Category Archives: Amazon

Lie To Me, by J.T. Ellison

I’m back! Actually, I haven’t gone anywhere, I simply haven’t been posting reviews. Not that I haven’t been reading – I’m never not reading – I haven’t been reading anything that moved me enough to lend time to a review. Until today.

Synopsis:

SUTTON AND ETHAN MONTCLAIR’S IDYLLIC LIFE IS NOT AS IT APPEARS. THEY SEEM MADE FOR EACH OTHER, BUT THE TRUTH IS UGLY. CONSUMED BY PROFESSIONAL AND PERSONAL BETRAYALS AND FINANCIAL WOES, THE TWO BOTH LOVE AND HATE EACH OTHER. AS TENSIONS MOUNT, SUTTON DISAPPEARS, LEAVING BEHIND A NOTE SAYING NOT TO LOOK FOR HER.

ETHAN FINDS HIMSELF THE TARGET OF VICIOUS GOSSIP AS FRIENDS, FAMILY AND THE MEDIA SPECULATE ON WHAT REALLY HAPPENED TO SUTTON MONTCLAIR. AS THE POLICE INVESTIGATE, THE LIES THE COUPLE HAVE BEEN SPINNING FOR YEARS QUICKLY UNRAVEL. IS ETHAN A KILLER? IS HE BEING SET UP? DID SUTTON HATE HIM ENOUGH TO KILL THE CHILD SHE NEVER WANTED AND THEN HERSELF? THE PATH TO THE ANSWERS IS FULL OF TWISTS THAT WILL LEAVE THE READER BREATHLESS.

Review:

Lie To Me – J.T. Ellison

I began, and finished, my first read by author J.T. Ellison, Lie To Me, today. Although I don’t recall where I got the book, I am unyielding in my certainty I did not purchase it. I wouldn’t have. On the cover, Lisa Scottoline lauds it as something fans of Gone Girlwill gobble up. I realize I am in the minority when I say, I was not a fan of that book. Almost as much as I wasn’t a fan of any of the Fifty Shades books. Different strokes and all.

But, I picked it up this morning for a look with no intention of diving in. I never set it down until I had reached the end. Never saw that coming… it just sort of pulled me in right from page one.

Ellison is a skillful writer. That is apparent off the bat. Although skillful in several areas, the one I am referring to is tension. In too many of this type book, I lose interest early on because the author fills the dead spots with fluff. Things that pertain to the story by association, but change it little if removed. Too often I find myself skimming (selectively reading) just to get to the whodunit. I read every page, every word, of this book. Yes, I was anxious to find out the who, what, why, and where at the end of the journey, but I was enjoying the ride so much, I wasn’t in a rush to get there.

There are twists and turns you will not see coming. Even if you are able to guess one (which I did), it will only be one or two. From early on I did have the antagonist figured out, although not the motive. I had also guessed who Ethan had (or thought he had) slept with (same person) but that was about it. Even when I thought it was all over, it wasn’t. I was a little confused at the very end, last words, about Josie. Her real daughter – got it. But I must have missed something in how she learned who/where she was. It seemed a bit odd that she would know this information and not share it with her husband after all they’ve been through and knowing how the previous lies contributed to the events in the book’s story.

There were a few things that had I been presented with in real life, I would have argued rather than to blindly believe what I was hearing without a good old-fashioned debate. For instance, Holly is with Ethan when he receives a text message warning him not to tell ‘the cop’ about the meeting at the farm. That fact might explain why Holly was never convinced of his guilt, but when she’s told by her superior that they have him dead to rights, why didn’t she argue the case? If he was truly guilty, who sent the text while she was with him? There were a few of those, “Hey, wait a minute,” moments, but none that took away from the read overall. I suppose not everyone would have caught them, and I’ve been accused of scrutinizing even more than reading, but I caught them and I hate when something doesn’t feel real. Another one was when Ivy called Holly on her cell phone and asked her to stop by because she had something she had to tell her. Holly agrees and says, I’m close, to which Ivy replies, “I know you are.” Duh, I no sooner read the words and found myself saying, “How does she know?” Yet, when Holly gets to her house less than five minutes later, she doesn’t question it. If I feel like someone is stalking me you can bet I’m going to ask them how the hell they know my whereabouts. Just another little niggler I found off.

Anyway, those items are minor to the overall read. I thought the way the author divided the stories worked well. In that way I got the whole story piece-by-piece rather than in scattered info dumps. I also thought the way she divided his story, her story, and everyone’s story worked well in this piece.

I did meander over to Amazon to see where my review falls in line with others and found that for the most part, I’m right in line. I don’t go through the 4 and 5-star reviews, but I do tend to look through the 1-stars if only to see what a particular reviewer took away from the read that I didn’t, or visa-versa. Apparently, some, although few, hated this title as much as I loved it. One in particular made me smile. They begin by praising Gone Girl and move on to their utter contempt for this book. Sounds like me, in reverse.

Granted, if the events of the book were to play out the way they did on their own, it would be almost too out there to be believed. But when you take into account that there was a Puppeteer pulling all the strings, anything is possible. Neither Ethan nor Sutton were in control of their own lives at this point, although they believed they were.

All I can say is I (happily) read it in one sitting and will definitely look for more by this author – even if her work is compared to books I didn’t care for at all.  🙂

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The Couple Next Door, by Shari Lapena

Synopsis:

The Couple Next DoorIt all started at a dinner party. . .

A domestic suspense debut about a young couple and their apparently friendly neighbors—a twisty, rollercoaster ride of lies, betrayal, and the secrets between husbands and wives. . .

Anne and Marco Conti seem to have it all—a loving relationship, a wonderful home, and their beautiful baby, Cora. But one night when they are at a dinner party next door, a terrible crime is committed. Suspicion immediately focuses on the parents. But the truth is a much more complicated story.

Inside the curtained house, an unsettling account of what actually happened unfolds. Detective Rasbach knows that the panicked couple is hiding something. Both Anne and Marco  soon discover that the other is keeping secrets, secrets they’ve kept for years.

What follows is the nerve-racking unraveling of a family—a chilling tale of  deception, duplicity, and unfaithfulness that will keep you breathless until the final shocking twist.

Review:

Of the two psychological thrillers I read yesterday, this was definitely the better one, especially for being a debut. Many authors can’t seem to keep the threads of such a detailed story together, but Lapena does it effortlessly.

First, the characters. In my opinion, one of her strong suits. Each of the main players were well-crafted, their emotions and reactions rang incredibly true to the story playing out. But even her silent, secondary characters added to the tension of the story. For example – Graham, Cynthia’s reticent husband. Whether it was planned or happened by chance, the author turned him into a red herring. As the synopsis states, it all started at a dinner party. During that time, I’m not even sure whether Graham actually speaks, but from the beginning I had a sense that he (and his wife) were somehow involved. I won’t give away any spoilers here, but let’s just say that it did not turn out as it might have been set up to. This book is an example of how important titles really are. The Couple Next Door along with Graham’s off demeanor – I kept expecting him to play a bigger part almost up to the end.)

As I mentioned, I give the author credit for keeping so many details, twists, and turns straight. Unless you’ve ever tried to write a psychological thriller, I doubt you have any idea what a feat that is, and she does it remarkably well.

The only two things I found a bit distracting was 1) the fact that on at least three occasions, the author (through a character) went through a detailed checklist of what the characters (and the reader) knew to that point. To me anyway, it seemed liked the author’s way of saying, “Okay, are you with me so far?” And 2) several times in the middle of a high action scene, a character goes off on a narrative trip offering backstory that isn’t relevant at that moment. That information, although necessary at some point, was misplaced. I felt it could have been worked in at a better time. Aside from that, it was a pleasing read that I finished in one sitting.

As a side note, if you’ve read The Couple Next Door, and enjoyed it, you might be interested in her new book, A Stranger in the House, which releases August 15th. I know I’ll be getting a copy.

4/5 stars for the Couple Next Door


Second Life, by S.J. Watson

Synopsis:

From the New York Times bestselling author of Before I Go to Sleep, a sensational new psychological thriller about a woman with a secret identity that threatens to destroy her.

How well can you really know another person? How far would you go to find the truth about someone you love?

When Julia learns that her sister has been violently murdered, she must uncover why. But Julia’s quest quickly evolves into an alluring exploration of own darkest sensual desires. Becoming involved with a dangerous stranger online, she’s losing herself . . . losing control . . . perhaps losing everything. Her search for answers will jeopardize her marriage, her family, and her life.

A tense and unrelenting novel that explores the secret lives people lead—and the dark places in which they can find themselves—Second Life is a masterwork of suspense from the acclaimed S. J. Watson.

Review:

Second LifeHow much do I agree with the synopsis on a scale of 1-10? I’d come in mid-way at a 5. The story is told in first person, present tense. I generally have no issue with a story told that way, if it fits. This didn’t. Julia is angry throughout making it a tense read with little in the way of breathers.

I didn’t find the writing exemplary, but that in itself didn’t make it a terrible read. The book is divided into five parts, the first three being a bit boring and drawn out. The last two parts, especially the final one, is what redeemed the entire book. The author ties up the loose ends nicely, although there were a few things I found myself questioning. For example, at the end, Connor is missing. They know he is headed to Paris to meet his father. Julia is on the phone with everyone – except the police at that point. They all had to take a train to reach him, wouldn’t calling the authorities in Paris before they arrived have been the logical thing to do?

I picked this title up in a discount bargain bin, so it was worth the small price I paid. Had I paid full price, I would have left it feeling cheated. Not terrible, but not memorable either.


Did You Ever Have A Family, by Bill Clegg

Synopsis:

The stunning debut novel from bestselling author Bill Clegg is a magnificently powerful story about a circle of people who find solace in the least likely of places as they cope with a horrific tragedy.

Did You Ever Have A FamilyOn the eve of her daughter’s wedding, June Reid’s life is upended when a shocking disaster takes the lives of her daughter, her daughter’s fiancé, her ex-husband, and her boyfriend, Luke—her entire family, all gone in a moment. June is the only survivor.

Alone and directionless, June drives across the country, away from her small Connecticut town. In her wake, a community emerges, weaving a beautiful and surprising web of connections through shared heartbreak.

From the couple running a motel on the Pacific Ocean where June eventually settles into a quiet half-life, to the wedding’s caterer whose bill has been forgotten, to Luke’s mother, the shattered outcast of the town—everyone touched by the tragedy is changed as truths about their near and far histories finally come to light.

Elegant and heartrending, and one of the most accomplished fiction debuts of the year, Did You Ever Have a Family is an absorbing, unforgettable tale that reveals humanity at its best through forgiveness and hope. At its core is a celebration of family—the ones we are born with and the ones we create.

Review:

To this day, I am still amazed at how two people can read the same book and walk away with an entirely different take on it. Did You Ever Have A Family is one of those books.

First, let me say I didn’t hate it. I just wasn’t over the moon, as many of the reviewers seem to have been.

Although I did like Clegg’s writing, there were more points I wasn’t fond of. For instance, the number of narrators. There are at least seven, quite possibly more. Some of the characters (the main) are told in third person while others (the secondary) are told in first. That seemed like a very odd choice to me. First person generally lends to intimacy. Why would Clegg want that intimacy with minor characters? Edith, Rick, Rebecca are hardly mentioned except for their one or two chapters, yet they are the characters the author sets up for the closer emotional bond with the reader. The constant switch in characters also gave the read a choppy feel.

There was no dialogue in the book. I didn’t care for that approach to storytelling. Rather than to bond with the characters, I felt as though I was bonding with the author. His hand was too heavy throughout.

Both the story and the characters were flat, no dimension. At no point did I feel as though the author brought his characters to life. Reading it was much like me telling you about my Uncle Frank from Jersey. Unless given a reason to care about him, hearing about a stranger with nothing to make him stand out will bore you. Everybody has an uncle from somewhere, right?

One detail I wanted to comment on: several reviewers mentioned his use of punctuation and went as far as to say that reading this book made them think copyeditors no longer existed. One of the biggest complaints was that he often used semicolons followed by conjunctions. He did. But… as a writer myself and not just a reader, I get it. It is easy to be a punctuation snob when you are only considering the technical side of writing, but when you are sitting on the creative side of the pen, everything changes. Commas, for instance. Anyone can open up their copy of Strunk and White and point fingers at the use of commas within any given work. But as an author, we exorcise our right to be original. I, for one, tend to use commas less as they should be used (technically) and more to emphasize. I use them to set off a particular phrase, or to show a natural pause in speech (dialogue) that cannot be shown on the page as easily as it can be inserted into actual speech. I recently read a book where the author used no dialogue tags whatsoever. It was a bit awkward, I admit, but that was their style. If we are all going to follow the letter of the S&W book, we will all end up sounding like imitations of each other. I just wanted to point that out because I get it. Our styles are as individual as our methods.

This book received a lot of hype, and a number of nominations for prestigious awards. I’m not going to say it wasn’t deserving, but it would never get my vote. Although not the worst book I’ve read, kudos to the person who wrote the synopsis. They managed to put a shine on what is contained between the covers. Again, I did like Clegg’s actual writing. Add a few three-dimensional characters and a plot with substance; this might have been a memorable read.


Sutton, by J.R. Moehringer

Synopsis:

BORN IN THE SQUALID IRISH SLUMS OF BROOKLYN, IN THE FIRST YEAR OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, WILLIE SUTTON CAME OF AGE AT A TIME WHEN BANKS WERE OUT OF CONTROL. IF THEY WEREN’T TAKING BRAZEN RISKS, CAUSING MILLIONS TO LOSE THEIR JOBS AND HOMES, THEY WERE SHAMELESSLY SEEKING BAILOUTS. TRAPPED IN A CYCLE OF BANK PANICS, DEPRESSIONS AND SOARING UNEMPLOYMENT, SUTTON SAW ONLY ONE WAY OUT, ONLY ONE WAY TO WIN THE GIRL OF HIS DREAMS.
SO BEGAN THE CAREER OF AMERICA’S MOST SUCCESSFUL BANK ROBBER. OVER THREE DECADES SUTTON BECAME SO GOOD AT BREAKING INTO BANKS, AND SUCH A MASTER AT BREAKING OUT OF PRISONS, POLICE CALLED HIM ONE OF THE MOST DANGEROUS MEN IN NEW YORK, AND THE FBI PUT HIM ON ITS FIRST-EVER MOST WANTED LIST.
BUT THE PUBLIC ROOTED FOR SUTTON. HE NEVER FIRED A SHOT, AFTER ALL, AND HIS VICTIMS WERE MERELY THOSE BLOODSUCKING BANKS. WHEN HE WAS FINALLY CAUGHT FOR GOOD IN 1952, CROWDS SURROUNDED THE JAIL AND CHANTED HIS NAME.
BLENDING VAST RESEARCH WITH VIVID IMAGINATION, PULITZER PRIZE-WINNER J.R. MOEHRINGER BRINGS WILLIE SUTTON BLAZING BACK TO LIFE. IN MOEHRINGER’S RETELLING, IT WAS MORE THAN NEED OR RAGE AT SOCIETY THAT DROVE SUTTON. IT WAS ONE UNFORGETTABLE WOMAN. IN ALL SUTTON’S CRIMES AND CONFINEMENTS, HIS FIRST LOVE (AND FIRST ACCOMPLICE) WAS NEVER FAR FROM HIS THOUGHTS. AND WHEN SUTTON FINALLY WALKED FREE–A SURPRISE PARDON ON CHRISTMAS EVE, 1969–HE IMMEDIATELY SET OUT TO FIND HER.
POIGNANT, COMIC, FAST-PACED AND FACT-STUDDED, SUTTON TELLS A STORY OF ECONOMIC PAIN THAT FEELS EERILY MODERN, WHILE UNFOLDING A STORY OF DOOMED LOVE, WHICH IS FOREVER TIMELESS.

 

Review:

SuttonAlthough Sutton is a work of fiction, the historical elements are so rich in detail that by the end of the book, you’ll feel as though you’ve just relived a piece of history. Willie Sutton is a hero, and an anti-hero. He is loved, and he is hated. You’ll root for him, feel for him, and feel like you know him long before you reach the end.

The pros: almost everything about the book. The flow kept me turning pages right until the end. At no point did I grow bored with unnecessary filler or dead spots. Moehringer’s writing is a pleasurable, easy read, which makes use of the “write tight” lesson. There isn’t a wasted word in the entire novel. He pulls you into his created world with remarkable characters and vivid detail, but never presents so much as to ruin it for the reader or cause the book to feel over-inflated. I cannot imagine anyone walking away from this read with more negatives than positives to say about it.

The cons: I only have one negative to say about Sutton. The author uses no dialogue tags or quotation marks. He does this consistently throughout the book, which makes it a bit easier to adjust, but there were a couple passages where I did have to stop reading to go back and pick up the trail of who was speaking because after so many volleys, I lost track. Although the personalities of the characters were identifiable enough to know who was who, the dialogue of 1930s “bad guys” was similar enough that tags would have helped to distinguish speakers during certain conversations.

I’m not going to delve into the plot or storyline, as the synopsis does that. This is simply my take on the read. Overall, I would highly recommend Sutton to anyone, but especially those who are drawn to historical novels. I enjoyed it so much that yesterday I went to B&N to buy The Tender Bar, an earlier and highly acclaimed novel by the same author.

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