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 ~

Plague by C. C. Humphreys

I really like historical fiction novels but I don’t read many books in this genre. Perhaps it’s because I always find myself being recommended thrillers or fantasy novels. I was looking at what book to read next and decided that this historical fiction had an interesting enough premise to give it a shot… so here is my review:

London, 1665. It has been 5 years since Charles II was restored to the throne, and he has spent these years enjoying everything London has to offer. Cockpits, brothels, and the theatre run rampant, with both women and men performing alongside each other. But not everyone is happy with these developments. Some see this “liberation” as a new Babylon and decide that it is time to clean up London… through murder. And no one is spared from the scalpel of this cruel killer, be it a royalist member of Parliament or a whore. But they all have 2 things in common: they are found with gemstones in their mouths and it is evident that they have been … sacrificed. Amidst all of this pandemonium comes the plague, back in full force leaving no one safe… and so, murder has found a new friend.

I thought I would enjoy this novel a lot more than I did. The characters were quite interesting, and I really liked the way the author introduced each one, giving them all their own chapter and spotlight at the very beginning of the book. The language of the book was perfectly written to fit in with the surroundings; the author did a great job setting the scene. However, I felt that the plot itself was lackluster, at times dragging and at times rushed. Some parts of the plot were quite unnecessary and that just made it harder for me to get through this novel. I thought that the plague would play more of a role than it did but it just served to set the scene. Overall, this book had interesting characters and a perfect setting, but lacked in a strong and interesting plot. I would recommend this to anyone looking for an adventure story.

Happy reading ~

Hell’s Gate by Laurent Gaudé

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

I always enjoy reading foreign novels. By this, I am referring to novels that are not in the English language. It’s interesting to see how the author’s culture and background influence the writing style and approach to the story they are creating. My only wish would be to be able to read the work in its original format, rather than as a translation. With this novel, I was interested to see how the author would take the concept of death and make it unique.

When Matteo’s son gets killed by gangsters in a crossfire as he makes his way to school, life seems to end for Matteo and his wife. Consumed by grief and despair, Matteo’s wife, Guiliana, asks him to either bring back their son or take revenge on the man who killed him. But when the moment for vengeance occurs, Matteo finds himself unable to commit the final deed. This disappointment becomes too much to bear and Guiliana leaves. It is during this time that Matteo makes the acquaintance of a mysterious priest who claims to know the way to the underworld and is willing to take him there. But the journey to the land of the dead is a dangerous one and may be more than Matteo bargained for.

This was an intriguing concept of vengeance, death, and grief. The author did such an amazing job portraying the complexity of grief and death, so much so that you can feel and understand the pain and suffering felt by Matteo and Guiliana. You can understand the decisions they make, the various stages of grief that they go through, and the ways in which they struggle to hold onto their lives even as life loses all meaning for them. It was powerful in that way, even though the reader never feels a true connection to any character. I would be hard-pressed to believe that any reader would be able to form a strong bond with the characters in this book, especially based on the storytelling style employed here. Usually, I consider this a negative, but in the case of this novel, it worked. It made the descent into the Underworld the focal point, and added a level of intrigue that may not have been possible if the reader was more focused on the character than the plot. This novel is guaranteed to take you on a unique journey that is thought-provoking and will stay with you long after you finish reading.

Happy reading ~

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff – Nevernight Chronicle #1

I didn’t really know what to expect when I got this novel. It seemed interesting enough with its amazing cover art and its blurb about assassins. I love all things dark and anti-heroes are my favorite, especially when they’ve got a pretty kick-ass revenge plot. I was quite excited to read this novel … and it shows because I stayed up until 4am in the morning to finish this book, and I forgot to eat lunch and dinner!

In a land where three suns almost never set, a fledgling killer joins a school of assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family.

Mia Corvere barely escaped her father’s failed rebellion with her life. With him executed as a traitor, her mother is sent to a prison with her younger brother, and Mia was sent to her death. She manages to escape and finds herself alone and friendless in a city built from the bones of a dead god. But she finds solace at the doors of a retired killer, who leads her to a future she could never have imagined. Now, Mia is sent to train with the deadliest group of assassins in the entire Republic: the Red Church. If she can beat her classmates in the areas of steel, poison, and the subtle arts, she will be inducted among the Blades of the Lady of Blessed Murder – and one step closer to the revenge she seeks. But with a killer loose within the church, Mia may not even survive to initiation.

I find that the more I love a book, the worse I am at articulating what it is I like about the novel. I’m going to try my best to overcome that here.

This is not a novel that is light-hearted. You are reading a story about assassins and as such, this novel is grim and dark and full of complexity. Every person is a cold-blooded killer and you really cannot trust anyone. On top of that, there is a murder plot going on that becomes quite important as the story goes on. What I loved about this story was that it kept its theme throughout; the same intensity and darkness were maintained and the novel was engaging to read. I loved that the characters themselves were so dark and broken and messed-up – it made for such interesting characters. The author did a great job with creating the anti-hero and showing her growth. The story flits between her past and present in such a way that I felt like I knew her and also felt like she was an enigma all at the same time. Every character introduced has a purpose – but whether they are good or bad remains to be seen. This novel was a rollercoaster ride and it was one of the best rollercoasters I have ever been on!

I am not a fan of lengthy descriptions and overusage of metaphors and similes. But it worked for this novel. The first chapter that I encountered was written in alternating paragraph form, depicting 2 distinctly different scenes in a similar manner. It hooked me. It was such a unique and interesting way to write and as soon as I read it, I had to reread it again to make sure of what I had just read. It was one of those woah-epiphany moments for me, and after that, I was captivated by the writing style employed in this novel. I loved that there were footnotes included that gave little funny tidbits from an unknown sarcastic narrator. I enjoyed having glimpses between the past and the present, and the way the author wrote made it a mystery as to who is actually on Mia’s side and who is a potential threat.

Overall, I found this book spellbinding from the start, with its unique (and humorous) prose, its sinister plot, and its amazing characters. I am anxiously waiting to read Godsgrave, the next novel in this series!

Happy reading ~

All The Forever Things by Jolene Perry

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

I’m always in the mood for a story that is unique. I find that most realistic fiction novels that are YA tend to follow the same trajectory, but this story came off as being different so I was glad to be approved for this ARC! Here is my review:

Gabriella’s family owns and operates a funeral home, which makes Gabriella well acquainted with all aspects of death. She may be weird and a bit dark, but at least she has her best friend Bree on her side. But when Bree begins to date the jock who used to bully Gabriella, their friendship starts to change. Gabriella wants to be supportive but she just isn’t comfortable with Bree’s new relationship. It doesn’t help that Bree has no time for Gabriella anymore, and even begins to act like all of the other girls in school. The only person who seems to want to spend time with “Graveyard Gabe” is Hartman, the new guy in town who has his own issues. To try to get things back to normal with Bree, Gabriella agrees to drive everyone to prom… but no one could have been prepared for the deadly incident that would occur.

The premise for this novel was definitely interesting. I mean, you don’t hear too often about teenagers living and working in a funeral home. And Gabriella – or Gabe, as she likes to be called – is definitely on the morbid side. She wears vintage clothes in black, and loves Wednesday Addams. Not that I have a problem with either of these things! I think that the author enticed readers by showing them this breakdown in friendship between Gabe and Bree, and the emergence of something romantic between Gabe and Hartman. But I wish the author had really gotten into the material instead of just skimming the surface. There were quite a few instances where the author could have really pushed and delivered more on the emotional front, but instead, it just felt very … superficial. Instead of making this more of a heartbreak, this novel (for the most part) just seemed like a girl whining about growing up. Even during times when my alarm bells went off, things didn’t really take a serious or deep turn. This novel had a lot of potential but I think its flaw comes from the fact that everything that happened with the characters just skimmed the surface. When I read a realistic fiction story, I expect it to be very character-driven; I want it to be teeming with complex emotions from the side of the protagonist as well as the other characters. However, this novel didn’t dig deep enough into the character’s personality, so it was very hard for me to feel any sympathy for anyone in the story. Also Hartman’s character just came off weird. I understand that the author wanted to show him as grieving but his actions just didn’t match up so he just confused me. In the end, this was a novel with a lot of potential that didn’t really deliver what I was expecting.

Happy reading ~

The Girl From Rawblood by Catriona Ward

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

I love ghost stories. Pretty much anything that can make me feel scared at night is going to be of interest to me. I love ghost stories or supernatural stories that will scare me to death, but I also enjoy reading stories that make me think. This novel did a bit of both for me.

Iris and her father are the last members of the Villarca family. For generations, the Villarcas have been haunted by a mysterious entity simply known as “her”. Her origins are a mystery but her purpose is clear: if a Villarca gets married, or falls in love, or has a child, she will come and there will be death. Iris made a promise to her father: she will always be alone. But when she is 15, Iris breaks it. She falls in love – and there are dire consequences.

This novel can be a bit confusing because it is not a linear story. Each chapter is written by a different person who has been affected by “her”. In order to read this novel, you need to pay careful attention or else you will find yourself utterly lost. That being said, I found the story to be highly engrossing. I enjoyed putting the pieces together and seeing how the Villarca curse has affected those in the Villarca family line, as well as those who aren’t directly a part of this family. I liked the fact that the story didn’t flow smoothly; I enjoyed the jarring effect of being caught up in one story just to be yanked out and put into another. It made the reading of this novel so much fun! I also quite liked the way the author resolved the issue of the curse and how she ended everything. This novel definitely gave me chills here and there but it made me think more than anything. Overall, a really interesting ghost story that I enjoyed very much!

Happy reading ~

Lost Gods by Brom

The first thing that caught my attention with this book was the cover. I’m serious, it’s an honest work of art. I couldn’t stop thinking about that cover so I knew that I had to go and get myself that book no matter what.

Chet Moran just got out of jail and he is eager to start his life on a fresh note with his pregnant wife, Trish. They leave town to begin again in the hopes that they can forget all of their troubles. But their safe haven isn’t what they imagined, as an ancient evil pursues them. Trapped and murdered by a vile horror, Chet soon learns that pain and death are shared by the dead as well as the living. In order to protect the souls of his wife and unborn child, Chet must journey into the depths of purgatory to find a key that promises to restore everything to its natural order. Alone, confused, and damned, Chet must face unimaginable horrors in the underworld.

In the beginning, I was unsure about whether I would like this story or not. Things moved a bit too quickly with not enough expectations. But after just a few chapters, I couldn’t tear myself away. This story is action-packed and full of interesting twists and turns. There are a lot of different mythological elements in this novel and I found that they were incorporated quite well! The horror aspects were also honestly freaky so I definitely got my money and time’s worth! Every question about the different elements are answered by Brom and that just made it such a satisfying story to read. My favorite part of this novel were the illustrations by the author; they were creepy and beautiful and just amazing! All in all, this was a really cool book with lots of great horror elements. I’m definitely going to check out more by Brom!

Happy reading ~

And The Trees Crept In by Dawn Kurtagich

Dawn Kurtagich has made a name for herself in teen horror. I’ve always been meaning to give one of her books a go but I’ve never really had a chance to do so – until now. This novel also has an alternate title, The Creeper Man, which is the UK title.

Silla and Nori arrive in desperation to their aunt’s house, trying to escape their past and the horrors that it carries. And while their aunt Cath seems slightly off-kilter, she is nice and caring. But it soon becomes clear that all is not well in this manor. There is an endless creaking at night, and the woods that surround the manor seem to hold a dark and terrible secret. The more Silla tries to ignore the strangeness around her, the more unavoidable it becomes. Why are the trees creeping closer to the house? Who is this beautiful boy who visits them from somewhere beyond the woods? And most important of all, who is the man Nori is playing with in the basement at night?

I really wanted to like this novel. But I didn’t. At least, not as much as I had hoped. Let me begin with the positives:

  1. I liked the descriptive aspects of the story because they definitely added a creepy factor that was enjoyable. When you are reading a horror story, you are looking for that perfect creepy setting, and the author definitely delivered on that count!
  2. I liked Nori’s character. She was full of innocence and she was adorable to read about. I only wish there had been more to her. The story was told mostly in the perspective of Silla but there were a few times when Nori would speak, and I wish there were more instances of that because whatever Nori said always intrigued me!
  3. The Creeper Man stuff!!!!! I liked when Cath would talk about the creeper man and how everything went wrong. I liked how Silla could feel his presence. This was decidedly the creepiest (and best!) part of this story!

Now, let me talk about the negatives:

  1. The inclusion of diary entries. I usually love when authors do this. But in the case of this novel, it didn’t serve its purpose – unless the purpose was to be really confusing! I didn’t see the point of those entries at all, and even when everything started to make sense, they didn’t really do that much to the overall story.
  2. Silla’s character. It was really hard to connect with her or to even understand her. I’m sure the author wanted her to be an enigma of sorts but it was a bit much, and she just made me feel so bewildered. Half the time I’m wondering why she can’t just do what makes the most common sense. The other half I’m trying (and failing) to understand her reasoning behind not doing that which makes the most sense. I just didn’t like her.
  3. The romance…. it was really fake and really came out of the blue and just was not developed. It was also really cringe-worthy.
  4. The actual plot. I thought this novel would go in a more dramatic direction but it ended up just leaving me feeling cheated of a really scary experience. While the author managed to tie everything together(ish), it all felt unnecessary. Honestly, there didn’t need to be so much of a buildup for that ending.

While this novel didn’t work for me, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a bad one. Many people liked the story and there are loads of positive reviews. For me, this novel didn’t deliver on the creepiness and left me wanting something more … horror-y.

Happy reading ~