Category Archives: fiction

Golden State by Michelle Richmond

Title: Golden State
Author: Michelle Richmond
Pub. Date: February 4, 2014
Source: ARC via publisher (thank you, Bantam/Random House!)
Summary: Doctor Julie Walker has just signed her divorce papers when she receives news that her younger sister, Heather, has gone into labor. Though theirs is a strained relationship, Julie sets out for the hospital to be at her sister’s side—no easy task since the streets of San Francisco are filled with commotion. Today is also the day that Julie will find herself at the epicenter of a violent standoff in which she is forced to examine both the promising and painful parts of her past—her Southern childhood; her romance with her husband, Tom; her estrangement from Heather; and the shattering incident that led to her greatest heartbreak.
Genre: Adult, Contemporary

Today history will be made. In a few hours’ time, the state will vote on whether or not California will secede from the United States and become its own entity, a new republic. Despite this momentous moment, Doctor Julie Walker has a more pressing matter at hand: her husband wants a divorce and her once-estranged sister is in labor. In the midst of it all is Dennis, a man Julie first met years ago who’s obsession with her is nothing short of terrifying. After taking several nurses and attendants hostage, Dennis insists the only person he wants to speak to is Julie – and he wants to hear a story.

Golden State is a slim thing of a novel – barely over 250 pages – with chapters averaging 2-3 pages. Despite its near-nothing length and blinding pace, there’s a lot of story packed in these pages: Dennis and the hostages; Heather’s quickening contractions; the divorce; California’s possible secession. Through it all Julie’s memories begin to bubble up from their hidden depths. Memories of the night she met Tom, the child that once made them a family, and what Heather did to ruin everything.

Fans of linear storytelling will want to steer clear of Golden State. From the beginning you’re thrown into this story with no clue as to where – or when – the next chapter will take you. Time skips and flashbacks are used to great effect, though it took me a few chapters to get a feel for it and to acclimate myself with Ms. Richmond’s style of writing. Once I did, however, it was smooth sailing and everything was, well, golden.

Throughout the entire story I wanted answers. Why was Dennis holding up the hospital? What did Heather do? Who was this boy Tom and Julie loved and what could have happened to him? In the end everything plays out beautifully, and the ride there makes it all worthwhile. Tom’s radio show provides a soundtrack of sorts to the novel. Al Green, Wilco, and countless others receive mentions and their songs further the story. Even with their pending divorce Tom continues to send messages to Julie through his song choices.

While reading I couldn’t help but draw parallels to one of my favorite books of 2012, Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles. Fans of that novel are sure to enjoy Golden State for one simple fact: the Big Event takes a backseat to the characters. In The Age of Miracles the Earth’s rotation was bringing about an apocalypse of sorts, yet the story focused on a 12-year-old girl as she went to school and made friends. Golden State doesn’t exactly downplay the secession plot, but it certainly doesn’t take centerstage. Instead this is more a novel about a marriage, a family, and moving on from the past.

I’m not one to stay up reading into the wee hours. Golden State‘s purely addictive writing made it impossible for me to put it down. What’s another chapter when the chapter is only 2 pages? Before I knew it it was going on 2AM and I was hooked. Golden State digs deep into what it means to let go and live and I loved every minute of it. Michelle Richmond is now firmly on my radar and I’ll be sure to check out her previous novels.

Notable Quotes

“You know, when you think about it,” Tom says, “seceding is a lot like breaking up. You think you can’t live without each other. All of your interests are intertwined, your history’s all mixed up together. But then, all of a sudden, you’re separate entities, on your own. It’s downright scary.”

“But the thing about reinvention is, no matter how much you change everything on the outside, you still know where you came from. You’ve still got all that stuff from middle school clanging around in your system. It’s almost like you’re living a double life, just waiting to be caught. Waiting for someone to walk up to you and say, ‘I know who you are. Enough with the charade.'”

He was my partner, the one I had chosen, the one who had chosen me. Heather and I were born to each other, the way you’re born to a country: an imposed allegiance. Between a marriage one chooses and a blood relation one doesn’t, shouldn’t marriage be the more powerful bond?

Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield (+ GIVEAWAY!)

Title: Bellman and Black
Author: Diane Setterfield (website)
Pub. Date: November 5, 2013
Source: ARC via publisher + e-ARC via netgalley
Summary: As a boy, William Bellman commits one small, cruel act: killing a bird with his slingshot. Little does he know the unforeseen and terrible consequences of the deed, which is soon forgotten amidst the riot of boyhood games. By the time he is grown, with a wife and children of his own, William seems to be a man blessed by fortune—until tragedy strikes and the stranger in black comes. Then he starts to wonder if all his happiness is about to be eclipsed. Desperate to save the one precious thing he has left, William enters into a rather strange bargain, with an even stranger partner, to found a decidedly macabre business.

And Bellman & Black is born.
Genre: Adult, Gothic, Fiction

‘I always knew he’d do well, that Will Bellman.’

Bellman and Black is that rare kind of novel that enchants and haunts and refuses to relinquish its hold on the reader – even well after the book is over. This was my introduction to Ms. Setterfield’s work but let me say, if The Thirteenth Tale is anywhere near as amazing as this book, I’ll be picking up a copy ASAP.

When Will Bellman was a boy he killed a rook. He didn’t actually think he could hit it from where he stood, but he wanted to prove himself to the group of boys he played with and boasted that with his slingshot and the perfect stone he could hit anything. When the rook fell William Bellman became something of a legend to those boys and his life was never the same.

As he grew he came to inherit Bellman Mill and it was clear to everyone Will had the touch. Even at 19 he was an incredible businessman, fully able to predict and chart and know what to do and when to do it. The mill quickly expanded and grew and soon Will held quite a pretty penny. When he came to the age where it was expected he start a family, Will married a sweet girl and together they raised four children. All the while, the rooks were ever present.

With the arrival of a deadly illness, Will sought the aid of the only man who could help him and a bargain was struck. The sole survivor of the sickness, Will’s eldest daughter, miraculously pulled through and Will’s newly launched business made him a very rich man. Just as it always had, things seemed to mold themselves to Will’s wishes. Time fixed itself in a way to where he could always get through whatever paperwork needed done, any business decision Will made was a profitable one. Unbeknownst to Will, the other constant in his life – the rooks – was there as well.

It’s not a stretch to say the climax is Will’s slow descent into madness. Mr. Black makes himself known and Will comes to the realization that he had never been in charge at all. Bellman and Black is the kind of novel I loved so much I’m actually afraid to discuss it; I don’t want to say the wrong thing that could turn away a potential reader. I’m also aware that anything I say won’t do it justice – it’s that good.

I wish this had a late-September or an October release date rather than November. Bellman and Black‘s gothic atmosphere is absolutely perfect for fall and put me in the Halloween spirit. There was just the right amount of creepiness and the gorgeous language made me yearn for crunchy leaves, ghost stories, and pumpkin-flavored everything.

Bellman and Black is a book I will be forcing upon family and customers alike and I highly recommend it. Don’t be surprised if this one shows up again on my Top Reads of 2013 list!

Curious about BELLMAN & BLACK? I have ONE giveaway copy! Fill out this easy-peasy form and I will announce the lucky winner Saturday, November 9 in my Stacking the Shelves post. US ONLY, sorry!

Accidents Happen by Louise Millar

Title: Accidents Happen
Author: Louise Millar
Pub. Date: June 25, 2013
Source: finished copy via publisher
Summary: Kate Parker has weathered unimaginable horrors—her parents died in a traffic accident on her wedding night, and her husband, Hugo, was murdered in a tragic break-in gone wrong. All she has left is her young son, Jack, and determined to make a better future for him, she attempts to pull her life back together. But are she and her son safe?
Genre: Adult, Thriller

Everyone has their personal brand of comfort read, be it a fluffy romance, realistic fiction, or a beloved childhood favorite. For me it’s thrillers. Prior to jumping back into YA (and blogging), 95% of what I read fell into the thriller genre and I love revisiting favorites and discovering new ones. Louise Millar’s sophomore title, Accidents Happen, definitely classifies as the latter (spoiler alert?).

After a series of tragedies – the sudden death of her parents on her wedding night, the murder of her husband, and a recent break-in – Kate is more than a little protective of her son. Statistics begin to take charge of her life and her cautiousness quickly delves into paranoia and obsession. The iron gate encompassing the entire second floor is the final straw for Kate’s in-laws and they begin to wonder if her son might not be better off living with them. Jack is 10, old enough to walk to the convenience store on his own and not worry about monsters in his closet, but Kate’s fear has kept him sheltered.

Five years since the death of her husband and Kate is still not ready to move on. It’s only at the thought of losing her son that Kate agrees to seek out a therapist and their first meeting couldn’t end fast enough. Now each week Kate lies to her sister-in-law about where she’s going – anywhere but that therapist.

One day she stops into a cafe and notices a book lying on a nearby table. Beat the Odds and Change Your Life by Jago Martin, Professor at the University of Edinburgh. Kate wastes no time in flipping through the chapters. Topics on how to improve the chance of avoiding car accidents and selecting the best airline ring loud and clear and when the owner of the book returns to his table, she has to force herself to hand the book back. The two strike up a conversation and she realizes he’s the author: Jago Martin. More out of necessity than anything, Kate wants to know where he came up with his numbers, his facts.

Back at Kate’s house, Jack’s closet door opens. It seems his monsters aren’t so imaginary after all.

To say I enjoyed this book would be an understatement. To say I really enjoyed this book would be putting it lightly. For four days I lived and breathed Accidents Happen, fully immersed while reading and when I wasn’t I was thinking of nothing but getting back to it. Right from the start you learn Kate’s fears are very real, there actually is someone entering their home any time she’s gone. A hole cut into the back of Jack’s closet is the perfect passageway from the other side of their duplex. Magnus is free to come and go as he pleases and doesn’t hesitate to help himself to some of Kate’s lotion or whatever is in the fridge. Logic (and her mother-in-law) tells Kate that perhaps she used a little more lotion than she thought or maybe Jack wanted a midnight snack, but the truth is far more frightening. More than once I was so overwhelmed with emotion I had to set the book down. Despite Kate’s alarm system and other precautions, Magnus still found a way to enter her home and that terrified me.

As the story progressed I quickly figured out who the Bad Guy was but it didn’t dampen my enjoyment at all. Accidents Happen is a little on the longer side, but the pace is so blindingly fast I actually had to slow myself down in an attempt to stay with this wonderful book as long as possible. Whether you’re a long-time thriller fan or a YA fan looking for something new, I highly recommend Accidents Happen. This book was intense and riveting with plot twists that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

Title: Attachments
Author: Rainbow Rowell (website | twitter)
Pub. Date: April 14, 2011
Source: Library
Summary: “Hi, I’m the guy who reads your e-mail, and also, I love you . . . “

Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder know that somebody is monitoring their work e-mail. (Everybody in the newsroom knows. It’s company policy.) But they can’t quite bring themselves to take it seriously. They go on sending each other endless and endlessly hilarious e-mails, discussing every aspect of their personal lives.

Meanwhile, Lincoln O’Neill can’t believe this is his job now- reading other people’s e-mail. When he applied to be “internet security officer,” he pictured himself building firewalls and crushing hackers- not writing up a report every time a sports reporter forwards a dirty joke.

When Lincoln comes across Beth’s and Jennifer’s messages, he knows he should turn them in. But he can’t help being entertained-and captivated-by their stories.

By the time Lincoln realizes he’s falling for Beth, it’s way too late to introduce himself.

What would he say . . . ?
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary

To say Rainbow Rowell is something of a rock star in the literary world would be putting it lightly. Her work has exploded and I can’t recall any new releases in the past few years that have received as much excitement as Rainbow’s. Just watching all the buzz is intense and being a part of it is nothing short of magical.

It’s a little embarrassing it’s taken me two years to (finally!) read her debut, Attachments. I remember when it came out and I waited and waited for it to come in to my bookstore. Sadly it only came in once (ONCE, PEOPLE!) and was immediately snatched by someone who wasn’t me. A few weeks ago I decided enough was enough and tracked down a copy at my library.

Attachments takes place in 1999, that frantic year of the Y2K scare when everyone was terrified that computers would have a huge meltdown come 2000 (sidenote: a classmate of mine + his friend cut off power at his house just as the ball was dropping and completely freaked out his parents and family. To this day I still giggle like crazy and wish I had thought of that). Beth and Jennifer work for the local newspaper and are close friends. Lincoln is still living at home with his mother – much to the dismay of his older sister – and works a nightshift doing e-mail security. Office e-mail had only recently been implemented and the word filter isn’t foolproof; it’s Lincoln’s job to double-check any flagged e-mails.

With Beth and Jennifer’s e-mails chock full of filter word goodness, Lincoln has a lot of reading material. Initially it was all business, but overtime he develops a fondness for the pair and feels a close connection to them despite never actually having seen either woman. The more he reads the more he realizes he’s in love with Beth Fremont. The only problem? He has no idea how to tell her in a way that doesn’t make him sound like a massive creep.

A little-known fact about me: I love office settings. LOVE them. If a book takes place in an office there’s a good chance I either have already read it or have my eye on it. Douglas Coupland’s JPod was my introduction to this awesome niche and I keep returning to this genre anytime I need a feel-good read. I knew from the start I’d be all over Attachments and it didn’t let me down!

Told mostly through e-mails, Attachments lays claim to being the only epistolary novel I’ve read that I’ve enjoyed. There’s simply something about the format that doesn’t work for me, though I love it in theory. Here, however, it was fun and engaging. Rainbow’s talent shines in her characterization. Even though I only came to know Beth and Jennifer through their e-mails, I felt as though I really knew them. There was never a moment where I felt a disconnect or that they were nothing more than stock personalities. Even the minor characters were all beautifully unique. Rainbow knows what she’s doing and she does it well.

The only time my enjoyment faltered was a brief scene where Lincoln’s ex-girlfriend came back to town. The two began dating in high school and went to college together. Unfortunately, while there, Lincoln caught her with another man and has been haunted by that moment ever since. Her sudden arrival struck me as unnecessary and confusing, though it was quickly over and done with by the next chapter.

Attachments is the kind of novel I could gush over for hours. Apart from being an epistolary novel I liked, it was also one of the only books to actually keep me awake. It’s been far too long since I’ve ignored sleep for a novel, but I can proudly say Attachments was worth it. It made me heart swell, it made my heart break, and it made me think back – fondly! – on the end of the 90s. Do yourself a favor and read this one.

mini-review: The Man Who Was Poe by Avi

Title: The Man Who Was Poe
Author: Avi (website)
Pub. Date: June 25, 2013 (orig. 1989)
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, SCHOLASTIC!!)
Summary: The night Edmund’s twin sister, Sis, goes missing, the streets of nineteenth-century Providence, Rhode Island, are filled with menacing shadows. As Edmund frantically searches the city, he tries to make sense of what happened: He only left Sis alone long enough to buy bread. How did she vanish in the mere minutes he was gone?

Just as Edmund is about to lose hope of finding her, a stranger appears out of the mist and offers to help. But the man is gloomy and full of secrets. He seems to need Edmund to carry out plans of his own. Can Edmund trust him? And if he doesn’t take the chance, how will he ever find his sister?
Genre: YA, Fiction

After being left alone for three days, twins Edmund and Sis have run out of what little food they have. Although they were under strict orders from their aunt to stay indoors, Edmund makes the decision to head out in search of food. Unfortunately, when he returns, he discovers his sister is nowhere to be found. With his mother, aunt, and sister missing, Edmund is on his own with only a strange man to help him. Who is this man, where are his family members, and just what is the man writing?

I went into this thinking I’d have a great time. I know Avi is beloved by school kids the world over, but I honestly can’t recall ever reading any of his works. With the reissue of The Man Who Was Poe, plus the fact that, hello, it’s POE, I figured this would be the perfect place to start.

Boy was I wrong.

I’m all for artistic license and taking liberties when it comes to historical figures, but come on. Avi made Poe seem like a complete lunatic. He was borderline at best, jumping from mood to mood – and even identity! He insisted Edmund address him as Auguste Dupin, one of Poe’s characters. He completely lost it whenever Edmund slipped and called him Poe. He also came across as, well, kind of an ass. One of my most treasured books I own is The Poe Log (a bit hard to find these days & the ones available are a tad bit pricey, sadly). It’s a painstakingly detailed account of every single day of Poe’s life and then some. Letters, articles, conversations are all compiled into one volume and it’s a wealth of information for any fan of Poe’s. On occasion I’ll flip through it (& it was my best resource for some term papers in college!) and any account I’ve read from Poe’s friends and family make mentioned of how soft-spoken and polite he was. He definitely had a drinking problem, but the novel turned him into a Jekyll/Hyde character anytime alcohol was involved.

Initially Poe – or Dupin – is willing to help Edmund find his sister, but the Crazy Train pulled up. I still don’t know what happened with this one. PoeDupin is writing a story about Edmund’s life and insists it can only end in death, so he decides the sister is dead and gives up his search. Naturally Edmund is distraught and bewildered and I was confused right along with him. Throw in some maybe-maybe-not ghosts, a surprise!stepfather, and a couple of bad guys for good measure and you’ll get The Man Who Was Poe.

Although this was such a short book it was NOT the fun, quick read I was hoping for. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it more when I was 8, but to read it as an adult made my head hurt and brought for the rage. The pace was so quick I was overwhelmed and found myself struggling to keep up at times. After a very graphic chapter early on in the book (Edmund has to identify a body found in the river), The Man Who Was Poe shifted gears and was a complete disappointment. I really wanted to enjoy this one.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

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The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech

Title: The Boy on the Porch
Author: Sharon Creech (website)
Pub. Date: September 3, 2013
Source: e-ARC via edelweiss
Summary: One day a young couple wakes to find a boy asleep on their porch. Unable to speak, the boy cannot explain his history. What kind of person would leave their child with strangers? All they know is that they have been chosen to care for this boy. And as their connection to him grows, they embrace his exuberant spirit and talents. The three of them blossom into an unlikely family, and John and Marta and the boy begin to see the world in brand-new ways.
Genre: Middle Grade, Fiction

Sharon Creech was a staple of my grade school years, beginning with the Book Fair where I randomly came across a copy of Walk Two Moons. Since that day I have read and reread that book numerous times and it remains one of my absolute favorites. Earlier in the year I heard that Ms. Creech was releasing a new book and I knew I needed to read it.

The Boy on the Porch is an extremely slim story about a young couple, John and Marta, and the little boy they find. A note is attached to him saying John and Marta should look after him for a while and that the parents will return. The couple, bewildered and unsure, bring the child inside and allow him to nap and eat. As the days go by, turning into weeks, John and Marta begin to wonder if the parents will ever come back – and secretly hope they won’t. Over time they come to deeply care for the boy, Jacob, and can’t imagine not having him in their life.

Slowly they decide Jacob needs other human interaction. The animals on their farm are his constant companions, and Marta feels Jacob would benefit from more. He doesn’t speak – he communicates by tapping – and through sheer patience and observation, John and Marta come to understand what each tap signifies. As he’s introduced to people in town, including other children, John and Marta realize what a beautiful, brilliant boy Jacob truly is and each car coming up their driveway send shivers down their spines.

Just as this newly-formed family feels comfortable, however, Jacob’s father arrives and that day impacts John and Marta in ways they can’t imagine.

The Boy on the Porch was an extremely quick read – helped along by some chapters that were just a few paragraphs in length. Initially I wasn’t sure how I felt about the book. The reader has something of an outside view to the story; there are no descriptors, and the setting itself is very vague. A young couple in a rural town discover a boy on their porch. As I got to the end, I realized that’s really all I needed to know.

Creech knows how to pack a punch. I wasn’t expecting to have such an intense and emotional reaction to the ending. It was beautiful and quiet and the perfect close. The Boy on the Porch feels to me like a Middle Grade book written specifically for adults. That’s not to say children wouldn’t enjoy it, but I know my 10-year-old self would have gotten something far different out of this story than the adult Leah.

The Boy on the Porch is truly a beautiful story that quietly moves along. If you’re looking for action, this is not the book for you. However, if you’re looking for an emotional hard-hitter than can be read in less than an hour, look no further.

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes + GIVEAWAY!

Title: The Girl You Left Behind
Author: Jojo Moyes (website | twitter)
Pub. Date: August 20, 2013
Source: Pitched by the publicist; Hardcover
Summary: In 1916 French artist Edouard Lefevre leaves his wife Sophie to fight at the Front. When her town falls into German hands, his portrait of Sophie stirs the heart of the local Kommandant and causes her to risk everything – her family, reputation and life – in the hope of seeing her true love one last time.

Nearly a century later and Sophie’s portrait is given to Liv by her young husband shortly before his sudden death. Its beauty speaks of their short life together, but when the painting’s dark and passion-torn history is revealed, Liv discovers that the first spark of love she has felt since she lost him is threatened…
Genre: Adult, Fiction

I keep reading your looping, cursive script, until the words are indelible inside me: “I never knew real happiness until you.”

In 370 pages Jojo Moyes managed to elicit every possible emotion from me: I laughed and smiled at the character’s moments of happiness, I wept right along with them, I raged at the brutality of others, and lost all hope during certain scenes. The Girl You Left Behind consumed me and brought these characters to life. While the characters are fiction, the events were all too real and the trial was something I could easily picture hearing about in the news today.

Split between war-torn France during World War I and modern-day London, The Girl You Left Behind tells the tale of a painting and the lives of the people inadvertently connected to it and, ultimately, to each other. Sophie Lefevre and her sister operate a hotel/restaurant/bar in their town, though supplies – and money – are dwindling. Through the bleakness Sophie tries to remain positive: rather than counting the days since she last saw her husband, she thinks of each passing day as bringing her one day closer to their reunion. One day the war will be over and her beloved Edouard will return to her. Until that wonderful day, she’ll continue carrying on and taking care of business.

The day the Germans occupied the town changed Sophie’s life forever. Everyone had something taken from them – blankets, dishes, food – and Sophie’s family was no exception. In their case, the soldiers and the Kommandant, set up house in the hotel and give Sophie orders to cook for them. Food will be provided and each night Sophie and her sister will prepare a delicious feast. As though the looks from the townsfolk weren’t horrible enough, the Kommandant‘s deepening interest in Sophie (and the portrait of her Edouard painted) tests her strengths and shows how far she’s willing to go to see her husband again.

Nearly a century later, Liv is living in London and trying to get past the sudden death of her husband. The house he built now feels far too big and rather than bring her comfort, it does nothing more than remind Liv that David is no longer with her. The only peace she feels comes from the painting he bought her on their Honeymoon. Since David’s death, the painting has been Liv’s constant companion, but now a lawfirm aimed at returning stolen objects in war to their rightful owners/family sets its sights on Liv’s painting and she won’t give it up without a fight.

Nobody fights you like your own sister; nobody else knows the most vulnerable parts of you and will aim for them without mercy.

The Girl You Left Behind was my first Moyes novel and…wow. Just WOW. Going into it I expected a light-hearted chick-lit read and was immediately floored by the weight of the story. The despair and pain of this small French village comes through crystal clear and their few joyful moments (such as the night they got to eat meat for the first time in months) was both beautiful and heartbreaking. I knew their joy wouldn’t last. Sure enough, the Kommandant came to town and things went from bad to worse.

Having finished the book, I’m hesitant to pass judgment on the Kommandant. There’s no denying he was a terrible, horrible man who did absolutely wretched things. But by the end I saw him in a new light. Perhaps he wasn’t the soulless man I first thought he was. Things were awful for Sophie and she is a far stronger woman than I could ever hope to be. She was judged for things she had no control over and ultimately sent to a camp. All the while she still remained true to herself and firmly believed in the good of mankind.

While I preferred Sophie’s story, Liv’s story was equally compelling. She was widowed at 32 and creditors are all but breaking down the door. She’s struggling to make ends meet and one day she’s told she has to give her painting to some family in France who claims it was stolen 100 years earlier. It’s hard not to feel for her, especially after she finds out that the one man she allowed herself to get close to is the opposing side’s lawyer.

And you know what? I secretly like the idea that you could have a painting so powerful it could shake up a whole marriage.

As the story progresses, Liv begins to research the painting and piece together details of Sophie’s life. She finds herself caring deeply for this woman, not just as a painting, but as a person. A real person. Both the painting and Sophie remain Liv’s rock as the trial goes to court and winds up gaining national – and international – attention. Suddenly reporters are calling at all hours and she can’t walk down the street without being called names – or worse.

I don’t feel it’s spoiling anything by saying there’s a happy ending and I knew it was coming. That said, my expectations were surpassed. The way Moyes handled the ending surprised me – in a good way! The novel’s only issue (and it’s seriously minor) was that initially the dual narrative was a little confusing. At first there are dates/locations provided, but after those first few chapters it simply switches back and forth occasionally and that quick change was jarring. However, I quickly made sense of things and lost myself in the story once more.

As I said in the beginning, The Girl You Left Behind was my first Moyes novel. I’m weeping that I hadn’t picked up one of her books before now and many, many hugs for the publicist to introduce me to this wonderful book. This is one I’ll be recommending to everyone I know and I urge all of you to buy it!

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL! One lucky winner will receive their very own copy! This will be a giveaway blitz in that it’ll end tomorrow morning. I’ll announce the winner at 9:00 AM (EST)!

To enter, simply fill out this form!


I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

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The Boy on the Bridge by Natalie Standiford

Title: The Boy on the Bridge
Author: Natalie Standiford (website@natstandiford)
Pub. Date: July 30, 2013
Source: e-ARC via netgalley
Summary: Laura Reid goes to Leningrad for a semester abroad as Cold War paranoia is peaking in 1982. She meets a young Russian artist named Alexei and soon, with Alexei as her guide, Laura immerses herself in the real Russia–a crazy world of wild parties, black-market books and music, and smuggled letters to dissidents. She must keep the relationship secret; associating with Americans is dangerous for Alexei, and if caught, Laura could be sent home and Alexei put under surveillance or worse. At the same time, she’s been warned that Soviets often latch onto Americans in hopes of marrying them and thus escaping to the United States. But she knows Alexei loves her. Right?

As June approaches–when Laura must return to the United States–Alexei asks Laura to marry him. She’s only nineteen and doesn’t think she’s ready to settle down. But what if Alexei is the love of her life? How can she leave him behind? If she has a chance to change his life, to rescue him from misery, shouldn’t she take it?
Genre: Fiction, YA/NA

As part of her Russian Studies major at Brown University, Laura Reid enters a study abroad program where she’ll attend a university in Leningrad for six months, completely immersing herself in all Russia has to offer. Initially she dutifully attends every class and only hangs out with her roommates and the other American students. Everything changes the day Laura has a run-in with some gypsies on a bridge. The women nearly force her to give them whatever money she has with her until a boy comes to her aid.

Alexei – Alyosha, to his friends – is an artist and paints movie posters. His love of Western literature, particularly poetry, draws Laura in and soon she’s spending every minute of her free time (and not-so-free time) with him. At first these meet-ups are only to work on her Russian – real Russian, not the formal, stiff language taught in her classes. With each meeting, however, Laura finds herself becoming more and more attached to Alyosha. Each skipping class or missed curfew brings to mind the university’s warnings: don’t fall in love. The Russians are so eager to leave the country they’ll convince an unsuspecting student to marry them in order to gain entry to America. But Alyosha isn’t like that, right?

The Boy on the Bridge started out beautifully. Standiford did a really great job of depicting the bleak and dreary life of everyday Russian citizens. The stark contrast of how the Americans were treated was incredibly eye-opening – in order to gain access to special stores (and buy luxury items like bread, cookies, and coffee), a passport is required. Russians are forbidden to enter hotels and businesses, those are strictly for the foreigners. That said, this book takes place in the early 80s. Apart from some references to cassette tapes and one off-hand remark about Nixon, The Boy on the Bridge could have taken place today. Nothing really screamed ‘Cold War-era Russia.’

Once Laura and Alyosha meet, however, the novel quickly goes downhill – especially toward to end. This is a hard case of instalove, guys. Within a few meetings, they’re in love. Because the students aren’t allowed to be mingling with Russians, Laura has to sneak out to payphones 5+ blocks away to call Alyosha. Soon she doesn’t think twice about skipping her classes and breaking curfew to spend the night at his apartment. He gives her a set of keys and she begins to head over there whenever she feels like it, whether or not he’s home.

At one point in the novel the students are spending the weekend in Moscow. She’s heartbroken at the thought of being away from Alyosha for a few days, but goes anyway. Much to her surprise – and delight – he’s there. It was at this point I went into bitch mode and nearly walked away. When he showed up, she hadn’t even been gone A DAY. He was so upset he took a 500 mile trip to be with her.


Things go from bad to worse and I could have kissed Laura’s roommate during a conversation where she becomes the voice of reason:

“Laura, this isn’t love. Love lets you go on a trip without following you. Love can live without you for a week, knowing you’ll come back.”
“No, it can’t.” The afternoon shadows grew long and cold. In spite of the chill, a heat rose up inside her and flooded her face. “That’s how you know it’s true love. When he can’t live without you.”
Karen shook her head. “That’s how you know it’s obsession. Or something else.”

“What’s wrong with you lately?” Karen asked. “You’ve been so…reckless. You’ll drop anything to see Alyosha. Like you don’t care about anything else.”

While in Moscow Laura sneaks away for the weekend and she travels with Alyosha to his friends’ camp. When she returns she suffers no consequences nor does she care that her grades are seriously slipping – she’s even failing a class. All that matters is a boy. Eventually Laura’s fears turn into reality when Alyosha proposes. He paints a beautiful picture – both figuratively and literally – of them living in a cozy apartment in San Francisco. He’ll be a famous painter and she won’t have to work. They’ll live the American Dream and will always have each other.

Naturally Laura is a little shocked at first. She’s only nineteen and still in school, after all. Alyosha convinces her this marriage is a good thing and his friend married when she was eighteen, so it’s perfectly acceptable! I was so dismayed at the course the book was taking at this point. The beginning was fantastic and I loved every moment. By the halfway mark, however, it was rapidly falling apart and Alyosha’s ‘love’ set off multiple alarms.

The ending wasn’t much of an ending, it simply…stopped. It felt like it was a scene break or the end of a chapter. Despite my feelings toward the second half of the book, I wanted answers and closure and never got that. I don’t see The Boy on the Bridge becoming a series, but I wouldn’t mind a short story about what happened afterwards. Even an epilogue would have sufficed!

While the romance had me doing some major eye-rolling, The Boy on the Bridge had an extremely intriguing setting that I’d like to see more of in YA. I’m still not quite sure if this would be considered New Adult – they’re college age and there are sex scenes, but it’s of the ‘fade to black’ variety. I’m disappointed with the way the story ended, but The Boy on the Bridge was an entertaining and very quick read that I’m sure many readers will enjoy.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

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Note to Self by Aline Simone

notetoself Title: Note to Self
Author: Alina Simone (website)
Pub. Date: June 4, 2013
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Faber & Faber!!)
Summary: Anna Krestler is adrift. The Internet has draped itself, kudzu-like, over her brain, which makes it even more difficult to confront the question of what to do when she is dismissed from her job as a cubicle serf at a midtown law firm. Despite the exhortations of Leslie, her friend and volunteer life coach, Anna seeks refuge in the back alleys of Craigslist, where she connects with Taj, an adherent of a nebulous movement known as Nowism that occupies the most self-absorbed fringes of the art world.

Art, Anna decides, is what will provide the meaningful life she’s been searching for and knows she deserves. She joins Taj’s “crew” and is drawn into his grand experimental film project. But making art is hard and microwaving pouch foods is easy. Soon enough Anna finds herself distracted by myriad other quests: remembering to ask Leslie “How are you?,” reducing her intake of caloric drinks, and parrying her mother’s insistence that she attend hairdressing school.

But when Anna’s twenty-seven-year-old roommate—a terminal intern named Brie—announces her pregnancy, it forces Anna to confront reality, setting off a chain of events that lead to a horrifying climax of betrayal.
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: star-half-64

The undiscussed surgeries lay like a weapon on the table before them. Her mother knew, despite the jabs about Anna’s weight and the pointed comments about her unemployment, that as someone who wandered the plasticized wilderness somewhere between Joan Rivers and Michael Jackson, she should only go so far.

37-year-old Anna has just found herself out of a job. With a (much younger) roommate in a perpetual state of unpaid internship, Anna’s world revolves around refreshing Gawker and Huffington Post and waiting for e-mails that never arrive. While the rest of her friends are happily settled down with a child or two, Anna gives in to Internet rumors and the latest fads.

After discovering a super underground director and his films, Anna decides being a filmmaker is her calling and promptly throws away $3500 on a video camera. Weeks later, the box still remains unopened and Anna’s funds are rapidly shrinking. She takes to Craigslist and responds to a post. Shortly after she meets up with Taj, a filmmaker in his own right and becomes a member of his crew.

Between ignoring her mother and her friends-turned-life-coach, living with a newly-pregnant roommate, and bills that won’t go away, Anna finds herself thrown into the chaotic world of film festivals.

“Know what people really find comforting?” Taj continued, “Failure. Humiliation. Defeat. That’s what makes people feel better.”
“You think so?” she said.
“Think about it. Nothing brings people together like a good scandal. Nothing makes them happier than to see something fall from a great height.”

I had such high hopes for Note to Self, guys! It sounded like a really fun, quick novel. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy it half as much as I had hoped and a good deal lies with the way the blurb set it up.

Hailed as “A witty, keenly observant look at our Internet-obsessed culture”, I was totally on board. Much to my dismay, however, Note to Self was neither witty, nor Internet-related. At all. Oh, sure, Anna talks about refreshing tabs and always checking her e-mail, but I was expecting, you know, a story. Instead, Anna – at times I COMPLETELY forgot Anna was pushing 40, she acted twenty years younger – was completely irresponsible with her extremely limited funds, bought an outrageously expensive camera, and pretended she knew about art.

The entire time I was reading I kept waiting for something to happen, that pivotal moment when the ball got rolling. I was shocked when I realized I was halfway into the book and Anna was still puttering around her apartment! Eventually Anna meets Taj through a Craigslist ad and goes to ‘work’ for him – basically doing menial tasks for his assistant for little or no pay. …and that’s it.

Look. I’m all for character-driven stories with super slow plots or no action. But unlike Note to Self, those stories actually feature interesting – for good or bad reasons – characters. There wasn’t a single character in Note to Self I liked. Anna was more a teenager than a nearly-40-year old woman. Taj was simply a jerk. His film buddies were so interchangeable they melded together to form one entity in my mind.

At the very end of the book, Anna announces she has an Internet addiction and Taj flies her out to a city in order to ‘cure’ her. By this point I had lost all interest whatsoever and Taj’s eventual betrayal did little to shock or surprise me.

It was with a very hearty FINALLY! that I finished this book. Perhaps I just didn’t get it, but Note to Self was a disappointment and let me wanting so much more.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

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Hop-Frog by Edgar Allan Poe

illustration by Arthur Rackham

illustration by Arthur Rackham

If you missed it, yesterday I flailed over the reopening of the Poe House!!

Last year for his birthday I reviewed Poe’s Some Words with a Mummy, a relatively unknown and very silly short story. Believe it or not, Poe was a funny guy!

This time time around I wanted to review Hop Frog – a movie adaptation is in the works with PETER DINKLAGE in the starring role!!

Hop-Frog; Or, the Eight Chained Ourangoutangs was one of Edgar Allan Poe’s last stories. Published in March 1949 – just seven months before his death – Hop-Frog tells the tale of a court jester seeking revenge. Given the moniker by the king’s council who were amused by the crippled dwarf, Hop-Frog finally saw his chance at freedom when the king announced there would be a masquerade ball.

‘I now see distinctly,’ he said, ‘what manner of people these maskers are. They are a great king and his seven privy-councillors, – a king who does not scruple to strike a defenceless girl, and his seven councillors who abet him in the outrage. As for myself, I am simply Hop-Frog, the jester – and this is my last jest.’

In just six pages, Hop-Frog serves up a gruesome act of revenge. The king and his court all love a good prank and Hop-Frog uses this knowledge to talk them into the trap he had set. First covering the eight men in tar, then coating them in flax, Hop-Frog declares them orangutans. He then chains them together and waits until the ball is well underway before parading them into the room.

Naturally the guests are shocked – some of the ladies fainted! – and attempt to flee. Unfortunately, the king had requested all the doors locked beforehand and only Hop-Frog has the key. As the men make their way into the center of the room, Hop-Frog hooks their chain onto the chandelier’s chain and proceeds to hoist them off the ground. Throughout this ordeal, the king and council still believe it’s all a prank. It’s not until the very last moment do they realize it’s no longer just a harmless joke.

Poe does revenge stories really well. He can also be EXTREMELY graphic and gruesome and the descriptions in Hop-Frog are not for the faint of heart. The story moves a bit too fast for my liking, but with only six pages, I suppose I couldn’t have expected lots of backstory and characterization.

I took the story at face-value, but there are some people who feel Hop-Frog is autobiographical. Hop-Frog was taken from his home and given a new name. Poe was adopted when he was a toddler and given the name Allan. References to alcohol and personal vendettas also seem to be taken from Poe’s life. Whether he intended for the story to hint at his own life or not, I think it’s still pretty interesting.

Hop-Frog is one of Poe’s more well-known stories and at just six pages, there’s no reason not to read it. Especially with the upcoming movie!