Saturday, December 1, 2018

An Anonymous Girl and other November Reads

I finished nine books in the month of November:

The First Conspiracy by Brad Meltzer and John Mensch (ARC)
A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab
An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen (ARC)
Before and Again by Barbara Delinsky (audiobook)
Turtles all the Way Down by John Green
The Cure by Douglas E. Richards
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan
The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves (ARC)

I also wrote over 52,000 words this month, and I am a little bit tired!

I’ve included my review of my favorite ARC of the month below. You can click on the links here to see my reviews of the other two.
The First Conspiracy https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2580740007 

The Girl He Used to Know https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2604139127


I received an Advance Reader’s Copy of An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen from the publisher (St. Martin’s Press) in exchange for an honest review. An Anonymous Girl is scheduled for release on January 8, 2019.

I read The Wife Between Us last year and struggled with some plot and character issues. This made me a little hesitant to pick up another book by this duo. While An Anonymous Girl did have some minor issues for me, I was overall pleasantly surprised by the read.

This is the story of Jess. Jess is living on her own in New York City, working as a makeup artist for hire for a local company. On one of her jobs, Jess overhears an invitation to a psychological study and manages to get herself on the subject list in order to make some extra money. The study is digging into the topics of ethics and morality. These are the topics of the whole story. What would you be willing to do for personal gain? What would you have to gain to violate your personal ethics?

Jess gets pulled into the life of the doctor who is running the study, accepting more money than she could have dreamed possible. Just to answer some questions about her past. And then to put herself in real-life situations (or maybe they’re staged, Jess is unsure….).

The events of the story unfold in NYC. Because I have been to New York, I was able to see the story unfold in this city. If I hadn’t been there, however, I think the descriptions in the novel would have led me to envision as a much calmer, quieter city than it is in reality.

Where the chaos lived was in the plot and the characters. For the duration of the story, lies and deception prevail. Like the characters, you find yourself constantly questioning every move of every individual. There were spots in the story where I got so lost in the layers of lies that I was mostly sure something happened in the plot that contradicted a previous plot point. Because of all the lies and questions, however, I was never sure if the issue was in my memory or an actual plot issue.

What I am more sure of is my impression of the characters. I struggled a lot with the psychiatrist running the study. This character is written in a very precise way, with the chapters told from this point of view written in second person, which I think was intended to mimic clinical, scientific writing. This was a very difficult point of view for me to connect with. I struggled to connect the voice here with the actions the character was taking.

The biggest glitch for me was the final moments of the story. There is one last twist, literally on the last two pages of the novel. This twist felt very contradictory to the character. It seemed to undo the entire arc of the character in question, throwing them right back to where they started the story. This stood out a lot to me, as the character had made great strides in the preceding chapters.

Overall, An Anonymous Girl was a more enjoyable story for me than the previous one by this pair of authors. They are very good at putting together twist and turns, making the reader question what they are reading. I think this pair will get even better as they continue writing, delivering stories with seamlessly woven plots and hopefully characters who are entirely consistent.

Friday, November 2, 2018

House of Gold and other October Reads

I finished 9 books in October:

Turpentine by Spring Warren
House of Gold by Natasha Solomons (ARC)
Buried Secrets by Joseph Finder (audiobook)
Seconds by David Ely
The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan (reread)
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas
The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware (audiobook)
Finders Keepers by Stephen King

I received a copy of House of Gold by Natasha Solomons through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. House of Gold was released on October 23, 2018.

House of Gold is the story of the Goldbaum family, a Jewish European family, before and through, World War I. The family is a financial icon, running banks across Europe that influence politics, industry, and the daily lives of people throughout Europe. To maintain the strength of the family, and tie the various houses together, marriages are often arranged between cousins. This is where Greta finds herself, planned to marry her cousin Albert, and leave her family in Austria to live with him in England. Neither Greta nor Albert are thrilled with the arrangement, but they do what is expected. Just as Greta starts to make sense of her new life, and find happiness in her new home, the War strikes. This war divides the Goldbaum family, with members fighting for both sides, and the ties that held their houses and financial power torn asunder.

While this is a novel, and is definitely fiction (not based on real people as far as I know), the story is rich with the history of the time. Discussions about whether or not to have electrical lights in the new house, whether women can wear pants while gardening (or remove their corsets), and struggles with childbirth and reproductive rights place the reader in the historical context. This story is definitely focused on Greta and her personal journey within this family and this time period. But the larger story, the question of the survival of the family as a whole and the world as a whole, loomed large. We spent a lot of time away from Greta, seeing the big picture from other points of view. In the end, I wanted more connection between Greta's story and the larger one. Even a moment where she saw her place in the big picture would have helped me here.

Throughout the story, the characters were consistent, and seemed to be accurate representations of the mindsets of the time. Again, I would have like more reflection. There are high stakes in this novel; characters lives are threatened, characters die, and I found myself not feeling the events. I realized this may have been because I had few moments to see the characters feel the events, and respond to them. I felt a bit distant from the characters and what they were experiencing.

I also struggled to keep track of the when and where throughout the story. This is not the author's fault. Headings throughout the novel included locations, months, and years. I just had difficulty tracking through a part of the world that is unfamiliar to me, and keeping dates in my head. I almost always struggle with this in novels with such a large scope, and have no idea what an author could do to make it easier to follow.

Overall, House of Gold was a good read. It was not my favorite historical novel, but it was an interesting historical look at a specific group of people during a significant moment in history.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Doll in the Driveway

It's Spook-tober, so I was in the mood to deliberately write a creepy tale. Dolls are scary, right?
 
There was a doll in the driveway.

Weird, yes. But not really shocking. I had seen little girls walking on the sidewalk, riding their bikes, skating in the street. There were clearly small humans nearby. Small humans that were likely to play with dolls. Small humans that might lose track of their toys, forget them when they were called home for lunch.

I stopped my car halfway up the drive. The doll had been forgotten, left behind, but that didn't mean it was okay for me to run it over. Someone loved this doll. Someone would miss it eventually and retrace their steps. I didn't want to be responsible for disappointment and possible devastation.

I left the car running as I got out to move the doll and clear a path to the driveway. The doll was warm in my hand, having soaked up all of the late afternoon sun. It was a floppy doll, understuffed, loose and shifty in my hands. As I lifted her up, her ceramic head and dark brown curls fell back. It looked so uncomfortable that I found myself adjusting my hands to support her head. Her head was heavy, especially compared to her almost empty body. Caught in my hand, she was positioned to look up at me. Dark brown eyes that tipped open and closed with the bobbing of her head.

I didn't like her looking at me. I tipped her head back to force her eyes closed and turned to lean her up against the front step. I wanted her to be super visible when her best friend came back to retrieve her. The eyes popped open again as soon as she was upright. It's just a doll, I told myself. No reason to feel weird under her stare. But I did. It felt strange, and I had to force myself, but I turned my back on her and walked back to my car.

As I pulled into the garage, my eyes were drawn back to her. She was staring at me, at my car. I hit the gas, in a hurry to get out of her gaze. I swear her head was turned toward the street, not the driveway, when I set her down. It's just a doll, I said again, out loud this time. There was no way she turned her head to watch me.

I closed the garage door just in case. I locked the door that separated the kitchen from the garage and checked the front door. I told myself it was just to make sure the little girl didn't wander in when she came to retrieve the doll. I might have believed myself.

Binge watching reality TV helped me forget about the doll. Until I turned off the TV and tried to settle into bed with a book. The little brown-haired doll child kept popping into scenes of the story she had no business inserting herself into. She interrupted a battle. Then a make-up make-out scene. That was too creepy to bear. I caved and closed the book, and took a pain/sleeping combo pill in an attempt to make her disappear.

Sleep eventually stole me. The creepy she-doll followed. Dreams of making coffee were twined with the doll's eyes popping open as she turned her head to look at me.

I woke up with a sleeping-pill hangover, feeling as if I hadn't slept at all. It was more than an hour before my alarm was set to go off, but there was zero chance of me falling back asleep. Again, I pretended that the doll on the driveway had nothing to do with my issues. I pushed the thoughts of her aside and drug myself through the shower, into the kitchen to brew a pot of coffee. Only when I had a cup of sweetened caffeine in my hand did I allow myself to go peek out the window.

Impatient, I headed straight from the coffee pot to the front window and shoved the heavy blue curtain aside.

She was gone. No floppy body leaned against my front step. Thank God.

Every cell in my body relaxed. Deeply satisfied by what I did not see, I took a hesitant drink of flaming hot coffee. It was the best coffee ever. I turned to go tuck myself into the corner of the couch to enjoy the rest and try to gear myself up for the day ahead.

She was sitting in my spot.

The mug slipped from my hand, cracking as it hit the hard floor, splashing scorching hot coffee over my toes. I screamed. The sound made the doll turn her head to look at me. It also made me wish I hadn't dropped my coffee. I wanted something in my hand to hurl at the creepy little doll-child. I wanted something to make her stop moving. I wanted something to make her go away.

I swear she raised an eyebrow and one corner of her mouth twitched up in an evil grin as she started to move her legs, her arms. She was trying to climb down out of my cozy spot.

I stepped away. My back hit the edge of the window sill. I was out of room. She was almost to the floor. If she made it, I imagined she would be able to dart across the floor to me. An image of her reaching for my legs, her mouth opening into a bloody, angry maw flickered in my mind. I screamed again.

Then I realized I still had a moment before her feet got to the floor. I was wasting time. I forced myself to look away from her, to turn my body and run. I was halfway down the hall before my brain caught up and I realized I made the stupid, trapped-in-a-horror-movie choice. The front door was closer. I should have gotten the hell out of the house instead of moving toward a space where she could trap me. There was no door to the outside on this side of the house.

I did the best I could to recover from my stupid decision. I slammed and locked the door to my bedroom. If nothing else, I had a solid door between us. Between my legs and her gnarly little teeth. Which I hadn't really seen, but was totally convinced she had.

What were my options? My cell phone was sitting on the table next to my bed. I could call someone. 911. Or Jessica. But what would I say? There is a doll holding me hostage in my house. There was no way to explain what was happening to someone over the phone. And I couldn't just ask someone to come over. They wouldn't be prepared, ready to defend themselves from the deadly doll.

So no calling for help. I would have to find a way out of this. A way around her.

I looked at the bedroom window. Technically, I could use it to get out. The problem was what was waiting on the other side. Right under my window was a cluster of rose bushes. Rose bushes that I had neglected for too long. They were hugely overgrown, a tangle of branches and thorns waiting to pierce me like a shish kabob. I wasn't that desperate to get out. Not yet anyway.

I moved back to the door and pressed my ear against the wood. I was careful to keep my feet far away from the narrow gap at the bottom. I wasn't sure if her skinny little arms could fit through, but I wasn't going to risk it. I held my breath to make the room truly quiet. I didn't hear anything. But she was a small, floppy little doll. I was sure she could be stealthy as she crept down the hall. I waited, hoping to hear anything, any sound that would tell me where she was, even if it was right on the other side of this door.

Nothing.

I was tempted to throw the door open and make a run for it. But she could be right there. She could have made a stop by the kitchen to grab a knife.

I stepped away from the door and moved into the attached bathroom. Somewhere in one of these drawers I had to have a mirror. A small one that I could slide under the door, allowing me to see where she had gone. By the time I found one, the bathroom floor was a disaster. I had made so much noise digging that it occurred to me she could have picked the lock and made her way in. She could be waiting on the bed for me.

I crawled across the floor and peeked around the bathroom door jamb. The door that led to the hall, the door that I had closed and locked, was open. I stopped breathing. I couldn't breath, couldn't make the muscles move to pull in air. I could make my eyes move. I scanned the room, expecting her to pop out at me. When I wasn't attacked, I could finally draw in a breath.

For a moment, I considered closing myself in the bathroom, putting a door between her and me. Again. But from the bathroom, I had no outs. No phone. No windows. Just me. In a bathroom. Until the end of time, possibly.

I also considered standing and making a run for the door. Turning my back on the bedroom, on the bed and the hidden space underneath it, however, was not happening. No way was I leaving her an open, undefended path to sink her needle-teeth into the back of my legs.

I had to find out where she was. I had to find a way around her. Which meant looking under the bed.

I sat in the doorway, staring at the bed. I wished I could will the stupid plaid bed skirt to lift up into the air, show me what or who was hiding underneath. It did not move.

I started to move across the carpet, crawling on all fours, ridiculously aware of every swishy-crunch of my hands and knees crushing the carpet fibers. There was no way she was going to be surprised, no way she would miss the fact that I was moving toward her hiding spot.

Halfway to the bed, I froze, convinced that she wasn't under the bed at all. She was clearly in the closet, peering out through the slats at my exposed back as I moved away, oblivious to her impending pounce. I could go check the closet, but then my back would be to the bed. I could back out of the room into the hallway. But what if she never came in the room at all? What if she just nudged the door open to trick me into coming out?

Commit, Sara. Talking to myself again. I refocused on the bed skirt, restarted my momentum across the carpet.

I was going to puke. I was going to pass out. I was going to pee on the floor like a terrified, over-excited little puppy.

I held it all in, held it all together. Finally close enough to touch the skirt, I paused again. I just wished I could see her, wherever she was. She'd be so much easier to deal with, so much easier to avoid. To escape.

I was trying to escape from a doll. This was ridiculous. I was a big girl. I needed to pull up my big girl pants and just deal with the damn problem. I reached out and flipped up the skirt.

She didn't jump out at me. Nothing jumped out at me. With my big girl pants firmly in place, I scrunched down and tipped my head to the side, determined to see anything that was lurking under the bed.

There she was. Sprawled a foot or so from the foot of the bed, her arms and legs thrown out as if she had fallen from a great height. She wasn't moving at all. I waited, expecting her head to turn, her body to roll toward me, her limbs to scurry her in my direction. Zero movement, not even a flinch.

I wanted to poke her. But from the side where I was half-laying on the floor, I couldn't reach her. Not without crawling under the bed with her. Not happening. I took a deep breath and scrambled around the corner of the bed to the spot where she must have crawled under. I didn't let myself pause before I moved the skirt to reveal her. She was still still. Still floppily spread out. So I poked her. No reaction.

I pinched her red fabric shoe and pulled her toward me, watching her eyes as she slid across the floor. They stayed tightly closed. She stayed locked inside the doll body, refusing to reveal herself to me again. Honestly, it bothered me. I wanted to see her, wanted to have a chance to really face her.

With her just lying there, all of the tension drained out of my body. I couldn't physically maintain that level of vigilance, that level of panic. So given this moment of calm, it all fell out of me. She was just a doll, lying still on the floor where I could clearly see her.

I turned and sat with my back to the foot of the bed. After a moment's hesitation, I picked up the doll, held her under her arms in both of my hands, her eyes level with my own. They had drifted open as I lifted her. We stared at each other. Well, I stared at her. She did nothing. Because she was just a doll.

I closed my eyes and blew out the last tendrils of tension. That 's when I felt it. The tightening of the little doll body. I slowly opened my eyes. She was looking back at me. Really looking.

She lunged, giving me only a second to wish I had just run her over.

If you're still in the mood for spooks, I have a short story on Amazon, free with KU!
 

Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Dream Daughter and Other September Reads

I finished eight books in September:

Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper by Robert Bloch
The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (audiobook)
The Ancient Nine by Ian Smith (eARC)
Betrayal by John Lescroart
The Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain (ARC)
When the Lights Go Out by Mary Kubica (audiobook)
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
November Road by Lou Berney (ARC)


This has been a bit of a blah reading month for me. Honestly, I didn’t read anything this month that I super loved. Two of the ARCs I read were very meh, you can find links to my reviews here:
The Ancient Nine 
November Road

The third ARC, I really did not enjoy. I am posting that review here, because I was able to identify exactly why I didn’t enjoy the story. I would love to hear other opinions, though, whether you agree with me or not!


I received an ARC of The Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain from the publisher (St. Martin's Press) in exchange for an honest review. The Dream Daughter is scheduled for release on October 2, 2018.

I usually avoid all spoilers in my book reviews. This time, however, I can't. I need to discuss something that happens very early in the book (within the first 50 pages) but is not mentioned in the blurb or the publisher's information. This suggests that the author (and publisher) want this to remain a surprise. So here is your warning, read ahead at your own risk. HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!

The Dream Daughter is the story of a woman (Carly) who has just lost her husband in the Vietnam War. Just before his death, she learned that she was pregnant and sent him a letter that he didn't receive in time to know that he was going to be a father. Carly is already facing single parenthood (though she has lots of family support in the form of her sister and brother-in-law) when she learns that her unborn baby has a serious heart condition. In 1970, when this story takes place, this condition was a death sentence. Carly is devastated that she is going to lose the only piece of her husband she had left.

In her moment of crisis, Carly's brother-in-law, Hunter, confesses his deepest secret. He is actually a time traveler, originally from the year 2018. He wants to send Carly into the future so that her unborn child can have pre-natal surgery to save its life. This is the secret that I need to talk about. Honestly, if I knew up front that this was a time travel novel, I probably wouldn't have agreed to read it. I am a very tough sell on time travel stories. They are difficult to do well. There are often plot issues that the author wasn't able to fix due to the complexity of a plot that loops through itself in time.

This novel did not deal with the time travel aspect well, in my opinion. The problems started almost immediately. Hunter discusses the importance of not changing anything as a time traveler. Yet he has stayed in 1970 for a long time, gotten married, and had a child. He doesn't seem to recognize that this is exactly what he said a time traveler should not do. He created a whole human that would not otherwise exist, which is bound to change the course of time. Maybe in insignificant ways, but the effects could be huge.

Later in the story, despite being a near-genius who can do the complicated math to send Carly to the exact when and where of his choosing, Hunter makes a mistake that is based on him forgetting one of the most significant dates in recent history. These types of issues were scattered throughout the story, making everything feel very unrealistic and keeping me from sinking into the story.

I also struggled with the characters throughout. We spend the majority of the novel with Carly, in her head. I didn't feel like I really got to know any of the other characters. I also didn't feel like I got to know Carly, or maybe that there was anything to know about Carly. Despite spending so much time with her thoughts, all I knew about her at the end was that she loved her husband and child and wanted to be with them. I knew nothing else about her.

Overall, I didn't enjoy this novel. Granted, I was biased as soon as I saw time travel, but the story did nothing to change my mind. Both the plot and characters felt shallow and inconsistent.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Day I Fell For You

They say when you're dying you see your life flash before your eyes. You get to relive your life in snippets, like a highlight reel. It's true. It's also not the whole story. I know there's more because it happened to me. Well, not the dying part, not quite.

I almost died when I was thirteen. I was a gymnast then, so the whole thing shouldn't have happened. I was used to walking on a balance beam, doing cartwheels, flips, whatever. I was coordinated, graceful. But there aren't obstacles on the beam. There aren't small children running from their parents, weaving in and out of the crowd, tangling themselves in your legs.

I tripped. That's all. I should have been able to catch myself, save myself. But I was standing at the top of concrete steps leading into our church. When I fell, I tumbled. Unlike the beam, there was no padding, and I had no control over the physics of my fall. I don't know how many steps I hit on the way down. I don't know how many times my head made contact with the unforgiving concrete.

I do know that I woke up in a hospital bed with one leg and one arm in casts. It was hard to see them, because my head was swaddled in a thick layer of bandages.

I also know what I saw when I fell. While I was falling, the steps disappeared. I wasn't really falling. I was dreaming. Remembering. I saw my fifth birthday, the trampoline my parents got for our back yard. I saw my sister get married when I was six. I saw my brother get his drivers license, then the crash that dented the car, but left my brother unscratched. I saw my parents get divorced. I saw us move halfway across the country. I saw my niece the day after she was born. I saw the plane that took me to Hawaii for competition. I saw the dress I put on that morning before I climbed the stairs. I saw the little girl start screaming and pull away from her mother's hand.

Then I saw beautiful green eyes, flecked with golden brown. I saw my hand, saw the ring Daddy gave me for my twelfth birthday, lifted to a curved smile for a kiss. Those green eyes looked over my hand, staring into me. I saw my hand twined with the hand of green eyes.

That's what no one tells you, the rest of what you see when you're dying. You don't just revisit your past. You get a glimpse into your future.

I saw you.

When I woke, still alive, I knew you were out there, waiting somewhere for me to find you. I didn't know when it would happen, and that was okay. I had the promise, I just had to be patient while fate worked to fulfill it.

It took five years to find you. I spent five years scanning crowds, looking into the eyes of strangers for that exact speckled, sparkling green from my memory. When I finally found those eyes, there was zero doubt. I knew it was you.

There was one small problem. You didn't know it was me. Not yet. You didn't see my vision, you didn't see what I did when I fell. To you, I was a stranger, you didn't know what we meant to each other, what we would mean to each other. I had to show you. I had to convince you that we were meant to be.

Two years. That's how long it took to show you we weren't just friends. That's how long it took for you to finally let me in. But I did it. And here we are, on our one year anniversary. This is my favorite spot, alone with you, overlooking the entire town sprawled below us.

Today we are celebrating our love, the love I fought so hard for. And I think today is the day. The day I saw years ago while I was falling. This is the day you will finally make new promises.

It's almost dusk, so I know it will have to happen soon. Your eyes catch the last of the day's bright light. The golden flecks are on fire. Right now your eyes are as beautiful as the day I fell. The day I fell for you.

"I love you," I say. I don't want to push you, but maybe this is part of the vision I didn't see. Maybe part of the story of this moment is that I say the words first, encourage you to confess what is in your heart.

You return your love to me in a nodding smile. "And you wore me down, convinced me that this was meant to be."

You get it. You get that I couldn't let you go, couldn't let you walk away. You are mine. You were promised to me, my prize for surviving.

Then it happens. Your eyes are glittering golden-green diamonds as you catch my hand in yours and lift it to your lips. I watch my ring glide up, nestle below your nose as your lips land on my knuckles. Your fingers interlock with mine, sealing us together.

I wait for you to reach in your pocket, pull out the new ring that I know you have tucked inside, ready to slip on my finger. That's why we're here. You're ready to promise me forever.

But you don't reach for your pocket. Instead you stand and pull me to my feet in front of you. You start to back away, pulling me with you away from the blanket stretched on the overlook's thin grass. You want this to be perfect, so you're moving us closer to the view. It's a waste, though. I can't look away from your eyes.

I follow your feet all the way to the edge and wait for you to sink to one knee. Again you surprise me. You pull hard on my hand, pulling me close for a hug. Or a kiss. I let my free hand fly up, my arm aimed to wrap around your neck and hug you back, pull you into me.

But I miss. My hand sails past you because you aren't there. You have stepped aside and set my hand free. I can't catch hold of you. I can't catch hold of the ledge. I can't catch hold of myself. I am falling. Again. This time it's not for you.

This fall is different. This time I only see my past. Moments since the first time I fell flicker through my mind. Most of them show you. Your face when we first met, the pinching around your nose and mouth as if my appearance displeased you. Your beautiful sun-flecked eyes rolling when I found you over and over again. Your mouth dodging mine, landing instead on the hollow of my cheek.

As I fall I get to watch you fail to fall in love with me.

Just before I land I realize the whole truth. What I saw the first time? It wasn't a promise. It was a warning.


Sunday, September 2, 2018

A Well Behaved Woman, Lies, and other August Reads

I finished 8 books in August:

An Illustrated History of the Civil War by William J. Miller and Brian C. Pohanka
The House of Hades by Rick Riordan (reread)
The Best of Roald Dahl by Roald Dahl
Lies by T.M. Logan (ARC)
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
Shadowsong by S. Jae-Jones
A Well Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler (ARC)
A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes

I received an advance readers' edition of Lies by T. M. Logan from the publisher (St. Martin's Press) in exchange for an honest review. Lies is scheduled for release September 11, 2018.

Lies is the story of a man (Joe) who sees his wife talking with another man. The encounter seems off to Joe, causing him to ask questions. One question leads to another, each with answers he never saw coming wrapped in layers of lies.

Joe's story is built around what some would consider to be a role-reversal. He is the primary care-giver for his son (in addition to his job as a teacher). Joe's wife (Mel) has what is probably the higher paying job, and the job that demands more of her time, taking her out of the house and into meetings. The plot of this book is built around a central question for Joe: "Is my wife cheating?" Joe talks a lot about how much he loves his son and wife, but we don't really get to know either of them as characters, which makes it a bit difficult to feel his love for his wife and his pain at the perceived betrayal.

Joe is not presented to the reader as an unreliable narrator. Instead we follow him as he tries to sort out the truth from the deliberate lies and misleadings of those around him. Like most novels that deal with a search for truth, this novel is full of twists and shifts in the story designed to keep the reader guessing as to the real story and what might happen next.

This was also my primary issue with this novel. While there were many twists built into the story, many aspects of the setup and follow-through felt clunky and forced to me. The pieces didn't quite fit together in a way that made real sense. An example from the first few chapters of the novel reveals that Joe's phone is synced to his wife's work iPad but is not synced to his own personal iPad. To me, this makes no sense and made me question everything that surrounded this in the story. I love novels that have turns and shifts, but they need to make sense. The turns and shifts need to be believable in the world of the story. Reveals and surprises should seem to be the only possible answer (but not until they are actually revealed!).

I also did not particularly like the ending of this novel. The final twist (which I won't reveal here) seemed to be added in for shock value, when it really should not be considered shocking at all, or function as any sort of plot point in a story (in my opinion).

Overall, Lies fell a little flat for me. The characters were not vibrant on the page, and the story felt forced. I'd love to hear other readers' opinions!

I received an Advance Reader Copy of A Well Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler from the publisher (St. Martin's Press) in exchange for an honest review. A Well Behaved Woman is scheduled for release October 16, 2018.


A Well Behaved Woman is the fictionalized biography of Alva Smith (soon to become Alva Vanderbilt). I often enjoy reading these sorts of books and trying to puzzle out exactly where the line between fiction and reality lies. This story was deeply detailed, as I expect from a novel, but with the richness of history and truth lying behind it. Alva is a southern woman trying to survive after the Civil War. Her family is in dire financial straits, and relying on her to make a good marriage to save them from destitution. She manages to catch the eye and interest of a Vanderbilt. The Vanderbilts are a "new money" family, lacking the social standing that typically comes with the enormous amount of money they have managed to accumulate.

Alva finds marriage to be a disappointment, though it does feed her father and sisters. She is painfully aware that hers was a marriage of convenience, allowing her to catch glimpses of what she imagines love must be like in those around her. Alva secretly pines for this love. She publicly pines, and fights for, other things. She claws her way through society, dragging the Vanderbilt name up with her. She works with a designer to build mansions across the northeast. She begins to plan her daughters future, pushing her to choose the right man.

Alva is an interesting character. She is not warm. She is not particularly personable. She is honestly not that easy to like. Therese Anne Fowler says this herself in her author's note. While writing the initial story, Fowler did not like Alva. During revisions, she realized she didn't like Alva because she was looking at Alva as a woman, and laying all of the expectations that are typically placed on women onto her. Once Fowler began to shift her view, to look at Alva as a human instead of a woman, did Fowler begin to like Alva. Alva knows what she wants and is willing to put in the time and effort to plan and work for those goals. In a man, we would say he was driven, dedicated, committed. Why shouldn't we apply those same descriptors to a woman doing the same things?

This social commentary is completely justified, given what Alva Vanderbilt accomplished during her lifetime. However, there were a few points in the story where the message felt a bit heavy-handed to me. Fowler sometimes stepped a bit too forward, making the story about Alva the warrior, instead of about Alva the human.

Overall, I enjoyed this walk through the late 1800s and early 1900s. This was an in-depth view into the life of a woman during this era. I am sure that I would not have faired as well as Alva during this time in history, and am ever more grateful for the women who changed the future for me.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Fortune Cookies

I often find writing dialogue to be incredibly painful. This nugget, however, poured out of my fingers in ten minutes-ish. I'm not sure why I wrote it as straight dialogue initially, and I thought about going back in and adding dialogue tags, actions, and descriptions. But I decided to leave it as is and leave much up to the imagination of the reader. I'd love to hear what you envisioned in the scene in the comments below!

"I'm just doing what the fortune cookie said. Who am I to stand in the way of fate?"

"So if the fortune cookie told you to jump off a bridge, or rob a bank, you'd do it?"

"That's my fate."

"Wait. Since when are fortune cookies the same as fate?"

"The cookie is just a tool, how the universe communicates with you."

"So the universe gives you a heads up for what's coming, what you've earned, or whatever?"

"I guess."

"What if you don't ever eat Chinese food?"

"Then you don't get to know what's coming."

"If the fortune is really your fate, what's with the numbers? They never work for me."

"Cosmic combinations."

"What?"

"They're probably not lucky numbers here. They're more like coordinates for a place."

"That you can't get to. Cause it's not on Earth."

"I guess."

"So what's the point?"

"Information. It's all just information. A recording of places and events."

"But the events of the fortune don't happen in the place of the coordinates, right? The fortunes are your fate, your future here. On Earth. But the numbers are coordinates for something, somewhere, else."

"I guess."

"That's the third time you've said 'I guess.' Are you just making all of this up?"

"I guess. I mean, no one can know for sure what the fortunes and numbers and whatever else is stuffed in the cookies really means."

"Except the people who stuff the cookies."

"I'm pretty sure it's machines. They automatically cut the slips and lay them on dough and fold them and package them and everything. Untouched by human hands."

"Who writes the fortunes?"

"No one knows."

"Someone knows. They don't just magically appear in the fortune cookie factory."

"Maybe they do."

"Ha ha. Magic isn't real."

"Isn't it? You seem to believe in the fortunes."

"No. That's you. You're the one who blindly did the thing the cookie told you to do. I'm the one who questioned it."

"But it seems to be working out just fine. Which suggests it is exactly the thing I was meant to do. Fate. You know."

"What if my fortune cookie told me to do the opposite. To stop you from doing what you're doing. What then?"

"What do you mean?"

"Which fate wins?"

"We would both just have to fulfill our fate, what was in the cookie, and see what happened."

"So we don't get to know the effects of our fate, we just have to do the thing?"

"Yes."

"Well then, I guess I have to."

"Have to what?"

"Stop you from making a terrible mistake, no matter what the cost. That's what my cookie said. It's not my fault, it's my fate."