Book Review: The Perfect Girl

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan

Zoe Maisey is a seventeen-year-old musical prodigy with a genius IQ. Three years ago, she was involved in a tragic incident that left three classmates dead. She served her time, and now her mother, Maria, is resolved to keep that devastating fact tucked far away from their new beginning, hiding the past even from her new husband and demanding Zoe do the same.

Tonight Zoe is giving a recital that Maria has been planning for months. It needs to be the performance of her life. But instead, by the end of the evening, Maria is dead.

In the aftermath, everyone—police, family, Zoe's former solicitor, and Zoe herself—tries to piece together what happened. But as Zoe knows all too well, the truth is rarely straightforward, and the closer we are to someone, the less we may see.

Unfolding over a span of twenty-four hours through three compelling narratives, The Perfect Girl is gripping, surprising, and emotionally complex—a richly layered look at loyalty, second chances, and the way secrets unravel us all.

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Dang. This book was really interesting and really stimulating. I didn't find it to be insanely suspenseful, and I do think the tension could have been amplified more than it was, but it was definitely still suspenseful to me, particularly in certain parts. For me, this was more of a slow-build book, which I do think was the intention behind it. The book starts out by giving you the information that one character dies, and that three years earlier, the main character caused three deaths, but from those intense pieces of opening information follows an intentional withholding of information for a while. The author chooses to slowly give out information, and particularly allows a lot of time between the announcement that Maria dies, and the actual time of her death and the aftermath of the moment. This strategy was pretty effective though, because the entire time I craved more information and was forced to come up with my own conclusions while waiting for more truths to be revealed.

This is definitely intended as a psychological thriller. It places a lot of the suspense-building on the characters and their thoughts and actions. Each subtle bit of dialogue and action has it's purpose within the story and the mystery, so I enjoyed paying attention to each detail and internally wondering if it would be important later on. Some developments were predictable, but others were certainly surprising to me. 

While I enjoyed the characters in the story, and felt they all added something of importance, I did think the character development was a bit lacking. For a character-driven novel, I didn't feel as if I understood the characters' lives, thoughts and actions as much as I could or should. Some of them felt particularly one-dimensional. And Zoe, as a protagonist, didn't do a ton for me. Her personality was limited and I had a hard time believing some of her reactions and actions throughout the tragic and terrifying events of the book. Still, other secondary characters I did actually enjoy more--Tessa, Lucas and Richard were all very interesting to me.

All in all, this was a really fun, entertaining mystery novel with a unique premise. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and though I did have a few complaints, I also loved a lot about it. The setting, air of mystery and writing style (for the most part--too many run-on sentences...) were great. The ending felt like an excellent, not-too-vague, but not-too-telling form of closure, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

This is a very quick read and I recommend it for fans of suspense, thrillers and character-focused novels. Reading this has definitely made me excited to check out the author's other book as well!

I received this book for review froHarperCollins and TLC Book Tours.

Check out the rest of the tour here!

Book Review: Be Frank with Me

Monday, September 19, 2016

Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson

From the publisher:
Reclusive literary legend M. M. “Mimi” Banning has been holed up in her Bel Air mansion for years. But after falling prey to a Bernie Madoff-style ponzi scheme, she’s flat broke. Now Mimi must write a new book for the first time in decades, and to ensure the timely delivery of her manuscript, her New York publisher sends an assistant to monitor her progress. The prickly Mimi reluctantly complies—with a few stipulations: No Ivy-Leaguers or English majors. Must drive, cook, tidy. Computer whiz. Good with kids. Quiet, discreet, sane.

When Alice Whitley arrives at the Banning mansion, she’s put to work right away—as a full-time companion to Frank, the writer’s eccentric nine-year-old, a boy with the wit of Noel Coward, the wardrobe of a 1930s movie star, and very little in common with his fellow fourth-graders.

Full of heart and countless “only-in-Hollywood” moments, Be Frank with Me is a captivating and unconventional story of an unusual mother and son, and the intrepid young woman who finds herself irresistibly pulled into their unforgettable world.

Damn, this book was incredibly charming. It's hard to think of a more fitting adjective for this book. It was also witty, sweet, sometimes sad, and sometimes hilarious. But overall, and mostly because of Frank himself, this book was just overwhelmingly charming.

This book is definitely character-driven, and I truly fell in love with the characters (Frank and Mr. Vargas in particular). They're all fully real-feeling: flawed, complex and vulnerable. Frank is one of the best characters I've ever read, without a doubt. I would gladly read hundreds of pages on just him and his moment-to-moment activities. He's remarkably funny, intelligent and complicated, and I couldn't get enough. I wished throughout that Frank was real and I could be Alice just hanging out with him all day. The characters of Mimi and Xander (and to some extent, Alice) were a bit less fleshed out, which was mildly frustrating. But for the most part, I didn't care, because I was reading almost 100% for Frank; I couldn't help it. If I sound rambling and gushy, I am. It's not often that I adore a character this much, and want to fight for the happiness of someone fictional, but that was certainly the case here.

At times, small portions of the book seemed almost a bit confusing to me, particularly towards the end. It's quite a short novel, and I felt at numerous moments that some details could have been added to enhance or clarify the story, without making it overly long. It felt from time to time like certain events or actions were glossed over, which I felt detracted just a bit from the quality of the story. I also don't know that I felt quite fulfilled by the end of the book. The chosen ending was alright, but I felt like something was missing or a bit off for me. Maybe I just wanted more and could never be satisfied! I'll be vague on this point though, to avoid spoiling the book.

Overall, I truly adored this book. It was absolutely captivating, and so sweet. I laughed out loud more times than I can remember, and at many points, couldn't stop smiling like a fool. It also has moments of drama and pain that round out the story in a satisfying way and make it more than just "charming", though that'll always be my primary descriptor.

I received this book for review from HarperCollins and TLC Book Tours.
Check out the rest of the tour here!

Book Review: Natchez Burning

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Natchez Burning by Greg Iles


From #1 New York Times bestselling author Greg Iles comes the first novel in his Natchez Burning trilogy—which also includes The Bone Tree and the upcoming Mississippi Blood—an epic trilogy that interweaves crimes, lies, and secrets past and present in a mesmerizing thriller featuring Southern lawyer and former prosecutor Penn Cage.
Raised in the southern splendor of Natchez, Mississippi, Penn Cage learned all he knows of duty from his father, Dr. Tom Cage. But now the beloved family doctor has been accused of murdering the African American nurse with whom he worked in the dark days of the 1960s. Once a crusading prosecutor, Penn is determined to save his father, but Tom, stubbornly invoking doctor-patient privilege, refuses even to speak in his own defense.
Penn's quest for the truth sends him deep into his father's past, where a sexually charged secret lies. More chilling, this long-buried sin is only one thread in a conspiracy of greed and murder involving the vicious Double Eagles, an offshoot of the KKK controlled by some of the most powerful men in the state. Aided by a dedicated reporter privy to Natchez's oldest secrets and by his fiancée, Caitlin Masters, Penn uncovers a trail of corruption and brutality that places his family squarely in the Double Eagles' crosshairs.
With every step costing blood and faith, Penn is forced to confront the most wrenching dilemma of his life: Does a man of honor choose his father or the truth?

While the synopsis above is a good one, and certainly an intriguing one, it still doesn't come close to encompassing even a percent of what this book is. This book is so full and deep and intelligent that I'm still not fully able to wrap my head around what I just read. And yet, somehow, there are still two more books in this series of equal (sizeable) length. The entire time I read this I was mystified by that fact. What more could possibly happen to these people?? Fortunately, I have the opportunity to find out, as I'm a part of the book tour for this entire series. 

I finished this book mere minutes ago, after spending most of the night poring through it's last 250 pages. I'm still in a state of disbelief, panic, sorrow and joy at the conclusion of this thrilling story. It's hard to emphasize this enough, but so. much. happens. This book is so many things all at once. It's the edge-of-your-seat thriller, the gripping historical fiction (based on many real people and true events), and the violent and chilling story of two points in time, slowly blending together. Though the synopsis of this book emphasizes the relationship between Penn Cage and his father, after the latter is accused of murder, the story is so much deeper and more complex than that. Each chapter alternates to a new perspective, each darker and more fascinating than the last. Though this book had a bit of a slow start for me, the amount of build-up in suspense to the end was absolutely overwhelming, and the final scenes seemed almost designed to be recreated on a big screen. 

This book has a host of both incredible and horrendous characters, from the despicable members of the aging Double Eagles group, to the far opposite in Henry Sexton, the arguable hero of the entire narrative. But what set every character apart was their intense believability. Perhaps this is partly because of their basis in reality, but I also suspect it has a lot to do with Iles's impressive writing craft, which cannot be praised enough. 

My problems with this novel are incredibly sparse. At times I felt I was getting just a bit too much information, or one or two extraneous details that just seemed to bog down the action. The book is a massive one, and there were definitely times when I thought it could be cut down ever so slightly and still have been just as impressive in quality and content. 

This is not an easy book. It pulls no punches. It's openly violent, terrifying, and brutal, qualities made so visceral in part by their truth. These haunting acts were based on some real violence from our country's past and present. But because of its openness and honesty, this book is even more important. It's not only entertaining as hell, but informative and eye-opening. It has certainly changed my perspectives in multiple ways, and honestly, what more could I ever ask for in a work of remarkable fiction?

This review is part of a book tour by TLC Tours. Check out the rest of the tour here!