Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter

Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter
Pub. Date: November 4, 2014
Source: Finished copy via publisher (Thank you, Farrar, Straus and Giroux!!)
Summary: Ugly Girls, at its core, is about the friendship between two girls, Perry and Baby Girl, and how that friendship descends into chaos, taking their world and the identities they hold dear with it. Their friendship is woven from the threads of never-ending dares and the struggle with power, their loyalty something they attend to like a pet but forget to feed. Ugliness is something they trade between themselves, one ugly on the outside and one on the inside.
Genre: Fiction
Recommended for: Fans of Law & Order: SVU looking for a read with a similar feel

Baby Girl and Perry are more frenemies than friends. Though they grew up together and spend all their time with one another (usually late at night while they’re out joy-riding in stolen cars), they really don’t feel any kind of bond or love for each other. Instead, their relationship is all about power. Perry, the pretty one, and Baby Girl with her shaved head and hard attitude. Perry’s trailer park and alcoholic mother, Baby Girl’s new role as her brother’s caregiver after a motorcycle accident left him with the mind of a Kindergartner. Both of these girls are far more broken and fragile than they’ll ever admit and it’s a new facebook friend, a high schooler named Jamey from the neighboring town, that starts their downward spiral. Unbeknownst to the girls, Jamey has been talking to both of them, reaching out to both girls and now he wants to finally meet in person.

I wasn’t at all prepared for Ugly Girls. Oh I knew it would be a rough read, but it wasn’t until I was actually inside its pages that I realized the extent of it. When I finished those final sentences I felt dirty. Unwashed. Filthy. And you know what? I enjoyed this book. A lot. There was a rawness to it that almost hurt. Lindsay Hunter had no time for sugar-coating: she laid out the facts, made you really see these characters for who – and what – they are.

Prior to starting the book, I knew there would be something wrong about Jamey’s character, that he wasn’t the teenage boy he claimed to be. I’m not sure if it was done intentionally or not, but when his true character appeared in the book, I immediately knew who he was. Whether or not I was supposed to know so early on didn’t matter to me and didn’t change my feelings. In fact, if anything, it made his all-too-innocent actions seem even more appalling and chilling. There were moments in Ugly Girls that actually sickened me and for that, I applaud Ms. Hunter. That her words could have such an effect on me proves her skill as a writer.

A word of caution: don’t expect a happy ending. Ugly Girls is just that: ugly. There are no sunshines and rainbows here. Despite knowing that, I still held out hope for an ending, maybe not one that was cheerful or upbeat, but perhaps satisfying? I wanted these characters to get the ending they deserved and, for the majority of them, that meant retribution and consequences for their actions. Without spoiling anything, I’ll say I was pleased with how things ended – though I’ll admit there was a huge shock, a twist I wasn’t expecting one bit!

Ugly Girls lays everything out in the open from the very beginning. There’s no glossing over or pretty little bows. Instead, this is a story with a stark portrayal of two unhappy and bitter girls. There’s no one to root for, no team to cheer on. At times overwhelming, and without a doubt tough, Ugly Girls held me captive. Despite the gritty feeling I had when it was over I enjoyed this one immensely and I do recommend it – though have a sappy love story on deck. Trust me, you’re going to need kitten videos by the time Ugly Girls is through with you.

The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain + GIVEAWAY!

The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain
Pub. Date: October 7, 2014
Source: ARC via publisher (Thank you, St. Martin’s!!)
Summary: Riley MacPherson has spent her entire life believing that her older sister Lisa committed suicide as a teenager. Now, over twenty years later, she finds evidence to the contrary. Lisa is alive. Alive and living under a new identity. But why exactly was she on the run all those years ago, and what secrets are being kept now? As Riley works to uncover the trust, she must decide what the past means for her present.
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Recommended for: Curious readers who love their drama in spades!

Is it just me or is Autumn the best time to curl up with a good mystery? There’s something about the red and orange leaves, the chill in the air, and early nights that leaves me craving fuzzy blankets, hot cups of tea, and a Who-Dun-It. When I first heard about The Silent Sister I immediately perked up: a sister long-thought to have committed suicide is actually alive and well? Oh, that I needed to read! And read I did.

Twenty-five-year-old Riley has just returned to her childhood home. Her homecoming, unfortunately, was brought about by an unhappy circumstance: her father unexpectedly passed away. With her mother already gone and her brother less-than-helpful, it falls to Riley to empty the house and sort through his belongings. It’s while she’s going through his personal items that Riley first begins to wonder about a truth she believed for the past twenty-three years: her older sister took her own life. Growing up, Riley and Danny were never allowed to bring up Lisa, never allowed to discuss their sister. Suddenly Riley’s not so sure – could it be possible her sister is still out there? Is it possible her father knew all these years?

This is a difficult review to write. There’s so. much. to talk about and discuss, but it’s all one gigantic spoiler and it’s killing me to keep quiet! Throughout the novel there are scenes from twenty years ago. Little glimpses into Lisa’s life as a child prodigy. Her time spent at recitals. The dreadful night when her life changed forever. Once Lisa leaves home, The Silent Sister essentially breaks off into two stories: Riley’s in the present and Lisa’s two decades earlier. A dye job, a new name, and a one-way ticket to California. I found Lisa’s perspective absolutely fascinating – I wanted to know more! I needed answers! What really went on that night? Eventually I had my suspicions and turned out to be correct, but even though I guessed at the Big Reveal, it was still one hell of a ride and I loved every minute.

Back in the present, Riley’s quickly discovering that people know far more than they’re letting on. Little old ladies aren’t nearly as sweet as you’d expect and why was her father paying a man $500 a month with no explanations? As the reader I saw the answers before Riley and the ones I didn’t I easily guessed at. Still, nothing prepared me for the tail end of the novel. In those final few moments, Ms. Chamberlain pulled all the stops. Nothing was sacred, nothing was off-limits. Toward the end, The Silent Sister read like a Lifetime Movie – in the best of ways! Drama galore, one thing right after another, anything – anything – that could happen did.

In keeping this review spoiler-free, I feel like I’m leaving out so many talking points. Trust me, though, you’ll be glad I did! The Silent Sister reads like a movie, has all the ups and downs of a soap opera, and the thriller at the heart of it all left me breathless. This is one you definitely do NOT want to miss!


The release of the Necessary Lies paperback coincides with the The Silent Sister release in Hardcover and to celebrate, St. Martin’s is going to give one lucky winner BOTH BOOKS!
All you need to do is fill out this form – easy peasy!
US Residents only and I’ll announce the winner 10/19! Good Luck!

Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle
Pub. Date: September 16, 2014
Source: Finished copy via publisher (Thank you, Farrar, Straus and Giroux!!)
Summary: Isolated by a disfiguring injury since the age of seventeen, Sean Phillips crafts imaginary worlds for strangers to play in. From his small apartment in southern California, he orchestrates fantastic adventures where possibilities, both dark and bright, open in the boundaries between the real and the imagined. As the creator of “Trace Italian”—a text-based, role-playing game played through the mail—Sean guides players from around the world through his intricately imagined terrain, which they navigate and explore, turn by turn, seeking sanctuary in a ravaged, savage future America.

Lance and Carrie are high school students from Florida, and are explorers of the Trace. But when they take their play into the real world, disaster strikes, and Sean is called on to account for it. In the process, he is pulled back through time, tracing back toward the moment of his own self-inflicted departure from the world in which most people live.
Genre: Literary, Sci-Fi
Recommended for: Open-minded, die-hard fans of The Mountain Goats, RPG fanatics

I honestly don’t know where to begin with this one. As a fan of The Mountain Goats, of course I had to read Darnielle’s debut! Unfortunately, the magic he creates with his lyrics just didn’t come through in a full-length novel. I really am wondering if perhaps I’m missing something – much like Neverhome (one of the biggest disappointments of the year) – I seem to be on my own with my rating. Every other review I’ve come across, both from professional reviewers as well as average readers, has been nothing but glowing remarks.

Wolf in White Van has an incredibly interesting premise that could – and should – have been amazing. Sean, a man horribly scarred and disfigured after an unnamed accident, lives his life through a game he created. Trace Italian is a role playing game played through the mail where players navigate their way through an America that’s little more than a wasteland. While many players simply mail Sean their envelope along with their move (from a list of options), a few long-time players start to include messages and even letters. Over time, Sean learns more about these players, begins to see them as real people.

Two of those players are Lance and Carrie, high school students from Florida. When their game choices become reality fingers start pointing at Sean and it isn’t long before he finds himself in a courtroom, defending both himself and his game in front of an audience.

I don’t know whether I should be more disappointed in myself or in this book. Was I missing something? Was it all an allegory for something greater, something my piddly mind couldn’t grasp? Or is this a case of a not-so-great book getting love and praise because of the author’s fanbase? Both are entirely plausible and it’s a shame I couldn’t get into this one!

When it comes down to it, I suppose my disappointment lies with the vagueness of the storytelling. Sean is permanently injured and it’s never fully explained what happened. As a reader, that’s the kind of detail I need to know. He’s been living like this since he was seventeen, but he never talks about it. It’s never shown through a flashback or a memory. How could I possibly be sympathetic toward this character (who was, honestly, unlikable) if I don’t know what happened to make him the person he is now?

Upon finishing Wolf in White Van, I spent a good hour reading reviews – what were they seeing that I couldn’t? That was back in August. Now, weeks later, I’ve gone back and looked at those reviews again, the glowing praise, the life-changing commentary. Still I’m not getting it and that more than anything is what frustrates me. Even when I don’t like a book I can still see the other side, understand just what its fans find so appealing. That’s not the case here. Wolf in White Van is barely over 200 pages that still managed to take a few days to read. I hate to say it, but I think I’ll be sticking with Darnielle’s songs, rather than any upcoming novels. I will say though, that the cover is simply stunning. The title is a metallic foil and when the sun hits it just so…gorgeous.

The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero

The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero
Pub. Date: August 12, 2014
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (thank you, Doubleday!!)
Summary: When twentysomething A., the unexpected European relative of the Wells family, and his companion, Niamh, a mute teenage girl with shockingly dyed hair, inherit the beautiful but eerie estate of Axton House, deep in the woods of Point Bless, Virginia, it comes as a surprise to everyone—including A. himself. After all, he never even knew he had a “second cousin, twice removed” in America, much less that the eccentric gentleman had recently committed suicide by jumping out of the third floor bedroom window—at the same age and in the same way as his father had before him . . .

Together, A. and Niamh quickly come to feel as if they have inherited much more than just a rambling home and a cushy lifestyle. Axton House is haunted, they know it, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the secrets they slowly but surely uncover. Why all the suicides? What became of the Axton House butler who fled shortly after his master died? What lurks in the garden maze and what does the basement vault keep? And what of the rumors in town about a mysterious gathering at Axton House on the night of the winter solstice?
Genre: Paranormal, Mystery, Epistolary

Summertime isn’t exactly my preferred season for supernatural novels – they’re more for Halloween/fall – but this slim little novel caught my eye and my autoapproval on netgalley was all I needed to make the leap. To say The Supernatural Enhancements is a horror novel wouldn’t be correct, nor would labeling it a ghost story. While there are definite elements of the genre (okay, so there’s actually a ghost, but..!), this is far more a mystery and I was so set to take this ride.

When A., 23-years-old and never fully named, receives a letter declaring him to be the sole relative (and therefore heir) of the fabulously wealthy Ambrose Wells, he does what any reasonable adult would do: pack up his belongings and head across the Atlantic. With his friend (? girlfriend? companion?) Niamh, a mute, shaved-headed, punk-rock girl, they move into the sprawling Axton House. The house isn’t quick to give up its secrets, and there aren’t many around who are willing to talk: Ambrose followed in his father’s footsteps by committing suicide; the butler packed his belongings and fled; and the townsfolk definitely aren’t eager to get involved in anything dealing with the estate.

Told through a string of diary entries, telegrams, and Paranormal Activity-style camera footage, The Supernatural Enhancements delves into the life of a reclusive man, his estate, a ghost, encryption codes, and a mysterious garden maze. I’m typically not one for epistolary novels – I was never able to get into the story and get a good feel for the characters – but I lapped this one up. I plowed through it in a matter of hours (the formatting definitely helped with that!) and discovered an odd little novel that was seriously entertaining.

Hands down, the best thing about The Supernatural Enhancements was Niamh. Despite her handicap, Niamh is snarky and crass, always quick with a comeback and she never shies away from putting A. in his place. At her insistence they get a dog which they name Help ( as to ensure he’ll assist us in case of peril) and, just like me, Help immediately took a liking to this girl. She knows how to Get Things Done; when they first start to experience strange things, she heads to town to arrange for security cameras to be installed. She’s always the first to figure things out and leaves both A. and the reader to play catch up.

To discuss the novel’s plot would be to give away the best part of the book – and trust me, uncovering the clues is half the fun! All I’ll say is that Wells wasn’t as reclusive as people thought. Sorry guys, that’s all you’re getting from me! To find out more you’re going to have to read The Supernatural Enhancements, but I promise it’s so worth it!

If you’re into creepy settings (This silence here was somewhat heavier, lonelier than the preceding one. The former was an elevator silence; this one was a walking-through-the-woods-by-night silence.), rooms that lead to nowhere, secret pasts, awesome characters, quirky formats, The X-Files, and historical fiction (the novel takes place in the 90s, but were it not for a few specific references to television shows, I could have easily believed this took place far, far earlier), this is the book for you. From what I can tell, this is Cantero’s debut in English. If the rest of his books are this fun, I’ll keep my fingers crossed for translations!

2AM at The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino

2AM at The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino
Pub. Date: August 5, 2014
Source: ARC via publisher (Thank you, Crown!!)
Summary: Madeleine Altimari is a smart-mouthed, precocious nine-year-old and an aspiring jazz singer. As she mourns the recent death of her mother, she doesn’t realize that on Christmas Eve Eve she is about to have the most extraordinary day—and night—of her life. After bravely facing down mean-spirited classmates and rejection at school, Madeleine doggedly searches for Philadelphia’s legendary jazz club The Cat’s Pajamas, where she’s determined to make her on-stage debut. On the same day, her fifth grade teacher Sarina Greene, who’s just moved back to Philly after a divorce, is nervously looking forward to a dinner party that will reunite her with an old high school crush, afraid to hope that sparks might fly again. And across town at The Cat’s Pajamas, club owner Lorca discovers that his beloved haunt may have to close forever, unless someone can find a way to quickly raise the $30,000 that would save it.

As these three lost souls search for love, music and hope on the snow-covered streets of Philadelphia, together they will discover life’s endless possibilities over the course of one magical night.
Genre: Adult, Fiction, Contemporary

This goose-pimply gold star of a night!

Earlier in the year I read – and loved – Tiffany Schmidt’s Bright Before Sunrise, my first one-day novel. Since then, I have been craving another story told entirely in one 24 hour period (is there a fancy term for this??) and 2AM at The Cat’s Pajamas immediately caught my eye.

Told from 7AM Christmas Eve Eve to 7AM Christmas Eve, 2AM at The Cat’s Pajamas follows three characters as they, in turn, follow their dreams. Madeleine Altimari, hands-down my favorite 9-year-old, is still grieving her mother’s death and her father is locked away in his own grief. The only thing her mother left behind, apart from a love of singing and jazz music, is a recipe box full of things Madeleine needs to know: not just practical things like how to fix a flat tire and tips on writing a thank-you card for a gift you hate, but reminders for Madeleine to do what scares her (and to bring a scarf). On Christmas Eve Eve, Madeleine finds herself expelled from school and takes her mother’s words to heart: she’ll show that awful Claire Kelly. She doesn’t need to sing hymns in front of the class, she’ll sing onstage at the famed jazz club The Cat’s Pajamas.

Madeleine’s teacher, newly-divorced Sarina Greene, accepts an invitation for a party she doesn’t really want to attend, but she’s hoping to catch a glimpse of Ben, her high-school crush. Their one night together for Senior Prom ended in disaster: Ben’s brother’s “helpful seduction tips” led to other girls being complimented the entire dance while Sarina was ultimately ignored. It’s been years since that night and years since the two have spoken and they hesitantly side-step their way around the past, toeing a fine line.

In its heyday, The Cat’s Pajamas was the finest jazz club in the city. Three owners later (passed down from the grandfather to the father to the son), it still manages to attract a crowd, though nothing like the old days. Lorca’s girlfriend recently left, his son desperately wants to play at the club and has gotten mixed up in girls and drugs, and a no-nonsense police officer hand delivered a Shut Down notice effective the following day unless $30,000 magically appears. The band members have all taken to crashing in a backroom at the club; there’s no way any of them has a extra $30,000 dollars lying around and Lorca certainly doesn’t have that kind of cash. The only thing left of value is a rare guitar on full display, easily worth a pretty penny. Mongoose, the owner of the city’s reigning club, would be all-too-willing to hand over the cash, but could Lorca bear to part with it?

Clocking in at a mere 250 pages, 2AM at The Cat’s Pajamas is a brilliant, slim thing of a novel. Although I felt Madeleine was the breakaway star of the show, the other characters (a pitbull named Malcolm, a neighbor who takes care of Madeleine, the school’s principal) were just as captivating and at no point did I struggle or suffer through one storyline to get back to another I preferred. That the threads eventually intertwined made the book all the more special and I quickly devoured it.

I will admit that for a good portion of the novel, I wasn’t sure about the era. It definitely reads like an old jazz club from the 40s, all smoke and crooning, so bravo Ms. Bertino! Apart from a throwaway line mentioning a touch screen on a cell phone, I could have easily believed 2AM at The Cat’s Pajamas took place decades ago (to be honest, I like that idea more than the story taking place today).

There are a few lines repeated throughout the novel and while I can see readers being turned off by this, I personally loved it. It drove home the interconnecting stories, the idea that We’re All In This Together, and the peek into the inner thoughts of secondary characters was perfection. Sarina and Ben clearly have feelings for each other after all these years, but they’re too scared and worried and (in Ben’s case) ashamed to voice their hopes. While Sarina has no idea Ben cares for her, the reader is in on it, and it tore me apart that they couldn’t see what was in front of them. I wanted to reach into the pages and give them both a good shaking – open your eyes!!

The ending left me a little empty – and a lot confused. I’m very satisfied with the way everything worked out for the characters (particularly Madeleine, my sassy little love!), but the final scene was so out-of-nowhere and had a bit of a whimsical, magical element that I normally would love, but with the rest of the novel firmly rooted in reality, it completely threw me off balance and took me out of the story. I still don’t know what it was meant to represent, if anything. If it hadn’t been for those few pages, 2AM at The Cat’s Pajamas would have been a perfectly delicious novel.

Chock-full of metaphory goodness, 2AM at The Cat’s Pajamas beautifully weaves together three storylines gravitating around a past-its-prime jazz club. The novel’s Old World feel perfectly suited the smokey barroom. The secondary characters were just as intriguing as the key figures and the foul-mouthed nine-year-old at the center of it all quickly became a favorite of mine. With it’s catchy title and gripping characters, I can easily see this novel gaining a following, maybe not in the mainstream media, but underground – and I don’t see that as a bad thing at all! This is a special novel that I’ll have at the ready whenever someone asks for a solid story, but without all the hype and fanfare.

Bookstore Browsing: The Theory of Light & Matter

Before I started blogging, the majority of my book purchases were books I discovered while browsing. I have NO shame in admitting I totally judge covers and pretty books stand out. Some of these books have ended up being some of my all-time favorite novels and I miss those days when I would simply wander through the aisle and see what I could find. Lately I’ve made a conscious effort to do more browsing – trust me, it’s seriously a struggle to not immediately launch my goodreads app and see what the ratings are like!

Andrew Porter’s The Theory of Light and Matter immediately struck my interest and I wish I could find a better image of the cover I have: a kitchen light shines into the night, illuminating a bicycle in the driveway. Something about it stood out and I was charmed.

Digging into this near-nothing of a novel – it’s a whole 178 pages long! – I discovered it was a short story collection, something completely new to me. I’m all about branching out and being adventurous in my reading, so naturally I leapt at the chance to read it..I also cheated a little and looked it up on GR – it has a 4.25 rating! That a book of this length has such a high rating spoke volumes and I easily devoured these ten stories in a single sitting. The Theory of Light and Matter won Porter the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and now I’m very interested in taking a look at the other winners!

While reading (and even now that I’ve finished) I wasn’t entirely sure if these stories were semi-biographical or not. Other than one, coincidentally it’s the title story, each story is told from a male perspective and although he’s at various stages of his life – some stories take place in childhood, others feature an adult – I couldn’t tell if this was the same figure or not (more often than not his name is Alex). If a sibling is mentioned in the story, it’s always an older sister. Though the father’s job changes, the fact that he’s largely absent remains the same.

The earlier stories, Azul; Coyotes; Hole; all seem to end just as they’re hitting their stride. I don’t know if this was intentional on Porter’s part or not, but it certainly left me wanting more. What happened to Azul? Was he alright? What became of Alex’s father and their fractured family? Over just a few pages I found myself becoming invested in these stories, genuinely curious and concerned for these characters and the abrupt endings left me feeling empty.

From Amish communities to sleeping with professors to a fiance stranded in Spain, The Theory of Light and Matter took me on a journey. A young boy dead after falling into a sinkhole and survivor’s guilt. A childless couple hoping to fill a void by opening their home to an exchange student. A son walking in on his mother’s forbidden affair. While I couldn’t exactly relate to many of these characters, I found them all fascinating. The Theory of Light and Matter is a thrilling display of talent and I’ve overjoyed that I decided to take a chance on it! Looking to get lost for an hour or two? This is the perfect escape.

The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera

The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera
Pub. Date: July 8, 2014
Source: ARC via publisher (Thank you, Atria!)
Summary: The Awakening of Miss Prim is a charming debut novel about a young woman who leaves everything behind to take a librarian job in a remote village of France. Though proud and self-assured, Prudencia Prim’s four advanced degrees make her a little overqualified. Nevertheless, there is something glimmering beneath the surface of the picturesque town of San Ireneo de Arnois that cannot be learned from books. Little by little, the peculiar and unconventional ways test Miss Prim’s world vision, her most intimate fears, and her most profound convictions.
Genre: Literary Fiction

Close your eyes. Picturesque. Charming. Quaint. What do you see? Offbeat. Unconventional. Quirky. This is exactly what you’re getting from The Awakening of Miss Prim. There’s something decidedly old-fashioned about this story – and that’s certainly high praise! One part The Village (bear with me here), one part The Sound of Music, this novel was just plain good and this is a review that scares me. Despite sitting on my thoughts, I’m still unable to come up with the right words to say (apart, of course from I LOVE IT).

Prudencia Prim has more degrees to her name than I have fingers on my hand. With a blatant disregard for a firm “graduates and postgraduates need not apply” and ignoring the “preferably without work experience,” Miss Prim marched up the hydrangea-lined path to inquire about a posting for a librarian position. The Man in the Wingchair (a man never named throughout the duration of the novel) decides to hire her on and Miss Prim quickly comes to realize San Ireneo is a town unlike any other.

The tiny village was founded as a refuge of sorts for those seeking to get away from the intensity of city life. In San Ireneo, values are sacred, gardens are perfectly tended, any goods are produced locally, education is prized (the Man in the Wingchair’s nieces and nephews – all under the age of 11 – are able to recite ancient Greek and Latin works and hold their own in philosophical debates). What makes this town different is that the school teacher? The bookseller? None of these positions are filled by professionals. Shops open simply because the town lacks a particular ware. Miss Prim comes to learn this way of thinking came largely out of the want for the town’s children to have an unbiased education, they learn the basics from the school teacher, but the bulk of their education is learned at various homes, largely the Main in the Wingchair’s private library (which Miss Prim has recently taken to organizing).

The Awakening of Miss Prim is such a delightfully sleepy tale, exactly the kind of story I adore. There wasn’t much in the way of action; instead, there’s a wealth of character development and depth. A variety of topics are explored – religion, philosophy, there’s even a debate on the merits of Mr. Darcy. While I’m relatively unfamiliar with the main bulk of 18th-Century British Literature (sorry, Janites!), The Awakening of Miss Prim felt right at home with those works. The Man in the Wingchair is a gentleman in every aspect of the word, San Ireneo itself had an old, primitive feel, the characters are all exceedingly formal. I loved every minute.

In addition to the story, the storytelling was beautiful too. Entire passages gave me pause and there were pages I read and reread because the language was so breathtaking. What boggles my mind is not only that this is a debut, but it’s also a translation. That a translation could be this gorgeous is nothing short of amazing! It pains me to say that I feel The Awakening of Miss Prim will go unnoticed by the majority, but those of you who actively seek out under-the-radar novels will find a true gem. Fiercely character-driven, intensely thought-provoking, and with an ending that left me wanting more (I need to know!!), The Awakening of Miss Prim is a fantastic debut that I eagarly look forward to revisiting again. If you like your characters prim and proper (Prudencia Prim is a most apt name) with more than a hint of quirk, do yourself a favor and read this book.

The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lance by Kelly Harms

The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane by Kelly Harms
Pub. Date: July 1, 2014 (orig. May, 2013)
Source: Finished copy via publisher (Thank you, Thomas Dunne Books!)
Summary: This year’s lucky winner of a brand-new dream home: Janine Brown of Cedar Falls, Iowa
For heartbroken Janine “Janey” Brown, this announcement has the hallmarks of one of her Aunt Midge’s harebrained plans to lure her from her tiny kitchen, where she’s been submerging her grief in the pursuit of the perfect pot-au-feu. Meanwhile, across town, Janine “Nean” Brown couldn’t be more thrilled. She just knows that this house is her destiny, the chance to escape the latest in her revolving door of crappy jobs and drunken boyfriends.
When both Janine Browns descend on Christmas Cove, Maine, to claim the prize they both think is theirs, however, they discover that more than just a dream home awaits them at the water’s edge.

Genre: Contemporary, Beach read

As a beach/summer read, The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane is perfect. If I had read it at any other time, however, I would have been less than impressed (and actually felt a bit disappointed I hadn’t enjoyed it more while reading). This book reads like a check list of beach read staples: heartbroken main character, wise/quirky grandmotherly figure, handsome strangers (in this case, two), a passion for cooking/baking, etc etc. Really, all that was missing was a loyal dog.

Janey’s fiance passed away unexpectedly five years ago and with his death her world shattered. While she had always been shy, Ned’s death took her fear and turned it into a debilitating phobia. She was no longer able to pursue the teaching degree she had so desperately wanted and, instead, became holed up inside her apartment, only speaking to her Aunt Midge. She can barely hold down a job and any interaction with someone new causes Janey to break out into hives. Unbeknownst to Janey, Aunt Midge enters her into a nationwide dream home contest – and her name, Janine Brown, is chosen.

Nean’s 24 years have not been kind to her. In and out of foster care and shelters, she’s well on her way to following in her mother’s footsteps (minus the heroin). She goes for the wrong guys, but at least those guys have a place to live, some food, and a television. Geoff isn’t boyfriend material, as her bald patches and bruises show, and the night she hears her name, Janine Brown, announced on live television, she knows her life is about to change.

The two (make that three – 88-year-old Aunt Midge is in tow) women head for Maine, and it’s not until they’ve reached the sprawling mansion with a state-of-the-art kitchen and lake view, that they realize there’s another Janine Brown. Who’s the real winner? How could Janey possibly survive living with a stranger? There’s no. way. Nean is going to be put back on a bus to Iowa. And who’s that cute farmer?

The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane doesn’t pull any punches and any reader of this kind of fiction knows how the story will end before it even begins. So, yes, as a carefree beach read, this book is perfect. Entertaining enough without asking for a lot in return. While I can certainly get behind some good brain fluff, I had a good time getting past these characters and their actions. 24-year-old Nean is bratty and stubborn. Despite being nearly 90, Aunt Midge rocks out to the Rolling Stones and enjoys swimming in her birthday suit. Janey has a passion for cooking – which I loved – and she claims she loves cooking so much, she always makes way more than one person could ever eat and throws the leftovers away once she’s had her fill. I couldn’t excuse this, though it made for a nice coincidence since Noah just so happens to work at the local shelter. Naturally, the moment she meets him, her 5-year phobia all but vanishes.

As far as substance goes, there wasn’t a whole lot to this story, but that’s exactly what you’d want in a summer-y read. Unfortunately, this one was simply decent – and wholly forgettable.

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes
Pub. Date: July 1, 2014
Source: Finished copy via publisher (Thank you, Pamela Dorman/Penguin!!)
Summary: Suppose your life sucks. A lot. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can’t afford to pay for. That’s Jess’s life in a nutshell—until an unexpected knight-in-shining-armor offers to rescue them. Only Jess’s knight turns out to be Geeky Ed, the obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home she happens to clean. But Ed has big problems of his own, and driving the dysfunctional family to the Math Olympiad feels like his first unselfish act in ages . . . maybe ever.
Genre: Contemporary
Rating: (hello, it’s JOJO)

Whenever Jojo Moyes releases a new novel I know I’m in for a good time. The moment I have it in my hands I begin planning my day around it (I do not appreciate being interrupted while reading her books!) and set aside huge blocks of time in which to dive deep into Jojo’s worlds. Since reading the incredible The Girl You Left Behind last year, I have since gone on to work my way through her backlist (something I rarely do). One Plus One is my fourth Jojo to date (The Last Letter from Your Lover and Silver Bay were both devoured earlier this year) and, while I’ve adored them all, Jojo’s growth and ever-sharpening skills as a writer are evident with each novel.

Because my first two forays into Jojo’s works were dual-era novels, I had mistakenly assumed this was her shtick. Silver Bay taught me that wasn’t the case and One Plus One follows in its footsteps while still employing the multiple narratives that I love so much. Jess doesn’t have much. She lives in a government-provided home, works as a house cleaner for wealthy vacationers, and struggles to make ends meet. Her husband took off two years ago and left Jess to support their daughter and his son on her own. Nicky, a smart-but-brooding teenager, is relentlessly bullied by the neighboring kids. Tanzie is an odd little girl, but phenomenal at math.

One phone call changes their world. When Tanzie is granted a hefty scholarship to an elite private school, Jess is left to find a way to come up with the rest of the cash – and fast. Word of a Mathematics Olympics has the family – and their gigantic dog – piling into a less-than-reliable car and on their way to Scotland.

When Ed was in college, the world was in his palms. He partnered with a buddy and together they created a booming software business, leaving both of them very well-off. Unfortunately, Ed ended up in a rather compromising position with an old college friend and now phrases like ‘insider trading,’ ‘litigation fees,’ and – the worst – ‘jail time’ have become a part of his life. In an attempt to lay low for a bit, Ed heads down the coast to stay in his beachfront home. When he first meets the cleaner he doesn’t give her the time of day. The second time he meets her (and her kids and dog broken down on the side of the road) he decides to do something right for once: Ed offers to drive them to Scotland.

To say One Plus One is a road trip novel would be selling it short. Yes, technically, it is, but it’s about so much more. These are flawed, broken characters who, over the course of the book, discover what it’s like to love and be loved in return. My emotions ran the gamut: I laughed, I cried, I fretted over several choices made but stood in their corner through it all. While reading I lived and breathed these characters and now that it’s over, I’m left feeling like I’m six years old again and my best friend has just moved away. I cannot praise Jojo’s skill highly enough. She took a relatively ordinary story – single mom trying to support her kids – and turned it into something extraordinary.

One of my favorite things about any Jojo novel is the sheer amount of character growth. She has a no-holds-barred kind of attitude when it comes to her stories and seriously puts her characters through the wringer. Nicky, a Goth boy who likes eyeliner and prefers online friends, became so much more than a moody teenager. Ed, at first an extremely unlikable, egotistical man, did a complete 180° and turned out to be a fantastic – and fascinating – character.

I feel this review is more of me spouting my love for Jojo than anything and, as with each of her books, I’m struggling to find just the right words to say. One Plus One is story that made my heart swell and break – usually within the same chapter! For me, it’s a perfect summertime read, though in a different way than your average beach read. The characters come alive and their circumstances – trying to keep up with bills, going from paycheck to paycheck – hit home for many. While most beach reads are about escape, One Plus One takes hold of your hand and shows you there are others out there just like you. And who doesn’t love a smelly, drooling dog?

One Plus One is a phenomenal novel and firmly secures Jojo’s rank as one of my favorite authors. Are you a long-time fan? Read this. Are you still new to her work and feel a bit overwhelmed by all the love she’s received? Read this. Are you looking for a damn fine story? Read this.


“You know, you spend your whole life feeling like you don’t quite fit in anywhere. And then you walk into a room one day, whether it’s at university or an office of some kind of club, and you just go, ‘Ah. There they are.’ And suddenly you feel at home.”

The only things Jess really cared about were those two children and letting them know they were okay. Because even if the whole world was throwing rocks at you, if you had your mother at your back, you’d be okay. Some deep-rooted part of you would know you were loved. That you deserved to be loved.

He dropped his head and kissed her. He kisses her and it was a kiss of utter certainty, the kind of kiss during which monarchs die and whole continents fall without your even noticing.

Goodnight June by Sarah Jio

Goodnight June by Sarah Jio
Pub. Date: May 27, 2014
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (thank you, Penguin!)
Summary: June Andersen is professionally successful, but her personal life is marred by unhappiness. Unexpectedly, she is called to settle her great-aunt Ruby’s estate and determine the fate of Bluebird Books, the children’s bookstore Ruby founded in the 1940s. Amidst the store’s papers, June stumbles upon letters between her great-aunt and the late Margaret Wise Brown—and steps into the pages of American literature.
Genre: Adult, Fiction, Contemporary

You know those books you hear about that sound AMAZING, those books you cannot wait to get your hands on and cherish, only to be horribly let down? Allow me to introduce you to Goodnight June. Let’s revisit that summary: June Andersen is the vice president of a very lucrative bank in New York where she oversees foreclosures, even personally shutting down beloved businesses. She’s carved out a new life for herself on the East Coast and never planned on returning to her past in Seattle until the day she received a letter; her great-aunt Ruby passed away and everything was left for June. Including Bluebird Books, the children’s bookstore Ruby owned for decades. As much as June loved Ruby, returning home would mean facing things she’s just not ready for. When she uncovers a secret Ruby kept hidden – her friendship with Margaret Wise Brown and the true story of how Goodnight Moon came to be – June finds herself enchanted. Could she possibly learn to let go and move on?

Goodnight June sounded positively dreamy: a bookstore, an absolute classic work of children’s literature (raise your hand if you had – or still have! – a copy of Goodnight Moon), and a treasure hunt! Nothing better, right? Sadly, this novel fell victim to the Matthew Pearl Effect (new friends to the blog, the MPE is where a story has an incredible premise, but the actual storytelling falls short – named after one-too-many disappointments following Matthew Pearl’s works). Goodnight June sounded great, but the execution was anything but.

There were so many issues I had with this novel, it would be easier to discuss what I did like. The idea behind the story? Ruby and Margaret’s friendship? And that’s where my praise ends.

June, a painfully stubborn and immature woman, falls for a cute new guy and after two short weeks they’re in love. The problem? Gavin is co-owner of a restaurant with his ex-fiancee. The ex-fiancee who’s still in love with him. This doesn’t matter to June though, because mere days after meeting Gavin, she suggests they team up, knock down a wall between their buildings, and combine the two businesses into a bookstore/cafe. …and Gavin agrees. Uh.. Then there’s the problem with the bookstore. The entire reason June left for Seattle was to settle her aunt’s finances and sell the place. Ruby had amassed an overwhelming amount of debt and even if she were to sell her apartment and use her entire savings, June still wouldn’t have enough to cover the cost. So what brilliant plan does Gavin come up with? Why not e-mail her boss to ask for money! And June does. She e-mailed her boss JUST ONE DAY AFTER QUITTING to ask him to help her pay the money Ruby owed.

Honestly I’m surprised my eyes are still in my head they were doing so much rolling. Any obstacle or conflict that arose in the story was swiftly dealt with. There was nothing for June to work for. At one point she’s trying to locate a man who had been given up for adoption in the 70s. It was a closed adoption and she only had the name he was given at birth. Well what do you know, June does a Google search, comes across a website for adults who had been adopted, and types up a post on their message boards. The following day she receives a reply. The entire book was like this. June’s money problems? She holds a grand reopening (I was ROLLING at the scene where Bill and Melinda Gates randomly showed up along with big name authors like Clive Cussler) and gets a ton of donations. I get that this is supposed to be the Happy Ending, but I never saw it as a reward. June never had to struggle or put in any effort to reach her goals.

My other big issue was with the actual writing. If this is what Jio’s work is like after six books (with a seventh coming out later this year) I’d seriously hate to see what her debut was like:

We pretend to be angry at each other for about three seconds before we hug.
“I’m going to miss you,” he says.
“I’m going to miss you too.”

We sit at a corner table and talk and laugh over Americanos and blackberry scones, then continue our tour of Winslow, stopping at a wine store. Gavin buys a case of local cabernet for the restaurant, and an extra one for me. When I notice a bookstore, Eagle Harbor Books, across the street, we walk there next.

I study the letter carefully and see that Margaret must have heeded Ruby’s advice, because the letter has obviously been folded many times. Its creases are very deep and worn, as if she might have done just what Ruby suggessted. ‘I hope you’ll take what I’ve just written and put it in your pocket and save it.’ She must have done just that.

Of course, I should point out these are from an uncorrected copy. Her editor is definitely earning her paycheck with this one. Overly simple sentences – they went here, then they went here, then they looked at this – and an absurd amount of repetition (you think Margaret took the advice??). No thank you.

It’s such a shame that I truly have nothing good to say about Goodnight June but I certainly can see the appeal in Jio’s works; Goodnight Moon was an extremely easy, very quick read with an abundance of fluff. Unfortunately, I wanted more from this book than I received.


Sometimes I think of my life as a great big story. Each silly thing I do is a new paragraph. And each morning I turn to the next chapter. It’s fun to think of life that way, each day being an adventure of the grandest proportions.