Faithful by Alice Hoffman

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

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Summary (Goodreads): Growing up on Long Island, Shelby Richmond is an ordinary girl until one night an extraordinary tragedy changes her fate. Her best friend’s future is destroyed in an accident, while Shelby walks away with the burden of guilt.

What happens when a life is turned inside out? When love is something so distant it may as well be a star in the sky? Faithful is the story of a survivor, filled with emotion—from dark suffering to true happiness—a moving portrait of a young woman finding her way in the modern world. A fan of Chinese food, dogs, bookstores, and men she should stay away from, Shelby has to fight her way back to her own future. In New York City she finds a circle of lost and found souls—including an angel who’s been watching over her ever since that fateful icy night.


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

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

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

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

Happy reading ~

 

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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 ~

The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand

Merry Christmas! To celebrate this festive holiday, here is a novel that is all about the Christmas spirit! Here is my review:

5 years ago on Christmas Eve, Holly was visited by 3 ghosts who showed her how selfish and spoiled she was to try to get her to mend her ways.

She didn’t.

And then she died.

To atone, Holly now works for Project Scrooge, a top-secret company committed to save a miserly grouch every year. Holly’s role? The Ghost of Christmas Past. Holly has stayed frozen at 17, playing this role every year, while her family and friends go on living without her. So far, Holly’s afterlife has been miserable. But this year, everything is about to change.

This is a modern twist on the Scrooge story. If you’ve ever read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens or watched any of the movies based off of this story, you have a pretty good idea of what this book will be like. I thought this book had a really interesting premise: what happens when someone refuses to change? What would have happened if Scrooge woke up and didn’t change his ways? I thought this story was really sweet and heartwarming. It is not meant to be something difficult to comprehend or difficult to predict. It’s just meant to bring some Christmas cheer – and it definitely delivers that! I am a sucker for cheesy and happy Christmas movies and this novel was just the right thing for me! It was a great story with good characters that really grew and changed. This novel makes you think a lot about second chances and what you would do if you could get one. Suffice to say, this was an enjoyable read and perfect for Christmas! I’m giving it a 4/5 stars!

Happy reading ~

Prom by Hasan Minhaj – Season of Stories

Season of Stories is back!!!! For those of you who may not remember, Season of Stories is this opportunity where people receive one short story a week for the fall season to encourage readers to give the short story collection a try. Each day for 4 days, portions of the story are given until you finally have a cohesive story. It’s a really interesting project and I love getting this little treat in my inbox every morning. Anyways, this is the first short story of this Season. You may know of Hasan Minhaj from his comedy shows. He is a very funny comedian who has his own show on Netflix and is a senior correspondent on the Daily Show. This story of his is actually part of the Moth short story collection, and The Moth is an amazing podcast that I’ve listened to for AGES! They have some very interesting and diverse content there so I would definitely recommend people check it out if they love short stories. Anyways, enough of my blabbering, here is my review:

When you’re one of the few brown people in a town that is predominantly Caucasian, it can be hard to fit in. But when the new girl at school is actually nice to Hasan, he thinks that his luck might change. As they become closer friends, Hasan finds that it is easy to be himself around her. So when prom comes around, and his math teacher challenges everyone in class to attend, Hasan considers going with her. This decision leads to a night that he will never forget.

As someone who is a minority, I fully sympathized with teenage Hasan. He struggled to fit in just liked I did and he had his fair share of insecurities. This story, which started off funny enough, quickly revealed itself to be a lot deeper than expected. I loved that this story gave me pause and made me reevaluate my initial opinion. It made me see a different perspective from my own and it was quite insightful. I really enjoyed reading this story, and it reminded me of all of the wonderful stories I would hear on the Moth podcast. If this story is to be taken as an accurate representation of the kind of material in the short story collection, then I would recommend this book to every person I know. This story is a gem and I have no doubt that the rest of the collection will be, too!

Happy reading ~

City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett – The Divine Cities #3

At last! The final novel in this amazing trilogy! What I love about this series is that each novel takes place a few years after the previous one, and it focuses on a different character each time; this means that you can manage to read it as a standalone if you are strapped for time – though I would recommend reading the entire series in order to really understand everything. In the first book, the protagonist was Shara Komayd. In the second, it was Mulagesh. And now, we hear from Sigrud, who was always one of my favorites. Anyways, here I go with my review:

Siigrud je Harkvaldsson is very good at one thing: revenge. So when he learns that his oldest friend, Prime Minister Shara Komad, has been assassinated, he knows exactly what he is going to do. Yet as Sigrud pursues Shara’s killers, he begins to fear that this mission may be unsuccessful. Because discovering the truth behind Shara’s death means taking part in a secret, decades-long war, facing down an angry young god, and unraveling the mystery of Bulikov, the city of miracles.

It was definitely a good thing that I read the previous books in the series because the magnanimity of the truths revealed in this novel was just … WOW. And you really can’t understand how amazing these are unless you read the previous novels. So while I’m sure you can enjoy and understand what is happening in this novel without reading anything else in the series, I would strongly advise against that; take the time and read the first 2 books before getting into this one, so that you can truly fall in love with this serie like I have!

Sigrud…. I love him. This book did him such justice. His personality is just so …. amazing and one cannot help but appreciate him for his kindness, his loyalty, and his ruthlessness. He comes off as simple but the more you read, the more you see his complexity. The author definitely did an amazing job when creating Sigrud! I also loved all of the other characters that were a part of this story; each one was unique and had so much depth that you felt like you truly knew them!

The story and world-building in this novel are incredible but I expected nothing less from the author of this series. I wasn’t expecting all of the mysteries to be revealed in the way it did, which was a really awesome surprise. I really can’t complain at all about anything in terms of the story, characters, or world-building.

This was a stunning conclusion to an epic series and I strongly urge anyone looking for an awesome fantasy series to read this series. You will not be disappointed!

I received this novel from Blogging for Books and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Happy reading ~

 

A List of Cages by Robin Roe

This book has been recommended to me multiple times by many people and I have just been pushing it off. I finally decided to read it and see what the hype was all about. Here is my review:

Adam Blake is one of those people who is always positive. Sure, he has his difficulties what with his ADHD, but he’s always able to look at the bright side of things. When his senior year elective is to serve as an aide to the school psychologist, Adam is sure that it will be an easy one. The psychologist asks him to track down a troubled freshman who keeps evading his sessions, and Adam discovers that the boy is Julian, the foster brother he hasn’t seen in 5 years. Adam is ecstatic to be reunited with Julian. But Julian isn’t the same anymore. He is quieter, more insecure, and he keeps a lot of secrets – like about what’s really going on inside his house. Adam is determined to help Julian, but his involvement could endanger both their lives.

Holy, did this book make me an emotional wreck! I did not expect it to tug at my heart the way it did but I was bawling from the halfway point until the end. I don’t even know where to start with this book.

The story is told from 2 perspectives: Julian and Adam. Each boy has his own voice and personality and the author does a great job of making them complement each other. Adam is this super positive guy, and you may think that this is overkill, but I love how the author really tried to explain why he does things and thinks things in the way that he does. He has ADHD, but he doesn’t fall into the stereotypical portrayal of it and that made me really happy. Julian’s simplicity and kindness is perfectly captured; the author definitely did not overdo it! I found it very easy to imagine the different personalities and relationships between the different characters and that made this an enjoyable read.

This novel deals with a lot of difficult issues. Not only does it address the stigma associated with mental health and illness, it talks about loss, guilt, and abuse. Each one has its role to play in the novel and the author addressed each one with the care and tact it deserved. I love how the story tied in all of these elements to make something beautiful and raw. This novel makes you think about life and the power of friendship, and it is sure to move you. I genuinely cannot express how strongly I feel for this novel but I really want every single individual to read this book because it is just that fantastic.

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 ~

Strange Girl by Christopher Pike

My experience reading this book was a very funny one. At that time, I was studying for my positive psychology course, where we were learning about mindfulness and meditation and this “other Self”…. which is pretty much what this book is all about! I hadn’t expected this novel to turn out this way but it did and it made it a very interesting experience. Anyways, while the novel is still fresh in my mind, here is my review:

When Fred meets Aja, he knows that she is a different kind of girl. She’s pretty and shy and seems to radiate a sense of peace and calm. How can Fred not fall in love with her? But there is more to Aja then just this. Somehow, Aja seems to have some kind of power that allows her to perform…well, miracles. She can make riots calm down with just one word and can heal serious injuries with just her touch. And yet, Aja denies everything. According to her, she has no idea how these things are happening. Unfortunately, word of these “miracles” is spreading everywhere and everyone wants to know how Aja is doing it. And they won’t rest until they get answers.

This story was definitely not what I was expecting. I thought it would be more of a fantasy story with magic involved. But it had a lot more to do with meditation and the understanding of the inner self. It was a really nice story that makes you really think differently about the world and who you are and your place in everything. It definitely is not for everyone – people who are familiar with concepts like loving-kindness, meditation, and mindfulness will definitely enjoy this story more than skeptics. But it was well-written and can be quite gripping once you give it a chance. I don’t think I have ever read any fiction novel that has dealt with these concepts in such an easily approachable way and if I had to give it a rating out of 5 stars, it would be a 3 for sure!

Happy reading ~

The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

“Never judge a book by its cover” – its a saying that I have long upheld. Regardless of the outer surface, I will read a book based on how interesting the content is. With this novel, however, I found myself gravitating towards it because of its beautiful, ethereal cover. It was just lying on a shelf at my local library and it looked so serene and picturesque that I knew I had to get my hands on it. It didn’t matter about the story itself – the image on the front cover pulled me right in. It’s taken me a while to read this novel but I finally finished it… so here is my review:

In a world where there is more sea than land, North lives on a circus boat that travels to scattered islands to perform for “landlockers”. Her performance involves dancing with her beloved bear, with whom she has a special connection. And although the other crew members are like family to her, North has a secret that could break every bond between her and the circus.

Callanish is a gracekeeper who lives alone in her house on an island in the middle of the ocean. Here, she tends the graves of those who die at sea, as penance for a mistake she made in her past.

When a storm creates a chance encounter between North and Callanish, they forge a bond that changes their worlds completely. They are drawn to each other and finally feel like they belong. But the tides have a mind of their own, and no one can be certain of what the sea wants.

This novel took me a long time to read … but that was because I was savoring every detail. The story is lyrical in its measured way of unraveling the intricacies of each character. The lovely thing about this novel is that you have no idea which character’s viewpoint you will get until you reach the next chapter. And you have no idea what that character will say. This novel is heart-breaking on so many levels, as each character grapples with their desire for love, happiness, and security of the self. There was not a single passage that I skimmed; every detail was so mesmerizing, and so completely brought about the illusion of this alternate world. I can honestly go on and on gushing about this novel… but I’d rather you experience it for yourself. And when you pick up this novel, which I truly hope you will, make sure you savor and enjoy the journey it takes you on!

Happy reading ~

Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge

Where have I been this whole time? Unfortunately, I have had too many midterms piling up and haven’t been able to devote any time to reading. Based on my course work, it seems like that’s how it’s going to be for a while. But I’ll try to sneak in a book here and there, especially once I’m done doing my readings for my course work. Anyways, this novel that I finished reading is based on the fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood” – but of course, it is extremely different and definitely has more depth to it than the original story!

From the age of twelve, Rachelle has been an apprentice to her aunt as a woodwife in order to protect her village from the Great Forest and the its inhabitants.But when she turns fifteen, she doe something reckless that will change her life forever – she steps off of the forest path and into the heart of darkness. Her actions force her to make a difficult decision that binds her to the very evil she swore to defeat.

Three years later, Rachelle is in the service of the royal family, protecting the realm from invasion of the forestborn creatures. When she is ordered to guard the King’s son, Armand, she is none too pleased, especially since she is on the search for the legendary sword that could save everyone from the power of the Great Forest. But will she be able to find it in time? Or will she finally succumb to the darkness?

I quite enjoyed the novel. It definitely transformed the story of Little Red Riding Hood and made it into something darker and magical. Rachelle as a character was very unique; she showed herself as being both emotional and devoid of emotion in all of the right situations. The one criticism I had was that it sometimes felt like parts of the story were not explained as well as they could have been. The introduction of the concept of the forestborn and the power of the Great Forest was lacking and it made it a bit confusing to read at first. It was all put together well by the middle but it would have been nice to have had a bit more background information from the get-go. As a whole, this was a pretty good novel and I would recommend it to teens who like fantasy and twisted fairy tales!

Happy reading ~