Book Review: Sweet Little Lies

sweet little liesSweet Little Lies
by Caz Frear
Crime Fiction
344 pages
Published August 2018

Sweet Little Lies was billed as a thriller in Book of the Month’s description, but it’s more of a police procedural. I hadn’t read one before, though I watch plenty of them on Netflix – they’re a bit of a guilty pleasure! It was interesting having one in book form. It’s not my typical fare, but I did enjoy it, far more than I probably would have enjoyed a true thriller. It’s got all your typical parts of a police procedural – older family man cop, ball-busting female chief who isn’t as bitchy as she first appears, troubled main character who snapped on a case, police psychiatrist, puzzling case, lying witnesses. All we’re really missing is a partner who isn’t actually a cop but somehow worms his way into cases anyway.

I’m conflicted about Cat herself. I like her – but I disagree with some of her decisions. I think she should have come clean about her connection to the case immediately. She doesn’t because she’s trying to protect her dad, but why? She spends most of the book talking about how much she dislikes him! Her entire family dynamic is pretty weird. They have issues.

I really enjoyed the writing of this book. The pacing was excellent – slow enough to absorb each new reveal properly, but fast-paced enough that the action rolls along. Goodreads says the book is “Cat Kinsella #1” implying it’s the start of a series. I’ll have to keep an eye out for them. For a debut novel, I am impressed at the level of writing, pacing, plot, and characterization. There’s a lot of threads in this book that get gathered together at the end and tied up nicely, with only one escaping. That worried me until I discovered it’s the beginning of a series; the one loose thread makes sense in that context.

While I didn’t like this one quite as much as Goodbye, Paris, it’s still another great pick from Book of the Month. I’m curious if they’ll have Hank Green’s An Absolutely Remarkable Thing as one of their picks next month! I already ordered the Book Club version from Barnes & Noble, but I’d still be sorely tempted to get a Book of the Month edition. I really don’t need two copies, though!

From the cover of Sweet Little Lies:

Twenty-six-year-old Cat Kinsella overcame a troubled childhood to become a detective constable with the Metropolitan Police Force, but she’s never been able to  banish the ghosts of her past or reconcile with her estranged father. Work provides a refuge from her family dysfunction, but she relies on a caustic wit to hide her vulnerability from her colleagues.

When a mysterious phone call links a recent strangling victim to Maryanne Doyle, a teenage girl who went missing in Ireland eighteen years earlier, the news is discomfiting for Cat. Though she was only a child when her family met Maryanne on a family vacation, right before she vanished, Cat knew that her charming but dissolute father wasn’t telling the truth when he denied knowing anything about the girl’s disappearance. Did he do something to Maryanne all those years ago? Could he have something to do with her current case?

Determined to close the two cases, Cat rushes headlong into the investigation, crossing ethical lines and trampling professional codes. But the deeper she digs, the darker the secrets she may uncover . . . .

Narrated by the unforgettable Cat, Sweet Little Lies is both a compelling police procedural and a look at how we grapple with the shadows of our pasts.

Book Review: Goodbye, Paris

goodbye parisGoodbye, Paris
by Anstey Harris
Contemporary Fiction
277 pages
Published August 7, 2018

Regular readers of this blog know that I’m not a big fan of Contemporary Fiction. This, however, blew me away. Goodbye, Paris, is one of August’s Books of the Month, and as usual, it is outstanding. I don’t know how they consistently pick amazing books, but month after month they bring a bit of magic.

I started this book thinking “oh, she’s a musician, I can get into that,” but I didn’t know how much the author was going to explore that facet of her life. But right away, on page 14, our main character did something that made me gasp aloud and stop and actually write in my book. Which is a thing I don’t do. Grace plays cello the way I play piano. She’s far more skilled than I am, but – well just read:

My knees poke out, bony and white, cushioning the pointed lower bouts of the cello, and the scroll rests, where it belongs, against my ear. The cello takes up its rightful place and I become nothing more than a mechanical part of it.

This is what I have always done, how I have always found myself when I’ve been lost. When I first went to music college, eighteen years old and paralyzingly shy, when ringing my parents from the pay phone in the corridor just made me miss them even more, I would feel the strength in the neck of my cello, flatten the prints of my fingers into the strings, and forget.

I play and play; through thirst, past hunger, making tiredness just a dent in my soul. I play beyond David’s marriage, his holiday, even how frightened I was when he disappeared below the platform.

I play on until the world is flat again and the spaces between my heartbeats are as even as the rhythm on the stave in front of me.

This is how and why I play piano! To see it so gorgeously described on the page was breathtaking. I am not a concert-level pianist by any means, but I’m decent, and playing piano brings me back to myself. When I’m angry or frustrated or hurt or simply feeling down, the music centers me and makes me focus until everything else falls away. From this point on, I was enthralled with this book and with Grace.

Grace’s partner, however, I was not so enthralled with. Grace and David have been together for eight years when the book opens. David has been married for all of those years, which Grace knew the night they met. (Though after they fell in love – it was one of those lightning-bolt-from-above things) He had two children with his wife, though, and a third on the way, and because of the crappy way he grew up, he was absolutely unwilling to divorce and mess up his children’s lives. Which, okay. Noble. (Though honestly, most children know when their parents are unhappy and wish they’d just divorce already, as Nadia, one of Grace’s friends, illustrates.) He and his wife both know their marriage is only for the children at this point, and are totally okay with relationships outside the marriage. Grace, however, is unaware of this arrangement, and THAT’S where my irritation at David comes in.

I don’t talk about it much on this blog, (though I have mentioned it) but my husband and I are polyamorous. He’s had another partner for almost five years now, plus other occasional dalliances. But everyone knows this. His other partner and occasional flirtations all know about each other and about me. David, on the other hand – his wife appears to know about everything, but Grace only knows about his wife. We’re never told what his other girlfriends know about. This isn’t ethical non-monogamy. He lies to everyone about his intentions and relationships. I think he’s probably incapable of monogamy – some people are – but he needs to be truthful about it. There are ways to make that work without ruining peoples’ lives and breaking hearts!

So David is not a character I like.

Mr. Williams and Nadia, however, are amazing. So besides playing the cello, Grace also makes cellos. And violins, and double-basses. Nadia is her shopgirl, and Mr. Williams is an old man who brings her a violin to repair. These three become such an incredible little trio! Nadia and Mr. Williams are the ones who put Grace back together when her life gets turned upside down, and are saved themselves in turn. Nadia is a little prickly, but I think it was her way of protecting herself. Mr. Williams is too old for games – at eighty-six, he doesn’t fool around anymore.

I loved this book. Book of the Month has once more made an outstanding pick. The characters and emotions are beautiful and heart-rending and magical. I think this is one of my favorites of the year!

From the cover of Goodbye, Paris:

Will Grace Atherton fall out of love . . . and into life?

From the simple melody of running her violin shop to the full-blown orchestra of her romantic interludes in Paris with David, her devoted partner of eight years, Grace Atherton has always set her life to music.

Her world revolves entirely around David, for Grace’s own secrets have kept everyone else at bay. Until suddenly and shockingly one act tips Grace’s life upside down, and the music seems to stop.

It takes a vivacious old man and a straight-talking teenager to kick-start a new song for Grace. In the process, she learns that she is not as alone in the world as she had once thought, that no mistake is insurmountable, and that the quiet moments in life can be something to shout about . . . 

For fans of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and Jojo Moyes, Goodbye, Paris is the story of a woman who has her heart broken but then puts it back together again in the most uplifting and exquisite way.

Book Review: Spinning Silver

spinning silverSpinning Silver
by Naomi Novik
Fantasy/Fairy Tale Retelling
466 pages
Published July 10, 2018

I had previously read Uprooted, and adored it, so I was eager to get my hands on this book as soon as it came out. I was very excited to see it as a Book of the Month choice for July, and quickly made it my pick!

I received the book last weekend while I was at Anthrocon, so I didn’t get a chance to sit down with it until yesterday. (It officially came out Tuesday.) I proceeded to read straight through the entire book because it was SO. GOOD. Novik writes absolutely ENTHRALLING fairy tales. And in Spinning Silver, she has written fae as beautiful, alien, capricious, and as absolutely bound by rules as they should be. Doing a thing three times, even by normal means, gives one the power to ACTUALLY do the thing; in Miryem’s case, turning the Staryk’s silver into gold (by creative buying and selling) means she gains the power to LITERALLY turn silver into gold. Which then gets her into the trouble the rest of the book is built on.

One of my favorite lines was very near the end of the book, about the Staryk palace:

The Staryk didn’t know anything of keeping records: I suppose it was only to be expected from people who didn’t take on debts and were used to entire chambers wandering off and having to be called back like cats.

My only real quibble with the book is that it shifts viewpoints between at least five characters, and doesn’t start their sections with names or anything, so it takes a few sentences to figure out who’s talking. It never takes too long, but it did occasionally make me go “Wait, who is this….ah, okay.”

The plotlines weave in and out of each other’s way for most of the book before all colliding into each other at the end and showing how everything connects. I was definitely confused on occasion, but it was that enchanting Alice-in-Wonderland kind of confusion more than actual puzzlement. The book is, by turns, a mix of Rumpelstiltskin, Tam-Lin, Winter King vs Summer King, Snow Queen, and a little Hansel and Gretel. I love seeing elements of so many fairy tales woven together and yet still remaining recognizable.

And the ending! Oh, the ending was absolutely, marvelously perfect.

I loved this book, just as much as I loved Uprooted. I can’t wait to see what fairy tales Novik spins next!

From the cover of Spinning Silver:

Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, but her father’s inability to collect his debts has left his family on the edge of poverty – until Miryem takes matters into her own hands. hardening her heart, the young woman sets out to claim what is owed and soon gains a reputation for being able to turn silver into gold.

When an ill-advised boast draws the attention of the king of the Staryk – grim fey creatures who seem more ice than flesh – Miryem’s fate, and that of two kingdoms, will be forever altered. Set an impossible challenge by the nameless king, Miryem unwittingly spins a web that draws in a peasant girl, Wanda, and the unhappy daughter of a local lord who plots to wed his child to the dashing young tsar.

But Tsar Mirnatius is not what he seems. And the secret he hides threatens to consume the lands of humans and Staryk alike. Torn between deadly choices, Miryem and her two unlikely allies embark on a desperate quest that will take them to the limits of sacrifice, power, and love.

Channeling the vibrant heart of myth and fairy tale, Spinning Silver weaves a multilayered, magical tapestry that readers will want to return to again and again.

 

Book Review: When Katie Met Cassidy

when katie met cassidyWhen Katie Met Cassidy
by Camille Perri
Contemporary Romance
262 pages
Releases June 19, 2018

This was one of my Book of the Month picks this month, so I got it a little early. It’s a very quick read, and a sweet story. Basically, it’s lesbian romance fluff. We need more fluff with non-heterosexual romances, so this is great stuff!

The book touches on gender issues – Cassidy is a woman, and seems happy to be so, but abhors feminine clothing and instead dresses solely in men’s suits. (The scene with her fabulously gay tailor was an absolute delight!) She flashes back a little onto her childhood when she wasn’t allowed to wear the clothing she felt best in. She also has a few conversations with Katie about gender roles. Katie is much more traditionally feminine, wearing dresses and heels and long hair.

I’m a little torn on whether I dislike the use of the trope “straight woman turned gay after breakup” or like the point that Katie isn’t sure she likes women, but she knows she likes Cassidy. Cassidy’s gender is secondary to her personality. And it’s not like Katie decided to go hit on women after her fiance cheated on her; she got practically dragged to the lesbian bar by Cassidy, who saw how much she was hurting and decided to help her.

I enjoyed seeing that Cassidy has casual sex partners, many of them former sex partners, who are still good friends with her. Granted, she has lots of one-night stands who are upset with her since she’s quite the player, but there are several women who she’s been involved with before the book opens, who are close friends of hers and care about her future. I wish we saw more relationships like this in heterosexual romantic fiction instead of only in GLBT fiction! These kinds of relationships do exist in heterosexual groups, but it seems like romantic fiction is always divided between “heterosexual monogamy” and “everything else.” I did read an exception in Next Year, For Sure, but I greatly disliked the ending.

I really loved this book. It was sweet, and light-hearted, and a pleasant breath of fresh air from a lot of what I’ve been reading recently!

You can find a list of all of my Pride Month reads here.

From the cover of When Katie Met Cassidy:

When it comes to Cassidy, Katie can’t think straight.

Katie Daniels, a twenty-eight-year-old Kentucky transplant with a strong set of traditional values, has just been dumped by her fiance when she finds herself seated across a negotiating table from native New Yorker Cassidy Price, a sexy, self-assured woman wearing a man’s suit. While at first Katie doesn’t know what to think, a chance meeting on a West Village street later that night leads them both to the Metropolis, a dimly lit lesbian dive bar that serves as Cassidy’s second home.

The night offers straightlaced Katie a glimpse into a wild yet fiercely tight-knit community, one in which barrooms may as well be bedrooms, and loyal friends fill in the spaces absent families leave behind. And in Katie, Cassidy finds a chance to open her heart in new ways. Soon their undeniable connection will bring into question everything each of them thought they knew about sex and love.

From the acclaimed author of The Assistants comes another gutsy book about the importance of women taking the reins – this time, when it comes to love, sex, and self-acceptance. Written with Camille Perri’s signature wry writ and charm, When Katie Met Cassidy is a fun, fast-paced romantic comedy about gender and sexuality, and the importance of figuring out who we are in order to go after what we truly want.

Book Review: The Kiss Quotient

kiss quotientThe Kiss Quotient
by Helen Hoang
Contemporary Romance
317 pages
Published June 2018

This was one of three books I got through Book of the Month this month – the other two were The Book of Essie and When Katie Met Cassidy. I’m reviewing this today instead of another Pride Month read because today is Autistic Pride Day! The Kiss Quotient both stars and is written by a woman on the autistic spectrum, so I thought today would be a fitting day to tell you about it!

So The Kiss Quotient is basically a gender-swapped Pretty Woman, as Hoang mentions in the Author’s Note. Our heroine, Stella Lane, books an escort to teach her about sex. Stella is thirty years old, has only had sex a couple of times, never enjoyed it, and is worried about not being good at it and therefore not being able to get or keep a boyfriend. She’s an incredibly successful econometrician, or someone who uses data and statistics to model and predict economic trends, in her case predicting what people will want to buy from clients. (She’s the kind of person responsible for those “Amazon started marketing baby products to me before I even knew I was pregnant!” incidents.) So she has more money than she knows what to do with, and offers Michael, an escort, $50,000 a month to teach her about sex and relationships.

Because this is a romance, we know what’s going to happen here. They fall in love with each other, but are sure that for the other one it’s just a business arrangement.

I was NOT expecting this book to be as explicit as it is! I think because it is a Book of the Month, I wasn’t expecting the standard trope of romance book with hot sex scenes. But that’s what I got! I can’t say I’m unhappy with that – god knows I like my guilty pleasure romance smut – but it was definitely unexpected. I’m not sure why it surprised me. The book’s premise is all about Stella wanting to learn about sex; if that wasn’t conducted on screen we’d lose a third of the book!

A sequel has already been announced, and it’s about the other autistic character in the book, the hero’s best friend’s little brother, Khai, who we only see in one scene. Who I’d also like to know more about is the best friend, Quan! So I’m holding out hope for a third book.

One last thing that I found important – in the Author’s Note, Hoang mentions her daughter was diagnosed with AS, and in reading about Autism, she realized she is also on the spectrum. This is something I’ve seen in three different books now. It’s so common for women, especially, to go undiagnosed. They might be better at modelling allistic (non-autistic) behavior, or their special interests might be more “acceptable” to allistics, or sometimes they just get looked at as introverts when they’re young instead of getting the help they might need. This is starting to change, as researchers and doctors are realizing Autism presents differently in women. But it seems autistic adult women are often discovering they’re autistic through a diagnosis of their children. I found that interesting.

I did really enjoy this book. I think it’s a great debut novel, and a great romance. I really like the recent trend of more diversity in lead characters in romance novels. Bring on the people of color! More disabled main characters! There’s got to be a romance somewhere with a deaf heroine, right? More alternative sexualities and relationship structures! Everyone, everywhere, wants to be loved, and I want to read about it. The thing is, I’m sure these books exist, but they don’t get the kind of publicity they need for people to know about them. We have to actually go looking for them. I feel like I’ve been better about that recently, but it’s definitely a place where the publication industry could improve.

You can find my full list of Autism books, most of them by Autistic authors, here.

From the cover of The Kiss Quotient:

Stella Lane comes up with algorithms to predict customer purchases – a job that has given her more money than she knows what to do with, and way less experience in the dating department than the average thirty-year-old.

It doesn’t help that Stella has Asperger’s or that French kissing reminds her of a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish. Her conclusion: she needs lots of practice – with a professional – which is why she hires escort Michael Phan. With the looks of a K-drama star and the martial arts moves to match, the Vietnamese-Swedish stunner can’t afford to turn down Stella’s offer. And when she comes up with a lesson plan, he proves willing to help her check off all the boxes – from foreplay to more-than-missionary position.

Before long, Stella not only learns to appreciate his kisses, but to crave all of the other things he’s making her feel. Their no-nonsense partnership starts making a strange kind of sense. And the pattern that emerges will convince Stella that love is the best kind of logic…

Book Review: The Book of Essie

book of essieThe Book of Essie
by Meghan Maclean Weir
Contemporary Fiction
319 pages
Releases June 12, 2018

It’s so hard to decide where to start with this book. First: it’s amazing. Second: Content Warning. For a number of reasons. Rape. Incest. Gay Conversion Therapy. Suicide. Nothing extremely graphic; the most graphic concerns the conversion therapy, which is where the suicide occurs. That section was hard to read. A lot of sections were hard to read. But the book was SO GOOD. It’s about Essie and Roarke’s escape from all that, so ultimately it focuses on the future, and it’s a hopeful, light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel kind of book. But daaaaang these topics.

I loved so many of the characters here. Essie and Roarke, Roarke’s best friend Blake, Liberty, the reporter, her boyfriend and her camerawoman. They’re all amazing. Essie’s determination, Roarke’s courage, Blake’s understanding – every character has something to offer in this book. The way Liberty’s history entwines with Essie’s, so she knows where she’s coming from and can offer advice from experience, and how Liberty flashes back to her childhood so the reader understands her conflicts – it’s all just so amazing.

I identify pretty closely with a lot of this book myself; I was raised very conservative Christian, though at least not in a crazy cult like Liberty was. But the way Liberty talks about her boyfriend challenging her beliefs and waking her up from them hit very close to home. It was weird to see it on the page.

“I had been home as well, a painful few months during which I began to see my parents, our family, and our church as Mike might see them, as anyone who was not us would see them. I still loved my parents, very much, but I was also deeply ashamed. I began to wonder what would have happened if I’d seen it earlier….I decided that I would not go home again.”

I was cheering for Essie as she broke free of her bigoted family. Every step of the way. And Roarke – oh, Roarke, who my heart broke for, who stepped up to the plate and loved Essie in his own way, and gave Essie what she needed. It helped that Essie offered him precisely what he needed, too, but I didn’t expect how their relationship evolved.

I loved this book, start to finish. This is definitely one of my favorites of 2018.

I received this book a little early, through the Book of the Month club. It releases this Tuesday, June 12.

From the cover of The Book of Essie:

Esther Anne Hicks – Essie – is the youngest child on Six for Hicks, a reality television phenomenon. She’s grown up in the spotlight, both idolized and despised for her family’s fire-and-brimstone brand of faith. When Essie’s mother, Celia, discovers that Essie is pregnant, she arranges an emergency meeting with the show’s producers: Should they sneak Essie out of the country for an abortion? Pass the child off as Celia’s? Or try to arrange a marriage – and a ratings-blockbuster wedding? Meanwhile, Essie seeks her salvation in Roarke Richards, a senior at her high school with a secret of his own to protect, and Liberty Bell, an infamously conservative reporter. 

As Essie attempts to win the faith of Roarke and Liberty, she has to ask herself the most difficult of questions: What was the real reason her older sister left home? Who can she trust with the truth about her family? And how much is she willing to sacrifice to win her own freedom?

Written with blistering intelligence and a deep, stirring empathy, The Book of Essie brilliantly explores our darkest cultural obsessions: celebrity, class, bigotry, and the media.