Lies She Told by Cate Holahan

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

I really like stories about writers, regardless of genre. While I am an avid reader, I have very little skill when it comes to writing anything. And believe me, I’ve tried. So I have a lot of respect for authors and people who make writing their profession. When a story has an author as a main character, it really opens the reader’s eyes to the writing process and how different it can be from one person to another. To me, that understanding is just as enjoyable as the story itself. It was one of the things that drew me to this novel, but the thriller’s premise was also intriguing enough that I couldn’t let it pass me by. So here is my long-overdue review:

Liza Cole, a novelist, has only 1 month to write the thriller that will put her back on the bestseller list. If that wasn’t enough pressure, she’s struggling to start a family with her husband, who is too distracted by the disappearance of his best friend, Nick. As stresses weigh her down in her professional and personal lives, Liza escapes into writing the chilling exploits of her latest heroine, Beth.

Beth, a new mother, suspects her husband is cheating on her while she’s home caring for their newborn. Angry and betrayed, she aims to catch him in the act and make him pay for shattering the illusion of their perfect life. But before she realizes what she’s doing, she’s tossing the body of her husband’s mistress into the East River.

Liza is happy with the way Beth’s story is turning out … until the lines between fiction and reality begin to blur. Nick’s body is dragged from the East River, and Liza’s husband is arrested for his murder. Liza will have to face up to the truths about the people around her. If she doesn’t, the end of her heroine’s story could be the end of her own.

This story is told in alternating chapters, one being Liza’s story, the other being Beth’s story. While I really liked the author’s use of parallel storylines, it got confusing very quickly. There were a bit too many things similar and it became hard to keep things straight. While it was obviously the author’s intent for the reader to be able to pick up the similarities between the fiction and the reality, it would have been helpful if certain details (like names) hadn’t been so similar; I had to reread certain chapters and sections to make sure I didn’t confuse the different story lines and I really hate having to go back and forth in a novel to address confusion issues. Whenever there are 2 story lines, I inadvertently find myself drawn to one more than the other. In this case, I was more intrigued by Beth (who was part of the fictional aspect of the novel) who was a stronger protagonist. Both story lines were written well and it was easy to connect with both protagonists emotionally. As the story continued, I could really feel the fiction and reality aspects blurring together, and the tension was insanely high! I couldn’t wait to see how things would end … and then it did. And I wasn’t so pleased. I think that I liked the ending for Liza’s story line but the one that was fashioned for Beth took me completely off-guard and not in a good way. After so much suspense and tension, the ending fell quite flat for me. However, I did enjoy everything else about this novel. For those reasons, I’m giving this a 3/5 stars and would recommend this to anyone who likes thrillers and dual storylines.

Happy reading ~

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Scythe by Neal Shusterman – Arc of a Scythe #1

As soon as I read the premise for this novel, I knew I had to give this book a shot. It was a short blurb but it contained everything it needed to pique my interest. It’s about 400 pages…. and I devoured it in one sitting. Here is my review:

Thou shalt kill.

In a world where hunger, disease, and war had been eradicated, life was relatively comfortable. Humanity has conquered everything – including death. Only scythes are the ones who can take life, and they only do so in order to keep the population size under control. Scythes are feared and respected by all, and they are above all laws except for the Scythe commandments. It is a grim job, but a necessary one for society to thrive. Citra and Rowan are two teenagers who are chosen to become apprentices to a scythe – a role that both have the aptitude for but neither of them want. However, they must master the “art” of taking life – unless they want to lose their own.

While I devoured this novel, my impression of it was mixed. I really liked the concept behind this novel: there is a society of Scythes (who are basically Grim Reapers) and we are following the adventures of 2 characters who will, presumably, end up in this profession. I really liked the little details that the author included and the world-building; I just wish there had been more of it. A lot of it was vague and more details would have cemented the story better. I liked Citra and Rowan a lot, as they were both unique and neither one overshadowed the other. I just wish the author hadn’t tried to put in a romance angle there, because it didn’t really work. Even though the story is mostly about their apprenticeships, I really enjoyed their different journeys. I will admit: I liked Rowan’s journey more because he seemed to have grown and developed more as a character than Citra, who pretty much remained the same from beginning to end. This may also have been because of the lack of details/the focus on certain story lines over world-building. I didn’t actually like the whole idea of there being a duel between Citra and Rowan; it seemed like it was just thrown in there when it really didn’t have any merit. I know it seems like I have a huge list of complaints about this novel but I’ve got to say that I really enjoyed reading it. I was caught in by the story and I really wanted to get through it and see what would happen to everyone involved. I was excited and intrigued and couldn’t pull away from this novel. I don’t think this is a book that everyone will like because it does lack a bit in maturity (plus all of the other issues I mentioned above); this is definitely more suited for teenagers. However, I liked it and I’m looking forward to reading the next book in this series! I’m giving it a 3.5/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden – Winternight Trilogy #2

I’m so lucky to have gotten my hands on this book as soon as it released! I have been really bad when it comes to series; I almost always preorder the books, but when they arrive, I never read them. This is what has happened with the Queen of the Tearling series (I promise I will get to it soon!), but I was determined to not let it happen here! As soon as I received my copy, I put aside all of my other books. So now, here is my review:

Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya has very few options: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both restrict her freedom and her chances of seeing the vast world. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.

As usual, the author has delivered a stunning historical fantasy novel. I love how true the author stays to historical Russian events and Russian mythology throughout the story. It is so easy for the reader to imagine this vivid setting and fall into the story. There are loads of supernatural elements in the story but they are worked into this intricate political plot. I’m always surprised to see this combination work as well as it does, because it just seems so contradictory! I also love learning about Russian culture and mythology through this novel; it’s something I’ve always been fascinated by and the author really does an amazing job of making it come to life through Vasya’s adventure. This story takes place almost right where the first book left off. I found it interesting that the first perspective wasn’t Vasya’s but one of her siblings, instead. I thought that this novel had more action and adventure than the previous novel in the series. This kept my interest up, but I also wish that there had been more mystery, which is what I had loved about The Bear and the Nightingale. In all fairness, I think I preferred the first book to this one. The Bear and the Nightingale had this wonderful depth and development of character even though it lacked the fast pace of The Girl in the Tower. I almost wish that there had been a little less action and a little more focus on the character relationships (especially between Vasya and Morozko!) and the mythology. Overall, this was still a really great novel and I cannot wait for the third book in this trilogy! I’m giving this a solid 4/5 stars!

Happy reading ~

How I Lost You by Jenny Blackhurst

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

Whenever I read a premise where the main character has no recollection of an incident and is just “told” that something happened in a certain way, it makes me roll my eyes. This scenario has been overused so many times that I struggle to see how it can be made unique. However, I thought that this one might just work. Here is my review:

3 years ago, Susan Webster was convicted of murdering her 12-week-old son Dylan. She was sent to Oakdale Psychiatric Institute to serve her sentence, as she was deemed to have suffered from postpartum depression, which caused her to commit this heinous crime. Now, she has been released on parole and given a new identity and name: Emma Cartwright. Just as she is beginning to rebuild her life, she receives an anonymous letter with her former name on it. Inside is a photograph of a toddler named Dylan. Suddenly, Emma starts to question everything she has ever been told. If she has no memory of the murder of her son, then did it really happen? If there was the smallest chance your son was alive, what would you do to get him back?

I wouldn’t say I had high hopes for this novel which is the way I am with all thrillers, but this one was a whole new low. There were so many things about this story that I didn’t like. I really did not like Susan/Emma. While I understand she was stuck in her grief over her child and was confused with the turn of events, she was extremely naive and didn’t show an ounce of intelligence at any point. She behaved in a way that just didn’t make any sense to me – and this includes her ability to fall for every guy that she meets. It made me so annoyed to see her develop an attraction/feelings for someone who she literally met only twice and knows nothing about. Also, considering the circumstance, it really didn’t make sense that she was indulging in romantic fantasies. The story is told from 2 different perspectives: Susan/Emma, and an unknown character named Jack. I have to say that I actually liked Jack’s story more than Susan/Emma’s … even though the former ended up having the smallest part in this novel. The story started to segue into another plot about halfway through, which is a common trend. However, this other direction really made no sense to me. Suddenly, Susan/Emma is pursuing this instead, hoping that it will somehow lead to clues about her son (but how this would even happen when they are two unrelated things, I have no idea). Then at the end of the novel, there is that big reveal…. and it was so disappointing. It was such a failed attempt at trying to tie in 2 plot lines that really didn’t go together. And suddenly, all of these random names were dropping and identities were changing and it just really got too much. I just found myself very disappointed with the entire novel in terms of its story line. I’m giving this a 1/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch

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

I’ve been looking forward to this book for a long time because its premise is just the kind of thing I love. Here is my review:

Shannon Moss is part of a clandestine division within the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. In Western Pennsylvania, 1997, she is assigned to solve the murder of a Navy SEAL’s family and to locate his teenage daughter, who has disappeared. Moss soon discovers that the missing SEAL was an astronaut on the spaceship U.S.S. Libra – a ship presumed lost to the darkest currents of Deep Time. Moss knows the kind of trauma that can occur when you time-travel and believes that the SEAL’s experience with the future is what triggered this violence. Determined to find the missing girl and driven by a troubling connection from her own past, Moss travels ahead in time to explore possible versions of the future, seeking evidence or insight that will crack the present-day case. To her horror, the future reveals that it’s not only the fate of a family that hinges on her work…

I wanted so badly to love this novel. It had such a fantastic story line and I’m a sucker for strong female characters. However, this novel and I just didn’t work well. I found it a bit slow at times, which stopped me from really getting into the story. I also found that the way it was written was very confusing; there were too many details and names thrown out there and it became hard for me to keep track of everyone. And that was just in the first few chapters! I really liked the concept behind this story, and the tie-in with the mystery and science fiction elements. However, the writing style made this confusing and hard to get into. A lot of other people have read this book and have very positive reviews on it, so I would encourage anyone who is a fan of this author or who likes mysteries/sci-fi to give this novel a shot!

Happy reading ~

The Space Between Words by Michele Phoenix

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

I’ve never read Christian fiction. It’s not like I go out of my way to avoid it but I generally try to stay away from any books that focus on any religion. However, I thought this novel had an intriguing premise and I wanted to give this genre a chance. So here is my review:

When Jessica regains consciousness in a French hospital on the day after the Paris attacks, all she wants to do is run away. But her best friend Patrick urges her to reconsider her decision. Reluctantly, she agrees to continue with the trip they had planned before the tragedy. During a stop at a county flea market, Jessica discovers an antique sewing kit that contains a faded document. As new friends help her to translate the archaic French in the papers, they uncover the story of Adeline Baillard, a young woman who had been condemned for practicing her faith centuries ago. Adeline and her community had been decimated by the Huguenot persecution. But the documents showed that there were those who had managed to escape the brutality, including Adeline’s siblings. Determined to learn the fate of the Baillard’s, Jessica retraces their journey from France to England, spurred by a need she doesn’t understand. Could this stranger who lived three hundred years before hold the key to Jessica’s survival?

I was quite surprised to find that I really enjoyed this novel. It definitely went beyond my expectations and I loved that the author had a historical aspect for this story. I really knew nothing about the Huguenots until this novel, so that was a huge revelation for me. It is always a sad thing to hear about people being persecuted for their beliefs, and the fact that this still happens to this day is just terrible. I liked how Jessica goes on this journey to understand the Baillard’s continual belief in their faith, while also figuring out what happened to them. Jessica became invested in finding out their truth, and so I as the reader became invested in it, too. I always love reading about documents that start a journey, and this one was no exception! In fact, I think the author did a great job of making the journey progress the way that it did. As expected from a novel in this genre, there is a focus on faith and religion, but it is really quite mild and it is presented in a way where people of all different religions can enjoy and appreciate the message. I will admit that I was more intrigued by the historical aspect than what Jessica was going through, but the author did a good job of showing how PTSD can traumatize a person and shake their identity. Overall, this was a really solid novel, with good writing and a good journey!

Happy reading ~

The Lives of Desperate Girls by Mackenzie Commons

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

I was intrigued by both the premise and the location of this novel. I really like novels where teens are dealing with something difficult and take it upon themselves to find out what’s really going on. I also wanted to see how the author portrays Northern Ontario; as a Torontonian who has never really gone up north, I was excited to read about what life is like there. Anyways, here is my review:

When 16-year-old Helen Commanda is found murdered just outside Thunder Creek, no one pays any attention to it. All her death does is shed light on the earlier disappearance of Chloe Shaughnessy. Chloe is everything Helen isn’t: beautiful, wealthy, and white. The fact that Helen was from the reservation only seems to make it easier for people to dismiss her. Only Jenny Parker, Chloe’s best friend, seems to think it is important to look into Helen’s death, and so she takes it upon herself to look for answers about Helen’s life and death. But what can a teenage girl really accomplish where adults have failed? And how much is Jenny actually complicit in a conspiracy of silence?

I have mixed feelings about this novel because there are a few things that the author does that I like but an equal amount of things that I don’t like. I really liked that the author highlighted the problems of the First Nations people of Canada. Not many people are aware of their struggles and the things they have endured – and continue to endure – are heartbreaking. And the author really does do justice to them: she tells it like it is. I only wish it had been told from the perspective of an actual Native and not just from that of a white teenage girl. While Jenny is definitely trying to understand and be aware of the oppression and racism that the Aboriginal people face, I don’t think she is necessarily the best spokesperson for it since she really isn’t a part of their community or culture. I wish there had been more emphasis on the way life is on the reserves and the traditions that the First Nations value, as that would have allowed the reader to see some of the wonderful aspects of their culture. However, the idea that a Native girl’s death is not as important as a Caucasian girl’s disappearance was an interesting one and I think the author did a really good job of bringing that to the forefront. I actually found the writing style compelling, even if it was confusing to follow at times what with the various jumps in time that Jenny took; it was hard to tell if something was happening in the present or if it was just a memory. I did not like the love angle that the author tried to force into the situation; it didn’t add anything to the novel and it was not well planned or executed. It was literally just two teenagers hooking up and doing drugs and drinking, none of which screams romance or bonding. I didn’t like the incompetence of the cops, and I’m not just referring to their dismissal over the case of Helen. I’m referring to the almost comical way they question and interrogate Jenny over Chloe’s disappearance; you would think adults would know how to run an investigation and ask the right questions but clearly, that is not the case in this novel. The author also takes on another topic: slut-shaming. While I think this is an important topic to discuss, I don’t really like Jenny’s role in that aspect and I wish the author had made her more … sensible or intelligent. I also didn’t really like how things were resolved in the novel because, well, it didn’t really feel resolved. I understand that not everything can have a happy ending but this just felt messy and unfinished. Overall, I think the author chose 2 very important topics to center her novel around. While the writing was compelling, the main character’s decisions as well as the actual ending of the novel left me disappointed. For those reasons, I’m giving this novel a 2/5 stars.

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 ~

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

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

I haven’t read a nonfiction novel in a long time and I don’t think I have ever blogged about it. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to broaden my reading range. I’m so glad that I chose to read this book because it was such a fantastic experience. Here is my review:

As World War I took its tool, hundreds of young women were employed at radium-dial factories to paint clock faces with a new miracle substance: radium. Assured by their bosses that the luminous material was completely safe, the women used the “lip-painting” technique to do their job, happily surprised to find themselves glowing from head to toe by the dust that collected after a day’s work. With such a coveted job, these girls were considered to be the luckiest of all – until they all began to fall ill. As the radium poisoned their bodies, they found themselves battling not just their physical ailments but the working industry themselves in one of America’s biggest scandals.

I never expected a nonfiction novel to be so moving and gripping. I could not read this novel in one sitting; I had to take multiple pauses because it was just so emotional. I didn’t know much about this topic before I began reading. I had just thought that this was an interesting event that involved radium, a substance I’m familiar with through my course work. I got so much more than that through this book. The author creates a vivid story that looks at the lives of all of these women, full of their hopes and dreams and despairs. It shows all of the different people involved that either hindered or aided in justice being meted out. There was so much courage and strength portrayed here and the author made the reader care about every single woman mentioned in the story; they weren’t just names but real people that I could connect with. While the novel was definitely more in favor of the women than the radium companies (which totally makes sense!), I was happy to see that the author did take into account the reasons why the companies did what they did; it didn’t make me sympathetic to them on any account but it did make an attempt to give a more well-rounded picture of the scandal. This was a gripping story where I was on the edge of my seat, wondering how the women would get past each obstacle thrown in their way. The best thing about this story was the message of perseverance and hope and bravery that these women showed in every facet of their lives; they may have been dying but they wouldn’t give up on living and fighting. It made me feel so proud to see all that they accomplished even after facing such adversity. I can honestly say that I have never felt this emotionally invested in a novel before. What an amazing story and the author did such a brilliant job of making it relevant and appealing to the masses. This is definitely a nonfiction book you don’t want to miss out on!

Happy reading ~

The Dry by Jane Harper

I know that I’ve been a lot slower in reading books and posting books, and I can assure you that it isn’t due to a lack of reading material (I am up to my eyeballs in books!) But there is a lot going on in my lab and in terms of course work so my reading has taken a bit of a back seat. However, I am planning on making up for it by reading a lot more this weekend so hopefully it all works out. Anyways, enough excuses, here is my review!

20 years ago, Aaron Falk and his family were driven out of their hometown of Kiewarra. Aaron moved to Melbourne and eventually got a job as a Federal Police investigator, hoping to never have a reason to visit that vicious place. But then he discovers that his childhood friend, Luke, is dead. What’s more, Luke is said to have killed his wife and son before committing suicide, leaving behind only his infant daughter. With this shocking news comes a cryptic letter from Luke’s father saying “You lied. Luke lied. Come to the funeral.” Aaron arrives but only plans to stay for one day. But his investigative skills are called on by Luke’s parents – and that’s when he realizes that the murder-suicide charge may not fit the bill. As Falk probes deeper into the murders, old wounds begin to reveal themselves. Because Falk and Luke shared a secret, one that they thought was long-buried but has finally been brought to the surface…

I wasn’t expecting to like this novel as much as I did; in fact, when I first began to read, I thought that this novel would be just like every other thriller. But that impression soon changed. This book had my attention after just one chapter and I raced through it (surreptitiously, of course, so that my supervisor wouldn’t see me reading!) in just a few hours. What an excellent novel! It was thought-provoking, had great pacing, a really polished writing style, and wonderfully fleshed-out characters. Everything about this novel worked. This is not a fast-paced thriller. This is a novel that takes its time to draw out the tension, reveal all of the different characters and their motives, show how inner secrets can fester and become an obsession. It makes the story very believable and emotionally-packed. It makes the reader WANT to invest the time to engage with the novel – and this novel is definitely engaging! I cannot (and will not!) stop raving about the way the author developed each character, made them stand out in your mind, and made them important to the reader and to the story itself. I never found myself forgetting about who a character was, or wondering why a character was mentioned. It all made sense. The plot was also amazing in that it flowed logically and came to a very satisfying conclusion; there are few things I value more than that in a book! This novel is best described as an experience, because it makes the reader feel like a part of the story. When the author describes the heat, I find myself sweating. As the author depicts certain interactions between different characters, I feel like I am physically present. I can go on and on about this book, but I think it’s best if you read and judge for yourself. Overall, a masterful book with perfect flow, deep characters, and a satisfying story.

Happy reading ~