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Review: The Circle by Mario Escobar

[ 3 ] July 2, 2015

the circle book coverReviewed by Jessa Larsen

Solomon Lewin is a renowned psychiatrist and has recently left India to take over as chief psychiatrist at the Center for Psychological Illness in London, England. The move is a drastic one and, although his wife and children seem to have taken to the new scenery, Lewin finds himself bored and mildly unhappy in his new position.

In an attempt to spice things up, Solomon begins to look into a few of the more intriguing cases he hasn’t become acquainted with yet. He soon comes across the chart of Maryam Batool, an orphaned Pakistani woman who has been at the center for the past seven years. She came to stay at the center in 2007 after an attempted suicide following a financial crisis. Now she keeps to herself, rarely speaking, and constantly drawing one shape, a circle.

On Christmas Eve, Solomon receives an urgent phone call, insisting he come to the center immediately. Maryam has awakened from her silence and become dangerously violent. Dr Lewin heads to the center and finds himself in a bigger mess than he could have ever imagined. Now he is traipsing around the city, in the middle of the night, with a homicidal patient. The police are chasing them and a secret society seems to be keeping his family hostage.

What exactly does Maryam know that could be so very important? Is she actually suffering from amnesia or is she simply refusing to speak? Can Solomon solve the mystery before terrorists kill his family?

I had a really hard time being entertained by The Circle. It was the typical “psychological thriller” and I didn’t feel like it brought anything new to the table. It came across as very dry and textbook-like. The characters didn’t intrigue me and I had no reason to care if Solomon’s marriage was or wasn’t working out. Details were there, but they just didn’t pop out and grab me. Additionally, I felt like I could predict the storyline and had no reason to bother finishing.

Perhaps, like British comedy, this European novel doesn’t translate well to the style Americans are used to, but, on the other hand, I typically prefer Scandinavian dramas, so I’m not entirely sure. I just couldn’t get lost in the story and was almost immediately bored of the Illuminati conspiracy theory style drama before it even got started.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Jessa lives in Utah with her husband, two kids, two small chihuahuas, and a cat called Number One Boots Kitten. She balances her work as a website admin with her hobbies of watching anime and playing video games.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Mario Escobar. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Giveaway: Remember Mia by Alexandra Burt

[ 12 ] July 1, 2015

remember mia book coverI have a copy of Remember Mia by Alexandra Burt to give away!

Open to US residents only

About the book

New mother Estelle Paradise has never had it easy. But she finds happiness in marriage to an attorney—the strong, capable Jack—and their baby Mia should be their pride and joy. She is at least, for Jack. Estelle has a hard time adjusting to motherhood, and baby Mia cries from colic day-in and day-out. Estelle feels ragged and exasperated, and worries about the terrible thoughts she has as she falls into a devastating post-partum depression.
As Estelle falls apart, Jack grows frustrated. As Estelle sinks deeper into despair, her relationship with Jack begins to waver, and Estelle feels terribly alone, emotionally and physically.

But one day baby Mia has vanished—along with everything in her room. Her toys, books, and blankets are all gone; even her diapers have simply disappeared. All that is left is her crib and the mobile hanging above it. Estelle, plagued by her depression and psychosis, does not even report the crime or react the way a mother “should,” and therefore is blamed for Mia’s disappearance by both Jack and the media when they get hold of the story. Estelle has no answers for anyone, except what she knows: that Mia is gone. Days later Estelle is found in her car, crashed in the bottom of a ravine in upstate New York, with a gunshot wound to the head. It is miraculous she survived, and the questions surrounding Mia’s disappearance get even more suspicious. Estelle herself cannot remember anything that happened before the accident, and starts to wonder if the speculations that she may have had something to do with Mia’s vanishing are true.

Estelle is admitted to a psychiatric facility instead of being arrested, and it is there, with the help of a specialist, that she begins to uncover her memories. A mother’s true love and devotion is tested as she gets closer and closer to the truth, all buried within the confines of her brain. And with each recovered memory the reader is faced with a new twist, another piece of the terrifying puzzle.

Readers of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train will love the hair-raising mystery at the center of this novel: What on earth happened to baby Mia, and what does Estelle know? And can we trust her story?

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Blog Tour: Letters from My Father’s Murderer by Laurie A. Coombs

[ 4 ] July 1, 2015

my father's murderer book coverPlease join Laurie A. Coombs, author of Letters from My Father’s Murderer, as she tours the blogosphere with Litfuse Publicity!

Reviewed by Sarah McCubbin

Laurie Coombs was an average American girl. Growing up in a loving family, she was surrounded by all that makes family good. Despite her parents’ divorce, she maintained good relationships with both her mother and father and enjoyed spending time with them. But one man’s heated actions changed her life forever. After a great vacation with her father, she and her boyfriend arrived home to discover that something was wrong…dreadfully wrong. Her father was dead. He had been murdered in his own home. The shock brought Laurie’s world to a halt and started her a long journey towards healing that would take many years.

In Laurie’s book, Letters from My Father’s Murderer, she shares the story of her father’s death and the journey she took to forgive Anthony, her father’s killer. Her story of healing takes years to begin as the case progressed in court and she battled depression. Only after finding faith in Jesus did she feel led to contact Anthony. Most of this book is their exchange of letters and how Laurie processed through each one. You can feel the emotion pouring off the pages. Hoping to find answers, she continued writing to him even when she was hurt and angry. Over the course of time, an unlikely relationship formed—one built on understanding and forgiveness.

This book is different than a traditional memoir. The exchange of letters provides two perspectives on the same crime and the events that led up to it. Reading the letters, I almost felt transported to her kitchen or living room as she read through Anthony’s letters and crafted her own responses. Part of the time, I found myself feeling great compassion for Laurie and then other times feeling very annoyed at her religious spirit. At the same time, emotions were bouncing all over in response to Anthony’s input as well. I think it reflected well the turmoil they shared during the months of writing back and forth. Amazingly, this story of forgiveness ended up being a catalyst for many others in prison to seek forgiveness for their own crimes. By allowing the Lord to work through her, the painful events of her father’s death became a special testimony that Laurie and Anthony are now able to use to bring spiritual freedom to prisoners in bondage.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Sarah McCubbin is a homeschooling and foster mom in NE Ohio where she resides with her husband and 7 children. In addition to reading great books, she enjoys gardening, traveling and blogging at Living Unboxed.

Review copy was provided by Kregel Publications. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Giveaway: Ana of California by Andi Teran

[ 12 ] June 30, 2015

ana of california book coverI have 2 fabulous books to give away! One winner will receive copies of Ana of California by Andi Teran as well as a copy of Anne of Green Gables!

Open to US residents only

About Ana of California

Many a young reader has been charmed and transported by Anne of Green Gables and its spunky, smart heroine, Anne Shirley. Debut novelist Andi Teran reworks this classic coming-of-age tale for the 21st century in Ana of California, and gives us a new—and equally loquacious—underdog to root for in Ana Cortez. Teran introduces characters with modern sensibilities and issues while staying true to the heart and spirit of Montgomery’s bestselling series. The novel also reflects Teran’s own Mexican heritage, bringing much needed diversity to contemporary literature.

In Ana of California, fifteen-year-old orphan Ana Cortez (“one n, like fauna—not Anna, like ‘banana’”) has just blown it with another foster family. It’s a group home next—unless she agrees to attend a farm trainee program in Northern California. If she works hard, she’ll be allowed to stay on and file for emancipation when she turns sixteen. Having lived in East L.A. all her life, Ana doesn’t know a tomato plant from a blackberry bush, but she’s out of options.

When Emmett Garber arrives to pick up his new trainee, he’s sure there’s been a mistake. What help could this slight city girl be on his farm? He is counting down the days until the trial period is over and he can send her back. His sister Abbie, however, thinks Ana might just be what they need.

Despite being unskilled and unprepared for hard-working farm life, Ana quickly comes to love Garber Farm and the small town of Hadley. She makes friends with Rye, the daughter of Abbie’s best friend, finds a mentor in Manny, Garber Farm’s foreman, and keeps running into the cute but hard to read Cole Brannan. Eventually even Emmett has to admit that Ana’s hard work is an asset. But when she inadvertently stirs up trouble in town, Ana is afraid she’s ruined her last chance at finding a place to belong. Where can she go once she’s used up all her options?

In the grand tradition of Bridget Jones’s Diary and The Three Weissmanns of Westport, Andi Teran’s captivating debut novel offers a contemporary twist on a beloved classic.

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Review: Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

[ 3 ] June 29, 2015

luckiest girl alive book coverReviewed by Carrie Ardoin

Luckiest Girl Alive is the first book I have read in a long time where the synopsis doesn’t do the book justice. Just when you think you have a bead on what a character is all about and where the plot is going, you are thrown for a loop. That made this book very good for me.

Our main character is TifAni FaNelli (yes, her name is really spelled like that, and it killed me too). She is the only child of parents who want to portray that they are richer than they really are. Her story is told through flashbacks of her high school life, when she was still known as TifAni, and a view into her now seemingly perfect life, where Ani is engaged to a man of high standing and living her dream life in New York City.

The problem is, Ani is trying to erase a past life that keeps pulling her back in. Because of the things that happened to her more than ten years ago, Ani can’t sleep, is possibly on the verge of an eating disorder, and could very well be getting ready to marry the wrong man.

As I read the first ten or so chapters of the book, I found myself disliking Ani very much. She is a mean girl in her workplace, constantly worried about wearing the right labels and having the perfect blowout rather than how she treats the people around her. She is cold to her fiance when he seems to be the only one who can tolerate her. But, as the story progressed and I found out what happened to Ani in high school, I realized her entire adult life has been a facade, and one she struggles to keep up.

It’s very hard to review this book without giving away the very events that make it so heart-wrenching. I will say that I absolutely did not expect where the author was going. After learning of Ani’s initial trauma, I thought the rest of the narrative would have her dealing with the fallout of that. I never imagined that it would be a catalyst for the climax that came, though.

I know some reviews are calling this book “the next Gone Girl,” but I think it’s quite far from that. I enjoyed this book just as much, but in a completely different way, than Gone Girl. I found myself more connected to the main character, for one.

Luckiest Girl Alive is a dark tale, but I think many readers will find themselves embroiled in the story on beaches across the nation this summer.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Carrie runs the blog Sweet Southern Home, and is a stay at home wife and mom to one little boy. When she’s not reading, she’s usually watching Netflix with her husband, playing outside with her son, or baking. Her family would describe her as sometimes annoyingly sarcastic, but mostly lovable. 

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Simon & Schuster. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Exquisite Corpse by Penelope Bagieu

[ 3 ] June 28, 2015

exquisite corpse book coverReviewed by Nina Longfield

Exquisite Corpse by Penelope Bagieu is a difficult novel to place. Chic lit, crime fiction, suspense, comedic, graphic (as in novel); it fits so many slots along the bookstore shelves. Exquisite Corpse, at first, appears simply written and modestly illustrated. That is just the veneer to set up the main character Zoe. As Zoe mixes with and grows to know famous author Thomas Rocher, the story deepens and nothing is simple.

Exquisite Corpse is set in Paris. Zoe is a disgruntled product representative; she is more or less a model at trade shows or, as Zoe puts it “booth babe”. She is in a poor relationship with a man who barely talks to her. It is during a lunch break away from her most recent product show that Zoe accidentally meets world famous author Thomas Rocher. He is a recluse and a puzzle. This is where Zoe’s life changes.

Zoe is not a character I’m generally drawn to. At the beginning of Exquisite Corpse, Zoe appears superficial. She just accepts life as it is and doesn’t appear involved in her own life, yet she complains about her circumstances. It is a co-worker who tells Zoe to do something about her situation if she is not happy or shut up. This is the kick-in-the-butt that Zoe evidently needs though the result possibly is not what one would expect. Zoe insinuates herself into author Thomas Rocher’s life then things change. This relationship is odd from the beginning. Zoe admittedly has never read a book or even been into a bookstore. Rocher is happy with Zoe’s ignorance of his fame. As their relationship progresses, they live together in Rocher’s Paris apartment out of sight of public eyes. Things become more complicated when Rocher’s editor, and wife in separation, Agathe shows up.

I wanted to read Penelope Bagieu’s Exquisite Corpse as soon as I looked at the first few pages. Bagieu’s illustrations and narration drew me straight into the novel. The story and tension build quickly. With increasing discord, Zoe grows and changes. As Zoe’s character transforms, she becomes much more likeable. At the same time, Rocher grows more ominous. The novel’s ending is a bit unexpected, yet befitting of this tale. I greatly enjoyed Exquisite Corpse and will look for more books by Penelope Bagieu.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by First Second. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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