Who Is Rich by Matthew Klam

This novel is really out of my comfort zone. It’s a novel that is all about infidelity and family and sexual pleasure. It’s not something I have ever been comfortable reading about but I like to give new things a try and I wanted to broaden my reading range. So thank you to the First to Read program for giving me the chance to read this ARC in exchange for my honest review!

Once a year, Rich Fischer goes away from his family to a week-long summer arts conference where he teaches a class on cartooning. A year ago, Rich met a student named Amy O’Donnell, a mother of 3 who is married to a Wall Street titan. That year was filled with passion and bonding on how their lives have turned out. Since then, they have exchanged hot texts and emails. And now they’re back at the arts conference. On the very first day, at the annual softball game, Amy breaks her wrist. Feeling guilty and wanting to comfort her, Rich makes an impulsive decision and buys a bracelet from a jewelry store, wiping out his family’s checking account. He then follows Amy through a near-death country-doctoring all for the sake of their intense chemistry.

This book … well, it was definitely not a favorite for me. I don’t think there was a single thing I liked about this novel. I went for it because I thought it would be an interesting perspective on adultery and lust. Instead, I was stuck with a novel that had terrible characters and self-indulgent narratives. I hated Rich for being so whiny and selfish and horrible. I hated all of the other characters for the same reason. I liked the writing style but the story itself was seriously not great and I am struggling to think of even one good thing to say about it. This book was just not for me but maybe someone else will enjoy it more.

Happy reading ~

The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is a very popular author known for his haunting stories. It’s a bit embarrassing that it has taken me so long to read anything by him but I’ve finally done it! And I decided to choose his newest novel for my first foray!

Annalee Ahlberg is a sleepwalker and her affliction is a point of concern for her family. They never know where she will go or what she will do when she’s asleep at night. When she goes missing, it’s her family’s worst nightmare. The morning of her disappearance, a search party tears apart the woods. Annalee’s husband, Warren, hurries home from a business trip. Annalee’s eldest daughter, Lianna, is questioned by detectives. And youngest daughter Paige takes it upon herself to search for clues. When the police find a small swatch of fabric from a nightshirt, it seems certain that Annalee is dead. However, young detective Gavin Rikert continues to persist and keeps calling the Ahlbergs. As Lianna tries to support her family and finds herself drawn to Gavin, she tries to make sense of her mother’s disappearance. Where did Annalee go? What is it that drives her out of her bed every time her father leaves? And why is Gavin so interested in Annalee’s disappearance?

This was a very interesting story to read. I really don’t know much about sleepwalking and the many ways it manifests itself, and the author managed to explain all of its details without making it boring. The story is mainly told from Lianna’s perspective, as she struggles to keep herself and her family afloat in the aftermath of her mother’s disappearance. Interspersed between these chapters that tell us how life is continuing are excerpts from the journal of a sleepwalker; the identity of this sleepwalker remains a mystery until the very end of the book. In the beginning, this novel had hints of a mystery but seemed to be more of a character-driven story. While I didn’t like any of the characters per se, I liked their honest portrayal and how each character was unique. The story unfolds slowly but it reels you in the whole time. My one complaint is that Lianna was not strong in her ability to connect things and deduce things but the author still made everything work. The last bit of the novel moved quite quickly and the revelations, which I had pretty much guessed by that point, were delivered quite well. Overall, this has been a good experience for me and I’m looking forward to reading more books by Chris Bohjalian!

Happy reading ~

Grief Cottage by Gail Goodwin

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The premise of this novel was just too much to resist. I love a good ghost story and I was fully expecting to get loads of shivers and chills and supernatural goings-on. After reading this novel, I can honestly say that my predictions were way off. Here is my review:

When his mother dies unexpectedly, 11-year-old Marcus is sent to live with his great aunt, a reclusive painter who lives on a small South Carolina island. As he gets accustomed to his new surroundings, he is shown a ruined cottage that the islanders call Grief cottage, after a tragic incident where a boy and his parents disappeared during a hurricane 50 years ago. Their bodies were never found and the cottage has remained empty ever since. While Aunt Charlotte stays locked up in her studio painting, Marcus visits the cottage, building up the courage to face the ghost of the dead boy who used to live there. Full of curiosity and lonely, Marcus befriends the ghost boy, never knowing whether the ghost is friendly or has a more insidious nature.

There are a lot of things that caused me to not like this novel. The main thing is that it led me astray. Everything about the blurb screamed thriller ghost story. However, it would be more apt to describe this book as a literary fiction. Now, I have no problem with the literary fiction genre; I have read quite a few books that fit into this category and have quite enjoyed them. However, I do not like to be misled so blatantly. I felt like I was cheated out of the ghost story experience that was promised. Yes, the novel fixated on death and loss and grief, but there really was no need to brand the story as anything supernatural/involving ghosts. As you can tell, I’m quite upset by this. To make it worse, I didn’t really feel like this novel was a very good literary fiction. Even though literary fiction focuses on a certain theme and character growth/development, there is still a plot line; this novel missed the mark on that. I really liked Marcus’s character – he is a genuine sweetheart who tries so hard to please others. However, I didn’t really think he developed or grew in any real way; nothing that happened to him on his beach adventures really seemed to have the kind of impact I associate with literary fiction novels. In fact, the last portion of the novel completely threw me off because suddenly, the author takes us into the future and compresses together a decade of activity in Marcus’s life that just … made the story even more choppy than it already was. It was just weird and unnecessary. Another thing that I found a bit weird about this story was the writing style used for Marcus’s voice. The whole novel is like a monologue of the internal thoughts and feelings of Marcus but his voice sounds like that of a well-educated adult rather than an 11-year-old child. I’m not saying that children cannot have great vocabulary and think beyond their years, but the author never really showed Marcus as being so extraordinarily gifted and it just seemed so at odds with the personality and character of Marcus. It made it hard for me to believe in the story and feel connected to Marcus (even though, as mentioned previously, I liked him). The last little thing that bothered me was the way the author kept harping on the pronunciation of a specific character in the book, Lash. Every time Lash talked, the author just had to take a specific word and in brackets, write it out phonetically. It was cool at first because it helped me hear the voice in my head as I was reading but it got tedious really quick.

So overall, I really didn’t have a good experience with this book. I didn’t like how misleading the premise was, I didn’t like that the writing style was choppy, I didn’t think there was really any plot, and Marcus’s voice just really didn’t fit with his character. For those reasons, this novel gets a 1.5/5 stars from me.

Happy reading ~

Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

When I received the ARC for this novel, the title was The Original Ginny Moon. I think it has since changed (slightly) but the story has, of course, stayed the same. I wanted to read this novel because of its unique protagonist. After reading this novel, I’m just so glad to have had the chance to read such an amazing story!

Ginny is an autistic 14-year-old who has spent the last 5 years in foster care, after being taken out of her unsafe home. Now, Ginny is in her 4th home that will hopefully be her Forever home. Maybe this time, her forever parents will love her. Everyone wants Ginny to feel safe and forget her past … but Ginny can’t do that. She will never stop making her Big Secret Plan of Escape. Because Ginny has a secret about something that happened a long time ago… and the only person who can make it right is her.

What an absolutely wonderful book! From the very first page, this novel had my heart. I adored Ginny. The author did such an amazing job portraying her and making her come to life. While I’m no expert in working with people with autism, from my experience interacting with them, I can say that the author’s depiction was pretty spot on! And on top of being so accurate, the author also created a very unique and interesting voice for Ginny. Her story is heartbreaking and I was tense throughout the entire book, as I saw Ginny struggle to find her place. This novel isn’t just about Ginny. This novel is about the concept of family and the different ways it can present itself: as an abusive mother, as an absent father who believes in forgiveness, as a foster family that is trying to maintain normalcy in a situation that defies normal. And it’s beautiful and tragic and amazing to see how it all works out. I can’t stop talking about how much I loved this novel and I don’t want to keep repeating myself so all I will say is that this novel will touch your heart and give you an interesting perspective on the term “family”. I hope everyone will give this novel a shot because it is absolutely worth the time and effort!

Happy reading ~

Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I was attracted to this novel first by its cover and then by the premise. I usually try not to be a book snob but sometimes I go by face value. And let me just say that whoever designed this book cover did a REALLY good job. Anyways, here is my review:

Lady Daniels lives in Hollywood Hills with her two sons. She is going through a trial separation with her husband, who is the true owner of the home she is living in. Trying to pursue a writing career, she decides to hire a nanny to take care of her younger son. I comes S, a young artist, who is thrilled to have the chance to live in a secluded guest house while taking care of Lady’s toddler son. While S performs her duty beautifully, it is her off-hour behaviour that is startling, especially once she becomes involved with Lady’s older teenage son. As the summer wears on, Lady and S will move closer to one another, all while threatening to harm the things they hold most dear.

I had a very weird experience with this novel, and I still don’t know what to make of it. The story is told in alternating perspectives between Lady and S. Both characters were unique and yet they were inherently the same, which was just such an interesting concept to see. I can’t say I ever liked Lady or S but they had this essence that pulled at me, that kept me interested in the story, that made me want to see exactly how far they would go to get what they wanted. The other characters were equally complex and the author did a fantastic job in creating stellar complex interactions between everyone. In fact, the author’s writing style was something I really enjoyed; it pulled me in at the very beginning and it kept me interested until the last page.

My problem was with the plot. Or lack of it. As I kept reading, I found myself confused by the sudden flashbacks that didn’t really have any purpose, the references to things that I didn’t really care about. I felt like everything was leading me up to something … but that something never showed up. Yes, Lady and S both made bad decisions that made me want to slap them. Yes, the author definitely made them complex. But there didn’t seem to be any point to anything. I mean … I guess they grew through this situation? But it wasn’t like anything really happened to make them grow or change or develop. If what I’m saying makes no sense, then you understand my experience with the plot: it made no sense. Maybe it’s because I have no background (or interest) in art; perhaps someone with a knowledge of the art world would enjoy this novel more. However, it just didn’t do anything to bolster the plot for this novel.

So while the author definitely has a talent for writing and developing strong complex characters, the plot was ultimately a disappointment. Because of the positives, I am willing to give this novel 3/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

Based on A True Story by Delpine de Vigan

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

What would you do if your closest friend tried to steal your life?

Today I know that L. is the sole reason for my powerlessness. And that the two years that we were friends almost made me stop writing for ever.

When Delphine’s latest novel ends up a huge success, she finds herself overwhelmed and unable to write her next book. And then she meets L. L is the kind of woman who has always fascinated Delphine, a woman with perfect nails and hair, and who knows just what to say at all times. Delphine can’t help but be drawn to her, and their friendship evolves slowly yet surely. But soon L begins to dress like Delphine, and, when Delphine admits that she is unable to write, L even offers to answer her emails. As L becomes more involved in Delphine’s life, Delphine begins to discover that L has had complete control this entire time …. and refuses to let go.

This is one of those cases where the novel and reader just weren’t compatible. I thought that the story had definite promise and the premise was very intriguing. However, it was a very slow buildup and I quickly lost attention. By the time the story got good, I realized that I wasn’t very invested in it and didn’t really care too much about the outcome. I will say that I quite enjoyed the writing style of the author; it flowed very nicely and you can tell the author took the time to carefully choose her words. I think that this novel would be best suited for someone looking for a slow, deep character-based book rather than something thrilling.

Happy reading ~

All the Best People by Sonja Yoerg

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I will admit, my reading list has been on the backburner this month. Every time I would think I had some free time, some new project or deadline would come up that took all of my time away. I FINALLY have some free time now so I will be doing my best to catch up on all of the great books I have yet to read, starting with this one!

Vermont, 1972. Carole LaPorte has a satisfying life. She takes care of her children and husband, and is the bookkeeper for her family’s auto shop business. Her tragic childhood has been long pushed away, a thing in the past not worth remembering. But suddenly her mind begins to play tricks on her. The accounts don’t make sense and there is a constant murmuring that she can’t get rid of. She knows that she should try to get some help, but she’s terrified of being put in a mental hospital like her mother, Solange. So Carole tries to hide her symptoms, all the while isolating herself from her family, and unwittingly sending her 11-year-old daughter Alison on a desperate search for meaning behind this change in behaviour.

If you are looking for a realistic fiction novel that will tug at your heartstrings, then look no further! This novel is a heartwrenching portrayal on mental illness and family ties. Told from the perspective of the females in the family, we see how the actions of one person can lead to dramatic consequences in the lives of others. This novel also switches in timeline and gives a very strong backstory for Carole and Solange. The writing is great and the story is emotional, albeit ordinary. It took me quite a while to get into the story – it might have just been that I wasn’t in the mood for a realistic fiction, but I found the beginning to be quite slow. However, the novel quickly picked up its pace and explored the facets of characters who I soon became invested in. Overall, this is a strong realistic fiction novel that deals with mental illness and family tragedy in a superb way to deliver an emotionally-packed story.

Happy reading ~

Shadows of the Dead by Jim Eldridge – DCI Stark #2

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

London, 1921. Lord Johnny Fairfax has just been discovered dead in his study, along with another victim: an American man who was visiting Fairfax unexpectedly. For DCI Paul Stark, this case is more personal than just a heinous crime: he’s currently in a relationship with the former Lady Fairfax, Lady Amelia. And she is one of the top suspects. However, Lord Fairfax had his fair share of enemies, which means the suspect pool is large. And nobody knows who the American is and what his connection is to Lord Fairfax. As Stark digs deeper, he uncovers evidence of a shocking conspiracy that could mean doom for the British Establishment.

When I first read this novel, I was unaware that it was the second book in a series. However, that wasn’t too much of an issue as the author provided enough detail about everything that I didn’t feel like I missed out on much. This was an interesting historical mystery in that it involved more detail than many historical fiction novels I’ve read. There was a lot of name-dropping of historical figures, which at first was cool but eventually got tedious, especially since they weren’t always that important for the story. I also found that this book was more about DCI Stark’s private life than the mystery itself, which isn’t always a bad thing, but in this case, it made me lose interest in the story. So while the novel had an intriguing plot and was well-written, it just didn’t do it for me. I’d give this a 3/5 stars and recommend this to someone who is really interested in historical fiction (like… REALLY interested)!

Happy reading ~

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

I have been most excited to read this novel. For the longest time, it wasn’t available anywhere near me so I would enviously read reviews about it. Thank you to Edelweiss and the publishers for providing me with this ARC!

Yeong-hye used to be the perfect devoted wife, quiet and willing to please. But when she begins to have nightmares involving blood-soaked images, Yeong-hye makes the drastic decision to renounce eating meat. This decision is in stark contrast to the ideals of society, and is seen as a sign of passive rebellion. But soon the passivity of her resistance manifests in more extreme forms, and with the emergence of a scandal and abuse, Yeong-hye is sent over the edge. Her dangerous endeavour will take Yeong-hye physically and mentally away from her former identity in the most tragic way possible.

This was by far one of the most confusing books I have ever read. The book is split into 3 sections, each written in the perspective of a different character who is affected by Yeong-hye’s actions. Each character describes the transition of Yeong-hye into the land of instability. The first character we are introduced to is Yeong-hye’s husband, and we are shown the first stage of her decline. I found this to be one of the more interesting chapters, probably because it set the stage and was easy enough to follow. It was clear to see how Yeong-hye’s behaviour is not within the bounds that dictate the norms of society in South Korea. I really liked reading about how perplexed those around her were, and the ways in which her husband tried to “fix” her. The next 2 sections are told from the perspective of Yeong-hye’s sister and brother-in-law, who each have their own reasons for helping Yeong-hye. This is when the story began to get a bit murky for me. I didn’t really understand the perspective of the brother-in-law, and it just left me wondering what exactly the author’s purpose was in creating this segment for the story. The sister’s perspective made sense because Yeong-hye was very close with her but other than that, it didn’t really do anything for me; nothing was resolved in the end and I still didn’t really understand what was going on. I had expected that the author would delve a little deeper into the nightmares that led Yeong-hye into her vegetarianism but it really was only hinted at at various points of the story, which was a bit of a disappointment. While this was an intriguing novel, it was very vague and left me with more questions than answers. My overall feeling was of confusion: what was the point of this novel? What was the author highlighting? I understand that the author is reflecting on a number of themes including the confines of society, our lack of understanding of others, and how an obsession can develop and fester …. but there was nothing more that I really gleaned from this novel, nothing new that made me have an “A-ha!” moment. If I’m to be brutally honest, this book was a bit of a let-down, especially after all of the hype it has generated. Maybe I’m the only person who feels this way, but this book only gets a 2/5 stars from me.

Happy reading ~

We Shall Not All Sleep by Estep Nagy

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Hillsingers and the Quicks have shared Seven Island in Maine for generations. But though technically family–Jim Hillsinger and Billy Quick married Park Avenue sisters Lila and Hannah Blackwell–they still maintain some distance. Now, on the anniversary of Hannah’s death, Lila feels her grief pulling her toward Billy. And Jim, a spy recently ousted from the CIA, decides to send his youngest son, 12-year-old Catta, to Baffin Island for 24 hours all on his own to make a man out of him. With the parents preoccupied, the Hillsinger and Quick children run wild, playing violent games led by Catta’s sadistic older brother James. The island manager Cyrus and the servants tend to the families while preparing for the Migration, a yearly farming ritual that means one thing to their employers, and something very different to them.

I seem to be facing a rut when it comes to books: nothing I’ve read has turned out the way I expected. I was really looking forward to this story but it ended up leaving me dissatisfied. While the author put a lot of thought into the various descriptions, and the writing style was quite nice, the story itself failed on a lot of levels. One of the major flaws with this book is that there are too many plot lines. Each one begins at random points and they all interweave to create a confusing mess. Everything just began to meld together and make no sense to me; frankly, it was exhausting to get through this novel. the other flaw with this book is that the characters are hard to connect to; there is this distance between the reader and the characters such that it is hard to empathize or understand them. I really like it when authors pull me into the lives of their characters but that didn’t happen in this story. As I kept reading, I just had this growing impression that the author was trying to hard to create a meaningful literary fiction. In the end, a simpler story with more complex and well-developed characters would have sufficed.

Happy reading ~