Monday, September 26, 2016

Julie's Review: The Vanishing Year


Author: Kate Moretti
Series: None
Publication Date: September 27, 2016
Publisher: Atria Books
Pages: 304
Obtained: publisher via Edleweiss
Genre:  Psychological Thriller
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: Thrilling
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Summary: Zoe Whittaker is living a charmed life. She is the beautiful young wife to handsome, charming Wall Street tycoon Henry Whittaker. She is a member of Manhattan’s social elite. She is on the board of one of the city’s most prestigious philanthropic organizations. She has a perfect Tribeca penthouse in the city and a gorgeous lake house in the country. The finest wine, the most up-to-date fashion, and the most luxurious vacations are all at her fingertips. What no one knows is that five years ago, Zoe’s life was in danger. Back then, Zoe wasn’t Zoe at all. Now her secrets are coming back to haunt her. As the past and present collide, Zoe must decide who she can trust before she—whoever she is—vanishes completely. ~amazon.com  

Review: The Vanishing Year is a book that will keep you guessing until the very end. Zoe seems to have it all until she feels that her past is catching up to her. Slowly, the story of her past unravels. As a reader you want to like Zoe and feel for her but you aren't quite sure if you can trust her. She seems to keep everyone, even her husband at arms length. She's a bit obsessed with finding her birth mother and that seems to be driving a wedge between her and Henry. Henry wants to be the only person to reside in Zoe's heart and mind.

Almost immediately you know something is a little off with Henry. He seems a little too perfect and a little too controlling. (Reminded me of the husband in Sleeping with the Enemy movie with Julia Roberts). He did seem to really love Zoe though. They live quite the charmed life until Zoe starts to dig a little deeper. Is their charmed life, really that way or is Henry hiding something? I mean she's hiding something from him, why couldn't he be hiding something from her?

As Zoe starts to dig in to her past and her origins, things start to come together or fall apart depending on your view, very quickly. It is here where Ms. Moretti is at her best because you can't stop turning the pages because you are dying to know how the pieces of the puzzle fit together since it's not really evident. There are definitely a couple of mic drop moments which were awesome!

I know that Ms. Moretti has a couple other books out and I will be seeking them out plus anxiously awaiting her next novel as well!

The Vanishing Year will be the talk of the book world when it is released. It is one of those books that you will find yourself recommending to friends! Do yourself a favor and grab it.


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Friday, September 23, 2016

Lisa's Review: The Underground Railroad


Author: Colson Whitehead
Series: None
Publication Date: August 2, 2016
Publisher: Doubleday
Pages: 320
Obtained: Amazon
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: Fantastical and Fabulous.
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I have not known what to read for some time now and so I have not.  After focusing on academic reading (lots of it) for the last five years, it has been good to take a break.  A short trip to the airport and The Good Girl (I concur with Julie), turned that around.

I came to The Underground Railroad during Seth Myers’ recent interview of Whitehead. So intrigued was I, that two minutes in I popped out of bed to download the book to my Kindle.

It is hard to resist the concept of The Underground Railroad as a literal railroad (something we all believed to be true at some point in childhood or if you are a much older reality star. Ha!)  I have never read Gulliver’s Travels, so that explains why I spent the first half of the South Carolina chapter thinking “Really? South Carolina? During slavery?” before recalling the idea that each state Cora, (our protagonist) “visits” is presented as an alternate state of American history.

Whitehead is right. He puts Cora through a LOT. All of it heartbreaking – none more so than the subtle ironic reveal near the novel’s end. Throughout, I was despondent when Cora was, I cheered when she triumphed, even in small ways and I often wondered “what if?”  

It is not a perfect novel by any means and indeed my quibbles are minor, so to elaborate would be petty.  This is a novel worthy of the attention it is receiving.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Julie's Review: The Velvet Hours


Author: Alyson Richman
Series: None
Publication Date: September 6, 2016
Publisher: Berkley
Pages: 384
Obtained: publisher via NetGalley
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: Ripped from the headlines history makes for an intriguing novel
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Summary: As Paris teeters on the edge of the German occupation, a young French woman closes the door to her late grandmother’s treasure-filled apartment, unsure if she’ll ever return. An elusive courtesan, Marthe de Florian cultivated a life of art and beauty, casting out all recollections of her impoverished childhood in the dark alleys of Montmartre. With Europe on the brink of war, she shares her story with her granddaughter Solange Beaugiron, using her prized possessions to reveal her innermost secrets. Most striking of all are a beautiful string of pearls and a magnificent portrait of Marthe painted by the Italian artist Giovanni Boldini. As Marthe’s tale unfolds, like velvet itself, stitched with its own shadow and light, it helps to guide Solange on her own path. Inspired by the true account of an abandoned Parisian apartment, Alyson Richman brings to life Solange, the young woman forced to leave her fabled grandmother’s legacy behind to save all that she loved. ~amazon.com  

Review: The Velvet Hours is a novel that is rich in setting and description. It makes you want to discover and live in a Paris apartment that is in a time capsule. It is also about the story of a woman who made the most of her lot in life and appreciated art.

Marthe de Florian is a famed courtesan who has pretty much holed herself away for years in her very sheik Paris apartment. She's not agoraphobic but just prefers the comfort her possessions give her. That is until her granddaughter, Solange, starts to visit. It is to Solange that she starts to share her history.  It is within her grandmother's history, that Solange starts to feel that she can carve her own way in the world. Her grandmother's strength is what gives her the freedom to fall in love and take chances.

What I liked about Marthe's story is that even though she was a "kept" woman, she used it to her advantage. She collected art and knowledge that served her well throughout her life She knew she was loved and actually had more freedom than some wives during that time period. She had a gift for seeking out those things that were beautiful but that meant something to her as well. Each piece in her various collections represents a certain time in her life.

As a reader, it was wonderful to observe Solange coming into her own. While her father didn't hold her back, by exposing her to her grandmother, she was able to imagine a life all her own. Her grandmother's stories allowed her to feed her creative side. It also gave her more freedom than being in her father's shop to explore and meet new people.

If you are a fan of historical fiction, then you will enjoy this book. The Velvet Hours is my first Alyson Richman novel but it won't be my last. 

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Thursday, September 15, 2016

Mini Reviews: The Lost Girls and The Things We Wished Were True

This is the first time I'm doing trying this format out and I'm hoping it works out well for the future.

 

Author: Heather Young
Series: None
Publication Date: July 26, 2016
Publisher: William Morrow
Pages: 352
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  Mystery
Rating: 4.75/5
Bottom Line: A taut story about how family history can affect the present without even knowing it
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Mini Review: The Lost Girls is a striking novel about how unknown family history can still shape the present. Justine finds herself stuck in a rut and in a relationship that perhaps isn't awful but it's not really good either. So when she gets the call that her great-aunt has died and left the house on the lake to her, she packs her stuff up, grabs her girls and leaves for a new life. Of course, we all know it's not that easy and your past finds a way to get a hold of you. We also learn the story, through Lucy's eyes, of how 6 year old Emily went missing from the house years ago. The pages turn fast and you won't believe the ending. I will caution you, Maurie can be a bit much to handle some times.  I loved how the story was told in different time periods and how the title can mean a few different things.


Author: Marybeth Mayhew Whalen
Series: None
Publication Date: September 1, 2016
Publisher: Lake Union
Pages: 288
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 3.75/5
Bottom Line: Everyone keeps secrets, even from ourselves
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Library

Mini Review: The Things We Wish Were True is a novel about how we hide things from those we love the most, including ourselves. Told from varying points of view and stories that eventually intersect we met the community of Sycamore Glen. Sure everything looks ideal if you are driving by but we all know looks are deceiving. Perhaps the one thing I took away from this novel is that while it is important to forgive others in your life, it is truly important to forgive yourself for your mistakes. This is a good novel for remembering we are all human.



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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Julie's Review: Vivian in Red


Author: Kristina Riggle
Series: None
Publication Date: September 13, 2016
Publisher: Polis Books
Pages: 352
Obtained: author
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.75/5
Bottom Line: A wonderful look at the early days of Broadway and how our past can sneak up on us at anytime
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Summary: Famed Broadway producer Milo Short may be eighty-eight but that doesn't stop him from going to the office every day. So when he steps out of his Upper West Side brownstone on one exceptionally hot morning, he's not expecting to see the impossible: a woman from his life sixty years ago, cherry red lips, bright red hat, winking at him on a New York sidewalk, looking just as beautiful as she did back in 1934. The sight causes him to suffer a stroke. And when he comes to, the renowned lyricist discovers he has lost the ability to communicate. Milo believes he must unravel his complicated history with Vivian Adair in order to win back his words. But he needs help—in the form of his granddaughter Eleanor— failed journalist and family misfit. Tapped to write her grandfather’s definitive biography, Eleanor must dig into Milo’s colorful past to discover the real story behind Milo’s greatest song Love Me, I Guess, and the mysterious woman who inspired an amazing life. A sweeping love story, family mystery and historical drama set eighty years apart, Vivian in Red will swell your heart like a favorite song while illuminating Broadway like you've never seen before.  ~amazon.com

Review: Vivian in Red is a fantastic novel about how our personal history and those things we regret will come up, rear their head at any time. Milo Short has that regret and seeing a vision of her sends him into having a stroke. After his stroke, the physical abilities come back easily but he's still not speaking and no one is sure exactly why. Medically speaking he should be able to talk but something is blocking him. Enter his granddaughter, Eleanor, who has a mission from the family to research Milo's beginnings and write a biography about him. Never-mind that Milo didn't want one written.
Eleanor needs the job and well who can write it better than a family member, plus she's pretty much pressured into it by the rest of her cousins.

It is clear that Eleanor is the "black sheep" of the family but it is also quite evident that she adores her grandfather. It is also evident that she's a little lost in both love and work. She can't quite find what she wants to do with her life and if someone has to convince her to love him, maybe he's not the right one. Of course when your do-good cousins interfere it's hard to figure out your own feelings.  She starts digging into her grandfather's beginnings on Broadway when one name jumps out to her...Vivian Adair. At the same time, Milo keeps seeing apparitions of  Vivian in his mind and in his room. She has something to be said and now is her time to have it said.

I love the way that Ms. Riggle takes you down one path and makes you think something and then all the sudden things become much clearer as the story goes on. In Vivian she highlights mental health issues for women back in the 30s and how things were swept under the rug. How people knew something was "off" about her but didn't know how to handle. Even kind, Milo Short doesn't quite know what to make of Vivian but he tries to help her anyway not knowing that he might be doing more harm.

I loved the setting around the heyday of Broadway and how Milo got his start and became successful. I loved the glitz and glamour but also the hard work that is portrayed throughout the novel. Work on Broadway was demanding and tiring. You were only as good as your last lyric or last hit. 

I would love to see Ms. Riggle write another book set in the same time period in Broadway with a different perspective. From her writing, I could tell that she has a passion for this time period and the setting.

If you love family mysteries and historical fiction then you should definitely pick up
Vivian in Red. Also, I could pretty much stare at the cover all day. It is breathtaking.

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Friday, September 9, 2016

Julie's Review: Triple Love Score


Author: Brandi Megan Granett
Series: None
Publication Date: September 1, 2016
Publisher: Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing
Pages: 455
Obtained: publicist
Genre:  Romance
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: Clever use of Scrabble and fun romantic story
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: A poetry professor stumbles into fame and fortune as an anonymous online Scrabble(r) poet. Miranda lives a quiet life among books and letters as a poetry professor in a small upstate town. When two snap decisions turn up the volume on her life, she must decide whether or not her best laid plans actually lead to where her heart wants to go. ~amazon.com

Review: Triple Love Score is a clever take on Scrabble. Miranda is down and out in her love life when she meets the handsome and roguish, Ronan. Who wouldn't be cast under his Irish accent spell and the attention that he gives her since Scott left her high and dry 6 years prior. For her it's casual and something that can just be for fun, but as a reader you have to wonder what Ronan's intentions truly are. Of course, just when she's getting her life back in order and maybe moving on from Scott, guess who drops right back into her life?

Of course things aren't as easy as you want them to be with Miranda and Scott. You want him to just tell her what the heck happened to him six years ago. He's being very coy and standoffish with her when she approaches the subject with him. He does help her to reach out to someone who can help her with her Instagram account to market it and monetize it.

I adored Miranda and her outlook on life. Does she have a couple missteps along the way but who doesn't? She has been in love with Scott since they were young kids growing up together. I loved the way she used Scrabble to work out her feelings on whatever was going on in her life. I loved how she stood up for herself against those that were trying to bring her down. I thought her relationship with her step-mother was more of a friendship because she never tried to replace her mother. They had mutual respect for each other and cared deeply for one another.

This was a fun, quick read that reminds us that the ties that bind us aren't always family and that sometimes you have to let go to hang on.

I definitely look forward to seeing what else Ms. Granett writes in the future.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Julie's Review: I Will Send Rain


Author: Rae Meadows
Series: None
Publication Date: August 9, 2016
Publisher: Henry Holt
Pages: 272
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.75/5
Bottom Line: Thought provoking story about how tragedy can change us and our relationship
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Summary: Annie Bell can't escape the dust. It's in her hair, covering the windowsills, coating the animals in the barn, in the corners of her children's dry, cracked lips. It's 1934 and the Bell farm in Mulehead, Oklahoma is struggling as the earliest storms of The Dust Bowl descend. All around them the wheat harvests are drying out and people are packing up their belongings as storms lay waste to the Great Plains. As the Bells wait for the rains to come, Annie and each member of her family are pulled in different directions. Annie's fragile young son, Fred, suffers from dust pneumonia; her headstrong daughter, Birdie, flush with first love, is choosing a dangerous path out of Mulehead; and Samuel, her husband, is plagued by disturbing dreams of rain. As Annie, desperate for an escape of her own, flirts with the affections of an unlikely admirer, she must choose who she is going to become. With her warm storytelling and beautiful prose, Rae Meadows brings to life an unforgettable family that faces hardship with rare grit and determination. Rich in detail and epic in scope, I Will Send Rain is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, filled with hope, morality, and love. ~amazon.com

Review: I Will Send Rain is a beautifully written novel about the trials of the beginning of the Dust Bowl on a small town in Oklahoma. The Bells have worked hard to make their farm their own. Samuel and Annie left Kansas City to come get their own parcel land for free. Annie is a Pastor's daughter, so working the land is something new for her but she works side by side with Samuel to build their life. It isn't to say that life has been easy on them and the drought is about to make life a lot harder for them and the rest of the farmers surrounding them. Samuel and Annie have a 15 year old daughter, Birdie, who experiencing first love. Their son, Fred, doesn't speak but is very aware of those things surrounding him.

 Not only is nature being cruel but things are changing within the Bell family as well. Samuel feels that he is being talked to by God in his dreams and is being called to do something instead of being a bystander. Annie is feeling restless and wants more than the farm life at this point. Birdie can only see as far as Cy and Fred is obsessed with finding bones of animals for his collection.

Ms. Meadows does a fantastic job of drawing you into the characters and their strife and triumph. I could feel the dust seeping into everything as I read the novel. I can't imagine the grit that was in everything.  You can see the doom coming around the corner but I wasn't quite sure how she was going to handle it.  You get to know each of these characters intimately and you care about what happens to them.  You feel for Annie's boredom and resentment of Samuel's faith, when she has lost her own. You hope that Samuel's faith comes through for him.  You know that Birdie is going to make a big decision and not look back. That decision might be the thing that keeps her parents from falling completely apart.

While the subject matter isn't sunny but it is hopeful. People can persevere over things that nature and other humans through at us and make a difference in the end. While the Dust Bowl was awful to experience, it taught farmers about the land and how to work it differently so that something like this didn't happen again.

If you are interested in a piece of our history that isn't always talked or written about, then I highly recommend I Will Send Rain.

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Julie's Review: Behind Closed Doors

 photo Behind Closed Doors_zpscb1lp84n.jpg

Author: B.A. Paris
Series: None
Publication Date: August 9, 2016
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Pages: 304
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  Psychological Thriller, Suspense
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: DAMN!
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Summary: Everyone knows a couple like Jack and Grace. He has looks and wealth; she has charm and elegance. He’s a dedicated attorney who has never lost a case; she is a flawless homemaker, a masterful gardener and cook, and dotes on her disabled younger sister. Though they are still newlyweds, they seem to have it all. You might not want to like them, but you do. You’re hopelessly charmed by the ease and comfort of their home, by the graciousness of the dinner parties they throw. You’d like to get to know Grace better. But it’s difficult, because you realize Jack and Grace are inseparable. Some might call this true love. Others might wonder why Grace never answers the phone. Or why she can never meet for coffee, even though she doesn’t work. How she can cook such elaborate meals but remain so slim. Or why she never seems to take anything with her when she leaves the house, not even a pen. Or why there are such high-security metal shutters on all the downstairs windows. Some might wonder what’s really going on once the dinner party is over, and the front door has closed. ~amazon.com  

Review: Behind Closed Doors is the buzzed book about this summer/fall. It's either your cup of tea or it's not. It is the type of book that you won't be able to put down once you start reading and the disturbing parts will probably keep you hooked. In some ways this book reminded me of Room but obviously it's not told from the view of a child.

We learn the story of Jack and Grace from Grace's point of view because frankly, I wouldn't want to be in Jack's mind. At first you aren't really sure what's going on, you are a bit confused until it becomes clear what it is that's going on. In fact, I wasn't sure who was going to be the "bad guy" because of the way Ms. Paris first sets it up.

 Is it the best written book, probably not but it kept me on the edge of my seat, it made me care about what happened in the end. It was fast paced which is good because you really don't want to have that creepiness last long. This is one of those books where the review will be short and really it should just say: Read it. (If psychological thrillers are your thing).


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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Julie's Review: Modern Girls


Author: Jennifer S. Brown
Series: None
Publication Date: April 5, 2016
Publisher: NAL
Pages: 384
Obtained: Get Red PR
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: A touching look at the trials & tribulations of a girl on the cusp of having the life she wants and her mother who wants better for her children
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Summary: A dazzling debut novel set in New York City’s Jewish immigrant community in 1935...How was it that out of all the girls in the office, I was the one to find myself in this situation? This didn’t happen to nice Jewish girls. In 1935, Dottie Krasinsky is the epitome of the modern girl. A bookkeeper in Midtown Manhattan, Dottie steals kisses from her steady beau, meets her girlfriends for drinks, and eyes the latest fashions. Yet at heart, she is a dutiful daughter, living with her Yiddish-speaking parents on the Lower East Side. So when, after a single careless night, she finds herself in a family way by a charismatic but unsuitable man, she is desperate: unwed, unsure, and running out of options. After the birth of five children—and twenty years as a housewife—Dottie’s immigrant mother, Rose, is itching to return to the social activism she embraced as a young woman. With strikes and breadlines at home and National Socialism rising in Europe, there is much more important work to do than cooking and cleaning. So when she realizes that she, too, is pregnant, she struggles to reconcile her longings with her faith. As mother and daughter wrestle with unthinkable choices, they are forced to confront their beliefs, the changing world, and the fact that their lives will never again be the same…. ~amazon.com

Review: Modern Girls is a beautiful story about the relationship between a mother and daughter, the choices we make and the options we have. In 1935 you had very few options if you became pregnant out of wedlock: get married or move to hide the shame from friends and family. These women in the novel are the ones who paved the way for us to our current options.

Dottie is an up and comer. She's smart, fashionable and friendly. She seems to have it all, including her very handsome beau, Abe. She's also a little annoying at times. I just wanted her to get her head out of her butt for a minute and really think about her options. She's a bit stubborn and still thinking that she can have it all.

Rose, is a mom of 4, who is ready to move on with her life now that the kids are all getting a little older. She wants to get back her social activism that she's missed since having to rear the kids. Now she's in for a surprise when she realizes that she's pregnant. She knows that she doesn't have options as she's told her husband that she's expecting again and he's over the moon. Rose, she's not so sure what to think.

While yes this is a novel about the limits of the choices women had back in 1935 for me it was more about the relationship between Rose and Dottie that kept the novel humming. I loved how Ms. Brown flipped it a little bit by making Rose the more progressive thinker than her daughter Dottie. I found that a bit refreshing that it was the daughter scolding the mother for not thinking forward but rather the mother doing that to the daughter.

Finally, Dottie takes control of her situation and while it might have been the decision her mother wanted her to make, it showed a bit of gumption on her part. I was happy that she was no longer a by-stander in her own life and decision making but took the reigns.

Ms. Brown did an excellent job of describing the time period and the customs during that time, which I'm sure still exist today but maybe not as broad. She got the complexity of a mother/daughter relationship down perfectly, especially as Dottie is trying to gain her independence.

While the novel it's full of action, it kept me turning the pages because I wanted to know what happened to them. For fans of Historical Fiction, Modern Girls is one you won't want to miss.



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Monday, August 15, 2016

Julie's Review: Fool Me Once


Author: Harlan Coben
Series: None
Publication Date: March 22, 2016
Narrator: January LaVoy
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Length: 10 Hours 5 Minutes
Obtained: purchased
Genre:  Mystery, Thriller
Rating: 4.75/5
Bottom Line: Harlan Coben does it again
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: In Fool Me Once, Coben once again outdoes himself. Former special ops pilot Maya, home from the war, sees an unthinkable image captured by her nanny cam while she is at work: her two-year-old daughter playing with Maya’s husband, Joe—who was brutally murdered two weeks earlier. The provocative question at the heart of the mystery: Can you believe everything you see with your own eyes, even when you desperately want to? To find the answer, Maya must finally come to terms with deep secrets and deceit in her own past before she can face the unbelievable truth about her husband—and herself. ~amazon.com

Review: Fool Me Once is another great novel from Harlan Coben. Once it starts it never stops, especially with the twists and turns. I wouldn't say that I liked Maya but I respected her. She was focused and determined and she must have been one hell of a soldier. Now she's trying to figure out why Joe was murdered and why is he showing up on her nanny-cam that she received after his funeral.

Seeing this video sends Maya on a crazy chase that not only brings in Joe's murder but the murder of her sister as well. How are the two connected? Are they connected? Does Maya's military history have anything to do with this?  Also what are these flashbacks she keeps having?

Mr. Coben knows how to suck me in from page one and his novels never disappoint me. While this one took me longer because it was on audio, I have no doubt that in print I would have flown through it. Ms. LaVoy did a great job with it but I think that I will stick to reading his books instead of listening to his novels.

This book keeps you guessing until the very under with quite the double whammy in the end. If you haven't read his novels, then Fool Me Once isn't a bad place to start. He does have quite the back-list if you get hooked!



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