Sunday, January 29, 2017

Book Review: Fractured

My Rating: 4

I finished this book in less than a day if that gives you any indication of how much I enjoyed it (and I have a young toddler so this was no easy feat). Every time I pick up a book that sounds like it will be suspenseful, I am hoping for an experience like this one. The writing was engaging, the plot gripping, and the emotions were electric. 

Fractured is the story of a famous author, Julie, who moves with her family to a new suburban neighborhood to escape an obsessed stalker that has haunted her for years. She is hoping the neighborhood will not only be a great place to start over, but will also be the perfect setting to help her write her second novel. This community with manicured lawns and impeccable houses turns out to be far from idyllic, however. 

The story alternates viewpoints between Julie and her neighbor across the street, John, which makes the reading go that much faster. It also switches between ‘then’ and ‘now’, a technique that basically causes you to never put the book down. ‘Then’ is the story describing Julie and her family's beginnings in the neighborhood while ‘now’ is John and his family going to court for a trial- about what we don't know. 

The neighborhood is run by gossipy women who quickly dismiss Julie after a few mishaps, and her only connection becomes John, which adds fuel to the rumor fire. John works from home and Julie is working on her book, so it only makes sense he should help her out when the threat of her stalker returns, right? 

Overall, this was a fast read that was full of interesting characters, a solid plot, and twists that I was not able to figure out. I loved that I wasn't able to solve the mystery and it left me feeling stumped, which was awesome. Catherine McKenzie is an excellent writer and I am excited to pick up some more of her books. If you are looking for your next thriller that is full of suspense and surprises, then Fractured is the one for you. 

-Busy Brunette 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Book Review: Hitler's Last Secretary

My Rating: 5

As an avid reader of anything about World War II, I was surprised when I realized I had never read this book. If you have any interest whatsoever about the final days of Adolf Hitler, this is definitely a must-read. 

Hitler’s Last Secretary is a one-of-a-kind piece as it gives you a perspective that you cannot get from any other book about World War II. Traudl Junge was Hitler’s secretary not only in the last couple of years of the war, but also the last few weeks of Hitler’s life in the underground bunker, and her chronicle of that time period is truly fascinating. 

The beginning was a little slow, as it gives a summary of Traudl’s childhood and family life, but I know it was necessary in order to better understand her background. I feel like those first chapters might turn you away if you think that's what the rest of the book is going to feel like, but just stick with it until the actual journals begin because you will not be disappointed. Traudl wrote down her time under Hitler in 1947, so everything was fresh in her mind, and this is evident in the amount of detail she shares as well as the emotions that are still fresh. 

This book was a little weird for me as I am so used to reading accounts of concentration camp survivors, American soldiers fighting in Europe, or other victims that suffered due to Hitler’s rule, so I am accustomed to only reading about how evil this dictator was and how he was such a monster. I'm not saying this book makes him seem innocent in any way, definitely not, but Traudl did something that no other book I've read accomplished: she made Adolf Hitler appear human. 

Traudl shares her duties as Hitler’s personal secretary, but mainly she talks about the daily routine, the people she lived and work with, conversations the group had, as well shares a softer and more personal side of Hitler that most historical accounts don't go into. What I found intriguing about seeing a different side of him was the fact that he must have qualities we don't usually talk about as so many people were literally so mesmerized by him that they would do anything for him. I think it is vital to see this person in his entirety so we can continue to try to understand how millions of people got completely seduced by a man with such radical ideas. 

Overall, this book was fascinating. It gives you a unique glimpse into the inner workings of one of history’s most hated men, and provides a perspective you will never get anywhere else. It is straightforward and unapologetic, yet also details Traudl’s life after the war and how this time of naivety affected her forever. If you have any curiosity at all, I encourage you to read this book. Whether you love it or you hate it, you won't forget it, and it stands as a lasting reminder of how one person can transfix a nation and change history forever. 

-Busy Brunette 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Book Review: The Girls

My Rating: 4

The Girls is a book that will hook you in, and make your stomach turn; it will make you think, and make you want to forget. 

Although the author never comes out and says it, The Girls is a fictional story based on The Manson Family and the Manson Murders. The characters are based on actual members of the Family, including Charles Manson himself, but the main character is completely fictional. 

If you are unaware, Charles Manson is an American criminal who was the leader of a type of cult that arose in the late 1960s. Manson believed there was going to be an apocalyptic race war, and he grew a following of people who shared his beliefs and basically idolized him. This following became known as The Manson Family, and he eventually convinced them to commit multiple murders in his name. 

The intention of this book isn't to detail the murders or to solve what happened, but rather, its main focus is to examine the psyche of the girls involved, as well as the members in general, and go into the situations that might make someone join something such as The Manson Family. I liked the fact that the author, Emma Cline, chose to focus on the psychological aspect of people who join groups like this, and I felt she told a convincing story of why Manson targeted specific people for his following. 

The book is written in a very dry, matter-of-fact style, similar to that of The Virgin Suicides, but it was the perfect choice. The main character, a young girl named Evie, is telling the story as an older woman, and is looking back at that time through a mature perspective of the events. She alternates between being somewhat proud of being part of something so notorious, and being shocked that she was seduced so easily, and it was engaging to hear her look back and reflect. 

Overall, The Girls was haunting and mesmerizing, sucking me in from the very beginning and not letting me go until the final pages. This was definitely not an uplifting book by any means and it could possibly make some readers uncomfortable due to its sexual content as well as its graphic violence, but it was eye-opening and intriguing to say the least. Although you won't be reading a historical account of The Manson Murders, you will be learning a lot about what might have been going through the minds of The Girls. 

-Busy Brunette 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Book Review: In a Dark, Dark, Wood

My Rating: 2

I started reading In a Dark, Dark Wood in the summer, and I was extremely excited to have a creepy thriller to speed through by the pool. I was, unfortunately, not creeped out or thrilled at all- honestly, I was bored out of my mind. 

In a Dark, Dark Wood starts off interesting enough and I was hooked for the first quarter of it or so. The main character, Nora, is invited to a hen party (bachelorette party) for a woman who used to be her best friend, but hasn't heard from in ten years. A mutual friend that is also invited ends up talking her into going, and the weekend getaway is at an all-glass house in the middle of the woods. Spooky setting, right? 

There are a few other people invited and they go through a weekend full of monotonous conversations and awkward situations. The characters are all unlikeable and I did not feel a connection to anyone, including Nora. The story alternates between the hen party and Nora in the hospital, being told there was a murder in the house, but not being able to remember what happened. This gave me just enough curiosity to be propelled forward through the story, but left me wanting to skip the pages in between. 

This book took me a really long time to read, and I actually had to take a break from it a couple of times. Although I am glad that I ultimately ended up finishing it, I can't say that I was truly surprised by any of the outcomes. The big twists at the end didn't wind up being very surprising, and by that point I didn't really care. I wish I would have liked the characters more as I feel this would have changed my feelings towards the book. 

Overall, In a Dark, Dark Wood was not dark or suspenseful. The plot was predictable at best and was hard to believe. Although the characters were not deep, the writing was at times, so I will definitely give another book by Ruth Ware a chance. I just hope it's a little more suspenseful and creepy. But for now, I need to get out of the dark, dark woods. 

-Busy Brunette  

Friday, December 16, 2016

Book Review: The Twilight Tsunami

My Rating: 3

*I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

If you are at all curious, or oblivious, about the sad realities that make up the Social Services system, then I highly suggest you read this book. If you are looking for a novel with a solid plot and storyline- then you might be somewhat disappointed. 

The Twilight Tsunami is a story about the Social Services system as well as some of the cases that have to be handled. The “main character” is Grey, a tough social worker that has a backwards way of handling cases, but is just what the department needs for the hardest child removals. As it turns out, however, Grey really isn't the main character as the story is told from many other points of view. While I appreciated the various perspectives and situations, I felt that I had a hard time connecting to any single person as it was constantly jumping from character to character. 

Another thing that did not sit well with me was the inclusion of romantic relationships as well as the storyline of a ladder-climbing social worker. I felt that the attempt at including a romance in the novel did not feel authentic and instead took away from the actual content. I know that a book with such a heavy topic can seem like it should include some more light-hearted and happy parts, as well, but it ended up feeling misplaced and inappropriate. As for the power-hungry worker, that too felt like it just didn't fit. Again, maybe it would've made more sense if I was following one character the whole story, but with so many things going on, it just felt like an added plot that didn't really change much. 

What I did really appreciate about this book, was how detailed it was in describing some horrible situations that social workers, children, and families, have to deal with when going through the system. From the child removals, to the different foster homes, to the treatment centers, or lack thereof, to help parents get back on track. I found all of these things heartbreaking yet informative in their nature. I also liked how different solutions were described in the book and what some good ideas were as far as how to help reorganize things. I feel that knowledge is power and spreading the word about our current system and how it can be changed is the first major step. 

Overall, the Twilight Tsunami was a book I am glad I read, in order to learn more about foster homes and the hardships social workers face on a daily basis, but the characters didn't do much for me. I would've liked to see this one more focused on a single character and the things they had to deal with, and less focused on romance and power trips. That being said, I would love to read something else of Shelby Londyn-Heath’s. I feel that she has many stories to tell about her experiences in the Social Services field and I would jump at the chance to read more about this unfortunate reality of which people are unaware. 

-Busy Brunette 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Book Review: Wreckage

My Rating: 4

You know that emoji, that has the wide open eyes and the jaw dropped down in surprise? That was my exact face when I finished this book. 

I had seen Wreckage by Emily Bleeker on the shelves at my favorite bookstores, but I had never taken the time to read the description as I passed by. Once I finally did read a little more about it, I couldn't help but read the first couple of pages to see if it was as intriguing as it seemed. I was instantly hooked. I could not put this book down and I devoured it all within a few days. 

At its core, Wreckage is a story about a plane crash that leaves its survivors struggling to stay alive on a deserted island. But dig a little deeper, and it is SO much more than that. It covers the main issues of life and death, but also those of deception, truth, survival, desperation, and that thin line between right and wrong. The characters in the story have to navigate their feelings about the families they left behind, while also trying to forge a future and survive the present. When people aren't sure if they are going to live from one day to the next, they are certain to do crazy things… 

Which brings me to the main two characters: Lillian and Dave. The story is told from both of their perspectives, both at the time of the crash and their time on the island as well as two years later after they have been rescued. A reporter wants the truth about what happened on the island and it is up to the reader to try to sift through everything the two narrators are saying. The ending was slightly confusing to me as I felt like it was too neat and tidy and yet part of me still liked the wrapped up finish. I'll let you decide how you feel about that part. 

Overall, this book really surprised me. I was captivated from the very beginning and I could not put it down. There were so many twists and turns that I did not see coming, and I felt like I was always trying to desperately figure out the true story. Check this one out if you are looking for a fast-paced thriller that keeps you guessing until the very end, but be careful, because it just might wreck you. 

-Busy Brunette

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Book Review: The Magnolia Story

My Rating: 5

As soon as I finished The Magnolia Story, I started it all over again- that is how much I enjoyed reading about Chip and Joanna Gaines.

In case you aren't familiar with Chip and Joanna, they are the husband-and-wife team behind the ridiculously popular show Fixer Upper on HGTV. Fixer Upper follows them as they renovate families’ houses in order to create their dream homes. Chip does all the construction work while Joanna does all of the designing. They both had these separate strengths throughout their lives and ended up combining them into what they are today.

The Magnolia Story is about how the couple met and how their relationship evolved into a marriage and then children. The book is told mainly from Joanna’s point of view, but Chip also chimes in from time to time with his side of things or his own story. What I love about this that you can perfectly hear their voices and their back and forth banter (I can only imagine how hilarious the audiobook is).

The best part about the book, however, is learning about how their passions and career pursuits changed over the years and eventually turned into multiple extremely successful businesses. I loved hearing about their dreams and how they followed them, even if the road was not easy (or financially stable). Joanna talked about how she always listened to this little voice that guided her, and things just had a way of working out.

Overall, this was an easy read that was an uplifting and feel-good story. If you enjoy their show or their products, then you absolutely have to read The Magnolia Story. Chip and Joanna are a wonderful couple and their story feels like you are having dinner with old friends, laughing and chatting the night away. Their journey has been an amazing one, and I can't wait to see what else Chip and Joanna have in store.

-Busy Brunette