to chatting with your dog and hearing squeaks back, to the way they mess with your heart unknowingly, the way they are your babies and don’t even realize, and the way they fill your heart to the brim, every single day. It was all so true and so beautifully told.

I LOVED this book, if you couldn’t tell. Buy it now, now, now!!

book review: The Hatching by Ezekiel Boone

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(Source: GoodReads.com)

Thank you to NetGalley and Atria Books for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I appreciate it!

Eughghhhhhh, I feel like I’m itching everywhere after reading this brilliant, creepy and thrilling first novel in Ezekiel Boone’s new trilogy. It reads like a love child between Stephen King and Michael Crichton – suffice to say, The Hatching is the definition of unputdownable.

Moving rapidly between countries, people and new waves of encroaching horror, The Hatching is the electrifying story of what would happen to the world under attack. Not from terrorism or weaponry or aliens – rather, what would happen to human beings if we found ourselves descended upon by an ancient race of carnivorous spiders?

Sound silly? Not even slightly, sorry. From the black tide of spiders that turn on a Peruvian tour guide, to the rivers of feeding swarms covering New Delhi and Los Angeles, and the foreboding quiet of hidden egg sacs – it’s clear that this isn’t random, or uncoordinated. Instead, these creatures seem to have a plan.

In a rarity for this type of novel, with so many intersecting story lines and different characters, I enjoyed almost every person that Boone depicted with such elegant skill. My favourite was Agent Mike Rich, still reeling from a recent divorce and juggling his commitment to his daughter and his commitment to his work. I also loved the survivalists, Gordo and Shotgun (just realizing how much it takes to go into that kind of hiding is impressive!) and Melanie Guyer, the indefatigable, unemotional and intelligent scientist.

As the tension ratchets to a fever pitch, it becomes evident that things are much worse than anyone could have ever dreamed – or birthed from their nightmares. I’m eagerly awaiting the next novel in the series – and can guarantee the movie rights are going to be snapped up soon… if they haven’t been already.

 

book review: Moth Girls by Anne Cassidy

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(Source: GoodReads.com)

Thank you to NetGalley and Bonnier Publishing for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I appreciate it!

This book fell flat for me. Disappointing, given it has such a lovely, creepy and succinct summary.

When Mandy was twelve, her two friends, Petra and Tina, vanished within the confines of a mysterious house in their neighborhood. It’s been five years, and the house on Princess Street is being demolished. As Mandy stares at the structure, she feels memories flickering on the edge of her sub conscious, struggling to break free.

The narrative shifts between past and present, exploring the fickle, cruel and emotional pull between teenage girls, the pressures of family life, the excitement of a dare, and separating the leaders from the followers. Mandy remembers more and more, and begins an investigation of her own, trying to discern what exactly happened to Petra and Tina – after all, how could two girls disappear without even a trace?

I won’t tell you any more, because that would spoil the surprise. There is a rather unexpected twist at the end of the book, and yet I still felt shortchanged and saddened by it all. It’s both far-fetched and realistic, if that makes sense.

I guess I feel that it could have happened and yet I didn’t believe in the author’s telling of it.

 

book review: The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell

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Thank you to NetGalley and Atria Books for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. Thank you so much – appreciated as always!

This was insanely British. In a lovely way.

Character-driven, sensual and complex, The Girls in the Garden (sometimes shortened to just The Girls) by Lisa Jewell is a really gorgeous, smart and lyrical sketch of families, friendships, youth and old age – almost suffocating in its realness and painful intimacy.

After their house is burnt to the ground, Clare and her daughters – Grace and Pip – move to a new flat, with a huge jewel of a community garden. There in the glow of emerald green, the residents of the flats congregate. To drink, to smoke, to talk, to fuck, to flirt, to steal moments. It’s incestuous and irresistible.

This isn’t one of those thrillers that has you turning every page, anxious to find out who the eff is the killer. Instead, it’s a moving study of fractured personalities, petty jealousies, aching grief, mental illness and people who think they know their community – until they don’t. That’s where Jewell excels – at spotlighting how we think we get those that exist around us, but how we couldn’t be more wrong. Every single person is struggling with something we know nothing about. Perhaps that person is even a loved one. A lover. A daughter. A friend.

The real star in this book is Pip, so movingly grieving the loss of her father – and Adele and her charmingly boho family. The real star too, is the assured simplicity of the writing – the story is never over wrought or over done. Instead, it’s beautifully told and the end is refreshingly without drama. Jewell never stoops to trying for a Gillian Flynn Gone Girl reveal.

She just unveils what was always there, simmering beneath our noses – almost undetectable, but there, there… ready to be awoken.