Joint Review: The Stranger by Harlan Coben

strangerPegasus: Here’s the predicament: How far would you go for love? How far are you capable of going? I bet if you asked 1000 people, you’d get 1000 unique responses. Love is one of those emotions that has no universal meaning, and yet everyone knows it when they are hit with it. We all have different ways of expressing it, and we all have different depths to which we’ll go in order to keep it, or at least a resemblance of it. This is the central theme that Harlan Coben explores in his new thriller, The Stranger.

Urania: Seriously, Pegasus? That’s what you got from this thriller? Here I thought it was about “How long does it take you to realise you’re completely selfish and surrounded by the same type of selfishness of all those around you”….oh wait…no…….maybe it’s, “You never really appreciate something until it’s gone”? Yep…that sums it up for me….I just can’t decide which one is the best summary of this novel….

Pegasus: I see what you mean in regards to Adam and Corrine, but my point really applies to the secondary characters that got blackmailed.  Love, naivete and stupidity, all mean the same thing when it comes to those two;  they have this fucked up relationship in which none of them know how to express what they feel, and indeed realise what they are feeling.

Pegasus: I read this in 24 hours – it is a very quick and easy read, which is more or less what you tend to expect from a thriller, and in that respect, I enjoyed this book. However, I had issues with some of the characters. First off, the main character that the plot focuses on is Corrine. What happened to her, did she do what she is being accused of, and why did she do certain things. The answers to these questions were the epicenter of the plot, and yet Coben did a poor job in really fleshing out Corrine’s character. There was no emotion there, no real understanding, just a basic outline of a mum obsessed with her son’s school sports. I think this book would have really benefited from some flashback scenes. Enough to show us possible motive and the chance for the reader to actually give a shit about what happens to her. The same can be said for Adam. Coben portrays him as this alpha male type character that won’t let anything or anyone harm his family, but that is all we get. Again, this is where some flashbacks would have really helped in order to show his vulnerability and indeed a 3D portrait of his character.

Urania: Well at least on this we agree. However (don’t you just love it when I say, “however”….can you just see me rolling me eyes as I say it?) I think the way Coben portrayed the characters just validates exactly how I felt about this novel. The only question I have it was it intentional? We get to see both the husband and the wife take each other for granted. We get to see them both act in ways that does not make their partners feel valid or cherished. Corrine is portrayed as a somewhat controlling, unfeeling person by her husband from the start. However, as the novel goes on, her husband starts to appreciate her more. We see glimpses then, and only then, of how he has taken her for granted and suddenly he is missing her and appreciating all she means to him and his children. We see how she has tried to be fair to many of those around her…when at first, we were led to believe that she was totally self-centered and ignored anyone’s else’s needs or wants.

Pegasus:  I think Coben was playing on the whole unreliable narrator made most famous in Gone Girl.  However, (see, I can use that word too!) he failed.  He failed big time.  To have a successful unreliable narrator, you need decent characters. and these ones were simply not given the consideration they needed.

Urania:  This outlying theme of selfishness and lack of appreciation can be said of every single character in this novel if you look at them all as a whole. Every single problem/crime/relationship conflict can all be tied to these two things…0000000

But hey ho….isn’t that the way it is in the real world as well?

Pegasus: I will give credit where credit is due though: The plot outline was good and had it had the benefit of another 100 pages or so, I believe it could have been a very juicy and emotional story. Also, Coben did pose some questions for us to ponder: What does love mean? How do we define it? What lengths will we go to protect it? What does it mean to be “living the dream”? What is perfection? As he made me think, I will give Coben credit, as many thriller writers don’t achieve that.

Urania: I never realised you were such a romantic, Pegasus….Credit is giving by me to Coben for just enforcing my belief that most people are only looking out for #1….just saying….

Pegasus:  But doesn’t that go hand in hand?  We think we love someone, but really, are just looking out for numero uno. What one may see as love, another may see as pure selfishness.

Urania: Oh dear…oh dear me…I can’t believe I’m going to say this…but here goes…I’m getting up there in age…and a few years ago I would have 100% agreed with your statement, Pegasus…but now? Not at all…call me foolish, but there isn’t any of that looking out for myself any longer…I come second….of course it’s a joint second and I’m tied with him…but numero uno? That’s *us*….100%….

Pegasus: I’ve said this in a previous review of Missing You, also by Harlen Coben, that the author has picked apart at this massive theme, and yet only scratched the service. It left me, in my opinion, feeling like I’ve just eaten a good meal, but the final taste just didn’t come together as I’d hope it would do.

Urania: yea yea yea…whatever….you didn’t really think I was going to give you the last word did you?

Pegasus: (-:

Until next time…

Pegasus and Urania

ARC provided by Netgalley for an honest review

Buy it now The Stranger by Harlan Coben

Review: On a Ring and a Prayer by Sandra Bricker



I adored Bricker’s Always the Baker series, and so I jumped in wholeheartedly to this new series. The first book is enjoyable, but maybe not quite impressive as I had hoped. 

Jessie comes home one day to find her life closed up – no furniture, no car, no husband. She cries on best friend Piper’s shoulder, then hires Danny to investigate. She gets back on her feet stronger than ever… And a new Jessie is in the making. 

I loved Danny. He lives his faith but doesn’t preach it, has a cool best friend to surf with, and is adamant about doing the decent thing when he can. 

Jessie is a great character for a series because she has flaws that make for good comic relief. And what fun to see her untapped talent at solving mysteries! I love the partner-in-crime aspect and can’t wait to read more. 

Bricker is a pro at setting the scene for not only many more mysteries to come, but for a love story, new friendships, and professional success.

-calliope

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Review: Flunked (Fairy Tale Reform School) by Jen Calonita

21996359Books can make you feel many different things. They can make you feel sad. They can make you feel melancholy. They can make you feel passionate about something. And sometimes books can be just plain fun. This one definitely falls into that last category.

What happens when evil fairy tale characters have a change of heart? They start a reform school for other fairy tale characters gone bad, of course. There’s a mishmash of favorites and familiars in this story. We meet Rapunzel, Cinderella, Snow White, the Evil Queen, and a cast of others.

Our protagonist, however, is a simple commoner, the Shoemaker’s daughter, Gilly. Being one of many children in a poor family, she resorts to theft to help her family make ends meet. But when she’s caught in the act one too many times, off to reform school she goes. The school is run by Flora, Cinderella’s wicked stepmother, under the premise of helping wayward souls find their way back onto the right path. But things aren’t what they seem, and Gilly finds herself right in the middle of it.

This one’s a fun read, safe and enjoyable for all ages. It’s full of magic and myths with a good dose of humor thrown into the mix. I’m definitely looking forward to more in this series!

~Thalia

Buy It Now: Flunked (Fairy Tale Reform School)

Review: Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum 

This novel is a window into the discontentment of an American woman living in Zurich with her Swiss husband and their children. 

Anna is a glum housewife. She has all the material wants and needs – a family, friends, sex, money – but she finds no joy or purpose in her motherhood or wifeliness or womanhood. Anna has no direction, either, unless you consider “direction” to be running away from her life into the arms of other men. 

I hated to see Anna so numb to the world, feeling like a shell of a person. Halfway through the book, there seemed to be no solution, no psychoanalytical instruction, no amount of sexual gratification that would shake her out of it. 

Then I read the second half. I let the book sink in. And even though I planned on writing a review, not a literary analysis, I realized that Essbaum did a couple of brilliant things: 

First, Essbaum created the absence of the belief in God, but the presence of God. There’s a church within sight of Anna’s home, a church she walked by every day. Also, Anna questioned her therapist and her husband about the existence of God. She pondered her parents’ and in-laws’ religious beliefs and practices as well. 

Second, Essbaum made Anna’s character have no god whatsoever. Anna didn’t adore money, or sex, or her husband, or herself. As a matter of fact, the only possible feeling Anna did have was toward one of her sons. Because he was eventually taken from her, she didn’t even end up having a pretense of love to hold onto.  And after Anna lost her son, she lost everything: friends, family, sex, money.

Essbaum illustrated the material losses. I felt them. 

Indeed, Anna was without love. And without love, there is nothing. 

Essbaum described Anna’s loneliness and depression as spiraling inward… At some point a spiral ends at not a pinpoint, but at a hole, at nothingness. So if Anna represents this infinite absence, the antithesis would be someone or something that is everything and ever-present.  There’s only one thing that fits the bill: Love. And if she’s looking for someone to personify love: God. 

Whether Essbaum does or doesn’t want to make a faith statement is an arguable point, but if there’s no God, what IS there to fill up Anna’s lack? 

Some people will think Hausfrau is just about an unhappy wife who can’t settle in to Swiss culture.  Some will cry for more help for the mentally ill, or programs for cultural assimilation. Some readers will condemn Anna’s infidelity and the coolness of the Swiss family. Some may be angry that Anna was beaten for her transgressions. Some readers might think Anna’s husband should be part of the solution to Anna’s despair. 

But I don’t know that the book was really about those symptoms of cheating and sadness and anger. I think it’s about the absence, the nothingness, the lack. 

I submit that all Anna needed to do before she lost everything – or better, after she lost everything – was look to God. 

-calliope

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Review: Cocktails in Chelsea by Nikki Moore



If you like chick lit, this is a perfect lunchtime read. One hour of fun-filled romantic tension, with relatable main characters and a setting that holds your interest. The alpha male has personality, tenderness, and toughness. Sofia’s efforts to impress provide some laughs, and her eventual return to “herself” warms the heart. 

Cocktails in Chelsea grabbed me right out of reality for a while, ordering cocktails in a posh bar, and falling in like at first sight with a guy who’s much more than the bartender. 

-calliope

Only 99¢!!!

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Review: Help Yourself by Rachel Michael Arends



Ever the optimist, Merry gladly accepts her mediocre life in a backwoods town with a bossy boyfriend and dead-end job. But it all turns on a dime when Merry is notified of a conditional inheritance. She travels to the coast and stays at her late father’s beach house, under the supervision and direction of his barrister. Merry has to complete a handful of tasks before she can inherit the house and some of her father’s millions.  

This book is based on pretense, but written in such a fun way that it seems more like little surprises rather than deceit. I enjoyed every beautifully-created character, from the red-faced ex boyfriend to the cheating best friend to the psychologist father (remember the show Growing Pains?!) and the eccentric old man. They may have had bits of stereotype, but Arends put a fresh spin on them all. 

I’m a sucker for the beach and a love story, and this novel had both. Though Merry’s self-improvement and uncovering secrets drove the plot forward, the romance and the beach provided a steady undercurrent (no pun intended). 

Help Yourself is creative, fun, and emotional. From the gimmicky chapter titles letting me know whose point of view I was about to read from, to the delicious descriptions of the ocean, Arends made something new out of something familiar. I had a ball reading it! 

-calliope 

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Review: Solitude of a Birdcage by Brielle Skye

birdcageOkay…I won’t lie. There are parts of this book that really made my stomach turn….okay….the whole background of the novel did this. It bothered me. A great deal. The whole cheating thing just bothered me. The fact that it was an ongoing thing. I found myself getting very angry. Disgusted with the characters. Disbelief. You name it I felt it.

Having said that, I finally had to sit bak and take a breather. Once I did that, I had to remind myself that, again, I wasn’t there. Yes, so many things were wrong here, but I’m still not sure that any of it was done in malice. Yes, they made many mistakes. Who doesn’t? Yes, they should have done a million things differently…but isn’t hindsight always 20/20…

One thing is for sure….Brielle Skye made me *feel* during this book. I felt a wide range of emotions. After finishing the last page, I STILL feel a wide range of emotions. I did enjoy the book.

At the end of the day, the only thing I can fault Skye with is her portrayal of Van. She was often shown as a selfish and uncaring person. I almost felt that Skye did this to somehow allow the reader to ease some of the guilt that we might feel for wanting Max and Isaac to persevere. I see so many authors do this. Make one of the victims out to be a bad person…as if they somehow deserved to be wrong…

Let me be perfectly clear here….If you are dishonest with someone it ALWAYS…I repeat ALWAYS…says more about you than it does the person you were dishonest to…no matter how bad a person they may be. You can’t control other people and make them into a more generous, loving, caring person….but you can control your actions to that person…how you act ALWAYS says something about yourself….not the other way around….

I understand why Skye felt the need to do this…to give us a reason to perhaps dislike Van…but I stand firm in my own personal belief that it wasn’t necessary…or even fair to the reader….

Skye gave us a story full of tons of emotions….mixed emotions….she gave us tons of stuff to feel….tons to ponder…..tons to rage against….tons to fall in love with…..I just wish she would have given us credit to deal with it as well…instead of an easy out….

********Finally…this is where you STOP reading this review if you haven’t read the book….that’s right….STOP….click off now…..

However…if you have read it…..there will be a second book….I personally loved the ending of this book….even if I did feel a jerk reaction….and swore just a tiny bit…..

But here’s what I’m getting at….I’m guessing in the second book that the plot thickens and we find out the shooter’s name….and I am saying right now….I think that person is DG…I thought that from the first meeting of him….I’m not sure why…..but there it is…..I also think Van is lying about that bit at the end….************

Okay…that’s it…I hated this book in so many ways….but I mean that in a good way….I really loved it once it was said and done….I was forced outside of my comfort box…and again reminded that we can’t judge others if we aren’t in their shoes…no matter how black and white it appears…no matter how wrong we feel it is……This was a book I didn’t want to end…and I needed it to hurry up and end so I could see what happened….I guess Skye gave me both of those wishes…haha

Until next time…

Urania xx

Review copy provided by Netgalley for an honest review

Buy it now The Solitude of a Birdcage by Brielle Skye