{Review} The Royal Secret by Lucinda Riley

the royal secret book cover photo of a crown with bokeh lights in the foreground I love a good romantic chick lit. They’re fun and light, if not a bit predictable. In between the “heavier” stuff I read, it’s good to get lost in some fantasy world. I was pretty sure The Royal Secret would be a book like that, and it is, but with a little twist.

Joanna Haslam, our strong female lead, is a striving journalist waiting for her big break. When she’s sent to cover the funeral of Sir James Harrison, a venerated actor (I kept thinking of Charlton Heston, for some reason…), she comes to the aid of an elderly woman in attendance.  This act of kindness turns out to be fateful as Joanna is plunged headlong into a royal mystery featuring a dizzying array of characters, all with their own stories to reveal. The ending is anything but predictable, and Lucinda Riley keeps us guessing until the very end.

The origins of the book itself even has some intrigue. Originally scheduled to be published back in the early aughts, the Royal family put the kibosh on the book, causing the author to lose her contract with the publisher. I guess enough time has passed at this point that the earlier censorship is now reversed and the book is back with a new title.

Buy It At IndieBound

Buy it on Amazon

Photo of Author Lucinda Riley wearing a rust-orange sundress, standing on a walkway in lush green scenery. The author is leaning on the railing with arms crossed.
Credit: Boris Breuer

FIND LUCINDA RILEY ONLINE:

Website: http://www.lucindariley.com

Twitter: @lucindariley

Facebook: @Lucindarileyauthor

Lucinda Riley is the New York Times bestselling author of The Orchid House, The Girl on the Cliff, The Lavender Garden, The Midnight Rose, and the Seven Sisters seriesHer books have sold more than fifteen million copies in thirty-five languages globally. She was born in Ireland and divides her time between England and West Cork with her husband and four children.

 

 

 

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{Review} Motherland by Elissa Altman

It’s really only a coincidence that I’m writing and publishing this review on Mother’s Day weekend.  But here we are, being apropos!

In Motherland, Elissa Altman displays her talent for imbuing the mundane with powerful meaning. The closet the contains a tiny, red plaid umbrella, an old mink coat, a child’s grade school notebooks, baby teeth, a wedding gown, is not just clutter but objects that serve as a balm to a highly anxious, traumatized woman who needs constant reassurance that her life has been a life well-lived, even when she feels strongly it’s been otherwise. Objects that are tangible evidence of her love for her daughter, that she was a good mother even when she wasn’t.

What kind of mother can you be when you’ve never felt enough your entire life, when you carry the weight of intergenerational trauma?  Elissa Altman works to understand this woman who raised her, who made it clear that she could’ve been so much more if she hadn’t been stuck in this motherhood role.  It’s easy to be angry at Rita–how dare she be resentful of motherhood. But I’m inspired by Elissa’s empathy for her mother, her willingness to understand why her mother is the way she is, and it’s impossible to be angry. Frustrated, definitely. Angry, no. Deeply sympathetic for Elissa’s dilemma–to preserve her own sanity by putting distance between herself and her mother, or to take the fifth commandment to heart. The dilemma is made all the more vexing because Elissa’s late father had implored her to remember to honor thy mother and father, always.

Elissa Altman’s vivid storytelling, and uncanny ability to evoke a time, a place, a feeling with mere words make this a book that needs to be on your Must Read list. Motherland is out from Ballantine in August 2019, and available for preorder on Amazon.

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More from NetGalley:

How can a mother and daughter who love (but don’t always like) each other coexist without driving each other crazy? It’s the universal question that has defined mothers and daughters from Demeter and Persephone to Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher.

“Wise, evocative, and rich in insight, this compassionate and beautiful memoir is ultimately an act of love.”—Claire Messud, author of The Burning Girl

After surviving a traumatic childhood in nineteen-seventies New York and young adulthood living in the shadow of her flamboyant mother, Rita, a makeup-addicted former television singer, Elissa Altman has managed to build a very different life, settling in Connecticut with her wife of nearly twenty years. After much time, therapy, and wine, Elissa is at last in a healthy place, still orbiting around her mother but keeping far enough away to preserve the stable, independent world she has built as a writer and editor. Then Elissa is confronted with the unthinkable: Rita, whose days are spent as a flâneur, traversing Manhattan from the Clinique counters at Bergdorf to Bloomingdale’s and back again, suffers an incapacitating fall, leaving her completely dependent upon her daughter.

Now Elissa is forced to finally confront their profound differences, Rita’s yearning for beauty and glamour, her view of the world through her days in the spotlight, and the money that has mysteriously disappeared in the name of preserving youth. To sustain their fragile mother-daughter bond, Elissa must navigate the turbulent waters of their shared lives, the practical challenges of caregiving for someone who refuses to accept it, the tentacles of narcissism, and the mutual, frenetic obsession that has defined their relationship.

Motherland is a story that touches every home and every life, mapping the ferocity of maternal love, moral obligation, the choices women make about motherhood, and the possibility of healing. Filled with tenderness, wry irreverence, and unforgettable characters, it is an exploration of what it means to escape from the shackles of the past only to have to face them all over again.

Advance praise for Motherland

“Rarely has a mother-daughter relationship been excavated with such honesty. Elissa Altman is a beautiful, big-hearted writer who mines her most central subject: her gorgeous, tempestuous, difficult mother, and the terrain of their shared life. The result is a testament to the power of love and family.”—Dani Shapiro, author of Inheritance

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

{Review} Fleishman Is In Trouble

fleishman is in troubleBack in the fall, I hopped on a train to San Francisco, leaving the kids behind with dad and indulged in my favorite pastime– wandering around a city alone, like I was in college again.

When I was a student at NYU, I lived downtown in various dorms, all below 14th Street. Most days, I went to class. But I developed a habit of taking mental health days. I would wander the village, both east and west, aimlessly, taking myself shopping, browsing in bookstores,  and treating myself to lunch at Fanelli’s  Sometimes, I would take myself to the movies at the Angelika on Houston or Cinema Village on 12th Street. Even then, still young, uncoupled, and childless, I sought independence and a break from the routine of school and work and LIFE.

Fleishman Is In Trouble, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner,  is the existential crisis that every married person who was once young and free is in danger of suffering. The book opens with our male protagonist, Toby Fleishman, the description of whom immediately brings to mind a nebbishy Jew, and of course, he is. An LA native, raised in a Jewish household, now a doctor and living in New York, Toby paints a picture of himself as a loving, devoted father  and amiable husband who was emotionally abandoned by his wife, a striver who has risen to great heights in her career, far surpassing Toby’s earning power. Toby asked for the divorce, we learn and we think we understand why. Rachel has put her work before her family, her career before her children, chasing after status and acceptance at the expense of everything else.

I found myself wary. I did not want to be on Toby’s side, and tried to remember that there are two sides to every story. Why should I trust Toby, after all? But then, it becomes clear that the narrator is a woman, an old college friend of Toby’s and that makes Toby more credible, because our narrator, Libby, doesn’t like Rachel either.

If I were reading this book with my book club, we’d have so many angles to dissect that we’d probably finish at least two bottles of wine and all the cheese and crackers, and maybe the brownies too.

What starts out as a book about a poor shlub who can’t keep up with his rising star of a wife, becomes a story about what women give up when they choose between career and family. It’s a story in which women can either be a winner in their own eyes or someone else’s eyes but never both at the same time.

Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner is forthcoming from Random House, June 2019.

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{Review} The Farm by Joanne Ramos

the farm by joanne ramos

My Review

Women’s bodies are a battleground– a political battleground, a social battleground, a religious battleground. Bodies that are valuable and glorified at the same time that they are dispensable and interchangeable. They  are a commodity, for men, certainly. And for women, they  are a commodity, whether it’s their own body or another woman’s body.

And that’s what The Farm is about. Joanne Ramos has conjured up a world that will be familiar to anyone that has read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Except that at The Farm, women are compelled to give up their bodies as surrogate wombs with the promise of money and maybe some notion that they are helping another woman in need.

It’s a good story, with an interesting mix of characters to keep the plot moving along, enough to make me emotionally invested in the story.

But don’t expect the depth or complexity of The Handmaid’s Tale. On the surface, this is a commentary on women’s bodies and how they become weapons in a class war. Underneath, it’s just your run-of-the-mill chick lit with on-trend hot button issues layered over it.   A good  beach read, but don’t expect to arrive at any profound revelations.

Pre-Order The Book (Available May 6, 2019)

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NetGalley Description

Life is a lucrative business, as long as you play by the rules.

“[Joanne] Ramos’s debut novel couldn’t be more relevant or timely.”—O: The Oprah Magazine (25 Books We Can’t Wait to Read in 2019)

Nestled in New York’s Hudson Valley is a luxury retreat boasting every amenity: organic meals, personal fitness trainers, daily massages—and all of it for free. In fact, you’re paid big money to stay here—more than you’ve ever dreamed of. The catch? For nine months, you cannot leave the grounds, your movements are monitored, and you are cut off from your former life while you dedicate yourself to the task of producing the perfect baby. For someone else.

Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines, is in desperate search of a better future when she commits to being a “Host” at Golden Oaks—or the Farm, as residents call it. But now pregnant, fragile, consumed with worry for her family, Jane is determined to reconnect with her life outside. Yet she cannot leave the Farm or she will lose the life-changing fee she’ll receive on the delivery of her child.

Gripping, provocative, heartbreaking, The Farm pushes to the extremes our thinking on motherhood, money, and merit and raises crucial questions about the trade-offs women will make to fortify their futures and the futures of those they love.

Advance praise for The Farm

“This topical, provocative debut anatomizes class, race and the American dream.”The Guardian, “What You’ll Be Reading This Year”

“Wow, Joanne Ramos has written the page-turner about immigrants chasing what’s left of the American dream. . . . Truly unforgettable.”—Gary Shteyngart, New York Times bestselling author of Super Sad True Love Story and Lake Success

“A highly original and provocative story about the impossible choices in so many women’s lives. These characters will stay with me for a long time.”—Karen Thompson Walker, New York Times bestselling author of The Age of Miracles and The Dreamers

“Ramos has written a firecracker of a novel, at once caustic and tender, page-turning and thought-provoking. This is a fierce indictment of the vampiric nature of modern capitalism, which never loses sight of the very human stories at its center. . . . Highly recommended.”—Madeline Miller#1 New York Times bestselling author of Circe

 

 

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{Review}: The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin

Better Than Before, and it made so much sense. This book delves deeper into each of the four tendencies, and I have a deeper understanding of what it means to be an Obliger.  This understanding is immediately applicable in my every day life, which cannot always be said of other self-help books out there!  I admit that after reading the introduction, I went ahead and skipped to the Obliger section of the book. I went back and read the other sections later, I promise!

It is also incredibly useful to understand other tendencies, especially if you’re married to someone who is a different tendency. You won’t ever change that other person but you can change how you react or respond and that might make all the difference in the world.  There’s a quiz to help readers figure out their tendency, so I gave the quiz to my husband and he turns out to also be an Obliger. If I really think about it, it’s not surprising. We seem like really different people, but there have been times that I’ve seen patterns in his behavior that seem so familiar to me, and it’s because I see those patterns in myself, when I’m not in denial.

What I like about this approach is that it doesn’t prescribe a narrow definition of  a personality type. Rather, it highlights tendencies in a person, and helps you shape an effective response or approach to certain behaviors. I always tell my kids, “You can’t control what another person does, but you can always control yourself and what you do.” This book gives you the tools to control your response to someone else, or even to yourself, based on what you know about that person’s tendencies.  If you’re looking to salvage or strengthen a relationship, this book may be what you need.

More about The Four Tendencies, from Amazon:

In this groundbreaking analysis of personality type, bestselling author of Better Than Before and The Happiness Project Gretchen Rubin reveals the one simple question that will transform what you do at home, at work, and in life.

During her multibook investigation into understanding human nature, Gretchen Rubin realized that by asking the seemingly dry question “How do I respond to expectations?” we gain explosive self-knowledge. She discovered that based on their answer, people fit into Four Tendencies: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. Our Tendency shapes every aspect of our behavior, so using this framework allows us to make better decisions, meet deadlines, suffer less stress, and engage more effectively.
More than 600,000 people have taken her online quiz, and managers, doctors, teachers, spouses, and parents already use the framework to help people make significant, lasting change.
The Four Tendencies hold practical answers if you’ve ever thought…
·         People can rely on me, but I can’t rely on myself.
·         How can I help someone to follow good advice?
·         People say I ask too many questions.
·         How do I work with someone who refuses to do what I ask—or who keeps telling me what to do?
With sharp insight, compelling research, and hilarious examples, The Four Tendencies will help you get happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative. It’s far easier to succeed when you know what works for you.

Buy This Book Now

{I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books, for review purposes. This post contains affiliate links. That means I get a small commission if you buy this book using the links in this post.}

 

{Review}: Small Admissions by Amy Poeppel

Quick Review: Chick lit that hits the nail on the head with a likeable heroine, A fast-paced plot and an ending with a twist.

What is it about chick lit that lends itself so well to themes of redemption? Like Faithful by Alice Hoffman, here’s a story set against the backdrop of my favorite city, featuring a girl down on her luck after a traumatic experience that upends her very existence and forces her to question everything she took for granted.

As always, there’s a Small Admissions | Good Chick Litguy but it’s not about the guy…is it ever, ladies? (No, it’s about us!) Oh, and the OTHER guy, the one that surprises us all and proves to be the gem.
There’s the overbearing but well-meaning  family member, wearing a martyr crown and feeling misunderstood.
The best friends are there, at odds with each other and themselves, helping us readers out with backstory.
 Oh, and let’s not forget the patient sage that can see something in our heroine that we dear readers can’t.  And even he needed to be convinced.
Sounds good, right? It’s a perfect vacation read. You can start it on the plane, read it by the pool or in the ski lodge by the fire, and finish it on the plane ride home.
I love me some good chick lit, and Amy Poeppel hits all the right notes in this one.
Check out the book trailer for Small Admissions and enter to win a copy of this book! The  link to the Rafflecopter is below the trailer!

Enter the Giveaway Here!

 

More about Small Admissions by Amy Poeppel:

Small Admissions | Amy Poeppel

Amy Poeppel is a graduate of Wellesley College. She lives with her husband and three sons in New York City, where she worked in the admissions department of a prestigious independent school. She workshopped a theatrical version of SMALL ADMISSIONS at the Actors Studio Playwrights/Directors Unit. She later expanded it into this novel.

Website: http://www.amypoeppel.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/amypoeppelauthor/
Twitter: @AmyPoeppel
Instagram: @AmyPoeppel

 

{I received an e-book version of this novel for review purposes and to participate in this blog tour. The giveaway is administered and managed  solely by the publisher Atria Books. This post contains Amazon affiliate links. }

{Review}: Home Cooked by Anya Fernald

Quick Review: A thoughtful, approachable, visually appealing cookbook that makes even The Most exotic recipe seem  within reach.

(This post contains affiliate links. That means when you click on a link, I get a small commission.)

Isn’t this book pretty? I’m definitely guilty of judging a book by it’s cover. The photographs and layout inside Home Cooked by Anya Fernald are gorgeous, too. A cookbook is more than just  recipes– good ones also tell a story (unless it’s the Joy of Cooking or How To Make Everything, my favorite go-to for regular old recipes).

Anya Fernald is the founder of Belcampo Meat Co., founded in 2011 with the mission of creating sustainable pathways to meat processing through its slaughterhouse, farm and restaurants. In writing this cookbook, Fernald showcases the simplest of ingredients and elevates home cooking without putting it out of reach for the everyday home cook.

I admit, though, not every recipe in this book is for me. There are a fair amount of recipes that involve ingredients that have never found their way into my kitchen, like pig feet (for trotter broth) or chicken hearts (to be sautéed in brown butter), but to Fernald’s credit, she makes even offal seem appealing. (Still not going to be made in my kitchen, though.)

There are plenty more recipes that I do plan to make!  So far, I’ve been able to try two of the recipes. One was the farinata, a chickpea flour pancake, which proved to be an excellent vehicle for almost anything. With only five ingredients, plus one optional ingredient (mortadella!), and a fast cooking time (ten minutes), it’s a simple, affordable, highly adaptable addition to my repertoire of dinner accompaniments.

The other recipe was for pickled beets, but instead of beets, I pickled beautiful radishes from my weekly produce box.

A quick flip through the book reveals that nearly all the recipes consistent of ten ingredients or less, which makes even the most intimidating-sounding recipe feel do-able. No fancy, hard-to-find ingredients (offal notwithstanding…) or specialty cooking tools needed here!

More about Home Cooked by Anya Fernald, from Penguin Random House:

A recipe collection and how-to guide for preparing base ingredients that can be used to make simple, weeknight meals, while also teaching skills like building and cooking over a fire, and preserving meat and produce, written by a sustainable food expert and founder of Belcampo Meat Co.

 

{I received a review copy of this book from Blogging for Books for review purposes. All opinions are my own.}

{Review}: Faithful by Alice Hoffman


Quick Review: A book about regret, transformation and redemption that will have you rooting for the main character.  

I’ve read quite a few Alice Hoffman novels in my day. (Will I ever read them all? I don’t know! She’s so prolific, I can’t keep up.)  This month, I read two of Alice’s novels back to back: 2011’s The Dovekeepers, and the upcoming Faithful, out from Simon & Schuster in November 2016. The Dovekeepers, if you haven’t read it, is an epic saga that tells the story of four women who sought refuge on Masada, escaping from Roman persecution after the destruction of the Second Temple.  Faithful, on the other hand, is short and sweet, with one endearing character.  Two books on opposite ends of the novel spectrum but here’s what I’ve come to learn about Alice’s novels: they are all about regret, transformation and redemption.

Faithful is the story of Shelby, who is left reeling from a tragedy and because she cannot forgive herself, she starts to self-destruct. In her journey back to herself, she is supported by a cast of characters that see something in her that she cannot see in herself. And once again, Alice is the queen of the plot twist. Shelby receives a series of anonymous postcards, and the reveal of the sender will surprise you, reader!

While Faithful is not the deep, profound prose of Alice’s longer, meticulously researched historical novels, it was easy to become attached to Shelby and become emotionally invested in the outcome of her path– I cried several times during the novel because I felt her pain acutely, thanks to Alice’s ability to give Shelby a voice that we can hear. We can all root for a  heroine that makes regretful life choices, flounders a bit in the aftermath, then struggles to overcome and ultimately redeem herself.

 

More About Faithful by Alice Hoffman:

Faithful by Alice Hoffman is available for pre-order on Amazon, and will be released on November 1, 2016, by Simon & Schuster. 

“From the New York Times bestselling author of The Marriage of Opposites and The Dovekeepers comes a soul-searching story about a young woman struggling to redefine herself and the power of love, family, and fate.

Growing up on Long Island, Shelby Richmond is an ordinary girl until one night an extraordinary tragedy changes her fate. Her best friend’s future is destroyed in an accident, while Shelby walks away with the burden of guilt.

What happens when a life is turned inside out? When love is something so distant it may as well be a star in the sky? Faithful is the story of a survivor, filled with emotion—from dark suffering to true happiness—a moving portrait of a young woman finding her way in the modern world. A fan of Chinese food, dogs, bookstores, and men she should stay away from, Shelby has to fight her way back to her own future. In New York City she finds a circle of lost and found souls—including an angel who’s been watching over her ever since that fateful icy night.

Here is a character you will fall in love with, so believable and real and endearing, that she captures both the ache of loneliness and the joy of finding yourself at last. For anyone who’s ever been a hurt teenager, for every mother of a daughter who has lost her way, Faithful is a roadmap.

Alice Hoffman’s “trademark alchemy” (USA TODAY) and her ability to write about the “delicate balance between the everyday world and the extraordinary” (WBUR) make this an unforgettable story. With beautifully crafted prose, Alice Hoffman spins hope from heartbreak in this profoundly moving novel.”  (via Amazon)

 

{I requested an ARC from the publisher, and was not obligated, nor compensated,  to write this review. This post contains Amazon affiliate links. }

{Review}: The Girls

The Girls, out from Random House on June 14th, left me with the nagging feeling of familiarity. I’m only 36, so it’s not because I lived the heyday of the 60s and 70s. Set in Northern California, at the end of the 1960’s, Evie’s story hits all the hallmarks of teenage angst– friend drama, divorcing parents, sexual awareness, self-consciousness and endless navel-gazing.  But it has this particular heady sheen that seems gloss over anything set in the 60s and 70s.

We begin with two backstories: an introduction to the novel’s antagonists, a roaming band of gypsies that capture Evie’s bored imagination, and we get a glimpse into a sensational ending. From there, we go back to the beginning: Evie’s life fraying at the edges, her father out the door with a younger woman and her mother taking benign neglect to a whole new level.

After awhile, I began to realize where the familiarity came from. Last year, I read We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves, and The Interestings. Both of these books are about angsty adolescents in the 60s and 70s, and they convey that same sort of dream-like quality, a looseness that comes from an age where things were just plain weird and everyone was high and figuring out how to be liberated, in mind and in body.

Not that I have a problem with that. It works for this book. Evie has a lost summer before being shipped off to boarding school, taking up with the members of a cult living in a run-down house in a remote place. Her mother is too busy finding herself a man, and her father…well, her father is doing his own thing too, so where does that leave Evie?

Left to her own devices, Evie learns a thing or two about herself through compare and contrast, and developing a low-level sense of self-loathing, ashamed of her privilege. Her vulnerability is ruthlessly exploited as she tries to convince herself that she belongs. The shocking events at the end of her lost summer disabuses her of that notion.

When we meet Evie, she is in her 60s, approaching 70, revisiting some hazy time when she was 14 and it was the 60s in California, and some crazy stuff was going down and how did she even get swept up in all of it? But now her life is sad, lonely, aimless. And I can see her so vividly, thanks to Emma Cline’s gift for drawing characters with words that evoke a forlorn, pathetic mood, a kind of grayness over everything, even in sunny, bright, optimistic California.

{I received a copy of this book for review purposes. This post contains affiliate links.}

{Review}: The Age of Reinvention

What is the difference between a lie of omission and a lie, period? And is one worse than the other?

I would argue that both are no good, but that a lie of omission has technicality going for it. Technically, one did not utter a falsehood. One merely failed to correct an assumption, which places the responsibility on the other party to do due diligence.

Then, when happens when one has an attack of conscious and feels a desire to finally correct the assumption, but at the risk of losing everything, including the identity that was reinvented?

When Samir Tahar shortens his name to Sam, walks into a French law firm and is given the persona of a Sephardic Jew and a job, whatever hesitation he had is overshadowed by his new prestige as he is taken under the wing of his avuncular boss. And I did wonder, what kind of world is it when being a Jew is an advantage? As much as I embrace my own Jewish-ness, I have never once felt that it was an advantage or bestowed some kind of social privilege on me. I guess, better to be a Jew than a Muslim, which is the exact scenario that Sam enters into in this novel by Karine Tuil, translated from the French by Sam Taylor.

Clocking in at just shy of 400 pages, The Age of Reinvention maintains a frenetic pace throughout that mirrors the runaway train that Sam finds himself on, after he cannot bring himself to correct an assumption, and he puts on his new life like the expensive suits he can now afford. It all comes to a head in the most ludicrous of ways but the scary part is that we readers can easily believe it might happen, in this age of Islamophobia and terrorism. Nothing seems surprising anymore; shocking, maybe but hardly surprising to find out the extremes to which our government might go in the fight against terrorism.

And what international thriller would be complete without a love triangle? Sam’s arrogance, his willingness to parade himself around becomes his downfall as he grows vulnerable to exposure and becomes visible to the other two-thirds of the love triangle. Hell hath no fury like a man scorned. The love triangle would be a subplot, but Karine Tuil masterfully draws a thin but substantial line between events that put the plot into overdrive, so that we fall headlong with our characters past a point of no return, especially when a third plot line is uncovered, that proves to be the loose nut that brings it all crashing down around Sam. 
In this book, the reader is treated to a richly painted world that offers an immersive literary experiece that won’t soon be forgotten as we turn over my original question: what’s worse, a lie of omission or an outright lie?

{I requested a copy of this book for review purposes from Atria Books/Simon and Schuster. This post contains affiliate links.}