Thursday, July 27, 2017

Review: The Weight of Lies by Emily Carpenter (audio)

Title: The Weight of Lies
Author: Emily Carpenter
Narrator: Kate Orsini
Published: June 2017, Brilliance Audio
Length: 11 hours 58 minutes
Source: Publisher

In this gripping, atmospheric family drama, a young woman investigates the forty­-year­-old murder that inspired her mother’s bestselling novel, and uncovers devastating truths—and dangerous lies.

Reformed party girl Meg Ashley leads a life of privilege, thanks to a bestselling horror novel her mother wrote decades ago. But Meg knows that the glow of their very public life hides a darker reality of lies, manipulation, and the heartbreak of her own solitary childhood. Desperate to break free of her mother, Meg accepts a proposal to write a scandalous, tell-all memoir.

Digging into the past—and her mother’s cult classic—draws Meg to Bonny Island, Georgia, and an unusual woman said to be the inspiration for the book. At first island life seems idyllic, but as Meg starts to ask tough questions, disturbing revelations come to light…including some about her mother.

Soon Meg’s search leads her to question the facts of a decades-old murder. She’s warned to leave it alone, but as the lies pile up, Meg knows she’s getting close to finding a murderer. When her own life is threatened, Meg realizes the darkness found in her mother’s book is nothing compared to the chilling truth that lurks off the page.

My thoughts: I first became a fan of Emily Carpenter after listening to her debut novel, Burying the Honeysuckle Girls. She really knows how to create a gripping Southern Gothic mystery that captivates you from the start and this latest book is no exception!

I think my favorite part of this book is the whole book-within-a-book concept! I loved that!!! It adds an extra dimension to an already layered book, it gives another layer of tension to an already tense situation, it builds more suspense as the book reaches a gripping finale. The whole cult following phenomenon of Kitten just drew me in even more and the little snippets made me desperate to know the whole story!

I loved the characters in this book - they were all so vividly drawn. As we got to know more and more of them, it was hard to know who was being truthful and who wasn't. And as Meg digs deeper and deeper into her mother's past, it becomes harder and harder to determine who is to be trusted and who isn't. There are quite a few twists and turns, and this one kept me guessing til the very end.

This multi-layered, psychological mystery definitely has hints of a classic horror book running threw it and while that's not my typical type of read, I loved the way it's woven in so that it doesn't take over. The Southern Gothic vibes really do shine through and I know that Emily Carpenter is now going on my must-read list. I cannot wait to see what she writes next!!!

Audio thoughts:
I love Kate Orsini and thought she did such a fantastic job with this audio production. She was able to give each character their own unique voice and her tone and pacing were spot on. I loved the snarkiness that she would use for Meg's character - it just felt so real and came out in just the right places. Well done, Kate, well done!!!

Review: It Happens All the Time by Amy Hatvany (audio)

Title: It Happens All the Time
Author: Amy Hatvany
Narrator: Julia Whelan, Kirby Heyborne
Published: March 2017, Simon & Schuster Audio / Atria Books
Length: 10 hours 2 minutes / 320 pages
Source: Audio - Personal copy via Audible / ARC E-copy - Netgalley via Publisher

I want to rewind the clock, take back the night when the world shattered. I want to erase everything that went wrong.

Amber Bryant and Tyler Hicks have been best friends since they were teenagers—trusting and depending on each other through some of the darkest periods of their young lives. And while Amber has always felt that their relationship is strictly platonic, Tyler has long harbored the secret desire that they might one day become more than friends.

Returning home for the summer after her college graduation, Amber begins spending more time with Tyler than she has in years. Despite the fact that Amber is engaged to her college sweetheart, a flirtation begins to grow between them. One night, fueled by alcohol and concerns about whether she’s getting married too young, Amber kisses Tyler.

What happens next will change them forever.

In alternating points of view, It Happens All the Time examines the complexity of sexual dynamics between men and women and offers an incisive exploration of gender roles, expectations, and the ever-timely issue of consent.

My thoughts: I have to admit...I actually finished this book a while ago, but needed time to digest the book and process my thoughts on it. Not that I didn't like the book - because I did, but this story is so powerful and heavy. Amy Hatvany is known for taking on subjects that need to be discussed and boy does she do that here.

This book is definitely not for the faint of heart. It's a tough book to read - it has a lot of trigger points - it deals with sexual consent and the aftermath. But, it's also about how we treat victims. This is a heavy book, make no mistake about it. It's told in alternating view points from Amber and Tyler's point of view and so we are able to get inside both of their heads, see how they each view what happened leading up to and after the "incident."

I liked how we were able to see the whole scope of Amber and Tyler's friendship. I think this was important to the overall message of this book.  We see how they came to be friends and even the ups and downs of their friendship, and then the events leading up to that night. But it is seeing how they each felt about that night that really shows just how different they each viewed things. This is where having the story told from both sides really shines, really makes an impact.

This is a brutal, raw, honest look at what unfortunately happens only too many times in today's world. The writing is compelling and will have you wondering just what you would do if this were happening to you, your daughter, your sister, or friend. It's a book that will take you down an emotional journey and leave you with much to think about. And it's a book that you need to share with all you care about - especially those young people in your lives! This book is definitely a must read!!!

Audio thoughts: This was a tough audio book to listen to, but a powerful one. I admit, there were times I had tears streaming down my face, though had I been reading the book, I think that would have been the same. Julia Whelan is one of my favorite authors and I thought she did a great job with her narration. Kirby Heyborne is new to me and he did ok...his voice wasn't as strong as I was envisioning, but it worked. I do give both narrators a lot of credit for being able to narrate this book - it was a heavy book to get through and they were able to give it all the emotion and support it needed when necessary.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Blog Tour & Review: The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson (audio)

Title: The Almost Sisters
Author: Joshilyn Jackson
Narrator: Joshilyn Jackson
Published: July 2017, Harper Audio / William Morrow
Length: 12 hours 39 minutes /352 pages
Source: Audio - personal copy via Audible / ARC Paperback - Publisher via TLC Book Tours

With empathy, grace, humor, and piercing insight, the author of gods in Alabama pens a powerful, emotionally resonant novel of the South that confronts the truth about privilege, family, and the distinctions between perception and reality---the stories we tell ourselves about our origins and who we really are.

Superheroes have always been Leia Birch Briggs' weakness. One tequila-soaked night at a comics convention, the usually level-headed graphic novelist is swept off her barstool by a handsome and anonymous Batman.

It turns out the caped crusader has left her with more than just a nice, fuzzy memory. She's having a baby boy--an unexpected but not unhappy development in the thirty-eight year-old's life. But before Leia can break the news of her impending single-motherhood (including the fact that her baby is biracial) to her conventional, Southern family, her step-sister Rachel's marriage implodes. Worse, she learns her beloved ninety-year-old grandmother, Birchie, is losing her mind, and she's been hiding her dementia with the help of Wattie, her best friend since girlhood.

Leia returns to Alabama to put her grandmother's affairs in order, clean out the big Victorian that has been in the Birch family for generations, and tell her family that she's pregnant. Yet just when Leia thinks she's got it all under control, she learns that illness is not the only thing Birchie's been hiding. Tucked in the attic is a dangerous secret with roots that reach all the way back to the Civil War. Its exposure threatens the family's freedom and future, and it will change everything about how Leia sees herself and her sister, her son and his missing father, and the world she thinks she knows.

My thoughts: I know when it comes to picking up a book by Joshilyn Jackson, I am going to get a good story - one with charming characters, a readable story and still deal with relevant, timely issues without being heavy-handed. This book is all that and so much more.

Joshilyn Jackson knows how to create characters that pull you into their lives and make you want to know all there is to know about them. You become completely invested in them. They are flawed to be sure, but they relatable and believable. The relationship issues that Joshilyn wrote about between Leia and her step-sister Rachel were issues I could relate to, having two sisters myself. 

There is a lot going on this in this book - but not so much as to make it too much to handle. Rather, Joshilyn Jackson is able to weave all these threads into one believable story, one that touches on both heavy and light topics to keep it balanced. There's a mystery surrounding a long-ago secret that comes to light, there's the issue of the unexpected pregnancy to deal with, there's the issue of aging and all that comes with that, and there's the issue of racism. Thrown in there is a romance, some teen angst, and just enough humor to keep this book from being too heavy. And, while comic books are not really my thing, I did like this angle as it added a different dimension to the story. 

This book will tug at your heartstrings and it will also make you chuckle. But more importantly, it will make you think. You will definitely not be forgetting these memorable characters anytime soon - I know I won't!

Audio thoughts: I decided to listen to this book, even though I had the print copy, because Joshilyn Jackson was narrating it - plain and simple!!!  I've listened to her narrate her own books before and I know she does a great job with them. This isn't always the case...some times having an author narrate their own work doesn't always work out well, but Joshilyn Jackson is able to execute it well...she knows her characters and is able to deliver the performance perfectly. She gives each of her characters their own voice and her accent and inflection and tone are just right. This was pure joy to listen to!!!

About the author: Joshilyn Jackson is the New York Times bestselling author of seven novels, including gods in Alabama and A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty. Her books have been translated into a dozen languages. A former actor, Jackson is also an award-winning audiobook narrator. She lives in Decatur, Georgia, with her husband and their two children.

Author Links: Website | Twitter | Facebook 

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Be sure to check out all the other stops on the blog tour and follow the tour on Twitter (hashtags:  #TLCBookTours & #TheAlmostSisters).

The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson is one of the She Reads "Books of Summer" reading selection picks. 
Head over to the She Reads website to read reviews and related posts of this book, as well as posts related to the other "Books of Spring" selections.


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Review: The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

Title: The Lying Game
Author: Ruth Ware
Published: July 2017, Gallery/Scout Press
Format: ARC Paperback, 384 pages
Source: Publisher
From the instant New York Times bestselling author of blockbuster thrillers In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin 10 comes Ruth Ware’s chilling new novel.

On a cool June morning, a woman is walking her dog in the idyllic coastal village of Salten along a tidal estuary known as the Reach. Before she can stop him, the dog charges into the water to retrieve what first appears to be a wayward stick, but to her horror, turns out to be something much more sinister...

The next morning, three women in and around London—Fatima, Thea, and Isabel—receive the text they had always hoped would NEVER come, from the fourth in their formerly inseparable clique, Kate, that says only, “I need you.”

The four girls were best friends at Salten, a second rate boarding school set near the cliffs of the English Channel. Each different in their own way, the four became inseparable and were notorious for playing the Lying Game, telling lies at every turn to both fellow boarders and faculty, with varying states of serious and flippant nature that were disturbing enough to ensure that everyone steered clear of them. The myriad and complicated rules of the game are strict: no lying to each other—ever. Bail on the lie when it becomes clear it is about to be found out. But their little game had consequences, and the girls were all expelled in their final year of school under mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of the school’s eccentric art teacher, Ambrose (who also happens to be Kate’s father).

Atmospheric, twisty, and with just the right amount of chill that will keep you wrong-footed—which has now become Ruth Ware’s signature style—The Lying Game is sure to be her next big bestseller. Another unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.

My thoughts: Ruth Ware is quickly becoming another must-read author! She writes such chilling and tense psychological thrillers and yet each one is so different - it's not the same old that we read time and time again. 

What I loved about this book is that it's more of the slow-burning, character-driven psychological thriller than her other books have been. While there has been a crime committed, it has been committed in the past, not the present. A lot of the action takes place in the last quarter of the book - and WOW, does that last part really take off! But prior to that, the book alternates between the present and the past, where the mystery is really explored through the four women's memories. This I found to be extremely clever! 

This book will play with your will get under your skin as more and more details from both the past and the present emerge. You will feel the stress that Isa is under - it's that palpable. You will question whether "The Lying Game" and the guilt that Isa is feeling is justified or whether she is not being entirely truthful? 

This is an extremely taut and tense read. The suspense builds slowly and then takes off. It's atmospheric and chilling and addictive - once you start reading this, you will be hard-pressed to put it down!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Review: Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams

Title: Cocoa Beach
Author: Beatriz Williams
Published: June 2017, William Morrow
Format: ARC Paperback, 384 pages
Source: Publisher

The author of A Certain Age transports readers to sunny Florida in this lush and enthralling historical novel—an enchanting blend of love, suspense, betrayal, and redemption set among the rum runners and scoundrels of Prohibition-era Cocoa Beach

Burdened by a dark family secret, Virginia Fortescue flees her oppressive home in New York City for the battlefields of World War I France. Driving an ambulance for the Red Cross, she meets a charismatic British army surgeon whose persistent charm opens her heart to the possibility of love. As the war rages, Virginia falls into a passionate affair with the dashing Captain Simon Fitzwilliam, only to discover that his past has its own dark secrets—secrets that will damage their eventual marriage and propel her back across the Atlantic to the sister and father she’d left behind.

Five years later, in the early days of Prohibition, the newly widowed Virginia Fitzwilliam arrives in the tropical boomtown of Cocoa Beach, Florida, to settle her husband’s estate. Despite the evidence, Virginia does not believe Simon perished in the fire that destroyed the seaside home he built for her and their young daughter. Separated from her husband since the early days of their marriage, the headstrong Virginia plans to uncover the truth, for the sake of the daughter Simon has never met.

Simon’s brother and sister welcome her with open arms and introduce her to a dazzling new world of citrus groves, white beaches, bootleggers, and Prohibition agents. But Virginia senses a predatory presence lurking beneath the irresistible, hedonistic surface of this coastal oasis. The more she learns about Simon and his mysterious business interests, the more she fears that the dangers surrounding Simon now threaten her and their daughter’s life as well.

My thoughts: As many of you know, I'm a huge fan of Beatriz Williams' books - I've read just about all of them and usually go to see her when she's on book tour whenever I get the chance! There's just something about her books - they're the perfect blend of historical fiction, compelling characters and fantastic writing that bring me back time and time. I just can't get enough of this perfect combination!!!

This latest book is a continuation of her Jazz Age series that isn't really a series...if that makes sense. One thing I've come the learn about Beatriz Williams is that there are few characters she creates that she leaves untouched --meaning eventually she comes back and tells just about everyone's story. The main character in this book was the sister in last summer's book, A Certain Age...and is also loosely connected to her Prohibition series that is part of her winter series. Again - these are all series but not series. According to her, they are all stand-alone books that are loosely connected.

I really enjoyed this book - I loved the way the story moved back and forth between the two time periods, from Europe during WWI to the 1920s in Florida during the height of Prohibition. I could vividly picture the way life was for Virginia both during the war and then back in Florida after the war. And I loved the letters that Beatriz included from Simon to Virginia - a great way for us to get inside Simon's head. 

With so many characters running around in this book, particularly in the 1920s timeline, it's hard to differentiate the good guys from the bad guys at times. The twists and turns will keep you flipping the pages, especially the last half of the book, until you get til the end. And then we are left with quite the cliffhanger - but for what "series?" I admit - I had to reread the last few pages a few times to make sure I understood what I just read...and now I am desperate for that next book!!!

Beatriz Williams' books are definitely on my must-read list...I know I am in for a treat when I pick one up and I always end up looking forward to the next one as soon as I finish the current one - and luckily she writes quite a few each year. Do you have an author like that - that you must-read? 


Sunday, July 23, 2017

#FitReaders: Weekly Check-in Jul 21

I found this new yoga app, Asana Rebel, that I downloaded and I've been doing some of their workouts here and there. I really like it - they are short, easy yoga flows and the instructions are easy to follow. I am just using the free version for now and there are enough flows to select from without having to upgrade to the membership version for now.
July Goals: 

  • 10K steps M-F, at least 7,500 steps on the weekend  - 5/5, 2/2
  • 30 minutes of active walking every day, M-F - 5/5 (thank goodness for having to walk the dogs everyday!)
  • Strength training (3/5 days) - Met
  • Eat mindfully/eat enough - Yes
Here's how last week went:    
Jul 15:  8,203 steps
Jul 16:  8,362 steps

Jul 17:  25,527 steps (10K+ -  10 Charity Miles for Girls on the Run)   
Jul 18:  28,840 steps
(10K+ -  10 Charity Miles for Girls on the Run)
Jul 19:  16,821 steps (5K+ -  5 Charity Miles for Girls on the Run)

Jul 20:  25
,045 steps
(10K+ -  10 Charity Miles for Girls on the Run)
Jul 21:  17
,985 steps (5K+ -  5 Charity Miles for Girls on the Run)

Total Steps: 130,783 steps

Audiobooks listened to last week (since I'm not much of a music fan, I listen to books while I walk):
  • Finished The Good Widow by Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke, narrated Dara Rosenberg
  • Started & Finished The Separatists by Lis Wiehl, narrated by Devon O'Day
  • Started & Finished The Captain's Daughter by Meg Mitchell Moore, narrated by Coleen Marlo 

How did your week go? You can find this week's link-up here.

Virtual 5K /10K Tally:
     January:                               May:                             September:   
           5K  -  4                                  5K  -  5                                5K  - 
         10K  -  7                                10K  -  6                               10K  - 
     February:                             June:                            October:

           5K  -  4                                  5K  -  10                               5K  - 
         10K  -  9                                10K  -  2                              10K  -   
     March:                                  July:                             November:
           5K  -  3                                  5K  -  10                                5K  - 
         10K  -  7                                10K  -  3                               10K  - 
     April:                                    August:                        December:
           5K  -  9                                  5K  -                                    5K  - 
         10K  -  1                                 10K  -                                  10K  -

Friday, July 21, 2017

#SRC2017 Book Spotlight: American Family by Catherine Marshall-Smith

Title: American Family
Author: Catherine Marshall-Smith
Published: June 2017, She Writes Press
Format: Paperback, 360 pages
Richard and Michael, both three years sober, have just decided to celebrate their love by moving in together when Richard driven by the desire to do the right thing for his ten-year-old-daughter, Brady, whom he has never met impulsively calls his former father-in-law to connect with her. With that phone call, he jeopardizes the one good thing he has his relationship with Michael and also threatens the world of the fundamentalist Christian grandparents who love Brady and see her as payback from God for the alcohol-related death of her mother. Unable to reach an agreement, the two parties hire lawyers who have agendas far beyond the interests of the families and Brady is initially trusted into Richard and Michael s care. But when the judge learns that the young girl was present when a questionable act took place while in their custody, she returns Brady to her grandparents. Ultimately, it s not until further tragedy strikes that both families are finally motivated to actually act in the best interests of the child.

What readers are saying: 

"A nuanced portrait of what it means to be a family, with a bit of melodrama but plenty of heart." ―Kirkus Reviews

"A poignant literary pageant of custody battles, alchoholism, religious restraint and family turmoil, this tremendously moving read will leave you in bouts of feels all summer long." ―Redbook

"An emotionally gripping read that explores the deepest of cracks in a dysfunctional family, this poignant book belongs in the hands of every parent this summer." ―Working Mother

"This emotionally gripping tale about a gay man who must battle his way to sobriety and convince his ex father-in-law he is worthy of a relationship with his 10-year-old daughter will leave every dad moved. If you want your gift to finally induce your dad to weep in your presence, this might be your chance." ―Popsugar

"When Richard confronts his daughter’s fundamentalist Christian grandparents for a second chance at fatherhood, the most emotionally harrowing and heavy family drama of 2017 unfolds. Be sure you pack tissues in the glove compartment." ―Brit+Co

"A heartbreaking and emotionally riveting reading experience that reminds readers that most every American family has its dysfunctional ghosts. This explosive novel will add drama to your summer from Page 1."  ―SheKnows 


American Family  by Catherine Marshall-Smith is one of  BookSparks "Summer Reads" reading selection picks. 
 Follow the #SRC2017 hashtag on twitter to read reviews on this book as well as reviews on the other summer books! Also, be sure to check out the BookSparks Facebook page for the #SRC2017  and other fun links. You can participate in weekly secret missions for chances to win signed copies of selected books and more! There's a new secret mission each week :)

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