Friday, 11 August 2017

Book Review: Final Girls by Riley Sager.

Product details:
Publisher:  Ebury Press.
Paperback, 352 pages.
Release date: July 13th 2017.
Rating: 4  out of 5.
Ages: Adult
Source: Received from publisher for review.

Each girl survived an unthinkable horror. Now someone wants them dead...

They were the victims of separate massacres. Three strangers bound by similar traumas grouped together by the press.

When something terrible happens to Lisa, put-together Quincy and volatile Sam finally meet. Each one influences the other. Each one has dark secrets. And after the bloodstained fingers of the past reach into the present, each one will never be the same.

 If you’re a horror movie fan, then you’re already familiar with the concept of the “final girl.” Like Laurie Strode in Halloween and Sidney Prescott in Scream, the final girl is the sole survivor of a massacre that sees all her friends –and possibly her love interest- meet a gruesome end. She’s a slasher-flick survivor:  the only person to face the killer and live to tell the tale. Unfortunately for final girls, lightening often strikes twice, and when that killer resurfaces (often rising from the presumed-dead) to kill again, nobody is safe. Just ask Nancy Thompson. Oh wait, you can’t. Freddy Krueger killed her in Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.  RIP Nancy. You fought Freddy Krueger and won.  Until you didn’t. 

Quincy Carpenter is a final girl. But you’d never know it to look at her. Ten years on from the cabin-in-the-woods bloodbath that saw a bunch of her college friends die at the hands of a knife-wielding maniac, Quincy has moved on with her life. The owner of a popular baking blog, Quincy lives comfortably on the Upper West Side with her lawyer boyfriend.  How does Quincy carry on as normal after everything that’s happened? Well, there’s Xanax. There’s also the fact that Quincy doesn’t actually remember anything about the worst night of her life. She remembers hanging out with her friends at the cabin, sure. She remembers the aftermath too, when she ran through the woods to safety. But everything that happened in between? Quincy’s got nothing.

Though she doesn’t remember what happened on that night of horror in the woods, Quincy at least knows that the maniac who killed all of her friends, is dead.  She saw him die with her very own eyes.  But when another final girl, Lisa Milner, dies of an apparent suicide, Quincy is spooked. Is there a “final girls” killer on the loose? Fellow final girl, Samantha Boyd, is convinced something is amiss.   After all, Lisa did everything in her power to survive the sorority bloodbath that gave her “final girl” status. So why take her own life? It just doesn’t make sense. There’s a reason for that, of course. It’s sequel time! And this one’s been ten years in the making.

One of the most buzzed about thrillers of 2017, with fans that include none other than Stephen King, Final Girls is a real edge-of-your-seat stuff, a true page-turner that’ll keep you reading late into the night, even though your home alone and almost too scared to read on.  Or maybe that’s just me. Final Girls is also a whole lot of fun; a whole lot of very sick and twisted fun. If you love a good slasher-flick, then you’ll love this.  It kept me guessing all the way through too.    I suspected everyone. Everyone.  I only figured out what was actually going on right before the final reveal. OK, maybe a couple of chapters before the reveal. I’m pretty disappointed with myself on that score.  I mean, I grew up on horror movies. I really should know better.

One thing I loved about Final Girls is that we get to take a step right back in time to Quincy’s night from hell ten years previously. The night she became a “final girl”.  Yeah, we get to see it all. And let me tell you it’s hard to forget. So why doesn’t Quincy remember anything about that night? And what does it mean for her survival now that the past she tried to forget has come back to haunt her? Will this final girl live to see another day? Or does her time end now?

In short: Final Girls is a whole lot of sick and twisted page-turning fun. Read it if you love a good horror flick. On that note, though I haven’t heard of any movie deal, I would love to see this one on the big screen!

Monday, 7 August 2017

Book Review: Last Seen by Lucy Clarke.

Product details:
Publisher: HarperCollins.
Paperback, 320 pages.
Release date: July 30th 2015.
Rating:  4 out of 5.
Ages: Adult
Source: Received from publisher for review.

Seven years ago, two boys went missing at sea – and only one was brought to shore. The Sandbank, a remote stretch of coast dotted with beach huts, was scarred forever.

Sarah’s son survived, but on the anniversary of the accident, he disappears without trace. As new secrets begin to surface, The Sandbank hums with tension and unanswered questions. Sarah’s search grows more desperate and she starts to mistrust everyone she knows – and she’s right to.

Someone saw everything on that fateful day seven years ago. And they’ll do anything to keep the truth buried.

Best friends since their teens, Sarah and Isla share secrets, summers and sons of the same age, or at least they did until Isla’s son Marley went missing at sea seven years ago.  Through the tragedy, Sarah and Isla’s friendship remained intact and, after a time, life went back to something close to normal.  But things are about to change.  This year, on the anniversary of Marley’s disappearance, Sarah’s son Jacob vanishes without a trace. Being a mother means everything to Sarah, but lately her relationship with her son hasn’t been so great. Is Jacob just another runaway teen on the outs with his mum? Or is there something more sinister at play? And why isn’t Sarah telling the truth of the argument she and Jacob had the night before he disappeared? 

Lucy Clarke writes a great beach read, and while this one doesn’t contain the exotic locales of her earlier books, it may just be my favourite book of hers to date, with twist after twist to keep me guessing, even after I thought I had things all figured out.  Female friendships are complex things, and let me tell you, Sarah and Isla share a friendship that is more complex than most. No spoilers, but let’s just say I don’t really know how these two managed to stay such firm friends through the years, after all that happened between them.  Some things just can’t be forgiven, you know? And one of these friends certainly crosses that line at one point.

The central mystery of Jacob’s disappearance is ultimately compelling, if a bit of a slow burn that takes time to gather pace, with chapters detailing past summers, including the events that led to the day when everything changed.  My favourite aspect of Last Seen was the friendship between Sarah and Isla.  You know how sometimes you meet people and they are so opposite, so different in every way, that you wonder how they ever became friends? Well, that’s these two. I find that this kind of friendship is one most often formed in childhood or adolescence, which is the case here. Friends found later in life usually have a lot more in common than free-spirited Isla who travels the world on a whim and uptight Sarah, who would rather be at home doing the hoovering.  When we meet them, Sarah and Isla’s friendship is a relic of the past, held together only by the memories they share. Oh, and then there’s that little thing called guilt. And all the secrets that are about to come spilling out right about now.  

Another winner from Lucy Clarke, Last Seen is a compelling tale of friendship, secrets, motherhood and lies that will keep you guessing right till the very end. This is one to add to your beach bag, for sure!

Friday, 4 August 2017

Book Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid.

Product details:
Publisher:  Atria Books.
Hardcover, 400 pages.
Release date: June 13th 2017.
Rating: 4½  out of 5.
Ages: Adult
Source: Received from publisher for review.

From Taylor Jenkins Reid comes an unforgettable and sweeping novel about one classic film actress’s relentless rise to the top—the risks she took, the loves she lost, and the long-held secrets the public could never imagine.

Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds through the decades—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

Filled with emotional insight and written with Reid’s signature talent, this is a fascinating journey through the splendor of Old Hollywood into the harsh realities of the present day as two women struggle with what it means—and what it takes—to face the truth.

Hollywood icon Evelyn Hugo married seven times – but which of her husbands was her one true love?

That’s the question rookie reporter Monique Grant is determined to ask when she’s invited to interview an ageing Evelyn at her plush apartment on the Upper East Side.  Why has notoriously private Evelyn decided to talk now after years of silence? And why has she chosen Monique for the job?  Nobody knows the answer to that apart from Evelyn herself– and she’s a lady who knows how to keep a secret.  With her own love life in ruins, recently separated Monique is determined to get the scoop on some vintage Hollywood scandal, and earn a promotion in the process. However, what Monique discovers during her conversations with Evelyn, is more shocking than she ever could have imagined.

I just adore Old Hollywood, don’t you? All that glamour, all those secrets, all that scandal and, unlike the mostly non-descript leading men of today, the leading men back then were so dashing, so handsome!  Of course, Old Hollywood wasn’t all fun and games.  Rather, it was a land of smoke and mirrors, where names and faces were routinely changed, humble backgrounds were re-written, relationships were often for publicity purposes, secrets were kept for a price and scandals were swept under the carpet by all-powerful studio fixers.  Speaking of which, just last night I watched a documentary on closeted actors in the Hollywood of the 1950’s, when to be openly gay was guaranteed career-ending.   The documentary is Tab Hunter Confidential. It’s on Netflix.

Anyway, back to Evelyn Hugo, born Evelyn Herrera in humble Hell’s Kitchen beginnings, who dyed her locks blonde in order to downplay her Cuban heritage, and traded her virtue for a one-way ticket to Hollywood.  I must say that Taylor Jenkins Reid does such a great job in constructing the character of Evelyn Hugo that this book reads like the best Hollywood biography ever written – even though its subject is entirely fictional. That said, Evelyn’s life and looks bear a resemblance to a number of Old Hollywood actresses. In her background and heritage, she resembles Rita Hayworth. She has the ruthless ambition and drive of Joan Crawford,  while she also shares the sultry good looks of Lauren Bacall, the curves of Marilyn Monroe and, of course, the multiple marriages of Elizabeth Taylor.

It’s all good fun watching as Evelyn rises to the top of her Hollywood game, leaving a trail of leading men in her wake.  It’s a whirlwind of dresses and parties and Oscar glamour, for sure. Then, there’s the price that has to be paid for that level of fame.  At a time when Hollywood actresses were not born, but made by moguls with money in mind, one wrong move could send your whole world crashing down. As Monique Grant is about to find out, Evelyn Hugo knows not only about the price of fame, she knows all about the price of secrets too.

Immersive, engaging and superbly well-written, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid is one of my favourite reads of summer 2017 and a must-read for fans of Old Hollywood.  If you loved Ryan Murphy’s Feud earlier this year – then you will love this!

Hungry for even more Old Hollywood Scandal? Check out You Must Remember This, a podcast about the often-scandalous lives of the stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Book Review: Hello, Sunshine by Leila Howland.

Product details:
Publisher:  Disney-Hyperion
Hardcover, 368 pages.
Release date: July 11th 2017.
Rating: 3½ out of 5.
Ages: 14+

Source: Received from publisher for review.
A Prep School Girl with a Hollywood Dream
Becca Harrington is a reject. After being rebuffed by every college on her list, she needs a fresh start, so she packs up everything and moves to LA, giving herself one year to land an acting gig or kill herself trying.

Unfortunately, not everything turns out as planned, and after a few grueling months, LA is looking like the worst idea ever. As hard as she tries, Becca can’t land an agent, she's running out of cash, and her mom is hounding her to apply to more schools. In an act of desperation, Becca and her friend Marisol start posting short videos online—with the help of their adorable filmmaker neighbor, Raj—and the videos catch the attention of a TV producer. Could this be it? Her big break? Or will she have to move back home with nothing but some bad head shots and a monstrous credit-card bill?

Becca may not get the Hollywood ending she was hoping for, but perhaps she’ll learn there’s more than one way to achieve her dream.

Readers will love every page of this funny, romantic, aspirational, and ultimately triumphant novel about a girl who just wants to make it on her own. 

 If there’s one thing you should know about Becca Harrington, it’s that she’s not the kind of girl who lets life get her down. So, when Becca is rejected from not one, not two, but every single one of her college choices, she refuses to despair. Instead, Becca turns her attention towards Hollywood where, armed with nothing but her hopes and dreams, she’s determined to make it as a star. Or, you know, a working actress. 

Becca is a breath of fresh air, relentlessly enthusiastic and optimistic about life in such a way that only the truly young or the truly blessed can authentically be. While the title of this book fits Becca’s new life in a city where the sun always shines, it fits her personality too. This is a girl who looks on the bright side of life, always. And it’s not like Becca has it easy – at least not all of the time. On arriving in Los Angeles, Alex, Becca’s boyfriend of two years unceremoniously dumps her, explaining that he thinks they should ‘take a beat.’ Then, to make matters worse, he doesn’t even stick around to talk things out. What a douche! Jennifer Aniston might say ‘there’s a sensitivity chip missing with this guy’ – and she’d be right! Welcome to L.A, baby!

Becca arrives in L.A heartbroken and a little – OK a lot – unprepared for the demands and expenses of big city life. If this book wasn’t a feel-good YA with the title ‘Hello, Sunshine,’ I might have worried for our girl and her dreams. As it is, Becca’s grotty apartment is just about the only unsavoury element to Becca’s bright and shiny new life in L.A. where she quickly makes new friends, scores a waitressing gig to pay her rent, and lands a part in a play all in quick succession. OK, I’ll admit that I found Becca’s new life was all a little too plain-sailing at times, but this is hardly a book about the ‘casting couch’ side of Hollywood, so let’s just go with it. That said, Becca’s first paying gig is one in which she plays the part of ‘Baby Bear’ – and she has to don a musty bear costume for the part – but there’s no doubt about it, Becca is on her way!

Of course, just because Becca is living the dream in L.A, doesn’t mean everything goes her way. Like all teenagers the world over, Becca still has to answer to her mom, who is constantly on her case regarding college applications. Becca’s head might be lost somewhere high in the Hollywood Hills, but her mom is determined that she have a back-up plain in case the whole acting thing doesn’t work out. Becca, on the other hand, is sure it’ll all work out. After all, it already is working out. Becca just scored a high-paying gig in a Volkswagen advert. With so much going on and so many parties to attend, who has time for college applications anyway?

Then there’s Alex. He may be gone, but Becca hasn’t forgotten the boy who dumped her and never even called to see if she was OK.  They had two years. Two years is a long time to devote to a relationship at any stage of life. But in high school, where relationships come and go like the seasons, if not the tides, it’s a lifetime.   Becca is sure that Alex will come round. She’s determined to win him back, even after her new BFF, aspiring-actress Marisol, questions why she’d want to be with a guy who treats her like an afterthought.  Becca should think about that. She should also think a little more about Raj, the aspiring screenwriter who lives just down the hall. Could a new leading man be on the cards for this wannabe leading lady?  Does Becca have room in her life for a little bit of romance? Of course she does! This book is cute with a capital C!

In short: A sugar-coated slice of fun in the L.A sun, Hello, Sunshine, is a feel-good summer treat! 

Monday, 24 July 2017

Book Review: Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han.

Product details:
Publisher: Simon & Schuster.
Hardcover, 336 pages.
Release date: May 2nd 2017.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Ages: 12+
Series: To All the Boys I've Loved Before  #3.
Other Books in Series: To All the Boys I've Loved Before, P.S. I Still Love You.
Overall Series Rating: 4½ out of 5.
Source: Purchased.

Lara Jean is having the best senior year a girl could ever hope for. She is head over heels in love with her boyfriend, Peter; her dad’s finally getting remarried to their next door neighbor, Ms. Rothschild; and Margot’s coming home for the summer just in time for the wedding.

But change is looming on the horizon. And while Lara Jean is having fun and keeping busy helping plan her father’s wedding, she can’t ignore the big life decisions she has to make. Most pressingly, where she wants to go to college and what that means for her relationship with Peter. She watched her sister Margot go through these growing pains. Now Lara Jean’s the one who’ll be graduating high school and leaving for college and leaving her family—and possibly the boy she loves—behind.

When your heart and your head are saying two different things, which one should you listen to?

 Please Note: This is a review of a next-in-a-series book. There may be spoilers for  previous books in the series in this review.

 Lara Jean’s relationship with her lacrosse star boyfriend Peter K. has survived the choppy waters of love rivals, scheming exes and viral videos. It looks to be plain sailing from here on out. Phew!  Not only is Lara Jean’s love life in tip-top shape – love is in the air for the rest of the Covey family too.  Lara Jean’s older sister Margot has a new boyfriend – and there’s even a wedding in the works!  That’s right, wedding bells are in store for Dr. Covey and Ms. Rothschild, which means Lara Jean has outfits to plan and a wedding cake to bake.  First though, college applications beckon, and with Peter K. already accepted at University of Virginia on a lacrosse scholarship, Lara Jean makes UVA her first – and only acceptable – choice. If everything goes according to plan then Lara Jean’s life can remain just how it is – and that’s just how she likes it. 

 Unfortunately, it seems that the UVA admissions board didn’t get the memo…

Many, many protagonists in YA fiction bug me somewhat with their quirks and their tantrums and their often dubious decisions – but not Lara Jean. I have always liked this kind, considerate and thoughtful girl so much and as such always want the very best for her. In the past, I admit to thinking that Peter K. was maybe not the very best match for Lara Jean. For one, his continued loyalty to his mean girl ex, Genevieve, irked me at times, but now Genevieve is very much history, and I want Lara Jean and Peter K. to be together forever.  Turns out, that Peter K with the easy charm also happens to have a very good heart, and he truly loves our girl. That Sixteen Candles moment. My heart! Jake Ryan forever! It’s too bad that the admissions board of UVA doesn’t know Lara Jean and Peter K’s love like us readers do. When Lara Jean isn’t accepted at UVA her whole life plan is thrown into peril. Where does Lara Jean go from here?

Lara’s big sister Margot would advise her to spread her wings and to leave Peter K. behind. After all, on the advice given to her by her mother before she died, Margot ditched her long-term boyfriend, Josh, before leaving for college in Scotland.  But Margot and Lara Jean are two very different people. Lara Jean loves Peter with all her heart. She’s not sure she can let him go. But maybe it’s for the best. They may be loved up now – but can Lara Jean and Peter K. withstand the challenges of a long-distance relationship?

If you’re anything like me you’ll be crossing your heart and fingers and toes for Lara Jean, Peter K. and a happy ever in Always and Forever, Lara Jean.  


Kitty and Peter K’s continued special friendship is one of my favourite things in this book. Peter K is Kitty’s favourite guy in a way that never fails to make me smile. 

When I first heard this series was being expanded to a trilogy I fully expected that this book would tell the love story of Lara Jean and John Ambrose McClaren. They just seem like such a good fit, you know? This book doesn’t feature a love triangle – but John Ambrose McClaren does make an appearance here! 

This book sees Lara Jean experience alcohol for the very first time. Let’s just say this episode gives whole new meaning to the world lightweight!

Have you heard the news? A movie adaptation of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is in the works. So exciting! We get to see Lara Jean and Peter K. on the big screen. I can’t wait!

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