Review: The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

‘I’ve been following her for the past few days. I know where she buys her groceries, where she has her dry cleaning done, where she works. I don’t know the colour of her eyes or what they look like when they’re scared. But I will.’

Mia Dennett can’t resist a one-night stand with the enigmatic stranger she meets in a bar. But going home with him might turn out to be the worst mistake of Mia’s life…

the_good_girl_frontThe sinister narrator’s perspective in the synopsis hooked me, and in The Good Girl I actually got even more than I expected. This strikes me as incredibly skilful for a debut as the novel actually has *four* different narrators, each with their own voice, distinctive personality and own insights to bring to the table. The plot contains the multiple layers necessary to draw you in and have you invested in the outcome.  Whilst I did see the plot twist coming, it still took the novel to a whole other level that gives food for thought long after you’ve finished reading.  What I enjoyed most was watching the different characters and relationships grow and evolve throughout the story.

What really let the novel down for me, was the unspeakably appalling formatting. All four narrators use the first person, and the point of view jumps randomly from one narrator to the other, as well as to different time-frames WITHIN THE SAME PARAGRAPH!! There was not so much as a line-break to separate them, so that one second you’re reading as the detective whilst Mia is missing, the next you’re the mother after Mia’s fate is known, then suddenly you’re the kidnapper during the kidnapping again. Frequently I would suddenly realise that what I was reading made no sense, and have to backtrack through the paragraph to try and determine at what point the point-of-view shifted. It was so jarring as to render the book almost unreadable, and it says a great deal about the quality of the character portrayal and intrigue of the plotline that I even continued reading. Hopefully these issues will have been ironed out by the time The Good Girl is published, and if so it is well worth your time. I for one am certainly excited to see this author’s future work.

Disclaimer: I was sent an ecopy of The Good Girl by NetGalley for the purposes of this review, but all opinions given are, as always, entirely my own.
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Review: Then and Always by Dani Atkins

Rachel Wiltshire has everything she’s ever wanted: a close group of friends, a handsome boyfriend, and acceptance to the journalism program at her top-choice college. But one fateful evening, tragedy tears her world apart.

Five years later, Rachel returns home for the first time to celebrate her best friend’s wedding. Still coping with her grief, she can’t stop thinking about the bright future she almost had, if only that one night had gone differently. But when a sudden fall lands her in the hospital, Rachel wakes to find that her life has completely changed. Now she has her dream job as a writer and a stylish apartment, but the people she loves most are not the way she remembers them. Unable to trust her own recollections, Rachel tries to piece together what really happened, and not even she can predict the astonishing truth.

ThenandAlwaysWhat would you do if one day you woke up, and the entire world and everyone you knew were completely different from the way you remembered them? The premise behind Then and Now attracted me, and was the big hook of the novel. I devoured the book in a short space of time, entirely because I simply could not see how the author was going to resolve the puzzle, and I *had* to know what was going on!

The characters are a little bit cliché: the good-looking boyfriend, the beautiful alleged friend who appears to have her beady eye on the good-looking boyfriend, the childhood best friend who appears to be in love with the heroine but won’t tell her so. I was slightly confused by our heroine, who seems desperate to prove that her old life is the true reality, and given how unbelievably miserable her old life was, I had trouble understanding and believing that she would feel that way. I wasn’t entirely happy with some of her actions, which in actual fact I felt to be more realistic than characters who are complete saints 100% of the time, and I still rooted for her regardless.

The novel was slightly overwritten at times, with lengthy, mundane descriptive prose which took me a while to get used to, and was somewhat frustrating as I was keen to get to the nitty gritty of the plot, but overall it’s an easy summer read, with a plot that I couldn’t get out of my head and an ending that left me feeling somewhat shell-shocked.

Disclaimer: I was provided with an ecopy of Then and Always by NetGalley for the purposes of this review, but the opinions given are, as always, entirely my own. 
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Review: Gluten-Free Breakfast, Brunch & Beyond by Linda J. Amendt

Whilst I do not have coeliac disease, I do have more food intolerances than you can shake a breadstick at, and as a result I generally avoid processed food and opt for cooking everything myself from scratch.  As a former cooking-avoider, I thought this would be a horrendous task but in truth I found myself, not just eating more healthily than I ever had before, but also *enjoying* my food more than I ever recalled.  Thanks to that experience this cookbook interested me a great deal.  It aims to help the gluten-avoider revel in the same flavours and textures as the gluten-containing equivalent, but without that criminal ingredient spoiling all their fun.

Gluten-free breakfastThe first chapter contains information about gluten, gluten-free ingredients, and explains how the same textures can be achieved in baking without utilising gluten-containing products, followed by a recipe for homemade gluten-free flour which can be substituted into any recipe.  Chapters 2 through 10 contain a large assortment of recipes under the following subheadings:

  • Quick breads and muffins
  • Biscuits and scones
  • Pancakes and crepes
  • Waffles and French toast
  • Coffee cakes
  • Yeast breads and sweet rolls
  • Frittatas and omelets
  • Quiches
  • Savoury Stratas

Each chapter begins with a brief discussion of equipment, techniques and quick tips to achieve the desired results, and the recipe chapters are followed by appendices giving advice on ingredients with and without gluten, potential substitutions should the reader have an allergy to some of the other ingredients, and tips on converting favourite recipes to gluten-free.

As you can see there is a lot of useful information within this book, and each chapter also contains plenty of recipes.  Whilst some of the ingredients were alien to me, there appears to be a core range that are used frequently.  All in all, this seems a very useful book for anyone new to gluten-free cooking or desperate to recreate favourite gluten-containing foods of old.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a temporary download of Gluten-Free Breakfast, Brunch & Beyond for the purposes of this review, but all opinions given are, as always, entirely my own.
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Review: Black Chalk by Christopher J Yates

One game. Six students. Five survivors.

It was only ever meant to be a game.

A game of consequences, of silly forfeits, childish dares. A game to be played by six best friends in their first year at Oxford University. But then the game changed: the stakes grew higher and the dares more personal, more humiliating, finally evolving into a vicious struggle with unpredictable and tragic results.

Now, fourteen years later, the remaining players must meet again for the final round. Black-Chalk

The concept behind Black Chalk grabbed me right from the get-go. The idea of an innocent game evolving into something more sinister and the effect that would have on its participants seemed both intriguing and tragically realistic. The ‘winner’ stands to walk away with a sizeable prize – not just the stakes of their fellow players, but a considerable sum added to the pot by the mysterious Game Society, provided the players promise to keep the Game and the Game Soc private.

And now, after living with the game hanging over their heads for fourteen years, the remaining players must meet up for their final round, and who knows better than your best friends what will break you? As the story develops, one is forced to wonder whether it’s possible to ‘win’ the Game. Perhaps the best that can be hoped for is to survive it.

The novel begins in the aftermath of the Game, and we can immediately see the devastating psychological effects on the narrator, who now lives a hermit’s existance, trapped by a complicated web of OCD routines and guilt over the Game. The story of the formation of the friendship group and the birth of the game is told through flashbacks interspersed through present day scenes. I did find this slightly disorientating initially, as the current day is in the first person, whilst the flashbacks are in the third person, and it is not apparent for quite some time which player our narrator is. This turns out to be an intentional twist by the author, and as the novel progresses it works very well indeed.

Psychologically, this book is utterly incredible. Each of the 6 players has their own issues and Achilles heel before the Game even begins, and as the Game progresses we can see the differing effects of stress on each individual as they struggle to deal with the humiliating consequences and are lead deeper and deeper into the pitfalls of both pride and revenge.

Unbelievably, this is Christopher Yates’ debut novel. It is dark, disturbing and compelling, contains sneaky plot-twists and the characterisation is magnificent. In short, it’s ingenious.

Disclaimer: I was sent an ecopy of Black Chalk by NetGalley for the purposes of this review, but the opinions given are, as always, entirely my own.

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Review: Hot Secrets by Lisa Renee Jones

Royce Walker, a former FBI Agent, who’s opened a private security firm with his brothers, has always had the hots for the prim, proper Assistant District Attorney, but considered her hands off because of a family connection. However, when danger threatens Lauren, he isn’t willing to stand by and watch her get hurt. Now the passion for survival is only rivalled by the passion burning between them. And that passion might just be the death of them both. HotSecrets

I don’t mind admitting that I’m somewhat partial to my leading men being FBI-shaped, so I was drawn by the synopsis, which promised a mixture of romance and thriller. Royce is given enough character to avoid being merely lust-fluff, and Lauren, whilst a little vulnerable in the face ongoing danger, does remain a strong female lead.

I did feel the author tried just a bit too hard with the chemistry initially, with every single glance or accidental touch between Royce and Lauren causing various tingling sensations which became somewhat repetitive, not to mention being akin to a town-crier striding through the novel yelling “It’s going to get steamy, people!”. As the storyline progressed this was less overdone however, and the romance was given sufficient depth to have the reader invested in the outcome.

The gradual building of suspense as threats against Lauren increase is expertly done, and kept me turning e-pages until I’d reached the conclusion. I did feel the denouement was slightly rushed, particularly after how well the plot led up to that point, but overall the novella was an enjoyable read.  Hot Secrets is the first in a series featuring the three Walker brothers who run a security firm.

 Disclaimer: I was provided with an eARC by NetGalley but all opinions given are, as always, entirely my own

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Review: A June Bride by Marybeth Whalen

It takes a reality TV show for Wynne to realize love isn’t just a game.

Wynne Hardy never thought she’d get engaged on a reality TV show, but when she met Andy on The Rejection Connection, the two of them hit it off. Now he’s asked her to marry him, much to the public’s delight and fascination. They’re all set to wed on live TV in a seaside ceremony at the height of the wedding season.

But just as Wynne thinks all her dreams are coming true, her ex-boyfriend walks back into her life at the worst possible time. Callum broke her heart years ago, and she’s still sorting through her feelings for him. Her heart isn’t as clear as her head that it’s past time to move on—even though she’s engaged to Andy.

Will Wynne go through with her televised wedding and be the perfect June bride the network is looking for?

a-june-bride

From the outset of the novella where Wynne is being interviewed on television, I was intrigued by the reality show concept which raised the possibility as to whether each character were who they appeared to be on screen or were putting on an act for the audience. Unfortunately the story really didn’t live up to the potential of its premise.

Whilst Wynne is clearly holding back and playing the ‘perfect part’ for the cameras, she remains one-dimensional as a character even during private moments of the novel. The story is told in the third person, and this combined with the fact that the nature of her thoughts was both repetitive and superficial, without really delving into her emotions adequately, makes it hard to warm to her. I found it equally difficult to invest in any of the other characters. Andy could have added spice to the story by either being wildly in love with Wynne, or being indifferent but playing his part for a brief shot at fame, but instead he’s rather lacklustre and barely features at all. Equally Callum is so briefly featured that it’s difficult to engage with him, and I found myself unable to care whether she ended up with either one of them.

Meredith, a fellow reality TV star, does add some interest by being a rather contradictory and larger-than-life character, but this really only highlights the potential that failed to be realised with the rest of the cast. The reality tv setting was ultimately far more interesting than either side of the love-triangle, which considering this is billed as a romance meant, for me, that it was rather wide of the mark.

Disclaimer: I was provided with an eARC by NetGalley but all opinions given are, as always, entirely my own
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Review: A May Bride by Meg Moseley

She’s prepared for her wedding all her life.…but she forgot a few things.

 Ellie Martin, a country girl in Atlanta, has dreamed of a traditional wedding all her life; a wedding like the one her younger sister is planning back in their hometown. Their single mom will pay for Alexa’s wedding, but Ellie started her own wedding fund years ago. She only needs to find a groom.

She bumps into a man who’s a guest at a wedding on the church grounds and they embark on a whirlwind romance, but her mother doesn’t trust freewheeling men like him. Standing up to Mom leads Ellie to stick up for Alexa too. When Ellie risks her own plans for her sister’s sake, Gray feels betrayed. Will he always play second fiddle?

 Will Ellie and Gray reconcile their differences so her dream wedding can come true, or will the romance they’ve begun come crashing down?May Bride

 There were many elements of this novella that I liked: Ellie and Gray are both warm and likeable, yet both have their flaws which I felt made the whole story both more realistic. Their romance seems unnaturally hasty, with Ellie obsessing about wedding details with a mildly alarming rapidity. The whirlwind nature of their romance is counterbalanced neatly by handing the couples a few hurdles to overcome which prevented the plot from becoming too mundane and predictable.

 Ellie’s mother had a shotgun wedding with a smooth-talking city boy who later left her to raise 2 children single-handedly, and as a result she has become an extremely bitter woman who is both controlling and judgemental, projecting her own issues onto her children. Her (highly unpleasant!) character seemed contradictory to the Christian values pervading the story, but she and the issues from which Ellie subsequently suffers added necessary depth to the novella. Ellie’s inability to stand up for herself and cut the apron strings, and Gray’s sulky response to her behaviour were somewhat irritating and did make it a little more difficult to root for the couple, but overall the story is a pleasant rainy day read.

Disclaimer: I was provided with an eARC by NetGalley but all opinions given are, as always, entirely my own.
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