Book Review: If Only I Could Tell You – Hannah Beckerman

Author: Hannah Beckerman
Book Name: If Only I Could Tell You
Release Date: October 15, 2019
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Women’s Fiction/Family Life
Overall SPA: 2.5
2.5 Stars

 

 

Blurb: Audrey knows that life is filled with ups and downs, but she can’t help feeling like she’s been dealt more than her fair share as she’s watched her family come undone over the years. Her dream as a mother had been for her daughters, Jess and Lily, to be as close as only sisters can be. But now as adults, they no longer speak to each other, and Audrey’s two teenage granddaughters have never met. Even more upsetting is the fact that Audrey has no idea how to fix her family as she wonders if they will ever be whole again.

If only Audrey had known three decades ago that a secret could have the power to split her family in two, but ironically, also keep them linked. And when hostilities threaten to spiral out of control, a devastating choice that was made so many years ago is about to be revealed, testing once and for all Audrey and those she loves.

Is it too late for one broken family to heal and find their way back to each other…?

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 2.5/5 Stars
Believability: 3/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 2.5/5 Stars

This was a pretty heavy read. I wasn’t a huge fan of how heavy and how much focus was spent on the more negative aspects of how people can break apart when faced with grief. While plausible from the perspective that everyone deals with grief differently, I’m struck that I’ve found yet another book in which none of the characters deal with that grief in even remotely healthy ways. I struggled to care about the characters because of that. There is very little in the way of uplifting through this because of that focus.

The story is very well written and can wrench some strong emotions from a reader with some of the subject matter that gets presented here. It just leans too heavily on the negative side of the emotional spectrum for me.

 

*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. Opinions stated are honest and my own.

 

Book Review: One Night Gone – Tara Laskowski

Author: Tara Laskowski
Book Name: One Night Gone
Release Date: October 1, 2019
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Mystery/Supsense
Overall SPA: 2.5 Stars
2.5 Stars

 

 

Blurb: It was the perfect place to disappear…

One sultry summer, Maureen Haddaway arrives in the wealthy town of Opal Beach to start her life anew—to achieve her destiny. There, she finds herself lured by the promise of friendship, love, starry skies, and wild parties. But Maureen’s new life just might be too good to be true, and before the summer is up, she vanishes.

Decades later, when Allison Simpson is offered the opportunity to house-sit in Opal Beach during the off-season, it seems like the perfect chance to begin fresh after a messy divorce. But when she becomes drawn into the mysterious disappearance of a girl thirty years before, Allison realizes the gorgeous homes of Opal Beach hide dark secrets. And the truth of that long-ago summer is not even the most shocking part of all…

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 2.5/5 Stars
Blurb: 2.5/5 Stars
Peeve Factor: 2/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 2.5/5 Stars

While this was an ARC for me, I was kind of floored by the extreme problems I ran into with the formatting in my Kindle copy. It was so bad at times, I very nearly could not read it and came close to not finishing it because of this issue. Being continually ripped away from the story by the distraction of that problematic formatting made it difficult for me to really get into the story and it has colored, to some degree, my perception of the book because of that inability.

Looking past that, I didn’t feel like this was a good fit for me.

The blurb for this, while technically representative, I felt was a bit misleading as it makes you think you are in for a really suspense filled story. Instead you get a lot of daily minutiae from the perspectives of the two main characters that doesn’t do anything to add to the suspense of the story. This made parts of this feel as if they were dragging.

I didn’t feel as though Maureen’s character came across as sympathetic. If anything, she was opportunistic and cold, making it hard to care about her story. While Allison’s character comes across as more sympathetic, she continually made frustratingly obvious bad choices with regards to believing what she was told. For a character coming off a betrayal, you’d think she wouldn’t have been quite so immediately or blindly trusting with people she didn’t know.

The piece that dropped my opinion of this the most was how this ended. You do get an interesting twist, but it was twisted and then revealed in a way that annoys me when it comes to the mystery genre (the Scooby Doo reveal). This is absolutely a personal taste thing, so I can see how others would really enjoy how this wraps up.

Overall, the writing was good, but I struggled with the relatability of the characters and the overly dramatic ending that happens all at once after a slow development of the story. I just don’t think this was a good story fit for me.

*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Book Review: The Forgotten Child, D.E. White

Author: D.E. White
Book Name: The Forgotten Child
Release Date: September 27, 2019
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Mystery/Suspense
Overall SPA: 2.5 Stars
2.5 Stars

 

 

Blurb: Lights blinded her in an eerie white flash. She yanked the wheel as she felt the impact from the car behind her. There was a sharp pain, and then a bang in front of her, and after that nothing but darkness.

Holly Kendal is trying to put her painful past and broken marriage behind her and focus on her beloved son, Milo. But while driving him home on a dark February night, Holly loses control on the rain-slicked tarmac, and her car spirals off the road.

When Holly regains consciousness, everything is silent and in the dark, she can’t see Milo. Desperately, she claws her way out of the car and forces the back door open.

To her relief, Milo is where she left him, injured but breathing – but then she sees something that makes her heart stop.

Milo isn’t the only child in the car. Next to him is another little boy, unharmed but unconscious.

And Holly has absolutely no idea who he is.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 3/5 Stars
Believability: 3/5 Stars
Blurb: 2/5 Stars

Personal Opinion: 2/5 Stars

When I read the blurb for this book, I was really intrigued and excited to read it. I loved this really unique situation that left me questioning how it could play out. There were so many directions this could go.

The way this started, made me think that it was going to be this really intense read, but it didn’t take long at all before I realized this book’s focus wasn’t about what you get in the blurb at all and I quickly became disappointed. The piece of the story that makes the blurb so intense and intriguing is only a very small thread through a very different story. This isn’t to say that the book itself wasn’t well written or interesting, because it was. It just wasn’t what I was expecting at all and ended up not being to my tastes.

There is a heavy thread through this that deals with criminal activities, organizations and the families that make those up. Those aspects were treated in such a blasé way, I wasn’t a fan. When combined with the difference in my expectations of what this was about, it made it difficult for me to enjoy the story.

*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. Opinions stated are honest and my own.

 

Book Review: Jenny of Lebanon – Gabrielle Olexa

Author: Gabrielle Olexa
Book Name: Jenny of Lebanon
Release Date: July 4, 2019
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Literary Fiction/Short Story/IndieAuthor
Overall SPA: 2.5 Stars
2.5 Stars

 

 

Blurb: All’s quiet at 318 White Ash Lane—which is good. Billy could use some quiet. He’s got enough trouble paying off his bills, keeping his cat fed and healing the ribs he bruised in a wreck with a Honda.

But maybe this is just a bump in the road. Maybe all he needs is a few weeks to heal up before he gets his life back on track. Fate, though, has another plan for Billy. That plan’s name is Jenny, and she hits a lot harder than a Honda.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 2.5/5 Stars
Believability: 3/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 2.5/5 Stars

I normally don’t read short stories because I always feel like there is just not enough page space to get a really good feel for characters and what is going on enough for me to enjoy them. This one wasn’t an exception. It is essentially a story that gives the reader a very brief glimpse, not much more than a long moment, into a rather tragically dysfunctional and toxic relationship. Because this is a short story and you do only get that glimpse, you don’t get any sense of anything outside of that and the hints of the history behind it. There is no real substance or satisfying ending.

I honestly didn’t know what to think when reviewing the blurb for this and didn’t know what to expect, in part because it seems to fall between genres. Though it really wasn’t to my tastes and felt more depressing than I want to read, it is well written, if a little flowery at times, and heavy on setting details.

*I received a copy of this book from the author. Opinions stated are honest and my own.

 

Book Review: Thin Air, Jessica Shaw- Book #1

Author: Lisa Gray
Book Name: Thin Air
Release Date: June 1, 2019
Series: Jessica Shaw
Order: #1
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Crime
Overall SPA: 2.5 Stars
2.5 Stars

 

 

Blurb: She investigates missing persons—now she is one.

Private investigator Jessica Shaw is used to getting anonymous tips. But after receiving a photo of a three-year-old kidnapped from Los Angeles twenty-five years ago, Jessica is stunned to recognize the little girl as herself.

Eager for answers, Jessica heads to LA’s dark underbelly. When she learns that her biological mother was killed the night she was abducted, Jessica’s determined to solve a case the police have forgotten. Meanwhile, veteran LAPD detective Jason Pryce is in the midst of a gruesome investigation into a murdered college student moonlighting as a prostitute. A chance encounter leads to them crossing paths, but Jessica soon realizes that Pryce is hiding something about her father’s checkered history and her mother’s death.

To solve her mother’s murder and her own disappearance, Jessica must dig into the past and find the secrets buried there. But the air gets thinner as she crawls closer to the truth, and it’s getting harder and harder to breathe.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 2.5/5 Stars
Believability: 3/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 2.5/5 Stars

I picked this up because the premise of this sounded really amazing. The idea that you are in fact the adult version of a child that had been missing for years and you never had a single clue? Love this concept!

I did like the resulting story and this kept things moving and intense all the way through. But… there were a couple of things that kind of stuck out like a sore thumb and yanked me out of the story thinking “How can anyone be alive in the United States today and not know that isn’t accurate?” In the grand scheme of things, these weren’t major issues with the plot or progression of the story and pointing them out seems a bit nit picky, but they just really felt wrong and out of place.

One is that there are probably very, very few schools across the country that don’t have some form of secure entrance where anyone off the street could walk in, walk through hallways containing lockers before they were ever confronted with a school official. Most have the kind of security where you are buzzed directly into the office itself and can’t access the rest of the building without someone confirming you are allowed beyond that point. I cannot imagine that any schools in the L.A. area would be so lax. Again, this was minor, but it yanked me out of the story because it was so out of place.

One of the others was police kicking in the door to a suspect’s residence without any provocation. Things like arrest and search warrants are requirements for police unless there is some mitigating circumstance, like at least the hint of a belief that someone is in danger or something along those lines. You aren’t even given that flimsy excuse for the entrance. This one was a little bigger for me because it goes to the believability of the story and the investigation of the crime aspects. There were a couple of other smaller issues that aren’t worth pointing out, but they added up.

I think I got a better feel for who nearly every single character in this book was, even the much smaller side characters, than I ever got for Jessica. If asked, I don’t think I could really give you any kind of aspect to her personality other than the fact that she may not be so bright. I could tell you some facts about her physically and what she does, but not who she is or what is important to her or really much of anything about her past outside of the history of what was going on around her before she disappeared. Considering this is the first book in a series, it is problematic that this is missing because I don’t know that she is interesting enough for me to want to read more about her.

I did enjoy most of the basics and the bones of this story, but it was missing a lot of the more important nuances that would have pushed it into the really good range for me.

 

 

Book Review: His Secret Family, Ali Mercer

Author: Ali Mercer
Book Name: His Secret Family
Release Date: September 11, 2019 (ARC)
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Women’s Fiction/Family Life/Mystery
Overall SPA: 2.5 Stars
2.5 Stars

 

 

Blurb: It’s a beautiful day for a wedding. White roses scent the air and the summer sunlight streams in. A spoon chimes against a champagne flute and the room falls silent. And there he is – my husband – getting to his feet to propose a toast. He’s still handsome. His new wife is next to him, gazing upwards, oblivious.

I’m not supposed to be here. All these years in the same town and I had no idea until I saw his name on the seating plan. He lived with me, once. Loved me. Small-town memories are long, but the people in this room don’t want to remember.

They say the healing is in letting go, but after what he did, he needs to know we haven’t gone away just because he’s shut his eyes.

So I take Daisy by the hand and step forward from the shadows. He notices us and his eyes widen. The champagne glass falls from his hand and smashes. Then he sags forward, making a terrible sound – a sort of strangled scream…

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 2.5/5 Stars
Blurb: 2.5/5 Stars

Peeve Factor: 3/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 2/5 Stars

*Potential Spoilers*

Looking at the name of this book. Reading the blurb and the first piece in the book (noted as the foreword in my copy) and you get the impression that you are going to get a pretty intense and potentially emotional book. I was really excited about this when I read the blurb. Getting it and reading that first section, which is sort of an expansion on the blurb, made me feel like I’d made a really good choice.

Once you get into the book, you get chapters that cycle through 4 different character perspectives. Ellie, Ava, Jenny, and Paula. None of which are the one name that was noted in that first piece that drew you in. I can see how this may create a deep sense of mystery for some readers, but for me, it was more frustrating trying to understand what that first bit had to do with anything at all as it seems completely unconnected to what is going on immediately after that.

I don’t mind the alternating character perspectives. That is something I normally enjoy, but with the 4 you get in this book it felt a bit too much. Ellie, Ava and Jenny’s timelines all run mostly concurrently with tiny bits of overlap in events here and there. Paula’s is more fluid and doesn’t run in line with the others, creating an additional level of confusion for the reader when attempting to make connections because you don’t know that her timeline isn’t running the same as the other characters. It takes a very long time before you see that and any of the pieces begin to fall in place.

There is this small thread through the story that runs more along the lines of paranormal. I really enjoy paranormal stories, but that isn’t what this story is about and it feels out of place.

Ellie and Paula’s characters were probably the most well rounded and interesting. Their perspectives were the pieces I liked the most throughout the story. I did not like Mark at all as he was a self-absorbed narcissist to the core and I have issues with characters like this (yes, they are realistic and human, but this is a personal thing for me). I didn’t see him as redeemable in any way. Getting his perspective for the final chapter bumped into one of my peeves as I’m not a fan of that kind of perspective inconsistency in a book. When you already have 4, you really, really don’t need one more at the very end. Ava wasn’t too far behind Mark in being the self-absorbed, often bratty teenager. The teenager thing being the only reason I was willing to overlook some of her personality, but she seemed to get worse as the book went along. Jenny was a character that I just couldn’t find much of interest in. While she wasn’t entirely selfish, she did seem to be the type that was easily blinded by materialistic things.

Overall, I didn’t feel like the book really lived up to the dramatic, intense blurb or the title. I love situational drama. I love emotional drama. I do not love manufactured drama and that is where most of the drama is derived from in this book, through those differing timelines and the dragging out of events followed by a 10 year time jump towards the end. The actual events weren’t that dramatic. The big secret isn’t really a secret, either to the reader or to the characters. What little bit you do get at the end feels anticlimactic because, as the reader, you see it all unfold. The character reactions to it compound that feeling as it ends up not being any kind of an issue for them either. The pieces of this story that should have been sort of emotional volcanoes for me, just weren’t. I don’t know if it was because of a lack of connection to the characters or if it was the way those pieces were written, but it sort of felt like even the characters were experiencing the events they were going through from a distance rather than directly.

I do think it should be noted that some readers may find they have problems with how some issues were presented and dealt with in this book. If you have problems with cheating, you may have issues with this book. If you have problems with how people on the Autism spectrum are sometimes viewed and treated, you may have issues with this book. If you have problems with how mental illness is sometimes viewed by some people or some of the ways it was treated historically, you may have issues with this book. These aren’t normally things that stick out for me, but I found I really disliked many of the situations surrounding these issues and how they were presented in this book.

*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

Book Review: The Place on Dalhousie – Melina Marchetta

Author: Melanie Marchetta
Book Name: The Place on Dalhousie
Release Date: June 6, 2019
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Women’s Fiction/Family Life
Overall SPA: 2.5 Stars
2.5 Stars

 

 

Blurb: ‘You look the type to break your father’s heart.’
‘Yeah, but he broke mine first.’

When Rosie Gennaro first meets Jimmy Hailler, she has walked away from life in Sydney, leaving behind the place on Dalhousie that her father, Seb, painstakingly rebuilt for his family but never saw completed. Two years later, Rosie returns to the house and living there is Martha, whom Seb Gennaro married less than a year after the death of Rosie’s mother. Martha is struggling to fulfil Seb’s dream, while Rosie is coming to terms with new responsibilities. And so begins a stand-off between two women who refuse to move out of the home they both lay claim to.

As the battle lines are drawn, Jimmy Hailler re-enters Rosie’s life. Having always watched other families from the perimeters, he’s now grappling, heartbreakingly, with forming one of his own . . .

An unforgettable story about losing love and finding love; about the interconnectedness of lives and the true nature of belonging.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 3/5 Stars
Believability: 2.5/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 2.5/5 Stars

How do you write a review for a book when you aren’t entirely sure how you feel about it?

The characters were okay, but I don’t feel as though I learned enough about them to care one way or another about their story, though I feel I learned more about Jimmy than any of them. The story had an interesting premise and I wanted to read more about it, but… overall the entire thing kind of just felt… placid. That it was slightly interesting, but didn’t really go anywhere or do much of anything. I wanted to love this, but I didn’t.

When it comes to books in this genre I really want a strong emotional reaction and/or connection and I didn’t get that at all with this book. The characters are emotional, but those emotions never really spill over onto the reader. There is a slight vagueness to the writing style here that sort of acted like an emotional filter for me.

The weird part for me is that normally those things would trip a peeve button and irritate me. I didn’t dislike this book. Instead it is just… there. There is a book. It has a decent story. I read it. The end. Placid.

 

 

 

Book Review: Sister Dear – Laura McNeill

Author: Laura McNeill
Book Name: Sister Dear
Release Date: April 19, 2016
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Family Drama
Overall SPA: 2.5 Stars
2.5 Stars

 

 

Blurb: Convicted of a crime she didn’t commit, Allie watched a decade of her life vanish – time that can never be recovered. Now, out on parole, Allie is determined to clear her name, rebuild her life, and reconnect with the daughter she barely knows.

But Allie’s return home shatters the quaint, coastal community of Brunswick, Georgia. Even her own daughter Caroline, now a teenager, bristles at Allie’s claims of innocence. Refusing defeat, a stronger, smarter Allie launches a battle for the truth, digging deeply into the past even if it threatens her parole status, personal safety, and the already-fragile bond with family.

As her commitment to finding the truth intensifies, what Allie ultimately uncovers is far worse than she imagined. Her own sister has been hiding a dark secret—one that holds the key to Allie’s freedom.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 2/5 Stars
Believability: 2/5 Stars

Personal Opinion: 3/5 Stars
The overall storyline in this is good, but I really struggled with both the lack of depth in the characters and with believability. Probably because the two are pretty closely tied together.

One of my biggest issues with believability comes into play with the utter lack of support that Allie has from her family. Supposedly a young woman who really plays by the rules and doesn’t rock the boat, with one exception and that exception does not translate into someone capable of or willing to commit murder. It just feels like every single person in her life just washed their hands of her as soon as she was convicted; friends, family, the entire community; with the exception of Emma and the rare moment with her parents. This does not work for me at all.

Allie herself is someone I struggle to connect with. With her history, you’d think it would be easy to create some emotional investment from the reader, but you never get that. For me it was partly because she is so willing to just accept the lines people are feeding her with regards to that lack of support. The fact that she just swallowed whole that her 5 year old daughter couldn’t visit her because she broke out in hives and had major panic attacks (which is later in the story somewhat contradicted) really bugged me. Same with every single time her daughter came up after she got home and it was always some sort of an excuse to keep Allie from working on rebuilding their relationship. This is exacerbated by her own parents not doing everything they could to keep that relationship in tact.

And why in the world would any loving, caring, intelligent parent be willing to turn over a 5 year old child to the care of the kid (adult or not) that was ALWAYS the one breaking the rules, getting into trouble and making pretty heavy mistakes? There is no discussion at all as to why Caroline ended up being taken care of by her aunt, Emma, and it is really a pretty huge hole in the story.

Emma’s character is nearly a cliche with the jealous, hateful sibling thing. The problem with this is that it just isn’t sold all that well. She comes across as lacking enough intelligence and too full of self interest to pull off the whole relationship with Caroline. That level of narcissism is rarely capable of making the supposed sacrifices she made.

The details of the crime Allie was convicted of along with all the reasons why a jury looked at that information and were able to come back with a guilty verdict are extremely thin, which was just one more mark against being able to fall into this story.

All of these character and plot issues could have been developed in ways that made at least some sense. ie: The adult parents weren’t actually loving and caring, but were very much absent. Emma having some specific, definable motivation for making the sacrifices she did. Or something, anything, that made the pieces of this story more believable or just work better, but those things are missing.

The ending was overly convenient and overblown. Couple that with the fact that you don’t get any hint at all of any kind of reparations to Allie for being wrongly convicted, not even a single line stating that her conviction has been overturned, just that the real bad guy was going to be prosecuted, and the story utterly fizzled out for me.