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Review: The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins

The Wife UpstairsI’ve never read Jane Eyre, so I can’t speak to how faithful to the original Rachel Hawkin’s updated retelling, The Wife Upstairs is or isn’t. What I can speak to is that sense that this novel never quite connected with me.

Set in Birmingham, Alabama, Jane is on the run from her past. Working as a dog-walker for the city’s elite, Jane meets Eddie Rochester. Eddie’s wife disappeared (along with her best friend) under mysterious circumstances and is presumed dead.

So, of course, these two begin dating and their relationship moves rather quickly from dating to living together to engaged. Jane doesn’t want a big wedding for fear of publicity bringing unwanted questions from her past life, but her old roommate is more than willing to blackmail her to keep those pursuing her at bay. Jane works to keep one step ahead of her past, teasing readers with what it may or may not be for far longer than I had much patience for.

That really sums up my disappointment with The Wife Upstairs. It teases us for far too long (though we know a bit about what Eddie is up to early on) without giving sufficient answers to the questions raised until I’d long since lost most of my interest in Jane. I suppose if I’d cracked open a copy of Jane Eyre at some point in my life, I’d already know a lot of what is revealed in the final third of the book. But that might have ruined some of the “thrill” of discovering all this for myself.

Another issue with The Wife Upstairs is that it attempts to be a domestic suspense thriller without offering much in the way of thrills or suspense. I found myself more relieved to finally be done with the novel than satisfied with the overall reading experience once I turned the final page.

Overall, a disappointment.

I received a digital ARC of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst

The Bone Maker

Sarah Beth Durst’s latest stand-alone fantasy novel offers a unique magic system, some quirky characters, and a fantasy-take on the “getting the band back together” story.

Years ago, five heroes defeated the evil Elkor and went their separate ways, becoming the stuff of legend. Twenty-five years later, Kreya’s legend has become a bit darker — she lives alone in a tower, keeping alive her husband (who died in the battle) through the use of dark and illegal magics. Increasingly desperate to find a source of human bones to cast the spells and give her just a few more hours with the love of her life, Kreya hatches on a plot that will eventually involve her old crew getting back together.

Of course, there’s a reason some bands break up. And as the band gets back together in The Bone Maker, Kreya come to realize that maybe they didn’t defeat Elkor as utterly as the legends say.

There aren’t many times when it comes to fantasy novels that I wish the author had extended a series. That isn’t necessarily the case with The Bone Maker. While Kreya gets solid character work, the rest of the crew doesn’t feel as deep or as well realized. I kept wondering if Durst might have been better served by making this a duology, allowing us to have a bit more of an investment in the characters.

It would also give us a chance to enjoy her well-realized magical system. I enjoy fantasy where there are limits or consequences to using the magical system and that’s the case with what Durst has realized here.

The Bone Maker offers an intriguing magical system, some dark character takes and is a stand-alone fantasy that left me wanting just a bit more. An overall success and one that has me intrigued to give some of Durst’s other fantastic worlds a try.

I received a digital ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Trial and Error by Robert Whitlow

Trial and Error

When I first read Robert Whitlow, I was impressed by the authenticity of his novels — not just the legal thriller aspect, but also the journeys and arcs he put his characters through. Over the last two decades, I’ve read just about everything Whitlow has written. While I’ve enjoyed watching him stretch himself as a writer, there’s still something comforting about him returning to his roots with his latest novel. Trial and Error.

Seventeen years ago, Buddy Smith became a father. He got to spend a few days with his daughter before she and her mother vanished. Buddy’s spent the last seventeen years trying to find his daughter, all while building a legal career in his home of Milton County. Buddy’s passion is renewed when he finds evidence his father was supporting the mother of his child financially for years but kept it a secret from Buddy and his mother.

Clerk of the court and local softball team coach, Gracie Blaylock is on her own journey. She’s been Buddy’s friend since high school and she’s been praying for Buddy and his family for years. With the introduction of a new sheriff’s deputy who specializes in missing persons, could Gracie’s prayers be finally answered in ways she does and doesn’t expect?

Whitlow’s early legal thrillers centered on good people who have to make difficult choices. The one thing that always stood out about Whitlow’s novels was the authentic journey his flawed characters go on during the course of the novel. Whitlow does feature the story of a person’s conversion, but it’s not presented as a moment in which all of that person’s problems are swept away. There may be a peace that comes over that person and a new perspective, but it’s not like waving a magic wand to make all the issues and problems go away. (I’m looking at you LeftBehind novels).

Of course, part of the secret is that Whitlow gets you to invest in his characters so when the pivotal moment comes, you feel it along with the character. Whitlow also doesn’t have everyone magically gets saved on the same timeline. There’s a character of a visiting judge who is challenged by Gracie and begins to examine his life, but we don’t see a conversion from him. (It may happen off-screen, but Whitlow doesn’t tell us one way or the other)

Whitlow’s characters shine through as do his legal storylines. There are multiple stories going on and Whitlow expertly weaves them together. I found myself turning the last page of this one feeling fully satisfied with Trial and Error as a stand-alone story but that I wouldn’t mind going back to the world of Buddy and Gracie again, should Whitlow be so inclined.

This is one of the best novels Whitlow has written in a long time. Highly recommended.

I received a digital ARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: This Will Be Funny Someday by Katie Henry

This Will Be Funny SomedayOne of my great literary pleasures of 2020 was discovering Katie Henry’s works. Henry’s young adult novels feature quirky teenage protagonists facing issues and dilemmas that most of us would struggle with as adults. The characters are all frustratingly relatable because, as readers, we can see how they could and should change themselves to make interacting with the world a bit smoother and easier. But, like all of us, they can’t or aren’t ready to make that change just yet.

Henry’s third novel This Will Be Funny Someday may be her best offering so far, which is high praise given how much I enjoyed her first two novels.

Sixteen-year-old Izzy has always felt a bit out of place. In her family, she sees herself as the odd person out when it comes to the matched pairs — her parents and her older twin siblings. At school, Izzy is protected by her relationship with her boyfriend, though even that has come at the cost of alienating her best friend. Izzy has deep-rooted issues when it come to assigning herself value — whether it’s the (misconception) that she ruined her mother’s career when her mom discovered she was pregnant with Izzy or the emotionally abusive nature of her relationship with her boyfriend. Continue reading

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Review: The Night Swim by Megan Goldin

The Night SwimAfter two successful seasons of a true-crime podcast, Rachel Krall has found the third season for her show – the small-town trail of a young man accused of rape and its impact on him, the alleged victim, and their community.

Reading Megan Goldin’s The Night Swim, I couldn’t help but wish I’d decided to listen to the audio version of this story. Well, at least that was the case in the chapters when Megan is narrating her podcast. I couldn’t help but feel I was missing something by not listening to Rachel narrate the story as it unfolds.

Rachel’s investigation into the current rape charge brings up some old undercurrents and possibly cover-ups in the small town. The Night Swim doesn’t pull any punches or shy away from examining the implications of the rape on all those associated with it. It’s a hard, eye-opening look and yet, somehow, the novel walks a fine line. The mystery of what happened the nights in question drives the narrative and while I wouldn’t call this a suspense thriller, I will say that I was curious to see where the actual truth would lie in the final pages.

As with many great crime novelists working today, Goldin’s interest isn’t just in solving the central mystery but looking at the impact that mystery has on its characters and society as a whole. Coming away fromThe Night Swim, I found myself thinking about it and pondering those implications long after the final page was turned.

I received a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue bu V.E. Schwab

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRueNearing her 23rd birthday in a small village, the Addie LaRue of 1714 wants nothing to do with her family’s plans to marry her to a widowed man nearly twice her age. Desperate to escape, Addie calls upon the gods, making a Faustian deal with a devil named Luc.

Addie won’t age. But she also won’t make an impact on the world nor will anyone she interacts with remember who she is. The deal runs out when grows weary and willingly surrenders her soul to Luc. But Addie didn’t count on the immediate heartbreak of her family instantly forgetting her, leaving her without a home and forced to find loopholes to make minor impressions upon the world for the next three hundred years.

Until one day, she wanders into a bookstore and meets Henry. And while stealing a book (Addie gets by stealing a lot of what she needs since people don’t recall her once she’s out of sight), Henry follows her and confronts her, saying the three words she’s been dying to hear for so long — “I remember you.” Continue reading

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Review: The Wife Who Knew Too Much by Michele Campbell

The Wife Who Knew Too MuchConnor Ford is the one itch that Tabitha Girard has never been able to resist scratching. It begins during their teenage years when Connor and Tabitha have a summer romance while she works as his grandmother’s country club. Connor’s grandmother doesn’t approve of the pairing and soon finds a way to break the two up.

Years later, Connor wanders into the restaurant/bar where Tabitha is waitressing, and the two attempt to pick up where they left off. The only things standing in their way are Tabitha’s recently released from jail ex-husband and Connor’s wealthy wife, who are suspects that Connor is stepping out on her. Thanks to an iron-clad prenup, if Connor leaves his wife, he loses everything.

So, when Connor’s wife turns up drowned in her swimming pool after a summer party and Tabitha reveals she’s expecting Connor’s child, suspicions begin to mount. After quickly and quietly marrying Connor, Tabitha begins to suspect that her new husband may be keeping secrets from her — deadly secrets. Continue reading

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Review: Four Days of You and Me by Miranda Kenneally

Four Days of You and MeAlex and Lulu are as close to star-crossed lovers as you’ll see in Coffee County High School.

Beginning in their freshman year, both run for class president on the platform of how to best use some of the school’s vacant land. Alex wants a batting cage, Lulu want a garden to provide the cafeteria with sustainable fresh fruits and veggies. Despite being opposites, there is an unmistakable attraction between the two.

That attraction plays out over the next four years of their journey through high school in Miranda Kenneally’s Four Days of You and Me. The story unfolds one day in May as their class takes a field trip — whether it’s to the local science museum, a theme park, New York City or London. Continue reading

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Review: Who Killed the Fonz by James Boice

Who Killed the Fonz?In the late 80’s and early 90’s, fondly remembered television series of the past received made-for-television reunion films. James Boice’s Who Killed the Fonz feels like it could be a long-lost reunion movie for the cast of one of my all-time favorite shows, Happy Days.

Beginning in 1984 (the year that Happy Days finally ended its epic run), Who Killed the Fonz finds Richard Cunningham at a crossroads in his Hollywood career. While he’s had success as a writer, including an Oscar nod, he can’t quite get his dream project off the ground. When his agent tells presents him an offer to make write a Star Wars clone, Richard is less thrilled. However, it’s either write the movie he doesn’t want anything to do with or face the end of chasing his dreams in Hollywood.

Then, Richard receives a call from Milwaukee that his old friend, Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli had died in an motorcycle accident. Seems that Fonzie flipped off the front of his bike on a bridge, plunging to his death in the icy waters below. Richard goes back to Milwaukee for the first time in twenty years to bury his old friend and to consider what the next stage in his career will be. (Marion moved out to Hollywood with Richard and Laurie Beth years ago after Howard passed away and they left the famous house to Joanie and Chiachi).

Billed as an 80’s noir thriller, Who Killed the Fonz is a loving homage to the classic series. Boice clearly knows his Happy Days lore, sprinkling in a few nostalgic flashbacks to classic episodes and moments from the series run as Richard comes to terms with the Fonz’s death and that he hasn’t been back to see his old friends in two decades.* He even has Fonzie’s funeral take place at the same funeral home used in the “Fonzie’s Funeral” two-parter late in the run of Richie episodes. Continue reading

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Review: Oh My Stars by Sally Kilpatrick

Oh My StarsNeither Ivy Long nor Gabe Ledbetter could have predicted the chain of events that led them to serve as Mary and Joseph at the drive-through nativity in the small town of Ellery, Tennessee.

A published romance author, Ivy has suffered writer’s block since her husband passed away and plans fell through with their foster child. Gabe has returned home from Memphis, with a failing marriage and a looming malpractice suit.

So, when a baby is left in the drive-through Nativity, neither Ivy nor Gabe expected they would become her care givers. Nor could they predict the impact this little girl would have on their hearts. Could this be a Christmas present or miracle to help them both move on from their past and maybe find a new love — not just for the little girl, but for each other. Continue reading

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