Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

Thank you to NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for my honest review.

Synopsis (Goodreads): Sophie’s husband James is a loving father, a handsome man, a charismatic and successful public figure. And yet he stands accused of a terrible crime. Sophie is convinced he is innocent and desperate to protect her precious family from the lies that threaten to rip them apart.

Kate is the lawyer hired to prosecute the case: an experienced professional who knows that the law is all about winning the argument. And yet Kate seeks the truth at all times. She is certain James is guilty and is determined he will pay for his crimes.

Who is right about James? Sophie or Kate? And is either of them informed by anything more than instinct and personal experience? Despite her privileged upbringing, Sophie is well aware that her beautiful life is not inviolable. She has known it since she and James were first lovers, at Oxford, and she witnessed how easily pleasure could tip into tragedy.

Review:  This is a story that could literally be about some of the scandalous news items we hear about everyday: a married politician or man in power who has an affair, and is then accused of rape. The story revolves around Kate, the prosecutor who is convinced that James is guilty of this crime, and Sophie, the wife who refuses to believe that her loving husband could do something like this.

This is not really a thriller, in terms of pacing or plot. There is no real thrill. Yes, the reader wants to know if James was actually guilty or not. But the story is about more than just that. It is about the abuse of power that we see happening around us all the time. It is about privilege and whether that allows someone to be exempt from facing the consequences of their transgressions. And it is about the people who are affected by one person’s selfishness.

I’m really glad that the story did not focus on James’s character. Apart from a few excerpts that are flashbacks to another incident in the past, James doesn’t really get a voice. Kate and Sophie are the alternating narrators of this story, and they each have their unique struggles with this case. I really liked that the author used this method to tell the story because it shifted the focus to the people that mattered most; usually in stories like this, the novel is focused on the accused and tries to make the reader feel sympathy for them. The author does not do that here, and does not excuse James for his alleged behaviour at all. There was a lot of complexity behind the emotions that both of the women felt and I really connected with them. I could understand why they reacted the way they did. I preferred Kate’s character to Sophie’s because I generally like stronger, more powerful female roles, but both women were well developed.

The pacing of this novel is slow, and that is something that readers should be aware of. In trying to explore these different issues, there is less time for a fast-paced story. There was also more of a focus on the British law and government, so if you are not familiar with the way things work there, this might be a bit confusing to read. While the pacing made sense in terms of helping the author achieve her goals with this story, I would have preferred a more high-intensity story.

To sum it all up, this was a very close examination of the effects that a high-profile affair and rape charge can have on people. I thought the author did a really great job of considering factors like preferential treatment, justice, consent, and privilege – all of which are factors in real-life cases like these. I thought that the pacing was a bit slow and perhaps, not all of the details were needed. But it was a good read and I am happy to give it a 3.5/5 stars! I will definitely be keeping an eye out for this author!

Happy reading ~


In Case I Go by Angie Abdou

I always love it when I decide to read a book on a whim and find myself loving the story. That’s what happened here. I saw this sitting on the shelf of my local library and the synopsis, while sparse, was interesting enough that I decided to give it a shot.

Synopsis: 10-year-old Eli and his parents have returned to their family home in Coalton, a small mountain town. The parents, Nicholas and Lucy, hope that by escaping their hectic city lives, they will restore calm and stability to their marriage, but they find that once charming Coalton is no longer the remote idyll they remembered. Development of a high-end subdivision has disturbed a historic graveyard, drawing negative press from national media. While Nicholas works long hours at the local coal mine and Lucy battles loneliness and depression, Eli must make his own way in this town.

Eli is not like other young boys. His birth was complicated, making him more fragile than other children his age. His parents have raised him more like an adult than a kid, making him more perceptive – but also more reclusive. When Eli moves to Coalton, he meets Mary. And while everyone tells him Mary is mute, she speaks to Eli. She calls Eli by his full name, Elijah, the name he inherited from an ancestor who was famous in Coalton.

Eli’s encounters with Mary are not like that between children, between friends. There is a hidden anger in Mary’s eyes, and her words are not always kind. And with each encounter, Eli starts to have visions of a time before this one. Eli stops being himself – and starts having memories of Elijah, his ancestor. And Elijah has sinned.

This book is really hard to categorize; it’s like a cross between a ghost story and historical fiction, mixed in with some magical realism. And it works beautifully.

The story is haunting in its prose and in the way it takes the present and blends it with the past. It speaks about regrets and how one’s sins can carry forward. There are so many layers to peel back with this story, and I love how it was steeped in facts about the Aboriginal community. In fact, the author did a fantastic job of representing this community and the hardships they have faced, which I really appreciated. There is an emphasis on the idea that the past cannot just stay buried and hidden; the truth will out, and we must pay for our consequences. This concept was stressed throughout the story and it is one we should all keep in mind. The story itself was extremely engaging, and I wanted to know more about Eli’s transformation – and whether he would ever be himself again. This is a book that I know I will recommend to many people because it is beautiful, emotional, and deserves to be read. 5/5 stars from me.

Happy reading ~

Lies She Told by Cate Holahan

I received this novel as an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I really like stories about writers, regardless of genre. While I am an avid reader, I have very little skill when it comes to writing anything. And believe me, I’ve tried. So I have a lot of respect for authors and people who make writing their profession. When a story has an author as a main character, it really opens the reader’s eyes to the writing process and how different it can be from one person to another. To me, that understanding is just as enjoyable as the story itself. It was one of the things that drew me to this novel, but the thriller’s premise was also intriguing enough that I couldn’t let it pass me by. So here is my long-overdue review:

Liza Cole, a novelist, has only 1 month to write the thriller that will put her back on the bestseller list. If that wasn’t enough pressure, she’s struggling to start a family with her husband, who is too distracted by the disappearance of his best friend, Nick. As stresses weigh her down in her professional and personal lives, Liza escapes into writing the chilling exploits of her latest heroine, Beth.

Beth, a new mother, suspects her husband is cheating on her while she’s home caring for their newborn. Angry and betrayed, she aims to catch him in the act and make him pay for shattering the illusion of their perfect life. But before she realizes what she’s doing, she’s tossing the body of her husband’s mistress into the East River.

Liza is happy with the way Beth’s story is turning out … until the lines between fiction and reality begin to blur. Nick’s body is dragged from the East River, and Liza’s husband is arrested for his murder. Liza will have to face up to the truths about the people around her. If she doesn’t, the end of her heroine’s story could be the end of her own.

This story is told in alternating chapters, one being Liza’s story, the other being Beth’s story. While I really liked the author’s use of parallel storylines, it got confusing very quickly. There were a bit too many things similar and it became hard to keep things straight. While it was obviously the author’s intent for the reader to be able to pick up the similarities between the fiction and the reality, it would have been helpful if certain details (like names) hadn’t been so similar; I had to reread certain chapters and sections to make sure I didn’t confuse the different story lines and I really hate having to go back and forth in a novel to address confusion issues. Whenever there are 2 story lines, I inadvertently find myself drawn to one more than the other. In this case, I was more intrigued by Beth (who was part of the fictional aspect of the novel) who was a stronger protagonist. Both story lines were written well and it was easy to connect with both protagonists emotionally. As the story continued, I could really feel the fiction and reality aspects blurring together, and the tension was insanely high! I couldn’t wait to see how things would end … and then it did. And I wasn’t so pleased. I think that I liked the ending for Liza’s story line but the one that was fashioned for Beth took me completely off-guard and not in a good way. After so much suspense and tension, the ending fell quite flat for me. However, I did enjoy everything else about this novel. For those reasons, I’m giving this a 3/5 stars and would recommend this to anyone who likes thrillers and dual storylines.

Happy reading ~

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This is one of thsoe cases where I chose a book simply because its title and cover looked interesting. I wanted to see if the story would match its outward appeal, and was very excited to have received this ARC. Here is my review:

Aviva Grossman is a bright and ambitious congressional intern… until she makes the mistake of having an affair with her married boss, the congressman. What’s worse is she wrote about her experience in an anonymous blog. When the affair comes to light in an unfortunate turn of events, it’s not the congressman who takes the fall, but rather Aiva. Suddenly, she can’t find herself a job anywhere, and she is slut shamed by everyone everywhere. Determined to get out of this unpleasant situation, Aviva leaves her home, changes her name, starts her own event planning business … and continues her surprise pregnancy. But when “Jane Young” decides to run for public office, that long-ago mistake comes back to haunt her.

This was a really interesting novel in terms of its premise. However, I’m still on the fence about whether it achieved its goals or not. This story is narrated from quite a few perspectives (all female), which I wasn’t expecting. Since this was Aviva’s story and the premise only mentions Aviva, I thought that this story would be from her perspective alone. While this made it interesting, it also made it a bit confusing. The novel begins with Aviva’s mother’s perspective, and while I loved her character, it took me a while to figure out where exactly the story was going. Then there was another switch in perspective, and again, I felt as if I had been uprooted from one story and put into another. This feeling was persistent for a large portion of the novel. However, I will say that I enjoyed reading from each perspective. All of the characters were wonderful and just so funny to read about. I also think that the author really makes a fine point of how unfair it is that a publicly drawn-out affair only affects the woman involved and not the man. However, I wish the author had elaborated on this aspect; while it is the main reason why Aviva takes such drastic decisions, it also never felt like it was fully addressed and resolved. This novel was a really enjoyable and funny read with great characters. However, it didn’t really address the elephant in the room and left me a bit disappointed. For that reason, I’m giving this novel a 3/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

You Were Here by Gian Sardar

When I first began reading this novel, it was dragging. I almost gave up on this book within the first 30 pages, but others’ reviews on this book urged me to get past the 50-page mark because “that’s where it really gets good”. So I did. And they were right. Here’s my review:

Death has always been Abby Walters’s preoccupation. She’s 33 and eager to settle down with her boyfriend, but his avoidance of a commitment is making this difficult. And now, a recurring dream from her past returns: a nightmare of being buried alive. But this time, the dream reveals a name from her family’s past, prompting Abby to return home looking for answers. For the first time in 14 years, Abby is back in Minnesota where she reconnects with her high school crush who is now a police detective on the trail of a serial rapist. When Abby tries on her grandmother’s mesmerizing ring, she discovers a cryptic note hidden beneath the box’s velvet lining. What secret was her grandmother hiding? And could this be the key to what’s haunting Abby?

Like I mentioned earlier, the first 50 pages are a drag. It’s confusing because the chapters switch perspectives so you really have no idea what is going on. But after 50 pages, the story starts to come together and make sense. In reality, this is a novel that consists of 3 stories:

1. the story of the detective and the serial rapist,

2. the story of Claire, Eva, and William (from the past)

3. the story of Abby, trying to figure out this mystery and trying to figure out her life

The author masterfully links these 3 stories to create a novel that flows beautifully and tells a complex tale about love, loss, life, and regrets. The characters were drawn up wonderfully and were each unique. The mysteries in this novel kept me on my toes and made me continue flipping pages well into the night. There were times when I felt a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of plot lines being thrown at me; I would get engrossed in one mystery only to be jerked out of it and placed into another one. However, it all resolved itself in the end and made for a satisfying novel. There were certain things that the author mentions but never really comes back to, and this would be my one criticism of the novel; I like for everything to be wrapped up nicely and having open-ended elements tend to bother me a bit. But in light of this remarkable story, I will forgive this! If you are looking for a deep and complex mystery, I would highly recommend this novel! Just make sure to give it 50 pages!

Happy reading ~

Everything You Want Me To Be by Mindy Mejia

Hattie Hoffman has spent her entire life trying to be what everyone expects from her: a good daughter, a good student, a good girlfriend, a good friend. But Hattie isn’t satisfied with the way her life is. She wants something bigger… something far more dangerous than she could ever imagine. When she is found stabbed to death, the tragedy rips through the community – and rips apart Hattie’s many facades. As the story reveals the explosive secret Hattie had been hiding, it begs the question: who killed her … and who is the REAL Hattie Hoffman?

I found this story to be quite interesting. The author writes from the perspective of multiple characters at various time points, allowing the reader to glimpse the situation from all angles. This was done quite nicely, with every character having a distinct voice. Hattie was by far the most mysterious character, and I was intrigued by her all the way until the end. The author also did a good job of keeping everything a secret until the last chapter; in most cases, I am quite good at guessing who the perpetrator of the crime is but this one took me by surprise. The story was well-written and kept me interested throughout. I don’t know if I would give this a glowing recommendation; it didn’t really do too much for me. But it is still a very good novel that will catch you by surprise, so if you are looking for a new mystery/thriller to read, I would give this one a shot!

Happy reading ~

Outside the Limelight by Terez Mertes Rose

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Dance is a big part of my life. I have been learning Indian Classical forms of dance since I was 4 years old and I still dance today. At one point in my life, I was just doing it for fun (and also because my parents were forcing me) but now, I can’t imagine not doing it. I was very excited to read a story on the competitive and strenuous life of a ballet dancer, so thank you to the publisher and author for giving me the opportunity to read this book!

Dena Lindgren’s career as a ballet dancer is at its highest peak when disaster strikes in the form of a brain tumor. Following surgery, Dena discovers that half of her face is paralyzed. Her dreams of continuing to dance are marred by the long road to recovery, and the deficits she faces in presenting emotion. In light of this tragedy, Anders Gunst, the ballet company’s artistic director, shifts his attention to Rebecca, Dena’s older sister. Under Anders’ heady attention, Rebecca makes her mark as an artist, while her sister languishes on the sidelines of a ballet word that demands beauty and perfection. Rebecca will have to make a painful choice: focus on her own career by playing by the rules of the artistic director, or risk it all to help her sister.

What a wonderful story that showed a glimpse into the dance world! This is definitely one of my favorite realistic fiction novels so far!

The rigors of the dance world and the toll it takes on the dancers was depicted so accurately. This novel makes even those who aren’t entrenched in that world understand how a passion can drive a person to go to extreme lengths. I could connect with every single character in the story, the way they pushed themselves to keep going despite numerous injuries, their doubts as to whether they were good enough or whether they should just give it a rest. But most of all, the joy and the exhilaration that the dancers felt when they performed well… that was captured and explained beautifully. With every triumph they had, I shared in that feeling with them.

The sisters’ relationship was both complex and simple at the same time, and in a way it reminded me of my own relationship with my little sister. It was complex because they are both in such a difficult environment, where one person’s success means the other person failed. To still support your sister through that is a difficult task indeed. The sisters showed that even the strongest ties can be weakened by ambition, fear, and selfishness. But it can also be restrengthened through growth, consideration, and love for each other. Throughout the novel, we read about these sisters going through their own emotions and how that affects their interaction with each other. By the end of the novel, they feel at peace with their life and where they are at, which was just amazing to witness.

All of the other characters were equally strong, and were necessary to show other sides of the sisters’ personalities. Their respective interactions with other characters showed how they managed to make it as individuals, while also highlighting the competitiveness and pettiness that can emerge in this industry. I’m not going to say more in case I spoil the story but every character played an essential role, and helped to make the story work.

I really enjoyed this book, with its insightful view of the ballet world. This novel explored relationships, ambition, and fate in a touching way, and I still feel the impact of it hours after reading the story. This novel will make you connect on an intimate level with Dena and Rebecca, and will show you that a tragedy can sometimes lead to a better place.

Happy reading ~

Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch

After reading The Dinner, I was anxiously waiting to get my hands on a copy of this novel. I liked the author’s unique style and his way of building up to a climactic moment, when everything is laid bare. It’s a refreshingly different novel compared to what I usually read, and that was my expectation for this novel, as well.

M was once a celebrated author who wrote a suspense novel based on a real-life disappearance. This novel, titled Payback, depicted the story of Jan Landzaat, a history teacher who had an affair with his student, Laura. After she ended their relationship, Jan was next seen at a holiday cottage where Laura was staying with her new boyfriend. Soon after, Jan went missing. With the publication of this novel, M’s success skyrocketed, even becoming adapted into a movie.
But that was many years ago, and M’s career is fading into obscurity. However, there is one person who is still keeping an eye on him, watching him with growing fascination and interest. And it is the one person no one could ever have imagined….

In the beginning, I was captivated by Koch’s unique narrative style and the plot itself. Finding out that the novel is written from various perspectives just added to my excitement over this story. I wanted to see where the characters would go, what their connections were, and how it would all culminate. I could just feel the impending crash when all would be explained to the reader.

And yet…. that didn’t happen. Instead, the novel began to slow down. As the story began to show its many layers, I found it harder and harder to stay sucked in. The tension had started to dissipate, and I was just left with this slowness that was extremely difficult to push through. I wanted more wit, more humor, more of a thrill. But I got none of that. Soon, I just couldn’t wait for the novel to end, and all I cared about was the one niggling question in everyone’s mind: what happened to Jan? When that was revealed, it shocked me … but only for a minute. It seemed quite bizarre in the context of the rest of the story and didn’t have the desired effect.

Overall, while I have enjoyed reading Koch’s other works, this one was a pass for me.

FTC disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Happy  reading ~

Woman With a Secret by Sophie Hannah

Ah, the lovely genre of detective fiction and mystery! I love getting the chance to solve a crime, and what better way to do it than in a good mystery novel? When I first began reading this novel, I had no idea it was in a series. That would probably have been helpful as I found myself having a bit of a difficult time understanding how all of the characters were connected. However, this novel definitely did work as a standalone so if you don’t want to read all of the previous books, you don’t have to! Anyways, let’s move on to my review:

Nicki Clements did not think there was anything out of the ordinary when she was caught in traffic on Elmhirst Road  while she was driving. But then she sees the face of a man she hoped never to see, a cop who knows a secret about her. Desperate to avoid him, she makes a panicked U-turn and leaves the scene, hoping that she was able to escape undetected. Unfortunately, her peculiar behaviour did not go unnoticed, and the police have now summoned her for questioning – where she is a suspect for the murder of a controversial newspaper columnist named Damon Blundy, who lived on Elmhirst Road. As the police begin to badger her with questions about her actions on that day, Nicki scrambles to cover her tracks. One simple answer could clear her of all suspicion… but the consequences of revealing the truth could ruin her. Nicki may not be guilty of murder, but she is far from innocent…

Let me be blunt here and tell you that I did not enjoy this novel at all. There are a whole host of reasons and I’m struggling in choosing where to start. There were way too many characters introduced in very quick succession. Perhaps, if I had read the previous books in the series, I wouldn’t have been so overwhelmed but there were still too many potential killers with not nearly enough character development; I felt like I barely got to know anything about their personalities, and as such, they remained very one-dimensional. I thought the whole premise behind the story was absolutely pointless. Nicki Clements is a character that I cannot tolerate, and all she did was create problems when there were none. I also did not like the character of the main detective; he was always in his own thoughts and he just HAD to make the big reveal in the most anti-climactic way possible. The whole story didn’t really make sense and didn’t need to happen, and the motive of the killer was just … nonsensical. After finishing the novel, I was stunned at how pointless it all was. I think I’m just going to stop here and simply say that I would not recommend this novel to anyone. I’m probably also not going to pursue any of the novels in this series.

Happy reading ~

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

Let me start off by saying that I am a big fan of Margaret Atwood. The first book I ever read was The Handmaid’s Tale when I was 14 years old and it made such a strong impression on me that I devoured any and every book written by her. I’ve been waiting to read this novel for a while now so here is my review:

Charmaine and Stan have both lost their jobs and are trying to make ends meet while living in the back of their car. The economy has crashed and everyone is scrambling to survive. Just when Stan thinks that the only way to make money is through illegal means, they discover an advertisement to work and live in Positron and Consilience. The advertisement guarantees them shelter, food, comfort, and stability in exchange for participation in a social experiment of sorts. The set up is unique in that one month, they will be living as civilians and the next, as prisoners. During their stint as prisoners, they would be trading places with Alternates. At first, life is great. But Charmaine and Stan’s growing obsession with their Alternates could change things…in a bad way.

At first, I was really confused about this novel as I kept hearing that it was part of a series. So let me clarify: the original story was published as 4 episodes but there was never a conclusion. The author has compiled everything and written a conclusion to the story through this book. So it is a standalone. This book had a very interesting premise and started strong. I was sucked into this dystopian world and the perspectives of Stan and Charmaine. During the middle, though, I became muddled; there was this introduction of sex robots and it all got ridiculous and perplexing. But I decided to push through and finish the novel. I liked how it all tied up in the end and it was nice to see the author leaving it open-ended (which she did in Handmaid’s Tale, too). However, this was not one of my favorite Atwood novels. The story could have been a bit cleaner in the middle, which would have helped with the flow. But the story itself was fantastic and I loved the concept! I’d love to hear what other Atwood fans think of this novel compared to her other works so please do comment below!

Happy reading ~