“Luckiest Girl Alive” by Jessica Knoll

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4.5 out of 5 stars

Whoa. Jessica Knoll’s “Luckiest Girl Alive” was not what I was expecting in the best way possible.

Ani FaNelli is that New York girl you hate- skinny, pretty, huge engagement ring and designer handbags – she leads the kind of life that every small town girl dreams about. Bitchy, pithy and not exactly the nicest girl around, she’s done her best to distance herself from a life-changing event in her teens. However, when the anniversary of those events approaches… it becomes clear that the truth can’t be buried forever.

Will you hate Ani? Most likely yes. She reminds me of Curtis Sittenfield’s protagonist in Prep. Annoying, self-centered and shallow, she can be difficult to relate to, but by the end of the novel at least you’ll understand her and perhaps have some empathy. The novel is told from Ani’s perspective which can be a little trying at first, but don’t fight it- just give in.

I don’t want to give away anything from the plot, but I will say I was totally caught off guard and had no idea the direction that the story was going to go in. Again, while you may not love all of the characters, the writing is sharp and clean, and creates a delightful sense of unease. It may start off a little chick-lit, but the plot quickly becomes much deeper and darker. If you like Gillian Flynn’s novels, you’ll most likely enjoy “Luckiest Girl Alive.”

A definite must read for 2015! Also, it looks like the movie rights to this book have been snapped up by Lionsgate! Available for pre-order from Amazon.com and on shelves May 12th, 2015.

Disclaimer: I received and an ARC of this book for review.

“The Perfect Mother” by Nina Darnton – A Book Review

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“Perfect” mother of three, Jennifer Lewis has it all, until one night she receives a phone call from her daughter Emma who is studying abroad in Europe. A “ripped from the headlines” kind of novel, “The Perfect Mother” explores just how difficult the relationship can be between mothers and daughters, and just what unconditionally loving someone actually means.

For those that may have read Jennifer duBois’ “Cartwheel” the plot may sound familiar. College student who has not told her parents everything, secrets, a murder in a foreign country, etc. In fact, it was very hard not to compare the two as I was reading. Fortunately, it’s been a while since I read “Cartwheel,” and Darnton adds her own twists and turns, though I personally preferred the characters of “Cartwheel” more. It’s not that Darnton’s characters are not well developed, I just found it hard to like anything about Jennifer or her daughter, and I spent most of the book feeling horrible for the clearly long-suffering Mr. Lewis. That said, I much prefer the cover art of “The Perfect Mother” -I know, not totally relevant… but I really disliked what was chosen for “Cartwheel.”

Clocking in at just under 300 pages, the plot is well-paced and would be a perfect plane trip read. While you will enjoy it if you have read “Cartwheel,” be prepared for a lot of similarities.

Available for pre-order from Amazon.com and on shelves November 25h, 2014.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher.

“The Killer Next Door” by Alex Marwood – A Book Review

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How well do you really know your neighbors? Alex Marwood’s second novel takes place in a gentrifying suburbs of London and focuses on the residents of a house that has been converted into some sketchy apartments or “flats.” Each character has his or her own secrets, but one is hiding something much worse — yep, there’s a serial killer in the building. Forced to band together to protect each other’s secrets after an unfortunate accident, they soon discover that someone is not who they seem.

While I had not enjoyed Marwood’s debut novel, “The Wicked Girls” (my review can be found here), I would recommend “The Killer Next Door.” Where the previous novel suffered from a lack of momentum, her second book chugs along at a decent pace, and more importantly – the characters were much more three dimensional and well-fleshed out. Where Marwood really succeeds this time around is with the creation of situation/scenes that seem very believable/vivid. You can clearly picture the dilapidated house and the cast of characters that populate the dank apartments… I shudder just thinking about the accommodations.

Told from various perspectives, the chapters rotate focusing on each of the different characters which gives the reader a well-rounded view of events from multiple vantages (yes, including the killer’s). Though a bit long-winded in some places, I did appreciate that Marwood tried to give each character a solid backstory and perspective versus sticking with the stereotypes of an ensemble cast.

Available for pre-order from Amazon.com and on shelves October 28th, 2014.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC from the publisher via their “First to Read” program

“The Secret Place” by Tana French – A Review

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In my opinion, none of Tana French’s later novels have ever lived up to “In the Woods” or “The Likeness.” I struggled through “Broken Harbor,” but somewhat enjoyed “Faithful Place,” so it was much anticipation that I picked up “The Secret Place.” Set against the backdrop of a posh girls’ school, Murder Squad detective Stephen Moran, finds himself pulled into a case involving a dead boy and Holly Mackey, daughter of Detective Frank Mackey. Though the premise of the novel (a mysterious card reading “I Know Who Killed Him” posted anonymously on a school notice board), immediately grabbed my attention, I found this quickly to be my least favorite French novel.

My primary problem has to do with the pacing and time frame of the novel. French chooses to set it in the span of a day or so, making the book feel overwhelming and implausible. Patricia Cornwell has done the same with some of her recent Scarpetta novels, and I find it so difficult to read. The characters of Moran and Conway (the tough female detective Moran works with), are also incredibly unlikeable. There was nothing that drew me to them, and it became difficult to care much about the plot. I have the same to say about the cast of characters we meet at St. Kilda’s; nobody particularly stands out or commands the reader’s attention.

“The Secret Place” beats out “Broken Harbor” as my least favorite Murder Squad novel. That said, if you are new to the series, definitely pick up French’s first two novels. I can promise you will enjoy them. And please, Ms. French, bring back Cassie and Adam!

Available for pre-order from Amazon.com and on shelves September 2nd, 2014.

xo The Book Bird

Disclaimer: I received an ARC courtesy of the publisher for the purpose of review.

“Ruth’s Journey” by Donald McCaig – a Book Review

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If “Rhett Butler’s People” and “Scarlett” haven’t already turned you off of “Gone With the Wind” Mitchell estate authorized prequels/sequels, there is a good chance that “Ruth’s Journey” will. However, chances are, if you’re a die-hard GWtW fan like me (it was the first “grown up” novel that I read and helped to fuel my love affair with reading), you’re still going to pick this up anyway… so, I may as well share my two cents. In the spirit of full-disclosure, I received an ARC of this novel courtesy of the publisher (for which I am grateful). I should also tell you that I was not able to make it more than 30% of the way through “Ruth’s Journey.” Yes, it was that bad.

While it’s nice that McCaig chooses to focus his attention on the woman who will eventually become the well-beloved character of Mammy, I found the synopsis of the book to be deceiving. You think you’re picking up a novel about Ruth/Mammy? Read the first few chapters and you’ll wonder if you’re reading the wrong thing. In fact, McCaig spends so much time on bad characters of his own creation, that I had to make myself stick with it until we got to some familiar faces. While I can’t tell you if the novel gets better (again I stopped about 30% of the way through… and I have to give myself a props for trying multiple times to ge tback into it), my guess is it doesn’t.

Lesson learned for the third time: don’t mess with a good thing and just re-read the classic every time you need your GWtW fix.

Available for pre-order from Amazon.com and on shelves October 14th, 2014.

xo The Book Bird

“I Am Pilgrim” by Terry Hayes – A Book Review

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Loved. Loved. Loved.

I cannot stop telling everyone I know that THIS is the book that they MUST read this summer. Normally I avoid spy-thrillers; in my past experience they tend to be formulaic and predictable with mediocre writing. Terry Hayes’ “I Am Pilgrim” totally blew up those misconceptions. I won’t bother with a detailed summary (the book jacket does an excellent job of recapping), but basically the book follows the path of a retired super spy officer who finds himself being pulled back into the intelligence game. Trust me, you are not going to run into any cliches here; what you’ll find is a well executed story that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

While on the longer side, once you are in, you will FLY through this novel. Hayes does an excellent job of maintaining and building momentum, while keeping his pacing consistent and even. What I enjoyed most is that Hayes writes for the smart reader – the type of person who doesn’t want everything explained but enjoys well-thought out details. With each chapter, you almost feel like part of the story, tagging along on Pilgrim’s coattails as he races around the world.

Oh, and the characters! Pilgrim is by far one of the best protagonists I’ve encountered – clever, witty, self-deprecating, but all in a way that makes you wish you could go grab a drink together.

There is so much that I enjoyed about this novel but don’t want to give away…. Needless to say, friends- please go and pick up a copy ASAP so we can discuss. Also, if this does turn out to be a series – I CANNOT WAIT.

Available for purchase from Amazon.com.

Mrs. Hemingway by Naomi Wood

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Where to start when it comes to how much I enjoyed Naomi Wood’s “Mrs. Hemingway“?

I have to admit, 2014 so far has been a little lackluster when it comes to titles that I’ve strongly enjoyed. Mrs. Hemingway was the first novel that really captured my attention and had me staying up late to finish it off. While it will undoubtedly garner comparisons to Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife, the two novels only overlap in the slightest. While McLain chose to focus on the narrative of Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley, in Wood’s book we spend time with all four Mrs. Hemingways- Hadley, Pauline (Fife), Martha and Mary.

The real strength of the novel is how Wood makes you feel for and about each wife. Each is given equal room to tell her story, and a unique clean voice. All of the women are equally sympathetic, and I couldn’t say I favored one wife over the other. I thoroughly enjoyed how Wood links together each of their sections with a delicate hand – the interlocking of their stories never felt forced, and the recurring themes and imagery were subtle and well-written.

Though Papa Hemingway obviously plays a rather substantial part, I appreciated that Wood stayed focused on the four very deserving and achieving women who often get hidden in his shadow.

This novel is currently available on Amazon.com (where I purchased my copy) in both hardcover and Kindle format.

xo The Book Bird