9.7.18

Review: Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage



Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage 
Release Date: July 17, 2018 
Publisher: St. Martin's Press 
Genre: Adult, Thriller & Mystery 
SourceARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review
Amazon | BN | Indiebound 
Meet Hanna.

She’s the sweet-but-silent angel in the adoring eyes of her Daddy. He’s the only person who understands her, and all Hanna wants is to live happily ever after with him. But Mommy stands in her way, and she’ll try any trick she can think of to get rid of her. Ideally for good.

Meet Suzette.

She loves her daughter, really, but after years of expulsions and strained home schooling, her precarious health and sanity are weakening day by day. As Hanna’s tricks become increasingly sophisticated, and Suzette's husband remains blind to the failing family dynamics, Suzette starts to fear that there’s something seriously wrong, and that maybe home isn’t the best place for their baby girl after all.

From blazing new talent Zoje Stage, Baby Teeth is a story about a perfect-looking family, and a darling little girl who wants nothing more than to kill her mother.
Review:

Twisted.
Jaw-dropping. 
Unputdownable. 
Those are just some of the words that describe Zoje Stage's explosive debut. 

When Baby Teeth first appeared on my radar, I wasn't too sure about it. It sounded unique and interesting, but a book about a young girl wanting to kill her mother? It definitely wasn't my typical read. However, the other week I decided to read a chapter to get a feel for it. Luckily, that chapter turned into two, and before I knew it, it was 2 am and not only was I finished but also completely and utterly shook. That last scene? I reread it twice, because I couldn't believe my own eyes! 

Baby Teeth contains two POVs - Suzette's as well as Hannah's. Zoje did a fantastic job of bringing the two voices together. It was also incredibly worthwhile as well as eye-opening to see from both of their perspectives. The interesting thing here, however, is that I could never exactly pinpoint a villain.  Instead, Suzette and Hannah are both victims as well as instigators, in my opinion. In their minds, they both believe they are doing the "right" thing. Suzette is attempting to save her marriage, daughter, and health through her occasional tough-love yet mostly understandable actions while Hannah believes the only way to be happy is to get rid of her mother. While Hannah's reasoning is a bit more wild, I felt bad for the girl. Yes, she did some truly evil things in this book; however, at the end of the day, she was a little girl who needed help. The only problem was that no one seemed to know what that help should be. 

At its core, Baby Teeth is a game of cat-and-mouse. The majority of the book focuses on the back-and-forth between Hannah and Suzette, their constant need to one-up each other as well as win. I was always on the edge of my seat, dying to know what would happen next. Would Hannah finally succeed in killing her mother? Would Suzette find help that would work? Those were just some of the questions swirling around in my head. As the book progressed, things only became crazier. I couldn't believe some of what I was reading. Gosh, if I was Suzette, I would've been running from that house screaming. I also enjoyed the conflict Suzette's husband/Hannah's father brought to the table. In a way, he played a Switzerland type role. He refused to believe that his little angle could be so evil but he also couldn't believe his wife could be lying about such things. For the majority of the book, he tries to play the middle man, sometimes making things better but sometimes making them even worse... 

In addition to the conflict/dynamic between Hannah and Suzette, the book also includes Suzette's struggles with Crohn's disease. I appreciated the fact that Zoje included this and addressed the everyday issues that arise with the disease. Several people close to me have suffered from Chron's, and I thought Zoje did a fantastic job of giving it a realistic, honest feel. 

Overall, Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage is an edge-of-your-seat thriller. While I don't think this book will be for everyone, I think it will definitely find its audience within those craving a dark, mind-bending thriller. I look forward to reading more by Zoje in the future. 


4 stars!!

6.7.18

Review: Not Her Daughter by Rea Frey



Not My Daughter by Rea Frey
Release Date: August 21, 2018
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Genre: Adult, Women's Fiction, Thriller & Suspense
Source: ARC provided by publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review
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Amazon | BN | Indiebound
Gripping, emotional, and wire-taut, Not Her Daughter raises the question of what it means to be a mother—and how far someone will go to keep a child safe.

Emma Townsend. Five years old. Gray eyes, brown hair. Missing since June.

Emma is lonely. Living with her cruel mother and clueless father, Emma retreats into her own world of quiet and solitude.

Sarah Walker. Successful entrepreneur. Broken-hearted. Kidnapper.

Sarah has never seen a girl so precious as the gray-eyed child in a crowded airport terminal. When a second-chance encounter with Emma presents itself, Sarah takes her—far away from home. But if it’s to rescue a little girl from her damaging mother, is kidnapping wrong?

Amy Townsend. Unhappy wife. Unfit mother. Unsure whether she wants her daughter back.

Amy’s life is a string of disappointments, but her biggest issue is her inability to connect with her daughter. And now Emma is gone without a trace.

As Sarah and Emma avoid the nationwide hunt, they form an unshakeable bond. But what about Emma’s real mother, back at home?

Review: 

Not Her Daughter completely surprised me. I had heard numerous good things about it - almost all the reviews on Goodreads are 4 or 5 stars - and the synopsis had me intrigued. I expected to like it but I never expected to love it as much as I did. This book grabbed my heart from the start and never let it go.  

Simply put, Not Her Daughter is a whirlwind of a read. It made me feel so many different emotions - happiness, sadness, hope, anger, etc. I feared yet anticipated the ending. How could it possibly end happily for everyone? More importantly, did I want it to end happily for everyone? I wasn't too sure...

Not Her Daughter starts off slow. The reader is slowly immersed into the lives of Sarah Walker and Amy Townshed, two women who couldn't be any more different yet are connected through a little girl named Emma. 

Sarah had a difficult childhood. Her mother wasn't much of a mother, forever making Sarah feel as if she was a burden rather than a blessing. Even to this day it has a strong hold on Sarah. No matter how much she accomplishes, it's a pain that forever lingers. At first, I didn't know if I liked or disliked Sarah. One part of me felt so incredibly bad for her. It was easy to see how much she was hurting from her past as well as her recent break-up, and I could somewhat understand why she would be so desperate to save a child from pain and disappoint like hers. On the other side, I didn't like how willing she was to grab a child. While I know obsessions can grab ahold of someone, sometimes it was hard to believe that a women who was so successful, so steadfast would do something as reckless as go on the run with a child. Throughout the book, I shifted back and forth with my feelings. Did she have good intentions? Yes. Did she go about them in the right way? No. But did she love Emma? Completely! Her bond with Emma was one of my favorite parts of the book. It was heartwarming yet bittersweet, and it made me happy to see how much they helped one another. 

Amy, on the other hand, is struggling. Struggling with the challenges of motherhood, a marriage based on settling rather than love, and the overwhelming desire that something was missing in her life, that she took the wrong path. I could see that Amy was doing the best that she could, but at the same time, I didn't approve of her actions. I didn't like that she bullied her daughter, that she was so willing to lie to the police to save face. It wasn't right; however, as more was revealed about her past, my empathy towards her increased. At the end of the day, she was broken. Did it excuse her behavior? No, but I still wanted her to find peace as well as happiness even if it meant turning her whole world upside down. Her bond with Emma was much different than Sarah's. Even though she knew she shouldn't, she resented Emma, sometimes she was even a tad jealous of her. It was hard to stomach, but it was realistic. 

Not Her Daughter switches back and forth between Amy and Sarah's POVs and shows during three time periods (before the kidnapping, during the kidnapping, and the aftermath). I thought Rea did a great job of developing both voices. The book wouldn't be the same without both, and I appreciated how they should two very different type of women - one who wanted a child so desperately and one who regretted ever having children. The plot here mainly focuses on the kidnapping; however, it also includes details about both women's pasts. While this book can't exactly be described as an edge-of-your-seat thriller, it's still a readable, addicting story. I devoured the entire book in one sitting simply because I needed to know what would happen next. Would Sarah return Emma? Would Amy tell the truth? What went wrong in both of their lives? Those were the questions swirling around in my head. I also appreciated the way in which Rea went about discussing abduction. The abduction storyline, in particular wasn't very black-and-white. There was many layers to it, and it truly made me think. For most of the book, I was torn. I didn't know who I wanted to "win" - Amy or Sarah - but I did know one thing: I wanted Emma to be happy. 

Bittersweet as well as thought provoking, Rea Frey's Not Her Daughter is the kind of that makes me wish I was part of a book club, because I want to discuss it with everyone! 


5 stars!!

Review: The Gallery of Unfinished Girls by Lauren Karcz



The Gallery of Unfinished Girls by Lauren Karcz 
Release Date: July 25, 2017  
Publisher: Berkley 
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary 
Source: Library 
A beautiful and evocative look at identity and creativity, The Gallery of Unfinished Girls is a stunning debut in magical realism. Perfect for fans of The Walls Around Us and Bone Gap.

Mercedes Moreno is an artist. At least, she thinks she could be, even though she hasn’t been able to paint anything worthwhile in the past year.

Her lack of inspiration might be because her abuela is in a coma. Or the fact that Mercedes is in love with her best friend, Victoria, but is too afraid to admit her true feelings.

Despite Mercedes’s creative block, art starts to show up in unexpected ways. A piano appears on her front lawn one morning, and a mysterious new neighbor invites Mercedes to paint with her at the Red Mangrove Estate.

At the Estate, Mercedes can create in ways she hasn’t ever before. But Mercedes can’t take anything out of the Estate, including her new-found clarity. Mercedes can’t live both lives forever, and ultimately she must choose between this perfect world of art and truth and a much messier reality.
Review: 

I'll admit it: I added this book to my TBR simply because of the flamingos (Note to publishers: if you put a flamingo on a book, there's a 99.99% I will buy/read it because my love for flamingos is just that strong). 

Thankfully, Lauren Karcz's The Gallery of the Unfinished Girls contains so much more than just a pretty cover! Lush, introspective, and a tad bit eccentric, The Gallery of Unfinished Girls chronicles the eventful, life changing year of the Moreno sisters.  

The Gallery of the Unfinished Girls begins just as the Moreno family is falling apart. Mercedes’s abuela has sunken into a coma she may never come out of, and because of that, Mercedes's mom has left the country to go take care of her. Alas, Mercedes and her younger sister Angela find themselves left alone to fend for themselves. Some teenagers would go wild from the sudden burst of freedom; however, Mercedes and Angela go about their lives as normal. Wake up, school, home, sleep, repeat. But everything changes the moment a piano and a new secretive neighbor named Lillia suddenly (and maybe even a bit magically) appear. Suddenly, Angela looses herself in the music, Lillia becomes a mentor to Angela as well as Mercedes, and Mercedes has the sudden urge to paint something worthwhile, something that will make herself (and maybe even Lillia) proud. But Lillia is hiding secrets, and Mercedes thinks most of them revolve around the mystical Red Mangrove Estate, the place for artists to loose themselves in their work....

The Gallery of Unfinished Girls is incredibly character driven. Sometimes that works for me and sometimes it doesn't, but thankfully in this case it worked quite well. 

The characters in The Gallery of Unfinished Girls felt so real, so life like.

Mercedes, the main character, became the one closet to my heart. I've never been an artist (Fun fact: I was actually told in high school to never take another art class besides the required once because my work was just that terrible) ; however, I've always been interested in what drives an artist to create their work...what makes them tick, what makes them passionate, driven....and within Mercedes this was displayed front and center. As the book begins, Mercedes is in a rut: she hasn't created a worthwhile piece, something to be proud of, since her award-winning food poisoning inspired painting the previous year. She's lost. Her art has always been her "thing," the one thing that always has made sense, the thing by which she defines herself as. Who is Mercedes without the art? Throughout the novel, Mercedes slowly gets her grove back thanks to Lillia and learns a lot about herself in the process. This transformation was incredibly worthwhile to see, and I especially appreciated the growth she obtained. 

In addition to art problem, Mercedes has also found herself in another situation: an unrequited love situation. Mercedes is bisexual and head-over-heels in love with her best friend Victoria. The only problem? She doesn't know if Victoria would ever return her feelings. I'll be honest here: I never could see the appeal in Victoria. I didn't think she was that great of a friend, and honestly, she was selfish at times, especially towards the end. So at times it was hard to root for a Victoria-Mercedes pairing, but it was never hard to root for Mercedes falling in love, because I wanted Mercedes to be happy, and I was so incredibly proud of her for being true to herself. 

I also appreciated the family dynamic that The Gallery of Unfinished Girls offered. The bond between Mercedes and Angela was at times messy and fragile, but in the long run, those two girls would go to the end of the Earth for each other. It was especially interesting to see them bond and root each other on regarding their own form of art - Mercedes with her paintings and Angela with her music. It was also worthwhile to see Mercedes deal with the risk of loosing someone who close to her. Throughout the novel, she questions those kind of questions that everyone wonders - could she have done more for her abuela? did she say everything she needed to say? It broke my heart, but I thought Lauren did such an amazing job of giving Mercedes's grief a voice. 

Last but not least I want to hit upon Red Mangrove Estate. It gave the book a fantasy approach in some ways. I don't want to say too much about it, because it's one of those things you need to experience for yourself. However, I will say it was an interesting plot device. At first, it caused a lot of confusion for me and I didn't always like it. I wondered what the point really was of it, but as the novel progressed, it became clear. I have to say Lauren did such a smart, innovative thing here - I loved the overall message it was able to convoy. 

In all, The Gallery of Unfinished Girls is a beautiful, introspective novel about life, loss, love, and moving on. I'll be in upfront in saying this book won't be for everyone, especially those who prefer action packed books over character driven ones, but for those of you who like a unique novel, I highly suggest it. I look forward to Lauren's future novels. 


4 stars!! 
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