Faithful by Alice Hoffman

Over the years, I have become a big fan of Alice Hoffman. Regardless of the genre, she manages to produce a story that will leave a mark on the reader. Of the 4 books I’ve read in the past, every single one has been absolutely stunning. I approached this novel excited to see how she would tackle the contemporary genre.


Summary (Goodreads): 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.

Review: Once again, Alice Hoffman has written a story that tugs at the heart. But compared to her other novels, this one fell short for me.

The story starts off post-tragedy, and we are introduced to post-tragedy Shelby, a girl who is grief-stricken by this event, which ruined her best friend’s life. Shelby shoulders all of this grief and hurt, but most importantly, she stops loving herself and thinking of herself as a good person. And thus, starts our journey with Shelby as she hesitantly moves through life, changing and adapting – and maybe finding it within herself to let go of the grief. I know I’m saying something that might be a spoiler… but it’s really not. The blurb pretty much gives it away.

Here’s the thing: I liked the journey. I liked the growth. I loved the opportunity to connect with Shelby and understand her. But the story lost me quite a few times. The plot meandered many times, and I found my interest slipping when that happened. This is not an easy story to read because it deals with difficult topics of guilt, loss, love, and self-love. But it took a long time to get to anything conclusive. I feel like Hoffman was trying to emulate real life through her progression of time and events in the book. And that’s great. But it just strayed away from the central plot too much to keep me interested.

This is a great story that explores grief and forgiveness and love. It mirrors real life by depicting realistic situations and time frames. But I think it was this realistic nature of the story that didn’t work for me. There was a point where some “miracles” were introduced – but it was quickly explained away. I wish this had been explored more because I was excited by the potential for some magical elements in the story. I think that this novel would appeal more for those looking for a very realistic portrayal of grief and the ability to move on from traumatic events. I’m giving this a 3/5 stars.

Happy reading ~



Odd Child Out by Gilly MacMillan

I was a little hesitant to read this novel because I hadn’t enjoyed The Perfect Girl. However, let it never be said that I am prejudiced against an author or their work; I always try to read at least one more book by that author to see whether I can gel with the author’s storytelling style. I was also intrigued because this book has been doing very well and was recommended to me by a bunch of different people. Here is my review:

Synopsis (Goodreads): Best friends Noah Sandler and Abdi Mahad have always been inseparable.  But when Noah is found floating unconscious in Bristol’s Feeder Canal, Abdi can’t–or won’t–tell anyone what happened.

Just back from a mandatory leave following his last case, Detective Jim Clemo is now assigned to look into this unfortunate accident.  But tragedy strikes and what looked like the simple case of a prank gone wrong soon ignites into a public battle.  Noah is British.  Abdi is a Somali refugee.   And social tensions have been rising rapidly in Bristol.  Against this background of fear and fury two families fight for their sons and for the truth.  Neither of them know how far they will have to go, what demons they will have to face, what pain they will have to suffer.

Because the truth hurts.

My review: At first, I struggled with the novel. The story was slow-going in the beginning, even though it takes place after the accident. I didn’t really know where the author wanted to take the story and quite a lot of time was taken to set the stage. While it didn’t make sense then, it certainly does now.

There were quite a few perspectives that this story was written from but one main one was that of Jim Clemo, the detective in charge of the investigation. Apart from his character, we also get to read from Noah’s perspective, Abdi’s family’s perspective, and finally, from Abdi himself. I thought this was a very interesting way to write the story, especially since there was no real order to the rotation of the different voices. I had my favourite voices, of course, but my actual opinion on this technique is split. On the one hand, it allowed me to see the situation from different eyes. However, I also didn’t always feel like I got to understand the characters themselves. It was definitely a unique way to present the story, and in the end, it did work.

I liked most of the characters in the story, regardless of whether their role was positive or negative. However, the one character I really didn’t care for was Jim Clemo. I didn’t think there was much of a personality, and I didn’t really want to learn too much about his side story.

The main story itself was a lot more complex than how it was first portrayed. This isn’t just about culpability and who did what. This was about the struggle to be an immigrant, the struggle of being a part of the life of a sick child. There were issues with the media and the way that it can warp the findings of a case. This novel even showed some insight into the way trauma and PTSD can affect a person’s life in the long-term. Even though I wasn’t able to get into the novel in the beginning, the complexity and depth of all of these issues quickly made me change my mind and I found myself appreciative of the effort the author put into talking about these different topics. By the end of the novel, I was hooked and I found the ending to surpass all my expectations. This novel gets a solid 4/5 stars from me!

Happy reading ~

In Case I Go by Angie Abdou

I always love it when I decide to read a book on a whim and find myself loving the story. That’s what happened here. I saw this sitting on the shelf of my local library and the synopsis, while sparse, was interesting enough that I decided to give it a shot.

Synopsis: 10-year-old Eli and his parents have returned to their family home in Coalton, a small mountain town. The parents, Nicholas and Lucy, hope that by escaping their hectic city lives, they will restore calm and stability to their marriage, but they find that once charming Coalton is no longer the remote idyll they remembered. Development of a high-end subdivision has disturbed a historic graveyard, drawing negative press from national media. While Nicholas works long hours at the local coal mine and Lucy battles loneliness and depression, Eli must make his own way in this town.

Eli is not like other young boys. His birth was complicated, making him more fragile than other children his age. His parents have raised him more like an adult than a kid, making him more perceptive – but also more reclusive. When Eli moves to Coalton, he meets Mary. And while everyone tells him Mary is mute, she speaks to Eli. She calls Eli by his full name, Elijah, the name he inherited from an ancestor who was famous in Coalton.

Eli’s encounters with Mary are not like that between children, between friends. There is a hidden anger in Mary’s eyes, and her words are not always kind. And with each encounter, Eli starts to have visions of a time before this one. Eli stops being himself – and starts having memories of Elijah, his ancestor. And Elijah has sinned.

This book is really hard to categorize; it’s like a cross between a ghost story and historical fiction, mixed in with some magical realism. And it works beautifully.

The story is haunting in its prose and in the way it takes the present and blends it with the past. It speaks about regrets and how one’s sins can carry forward. There are so many layers to peel back with this story, and I love how it was steeped in facts about the Aboriginal community. In fact, the author did a fantastic job of representing this community and the hardships they have faced, which I really appreciated. There is an emphasis on the idea that the past cannot just stay buried and hidden; the truth will out, and we must pay for our consequences. This concept was stressed throughout the story and it is one we should all keep in mind. The story itself was extremely engaging, and I wanted to know more about Eli’s transformation – and whether he would ever be himself again. This is a book that I know I will recommend to many people because it is beautiful, emotional, and deserves to be read. 5/5 stars from me.

Happy reading ~

Only Child by Rhiannon Navin

One of the things that drew me to this book was the number of comparisons it had to Room by Emma Donoghue. I absolutely adored that book. I was wondering if this novel would live up to that comparison…

It most definitely did.

Synopsis (Goodreads): Squeezed into a coat closet with his classmates and teacher, first grader Zach Taylor can hear gunshots ringing through the halls of his school. A gunman has entered the building, taking nineteen lives and irrevocably changing the very fabric of this close-knit community. While Zach’s mother pursues a quest for justice against the shooter’s parents, holding them responsible for their son’s actions, Zach retreats into his super-secret hideout and loses himself in a world of books and art. Armed with his newfound understanding, and with the optimism and stubbornness only a child could have, Zach sets out on a captivating journey towards healing and forgiveness, determined to help the adults in his life rediscover the universal truths of love and compassion needed to pull them through their darkest hours.

I’m still trying to come up with the right words to describe how amazing this novel is. It is absolutely fantastic, and the fact that this came from a debut author is hard to believe.

The novel deals with a difficult topic: gun violence and the loss of an innocent child. The story is masterfully written, told entirely from the perspective of young Zach Taylor. It is his innocent thoughts that we hear, his eyes through which we observe – and yet, we are given the opportunity to see the bigger picture and make the connections that his young mind cannot. There was never a point where I felt that the author was faking the POV of a child; it was just that realistically portrayed! And I really do not think there could have been a better voice from which to tell the story. Zach’s innocence and honesty was the perfect vehicle for the reader to witness a tragedy that no parent ever wants to face.

Zach is such a sweet and wonderful protagonist, that it is easy to connect with him and care for his character. Every emotion that Zach felt was one I felt – the anger, the fear, the anxiety, the sadness. Zach tugged at my heart with every turn of the page. I will gladly admit that this book had me ugly-crying at various points because it was just so emotionally touching.

This book deserves every star I can give. Do yourself a favour and read this book. It is 100% worth it.

Thank you to Penguin Random House and the First to Read program for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Happy reading ~

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

I remember reading Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng with more than a little trepidation. I shy away from tragic stories because I absolutely hate turning into a sobbing mess. While that novel was definitely sad, it was well worth the effort because of the beautiful story it told. With that in mind, I decided to try this new novel by Celeste Ng to see what she would present next.

Shaker Heights is a progressive suburb in Cleveland, Ohio that is proud of its perfect community. From the layout of the houses to the successful lives of its residents, Shaker Heights is the epitome of perfection. And no one believes this more than Elena Richardson, whose entire way of life is all about playing by the rules. When Mia Warren, an artist and single mother, arrives in town with her teenage daughter, Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons, things quickly change. Pearl quickly becomes close to the 4 Richardson children, and the Richardson kids find themselves drawn to this mother-daughter pair. But Mia is not at all like the citizens of Shaker Heights; she has a penchant for disregarding the rules of the community, and has a mysterious past to boot. But things really come to a head when the Richardsons’ friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, putting Mia and Mrs. Richardson on opposing side. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Mrs. Richardson becomes determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at a devastating cost to her own family – and Mia’s.

The novel starts off unusually, with a fire that breaks out in the Richardsons’ home. It sets the stage for the real story to follow through. This was a slow-moving story that showcases different family dynamics and relationships. The characters are beautifully drawn up, and they are so present that it is hard to distance yourself from them. I love that the author spoke from every single character’s perspective, giving them their moment in the spotlight and allowing the reader to understand that specific character’s thought process and internal turmoil. The story chronicles the events that led to this fire by using each character’s back story to reveal their subsequent actions. And then there is the additional story line of the Chinese baby being adopted by an American family. Every single thing that occurred in this novel was designed to make the reader face some difficult questions about family and identity. And there is no straight answer, nothing that can ever truly be considered right. I think that was the beauty of this entire novel: it is thought-provoking and emotionally draining in the best way possible. My heart went out for so many of the characters. And even though I disliked Mrs. Richardson – who was rarely referred to by her first name (this actually worked so well with her personality and characterization) – I grew to feel for her by the end of the book, as well. If you haven’t picked up that I loved this novel, well, I loved it. I thought it was such a deep and intense story, and it is well worth the effort to read it. However, you really need to be in the mindset for this type of story in order to enjoy it. I’m giving it a 5/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

The Night the Lights Went Out by Karen White

This novel was definitely not something I would normally pick. But the cover and title were just too alluring and I decided to get out of my comfort zone. Here is my review:

Recently divorced, Merilee Talbot Dunlap moves with her two children to Sweet Apple, Georgia. All she wants is to start her life over, but an anonymous local blog that dishes out all the gossip isn’t helping her one bit. Merilee finds some peace in the cottage she is renting from town matriarch Sugar Prescott. Despite her name, Sugar is far from a sweet old lady – but she sees a kindred spirit in Merilee. There’s something about this new tenant that makes Sugar want to open up about her own colourful past. Sugar’s stories give Merilee a different perspective on the town and its wealthy school moms, and even on her new friendship with the glamorous and perfect Heather Blackford. In a town like Sweet Apple, where sins and secrets are as likely to be found behind the walls of gated mansions as in the dark woods surrounding Merilee’s house, appearance is everything. But just how dangerous that deception can be will shock all three women.

This was a beautiful book, with wonderful writing that just sucks you in. I don’t know anything about Georgia or how things are done “in the South”… but this novel easily transported me there. I loved the richness of the details that the author put into her story, and the writing style was captivating. When I read books, I sometimes skip paragraphs here and there but with this novel, I savoured every word. I cannot describe to you the wonderful allure of the prose … it’s something you have to experience yourself. The story itself was tantalizing because it wasn’t just one story. The novel is told from both Merilee and Sugar’s perspectives and interspersed are the stories from Sugar’s past. As we watch their relationship blossom, we learn about grief, guilt, and the power of friendship. We learn about sacrifice, and the need to belong, and the pursuit for happiness. We learn about the difficulties of letting go. It doesn’t hurt that with all of this powerful growth, there is also a thriller thrown into the mix! The thriller was easy enough to figure out because the clues are laid out quite obviously. However, I didn’t mind this because the thriller wasn’t really the focus of the story, and it just served to illustrate the bond of friendship even more. I really didn’t expect myself to get caught up with this story. But the prose, themes, and characters grabbed my attention from the start and kept it there until the last page. This is another 5/5 star rating from me, and I would recommend this to anyone who likes women’s fiction and stories with strong female characters!

Happy reading ~

Sweetpea by C.J. Skuse

When I read the premise for this novel, it reminded me of You by Caroline Kepnes, which I had absolutely adored. But in this story, the psychopath is female. I have been so excited to read it so when I got the book, I locked myself in my room with plenty of food, turned off my phone and just read. Here is my review:

Rhiannon is your average girl next door, settled with her boyfriend and little dog…but she’s got a killer secret. Although her childhood was haunted by a famous crime, Rhinannon’s life is normal now that her celebrity has dwindled. She hates her day job as an editorial assistant for a newspaper. And her evenings are filled with boring girl’s night outs. Which gives her plenty of time to make a kill list. From the man on the Lidl checkout to the driver who cuts her off, to the people who actually deserve to die, Rhiannon’s ready to get her revenge. Because the girl everyone overlooks might be able to get away with murder…

The story starts off with a small list of the people who Rhiannon wants to kill and why she wants to kill them. Each chapter has this list in the beginning, and I found it to be quite funny. The people on this “kill list” and her reasons behind putting them on the list are actually quite normal in the sense that all of those things also annoy me very much – just not to the extent that I would kill them for it. Right off the bat, we are introduced to Rhiannon who is a sarcastic and twisted character. She’s quite funny and her diary entries (which is the point of view for the entire story) is quite interesting because she literally just says everything that is on her mind. Now, I don’t mind the idea of having the story told from her perspective but the diary style didn’t really work for me; it made the whole novel more of a comedy, when I was looking for something a bit more scary. I also got quite tired of Rhiannon complaining constantly about the same thing. I mean, really, if you have a problem and you are a psycho killer, why not do something about it? Most of the novel was just her complaining and it really started to annoy me after a while. I just wanted to get to the good plot bits! And while the plot was interesting, I had to get through a lot of mundane things. This novel is about 470 pages …. but it could have been shortened by about 200 pages. There’s a lot of bad language and explicit scenes so consider yourself warned; if you don’t like reading about blood and torture and murder and gore, then stay away from this novel! Overall, I thought that the author created a very sarcastic and darkly humorous character and the story had a really interesting plot. However, it dragged on a bit too much at times and it was hard to stay interested for the entire length of the novel. For those reasons, I’m giving it a 2.5/5 stars, rounded to 3.

Happy reading ~

The Party By Robyn Harding

This novel has been on all the trending reading lists. I really wanted to know what the hype was about. There’s been a trend in stories that talk about parties going wrong, but this one seemed unique in that it was not just told from the perspectives of adults but also from teens. Here is my review:

Sweet sixteen: it’s an exciting coming of age. To celebrate this milestone, Jeff and Kim Sanders plan on throwing a party for their daughter, Hannah, a sweet girl with good grades and nice friends. Instead of an extravagant affair, they invite 4 girls over for pizza, cake, movies, and a sleepover. But things go horrifically wrong. After a tragic accident occurs, Jeff and Kim’s flawless life in a wealthy San Francisco suburb suddenly begins to come apart. In the ugly aftermath, friends become enemies, dark secrets are revealed in the Sanders’ marriage, and the truth about their perfect daughter, Hannah, is exposed.

This novel was confusing in that it wasn’t sure what it was meant to be. In the beginning, I thought this story would pan out into a thriller, with increasing tension and a grand reveal. It started off giving every indication that that was exactly what would happen. And then it suddenly became a drama. Now, we are reading from the perspectives of adults and how this situation has changed their views on their children, and how they now question their parenting. It becomes a story about culpability, and guilt, and revenge. When the teen perspectives are shown, it’s all about bullying, guilt, and self-esteem and identity. And this is fine. There is nothing wrong with any of these themes. But it just came off a bit cheesy and overdone. It didn’t help that the adults were all extremely selfish and annoying. Just when I got used to all of this melodrama, the story begins to show hints of this big reveal. Once again, I’m feeling confused as to what I’m reading. In the end, the reveal really wasn’t anything out of the ordinary; it’s something that was easy to suspect, and may not even have been necessary. There were also a specific detail that the author mentioned (I will refer to it as the introduction of a psychopath) that really bothered me; it didn’t have to happen and was just there to add more drama to an already cringe-worthy situation. Overall, this novel was just confusing: it didn’t know if it wanted to be a thriller or a soap opera. It might have been better as the latter, since I felt that the grief and emotional aspects of the story were not too shabby. I’m giving this a 2.5/5 stars, but I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone looking for a good read; for me, this was just okay.

Happy reading ~

The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay

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

One of the first classics I ever ready was Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I loved it so much that I read a bunch of her other novels. While I may not have loved all of them, I have fond memories of curling up with an Austen book. The title of the novel caught my attention and the premise held it. So here is my review:

Mary Davies enjoys her job as an engineer. It doesn’t hurt that there is an adorable and intelligent consultant working alongside her. But things aren’t perfect. When Mary’s estranged childhood friend, Isabel, offers her a two-week stay in a gorgeous manor house in England, she reluctantly agrees in hopes that the holiday will shake up her quiet life in just the right ways. But Mary gets more than she bargained for when Isabel loses her memory and fully believes she lives in Jane Austen’s Bath. While Isabel rests and delights in the leisure of a Regency lady, attended by other costume-clad guests, Mary uncovers startling truths about their shared past, who Isabel was, who she seems to be, and the man who now stands between them.

This book is not like your typical Austen-style book. It doesn’t try to be a modern version of any Austen classic; instead, it takes the Austen characters and analyzes them through the pretense of an Austen-themed costume weeklong getaway. I loved the concept behind it: strangers sign up to live in a manor that is set up in the Regency era, and each person chooses a character from Jane Austen’s novels and pretends to be them for the duration of their stay. It’s the kind of adventure I would want to do! I really loved Mary’s character; she was one of the most realistic characters I have ever read about. The thoughts and feelings she has are ones I could relate to, and her actions make a lot of sense. She isn’t overly dramatic and doesn’t live in her own fantasy world; she is a quiet character who has her unique strengths and weaknesses. Mary was the kind of character I could envision as my friend because she was just so real! I also loved all of the other cast members of this novel, and how each played their part in telling this story. I thought that Isabel’s memory loss could have been done better (it was a little wishywashy in its appearance and disappearance and just didn’t have as strong of an explanation as I would have liked) but this did not detract from the novel’s story. The romance was done very nicely in this novel; again, it was not too dramatic and the misconceptions that occurred here were ones that I could see happening in the real world. I guess what I loved about this book so much was that it was so realistic and plausible that I could easily fall into the story and believe in it. All in all, I had a great time reading this book and would give it a solid 4/5 stars!

Happy reading ~

These Violent Delights by Victoria Namkung

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

Abuse of any kind has been a topic that a lot of authors are writing about. It is a very sensitive topic that needs to be taken seriously and handled carefully. There have been many times when authors try to portray some scenario of abuse but end up over-dramatizing it to the point where it is no longer taken seriously. I really did not want that happening here, and I am happy to say that it didn’t. Here is my review:

Windemere School for Girls is an elite private school in America that boasts of its ability to nurture the young minds of its female charges. The school has various teachers, including Dr. Gregory Copeland, the chair of the English Department and everyone’s favorite teacher. Although he is married, he has its own agenda, namely teenage girls who are under his care. For years, he has been targeting girls – until a former student goes public with allegations of inappropriate conduct. With the help of an investigative journalist, and 2 other Windemere alumnae who were Copeland’s students, these women unite to take him down.

I had recently read a book that dealt with domestic abuse and had not been too happy with the way the author had handled that subject matter. This author did not have that same problem. I felt that the issue of sexual abuse and abuse of power by authority figures was handled delicately and maturely. The story revolved around a former student who was interning at a newspaper and decided to share her incident through the news. This later led an investigative journalist, who was this student’s mentor, to help track down other women who had faced similar issues with this same teacher. The author really showed what investigative journalism is like. I also liked that the author did not shy away from difficult aspects of abuse. The story was also very real about the physical and mental damage that comes with abuse, as well as the negativity that comes when people accuse someone of perpetrating the abuse. It was very insightful. I will say that I don’t think this was really a story. From the way it was written to the actual events that were happening in the story, it felt more like a nonfiction book, which may throw off some readers. Either way, kudos to the author for doing a good job in chronicling sexual abuse in schools. I’m giving this a solid 3/5 stars.

Happy reading ~