REVIEW – Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell

I was so excited to get a chance to read the new Lisa Jewell book early! I LOVED The Family Upstairs and had high hopes for this one. Did I love Invisible Girl quite as much? No. But it was still an enjoyable read, and I think a lot of Lisa Jewell fans are going to love it.

We follow Saffyre, a teenage girl with a complicated family history and a dark past; Cate, a mother of two and her husband Roan; and Owen, who is arguably the most interesting character in the book (and i’m sure parts of his story are going to be polarizing for readers!)

Saffyre goes missing and Owen is the last person who saw her. As you can imagine, all of these characters are interconnected in some way, and the answer to Saffyre’s disappearance isn’t as cut and dry as you may think. I’d recommend going into this book as blind as possible! I was really intrigued to find out what happened next, and the turns this book takes really caught me off guard.

That being said, I think it fell just a little flat. Maybe we didn’t get enough time with the characters. Or maybe some themes and ideas just weren’t as fleshed out as I would have liked. But if you’re a Lisa Jewell fan (or a thriller fan in general) you’ll probably want to pick this up!

Content warning: self harm, sexual assault, incel culture

Thank you Atria for the NetGalley ARC!

REVIEW – Louisiana Lucky by Julie Pennell

“Her sister’s words from the night before echoed in her mind again. It’ll only get worse from here. At this moment, perhaps for the first time, it felt true. She felt raw, as if life was scraping her along without her consent.”

What would you do if you won the lottery? It’s fun to think about, right? In Louisiana Lucky, we meet three sisters who are struggling – Lexi is trying to plan a wedding on a shoestring budget and an unreliable, inconsistent paycheck. She’s also desperate to impress her future mother-in-law, and can’t seem to make a connection. Callie is working as a reporter for the local newspaper, which is trying (and failing) to gain more readers. She’s working to break a big story, but keeps getting derailed by the paper’s desire for more “fluff” content. Hanna is a mother of two just trying to keep it together. She and her husband have been working to renovate their home for years but, with two unexpected pregnancies, their finances have been allocated elsewhere.

These women have pretty much had enough. When they get together for their traditional junk food and lottery ticket night, they finally win the jackpot. Problems solved, right? Well…as you might imagine, winning millions of dollars isn’t the instant fix the sisters think it will be.

Louisiana Lucky is a cute summer read. It’s predictable, but fun. You’ll find yourself rolling your eyes at some of the decisions the sisters make but you’ll also root for them.

Thank you Atria Books for sending me a copy of Louisiana Lucky!

REVIEW – Little Disasters by Sarah Vaughan

{Available August 18, 2020} How far would you go to protect your child? Or someone else’s child? Little Disasters primarily follows Liz, a pediatrician, and her friend Jess, a stay at home mom of three. When Jess brings her youngest to the ER one night, Liz quickly suspects something sinister at play and takes action. As Jess’ life begins to unravel, we learn that everyone has their dark secrets to hide.

Phew. This book is pretty dark and disturbing. I’m not usually too bothered by books that feature child abuse (wow, that sounds bad. What I mean is that i’m not overly sensitive. Hopefully someone else gets it!) but this one just felt so REAL. Little Disasters is really a book about motherhood, which isn’t something that I have personal experience with. I’d assume that some mothers would really struggle to get through this one, but some might also be able to relate to some of the dark and terrifying thoughts that can occur in the minds of new mothers who are struggling to connect with their babies.

Although the synopsis might make you think this is a thriller, it’s really a domestic drama that examines the struggles and secrets of a handful of people and families. And it’s disturbing just how many adults fail in this book – fail to communicate, fail to care for children, fail to own up to their mistakes.

Little Disasters is an uncomfortable read but it’s good. I would just caution readers before picking this up – be prepared to be sad and angry and disturbed.

Content warning: child abuse/neglect, traumatic birth experience, PPD, OCD, alcoholism, infant death/SIDS

Thank you Atria Books for providing me with a NetGalley ARC of Little Disasters!

REVIEW – Behind the Red Door by Megan Collins

{Available August 4, 2020} The opening of Behind the Red Door will grab you immediately (I believe I emitted a “holy sh*t” before I finished the first page). It’s dark. It covers some traumatizing topics, kidnapping being the least horrific, honestly.

Fern Douglas is a social worker with pretty intense anxiety (not the best mix…). Her past is a bit fuzzy, but we know she has a very strange relationship with her parents (i’ll get to that in a second). The story really kicks into gear when we learn that Astrid Sullivan, a woman who was kidnapped as a child but was returned after a brief period of time relatively unharmed, has gone missing again. Did the original kidnapper take Astrid again? Will she be returned this time? Does her disappearance have anything to do with her recently released memoir detailing her kidnapping 20 years ago? And why does Fern think she’s met Astrid?

We do get to read a few chapters of Astrid’s memoir throughout the course of the book, and we slowly learn what really happened to her.

Fern heads back to her hometown to help Ted (her dad, but she calls her parents by their first names) pack and move to Florida. Oh boy. Ted. Ted is an academic psychologist who can’t focus on anything beyond his Experiments (yes, with a capital “E”). We slowly learn that Fern’s parents were incredibly neglectful, and downright horrible people. Fern can’t see that she’s a victim of extreme parental abuse. Ted has often drawn the line between physical (what he considers “real”) abuse and other varieties – and they’re all so blind to it that it’s incredibly frustrating as a reader. But maybe it’s rooted deeply in reality. Victims of abuse often block or downplay their experiences because they refuse to see themselves as just that – victims.

Fern decides to investigate Astrid’s disappearance and uncovers some incredibly horrific truths. I had an idea of where this book was headed right from the jump, and I was (mostly) right, but the experience of uncovering the mystery of Astrid’s disappearance and Fern’s history was more than worth the read. I was SO ANGRY for parts of this book – it takes a great writer to elicit that kind of experience.

Content warning: abusive parent/child relationships (one with a religious undertone), abduction of a child.

Thank you Atria Books for the NetGalley ARC of Behind the Red Door!

REVIEW – Dear Emmie Blue by Lia Louis

“I know, deep down, I am made of strong stuff. Rebuilt with it, at least, the way we all are, over the years, with age and experience, skin thickening, heart softening, patched up double in the places prone to breakage. A sum of all the things that have hurt us, scared us, sheltered and delighted us.”

Dear Emmie Blue was not at all what I expected – it ended up being so much more. I thought this was going to be a cute little rom-com about a girl who has had some bad luck over the years. This book gets a little dark. And it’s much sadder than I thought it would be.

“I’m scared of the loneliness that swamps me sometimes, so much I feel like I can’t breathe.”

Oh, Emmie. You just want to hug her. Be her friend. Help her sort through her feelings and tell her everything is going to be okay. It takes a few chapters for us to learn her entire backstory, but it’s heartbreaking. You want to slap the people who have hurt her, and keep her in a happy little bubble forever.

“Maybe home isn’t a place. It’s a feeling. Of being looked after and understood. Of being loved.”

Can we talk about Emmie’s work friends for a minute? The parts with Fox and Rosie are some of the funniest and most joyful bits of the story! Rosie is the friend we all need in our corner. And speaking of friends, LOUISE. I won’t say much, but I loved Louise so much. Despite the underlying sadness, there are a lot of heartwarming moments in this book, and I didn’t think anything felt forced. Some might find the ending a little cliche, but I felt that it was the perfect conclusion to this part of Emmie’s story.

Content warning: difficult/manipulative parent/child relationship, narcissistic parent, sexual assault of a minor.

Thank you Atria/Emily Bestler Books for the finished copy of Dear Emmie Blue!

REVIEW – The Light After the War by Anita Abriel

“No man can wipe out truth and beauty. Human beings were born to create great things, and they will do so again.”

The Light After the War is a post-WWII account of Vera and Edith, two best friends living in Naples, Italy (and eventually ending up in Caracas, Venezuela). The novel is based on the author’s mother’s story of surviving WWII and her experiences in the years immediately following the end of the war.

“When they were together, Vera felt like she and Edith were two girls on a grand adventure instead of orphans alone in the world.”

There was a lot to like about this book. The writing is incredibly vivid and provides a beautiful, delicious description of Naples, before moving on to warm, colorful Caracas. I felt like I was there right alongside Vera and Edith (and it was wonderful!) I loved that both Vera and Edith had career aspirations – Vera dreamt of being a playwright and Edith wanted to be a clothing designer. Some of the most interesting aspects of the book were the plot points that led each woman down her own career path.

“That was the thing about Edith: she believed falling in love was the answer to everything, even escaping the war.”

This is primarily a historical romance, and honestly I would have found it a bit unbelievable (and a little too fluffy) if not based on a true story. (I guess truth really is stranger than fiction sometimes!) It leaned a little too light and airy at times for my taste, but I think romance lovers will really enjoy this story.

“Death is everywhere, but so is life.”

My favorite part of Abriel’s writing was how she tied events and objects from the “present” timeline in the book, to Vera and Edith’s experiences as children and during the war. It was really impactful to get their backstories in small bits and pieces, even at times when you’d least expect it. Ultimately, it’s a very hopeful book but it doesn’t gloss over the realities and horrors of the war. It strikes the perfect balance between joy and sorrow.

I know many avid readers may think the historical fiction genre is oversaturated with WWII novels, but I would urge you to give this one a try – the war is a key part of the story, but it’s not the main focus.

Thank you Atria for sending me a finished copy of this book!

REVIEW – The Chill by Scott Carson

{Available February 11, 2020} A supernatural thriller blurbed by Stephen King? I knew I had to get my hands on this one. And oh man…this gave me probably the STRONGEST book hangover i’ve had in months. I ended up finishing it sooner than I anticipated because once I passed a certain point in the plot, I couldn’t stop reading.

This book grabbed my attention right from the start. Focused on the Chilewaukee Reservoir (or “the Chill” as the locals call it), the novel revolves around an interesting cast of characters, including a sheriff and his son, a DEP officer and her “sandhog” father, and an engineer/inspector who has come to town to evaluate the state of the dam containing the Chill.

There are some strong supernatural vibes early on in this book, some of which reminded me heavily of The Shining (but in a great way, more of a homage vs a plot point being yoinked from someone else’s work). Add a sprinkle (just a sprinkle) of an old-timey cult, and some chilling (sorry…) descriptions of rushing, relentless waters, with secrets buried beneath the surface.

It’s a little slow-going for a bit, but right at the halfway point it takes an unexpected turn and dives right in to straight up nightmare fuel territory (at least for me. One major thing i’m afraid of? Dark, deep water. Guess we can now add dams to my list of fears). Much like a King novel, the real horrors in this book are grounded in reality. Basically, I ain’t afraid of no ghosts but I AM afraid of things that can actually kill me.

Thank you Atria and Emily Bestler Books for the ARC!

REVIEW – A Bookshop in Berlin by Francoise Frenkel

A Bookshop in Berlin/No Place to Lay One’s Head is the fascinating true account of Francoise Frenkel’s escape to Switzerland during WWII.

I’ll admit it was refreshing to read a nonfiction WWII book after reading so many fictional stories about the war.

Francoise dreams of opening a French bookshop in Berlin. It’s truly a labor of love – she’s a very thoughtful and compassionate bookseller, and quickly forms close friendships with her customers.

Through Francoise’s eyes, we see the slow confiscation of books and newspapers, signaling the rise of Hitler’s reign of terror. The horrors and tension escalate quickly, and we are pulled into her journey of survival and escape.

Beneath the racism and brutality, there is hope and camaraderie. Strangers become friends, taking dangerous measures to keep one another safe.

Thank you Atria for providing me with a digital copy of this book.

REVIEW – The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal

The Doll Factory is an incredible book, meant for the patient reader. The buildup is slow, but oh boy does it pay off at the end.

Macneal does an amazing job of placing the reader right in the middle of gloomy, grimy 1850s London. Each chapter flawlessly leads into the next (seriously. When you start a chapter, go back and read the last sentence from the previous one.)

There are subtle, but terrifying, details that suggest not all is right with Silas “the Cadaver” Reed, but you have no idea the depths of his depravity until it all comes together at the end. There’s a revelation in the last few chapters that made me audibly gasp. It’s THAT good (and THAT horrible).

It’s almost impossible to believe that this is a debut. The way Macneal slowly builds to certain reveals is absolutely masterful.

Also, Guinevere is clearly the best character 😉

Thank you Atria for providing me with a copy of this book.