Brand new review: Perfectly Famous by Emily Liebert

By Ekta R. Garg

July 1, 2020

Genre:

Release date:

Rated: Bypass it / 2 stars

A bestselling author disappears after the murder of her daughter. Months later, a newly-divorced former journalist becomes obsessed with finding the author. She’s convinced she’s the right person to tell the author’s story, but someone wants her to stay away. Author Emily Liebert tries to convince readers to suspend their disbelief in the unbelievable, poorly executed novel Perfectly Famous.

Even though her divorce has just become final, Bree Bennett can’t complain. Her husband let her keep their gorgeous home and is a perfect gentleman. They share custody of their teenage daughter, Chloe, and Bree needs the help. Chloe is a handful, and since the divorce she’s become even more moody and difficult to manage. Bree knows she should give Chloe time, but her husband was always the disciplinarian. Without him around, she knows her parenting isn’t what it should be.

It doesn’t help that now Bree feels at odds with her life in the suburbs. She left her exciting career in national-level journalism in New York City to become a mom. Now that she’s single again, it’s about time she gets a job and starts moving back toward the profession she loved.

The best she can do, though, is the local newspaper run by a nervous man who doesn’t know anything about running a news outlet. Bree convinces him she knows what she’s doing by covering a few community events, and she’s going to need the credibility because she has an idea for an investigative series. She knows, though, that it’s going to be a hard sell.

Bree wants to find and interview high-profile crime novelist Ward DeFleur. The previous year, Ward’s daughter, Stevie, was murdered on the night of one of Ward’s book signings. No one in the public eye has seen or heard from Ward since. Bree feels sympathy for the woman, also a single mother. Chloe was the same age as Stevie, and Bree thinks this makes her and Ward kindred spirits of sorts.

As she tentatively starts to navigate her dating life and tries to balance that with her articles, Bree finds herself stretched in too many different directions. The more she tries to look for Ward, the more pushback she receives from an unknown source. Someone is trying to warn her off Ward’s trail, and that just makes Bree more curious to find her.

Author Emily Liebert’s story starts on fairly firm footing but devolves into incredulous territory. Bree’s obsession with Ward is justified by the fact that on the night of Ward’s fateful last book signing, Bree’s husband told her he wanted a divorce. After his news, Bree goes to the signing and collapses into tears in the arms of the confused author who had never met Bree before or since. Nevertheless, in Bree’s mind that’s enough to forge a connection between her and the crime writer.

Although Bree seems keen to restart her career in journalism, she doesn’t spend that much time reporting. Not where readers can see, that is. Passing references are made to the stories she’s filing for her boss, and these along with random meetings with him are meant to convince readers she’s good at what she does.

In some ways, it’s a relief to see Bree good at her job because her character arc doesn’t give her room to be good at anything else. She’s a completely inept parent, enduring Chloe’s teen tantrums and angst with tearfulness and even more leniency. Also, while she says she can’t stop thinking about Ward, nothing about her actions rings true to the investigative journalistic spirit. She makes a few phone calls and visits the publisher who put out Ward’s books. A crucial piece of information in her “investigation” comes from her boss.

What, then, is Bree doing for most of the book? Balancing her time between two men. One she meets as the result of a blind date. The other has connections to Ward. Bree seems more determined to land one of them than she does to keep her job, parent her child, or find Ward. Her best friend, a practicing psychologist, eggs her on, and her ex-husband shows up occasionally to shake his head in disappointment at Chloe’s antics. Bree’s mother censures her over the phone from Florida, and while her dialogue might grate on the nerves it also seems to ring truer than anything else.

Incomplete subplots, unexplained details (the most frustrating tied directly to Ward’s disappearance,) and an ending that will confuse readers all make this a sure miss. I recommend readers Bypass Perfectly Famous.

Brand new review: Who Did You Tell? by Lesley Kara

By Ekta R. Garg

June 24, 2020

Genre: Psychological thriller

Release date: June 16, 2020

Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars

A woman struggling with addiction is stalked by someone from her past. As she fights to stay clean, she must also deal with the fallout from the wrongs she’s committed even as she tries to start building a new life for herself. Author Lesley Kara’s newest novel starts slow but picks up steam in her newest novel Who Did You Tell?

Astrid Phelps has hit bottom, and she knows it when she moves from London to the small town of Flinstead. She’s left behind the charms—and temptations—of big city life. As dull as Flinstead is right now, it’s exactly what she needs as a newly-sober alcoholic.

After some apprehension, her mother’s agreed to let her move back home. At first Astrid doesn’t quite know what to do with herself. She’s going to AA meetings, yes, but it’s depressing and disheartening to be surrounded by the sad people who show up. One person in particular, Rosie, has taken a shine to Astrid and keeps trying to convince her that God is the solution to all of her problems. But Rosie’s been sober for eight years, and Astrid doesn’t think she would understand her kinds of problems.

Every day Astrid carries the weight of a secret. That secret makes her think of her ex-boyfriend, Simon, a fellow drunk who used to party it up with Astrid. They loved each other. They were also terrible for each other when it came to their addictions. Until the day Simon decided once and for all to get sober.

Now Astrid is trying to focus on her own future. She’s constantly fighting the urge to drink, and meeting a nice guy helps. Josh is sweet and funny and caring. He even helps Astrid get a job in art, something she thought she’d lost forever.

Everything seems to be turning around…until the messages start. Someone from Astrid’s past is sending her signals, pictures, and menacing messages that tell her they won’t let her forget the horrible mistakes she’s made. Because Astrid has made mistakes that have changed—and ended—lives. She’s determined to free herself from her past, but someone thinks she should be held prisoner to what has gone on before.

Author Lesley Kara takes time in leading readers through the opening chapters of the book, which is where the novel’s one main weakness lies. For the first third, readers follow Astrid as she attends meetings and spends a lot of time taking long walks and pondering her life. It might be tempting to let the book go, yet Kara includes just enough to keep readers engaged.

After that first third, however, with a startling reveal of a key piece of information, the pace picks up. As the stalker comes closer, Astrid’s compulsion to drink grows. Kara doesn’t give Astrid an easy way out, and readers will hold their breaths every time Astrid finds herself within the vicinity of alcohol. The author details with authenticity the immense struggle recovering alcoholics most likely experience every time they face a pressure point that would previously induce them to drink.

Astrid has made errors grave enough to make readers pause, yet her flaws are exactly why the audience will cheer her on. She takes full responsibility for her actions and agonizes over them day and night. She also understands that giving in to the longing to drink won’t erase the past, and as she fights those urges readers will hope for her to win.

The end comes with a satisfying number of twists and turns, and readers will find themselves guessing with glee at the answers to the questions that arise. This is a fun summer book worth the time. I recommend readers Bookmark Who Did You Tell?.

Support your local, independent bookstores! If this book sounds like something you’d like to add to your collection, check it out on Bookshop.org!

*Disclaimer: As a Bookshop.org affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Newest review: The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton

By Ekta R. Garg

June 17, 2020

Genre: Historical fiction

Release date: June 16, 2020

Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars

Three women find themselves in the Florida Keys at major life decision points. As reports of an oncoming storm float around, the women will have to decide whether they can live with their choices. Author Chanel Cleeton digs into a fascinating true-life event with keen prose and distinct characters in The Last Train to Key West.

It’s the start of the Labor Day weekend, 1935, in Key West, but Helen Berner doesn’t have much to celebrate. Her fisherman husband, Tom, is either on his boat or drinking away what he earns. Helen’s learned not to complain. Tom makes sure she stays quiet, and if she ever forgets the bruises remind her.

In the past, Helen’s found ways to justify Tom’s behavior. Now she’s pregnant, and the baby is due within a few weeks. With motherhood descending on her, Helen finds it harder to convince herself she’s safe.

Mirta Perez has just arrived from Havana on the island with Anthony for their honeymoon. It should be a magical, romantic time…except that her wedding was a business transaction. The Cuban revolution of 1933 devastated her family; when Anthony asked Mirta’s father for her hand, Mirta agreed. Anthony got a wife, and her family got the funds needed to rebuild.

The flush of a new relationship is colored by Anthony’s profession. While he calls himself a businessman, Mirta knows he’s a gangster, albeit a handsome, well-dressed, rich one. She tries to reconcile that fact with the man who is attracted and attentive to her in surprising ways.

On the train down from New York, Elizabeth Preston arrives in Key West determined to save her family from ruin. She’s searching for the one person who can help her. His last letter carried a Key West postmark, and Elizabeth is convinced he’s in one of the veteran camps there.

The camps are supposed to give veterans of the Great War a chance to earn an honest living, but Elizabeth discovers they’re horrible places where the soldiers who fought to protect the country are shipped and forgotten. With the help of FBI agent Sam Watson, Elizabeth begins visiting the camps, keeping her eyes sharp for a familiar face.

All three women hear about the storm that so many Keys natives are sure will miss the islands. Weather experts can’t agree on where it will go. As it churns closer, Helen, Mirta, and Elizabeth must all make the same decision about the storm and themselves: should they stay, or should they leave?

Author Chanel Cleeton takes several intriguing pieces of history and fuses them seamlessly. She highlights people suffering during the Great Depression between the World Wars, emphasizing the quiet desperation so many felt. By adding the real-life veteran camps in Florida, Cleeton emphasizes a fact that still haunts this country today: veterans who are forgotten after they return from service. With the inclusion of an ambitious railroad project and a record-setting hurricane, Cleeton creates the perfect storm for Helen, Mirta, and Elizabeth and their challenges.

Cleeton lends to each woman unique qualities that make them stand out. Helen’s weary tolerance as an abused victim juxtaposes Mirta’s hyperawareness of her abrupt change in circumstances from single girl to married woman, and both balance Elizabeth’s idealistic resolve to find her loved one and bring him home. Cleeton builds into the story layers of conflicts and challenges, and the storm looms over all three of them as it does everyone else in the Keys.

In describing the storm and the aftermath, Cleeton captures the hurricane experience with precision. Those who have lived through hurricanes will find themselves nodding along with her descriptions. Those who haven’t experienced one of the magnified storms will get a good idea of what it’s like.

While Cleeton relies a little bit on serendipity to bring the three women together, their encounters feel organic. The surprise she saves for readers at the end is welcome and a true “aha!” moment. Readers will finish this one grinning with delight at how it all comes together, which is why I recommend they Bookmark The Last Train to Key West.