Review: 806 – Cynthia Weil

806 - Cynthia Weil806 – Cynthia Weil
Publisher: Tanglewood Publishing
Release Date: March 2018
Rating:  4/5
Synopsis: Sibling 1 throws blenders and plays guitar. Sibling 2 is allergic to everything and is into magic. Sibling 3 is a varsity swimmer with a group of female fans. Enough said. The only thing they have in common is their biological father, and the only thing they can agree on is that they all want to meet him. With the help of a broken-down, “borrowed” Jeep, KT, Jesse, and Gabe make their way across the country evading police, trying their luck on the slots, and meeting a life-changing pig, all to track down Donor 806, their father. Any hope of success requires smarts, luck, and ingenuity. Good thing they have each other…even if they don’t see it that way.

Review:  Cynthia Weil’s 806 was a joy to read during a period that’s been fairly heavy for me. This happily unrealistic road trip of a novel had me laughing and commiserating at the same time.  Like KT/Katie, I didn’t meet my father until I was 18 so I can relate to her angst of not knowing and the curiosity that can hound you at times.  I think that’s why I was drawn to this book.

While it was funny and cute, I definitely thought of 806 as a coming-of-age story, especially for KT.  She goes through this very visual evolution of figuring out her own self-worth that all teenagers go through at some stage.  She starts to learn about acceptance–particularly that of the people around her, and how they all tie together to create a family.  Her relationship with her mother is fraught but changes drastically by the end.  She dislikes her newfound siblings throughout the book but figures out there’s more that binds them together than doesn’t.

If I had one niggle about 806, it would be the book’s plausibility.  I didn’t think it was at all believable – some of the things that happen during the road trip had me going “really?” with a bit of a groan.  The ending was way too neat for the story as well.  The whole novel is about how families are messy and complicated.  It was a bit tied up with a bow at the end.

Even so, I really did enjoy 806.  It was a nice break from heavy reading and a book I’d recommend if you’re looking for some lighthearted laughs with substance thrown in.

E-book copy generously provided by BookishFirst in exchange for an honest review.

Muse Paintbar – Paint Your Pet Night

This weekend, Nick and I went to a “Paint Your Pet” session at Muse Paintbar here in Charlottesville.  I’ve been dying to try them out ever since the studio opened up last year–drinks and painting… what’s not to love?  Neither of us are very artistically inclined so we weren’t expecting much from our masterpieces, and the thought of painting our buns was daunting.

We weren’t to worry though–Muse takes care of everything from pre-sketching your pet on canvas to breaking down the process step by step.  The Muse Charlottesville team were so welcoming and fun and we got quite of attention as “the bunny people.”  Heather was our (very talented) instructor and she kept things moving along without feeling rushed and was on hand to help.  There were also several assistants floating around offering tips and suggestions.

We had a great time and would definitely love to go back!  Muse can be found in nine states here along the east coast and have a massive calendar of sessions ranging from family friendly to wine glass painting.

Now for photos!

Fez’s before and after
Tig’s before and after

I don’t think we did too bad in the end!

Review: Anatomy of a Scandal – Sarah Vaughan

Anatomy of a ScandalAnatomy of a Scandal – Sarah Vaughan 
Publisher: Atria
Release Date: January 2018
Rating:  5/5
Synopsis:  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.

Most people would prefer not to try to understand what passes between a man and a woman when they are alone: alone in bed, alone in an embrace, alone in an elevator… Or alone in the moonlit courtyard of an Oxford college, where a girl once stood before a boy, heart pounding with excitement, then fear. Sophie never understood why her tutorial partner Holly left Oxford so abruptly. What would she think, if she knew the truth?

Review:  I started hearing rumblings about this book nearly a year before it came out.  I had no real idea what the plot was about or what any of the main points were.  All I knew is that everyone who read this book was very impressed and recommended it highly.  I was super excited when I won an advance copy through an online giveaway (I believe it was on Goodreads).  Like so many others, I was obsessed with Anatomy of a Scandal.  And for good reason.

Anatomy of a Scandal centers around a high-profile court case.  The trial at the heart of this book is a sexual assault perpetrated by a well known, trusted MP (Member of Parliament) that takes place in the Houses of Parliament.  Vaughan paints the attack as a gray scenario that, at points, almost made me go wishy-washy on how I felt about the case.  This is not a comfortable book.  It makes you question your own beliefs and examine how you quantify rape and assault.

I think what I appreciated the most about the novel was that it wasn’t gratuitous or sensationalist, despite the twist towards the end.  The assaults, there are more than one, aren’t sensationalist or particularly detailed or vulgar. Conversely, Vaughan’s scene setting and character development are so in-depth and descriptive that you feel as if you’ve walked those roped off passages in Parliament.

Anatomy of a Scandal is so very timely, particularly as stories of Spacey, Weinstein and others have hit mainstream media and the #metoo movement has spanned worldwide. I highly recommend it.

Review: Still Me – Jojo Moyes

Still Me - Jojo MoyesStill Me – Jojo Moyes
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
Release Date: January 2018
Rating:  5/5
Synopsis:  Louisa Clark arrives in New York ready to start a new life, confident that she can embrace this new adventure and keep her relationship with Ambulance Sam alive across several thousand miles. She steps into the world of the super rich, working for Leonard Gopnik and his much younger second wife, Agnes. Lou is determined to get the most out of the experience and throws herself into her new job and New York life.

As she begins to mix in New York high society, Lou meets Joshua Ryan, a man who brings with him a whisper of her past. Before long, Lou finds herself torn between Fifth Avenue where she works and the treasure-filled vintage clothing store where she actually feels at home. And when matters come to a head, she has to ask herself: Who is Louisa Clark? And how do you reconcile a heart that lives in two places?

Funny, romantic, and poignant, Still Me follows Lou as she navigates how to stay true to herself, while pushing to live boldly in her brave new world.

Review:  Oh this book, like its two predecessors, gave me all of the feels.  I was going to wait a bit to read this, but my life is in such a slump right now that I needed something redeeming and happy to read.  I had hoped Still Me would deliver and I was not wrong at all.  I laughed and cried throughout the entire book and I stayed in bed most of a Sunday morning to finish the last half.  That’s been unheard of around my house here lately.  I now have the worst of book hangovers.

I loved Me Before You.  I was so so on After You; I didn’t feel the same spark as Me Before You but still enjoyed it.  Still Me has rekindled the flame I had for book one.  I couldn’t put it down and I kept falling in love over and over with Lou and her chaotic adventures in New York City. Our Lou is as madcap as ever in this one!

Like Lou, I fell in love with New York when I was there for a long weekend over a year ago now. There was something about it that leaves me aching to go back.  I can’t put my finger on what it was exactly, but New York just hooks its claws inside of you and refuses to let go.  Moyes’s New York was well drawn and, having stayed in a flat near Central Park myself, I can almost picture the Lavery and its rich, eccentric inhabitants.

Moyes, as ever, does an amazing job with not just character development but with minor characters too.  People like Ashok and his wife and the girls running the vintage clothes shop were so vivid and so well done without a lot of description or a ton of page time.  Their personalities shined through and I almost felt as if I knew them.  And I couldn’t help but be totally in love with Dean Martin (ha ha) by the end!

This conclusion to Lou’s story was perfect, not to mention downright cinematic. I haven’t seen Me Before You yet (I don’t think I need the ugly tears right now) but I genuinely hope they turn Still Me into a film.  The setting, people and moments would translate so well for the screen.

I know Moyes isn’t planning for anymore novels about Lou, but even so I’m excited to see what she comes out with next.

Review: The House on Sunset Lake – Tasmina Perry

The House on Sunset Lake - Tasmina PerryThe House on Sunset Lake – Tasmina Perry
Publisher:  Headline Review
Release Date:  August 2016
Rating:  2/5
Synopsis: Tasmina Perry is the bestselling author of The Last Kiss Goodbye and The Proposal. Her new novel is a heart-wrenching love story bejewelled with mysteries and dark secrets, set in the Deep South. If you love sailing away with Santa Montefiore’s novels or unwrapping the layers of the latest Rachel Hore, you will adore losing yourself in this book.

1995. Savannah, Georgia, where the sunsets are long and golden and the air is hot and heavy with promise. Student Jim Johnson isn’t happy when he has to abandon his plans of a carefree month of inter-railing to spend the summer in the Deep South with his mother and his father, a down-on-his luck author who has been sent to Savannah to rediscover his muse. But when Jim meets the beguiling Jennifer Wyatt, the daughter of the owners of Casa Seta, the mysterious plantation house on the shores of a lake, Jim knows he has made the right decision in coming along. Until an event happens that shatters Jim and Jennifer’s lives for ever and sets both their lives on a different course.

2015. Twenty Years later Casa Seta stands abandoned and neglected, a victim of tragic events that everyone wants to keep buried. But when Jim Johnson’s boss buys it as the latest acquisition to his hotel chain, Jim is forced to return to the house and restore it to its former glory. Fate throws him back into the orbit of Jennifer Wyatt, the woman his heart has never truly got over, but as he tries to put the ghosts of the past behind him, he unearths a chilling secret that makes him wonder what he has ever really known about the people he loves.


It’s not often I write a negative review but oh dear… I was not a fan of this book, despite it being the first I’ve read from Tasmina Perry.

I felt like the story started off really slow, almost to the point where I wanted to give up. As a matter of fact, I did a few times until I finally pushed through. That’s not something I’d normally do. My usual thought process is that if a book hasn’t drawn me in by page 50, I move on. Life is too short and my TBR list is way too long.

I digress.

Apart from the slowness, I did not like any of the characters at all. Jim and Jennifer both struck me as shallow people and, needless to say, I hated Connor. I actually had more interest in both Jim and Jennifer’s parents as their characters seemed to have more depth and story to them. Alas, their histories (and how they’re entwined with that of their children) were only slightly touched on.

At some point I did become invested in Jim/Jennifer/Connor enough too keep reading to find out how that whole situation played out. I felt it was a bit too neatly wrapped with a bow for me, particularly the way Connor was gotten out of the picture.

The little side stories and twists were cringe-worthy… I mean, Jim facing off with some gangster type character in Baruda? What was that?

Ultimately, I was very disappointed in this book and likely won’t actively pursue any other books by Perry.

This book was provided for review by NetGalley.

Review: The Wife Between Us – Greer Hendricks, Sarah Pekkanen

The Wife Between Us - Hendricks and PekkanenThe Wife Between Us – Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: January 2018
Rating:  4/5
Synopsis: When you read this book, you will make many assumptions.

You will assume you are reading about a jealous wife and her obsession with her replacement.

You will assume you are reading about a woman about to enter a new marriage with the man she loves.

You will assume the first wife was a disaster and that the husband was well rid of her.

You will assume you know the motives, the history, the anatomy of the relationships.

Assume nothing.

Discover the next blockbuster novel of suspense, and get ready for the read of your life.

THE WIFE BETWEEN US is the debut novel of co-authors Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. Hendricks, a former book editor with a major New York publishing house, lives in Manhattan with her family. Pekkanen, the author of seven bestselling solo novels, lives in Maryland with her three sons. THE WIFE BETWEEN US has been sold in 30 countries and optioned for film by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Partners. It is a Book of the Month Club Pick, an Amazon Best Book of the Month, and an Indie Next Pick. Hendricks and Pekkanen are currently at work on their next novel, also a psychological thriller.

Review:  I want to avoid as much plot as possible because I don’t want to ruin a single thing.  There are some fantastic twisty bits to The Wife Between Us that genuinely run you over like a semi truck and I don’t want to offer any hints.  I did have to go back and reread some portions to try and suss out exactly what was going on.  You’ll need to use your brain a bit for this one.

Vanessa, ex-wife to Richard, is down on her luck and living in a small apartment with her aunt.  Post divorce, she’s gone from housewife to retail hell at Saks.  She’s an addict, alcohol being her drug of choice.  I think that was one major thing that bothered me about The Wife Between Us.  It’s very en vogue these days to use alcohol issues as the perfect foil to create an unreliable narrator.  It’s been done several times and ways and every time I’m left feeling a little cold.

Nellie, Richard’s soon to be new wife, is the anti-Vanessa.  She’s bright, teaches pre-school and is a genuinely happy and refreshing interval every other chapter.  Where Vanessa is dark and brooding, Nellie is light and joyful… until Richard’s ex starts to turn up. Or so it seems.

Initially I gave The Wife Between Us three stars.  Then I thought about the book for a few days, always a good sign, and bumped it to 3.5.  And then I sat down to review it today and thought “what the hell” and put it up to four.  The fact that I’m still thinking about it even two weeks later means it has stuck with me, and with as many books as I read that’s quite an accomplishment.

Review: Winter’s Bone – Daniel Woodrell

Winter's Bone - Daniel WoodrellWinter’s Bone – Daniel Woodrell
Publisher: Little, Brown (Back Bay Books)
Release Date: 2006
Rating:  5/5
Synopsis:  The sheriff’s deputy at the front door brings hard news to Ree Dolly. Her father has skipped bail on charges that he ran a crystal meth lab, and the Dollys will lose their house if he doesn’t show up for his next court date.

Ree’s father has disappeared before. The Dolly clan has worked the shadowy side of the law for generations, and arrests (and attempts to avoid them) are part of life in Rathlin Valley. But the house is all they have, and Ree’s father would never forfeit it to the bond company unless something awful happened. With two young brothers depending on her and a mother who’s entered a kind of second childhood, Ree knows she has to bring her father back, dead or alive, or else see her family turned out into the unforgiving cold.

Sixteen-year-old Ree, who has grown up in the harsh poverty of the Ozarks, learns quickly that asking questions of the rough Dolly clan can be a fatal mistake. She perseveres past obstacles of every kind and finally confronts the top figures in the family’s hierarchy.

Along the way to a shocking revelation, Ree discovers unexpected depths in herself and in a family network that protects its own at any cost.

Review:  For my first review in a very long time, I’ve eschewed my original choice (check back soon) and have chosen a book I’ve just finished that really shook me.  It’s also an added bonus that it’s the January book for my town’s book club (which I started, ahem).

Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell was a punch to the gut, a smack in the face and a stab in the heart.  The level of violence, poverty and all around depressive nature of this book kept me moving to the next page despite my revulsion.  Many times I wanted to stop and put the book down and move on to something happier but I couldn’t get Ree out of my mind.  I had to know that she survived.

Survival is the recurrent theme and ultimate goal in Winter’s Bone.  Will Ree, her mother and her brother’s have enough food to eat?  Will Jessup turn himself in so they keep a roof over their heads?  Even in the bleakest moments when all is lost, Ree is hellbent on making it through, whether she has to sell land, move into a cave or commit an act so gruesome that my stomach churned.  Failure is not an option.

The scenes with the beatings were hard to read.  I’m not the squeamish sort but Woodrell does not gloss over a single spit-string of blood.  Everything is raw, chapped, bloodied, bruised… even before Ree gets the crap knocked out of her.  And once she does? Well, nothing is left to the imagination. It’s not an easy book to get through, despite its lower page count.

I’d like to think that Ree moves on in life and joins the Army as she wanted to do.  I’d like to think that she eventually finds the love she wants and deserves.  I’d like to think her mother passes peacefully and her brothers grow up to be sound men. I’d like to think that Ree lives to a ripe old age.  But you know what? I’m pretty damn sure I’m wrong on all of those counts.  Ree’s existence is so fraught with disappointment and duty that I’m pretty sure I know how she ends up.  I don’t think she ever leaves her holler.  I think she grows older and takes care of her mother and brothers. I think her brothers eventually leave because they’re men.  I think Ree winds up either alone or with some man who doesn’t give two craps about much of anything.

God… Winter’s Bone was such a bleak, cold and depressing book… but one I greatly enjoyed.  I’ll most likely end up watching the movie at some point, but I do worry that Winter’s Bone has been given the glossy, Hollywood treatment.  We’ll see.