Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner

Daphne Berg could not be more surprised when she's asked to be maid of honor at the wedding of the year! Sure the bride, Drue Cavanaugh, used to be one of Daphne's best friends. But their relationship ended quite explosively and was posted to social media for all the world to see.

Since that time Daphne has gone on to become a decently recognized influencer promoting plus size fashion, exercise programs and equipment, and even dog treats (or, her dog Bingo has). And while the fight with Drue might have kicked it all off, Daphne hasn't really gotten over the hurt of the whole event.

But now Drue is back, claiming that she has no one else and that she's missed Daphne. Drue has always had a bit of a hold on Daphne, but Daphne believes that she's changed. Plus, the chance to spend a weekend in Cape Cod is the perfect excuse to show off her newest contracted wares...

Big Summer is quite the perfect summer read! And, thankfully, it dropped EARLY amidst all of the current mess, giving readers a chance to dive into an absolutely delightful read about friendship, forgiveness, and maybe even a little romance!

And while Big Summer is a breezy and light read, for the most part, it does have a twist I did not necessarily see coming. It wasn't a total surprise, but it was a surprise in that it wasn't exactly what I expected.

See the book begins with a fashion writer who's left New York City to live in the Cape with her young son. And by the end of the opening chapter, she's dead.

When we jumped from that into Daphne's story I actually thought I had a glitch or a misprint in my reading! But no, it's the same book. The opening chapter is a precursor to something that comes out later in the book.

Daphne is an influencer, which means she's gets free stuff (and a little money) to promote products on Instagram. It's a job for her, and one she takes quite seriously. But she's small potatoes compared to someone like Drue. And so it's certainly surprising to find out that Drue has burned all of her bridges and has literally no one she can ask to be in her wedding.

And it's a high profile wedding, to be sure. Drue is a member of a highly prominent family and the groom was a contestant on a reality show wherein he found love, and then promptly overthrew his new flame to return to his old one, Drue. So to say everyone will be watching this wedding, is kind of true.

But Daphne's hurt over the incident that broke her own friendship with Drue isn't gone and likely never well be. As the story progresses, though, not only do we learn how their friendship came to be and how it ended, but the nuances of the relationship throughout the years. And it becomes clear to both the reader and Daphne that Drue has her own issues!

Weiner is such a charming writer. Her characters are fully formed and so easy to love. Even most of the bad guys have layers to them that make it hard not to have the teeniest bit of sympathy for them. And while Daphne and Drue are the focus of the story, the attention Weiner pays to fleshing out even the smallest supporting character makes her stories that much more enjoyable.

And since I listened to this one on audio, I have to say that the characters were even more lively and fabulous thanks to narration by Danielle Macdonald (Dumplin' and Bird Box). Macdonald was the absolute perfect choice for Daphne and did a wonderful job with the narration as a whole! Her performance brought the characters to life for me in such a way that now, I think I might hear her voice in my head for all of Weiner's books!

Big Summer was a real joy to read!

You can check out the audiobook here!

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Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Feature: The Queen's Secret by Karen Harper

Happy Book Birthday to Karen Harper whose latest, The Queen's Secret: A Novel of England's WWII Queen, releases tomorrow.

Here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

1939. As the wife of the King George VI and the mother of the future queen, Elizabeth—“the queen mother”—shows a warm, smiling face to the world. But it’s no surprise that Hitler himself calls her the “Most Dangerous Woman in Europe.” For behind that soft voice and kindly demeanor is a will of steel.

Two years earlier, George was thrust onto the throne when his brother Edward abdicated, determined to marry his divorced, American mistress Mrs. Simpson. Vowing to do whatever it takes to make her husband’s reign a success, Elizabeth endears herself to the British people, and prevents the former king and his brazen bride from ever again setting foot in Buckingham Palace.

Elizabeth holds many powerful cards, she’s also hiding damaging secrets about her past and her provenance that could prove to be her undoing.

In this riveting novel of royal secrets and intrigue, Karen Harper lifts the veil on one of the world’s most fascinating families, and how its “secret weapon” of a matriarch maneuvered her way through one of the most dangerous chapters of the century.

Karen Harper is a prolific author penning everything from contemporary romance/thrillers to historical fiction focused on the British monarchy, survivors of the Titanic, and even Shakespeare. This, her latest, is about the mother of the current queen. Most of what I know about this woman comes from The King's Speech, so this is a welcome addition to my TBR for sure!

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Friday, May 15, 2020

Short Fiction Friday: An Elderly Lady is Up To No Good by Helene Tursten

In spite of having more books in my TBR than I can possibly even think about finishing at the moment, I'm thanking my lucky stars that I went out and got both city and county library cards before all this mess started. It's meant that I have access to both library systems' online collections for when a wild hair strikes!

I've been reading a lot of Scandi Crime of late and Helene Tursten has been on my list to try for some time now. But while I do actually have books in both of her series on my shelves, it was her collection of short stories that I was craving!

Maud is 88 and still living on her own, thank you very much. Because she's saved carefully, and because there's a clause that allows her to live in her apartment rent free (a clause the powers that be at the building would love to find a way around), she's also able to travel at her leisure.

Maud is also a problem solver. Like when a celebrity moves into the building with an eye to taking Maud's larger apartment for her own. Or when the neighbors upstairs become a nuisance. Maud knows how to fix these things. And the best part about it all is that no one suspects a thing.

Maud is funny and clever. She plays the old lady when necessary, but she's definitely got all of her wits about her! She's also quite devious :) In each of the tales, she's faced with a bit of a problem to varying degrees. And in each tale she comes up with a solution that I think most people would never even consider. And yet, dark as this collection is, it's quite amusing—perfect for me at this moment! And it's quick. I read this in one sitting in my hammock.

Tursten is a Swedish author who apparently worked as a dentist and a nurse before she took up writing. And while her two series focus on detectives, this little collection deviates from that a bit. (I should note that both detectives make a very brief appearance in this collection.)

If crime fiction is your jam but the current predicament is proving to be a bit hard on your reading habits (in other words, you can't read like you normally would—either because of lack of focus or being pulled in a million directions), this is a great one to dive into. And it's a nice way to dip your toe into Tursten's work and/or Scandi Crime as a whole!

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Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Feature: The Last Trial by Scott Turow

Happy Book Birthday Week to Scott Turow whose latest, The Last Trial, is out now!

Here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

At 85 years old, Alejandro "Sandy" Stern, a brilliant defense lawyer with his health failing but spirit intact, is on the brink of retirement. But when his old friend Dr. Kiril Pafko, a former Nobel Prize winner in Medicine, is faced with charges of insider trading, fraud, and murder, his entire life's work is put in jeopardy, and Stern decides to take on one last trial.

In a case that will provide the defining coda to both men's accomplished lives, Stern probes beneath the surface of his friend's dazzling veneer as a distinguished cancer researcher. As the trial progresses, Stern will question everything he thought he knew about his friend. Despite Pafko's many failings, is he innocent of the terrible charges laid against him? How far will Stern go to save his friend, and--no matter the trial's outcome--will he ever know the truth? Stern's duty to defend his client and his belief in the power of the judicial system both face a final, terrible test in the courtroom, where the evidence and reality are sometimes worlds apart.

Turow is one of those authors all the highly respected authors in his genre frequently recommend. And yet, I haven't actually read any of his work yet. My own uncle has been trying to get me to read Presumed Innocent for ages now and I even bought a copy, but it's been waiting in my massive TBR.

It's not at all that I don't want to read him. In fact, not only to I want to read his work, I feel I have to. I'm a fan of crime fiction, he's an acclaimed writer of crime fiction! I should be reading him, I know!

The Last Trial is, according to Goodreads, the eleventh book in the Kindle County Legal Series. I'm fairly certain that they don't have to be read in any particular order, but just in case, here's the series order:

Presumed Innocent
The Burden of Proof
Pleading Guilty
The Laws of Our Fathers
Personal Injuries
Reversible Errors
The Last Trial

Presumed Innocent is actually sitting on my nightstand as we speak. I really think my respectability as a crime fiction fan is going to be adversely affected if I don't read it soon!

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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Have You Seen Me? by Kate White

Ally Linden is a bit miffed when she realizes she's arrived at work without her key card. No worries, though, a fellow employee lets her in and she can wait patiently for her boss to arrive and let her into her office. 

There's just one problem—Ally hasn't worked in this office for years! She doesn't know why she's turned up here. She doesn't even realize initially that she doesn't work there anymore. But as her memories do start to come back it appears that there are two days in particular still missing. 

As Ally tries desperately to coax the memories to return, she begins to wonder if they could be tied to a trauma she experienced as a child. And as she digs into both that incident and the time surrounding her missing memories, it becomes clear that she's stirred up something. Only by remembering exactly what, though, can she save herself from very real danger!

Kate White's latest stand alone is an entertaining read about trauma and memories.

Ally is a financial expert who lives a fairly normal life. She's happily married, runs a well respected podcast, and is working on a book. She has friends and sees a therapist regularly about pretty run of the mill issues.

In other words, when she realizes she's having memory issues there's nothing that pops out for anyone that would explain the situation.

Except for one thing. When Ally was a child, she witnessed something fairly traumatizing. And that's immediately where her mind goes when she tries to find a reason she could be missing two days of her life.

I liked Ally, she's rational and logical. She enlists the help of her brother and even hires a PI all in an effort to tease out the two days of memories. But as the story played out, I wanted more tension and more surprises.

It felt like White, the author of the very fun Bailey Weggins series and a number of stand alone titles, kind of took the easy way out with this one. There were some half hearted red herrings along the way, but ultimately the book as a whole wrapped up too conveniently for my taste.

I wanted more of the plot line involving her childhood incident and I wanted less obvious sort of foes throughout the book (I will note that I appreciated the way White balanced the characters—they all had faults and felt more human as a result, but each of them could have been explored more deeply for my taste). I think, for me, this particular outing from White could have been made much better with a little simplification. Too many threads just made for a watered down story as a whole this time.

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Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Little Secrets by Jennifer Hillier

Just over a year ago, Marin's four year old son disappeared. They were shopping at a crowded market in the days before Christmas and Marin lost him. Cameras show that he was led away by someone in a Santa Claus outfit, carrying a lollipop he'd been begging his mother for only moments before. 

Marin has lived with the guilt ever since. 

Then a PI Marin hired to help find her son reveals that Marin's husband is having an affair. After losing her son, Marin is determined not to lose her marriage as well. And she's willing to do whatever it takes to keep her husband devoted to her. 

Little Secrets is a super fast read. I started on audio and switched back and forth between that and the physical so that I could read through as fast as possible! No childcare has definitely affected reading time and audiobooks from Libro.fm have been an even bigger part of my reading life of late than even before!

We meet Marin on the morning her son is kidnapped. And then we jump forward, sixteen months later. Marin attends a support group for parents who have missing children but otherwise she's tried her best to put her life back together.

Oh, and she's hired a PI that she hasn't told her husband about.

So when she gets a call from the investigator asking to meet, she assumes it means something regarding her son's disappearance has turned up. Boy is she wrong!

The thing is, Marin isn't really all that shocked to learn that her husband has cheated. In fact, she almost blames herself for the distance. Which is sad considering she already blames herself for their son's disappearance. But her solution for the problem...well, it's an avenue most people wouldn't take themselves!

Hillier does a great job of exploring Marin and her emotions. And she does a really good job illustrating just how many different layers there are to actual people. Marin's choices are certainly questionable, but it's easy to empathize with her even if you (hopefully) don't agree. And she's not the only character Hillier gives voice to as the story continues.

Like I said, it's a super quick read and an intense one as well. Perfect for summer hammock reading :)

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