Unraveling Oliver by Liz Nugent

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

Maybe there’s something really wrong with me, but I love books where the main character is seriously messed up. I like main characters who are potential psychopaths or sociopaths or who have committed a heinous crime. It’s not that I approve of those crimes, but I like to read from a very unique perspective – and what can be more unique than a villain? The first line of this story caught my attention and I knew I had to give this story a shot … so here is my review:

“I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.”

Oliver Ryan is a handsome, charismatic and successful author. With his devoted wife, Alice, they have written and illustrated award-winning children’s books. They have a comfortable life together – until one evening, after a wonderful dinner, Oliver delivers a blow to Alice that renders her unconscious. His subsequent beatings land Alice into a coma. In the aftermath of such violence, as Alice hovers between life and death, the couple’s friends, neighbors, and acquaintances try to understand what could have driven Oliver to commit such a horrific act. As his story unfolds, layers are peeled away to reveal a life of shame, envy, deception, and masterful manipulation.

This is not a psychological thriller and if you are expecting one, you will be sorely disappointed. This story is all about character development – and I think the author is pretty clear about that from the description that was given. As mentioned by the blurb, the story is told from multiple perspectives – friends, neighbours, acquaintances, and Oliver all give their impressions. I think the problem with this novel was that the most interesting part of it was that first line. The story just didn’t have the juiciness I was expecting. The author puts in a lot of effort to make the reader understand Oliver’s character, and to a certain degree, I think there is success. There were times when I really did feel sorry for him and what he has gone through. However, there just seemed this disconnect between the power of that initial line in the story and the events and perspectives that followed it. I also really didn’t care for the other perspectives. They were really just boring, and the only person I really cared about was Oliver. In the end, this novel just wasn’t unique or interesting enough for my liking. For those reasons, I’m giving this a 2/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

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Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstances by Ruth Emmie Lang

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

I loved this premise so much that I had to request this ARC. I was so happy to have gotten my request approved and I’m even happier that I got the chance to read this novel because it was just such a fantastic read! Here is my review:

Orphaned, raised by wolves, and the proud owner of a horned pig named Merlin, Weylyn Grey always knew he was different. But when he single-handedly stopped that tornado on a stormy Christmas day in Oklahoma, he realized just how special – and powerful – he really was. That tornado might have been the first event that had every happened to him … but it definitely wasn’t his last. Strange things seemed to follow Weylyn from town to town, although he tries not to take credit for them. While the powers seem amazing, they can also endanger Weylyn’s life and the lives of others. As Weylyn distances himself from his loved ones, those who care about him try to do everything they can to make him stay in their lives.

This story is told from multiple perspectives through various points of time. But every account centers around Weylyn and how he has changed that person’s life. I usually find that this kind of storytelling style can get quite complicated and murky. But the author handled it fantastically and I could not imagine this story being told in any other way. I love Weylyn; he is a sweetheart and someone I wish I could have met in my own life. He is conscientious and caring and always trying to be someone he is not. Every character that is introduced to him gets changed in their own way, and I love how each of these characters had their own unique voice and experience with Weylyn. Now, I usually prefer hearing things from the main character’s point of view but the author managed to give the reader a full appreciation for Weylyn through so many different perspectives that I was just as happy. I would not say that this story is plot-driven; it’s more about Weylyn struggling to deal with his abilities and finding himself. If you are looking for something more plot based, you probably won’t enjoy this story. I loved the simplicity of the motives behind Weylyn’s actions, as well as that of others. This story also pulled at my heartstrings; I didn’t realize how attached to Weylyn I had become as I was reading this book! Overall, this was just a lovely engrossing read that used an interesting style to shed light on a wonderful protagonist. I would definitely recommend this novel to fans of magical realism and sweet character-driven stories! I’m giving this novel 5/5 stars!

Happy reading ~

 

 

The Unseen World by Liz Moore

Literary fiction is a genre I don’t usually go for, mostly because I don’t have the time to get immersed in it. These aren’t novels you can quickly rush through. These novels must be read slowly, carefully; that’s the only way to fully immerse yourself into the world the author is creating. It is slow-paced and requires the reader’s attention at all times. It’s a commitment that I’m not always able to make. However, I made it this time. Here is my review:

Ada Sibelius’s father, David, is a brilliant and eccentric scientist who is single-handedly raising her. He directs a computer science lab in 1980s-era Boston. Home-schooled, Ada accompanies David to work every day; by twelve, she is a painfully shy prodigy who knows everything about computers and coding but nothing about being a teenager. When David’s mind begins to falter, Ada is left in the care of one of David’s colleagues.  Soon she embarks on a mission to uncover her father’s secrets: a process that carries her from childhood to adulthood. What Ada discovers on her journey into a virtual universe will change her life forever.

This book is beautiful. This is one of those times when I really don’t know how to come up with the right words to describe all of the wonderful things about this novel. But I’m going to try. The story is told almost exclusively from Ada’s point of view. She is a very interesting protagonist; she has an intelligent and analytical way of looking at interactions but she manages to retain her innocence. It is extremely difficult to achieve this type of voice and yet the author does so effortlessly. I felt like I was growing up right alongside Ada, feeling awe when around her father, wanting his approval, and feeling despair when he begins to forget. I feel her pain and her determination as she tries to make things alright, as she tries to find her place in the social hierarchy of high school. I find myself just as curious as she is, when she discovers that her father has secrets he has been hiding from everyone. This novel is slow in its pace but it needs to be in order for the reader to really connect with Ada and understand the magnanimity of her situation. I took my time with this novel, and it was definitely worth it. I would recommend this to anyone who likes literary fiction and coming-of-age stories. 4/5 stars from me!

Happy reading ~

Reindeer Mountain by Karin Tidbeck – Season of Stories

What I love about Season of Stories is that the short stories are sent in a very unique way. It starts on Tuesday and ends on Friday. Every Tuesday morning, when I wake up, there is an email that has part 1 of a short story. By Friday, I’ve got part 4 of the short story, which marks the completion of that tale. I love receiving the story this way because it builds the anticipation and leaves me guessing and wondering, just like I would do with a novel that I can’t read all in one sitting. With this story, I really felt that desire to gobble it all up in one go so having this build up just heightened my reading experience…. so let me get on with my review:

Sara and Cilla are on their way to Reindeer Mountain to visit their mother’s side of the family. Their relatives have lived in this area for generations, but now it is time for them to sell their ancestral home. As the girls help the family sort through old belongings, they uncover their great grandmother’s beautiful clothing. Curious about who she was, they ask their grandmother about her … what they find out changes their perception of themselves forever.

My struggle with giving a synopsis of a short story is that I feel like I’m giving away too much. Nevertheless, let me just say that this story was absolutely beautiful. It is told from Cilla’s perspective, who has an interesting yet naive view of the world. Through her eyes, we hear about the vittra, mythical creatures who look like humans but are far more. We hear about the family curse and the signs of mental illness. By the end of the story, we begin to question our own views on reality and identity. It was haunting and beautiful and I’m pretty sure I’m going to give the complete short story collection, Jagannath, a try!

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 ~

Goblin by Ever Dundas

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

When I read a premise that is just straight-up weird, I can’t resist the urge to read the book. The premise itself becomes the mystery and my curiosity won’t let me rest until I discover what it is all about. That was how I felt when I came across this novel and so, I was very glad to have received this book through NetGalley and the publishers!

Goblin is an outcast girl growing up in London during World War 2. She is rejected by her mother, ignored by her father, and only finds solace in the company of her older brother and her animals. After witnessing a shocking event, Goblin retreats into a self-constructed imaginary world where she can be safe. And so begins her feral life amidst the wreckage of London, with only her family of abandoned animals to keep her company.
It is now 2011, and an elderly Goblin receives an unwanted phone call to return to London amidst the riots. But returning means facing the ghosts of her past, something which she may not have the strength for. Will she finally discover the truth she has been hiding from?

I think calling this novel a blend between fantasy and reality might be a bit of a stretch. And the reason that I say this is because it misled me a great deal. From the premise, I thought that I would be reading about a girl who flits back and forth between different realms and it is up to the reader to discover which is the truth. The novel is better depicted as flitting between past and present, and there is always this feeling that something is being hidden from the reader and from the protagonist herself. Yes, she makes up things and creates her own reality, but I wouldn’t go so far as to portray it as a fantasy because technically, not much of what she says is fake. Most of it is real. Aside from this contradiction, I really did enjoy this story. It is deep and complex, and you get lost in Goblin’s world. She is a unique character, one that I have never really encountered and seeing things from her perspective is just such a bizarre and amazing experience. Her life is absolutely ridiculous in its trajectory but that’s what keeps the story moving, and keeps the interest of the reader. As the story continued to build, and the digging for the truth begins, the author ramps up the tension – and this is done beautifully, by the way. I was holding my breath, turning the pages as fast as I could until I finally reached the end. And the ending was abrupt, I won’t lie, but it worked because this is just one of those books that doesn’t really follow the rules. In short, I think this was a very interesting novel that takes place during World War 2 and features a very unique female protagonist; however, if you are expecting some major fantasy elements, then you may find yourself disappointed.

Happy reading ~

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson

You may expect that an idyllic community of wealthy California families would be the perfect paradise. Instead, when a middle school tragedy occurs, it becomes a nightmare. The reverberations from that tragedy still shake the community … and the privileged students involved in it. Now, new teacher Molly Nicoll enters the scene, hoping to inspire her pupils and understand them, not knowing the effects that the disaster has already had on them. At every turn, there is a child hiding under high school stereotypes: Nick, the brilliant scam artist; Emma, the gifted dancer and party girl; Dave, the B student who strives to meet his parents’ expectations; Calista, the hippie outcast who hides her intelligence for reasons of her own; and Abigail, the girl who has her life charted out but makes a rash decision that will change her world.

The first story that this novel opens up with is emotionally-charged, and it is what got me into this book. It reminded me a lot of my own middle school and high school days, and every miserably memory that I had from that time. It was powerful and showed the very dark side of adolescence. However, the rest of the novel didn’t really work for me. Each chapter is like a vignette into a character’s life, and reading this novel, it began to feel as if I was reading short stories instead of a cohesive novel. The characters were also a bit too flat for me because they didn’t always get enough time in their chapter to be explored and developed; I ended up not really caring about any of them. At one point, I began to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of characters, which took my attention away from the main message. It’s clear from this novel that the author is very passionate about the drama and bullying and difficulties that arise in adolescents who are in high school. And she did a great job of exploring the various issues. That passion is evident throughout the novel and was the force that propelled the plot forward. However, this passion wasn’t enough for me to like this novel. If you like novels that deal with these issues, then you should definitely give this one a read. However, I will be giving this novel a 2.5/5 (the 2.5 is for the passion).

Happy reading ~

The Space Between The Stars by Anne Corlett

I have been super excited to read this novel because it had such a unique dystopian presence. I like the idea of space travel and thought it would be an interesting element to this dystopian novel. Thank you to the First to Read program by Penguin Randomhouse for this ARC in exchange for my honest review.

All Jamie Allenby ever wanted was space, so much so that she willingly left Earth and moved to a more isolated planet. It is the perfect way for her to escape the sadness of her dissolving relationship. And then the virus hit. Now Jamie finds herself dreadfully alone. But a garbled message from Earth gives her hope that there may be survivors. When she finds some of them, their ragtag group will travel through vast stretches of space to try to start a new life on Earth. But their dream becomes harder and harder to reach as they face off against those trying to maintain the old ways of life.

If you are looking for a sci-fi heavy novel, then this one is not for you. This novel turned out to be a lot more philosophical as the physical journey the survivors take gives way to their inner journey. It was a novel that had enough suspense to keep you going, and didn’t drag you down with too many words. It never tried to impose any ideas on you, and allowed the reader to come to their own conclusions about each of the characters. I quite enjoyed the writing style and the revelations of the different characters. However, the main character was hard for me to empathize with. She was constantly whining, and rarely helpful. She became an irritating character who didn’t really do much to redeem herself. Overall, this novel is a very nicely written philosophical novel that takes place in a dystopian universe. However, the main character is hard to connect with at times, and the novel doesn’t have a heavy sci-fi connection (even though that is what it was portrayed to be). For all these reasons, I would give this novel a 3/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti

* ARC received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review *

I’ve been really behind on my reading list with all of the time I’ve been spending with my family during the holidays. Now that my break is over and I need to go back to my lab, I’m hoping I will still be able to squeeze in time for more books. I sat down last night and read this book until the wee hours, which is honestly when I am at my best in terms of focusing. This novel is quite unique, and you’re soon going to find out why!

When Lizzie Lovett goes missing, everyone is shocked. Perfect, beautiful, charming Lizzie Lovett gone without a trace?! A tragedy by all means. Teenage misfit Hawthorn Creely doesn’t think so. But with the whole town caught up in this mystery, Hawthorn decides to do some investigating on her own. Hawthorn doesn’t mean to be nosy but now that she has an interesting theory about what led to Lizzie’s disappearance, she will do anything to prove that she’s right, even if it means immersing herself in Lizzie’s life completely. This means taking her job …. and maybe even her boyfriend. What Hawthorn never expected is that while she’s been looking for Lizzie, she might have found her true self instead.

In the beginning, I didn’t really like Hawthorn. I thought she was really annoying, self-centered, and behaved really immaturely for someone who is a senior in high school. As the story progressed, my opinion changed. Hawthorn continued to make silly comments and acted in an immature way but it was tempered with growing self-awareness of the way others perceive her. She stopped victimizing herself and became so much stronger. This whole story isn’t really about Lizzie so if you are looking for some kind of thriller, you will be grossly disappointed. This novel is a coming-of-age story about a misfit who finally learns to love herself and appreciate her uniqueness. And for that reason, I loved the story. I could empathize with Hawthorn; I know what it’s like to never fit in and deal with bullying on an everyday basis. I know what it’s like to want to be loved and to have someone “get” you when no one else does. The author did a fantastic job showing how her desperation for these things leads to questionable decisions, and how she bounces back when things go south. The writing style also made this story an enjoyable read. With every word, I felt compelled to keep going, keep reading about Hawthorn and her family, and all the ways in which people are affected by tragedy. Overall, this is a great teen fiction story, and I can’t wait to read more by this author!