Always With a Book

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Review: The Last Night in London by Karen White

 

Title: The Last Night in London
Author: Karen White
Published: April 2021, Berkley Books
Format: Hardcover, 480 pages
Source: Publisher via UplitReads

Summary:
New York Times bestselling author Karen White weaves a story of friendship past and present, love, and betrayal that moves between war-torn London during the Blitz and the present day.

A captivating story of friendship, love and betrayal – and finding hope in the darkness of war.

London, 1939. Beautiful and ambitious Eva Harlow and her American best friend, Precious Dubose, are trying to make their way as fashion models. When Eva falls in love with Graham St. John, an aristocrat and Royal Air Force pilot, she can’t believe her luck – she’s getting everything she ever wanted. Then the Blitz devastates her world, and Eva finds herself slipping into a web of intrigue, spies and secrets. As Eva struggles to protect everything she holds dear, all it takes is one unwary moment to change their lives forever.

London, 2019. American journalist Maddie Warner travels to London to interview Precious about her life in pre-WWII London. Maddie, healing from past trauma and careful to close herself off to others, finds herself drawn to both Precious and to Colin, Precious’ enigmatic surrogate nephew. As Maddie gets closer to her, she begins to unravel Precious’ haunting past – and the secrets she swore she’d never reveal …


My thoughts:  I'm a fan of Karen White's writing, especially when she partners with Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig. I haven't read too many of the books she's written by herself, though the ones I have read I did enjoy. And once I saw this book, it definitely became an anticipated read...and it absolutely delivers in every way!

Historical fiction has become my favorite type of read lately. There have just been so many fantastic books released in this genre this year and this book is definitely one of them. I was so lucky to have gotten a copy and once I started reading it, I really had a hard time putting it down. I'm such a fan of the dual timeline and both timeframes equally captured my interest here. Sometimes I find I'm more drawn to one over the over but that was definitely not the case here.

Starting with a very intriguing prologue that sets up a little bit of a mystery, this book just keeps dropping little hints and insinuating that our characters have some pretty hefty secrets that need to be revealed. I love books that involve secrets - it's always so interesting finding out why something was held back and how it ends up being discovered and what the ramifications will be. 

The characters in both timelines really come to life in the story and I had such a hard time walking away from them in the end. This was definitely a story where I wanted to get to the end to find out all the secrets and how it all comes together, but at the same time, I also wanted to savor every last second with this story and the characters.

Historical mysteries are becoming my favorite sub-genre and this one easily fits into this category. But it's not just that. It's also a story about strong women. It's about redemption and reinvention. This book is definitely not one to be missed. 


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Monday, April 19, 2021

Review: The Perfect Daughter by D.J. Palmer

 

Title: The Perfect Daughter
Author: D.J. Palmer
Published: April 2021, St. Martin's Press
Format: ARC Paperback, 384 pages
Source: Publisher

Summary:
The Perfect Daughter is a thriller that explores the truth or lies behind a teenage girl's multiple personality disorder, from D.J. Palmer, the author of The New Husband.

Grace never dreamt she’d visit her teenaged daughter Penny in the locked ward of a decaying state psychiatric hospital, charged with the murder of a stranger. There was not much question of her daughter’s guilt. Police had her fingerprints on the murder weapon and the victim’s blood on her body and clothes. But they didn’t have a motive.

Grace blames herself, because that’s what mothers do—they look at their choices and wonder, what if? But hindsight offers little more than the chance for regret.

None of this was conceivable the day Penny came into her life. Then, it seemed like a miracle. Penny was found abandoned, with a mysterious past, and it felt like fate brought Penny to her, and her husband Arthur. But as she grew, Penny's actions grew more disturbing, and different "personalities" emerged.

Arthur and Grace took Penny to different psychiatrists, many of whom believed she was putting on a show to help manage her trauma. But Grace didn’t buy it. The personas were too real, too consistent. It had to be a severe multiple personality disorder. One determined psychiatrist, Dr. Mitch McHugh, helped discover someone new inside Penny—a young girl named Abigail. Is this the nameless girl who was abandoned in the park years ago? Mitch thinks Abigail is the key to Penny’s past and to the murder. But as Grace and Mitch dig deeper, they uncover dark and shocking secrets that put all their lives in grave danger.


 

My thoughts: This is the third book I've read by D.J. Palmer and once again he has managed to write a twisty thriller that keeps you on your toes all the way through. As much as I have loved his previous books, this one might be my new favorite!

I loved that this one explores so many different topics, yet does so in such a compelling, captivating way. It literally opens with such a shocking scene, one that grabs your attention immediately and from there things take off, with no real lulls in the book at any time. The use of multiple points of view really keeps things moving and gives us different lenses from which to view everything.

I loved that this was such a unique story all the way around. I'm always fascinated when an author decides to use DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) with a character because it always calls into question whether that is truly the case or whether the character is just psychotic. Then there were other mental health issues addressed and the emotional toll that all that was happening was taking on the family members was just fascinating to watch. 

Every time you thought things were moving forward, that the doctor was making progress with Penny, a new twist would pop up that would send things sideways. I never knew what to expect with this book and I absolutely loved it. And that ending was one that I never would have predicted - it completely blew me away! So much so that I almost want to reread the book right away to see how I missed it!

This book had everything I love in a thriller - a complex, multilayered plot with relatable, flawed characters. The writing is addictive and pulls you in from the start, and the intensity is there from the beginning, amping up as the book goes on to a thrilling conclusion. I absolutely loved this book and cannot wait to see what D.J. Palmer writes next - he is absolutely on my must-read list!


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Review: The Boy in the Headlights by Samuel Bjork


Title: The Boy in the Headlights
Author: Samuel Bjork
Series: Holger Munch & Mia Kruger, #3
Published: October 2019, Corgi
Format: Paperback, 384 pages
Source: Personal copy

Summary:
The bestselling series, a former Richard and Judy bookclub pick, returns with another chilling case.

Munch and Krüger. An unexpected pairing. A brilliant team.

Winter 19996 An old man is driving home when his headlights catch an animal on the empty road up ahead. He stamps hard on the brakes. But it is not an animal at all. It is a young boy, frightened and alone, with a set of deer antlers strapped firmly to his head.

Fourteen years later, a body is found in a mountain lake. Within weeks, three people have died. Each time, the killer has left a clue, inviting Special Investigations Detectives Munch and Krüger to play a deadly game – a game they cannot possibly win. Against the most dangerous and terrifying kind of serial killer. One who chooses their victims completely at random.

To find the killer they must look deep within their own dark pasts, but how can you stop a murderer when you cannot begin to predict their next move?


 

My thoughts:  This is the third book in Samuel Bjork's Holger Munch and Mia Kruger crime fiction series and it was as thrilling and gripping as the first two books. I am so glad that the group I did a buddy read for the first book has decided to read all three books. This is a series that has been on my tbr for way too long and I'm glad to have finally read all three of these books!

This book was completely gripping right from the start. I highly recommend reading this series in order if at all possible as you will have such a better sense of who the characters are. While each case that the team works on in every book is self-contained, there are threads that do carry over, particularly from the previous book to this one, so having that previous knowledge would just give you a better appreciation for what the characters have gone through. But again, that's up to you as a reader.

I will say this particular installment really kept me on my toes. The killings were all so strange and seemed at first glance to have nothing to do with each other - but of course, that is not to be the case. I loved how atmospheric this book was and how hard the team worked to put all the clues together to figure things out.

This book had such a strong procedural element to it and I loved that. Mia and Holger are just such an odd pair, yet they work together so well. I just can't put into words how much I love this pairing. I love how they frustrate each other yet they can't seem to work a case without the other one present. They need each other. 

This book becomes such an intricate cat and mouse game that digs deeper than Mia and Holger can ever imagine. It becomes quite a nightmare for them the longer the case goes on. This serial killer might just be the end of them...unless they can figure out the game first.

This series has quickly become one of my favorites. I read somewhere that Bjork plans on writing six books in this series and I so hope that is indeed true...I'm not ready to end my time with these characters! I want more!!!


Books in this series:

  1. I'm Traveling Alone
  2. The Owl Always Hunts at Night
  3. The Boy in the Headlights
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Sunday, April 18, 2021

Review: Under the Southern Sky by Kristy Woodson Harvey

 

Title: Under the Southern Sky
Author: Kristy Woodson Harvey
Published: April 2021, Gallery Books
Format: ARC Paperback, 400 pages
Source: Author

Summary:
Two childhood friends discover that love—and family—can be found in unconventional ways in this timely, moving novel from the USA TODAY bestselling author of the “beautifully Southern, evocative Peachtree Bluff series” (Kristin Harmel, internationally bestselling author of The Winemaker’s Wife).

Recently separated Amelia Buxton, a dedicated journalist, never expected that uncovering the biggest story of her career would become deeply personal. But when she discovers that a cluster of embryos belonging to her childhood friend Parker and his late wife Greer have been deemed “abandoned,” she’s put in the unenviable position of telling Parker—and dredging up old wounds in the process.

Parker has been unable to move forward since the loss of his beloved wife three years ago. He has all but forgotten about the frozen embryos, but once Amelia reveals her discovery, he knows that if he ever wants to get a part of Greer back, he’ll need to accept his fate as a single father and find a surrogate.

Each dealing with their own private griefs, Parker and Amelia slowly begin to find solace in one another as they navigate an uncertain future against the backdrop of the pristine waters of their childhood home, Cape Carolina. The journey of self-discovery leads them to an unforgettable and life-changing lesson: Family—the one you’re born into and the one you choose—is always closer than you think.

From “the next major voice in Southern fiction” (Elin Hilderbrand, #1 New York Times bestselling author), Under the Southern Sky is a fresh and unforgettable exploration of love, friendship, and the unbreakable ties that bind.


 

My thoughts:  It's no secret that I love Kristy Woodson Harvey and her books. And this latest one, which was one of my most anticipated reads for this month absolutely delivers in every way possible. I think this may be my new favorite of all her books and that's saying something as I have loved every single one!

One of my favorite aspects of Kristy's writing is her ability to create characters that you are immediately drawn to. She  allows us to see the perfectly imperfect world of her characters that any of us can relate to and I think that's what makes it so readable. You will fall in love with them right from the start, cheering at their successes, cringing at their missteps, and feeling humbled by their hardships. 

All the characters are so well-developed, including the secondary ones. You can't help but feel the emotional struggles that Amelia and Parker are going through. And I loved how Kristy brought Greer to life in this story through her journal entries. But I have to say, it was Aunt Tilly that tended to steal the show, and my heart, throughout the book.

This book is emotionally charged and takes you on quite the roller coaster. It is such a thought-provoking, captivating novel that will totally consume you. It really tugs at those heartstrings and delves into some moral questions that leave you wondering just what you would do. 

I know I won't be forgetting this story anytime soon...these characters have left such an impression on me and this storyline is one that definitely got to me in the best way possible! Kristy Woodson Harvey is one of my favorite authors and I highly recommend picking this one up!


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Thursday, April 15, 2021

Review: Northern Spy by Flynn Berry

 

Title: Northern Spy
Author: Flynn Berry
Published: April 2021, Viking Books
Format: Hardcover, 288 pages
Source: Personal copy

Summary:
The acclaimed author of Under the Harrow and A Double Life returns with her most thrilling novel to date: the story of two sisters who become entangled with the IRA.

A producer at the Belfast bureau of the BBC, Tessa is at work one day when the news of another raid comes on the air. The IRA may have gone underground after the Good Friday agreement, but they never really went away, and lately, bomb threats, arms drops, and helicopters floating ominously over the city have become features of everyday life. As the anchor requests the public's help in locating those responsible for this latest raid - a robbery at a gas station - Tessa's sister appears on the screen. Tessa watches in shock as Marian pulls a black mask over her face.

The police believe Marian has joined the IRA, but Tessa knows this is impossible. They were raised to oppose Republicanism, and the violence enacted in its name. They've attended peace vigils together. And besides, Marian is vacationing by the sea. Tessa just spoke to her yesterday.

When the truth of what has happened to Marian reveals itself, Tessa will be forced to choose: between her ideals and her family, between bystanderism and action. Walking an increasingly perilous road, she fears nothing more than endangering the one person she loves more fiercely than her sister: her infant son.

A riveting and exquisite novel about family, terror, motherhood, betrayal, and the staggering human costs of an intractable conflict, Northern Spy cements Flynn Berry's status as one of the most sophisticated and accomplished authors of crime and suspense novels working today.


 

My thoughts:  I first discovered Flynn Berry by accident when I found the audiobook  of her debut novel, Under the Harrow, one day. I really liked that book and since then have been keeping an eye on what she's been up to. As soon as I heard about this latest release, I knew I had to read it...and it totally delivered!

I will admit, I do not know much about all the political goings on in Northern Ireland, so that immediately grabbed my attention with this book and I found it made for such compelling reading. I inhaled this book, basically reading it in two sittings because I just could not put it down. I was so consumed with this story, completely caught up in the tension and the family drama that was contained in this book.

I am always a sucker for any book that delves into sister relationships and this one really took it to another level. Not only do you have two sisters that are total opposites of each other, but they also have differing loyalties when it comes to their country. It was such a realistic look at just what lengths we are willing to go for our families but also just how hard it is to deal with the choices that our loved ones sometimes make. While things start off political, it becomes personal for Tessa as she becomes desperate to keep her child safe, and ultimately begins questioning herself at every turn.

This book kept me engaged and captivated from start to finish. It's intense and full of little cliff-hangers that keep you flipping the pages. It also is quite a thought-provoking book at the same time. What would you do should you ever find yourself in this position? I loved this book and it just confirms that Flynn Berry is a master at what she does. I still have to read her second book, Double Life, which I'll be picking up ASAP. She is definitely going on my must-read list and I cannot wait to see what comes next from her!

 

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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Blog Tour & Review: No Pain, No Gaines by Chip Gaines (audio)

 

Title: No Pain, No Gaines
Author: Chip Gaines
Narrator: Chip Gaines
Published: March 2021, Thomas Nelson
Length: 5 hours 43 minutes
Source: Publisher via TLC Booktours

Summary:

No Pain, No Gaines is a by-the-bootstraps manual for building a network of people you can count on. Fair warning: Building it will be painful, but what you’ll gain is something strong, something reliable, and something that can change the world.

Spoiler alert number one: This is a book about networks

Spoiler alert number two: This is not a book about networking 

Not networking in the traditional sense, anyway. It’s not about how to leverage your interactions with everyone you meet in an all-out sprint to get ahead. It’s about how to find a group of real people who will stand beside you as you bust your butt, who believe that authentic human connection is more important than any other earthly thing, and who bet on each other instead of the status quo. People with beating hearts and passions who live and love and try and fail and try again. People who lift you up and give your life meaning. 

Written for anyone who believes that relationships are more than transactions, and who is looking to build a network of people they can count on, No Pain, No Gaines will coach you on how to

  • look outside yourself and your circle and foster connections with others
  • value what you bring to the table
  • resist the status quo
  • find the risks worth taking
  • engage and be awake to life, not asleep at the wheel
  • get comfortable with being uncomfortably kind
  • build a network you trust and then, trust the network you build

Chip Gaines has been building that kind of network his whole life, and he can tell you, it doesn’t come easy. The good stuff never does. It requires faith in people. It requires hope. And it requires a willingness to grow even when it hurts. In No Pain, No Gaines, through hard-won lessons and personal stories, Chip will coach you on how to build a network of your own that will make your life rich and your relationships run deep.



My thoughts:  As soon as I heard about this book, I knew I wanted to read it. I've heard about Chip and Joanna Gaines, have seen bits and pieces of their show the Fixer-Upper, have two of their cookbooks, but beyond that, I don't know much about them. This book came to me and I knew I had to read it.

I loved the simplicity of this book and just how applicable it is to everyone. It is filled with such thought-provoking, encouraging life lessons and I appreciated how he broke it down to bite-size pieces. This isn't a very long book by any means, but it is chock-full of information that I know I will be revisiting at some point.

My particular favorite take-aways were being as authentic as you possibly can and seeing people as a whole-human and not just as a specific role they may play in life. In order to build a network, you need connections, but it doesn't happen overnight. You need to put the work in, but being true to yourself and others and valuing what others have to offer as a whole person will help you all in the long run.

I really enjoyed all that this book had to offer. It was one of those books that I know will stick with me and one that I will be recommending to others as I see fit.


Audio thoughts: I loved that Chip narrated this book himself. His cadence and tone were so easy to listen to and it was as if he was just sitting down having a conversation with you. I also loved that there were a few sections that Joanna and his parents and sister narrated. It really showed that they believed in this book and the message that he was trying to convey here. I enjoyed listening to this book and I would definitely listen to his other books if he narrated them.


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Review: Into the Black Nowhere by Meg Gardiner

 

Title: Into the Black Nowhere
Author: Meg Gardiner
Series: UNSUB, #2
Published: January 2018, Dutton
Format: Hardcover, 368 pages
Source: Personal copy

Summary:
Inspired by real-life serial killer Ted Bundy, an exhilarating thriller in which FBI profiler Caitlin Hendrix faces off against a charming, merciless serial killer

In southern Texas, on Saturday nights, women are disappearing. One vanishes from a movie theater. Another is ripped from her car at a stoplight. Another vanishes from her home while checking on her baby. Rookie FBI agent Caitlin Hendrix, newly assigned to the FBI's elite Behavioral Analysis Unit, fears that a serial killer is roaming the dark roads outside Austin.

Caitlin and the FBI's serial crime unit discover the first victim's body in the woods. She's laid out in a bloodstained, white baby-doll nightgown. A second victim in a white nightie lies deeper in the forest's darkness. Both bodies are surrounded by Polaroid photos, stuck in the earth like headstones. Each photo pictures a woman in a white negligee, wrists slashed, suicide-style--posed like Snow White awaiting her prince's kiss.

To track the UNSUB, Caitlin must get inside his mind. How is he selecting these women? Working with a legendary FBI profiler, Caitlin searches for a homology--that elusive point where character and action come together. She profiles a confident, meticulous killer who convinces his victims to lower their guard until he can overpower and take them in plain sight. He then reduces them to objects in a twisted fantasy--dolls for him to possess, control, and ultimately destroy. Caitlin's profile leads the FBI to focus on one man: a charismatic, successful professional who easily gains people's trust. But with only circumstantial evidence linking him to the murders, the police allow him to escape. As Saturday night approaches, Caitlin and the FBI enter a desperate game of cat and mouse, racing to capture the cunning predator before he claims more victims.


 

My thoughts: This is the second book in Meg Gardiner's UNSUB series and as much as I loved the first book, I think I loved this one even more. I am so glad I am finally reading this series...better late than never, right?

Once again, this book is nonstop action right from the get-go and I found myself completely engaged from page one. I could not read this fast enough and I loved that we have two dynamic female leads here. I love Caitlin, but I loved Rainey just as much and I hope this isn't the last we see of her.

I loved that this is different from the previous book. It's not the same cut and paste formula and I so appreciate that. The only thing that is the same is that this case, like the last one, is inspired by a real-life serial killer, which I love. I may not be on top of all the serial killers, as I'm just getting into reading true crime, but these books sure are intense and they do a great job of making sure you keep all the lights on when you read them!

I also loved that we find out who the killer is pretty early on and from there, it's a non-stop race in trying to get one-step ahead of him before he spirals out of control. He's cunning and devious, but he knows his time is limited. It makes for some heart-pounding reading but we also don't really know the why and I needed to know that. 

This book was so addicting and kept me on the edge of me seat the entire time. And it all leads to an ending that sets up for the next book, which I'm hoping to read sooner rather than later. I love this series and if you love dark, gripping reads, I highly recommend reading it if you haven't already!


Books in this series:

  1. UNSUB
  2. Into the Black Nowhere
  3. The Dark Corners of the Night
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