[751]: Aftermath by Kelley Armstrong

Aftermath
by Kelley Armstrong


Have you ever thought about what it was like for the families of the shooters who killed innocent people? Not in the way that they are victimized, but just how life goes on after one of their own shoot up a school and are labeled as murderers for the rest of their natural born life?

Kelley offers a fascinating perspective into the life of a victim in his or her own way. It was interesting, heartbreaking, and frustrating because this victim is the sister of one of the suspected shooters.  She was shunned and was treated like she pulled the trigger herself. On the other side of the coin is Jesse, whose brother was actually one of victims of the shooting itself. Once upon a time, Jesse and Skye were the best of friends. But because Skye’s brother was one of the shooters, their friendship was just one of the many things that ended on that day.

Being back in the town that Skye left soon after the tragedy happened was in the list of things she’d rather not do. But with her mother’s deteriorating state of mind, and her grandmother’s recent stroke left her no choice but to move back in with her aunt. To nobody else’s surprise, the town did not give her the warmest of welcomes – especially in a school where most of the students knew her and of her brother.  Everyone treated her like a pariah, even Jesse, her former best friend.

Everyday she’s faced with a reminder of the shooting. People haven’t moved on. Skye has known in her heart that Luka, her brother, was not the villain everyone had painted him to be. And as life in town and in school got even harder, she’d awaken a determination to get to the truth.

This was a hard read all around. I have read a lot of books by Ms. Armstrong but nothing as relevant a subject as a school shooting.  It’s a sensitive subject in it that the senseless loss of lives is involved, and an author needs to paint a clear view of both sides. I feel that Kelley did the best she could in presenting a non-biased view. She invoked a sincere empathy that made the readers feel all the difficult struggles on both sides, post-shooting.

Kelley is the equivalent of M. Night Shyamalan in the book world. She knows how to plot a twist that will leave you breathless upon reveal. The same goes in this novel. She crafted a convincing story that is a page turner of a thriller. Time and again, her characters are well padded, not necessarily wholesome; neither perfect, but the realest you’ll ever read.

Armstrong the veteran knows how to give her readers something new, compelling, and brave and she proves it with every book that she pens.

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[2] Romance Reads Round Up

Hot Asset
by Lauren Layne
4 out of 5 Stars


Ian Bradley is your quintessential hedge fund manager prowling Wall Street. Successfull, good looking, wealthy.  For a time, it seems like everything is going right in his world.

Until it wasn’t.

Lara McKenzie has a lot to prove. A daughter of FBI agents,  she knows the climb to the top will be steeper considering her parents’ reputation. So she will do anything to get a guilty ruling with her latest case. Unfortunately, Ian Bradley is just as determined for her to lose.

With great chemistry and smart repartee, Hot Asset proved to be such a fun and quick read. Lauren Layne’s latest series is clever, sexy, and at times, funny. The perfect recipe for a romance to fawn over.

I did experience some mild irritation when I learned why he was being investigated to begin with. I mean, besides the fact that he was allegedly inside trading, the real reason was a little flimsy at best.

Regardless, I’m chomping at the bit to follow this series. It sure has been a while since I’ve been obssessed with one.

Hard Sell
by Lauren Layne
4 out of 5 Stars


The Wolf of Wall Street is about to see his career go down in flames. It seems that all his hard partying life is about to catch up to him. Seen at a party where drugs and other acts of debaucharey are being performed, his clients and his bosses are none too happy.

If he has any hopes of saving his career and his reputation, he would need a miracle in the hands of the greatest PR person that ever lived.

Enter Sabrina Cross. A PR genius, Sabrina will have to pull all the stops in order to help Matt. Including signing up to become his pretend girlfriend.

Fortunately for Matt Cannon, they share a past. She’s the girl he knew he had zero chance of impressing no matter what he does. But that doesn’t stop him from trying any chance he gets. And because of their past, the pretending part only gets even more complicated. Feelings get in the way and hard choices will have to be made.

Once again, Ms. Layne nailed it with this follow up book. Matt and Sabrina sizzle with organic chemistry. These two light up a room with every look, and every smile they throw at each other. Oh, and the banters! She’s so good at this. It makes me wonder why I haven’t been reading a lot of her work.

Sabrina and Matt had a lot of growing up to do – well, more on Matt’s end. He knew the fast life needed to end if he ever wanted to keep the name he’s made for himself. Sabrina, on the other hand, only needed to wake up and realize what’s been in front of her face all along. Her background wasn’t the easiest life, but she sure crawled out of the pit in which she grew up.

Over all, this series is really proving to be an obsession I could easily get behind. With very little drama to speak of, you can only look forward to good times ahead.

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[750]: The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner by Sarah Weinman

The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner
by Sarah Weinman


Sarah Weinman’s literary investigative piece aims to prove what Nabokov had long since denied: that Lolita was based on a true crime that happened in the 50s. It’s a huge undertaking to say the least. But Ms. Weinman is not new to the business. A journalist and a crime writer by trade, she knows a thing or two about investigation and research. The great deterrence to what she’d set out to do was time and paltry record-keeping.

She was forthcoming at least on the number of times she stumbled during the course of her investigation when she was unable to produce evidence. On the other hand, she was very convincing in her point that Nabokov somehow, someway imitated life when he wrote his novel. Through means of parallelization, Weinman at least made her case.

She also aims to give Sally Horner a voice, to tell her side of the story. She was a mere 11-year-old when she first encountered her abductor, but for whatever reason, Frank LaSalle didn’t take her right away. He waited another year before he came back for Sally. Two years after her abduction, Sally showed no physical trauma. But the psychological implications of her captivity had a lasting, albeit, short effect. Short, because she died in a car accident shortly after.

Sally’s fateful meeting with LaSalle began as a shoplifting prank. Dared to steal a notebook from the store just to try and get into her peer’s good graces, Sally didn’t realize that someone witnessed it all. And before she could even walk out the door, she was grabbed by a man who claimed to be an FBI agent. Threatened to send to her to a reform school as a punishment, LaSalle then told her that if she cooperated with him in some capacity, he would release her on a premise that he’d come back to mete out her punishment.

He sought her out again after months of disappearing. He told her that the ‘government’ wanted her to come with him to Atlantic City but she can’t tell her family the truth. He convinced her to tell them that she was going away with her friend and her family for the weekend. With a mere phone call from Frank pretending to be the friend’s father, Sally’s mother took her to the bus station under the assumption that she would meet up with her friend. It would be two years later before she would see Sally again.

What followed was two years of spent mostly on the road, living the assumed life of a widowed father with his daughter in tow.

As in Lolita, Humbert was undeniably portrayed as a predator of deviant taste. Nabokov didn’t pull any punches or romanticized the kind of monster he was. LaSalle was very much the same. His criminal life involved a number of abduction and sexual relations with children. But Humbert was fictional, and LaSalle was very much real. Weinman drew subtle parallels between the characters and the storyline quite effectively so – which, in my opinion was highly convincing.

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[749]: The Widow’s Watcher by Eliza Maxwell

A stunning portrayal of grief and loss, of friendships and family; The Widow’s Watcher is a gem full of hope that life exists even after an irreparable loss.


The Widow’s Watcher
by Eliza Maxwell

Jenna Shaw has no reasons left to live. It is how she found herself in a small town somewhere in Minnesota to end her life.  Fortunately for her, Lars Jorgensen simply would not let her accomplish what she’d set out to do. There’d been too many people that had gone from his life. Jenna Shaw is not going to be one of them even if she was a stranger. So when she set out to end her life in this frozen town, she was not at all prepared for what awaited her.

Escaping the heartache of losing her family in one fell swoop was what she’s after – a quick way to end the burden of guilt of having survived. In this Minnesota town is an unresolved mystery involving the disappearance Jorgensen’s children. It has haunted Lars all through his life and had broken his heart.  Hardened by time and the guilt, Lars saw through and even sympathized with Jenna. After all, the guilt of having survived such tragedies was what he had in common with Jenna.

Thrusts into the heart of my mystery, she finds a new purpose by trying to avoid her own loss.  But what if she finds more loss and grief than a way to heal?

I wanted to be immersed in a story full of mysteries but I never expected to find it here. There are heartbreaking stories left and right. From the tragic death of Jenna’s entire family, to Lars’ missing children, my heart was on a vise grip the whole time.  There is also a question of Lars’ wife whose story is equally, if not more so, heartbreaking.

But this book is beautiful, too. It was in the way everybody found solace in the most unexpected way. It was in the redemption of a nearly forfeited life. I mean Lars did not give up even after losing his children and the mental illness that had plagued his wife all her life. He remained staunch in his belief that his children were alive and that his wife will remember what had happened that night.

All I wanted was someone to find happiness no matter how there was very little to be had.

This is a very character-driven novel. Jenna and Lars grew up – so to speak – as the novel progressed. Friendships were formed, however reluctantly at first.  Jenna and Lars found purpose in each other, and solace when they both didn’t even want it.

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[748]: Home After Dark by David Small

A coming of age novel that’s hauntingly real and furiously fierce. David Small’s graphic novel packs an emotional punch as 13-year-old Russell Pruitt navigates a cruel world in the mercy of strangers.

Home After Dark
by David Small

Set in 1950s, Home After Dark is the story of a teen boy who will go through the most tumultuous changes and challenges of adolescence. Soon after his mother left them for another man, his father upended their lives for the greener pastures of California. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out. Russell’s father soon left him on his own, living in the mercy of a Chinese couple that generously took him in.

In California, he would meet the people that will eventually shape his life and dictate the course for which he would take.

His first friend was a boy who lived with his grandma. He was kind to him, accepted him when other kids shun him. He was also generous.  But his friendship came with a price. One that Russell couldn’t quite grasp at such a young age. Needless to say, the friendship didn’t last.

Russell then finds himself in the company of three boys who were, for the most part, good company. But there’s always going to be bad seeds.  They bullied a boy who was a loner. One of the boys planted evidence that would eventually lead to him committing suicide.

Life in California wasn’t how it’s cracked up to be. His relationship with his father went from bad to worse. His drinking accelerated, leading to his being let go at his job. In the end, he too abandoned Russell.  The friends that he thought were genuine turned out to be false. And the one friend that he thought wanted something from him that he couldn’t give because he doesn’t understand killed himself. He stole from the only people who were willing to take him in when he was all alone in the world. Life for him wasn’t only hard, it was confusing, and sometimes, unforgiving.

Home After Dark is a graphic novel so the effect can be limited at times. I find myself staring at the series of drawings as I try to decipher the extent of emotional impact the author is trying to convey. But still, I found this book to be easy to read, with a protagonist that’s equally easy to empathize. It’s a coming of age novel and boy, did Russell go through so much.  It’s also a dark novel but somehow, someway, it wasn’t nearly as hopeless. David Smalls captured the despairing side of adolescence, but italso offered hope. Hope that he will eventually grow out of it – get pass it. It only depends on how he would take the life lessons each day gave him.

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[747]: Matchmaking for Beginners by Maddie Dawson

A fascinating study of an eclectic group of people held together by a quirky matriarch, magic, and her predecessor.


Matchmaking for Beginners
by Maddie Dawson

Everything about this book screams, Rom-Com; from its Tiffany-blue jacket with a couple drawn animatedly on the front, to the quirky synopsis about a divine connection between two unsuspecting, quirkily similar women. Truthfully, it was what drew me to this book. It started out great. Unfortunately, the more I got to know the heroine, the less I was inclined to continue. But I persisted because there’s nothing I love more than reading about an eclectic commune of people tentatively finding their footing in their own ways.

Luckily for you, dear readers, Blix might endear you (as she had, me). As well, the group of humans living in a brownstone building that Blix haplessly saved from the clutches of eternal discontent. There was Lola, a geriatric who was too afraid to start over but have learned through Blix’s manipulations urgings that life starts only when you realized you only have one to live. There was Jessica and Sammy, a mother and son tandem. Then, there’s the recluse who lives in the basement – a former artist disfigured from a fire accident.  This eclectic group acted as a balm from everything else that made this novel frustrating.

There are also characters here that might drive you to drink. The good for nothing, two-week husband who has no balls and no brains; his entire snooty-nosed clan who has more greed that can fit in their pretentious mansion; and worst yet, Marnie McGraw, who was a train wreck and a basket full of bad decisions rolled into one. Unfortunate, considering she shares the top billing in this novel. Marnie was perfectly imperfect. But I can’t, for the life of me, reconcile myself to actually like this girl. Even if she redeemed herself in the end, the damage was done. [spoiler]You can’t make a man marry you. You also can’t hurt another man twice in his lifetime. Cheating is never acceptable. It’s an unforgivable sin in my book. [End of spoiler]. So yeah, Marnie tried my patience.

Never fear, this book has its moments as well. When Marnie is not being her self-absorbed, woe-is-me, self, she was unintentionally funny. She truly cared for the well-being of the people in her building and was truly sentimental on forging ahead with Blix’s unfinished businesses. And if you’re into magic and things of that nature, this book also has an air of mystical quality reminiscent of Practical Magic minus the darkness and only loads funnier.

WHERE TO BUY: Indigo | Amazon Canada | Amazon.com


About Maddie Dawson:
Maddie Dawson grew up in the South, born into a family of outrageous storytellers. Her various careers as a substitute English teacher, department-store clerk, medical-records typist, waitress, cat sitter, wedding-invitation-company receptionist, nanny, day care worker, electrocardiogram technician, and Taco Bell taco maker were made bearable by thinking up stories as she worked. Today she lives in Guilford, Connecticut, with her husband. She’s the bestselling author of five previous novels: The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness, The Opposite of Maybe, The Stuff That Never Happened, Kissing Games of the World, and A Piece of Normal.

G   I   V   E   A   W   A   Y

The winner will receive 1 copy of Matchmaking for Beginners (HC) by Maddie Dawson!
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[746]: Saving my Assassin by Virginia Prodan

A gripping memoir of a woman’s staunch faith and unwavering quest to defend those prosecuted by Ceausescu’s brutal regime.


Saving my Assassin
by Virginia Prodan

The author grew up at a time when Romania was in the grips of a dictator named, Nicolae Ceaucescu. However, you need not to widen the scope of the kind of childhood she grew up in to know that she survived far more atrocities. Just witness the difficult homelife she endured in the hands of her ‘mother’, her siblings, and her sometimes indifferent, sometimes caring father. To this day, weeks after finishing this book, I still couldn’t comprehend the awful dynamics of her relationship with her mother. 

It was implied that she might’ve been an illegitimate child of her favourite aunt but I honestly can’t recall whether or not it was determined. In any case, I did not understand the kind of hold her mother had over her aunt. I did wonder, though if having an illegitimate child back then was a criminal act.

The title is very misleading. Perhaps it’s the romantic in me that had me believing that this book would be, in fact, about a love affair that started when an assassin was hired to kill off Virginia. The truth of the matter is, the assassin was introduced as a prologue and we don’t see him again until the end. The entirety of the novel was about Virginia’s childhood, adulthoood and how she came to be the defender of the faithful being prosecuted unjustly at the time of Nicolae Ceausescu’s tyrannical rule.

Virginia didn’t start off as a devout Christian. The evolution of her faith began when, little by little, her eyes were opened to the atrocities of what living in Romania was like. Especially when her people were being punished for their religious beliefs. As a child, she was incessantly curious. She hungered for truth which often got her in trouble. You’re supposed to be quiet if you’re a child. You’re not supposed to ask questions. Her naturally curious disposition had led her to nights of going to bed without meals and added chores as a child. As an adult, it’s what made her the crusader for the truth and justice.

It is odd to feel like someone’s life is a story full of plot holes, but that’s how I felt about Virginia’s book life. I wish I’d known for sure why she was thus hated by her mother, or if her aunt was in fact, her real mother. The assassin’s life also played very little significance to the book other than the beginning and what role she played in his life (which we didn’t witness, by the way).

I went into this book with the assumption that it was going to be a romance. I came out knowing the strength and courage of a woman who feared nothing, and one who only cared about truth, justice, and defending the unjustly aggrieved.

 

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[745]: Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot

Georgeous prose, honest and candid. Heart Berries takes the reader on a chaotic journey through an Indigenous woman’s life wracked with obsessive love, maternal love, and mental illness.


Heart Berries
by Terese Marie Mailhot

This book is so profound in ways that I could not begin to translate into words. It’s a tiny book but the destruction that I’m left with is so complete. I don’t know what to do with all of it.

I’m terrified to admit that I found such a tender kinship with the author. I’ve felt it all. The obsessive love, the maternal love that sometimes, I thought I might just be going insane. The difference between us is the consciousness – our state of minds. She knows there’s something wrong with her mind. She takes medicines for it and even have been confined in a mental hospital for rehabitilation. While I, can’t sometimes grasp whether it’s the love I was feeling that was making me insane or am I already there?

In any case, this book had me gasping for breath sometimes. It’s so empathically real that the emotions she conveyed felt visceral. She’s so desperate for a man who may or may not love her but her feelings for him was a gushing faucet that can’t be turned off. Though she tried to – to no avail. She kept coming back to the scene of the crime knowing that the killer is still there and she’d be bludgeoned yet again. But she unabashedly embraced it all.

She writes about her relationship with her mother – who I found was as devoted as they come but yet difficult at times. The scars from being a victim of the residential school integration remains fresh in many native peoples to this day. Poverty, addiction, and broken families seem to be the lasting effect. Terese married young, bore her children young. Lost one child in a custody battle and desperately hung on to the other child despite all odds. To read her try to be a good mother to the one she lost during her supervised visits was heartbreaking. She tries her best as many mothers do.

Mailhot writes from the heart, and sometimes from her broken mind. The result is a heart-rending, fierce memoir that leaves a lasting effect long after you’ve reached the end.

 

 

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[744]: Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka

A sparsely told tale of murder in the eyes of three dissimilar narrators.


Girl in Snow
by Danya Kukafka

Girl in Snow tells a detailed story of a murdered teen who didn’t lack for friends and enemies. Though the author didn’t necessarily focus on solving the case, per se. It was more an account of her life through the eyes of three unrelated narrators.

Unfortunately, I was wholly removed from the story. The writing lacked a certain quality that evokes empathy or enthusiasm to see through the ending. I’ve never read something like this before, where the main character is dead and the story backhandedly revolves around her but because the narrator isn’t her, it really wasn’t.

There are three narrators that are directly and indirectly related to Lucinda Hayes: there’s Cameron Whitely who had this obsession about her. He’d been caught stalking her a number of times and yet the author wouldn’t be so lazy as to pin the murder unto him. There’s the token girl who hated her very existence simply because they were friends before but since Lucinda belonged in the popular crowd, their friendship suffered until they could no longer stand each other’s presence. And then there’s the investigator solving the case. His only relation to Lucinda’s case was through Cameron. Officer Russ used to be Cameron’s father’s partner in the force until his involvement in a case led to his ruin.

In truth, I had a hard time unpacking this book. There were threads in the story that I struggle to unravel, leading to my disinterest in the story. The characters left me cold, and the writing, beautiful though as they may be, was just unattainably circuitous. The author offered a few red herrings, for sure. But because of the narrators’ respective stories, I got easily distracted and eventually lost interest.

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[743]: The Thief by J.R. Ward

A disappointing installment that tried and failed to inspire a renewed fervor for the author’s favorite character.


The Thief
by JR Ward

I haven’t reached the point in which I’d say I’m over with this series – no matter how much I didn’t enjoy an installment. Well, maybe I came close as I read the first few chapters of the latest. Truthfully, I was looking forward to reading this because the Warden said it was about Assail and Sola. Their story was long overdue and I’d waited long enough. So I was ecstatic and have pined for this book for a year. But as we all know, Warden does not only dedicate a book solely on a pair of characters. She tends to fill the pages with stories of other characters as well.

Let’s get the ugliness out of the way first.

Vishous and Mary. It is with to my utter disappointment that the Warden sullied by initial admiration for this couple. In all honesty, I disliked Mary here and I hated Vishous with the passion of a thousand suns. I won’t get into the whys because it would be revealing too much of their part of the story. Let’s just say that Mary was painted as the victim of blame the victim scenario, and Vishous – well, he was not the man I loved in the past few books. He was insecure – far from the alpha male, take-charge vampire of the old and he was too selfish. Me, me, me. He blames Mary for the widening rift in their marriage because Mary was too busy being a doctor. Dude. What? Spare me the you-don’t-have-time-for-me-anymore bullshit. The worst part? And this is after his transgressions, Mary was only too willing to forgive and forget. Arrrggghhhhh.

Realistic, though as it was, seeing as every happily married couple goes through rough patches at one point in their blissful union, what Vishous did was an unforgivable sin. Call me insane, but he was one step away from the cliff. Regardless of whether or not he jumped is irrelevant. The truth of the matter is, there was planning involved. He’d thought of it and made it happen. So, screw you, V!

The good part.

Assail and Sola. We finally have their story and it was a good one. They are the sole saviors of this trainwreck. Assail is still under a coma from going cold turkey from his heroin addiction (or was it cocaine?). They were ready to pull the plug on him when his cousins intervened. They thought that if anybody could bring him back from the brink, it would be Sola. But she wasn’t so receptive to come back at first considering there was a price over her head. Needless to say, and miracles of miracles, he woke up as soon as Sola made her presence known. La di da, they’re reunited and their love blossoms.

The conflict in their story was that Sola didn’t know of Assail’s true nature. And because she comes from a staunch Catholic upbringing, vampires aren’t exactly God’s greatest creation. So he hid that fact for as long as he could until he couldn’t. At the same time, Sola’s enemies are gunning for her head.

Overall, I didn’t get off to a good start with this book. It was a placid installment as far as this series goes. Am I going to stop reading? Hell no. These characters have become a part of my life now that it would be as if I’m cutting ties with my best friends for no reason at all if I’d stop. In goodness and in bad, I’m in for the long haul.

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