Take A Peek Book Review: Before the Fall

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.Before the Fall


(via Goodreads)

On a foggy summer night, eleven people—ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter—depart Martha’s Vineyard on a private jet headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the plane plunges into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs—the painter—and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of an immensely wealthy and powerful media mogul’s family.

With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the crash and the backstories of the passengers and crew members—including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot—the mystery surrounding the tragedy heightens. As the passengers’ intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy. Was it merely by dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations. And while Scott struggles to cope with fame that borders on notoriety, the authorities scramble to salvage the truth from the wreckage.

Amid pulse-quickening suspense, the fragile relationship between Scott and the young boy glows at the heart of this stunning novel, raising questions of fate, human nature, and the inextricable ties that bind us together.

My Thoughts:

Wow, what a thrill-ride! Although choosing to start this book the night before a long plane trip was maybe not the brightest idea I’ve every had.

In Before the Fall, the story starts almost immediately with the terror of the crash, and then the miracle of Scott’s long swim to safety, saving his own life as well as that of one small boy. But that’s only the beginning — from here, the author takes a post-mortem approach, giving us chapters focusing on each of the people on board the small plane, so that we see how the pieces fit together. Was it mechanical failure? Something deliberate? And if it was deliberate, who was the intended target?

The storyline shows Scott’s growing closeness to the surviving child, the intensity of the government agents investigating the crash, and the firestorm of media attention and sensationalism that soon follows. The chapters focusing on the different characters and their backstories are fascinating, always leaving me wanting more.

Overall, Before the Fall is a gripping read that builds and builds. It’s tense, well-constructed, hard to predict, and surprising in all the right ways. The characters are well-defined, so much so that it’s hard to approach the end of the story and realize that these people — good and bad, all flawed, almost none irredeemable — are doomed to the end that we knew about from the start.

It’s a pretty neat trick, telling us up front that all of these characters have died, and then taking the time to let us get to know them. Somehow, the tragedy of their senseless deaths is all the more striking with this backwards approach. Meanwhile, Scott’s story is compelling and sympathetic. It’s hard to see a decent man caught up in the tabloid frenzy that follows the crash, but how Scott manages is pretty good stuff too.

Before the Fall is a great summer read — quick, absorbing, and impossible not to care about.


The details:

Title: Before the Fall
Author: Noah Hawley
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: May 31, 2016
Length: 391 pages
Genre: Adult fiction
Source: Purchased (e-book)


Shelf Control #44: Reconstructing Amelia

Shelves final

Welcome to the newest weekly feature here at Bookshelf Fantasies… Shelf Control!

Shelf Control is all about the books we want to read — and already own! Consider this a variation of a Wishing & Waiting post… but looking at books already available, and in most cases, sitting right there on our shelves and e-readers.

Want to join in? See the guidelines and linky at the bottom of the post, and jump on board! Let’s take control of our shelves!


My Shelf Control pick this week is:

Reconstructing AmeliaTitle: Reconstructing Amelia
Author: Kimberly McCreight
Published: 2013
Length: 382 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

A stunning debut novel in which a single mother reconstructs her teenaged daughter’s life, sifting through her emails, texts, and social media to piece together the shocking truth about the last days of her life.

Litigation lawyer and harried single mother Kate Baron is stunned when her daughter’s exclusive private school in Park Slope, Brooklyn, calls with disturbing news: her intelligent, high-achieving fifteen-year-old daughter, Amelia, has been caught cheating.

Kate can’t believe that Amelia, an ambitious, levelheaded girl who’s never been in trouble would do something like that. But by the time she arrives at Grace Hall, Kate’s faced with far more devastating news. Amelia is dead.

Seemingly unable to cope with what she’d done, a despondent Amelia has jumped from the school’s roof in an act of “spontaneous” suicide. At least that’s the story Grace Hall and the police tell Kate. And overwhelmed as she is by her own guilt and shattered by grief, it is the story that Kate believes until she gets the anonymous text:

She didn’t jump.

Sifting through Amelia’s emails, text messages, social media postings, and cell phone logs, Kate is determined to learn the heartbreaking truth about why Amelia was on Grace Hall’s roof that day-and why she died.

Told in alternating voices, Reconstructing Amelia is a story of secrets and lies, of love and betrayal, of trusted friends and vicious bullies. It’s about how well a parent ever really knows a child and how far one mother will go to vindicate the memory of a daughter whose life she could not save.

How I got it:

I bought the Kindle version when I saw a price drop.

When I got it:

In 2014, I think.

Why I want to read it:

I’m pretty cautious about hyped books, but the description of this one caught my eye, despite the blurbs at the time of release which called it the next Gone Girl. (Ugh, when will thrillers stop being compared to Gone Girl? Enough already.) It sounds intense and disturbing and fascinating… and although I often shy away from books with daughters in peril, I think I’ll give this one a go sometime soon.


Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link below!
  • And if you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and have fun!

For more on why I’ve started Shelf Control, check out my introductory post here, or read all about my out-of-control book inventory, here.

And if you’d like to post a Shelf Control button on your own blog, here’s an image to download (with my gratitude, of course!):

Shelf Control




Thursday Quotables: The Travelers


Welcome back to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

NEW! Thursday Quotables is now using a Linky tool! Be sure to add your link if you have a Thursday Quotables post to share.

The Travelers

The Travelers by Chris Pavone
(release date March 8, 2016)

I’m loving this tense spy thriller, which features a lot of moving parts and people doing mysterious things. I’ve read about 40% so far, and just wish I had time to read straight through to the end without interruption! One thing I’m really enjoying is that beyond the intrigue and spy shenanigans, there are a lot of little moments that show so much about marriage and relationships:

This is one of the things that drives Chloe crazy about this renovation project, about her husband in general. She doesn’t care if everything is perfect; she merely wants it to be good enough. And this is exactly why Will doesn’t let her handle any of it. he knows that she will settle, will make compromises that he wouldn’t.

Here’s another:

Will sprawls amid the sheets while Chloe rearranges her hair, and replaces earrings, reties her scarf, all these tasks executed distractedly but deftly, the small competencies of being a woman, skills unknowable to him. The only thing men learn is how to shave.


What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com), if you’d be so kind!
  • Click on the linky button (look for the cute froggie face) below to add your link.
  • After you link up, I’d love it if you’d leave a comment about my quote for this week.
  • Be sure to visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!

Shelf Control #2: The Accident

Shelves final

Welcome to the newest weekly feature here at Bookshelf Fantasies… Shelf Control!

Instead of looking ahead to upcoming new releases, Shelf Control focuses on already released books that I want to read. Consider this a variation of a Wishing & Waiting post… but looking at books already available, and in most cases, books that are either on my shelves or on my Kindle!

Want to join in? See the guidelines and linky at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!


My Shelf Control pick this week is:

The AccidentTitle: The Accident
Author: Chris Pavone
Published: 2014
Length: 416 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

From the author of the New York Times-bestselling and Edgar Award-winning The Expats

As dawn approaches in New York, literary agent Isabel Reed is turning the final pages of a mysterious, anonymous manuscript, racing through the explosive revelations about powerful people, as well as long-hidden secrets about her own past. In Copenhagen, veteran CIA operative Hayden Gray, determined that this sweeping story be buried, is suddenly staring down the barrel of an unexpected gun. And in Zurich, the author himself is hiding in a shadowy expat life, trying to atone for a lifetime’s worth of lies and betrayals with publication of The Accident, while always looking over his shoulder.

Over the course of one long, desperate, increasingly perilous day, these lives collide as the book begins its dangerous march toward publication, toward saving or ruining careers and companies, placing everything at risk—and everyone in mortal peril.  The rich cast of characters—in publishing and film, politics and espionage—are all forced to confront the consequences of their ambitions, the schisms between their ideal selves and the people they actually became.

The action rockets around Europe and across America, with an intricate web of duplicities stretching back a quarter-century to a dark winding road in upstate New York, where the shocking truth about the accident itself is buried.

Gripping, sophisticated, layered, and impossible to put down, The Accident proves once again that Chris Pavone is a true master of suspense.

How I got it:

I bought it.

When I got it:

A few months ago.

Why I want to read it:

I read this author’s first novel, The Expats, earlier this year, and thought it was a terrific espionage thriller (review). So not only am I excited to read more by Chris Pavone, but I’m also delighted to see that one of my favorite characters from The Expats appears in The Accident as well — and the fact that the plot has to do with a secret manuscript and publishing makes it even more appealing!


Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link below!
  • And if you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and have fun!


For more on why I’ve started Shelf Control, check out my introductory post here, or read all about my out-of-control book inventory, here.

And if you’d like to post a Shelf Control button on your own blog, here’s an image to download (with my gratitude, of course!):

Shelf Control

Blog Tour & Book Review: Second Life

Bookshelf Fantasies is participating in the blog tour for the release of Second Life, author S. J. Watson’s second novel following the huge hit Before I Go To Sleep.

Second Life


From the New York Times bestselling author of Before I Go to Sleep, a sensational new psychological thriller about a woman with a secret identity that threatens to destroy her.

How well can you really know another person? How far would you go to find the truth about someone you love?

When Julia learns that her sister has been violently murdered, she must uncover why. But Julia’s quest quickly evolves into an alluring exploration of own darkest sensual desires. Becoming involved with a dangerous stranger online, she’s losing herself . . . losing control . . . perhaps losing everything. Her search for answers will jeopardize her marriage, her family, and her life.

A tense and unrelenting novel that explores the secret lives people lead; and the dark places in which they can find themselves, Second Life is a masterwork of suspense from the acclaimed S. J. Watson.

My thoughts:

In Second Life, Julia is a part-time professional photographer married to a successful surgeon named Hugh. Julia and Hugh have adopted the baby son born to her sister Kate, now grown into a teenage boy, Connor. Life is good — until Julia gets the horrifying news that Kate has been murdered, apparently the victim of a random mugging.

Distraught and wracked with guilt, Julia decides that there’s more to the story. She begins to dig into her sister’s life, uncovering bits and pieces of a world that her estranged sister never shared with her. Kate lived a free and easy life in Paris, and was an active participant in the “hook-up” lifestyle, meeting men online for cyber and real-world sexual encounters.

Julia decides that Kate’s hidden life must hold a clue to her murder, and begins to explore. But at some point, the exploration stops being about Kate, as Julia gets sucked into an online flirtation with a stranger that turns sexual, and before long, Julia is consumed by the affair she’s stumbled into.

We know early on that Julia has a history of addiction, involving both alcohol and heroin, and the temptation of a drink is ever-present in Julia’s mind as she deals with her guilt and grief over Kate’s death. It’s easy to see that she’s channeled her out-of-control emotions into yet another addiction, her obsession with the online world — and the seemingly perfect and sexy man she meets there.

Second Life spends a great deal of time detailing Julia’s headlong rush into an affair, and unfortunately, the emphasis on the seedy details of Julia’s seemingly willful endangerment of her marriage and family takes center stage for far too much of the book. For large sections, the mystery of Kate’s death is almost an afterthought. Julia throws herself completely into the affair, and the book bogs down in the sexual encounters and hotel trysts.

After a somewhat slow start, the book picks up momentum by about the halfway mark, as Julia starts to realize that her perfect lover is hiding all sorts of secrets from her, and as her affair starts to overshadow everything else in her life that she values. Eventually the pace quickens and the plot becomes more intriguing, as the dangers closing in on Julia become connected back to Kate, as well as to Julia’s hidden young adult past.

I hate to say it, but Second Life overall didn’t really work for me. The main plotline was highly unappealing, with its voyeuristic emphasis on the details of Julia’s infidelity. I understand that Julia was acting out her grief and loss, giving in to her addictive tendencies and flirting with danger to numb herself in some way from the pain of losing her sister. But I just couldn’t sympathize, and felt that her horrendous choices were so clearly illogical and bad for her family (including the son she claims to love so much) that the plot teetered on the edge of becoming completely implausible.

As my own personal bias, I think it’s only fair to add that a book about infidelity had better have a lot of other compelling elements going for it if it’s going to appeal to me in any way. Otherwise, it’s a turn-off — and that was the case for me with Second Life.

I did find myself hooked for the last 100 pages or so… until the abrupt and unsatisfying ending. I won’t say more about it, but the answers to the mystery were fairly prediction, and what’s more, the final scene was a lousy payoff for the tense build-up.

I really enjoyed Before I Go To Sleep and ended up recommending it to lots and lots of reader friends. Sadly, Second Life does not live up to the promise of the earlier book.

I usually try to find a reason to recommend or praise a book if I’m participating in a blog tour. While Second Life didn’t work for me, I could imagine that readers who are into thrillers and aren’t bothered by the subject matter the way I was might enjoy this book. If you read it and have a different opinion, please share your thoughts!

Find out more:

Add to Goodreads badge
Purchase Links: Amazon | IndieBound | Barnes & Noble

About the Author:

S-J-WatsonS. J. Watson was born in the Midlands and lives in London. His first novel was the award-winning Before I Go to Sleep, which has sold over four million copies in more than forty languages around the world. It was recently adapted into a major motion picture starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, and Mark Strong.

Find out more about S.J. at his website, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.


The details:

Title: Second Life
Author: S. J. Watson
Publisher: Harper
Publication date: June 9, 2015
Length: 416 pages
Genre: Thriller
Source: Review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours

tlc logoFor further information, stop by TLC Book Tours to view other blog tour hosts.

Book Review: The Expats by Chris Pavone

ExpatsLooking for a fast-paced thriller for your beach bag? You can’t go wrong with The Expats.

The Expats is a spy thriller, a cat-and-mouse espionage tale… and the story of a marriage. Mixing spycraft with ruminations on trust, love, and family, this books is quirky and dramatic all at the same time.

Kate Moore is the main character, a wife and mother of two young boys… and a former CIA field operative who resigns from the Company when her computer geek husband Dexter receives a lucrative job offer than entails moving to Luxembourg for a year.

Kate becomes one of the expat moms — the women from all corners of the world, married to wealthy but very busy men, who congregate in coffee shops and tennis clubs while their children attend preschool, then plan family outings, ski trips, and shopping adventures all over Europe. It’s a great life… except Kate can’t help being just a wee bit bored. As a working mother, she was itching for more time with the family, but now that she has it, she finds the daily routine — cooking, cleaning, shopping, chauffering, playdates, endless mommy gossip — not quite as fulfilling as she’d hoped.

Meanwhile, Dexter is suddenly the absent parent, as his new job entails high-level, hush-hush work for private banks to ensure that their online security systems are unbreachable…. or so he says. Kate begins to suspect that something is just a little bit off about Dexter’s new job… and the new American couple who have befriended them seem to have more than just a friendly interest in worming their way into the Moores’ lives.

The timeline jumps back and forth between “today”, in Paris, as Kate is confronted by someone she thought she’d never see again, to two years ago, starting with Dexter’s announcement about his new job and following the couple and the children forward into their new lives in Europe. The two timelines converge by the end, of course, as bit by bit the many threads start to form a pattern and the bigger picture emerges. Added to that, we learn about Kate’s CIA background and the event that haunts her from her time as an operative, and all sorts of shades and nuances come into play.

And then there’s the fact that Kate has never told Dexter about her real line of work. As far as he knew, Kate was a State Department employee whose works entailed writing position papers. So how can Kate be angry with Dexter for hiding secrets from her when he spent the first ten years of their relationship in complete ignorance of her profession, not knowing such an important part of what made her tick?

As the clues pile up, there’s danger and drama, a few edge-of-the seat action sequences… and also trips to Ikea, playtime with the kids, and uncomfortable cocktail parties with other American expats. Kate is a terrific main character — smart, kick-ass, but tormented by her own set of demons; wanting to be a good wife and mother, but unable to completely come clean or to trust her husband. The plot twists and turns, there are complications galore, and small revelations in both timelines pile on top of each other to create a whole that’s a real thrill ride.

The Expats is fun and compelling, mixing spy drama with domesticity in a way that highlights the deceptions in everyday life and love. The characters are well-developed, the plot is convoluted enough that we can’t see all the answers before the author wants us to, and the cosmopolitan European setting gives the book a feeling that’s both dangerous and exotic.

This book was perfect for me on a long plane ride. It’s highly entertaining and very hard to put down. So if you’re looking for a great beach read for the summer, consider picking up The Expats!


The details:

Title: The Expats
Author: Chris Pavone
Publisher: Broadway Books
Publication date: March 6, 2012
Length: 352 pages (paperback edition)
Genre: Espionage/thriller
Source: Purchased


Wishing & Waiting on Wednesday: The Girl on the Train

There’s nothing like a Wednesday for thinking about the books we want to read! My Wishing & Waiting on Wednesday post is linking up with two fabulous book memes, Wishlist Wednesday (hosted by Pen to Paper) and Waiting on Wednesday (hosted by Breaking the Spine).

This week’s pick:

The Girl on the Train: A Novel

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
(to be released January 27, 2015)

A debut psychological thriller about a woman who becomes emotionally entangled in a murder investigation because of something she witnesses on her daily commute.

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and every night. Every day she rattles over the same track junctions, flashes past the same stretch of cozy suburban homes. And every day she stops at the same signal and she sees the same couple, breakfasting on their roof deck, living the perfect life that Rachel craves for herself—a lifestyle she recently lost. She looks forward to observing this household every morning, even makes up names and narratives for its residents. Then one day Rachel sees someone new in their garden, and soon after, the woman who lived there disappears.

Unable to keep this information to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and in the process is drawn into the lives of the couple she thought of as Jason and Jess but whose names—she has learned from the news—are really Megan and Scott Hipwell.

But the police accuse Rachel of being unreliable, and it’s true that her memories can’t always be trusted. Plus there are the stories that her ex-husband’s new wife has been spreading about her. By the time Megan’s body is found, Rachel is in over her head, intricately entangled in the details of the investigation, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she put others in danger? Has she done more harm than good?

A compulsively readable, emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller that draws comparisons to Gone Girl, The Silent Wife, or Before I Go to Sleep, this is an electrifying debut embraced by readers across markets and categories.

I just entered a giveaway for this book, and I really hope I get a copy!

What are you wishing for this Wednesday?

Looking for some bookish fun on Thursdays? Come join me for my regular weekly feature, Thursday Quotables. You can find out more here — come play!


Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!

Book Review: Gone Girl

Book Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

This review is going to have to be brief, because there’s almost no way to talk about Gone Girl without giving something away, and really, the less you know ahead of time, the better.

Gone Girl is a thriller, but you could also describe it as an analysis of a marriage. What makes a couple tick? How do people know if they fit? What happens to a relationship when the initial excitement and spark have faded?

Nick and Amy Dunne are a beautiful couple — truly, they are. It’s emphasized from the beginning of Gone Girl how very attractive they each are; they’re the golden boy and girl, the ones who get noticed, never ones to fade into a crowd. Nick and Amy meet at a party in New York when they are both magazine writers. They have an exciting romance and a beautiful wedding; the perfect couple — smart, attractive, fun, and completely in tune with each other. When the economy tanks and the magazine business dries up, they are both laid off, and end up moving back to Nick’s boyhood hometown of Carthage, Missouri to care for his dying mother, but really more to lick their wounds and figure out what a next chapter in their lives might look like.

Amy is the daughter of two psychologists who are famous for their bestselling Amazing Amy series of children’s books, based on Amy’s own life, which makes her both a curiosity and a celebrity. Nick is the son of a woman-hating father who left his mother when Nick was 12; Nick’s father now resides in a care facility from which he regularly escapes in an Alzheimer-fueled fog of anger.

Gone Girl opens with Nick and Amy’s 5th anniversary, as Nick contemplates just how miserable he is… and then discovers that Amy has disappeared. Day by day, evidence begins to pile up suggesting that violence, perhaps murder, has occurred, and Nick is slowly painted into a corner as the prime suspect, with only his high-profile lawyer and his twin sister Go to defend him.

What really happened to Amy? Why does Nick talk so much about the shape of Amy’s skull and have visions of harming her? Is Nick really a killer, or just a not-very-good husband who’s a convenient target for police interest and public scorn?

Told in chapters that alternate between Nick’s narration and Amy’s diary, we hear bits and pieces of the story from both Nick and Amy’s points of view. Gillian Flynn does a fantastic job of creating unique voices for each character, and the portraits we receive are detailed, rich, and chilling. Supporting characters feel well-defined and true-to-life.

The author skewers the current cult of crime TV, sensationalism masquerading as journalism, and seemingly endless parades of murder suspects dominating cable programming at all hours of the day. Nick realizes quickly that he’ll be considered the prime suspect, because everyone knows from watching TV that it’s most likely that the husband did it. He knows how police investigations work, understands that a sympathetic detective is just trying to soften him up, and knows that he’ll look guilty if he asks for a lawyer too soon — because he’s seen it all on CSI. His lawyer points out to him that by the time a case goes to trial, it’s been all but decided already on the cable legal shows and on the Internet. Control the message, control the outcome of the trial. The behind-the-scenes look at how publicity and public relations dictate the course of a crime investigation is actually quite fascinating.

Ultimately, though, it is the mystery at the heart of Gone Girl that makes it such a compelling read. Understanding Nick and Amy’s psyches and their inner workings is key to understanding what has happened and how it will all play out. I couldn’t put it down, and the twists and turns kept me guessing until the end.

I did find the ending unsatisfying, not because it left loose ends or because it didn’t fit — but because it wasn’t the outcome I wanted. Which means that I was enmeshed enough in the story and the characters’ lives to really care about what happened, which in my view makes this book a terrific success.

Read Gone Girl if you enjoy a good mystery, and most especially if you like to be surprised. Believe me, you will be.