The Jetsetters by Amanda Eyre Ward

OIP I was fortunate to receive an advanced copy of The Jetsetters long before it became Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine Book Club selection for March. With that said, I can certainly understand why it was chosen.

The Jetsetters is about a dysfunctional/functional, imperfectly/perfect family whose baggage goes well beyond the type one takes on a trip. Charlotte Perkin’s best friend has just died.  A widow of many years who was married to an angry alcoholic, she has three children.  They are not the Brady Bunch.  She starts to feel as if her life is over. She needs something new in her life or she knows she will die.

She decides to enter a writing contest called Become a Jetsetter by writing a little erotic short story from when she a young single woman.  And she wins! And the prize is a European cruise.  She decides to ask her children to join her in hopes of somehow bringing them all together.

Lee is her daughter who is still trying to become an actress, even though she now is in her late 30’s. Regan is an unhappily married mother of two who put aside her dreams to become an artist to marry and have children. She married Lee’s old boyfriend!  Cord is a businessman who Charlotte cannot understand why he won’t just settle down. He is gay. Charlotte has no idea.

So the family sets sail with all their baggage…pun intended! As they cruise and visit the cities of Rome, Athens and Barcelona the children (who are really adults) but hardly act that way, and Charlotte, begin to explore their individual problems and demons as well as disagreements and squabbles with each other.  Fighting ensues and Charlotte does what she does best in these situations…smile and pretend nothing is really wrong.

But as old wounds and secrets begin to surface, Charlotte must not only face and accept her children’s flaws and love them anyway, but she must also accept her own regrets which she has carried like heavy baggage from her own childhood and learn to love herself.

The Jetsetters delves into what a broken family looks like.  It is funny, yet sensitive and heartbreaking all at the same time.  We can all identify with family crisis of some sort.  And as we would in our own family, we root for them all, feel their pain and embarrassment, and hope they can put their baggage away and become better people and a new family.

Thank you to NetGalley, Ballentine Books, Amanda Eyre Ward for the advanced copy of this amazing book.

 

 

The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters

OIP When four young girls spend their summer talking about death and murderers and conjuring up a Red Lady in the basement of an empty house…what could possibly go wrong?

Heather and Becca were childhood best friends who even wore Best Friend necklaces. They spent every day and sometimes nights together.  The girls had so much in common.  They both enjoyed reading true life crime novels, with Ted Bundy being a favorite.  They also read horror novels by Stephen King.  With their friends Gia and Rachel they even formed a Dead Girls Club where they would discuss books and serial killers.

Although they were kindred spirits, Heather and Becca’s family lives were not similar all.  Heather had parents who loved her and she could talk to about anything.  Becca’s mother on the other hand was a single parent who was an alcoholic and severely beat her, something Heather was aware of but had promised her best friend she would never reveal.

But their lives took a sudden turn that summer when Becca introduced a story about a Red Lady into their lives.  The Red Lady was an angry spirit who had been murdered ages ago and could be conjured up and had strong powers.  Strong enough Becca said that she could raise the dead.

Then Becca was killed.

Flash forward thirty years and Heather, who is now happily married and is a child psychologist, receives a rusted Best Friends necklace in the mail.  The half of a necklace which Becca had on the night she was killed.  And Heather’s life and world begins to fall apart.

No one in Heather’s life knows what happened that summer year’s ago.  It is a secret she has kept buried all this time.  The only other person who knew what occurred was Becca and she is dead…or is she?

As her world begins to spiral out of control, she discovers someone is watching her and even breaking into her house.  Heather begins to become obsessed with reliving her past. Still unable to ask for help, she begins to investigate on her own. Could the Red Lady story from so long ago which she had discounted as fake have really been true? If so, is Becca back?

The Dead Girls Club is a sensational psychological page turner with a hint of horror story and ghost story.   Once you pick it up you won’t want to put it down.  And the explosive ending is something you will not see coming.

Things in Jars by Jess Kid

OIP During the 1800’s in dreary London, a female investigator/doctor’s assistant and a ghost only she (and animals) can see, try to solve the mystery of a kidnapping of a strange child whose origin is unknown.

Birdie Devine is called into service to locate a child, Christabel Berwick, the secret child of Edmund Berwick.  Having just come off a case where she was unable to save the child she was looking for, and having just run into a ghost, Rudy, who says they have met in the past but refuses to tell her how they know each other, she is hesitant to take the case.

But she does decide to look for the kidnapped child, and through a series of (mis)adventures begins to put the pieces of the puzzle together as to what happened to Christabel.

Throughout the story, we get glimpses of Birdie’s past.  As an orphan, she was sold from one person to another, ending up in the family of a doctor.  Although life was good and she learned much as his assistant, some family members and staff had cruel intentions.

As Birdie moves around London with her band of merry, quirky, characters, her maid Cora with a beard, Rudy her ghost and other oddball circus types, she begins to uncover what exactly happened to Christabel and perhaps more important, where she came from.

In the spirit of Diane Setterfield and her novel Once Upon a River, Kidd creates a world of real life intrigue with creative fantasy and imagination.  She explores human’s flaws and shortcomings and how people treat others who are different from them.  The story is filled with mystery and imagination and incredible plot twists.

Thank you #NetGalley #AtriaBooks #ThingsinJars #JessKid for the advanced copy.

Gone At Midnight: The Mysterious Death of Elisa Lam by Jake Anderson

OIP In 2013 Elisa Lam was a 21-year-old student who checked into a seedy ominous hotel in Los Angeles, a hotel with a history of violence, suicides and death, and she never checked out.  What followed was probably the most bizarre investigation, one in which Elisa Lam in her death has been elevated to cult-like status.

After Elisa went missing and police were notified there was a search of the hotel.  They could not find her.  It was as if she had just up and vanished.  A week later when tenants and guests began to complain about the odor and color of the tap water in their sinks, and someone went onto the roof to look into the water tanks, they discovered to their horror Elisa’s naked body floating with her clothes beside her.  And this is truly when the mystery begins and still remains unsolved. How did she get there?

The book, Gone at Midnight chronicles Elisa Lam’s movements as best as can be done both by eyewitness and social media posts, the history of the Cecil Hotel, where she stayed and was found dead, a hotel where not one, but two serial killers stayed, an odd video which was mysteriously posted of Elisa in an elevator at the hotel which may be her last movements just before her disappearance (a video which you can see on YouTube) and if you are going to read the book I suggest you view; many conspiracy theories, law enforcement suppression of evidence and lastly how mental illness may have played a role.

Up to today, although the coroner finally ruled the death accidental, only after he first ruled it as inconclusive, there are more questions than answers as to what happened to Elisa and how she ended up in a water tank on a roof even though the roof had been searched by police and dog sniffers a week prior to finding her.

Author Jake Anderson became obsessed with the case (and still is) after seeing the initial  elevator video which shows Elisa’s odd behavior.  Was she being followed or was she having some sort of manic episode?  Anderson then found out the tape seems to have time missing from it.  Why?  He then began looking at Lam’s on-line social media presence which was abundant.  And stopped abruptly two days before her death.

He seems to find evidence of police/corporate conspiracy at the Cecil Hotel as well as evidence supression. With no official from the police department or the hotel willing to talk to him about anything, Anderson begins looking on the internet at website conspiracy sites and finds a plethora of information, some real and some outlandish.  He then must sift through the reality versus the imagined.

Gone at Midnight, although a true story, reads like a psychological horror novel. Anderson meticulously takes the reader through the evidence, or lack of, the witnesses, some whom have disappeared, and the emotional mental journey Elisa Lam seemed to be on at the time of her death.

Will there ever be any type of resolution as to what really happened to Elisa Lam? If Jake Anderson has his way there most certainly will.

Thank you to #NetGalley #Citadel #JakeAnderson #GoneAtMidnight for the advanced copy.

 

 

Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes by Kathleen West

OIP Julia Abbot lives and dies for her children.  Especially for their achievements! In the upper snobby community of Liston Heights success is important, winning a must and bragging just a fact of life.

So when Julia takes it upon herself to march down to the high school to see if her son received a plum role in the school play (a role she and her husband properly earned him by donating a costume room to the Arts Department), and she accidently injures one of the students who was trying to see if they had gotten a part in the play, it was just her average day.  Until a video shows up on Facebook showing her punching the girl in the stomach.

Isobel Johnson is a popular Liston Heights English teacher whose liberal ideas are a bit too much for the conservative parents of her students.  After receiving a threatening phone call on her home phone, Isobel finds herself and her beliefs being questioned.  If she conforms to the school’s medieval standards nothing will happen.  But, if she continues down the other path, of giving her students other ways of learning things, she may lose her job.  When she chooses to continue her method of teaching, the parents rebel and she is suspended pending an investigation.

Julia does not like Isobel.  For many reasons but the main one is her daughter adores Isobel and looks up to her.  Isobel just wants to be a good teacher and a good person. But as both women seem to be in the fight of their lives, they suddenly find themselves shunned by the community. Julia, once the gossip queen, is now the one being gossiped about.

Social media plays an important part in the story.  First, there is a Facebook page called Inside Liston run by someone named Lisa Lions where parents can go and complain about their student’s teachers.  It is also where parents can post videos which then go viral.  Or where parents can dig into teacher’s pasts and post terrible secrets.  All of this going on and the administration doesn’t have a clue.

Could parents really get a teacher fired over posts from a Facebook page? Who is Lisa Lions? And how can a community of students get together and help a teacher? What lessons can be learned from all the drama?

Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes is a very funny look at the new normal.  It allows the reader to understand that in this day and age social media can hurt someone or help them.  It is cringeworthy in the sense that sadly, some of us are very familiar with the likes of a Julia, who seems to have a bone to pick with just about everybody, but perhaps her true angst is with herself.  It also takes a look at the politics of school life which includes bad behavior from not only the students, but the parents, administration and even the teachers.  I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Thank you to Berkley/Penguin Random House for sending me the advanced copy.

 

Do You Mind If I Cancel? by Gary Janetti

untitled I have been a fan of Gary Janetti for years.  I follow him on twitter and I am told his Instagram is hilarious.  He constantly amazes me with his outrageously odd tweets.

I have also followed his career.  As a producer and writer on Family Guy, the original Will & Grace, to being the executive producer and creator of Vicious, a hysterical show about  an English couple, Freddie and Stuart, who have been together for over 50 years and their love/hate relationship with each other and their small group of quirky friends, he has certainly left his mark.

So with all that said, I was excited to read his book of essays, Do You Mind If I Cancel.  But what I soon discovered was that Janetti had an extremely lonely childhood, who had no friends at school, who would run home after school to eat lunch (as there was no one to each lunch with at school) and watch a soap opera One Life to Live, one which he continued to watch until its end over 30 years later.  He relied on his incredible imagination to keep him occupied and to drive his mother crazy!

He made his first friend while attending college at Hofstra University, where he also had his first relationship.  After college he became a “writer” in name only.  He said he was one, but never seemed to get around to being one. He was just waiting for the right time. To supplement his “writing” career he took on odd jobs. He was a receptionist, he did bike tours for American teenagers through Europe, but he spent most of his twenties as an overnight bellhop at a hotel in New York.

Essays also include his undying love for Patti Lupone, visiting the One Life to Live set as a child, traveling as a young boy and falling in love for the first time.

Although the pieces are funny and unconventional, as I believe he really is, there is also a feeling of sadness, loss, a missing out during his childhood, something I think we can all identify with to a certain degree.

And of course there was his moment of realization in which the soon to be thirty year old Janetti moves from being a “writer” to becoming an accomplished writer and producer and never looking back. Until now.

The Look-Alike by Erica Spindler

OIP Sienna Scott has always been told she looks exactly like her mother.  But when your mother has suffered from paranoid delusions all your life, it may not be exactly what you want to hear.

As a college student, Sienna accidentally stumbled upon a dead body on campus.  Clearly traumatized she tried to assist the police with everything she saw.  But between her father’s attitude of her not getting involved and her mother’s paranoia, Sienna starts to unravel.  It’s only when she realizes that she and the dead girl were wearing the same jacket that she begins to wonder if she had been the actual intended target.  When she mentions this to her parents she is sent to live in London with her grandmother.

Flashforward 10 years when Sienna, a chef now, decides to come back home and stay.  With her father having passed, she chooses to live with her mother whose delusions seem to have gotten worse through the years and her paranoia even stronger.

She finds out the Chief who was in charge of the school murder is retiring and he wants to reopen the case to see if he can give closure to the family as his last accomplishment.

But what ends up happening is Sienna seems to be the target of someone, reopening her fears that she was actually the intended victim.  Was it really her that the person was after?  Or is she becoming her mother and developing a mental illness she has kept hidden through the years?  She begins her own investigation into the truth.

Scared and confused she turns to those who knew her then and to some she has recently met.  But are they protectors or killers?  How does she know? Or is she just being paranoid…like her mother!

The Look-Alike is a terrific psychological thriller with a little romance thrown in which I must admit I had figured out at about page 100, oh yes, I am that good…WRONG!  Spindler throws enough sneaky clues to lead you down one path, only for you to discover you have been led down a dead end!

My thanks to both NetGalley and Goodreads for the advanced copies.