Book review: ‘The Lies We Told’ by Diane Chamberlain

Sisters Maya and Rebecca are like ice cream and chocolate: totally different — almost impossibly different — but great together. Since their parents’ deaths many years before, Rebecca has coddled her younger sister, a woman now grown and married. United in their mutual guilt over the destruction of their family, Rebecca and Maya both become doctors — and work steadfastly to put the past behind them.

As Maya and husband Adam are trying (and, sadly, failing) to start a family, Rebecca is working with DIDA, a Doctors Without Borders-like organization that asks volunteer physicians to help in disaster-strewn parts of the world. When disaster actually finds them, there in their coastal North Carolina town, Rebecca doesn’t hesitate to volunteer — and, to their surprise, so does Adam.

Conditions in Wilmington rapidly deteriorate to chaos and panic reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina’s terrible aftermath. With no electricity, little running water, putrid temperatures and flooding, the scene is a nightmare. Desperate for more help, Rebecca and Adam ask Maya, still recovering from bad news at home, to come help. Sensing a gulf opening between she and her husband, Maya reluctantly agrees to come to the N.C. airport — hoping, despite everything, that the mess will bring them closer together.

But that’s not to be. Within days of reaching the most desperate and injured people, Maya must board a helicopter transporting severely injured people as it attempts to reach a hospital. And with little warning, the chopper doesn’t reach its destination — or anywhere close to it. For the first time since she was a teen, Maya is on her own: and must find out how to get back home. Any way she can.

Diane Chamberlain’s The Lies We Told is as swift and riveting a story as the storm-swollen rivers she describes in this, her nineteenth novel. Focusing on the bonds between sisters, families and the truths — and lies — that bond us together, I couldn’t put this book down.

Maya was, without a doubt, my favorite character. Her strength of spirit and perceptive thinking made her a person to be envied, not pitied. While I could certainly understand Rebecca’s persistent need to protect her baby sister, I was most proud of Maya when she struck out on her own — though she could never have predicted the circumstances. Where Maya winds up is an entirely new place, a frightening place — and, in her pain and confusion, she navigates it remarkably well. The novel alternates between Maya’s first-person point of view and a third-person look at what Adam and Rebecca are going through back at the airport. Maya’s sections were definitely my favorites.

Getting a glimpse at the life of emergency personnel — here, doctors in harrowing circumstances — is really interesting to me, and The Lies We Told provided a heart-stopping backdrop for that world. The frantic pace of the novel was matched by never-ending problems that must be dealt with — people that must be assisted, medicine  to be distributed — and Chamberlain handled it all with a deft touch. The book’s epilogue stopped me dead in my tracks and, despite everything, made me feel sad. And hopeful. But sad — all at once. That’s the mark of good storytelling.

Readers looking for a book they simply can’t put down shouldn’t hesitate to grab this one, a novel I tore through in a day or so. It was this year’s designated “beach read” — and my paperback copy shows all the signs that connotates, including sunscreen-stained pages and water spots. I consider that a badge of honor.

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 0778328538 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publicist

Book review: ‘Pretty Little Liars’ by Sara Shepard

Once close friends, life for Hanna, Aria, Spencer and Emily has changed dramatically since the disappearance of their friend Alison when the girls were in middle school. Now harboring secrets of their own, the girls have reached high school — and grown apart. As the group is reunited when Aria returns with her family from overseas, the question over what happened to Ali seems to grow stronger.

Especially when each girl begins receiving mysterious messages exposing their dirty little secrets — tidbits only one person in the world ever knew: Alison. But if their secret-keeper hasn’t been seen or heard from in years, who could possibly know about Hanna’s sudden weight loss, Aria’s secret relationship, Spencer’s affection for the wrong boy — or Emily’s own complicated feelings for a new neighbor? Who’s behind the emails, text messages and notes they begin receiving, threatening to ruin the careful facades they’ve built?

Sara Shepard’s Pretty Little Liars, the first in a popular young adult series, is full of all the treachery, cattiness and boyfriend-stealing you’d expect of a gaggle of high school girls in an affluent Pennsylvanian suburb, but with an added twist: a mysterious disappearance and, quite possibly, a murder. I was sucked into the story of these “It Girls” from the first page. It’s obvious from the get-go that the ladies were involved in something quite unsavory, and that they alone knew about it was reason enough to bind them together. But since Ali’s disappearance, even that bond has been frayed and broken.

Pretty Little Liars is the epitome of a fast read; I finished it in two days of inconsistent reading. Each time I went to pick it up, I found myself fumbling along for the next page to figure out what sort of trouble the girls had found themselves in this time. Alternating between the past and the present, the novel’s quick pace definitely helped the novel’s feeling of urgency.

My quibble with the book is probably the same as my problem with any story featuring too many characters — it took me a while to keep them all straight and I didn’t really emotionally connect with most of them. In addition to the four main friends and the mysterious Ali, we had a crew of miscellaneous friends, boyfriends, siblings, parents and teachers whose names seemed to disorient me each time they appeared, forcing me to wrack my brain in trying to place them. Still, that’s not a huge deal. And maybe, you know, a personal reading problem.

So we all know I’m 24 and no prude, but I will say that — for a young adult novel — I was shocked at some of the behavior and themes of the book. Like Gossip Girl and other YA series, there’s plenty of lying, cheating, sex and other mature content at the heart of the story. It was pivotal to the plot, yes, but just a caution if you or your teen would rather stay away.

If you’re looking for a quick, entertaining and juicy read, the Pretty Little Liars series could be a good companion for a rainy afternoon. We won’t be chattin’ philosophy, science or complex issues by the close of the final (cliffhanger of a) page, but that’s not what this is all about. This was cotton candy: fluffy and fun. And with six additional books in Shepard’s series, there’s plenty more where this snack of a story came from.

3.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 006088732X ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy obtained through BookMooch

Book review: ‘Only Milo’ by Barry Smith

only_miloIt’s hard to describe a book like Barry Smith’s mysterious Only Milo but, considering I’m sitting here tap-tap-tapping on my keyboard, you know I’m going to give it a shot!

So we have Milo, a retiree whose stacks of novels have stayed buried in his closet for decades. Though he’s a prolific novelist who devotes much of his time to the craft, he has nothing to show for it — beyond the prerequisite stacks of rejection letters from agents and publishers. When authors finally make it big, these rejections are worn like badges of honor — they’re the giant, “HA — see what you missed out on there, buddy boy?!” of the literary world. But until a struggling writer reaches that pinnacle, he or she is just . . . a struggling writer.

And you know? Milo’s tired of it. He’s tired of the struggling, day in and out. So when a chance encounter with Margaret, a dynamic young publisher, brings the literary fame that much closer to his grasp, he pounces on the opportunity. Of course, pairing up with Margaret also means pairing up with Jose Calderon, her “gem in the rough.” Jose, a young man who has been writing mediocre books in Mexico, has been picked up by Margaret’s company for release rights in the U.S. The only issue? Um, the books are all in Spanish. And how convenient that Milo can actually “translate” them for the company . . .

Well, it turns out Jose’s novels are terrible — from what Milo can actually translate, anyway. Just complete drivel. So what’s he to do? He’s gotten Margaret’s attention, publication is just within his reach . . . even if it’s for another author. What could a little switcheroo hurt? How upset could Jose possibly be — especially if fat checks are rolling in to everyone?

And with one little decision, Milo sets off a chain of events that would make a “CSI” or “Dexter” fan flip the pages incessantly. Told in very short, numbered chapters — usually on a page or two apiece — Milo takes us through the ups of subterfuge and sudden literary stardom before catapulting us back down into the lows after he loses everything. It’s impossible to really talk about the plot without giving anything away, and I definitely don’t want to do that!

As I’ve pointed out in the past, I’m a nervous reader. Very nervous. If I have an inkling that something bad is about to befall a character — like, say, an anvil falling from the skies and cracking open their skull — I’m going to flip furiously through the book until I reach that moment of no return. I can’t amble along, oblivious, knowing that a shoe is about to drop. But trying to do that with Only Milo? Impossible. Of course I knew this was a darkly humorous thriller about life in the literary world, but I couldn’t have possibly predicted all the snake-like twists the story would take. Quite simply, it’s impossible to figure out what’s going to happen.

I’m not a fan of crime shows — I’ll take back-to-back episodes of “Ugly Betty” over “CSI” any time — but I still enjoyed the book for its supremely fast-paced, punchy writing style and short chapters. When reading, it all feels fluid — quick, like water running from a tap. While there is a sustained level of violence in the novel, it’s not overly gory or sick. Milo himself is a completely dead-pan, sarcastic and, ultimately, sympathetic narrator — and despite everything, I still found myself hoping he’d eventually find peace and success in his own right.

Only Milo is definitely a one-of-a-kind read; stylistically, I’ve never read another novel like it. Even the book’s typeface is unique — like an antique typewriter (check out an excerpt and you’ll see what I mean!). You can easily polish this one off in a hour or two, and it’s worth the read. Aspiring writers will grin a little at the chaos and injustice of it all, too. I know I did!

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 1592994237 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor WebsiteRead an excerpt