My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

I have a penchant for finding disturbing stories. Most of the time, I love the stories despite their gruesome nature. I like the different perspectives that these novels give me about what it means to survive, and how a person can be affected by trauma. It’s also interesting to see how cruel or twisted someone can be. I picked up this book hoping to get a glimpse of all of these things. Unfortunately, I did not. Here is my review:

Synopsis (Goodreads): Turtle Alveston is a survivor. At fourteen, she roams the woods along the northern California coast. The creeks, tide pools, and rocky islands are her haunts and her hiding grounds, and she is known to wander for miles. But while her physical world is expansive, her personal one is small and treacherous: Turtle has grown up isolated since the death of her mother, in the thrall of her tortured and charismatic father, Martin. Her social existence is confined to the middle school (where she fends off the interest of anyone, student or teacher, who might penetrate her shell) and to her life with her father.

Then Turtle meets Jacob, a high-school boy who tells jokes, lives in a big clean house, and looks at Turtle as if she is the sunrise. And for the first time, the larger world begins to come into focus: her life with Martin is neither safe nor sustainable. Motivated by her first experience with real friendship and a teenage crush, Turtle starts to imagine escape, using the very survival skills her father devoted himself to teaching her. The reader tracks Turtle’s escalating acts of physical and emotional courage, and watches, heart in throat, as she struggles to become her own hero–and in the process, becomes ours as well.

Review: Stephen King said this novel was a masterpiece. After reading it, I find myself struggling to see why. I feel like I am one of the few people who did not like this novel but I simply can’t understand what was so great about it.

First of all, the writing was just terrible. There are so many minute details given about every little thing. The conversations, however, are the first. I have yet to meet a single human being talk like that. I am in the world of academia, and not a single professor has ever talked to me the way that Martin, Turtle’s father, talks. I just couldn’t handle the philosophical rants that seemed to never end and were about the same issue. I hated almost all of Turtle’s conversations were just repetitions of curse words; I get it, she hears it all around her, but what is with the obsession of saying c_nt all the time?! It made her seem so much more simplistic than she really was. I was even more bothered when Turtle met the two teenage boys because their conversations and interactions were so unrealistic. It made me wonder if the author had ever actually met teenagers before. First of all, they don’t just talk about aliens all the time or act as if the girl in front of them doesn’t exist. Second of all, they don’t say “dude” and “sick” every minute.

This novel was presented to be a story about how Turtle deals with the abuse she receives from her father and how she survives and finds herself. But as I read, it just felt like the author was trying to exploit the abuse factor. There was no careful handling of the subject matter. It was very crass, and while I can handle difficult topics like sexual abuse and incest, that doesn’t mean it should be handled so indelicately. It left a bad taste in my mouth.

Maybe there was some magnificence to this novel. But the bad dialogue, bad characterization, and careless handling of a serious and sensitive topic made it hard for me to see the good in it. I’m giving this a 1/5 stars.

Happy reading ~


The Night Child by Anna Quinn

Don’t judge me but I selected this book because the cover was so intriguing and pretty. The premise was interesting, too, but I am definitely one of those people that go after books with pretty covers. I had an inkling of what I thought the story would be about … but I was completely taken aback when I started reading it! Here is my review:

Synopsis (Goodreads): Nora Brown teaches high school English and lives a quiet life in Seattle with her husband and six-year-old daughter. But one November day, moments after dismissing her class, a girl’s face appears above the students’ desks — ”a wild numinous face with startling blue eyes, a face floating on top of shapeless drapes of purples and blues where arms and legs should have been. Terror rushes through Nora’s body — the kind of raw terror you feel when there’s no way out, when every cell in your body, your entire body, is on fire — when you think you might die.”

Twenty-four hours later, while on Thanksgiving vacation, the face appears again. Shaken and unsteady, Nora meets with neurologists and eventually, a psychiatrist. As the story progresses, a terrible secret is discovered — a secret that pushes Nora toward an even deeper psychological breakdown.

Review: I don’t know what I was expecting but it certainly wasn’t this! I want to start this review by giving a trigger warning: this novel deals with child abuse and may be disturbing for some readers.

I thought that this novel would be a terrifying read based on the synopsis, but I did not expect it to be as emotionally evocative as it was. This is a book that deals with the way the human mind deals with trauma, and how it protects you from your own memories. This was a dark and gripping story, and you would be hard-pressed to not be affected by the things you read. The author did an absolutely fantastic job of weaving the past and the present together, and illustrating how memories can be distorted. This novel delivers on so many levels, and it took me by surprise from the start. If anything, I would want the story to be a little longer to explore the issues mentioned in the book further. This is a solid 4/5 star book and I would recommend this to anyone who is looking for a dark and emotional psychological story (but keep in mind the trigger warning)!

Thank you to NetGalley and Blackstone Publishing for this ARC in exchange for my honest review.

Happy reading ~

All Things Bright and Strange by James Markert

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

Synopsis (Goodreads): In the wake of World War I in the small, Southern town of Bellhaven, South Carolina, the town folk believe they’ve found a little slice of heaven in a mysterious chapel in the woods. But they soon realize that evil can come in the most beautiful of forms.

The people of Bellhaven have always looked to Ellsworth Newberry for guidance, but after losing his wife and his future as a professional pitcher, he is moments away from testing his mortality once and for all. Until he finally takes notice of the changes in his town . . . and the cardinals that have returned.

Upon the discovery of a small chapel deep in the Bellhaven woods, healing seems to fall upon the townspeople, bringing peace after several years of mourning. But as they visit the “healing floor” more frequently, the people begin to turn on one another, and the unusually tolerant town becomes anything but.

The cracks between the natural and supernatural begin to widen, and tensions rise. Before the town crumbles, Ellsworth must pull himself from the brink of suicide, overcome his demons, and face the truth of who he was born to be by leading the town into the woods to face the evil threatening Bellhaven.

Review: I went into this novel with absolutely no idea on how I would feel about it. I emerged from it thinking that it was quite an interesting read.

I really liked the premise of this book and the way events unfolded in this town. The story is told entirely from Ellsworth’s point of view, and he is quite a character. I think the author tries really hard to make him complex, but at times, it was a bit forced. Nevertheless, I was intrigued by Ellsworth and really liked him. There were many different characters who were introduced to the story, and it could be quite confusing to keep them all straight. However, all of the characters had backstories and vices that helped the reader make a connection with them. I did think that everyone’s constant positive regard for Ellsworth was a tad overbearing, but it makes sense in terms of the story.

I really liked the way that the story progressed. We start off with the emergence of this chapel, which has always been present, yet the people of this town have been unaware of it. But once they become aware, they cannot help but visit, enticed by the messages it gives them. Soon, however, it becomes apparent that this chapel is not a blessing – rather, it is curse. The frenzy that developed throughout this story was fantastic, and I really enjoyed every minute of the book…. until we got to the final climax. That’s when I felt disappointment. After all this amazing build up and tension and intrigue, the climax felt lackluster.

Even though the ending was not as great as I had hoped, the story itself was interesting and I enjoyed most of it. I wasn’t expecting it to make references to faith (totally missed out that it was labelled as Christian fiction) but the author made it work in the story. I would give 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 ~

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 Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

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

I don’t usually read books that are like this one. If I had to classify this into a genre, I would probably consider this a literary novel. However, I thought the premise was an interesting one, and worth reading. Here is my review:

If you were told the date of your death, how would it shape your present?

It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and when the Gold children hear of a psychic who can tell anyone the day they die, they decide to visit her. What they didn’t expect is that the prophecies they receive will change their lives forever. The youngest, Simon, escapes to the West Coast on a search for love; Klara, the closest in age to Simon, decides to pursue her dream of becoming a magician but soon finds herself obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; Daniel, the eldest boy, becomes an army doctor in the hopes of controlling fate; and Varya, the eldest of them all, throws herself into the search for longevity through science.

I thought this was a very thought-provoking read. The story is told from the perspectives of all 4 siblings, with each one getting their own section that traverses the entirety of their lives. And their lives are very different. I liked reading about how each character was affected by their prophecy and the way it shaped/influenced their future decisions. Their paths were all so unique and that really made each character stand out to me. Some stories stood out to me more than others, but I have a feeling that most people would also feel this way. I d want to give a note to caution to some readers: if you are expecting a story with elements of magical realism, you will be disappointed; apart from this prophecy, which occurs in the very beginning of the novel, there is nothing fantastical that occurs. While I don’t think the writing was spectacular, I think the story more than makes up for it. I would be lying if I said I never wondered when and how I would die – but how would this knowledge affect me? Would I try to disprove the prophecy or work harder to make it come true? Or would I not believe in it at all? Either way, it would definitely affect my life. I thought the author captured a lot of these scenarios and delivered them quite nicely, allowing the reader to come to their own conclusions without it being delivered to them by a character or through dialogue. I found myself understanding the actions and emotions of all of the characters, and I felt a strong emotional connection to them all as they struggled through their lives. Each story resonated with me in its own way and it led to a very insightful read. Was it everything I had dreamed it would be? No. Even though I enjoyed this novel a great deal, there was this feeling that something was missing. However, this was a powerful and thoughtful read, and I would recommend this to anyone who likes literary fiction, and novels that cause them to question their own existence and mortality.

Happy reading ~



Secrets of Southern Girls by Haley Harrigan

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

I waited a long time before getting into this novel. Something about this story just made me hesitant. And then I got bogged down by work and other novels and never got a chance to go back to it (which is terrible since I’m always trying to get to Netgalley books on time). But I finally got to it… so here is my review:

10 years ago, Julie Portland accidentally killed her best friend, Reba. What’s worse is she got away with it. Consumed by guilt, she left the small town of Lawrence Mill, Mississippi. Now, raising her daughter and struggling to make ends meet in Manhattan, Julie still can’t forget Reba. When August, Reba’s first love, begs Julie to go back to Mississippi with him to find Reba’s diary, Julie’s past comes creeping back to haunt her. That diary could expose the shameful memories Julie has been running from, but it could also unearth the hidden truths that Reba left buried…and reveal that Julie isn’t the only one who feels responsible for Reba’s death.

I really did not enjoy this novel. There were a lot of things that just didn’t work for me. I thought this novel would be primarily told from Julie’s point of view. And while most of it was, there were also other perspectives thrown in that took me aback. With no introduction, a chapter would suddenly be told in the perspective of some other character. This really affected the flow of the novel, making it choppy. There were diary entries scattered throughout the book, and while I usually enjoy that, I didn’t like it here. That was mostly because the voice of the diary entry was very awkward. The story took a long while to get going and I kept waiting for that moment where the story would pull me in … but it never happened. There was nothing really appealing about the story. None of the characters were likable, and I didn’t really care about what they were going through because they were just so selfish and immature. I thought there would be more twists and turns in the plot but it was really just about Julie and August getting the diary (which happened pretty easily, in all honesty) and then reading the entries that the reader has had access to already. Nothing really made this novel shine or took it over the edge. All in all, I was pretty disappointed with this book and for those reasons, I’m giving it a 1/5 stars.

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 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 ~