Historical Fiction, Mystery

Winter Sisters by Robin Oliveira

Winter SistersWinter Sisters by Robin Oliveira

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Where do I start? I belong to a group on Facebook called BookSharks. It is basically a place for bloggers and reviewers to participate in reading challenges and blog tours. Every once in a while books become available for members to read upon request in exchange for posting a review on their blog. That’s where Winter Sisters comes in. I saw this title come across the Facebook group and I had to have it!

Winter Sisters is a historical fiction novel (my first this year!) as well as a story shrouded in mystery. When a debilitating blizzard comes crashing through Albany in 1879, the townspeople find themselves taking shelter in any nook or cranny they can find. The children spend days in the school and shop owners take shelter in their establishments, waiting for the deadly blizzard to pass. After several days, the skies begin to clear and the townspeople who were trapped by the weather are free to return to their homes. But, not everybody is going to make it back. The brutality of the storm becomes evident as the casualties pile up, and two young sisters are unaccounted for, no bodies to be found. The question becomes, “Where are Emma and Claire O’Donnell?”

What starts out as a mystery novel ends in the vein of a courtroom drama. As somebody who watches a lot of Investigation Discovery, if this work of fiction were a true story, it would make the perfect material for an episode of 48 hours (but, 1879 style).

Let me first start out by saying that I had never read a book by Robin Oliveira before, but I’m now a major fan. Her writing was absolutely beautiful. So sophisticated. So enthralling. Her extensive vocabulary and ability to play with sentence structure were incredible. It was written in a way that I absolutely felt like I had stepped into the 1800s.

Second, let me give a nod to the characters. I must admit I was a tad confused in the beginning when a litany of names and relationships were being thrown out. I found it slightly hard to follow who was in which family, and how each member was related. But one piece of advice: just keep reading. As the characters develop, the relationships become much more apparent and easy to follow. As far as the characters themselves, I found myself relating to each of them. I felt Mary’s anger. I felt Elizabeth’s sadness. I felt Jakob’s internal conflict. Robin Oliveira was masterful in her development of each contributing character.

I always try to caution the readers on my blog if there is disturbing content in any book I review. This book had some material that may be difficult for some readers specifically related to sexual assault, but I didn’t find it overtly graphic.

Winter Sisters is perfect for anybody who is looking for their next great historical fiction or mystery novel, or any of my John Grisham fans. This one is for you.

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Audiobook Review, Mystery, Psychological Thriller

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

Pretty GirlsPretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Let me start by saying, I love the library. I love getting books for free. I love the variety and availability of titles. However, I don’t love waiting for holds. For anybody who isn’t familiar with the library, most places have a certain number of copies available for people to check out at any given time. If those copies are already checked out, you get placed on a wait list. Example: currently I am #902 on the wait list for like 30 copies of Before We Were Yours. Major sad face. So I’ll probably read it sometime 8 months from now when it finally gets released (unless I break down and buy it first).

i'll wait

Needless to say, rather than constantly be waiting on a hold, I often dig through older titles in search of something that might be available immediately (i.e. no wait list). That bring me to Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter. It was available now and I snatched it right up. I had never read Karin Slaughter before, I knew nothing about the story line, but I did know it was a mystery/thriller so I jumped on it.

Okay, first off, this book is not for the faint of heart. Major disclaimer: When I say there is graphic material in this book, that’s perhaps an understatement. If we were rating movies, this would definitely be rated R. It was violent. It was disturbing. Maybe even bordering more on horror than thriller. But, it was also extremely well done!

Also, side note, when you’re listening to a super effed up book on audio, make sure your bluetooth headphones are connected before hitting play. I’m just going to throw that out there.

The story centers around Claire and Lydia, sisters whose relationship has been strained, estranged even, for years following the disappearance of their third sister Julia. But their lives suddenly come colliding back together after the death (ahem, murder) of Claire’s husband Paul. In the wake of his funeral, Claire discovers that her husband may not have been the man she thought he was (can you say double life?). For fear of giving anything else away, I won’t divulge much more pertaining to the plot, but I will say that there were multiple times that my jaw hit the floor. Like right down to the gas pedal in my Cadillac SRX. Full on shock value.

xV8oNRA

But, did I mention it was disturbing? Just remember that. That’s my last warning.

Karin Slaughter was masterful in her development of the characters, the evolution of the story from beginning to end, and the way in which she tied all the elements together. Like I said, I had not previously read anything by her, but Pretty Girls won’t be my last.

Let me also just give a shout out to Kathleen Early whose narration brought Claire and Lydia to life, particularly during some of the more stressful chapters. With almost 20 hours of story, she kept me engaged from beginning to end.

Another little morsel. There is a short story at the end of the main novel (around 2 hours long) that details the day leading up to Julia’s disappearance from her perspective. I thought that was a great added touch, and brought a little something extra to the table.

Thoroughly enjoyed it. Not even sure I can compare it to something else I’ve read lately. It was truly unique, and any true horror fan would be smitten.

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Dystopian, Young Adult

Spaghetti Head by Sarah Tyley

Spaghetti HeadSpaghetti Head by Sarah Tyley

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

So a funny thing happened one day while perusing my favorite book lover’s Facebook group. On Fridays, any member in the group can self promote by sharing links to their blogs, authors can advocate for their books, etc. I happened to share a couple of blog posts that week and Sarah Tyley commented saying that she really liked the style of the blog but wondered if I ever gave books 5 star reviews. Now let me start by saying, I’m somewhat of a tough critic. I generally need a book to really “wow” me to give it 5 stars. As a manager, I tend to think of the star system as similar to the employee evaluations I dole out every year. 4 stars = fully meets expectations. 5 stars = exceeds expectations. So imagine my surprise when Sarah asked if she could take the “5 star challenge,” and give her book, Spaghetti Head, a read. I happily obliged.

The story is set 100 years in the future in a post-apocalyptic world, and revolves around the life of Nell, a quirky gal who struggles with relationships, but above all struggles with the negativity of her (literal) inner voice. When Nell wins The Award, an “honor” bestowed upon those who are selected to assist in re-population of the Earth, she has two options: accept and get pregnant, or refuse and be reallocated.

Most of the book focuses on Nell fighting her inner demons. The title Spaghetti Head refers to the fact that Nell has “scrambled spaghetti” up in her noggin and needs to straighten it out. Sarah Tyley plays around with the concept of psychotherapy in a futuristic world, which was fascinating. The creative techniques and modern technologies described throughout the novel were thought provoking (i.e. could this ever happen 100 years from now?). The addition of a modern day (excuse me, “future day”) love story puts the icing on the cake.

So let me just say, if I could rate it solely on creativity, it would get 5 stars all the way!! Sarah knocked it out of the park with her imagination. There were so many unique and fantastic details throughout the story ranging from the futuristic timeline to the modern gizmos and gadgets at the characters’ disposal. I loved taking a break from reality and jumping into Sarah’s world. When it comes to the actual writing of the book, I would probably give it 4 stars. The writing was good and kept me engaged from beginning to end, but it had more of a young adult feel to it/may have been a little less sophisticated than what I was hoping. So all in all, if Goodreads would allow me to give 4.5 stars I would, but since it won’t, in this instance I will round up! 5 star challenge accomplished!

For any fans of Divergent or the Hunger Games, this would probably be up your alley. It has a very dysptopian/young adult feel and would jive well with readers that enjoy the aforementioned titles.

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General Fiction (Adult), Southern Fiction

Slightly South of Simple (Peachtree Bluff #1) by Kristy Woodson Harvey

Slightly South of Simple (Peachtree Bluff #1)Slightly South of Simple by Kristy Woodson Harvey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The perfect summer read!

I was looking for a little lighthearted relief from the string of dark and twisty mystery/thrillers I’ve been reading lately, and Slightly South of Simple was just what I needed. As a Southern Fiction novel, it had the right amount of Southern charm, but also contained some very real and emotional content.

I instantly related to one of the book’s main characters, Caroline, the Northern, urban, New York City gal who finds herself back in her mother’s hometown of Peachtree Bluff, Georgia after being utterly humiliated when her marriage falls apart in a very public fashion. Not the Southern type, she finds it hard to leave NYC but needs to escape her life for a while. As a born and bred Michigander turned Tennessean, I could totally relate to the culture shock Caroline experienced when she wound up living in a small Georgia town (although, let’s be real, I live in Nashville so it’s a tad different).

Meanwhile, Caroline’s two sisters, one whose military husband is deployed for the millionth time leaving her to tend to the kids, and another whose Hollywood dreams have led to the filming of a new movie just outside of Peachtree Bluff, both end up temporarily making the journey to Georgia as well. Suddenly their mother Ansley finds her house full of children and grandchildren, and the secrets held within Peachtree Bluff begin to reveal themselves.

To be completely honest, I had no idea this was part of a series when I began reading it (luckily I picked book #1 in the series, huh?). And now I can’t wait to read the rest. This book was narrated primarily by Caroline and her mother Ansley. However, I opened book #2, The Secret to Southern Charm, immediately after finishing and it appeared as if it was narrated by Sloane, one of the other sisters. I am assuming that perhaps each book is written from a different sister’s perspective which is pretty interesting.

This was an extremely quick and easy read, and would make the perfect companion for a day at the beach, or for sitting on the front porch on a sunny day. Kudos to Kristy Woodson Harvey on this charming Southern gem.

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General Fiction (Adult), Psychological Thriller

What Happened That Night by Sandra Block

What Happened That NightWhat Happened That Night by Sandra Block

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Expected Publication: June 5th!

Whoa! This book was packed with a ton of content, and the story had layers upon layers. I loved it!

Disclaimer: There are some (graphic) depictions of sexual assault, and some topics that may be hard for people to read. But, it was done in a way that enhanced the story, made it heartbreakingly real, and captured the reader.

The issues raised by Sandra Block ranged from sexual assault, suicide, mental illness, and Asperger’s to relationship struggles between friends, family, and lovers. I could not believe how she delivered this much heavy content, and somehow the story wasn’t incredibly depressing. If anything, it provided a message of hope.

Five years ago, Dahlia was the victim of a brutal assault, waking up bruised, battered, and bleeding. As a result, she finds herself utterly broken. But making matters worse is the fact that she can’t remember exactly what happened that night. Fast forward to present day and a horrifying video of the assault is uploaded to the internet, graphically detailing the attack as well as photographically identifying her attackers. Filled with rage, Dahlia finds herself planning the ultimate revenge.

Meanwhile Dahlia’s coworker, James, finds it hard to connect with others. His Asperger’s always makes it difficult. But when he runs into Dahlia at a Survivors of Suicide support group, they quickly find themselves developing a friendship, one that ultimately leads to James assisting in the plot for revenge.

Sandra Block nailed this storyline. I read all 352 pages in 2 days. I couldn’t put it down. It gave me a slightly “Revenge” feel at times (i.e. the TV show we all binge watched on Netflix a few years ago) which I loved.

revenge

I don’t know how much more I can say without giving away pieces of the plot, so I’ll just say that if you are looking for a page turner, I would highly recommend What Happened That Night! There are surprises around every corner, and you won’t be able to stop turning until the very end.

-I received this advance review copy in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to NetGalley, Sandra Block, and Sourcebooks Landmark for the opportunity to review.-

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