Monday, July 27, 2015

"Maybe in Another Life" by Taylor Jenkins Reid

At 29, Hannah Martin still has no idea what she wants to do with her life, and she wanders aimlessly from city to city on a whim. With her parents and sister living in London, England since before she graduated high school, Hannah only has one constant in her life, and that's her best friend Gabby. When Hannah decides to move back to her hometown of Los Angeles, Gabby's guest room is ready and waiting for her. Since Hannah's return to where she grew up warrants a homecoming according to Gabby, they meet at a bar with a bunch of old friends, including ex-boyfriend Ethan. Just after midnight Gabby asks Hannah is she's ready to go. Ethan offers to take her home later if she would prefer that and so she wonders. Should she stay with Ethan or should she leave with Gabby?

What follows are the results of both of those decisions. Told concurrently, we find out what lies in store for Hannah if she goes home with Gabby and her husband or if she stays at the bar with Ethan. These parallel universes are radically different and they raise questions about true love and fate. Are our futures predestined? Or are they a result of the small decisions that we make each day?

I  have loved each of Taylor Jenkins Reid's books, and her third release was no exception to that. Although initially I found myself hesitant about the concurrent story lines and how that aspect of the story would work, it wasn't long before I found myself immersed in both story lines and I couldn't wait to find out what would happen next in either of them. Since the stories ended up being dramatically different it was almost like getting two for the price of one! I enjoyed them both but I did find myself favoring one scenario over the other, which was fun. It was interesting to see how my personal preferences played out.

What I enjoyed most about Maybe in Another Life was how it left me questioning my beliefs about things such as soul mates and fate. In both books Hannah believes that she has found her soul mate, and they are not the same person, so that raises the question of if there is more than one person that we are meant to be with in this world and if it all comes down to dumb luck. I enjoyed discovering the parallels between the two stories, which raised the question if certain events are meant to happen regardless of the choices that we make. Perhaps some events are just inevitable.

I can't think of one thing that I didn't like about the book. The characters came to life on the page, both story lines were compelling and unique, and Taylor Jenkins Reid's writing was as great as I have come to expect. I truly enjoyed every moment that I spent with Maybe in Another Life and I can't encourage people to pick this one up enough! It's the perfect book to slip into a beach bag or to devour with a group of girlfriends. My thanks to BookSparks PR for providing me with a review copy!

Friday, July 24, 2015

"Pretty Baby" by Mary Kubica

"Heidi was the first one in a long time who was nice to me".

This is how the story of Willow begins. Willow is homeless with a baby bundled into her army-green jacket. Heidi, a do-gooder with a huge heart, sees Willow and her baby again and again, in various kinds of weather, and finds herself obsessing over them. Where is this girl's mother? How did she become homeless? Will she and the baby be ok? Heidi takes a huge gamble and invites Willow and the baby into the home that she shares with her husband Chris and daughter Zoe. Does Heidi truly understand what she is risking by having this girl living in her home? Is Heidi willing to risk everything- her job, her marriage, her family life- in order to save one homeless girl and her child? Pretty Baby soon takes us down a dark and winding path and asks us what we would be willing to risk in order to have everything that we ever wanted.

Pretty Baby was impossible for me to put down. As readers we are immediately sucked in to the plight of this young homeless girl and her little baby, wrapped in a pink blanket and tucked inside of her mother's coat in the pouring rain. I was drawn to the image of swaths of pink blanket peeking out of a dirty coat. I was sucked in to the image of a tiny baby being hidden within. Heidi, an intricate character with more layers than we initially expect, finds herself drawn to this girl and her baby and she finds herself almost obsessing over them, even if that's not what she thinks that she's doing. The mother to a preteen who treats everything that her mother does with disdain, Heidi finds herself suddenly needed again, needed both by this girl and also by this helpless baby who didn't ask to not have access to a warm bed or medical care. Heidi is a complex character, carefully developed and revealed to us bit by bit. Willow manages to become a sympathetic character as well. As her story is slowly revealed to us we find ourselves curious about what possible ending she could find. Even more interesting was the fact that Chris, Heidi's husband, was someone that I didn't feel sympathetic towards. I ended up feeling more compassion for the homeless Willow than I did for Chris and his wandering thoughts. Kubica knows how to develop both a plot and a character and that is evidenced multiple times in Pretty Baby.

My one disappointment in this book, and it's slight, was that I didn't find myself overly shocked by the conclusion. My expectations for this book were sky-high. Kubica's first book had me open-mouthed shocked at the end, whereas Pretty Baby kept me frantically turning pages but I did figure out the twists shortly before they happened. Regardless of the fact that I didn't find myself as surprised this time around, I still thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Haunting, chilling, and enjoyable to the last page, Pretty Baby is a story that will keep you engaged until the very last page and it will leave you begging for more from the author. My thanks to Netgalley and BookSparks PR for providing me with a copy for review.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

"More For The Heart (Stories in Pairs, Set 2)" by Ekta R. Garg

Earlier this year I reviewed Two for the Heart by Ekta R. Garg, two short stories that connect in some way. I enjoyed the two short stories and am pleased that Garg plans to release more pairs of stories over the next year. The next in her releases is More for the Heart, which I have the privilege to review today!

More for the Heart expands on the stories of the characters that we met in Two for the Heart. In the first story, "Making the Proposal" we learn about how Pooja and Ashkay's unique arrangement came to be. Since I enjoyed getting to know them both in the first set of stories I was happy to have the opportunity to find out how their unique arrangement came to be. I enjoyed their story so much that I would love to read a longer story about them some day!

The second story, "Reminiscence", expands on the relationship between sisters Rose and Helen, who have been estranged for many years. Given the circumstances surrounding Helen's tragic accident, will Rose stay this time around? I enjoyed this story as well, however I found it hard to connect with Rose. I understand that this is part of who she is as a person, she is rather distant at times, but since I had a hard time connecting with her I had a harder time connecting to the story as a whole. It was still enjoyable but it wasn't my favourite of the two.

Garg has created yet another interesting and involving pair of stories in More for the Heart and I am looking forward to her future releases! I enjoy discovering the connection between the two stories, and I'm glad that her next installment in the series will feature new characters to get to know and love! My thanks to the author for providing me with a review copy.

Monday, July 6, 2015

"The Royal We" by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

American Rebecca "Bex" Porter is doing something that she's never done before- she is separating from twin sister Lacey to go to school overseas, at Oxford. She has barely arrived there and already she finds herself in the presence of Prince Nicholas, Great Britain's future king and one of Bex's housemates. Although she doesn't mean to (it's her sister Lacey who is into the fairy tales), Bex finds herself falling in love with Nick.

Although their unsuitable relationship needs to be kept out of the public eye for as long as possible, Bex finds herself attending glitzy society parties and enjoying many of the things that are available to royals that are not available to the ordinary public. However she also begins to experience the other side of being famous, such as the crushing pressure on the royal family that comes from being in the pubic eye all of the time, the lies of the money-hungry paparazzi, and their bizarre private lives that the royal family will do anything to hide.

When Bex's twin Lacey decides to move to Britain and ends up getting in trouble along with Nicholas' troublesome younger brother Freddie, things become even more complicated. Things come to a head and Bex must decide if she will be able to cut it as Great Britain's future queen.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Royal We. Granted, it is very obviously thinly veiled Prince William and Kate Middleton fan fiction, but that was okay with me. It was still a fun and fantastic ride, and even a re-imagining of the early days of their relationship, before people figured out that Kate Middleton was destined to be the future queen of England. I found the whole story incredibly charming, and I couldn't help but be swept away by their sweet (if complicated) romance.

The characters definitely enhanced this story. There were Bex and Nick themselves- Nick was always very sweet and thoughtful and Bex attempted to maintain her status as an independent woman despite pressures to the contrary. I had mixed feelings about Lacey as she seemed selfish and spoiled for most of the book, and I loved Freddie who was charming and fun and had more depth than anyone gave him credit for. What was extraordinary was how the authors created a solid group of friends for Nick and Bex and how they played such a key role in the story without ever completely taking it over. Perhaps that is why this book comes across as engaging as it did.

If you are looking for a story that is fun and entertaining and that will give you a fun peek into the lives of royals, The Royal We is it. It's perfect to slip into the beach bag this summer- I found that once I picked it up I was hooked! My thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing me with a review copy.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Crossing the Pond to London with Jane Green and "Summer Secrets"

The first scene that stood out for me when reading Summer Secrets was the scene when our protagonist, Catherine Coombs, better known as Cat, encounters a partially full bottle of vodka in her kitchen cupboards. She is instantly swept away in a tidal wave of memories- memories of her old life, as well as memories about the things that she encountered on the way to rock bottom.
In 1998 Cat was single, working as a journalist, and absolutely broke. She survived by hitting the PR events and eating the free food and hitting up the open bars. Night after night was spent drunkenly stumbling from one event to the next, often with no memory of the night before on the morning after. Cat figured that she was only going to be young once, so it wasn't that big a deal.

Fast forward to 2014 and Cat, having traveled down the long and treacherous path of alcohol addiction, is in recovery, and she has been for some time. Although she managed to lose her husband and almost lose her daughter, Cat is on the path towards lasting recovery. However there are two people that she needs to make amends to- her half sisters who are living in Nantucket. Cat needs to apologize for something that she did wrong many years ago, but will Cat be welcomed with open arms or will she be turned away?

Summer Secrets drew me in from the first page. Cat is a flawed character, but a sympathetic one nonetheless. She is finally coming to terms with the scope of her addition and is making a lasting change. The reader can sense her sincerity, and we know that Cat is truly going to stay sober this time. Cat's story is told through a variety of flashbacks, which I appreciated. We don't just get to know Cat as a recovering alcoholic, but we get to see her in her past as a young woman, as well as a person with a very serious addiction. This helped us to understand her story.

I didn't enjoy Summer Secrets as much as some of Jane Green's previous books but I did enjoy it all the same! I had one small issue with the book which changed my rating from a five-star to a four-star. I felt that Cat's alcohol addiction was cliched at times. It felt like Green took every cliche about alcohol addiction and threw it all together to create Cat's problem. It didn't feel like there was anything truly unique about her situation. I'm not trying to downplay the seriousness of alcohol addiction, I'm trying to do the exact opposite in fact. Cat's struggle seemed generic at times, and I kept waiting for something more personal to emerge. Having met alcoholics and recovering alcoholics in the past I know that their stories and journey's are more than just a generic collection of events.

Jane Green's writing in Summer Secrets is as eloquent as always, a treat for any reader of women's fiction to look forward to! Jane Green's stories have long been a must-read for me, and this one is no exception. It would make an excellent addition to your beach bag this summer as it's light but not saccharine sweet and I'm already looking forward to her future books! My thanks to the publisher as well as BookSparks PR for providing me with this review copy.

Monday, June 15, 2015

"If You're Not The One" by Jemma Forte

Jennifer Wright has a life that is the envy of most- a loving husband, two lovely daughters, and a home in the suburbs. Husband Max may not be perfect, but he does love her. Jennifer has found, though, that lately the pressures of work and their home life have pulled her and Max apart from one another, and that their relationship is more strained than ever.

After a disastrous attempt to rekindle their flame, Jennifer gets into a life-threatening accident and she finds herself in a coma. This isn't just any coma, though, it is one that allows her to see what her life would have ended up like if she had stayed with some of her ex-boyfriends. Would she have been rich? Would she have had different children? Would she have traveled? As Jennifer's subconscious explores the various paths that her life could have taken had she made different decisions, it retains some of the information that she finds out. When she wakes up she finds that she now has the gift of hindsight. Will she stay with her husband, who loves her but is perhaps no longer her ideal match, or will she pursue paths as yet unexplored?

If You're Not The One is an interesting exploration of the question "what if?". What if you took a different path in life? What if different decisions were made? Where would you be now? While in a coma, Jennifer finds her subconscious exploring all of these different options, the different places that her life could have led. To be honest, I found most of the options to be quite grim. Not one of the men that she could have ended up with seemed to be the right one for her, and as such I was expecting a different conclusion. To be honest, I was disappointed with the abrupt way that the story ended. We as readers are left with far more questions than we are given the answers to. Perhaps this is what the author intended, though. Life is not black and white. There are always going to be grey areas and an abundance of "what ifs?". That is what saved the story for me. It was realistic. I doubt that there is one person who doesn't have at least one question about how their lives could have been different in some way, if not in their relationships than in their career or friendships. Jemma Forte skillfully explores the fact that our lives are made up of a series of individual choices, made day by day.

While the story moves around quite a bit, time-wise, I didn't find that it bothered me. It was clear to me who Jennifer was with at the time of that part of the story. The writing was good, the plot very interesting, and although I failed to connect with the main character, Jennifer, and the conclusion is not the sort that I usually enjoy (too many loose ends), I did find myself enjoying If You're Not The One and wanting to read more of Jemma Forte's books in the future. My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy for review.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Drinking in Sonoma Wine Country With "Eight Hundred Grapes" by Laura Dave

Georgia Ford has always known Sonoma wine country as home- in her case home is where her family's vineyard is. So when she finds out her fiance Ben has been hiding a secret from her that is nothing short of explosive, she heads home without a second thought. With less than eight days until her wedding Georgia needs to find out of she can forgive Ben and move ahead with the wedding or if she needs to call it all off, and she believes that she can find those answers at home with her mom and dad and two brothers. It turns out that Ben is not the only one who has been hiding things. Arriving home Georgia discovers that everyone has their secrets and that some may be too major for them to forget about and just move on.

I've been excited about this book for quite some time. I've been a huge fan of Laura Dave's books since the beginning and I can never quite wait for her next release to come out. As many readers will understand, one of the worst parts about finishing a book that you've loved is knowing that the author won't have another book for you to devour for quite a while! That was how I felt after reading Eight Hundred Grapes. I loved it, I didn't want to put it down, and I especially didn't want it to end.

Eight Hundred Grapes was engaging from beginning to end for me. The plot was enticing and I really couldn't wait to find out what would happen next. The character development was second to none. I enjoyed getting to know all of the characters, and not just our main character, Georgia. I enjoyed getting to know Georgia's mom and dad, as well as her brothers. I especially loved that Laura Dave inserted a few well-placed flashbacks so that we understand Georgia's parents better, as well as the history of the family vineyard. Issues such as fidelity, sibling rivalry, and finding one's place in the world are raised and deftly dealt with.

My favorite part of the book, though, and the part that, for me, set Eight Hundred Grapes above many of the other books that I've read, was the unpredictability. As a fan of a certain type of book I have come to expect a certain kind of ending, and can often see the ending coming a mile away. That's okay with me, and I quite enjoy it, but every so often a book keeps me guessing and this one was one of them. Laura Dave didn't go with the typical happy ending, but instead went with the realistic happy ending. Everything didn't turn out exactly as planned, but everything turned out nonetheless.

Engaging, impossible to put down, and thoroughly readable, Eight Hundred Grapes has rocketed to the top of my "must-read" list for summer. My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy, and to BookSparks PR for inviting me to participate in the BookSparks Summer Reading Challenge 2015!