Half Moon Bay by Alice Laplante

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

I read this premise and immediately thought “This book is the one for me”. I was so excited for this book … and then I read it. And I didn’t like it. Here’s why:

36495890Summary (Goodreads): Jane loses everything when her teenage daughter is killed in a senseless accident. Jane is devastated, but sometime later, she makes one tiny stab at a new life: she moves from San Francisco to the tiny seaside town of Half Moon Bay. She is inconsolable, and yet, as the months go by, she is able to cobble together some version of a job, of friends, of the possibility of peace.

And then, children begin to disappear. And soon, Jane sees her own pain reflected in all the parents in the town. She wonders if she will be able to live through the aching loss, the fear all around her. But as the disappearances continue, she begins to see that what her neighbors are wondering is if it is Jane herself who has unleashed the horror of loss.


Review: There were two issues for me with this book: 1) Jane’s character; and 2) the writing style.

Jane is a mother who is shrouded in grief, for obvious reasons. While I could empathize with Jane, I wasn’t able to connect with her or like her. I think this may have been because of the other personality traits the author tried to attribute to her, namely her ability to be easily manipulated. Personally, I prefer characters who have a bit more of a backbone to them, and the fact that Jane’s malleable character leads to so many future problems for her just annoyed me. This may not seem like a huge problem for a lot of readers, but it was a big reason why I couldn’t enjoy this book.

I also didn’t like the writing style. It just felt like I was in Jane’s head the entire time, following her stream of consciousness. And I didn’t really like it, especially since Jane has a very … foggy mind. I felt disoriented and since her thoughts constantly strayed to various different areas, it was hard for me to stay focused and keep up with the actual story line. This definitely hampered my reading experience and made this less enjoyable.

I think that the story here was interesting. However, I didn’t like the main character and I didn’t like the writing style, which meant that I couldn’t enjoy the book. It almost made the DNF pile – except I’ve been trying really hard to not DNF any books this year. For those reasons, I’m giving it a 1/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

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Let Me Lie by Clare Mackintosh

So far, my experiences with Clare Mackintosh’s books have been positive. I absolutely loved I Let You Go, her debut novel. I See You, while not as intense of a thriller as her debut, was still a very good read. I went into this book with high expectations, wondering how twisted the story would get. Here is my review:

35839475Summary (Goodreads): The police say it was suicide.
Anna says it was murder.
They’re both wrong.

One year ago, Caroline Johnson chose to end her life brutally: a shocking suicide planned to match that of her husband just months before. Their daughter, Anna, has struggled to come to terms with their loss ever since.

Now with a young baby of her own, Anna misses her mother more than ever and starts to question her parents’ deaths. But by digging up their past, she’ll put her future in danger. Sometimes it’s safer to let things lie…


Review: This is a book that is leaving me more than a little conflicted. It had its positive and negative moments, and I think a lot of it can be attributed to the way the author went about telling the story.

When I first began to read this book, I was a little disappointed. It started off like many other thrillers. Anna was a character that came off as very one-dimensional; while I could empathize with her grief, that seemed to be all that constituted her personality. From the start, she was obsessed with proving that there was more to her parent’s deaths than just suicide …. but I had read this type of story so many times that I just didn’t feel any interest. With the addition of an unknown person’s perspective in the mix, I thought I had pretty much figured out the story.

For about 200 pages, everything I guessed was on the nose.

AND THEN IT WASN’T.

Almost 100 pages before the end of the book, the major twist happened. And I really liked the twist. It shifts the paradigms and it makes you rethink everything you thought you knew about a person. I don’t want to say any more because I want this to be spoiler-free, but it was definitely surprising and I really liked it.

But here’s the real question: was the twist good enough to redeem the earlier part of the book? For this, I don’t really have a good answer. On the one hand, the twist saved this story from being a disappointment for me. It made me sit up and gripped me and made me invested in the story. But to get to this point, I had to slog through the novel. Now, after finishing the novel, I can understand why the author went about telling the story this way: by making the reader believe that this would be just like every other thriller, she managed to deliver the most epic shock factor. But even though I got the thrills, I still didn’t really care about Anna’s characters. Other side characters were also not as well-developed as I would like, and the introduction of the retired police officer was really not too necessary as he didn’t add too much to the story.

To sum it up, this was probably my least favourite book by Clare Mackintosh. That being said, it’s still quite good and better than most of the generic thrillers out there. I’m going to give this a 3/5 stars because I was definitely caught off-guard … but the twists weren’t enough to redeem the entire book for me. I will 100% read more by this author, though; she is definitely talented and knows how to spin a good tale!

Thank you to the publishers and Edelweiss for the eARC in exchange for my honest review.

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 ~

 

The Sea Beast Takes a Lover by Michael Andreasen

I have been actively working on reading more short stories lately, and seeing this one offered through the First to Read program gave me a great opportunity to try this collection. Here is my review:


Summary (Goodreads): 

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Just because Jenny was born without a head doesn’t mean she isn’t still annoying to her older brother, and just because the Man of the Future’s carefully planned extramarital affair ends in alien abduction and network fame doesn’t mean he can’t still pine for his absent wife. Romping through the fantastic with big-hearted ease, these stories cut to the core of what it means to navigate family, faith, and longing, whether in the form of a lovesick kraken slowly dragging a ship of sailors into the sea, a small town euthanizing its grandfathers in a time-honored ritual, or a third-grade field trip learning that time travel is even more wondrous–and more perilous–than they might imagine.


Review: This was a very interesting selection of stories but it just didn’t do it for me.

I think the problem I faced was that the stories didn’t have enough of a plot to keep me going. The stories were all very interesting, blending science fiction with literary fiction and mixing up different time points. But the stories were just … there. Nothing really happened. There was no catalyst, no change, no sense of a build up. The stories fell flat for me because they just seemed like descriptions of a different time and place, rather than any specific event that I could focus on.

It was also hard for me to connect with the characters. There was no emotional connection with them, and they felt very two-dimensional. It made it hard for me to want to continue reading the stories when I couldn’t care about what was happening for them.

I think that this was a collection that was unique in its blend of literary and science fiction. However, the lack of plot in the stories combined with the lack of emotional connection with the characters meant that it fell short for me. I’m giving this a 2/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

 

Reign of the Fallen by Sarah Glenn Marsh

The cover of this book was absolutely gorgeous and, combined with the intriguing premise, made it impossible for me to not pick this book up. Necromancers, zombie-like monsters…. what more could I ask for? I grabbed a copy from Indigo and set to reading.

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Synopsis (Goodreads): Odessa is one of Karthia’s master necromancers, catering to the kingdom’s ruling Dead. Whenever a noble dies, it’s Odessa’s job to raise them by retrieving their souls from a dreamy and dangerous shadow world called the Deadlands. But there is a cost to being raised–the Dead must remain shrouded, or risk transforming into zombie-like monsters known as Shades. If even a hint of flesh is exposed, the grotesque transformation will begin.

A dramatic uptick in Shade attacks raises suspicions and fears among Odessa’s necromancer community. Soon a crushing loss of one of their own reveals a disturbing conspiracy: someone is intentionally creating Shades by tearing shrouds from the Dead–and training them to attack. Odessa is faced with a terrifying question: What if her necromancer’s magic is the weapon that brings Karthia to its knees?


Review: My love affair with this book ended as quickly as it started. While the premise was interesting, the actual execution failed to impress me.

This story seemed like it would be fast-paced, full of action as Odessa tries to figure out what is going on with all of these Shade attacks. Instead, it is about Odessa battling her grief after she loses someone she loves. Now, I have no problem with her feeling grief. But the story doesn’t set itself up well for this scenario. For one thing, we don’t ever really feel the strong romantic connection between Odessa and her partner; it’s just something we have to assume is strong. There wasn’t enough time given to develop this relationship – and then he dies. The other problem with the grief scenario is that Odessa becomes addicted to potions in order to deal with the pain. With that, my hopes of a strong heroine were dashed. Given the reputation she has (according to what the book tells us), shouldn’t she be out there trying to avenge him? Why is she succumbing to addiction? My initial thoughts were that this addiction angle might serve a different purpose later on. It does not. It could have been cut out. And the worst part about it was that this took up almost 50% of the story. That’s right, 50% of the story is us reading about Odessa’s self-pity and gloom. All this for a relationship that wasn’t even fostered deeply in the book.

Not only did Odessa turn to addiction during her time of grief, she also used this time to throw herself into the arms of her best friend. Her need for physical comfort was a little … well, I didn’t like it. I would prefer if she had been a stronger character, or at least relied on her friends in a platonic way. But she chose not to do that.

Moving on from the huge grief aspect, I also thought it was completely bizarre that so many people were willing to throw themselves at Odessa. I couldn’t see the appeal. Was it her charm – or lack thereof? Was it some history that they had had previously, which the author had failed to mention? I just found myself perplexed by a lot of the character interactions, and really wished that the author had spent some time giving them more of a backstory so I could follow along. This lack of a backstory and lack of strong world-building really affected my ability to enjoy the story. There were random details thrown in that took me aback because there was no reference to it before that point, and suddenly, it became important. I like my stories to make sense and flow, and this novel didn’t do that all the time.

I also found that the actual fighting scenes were a bit dull. When the main character is a necromancer, I expect a lot more scary things to happen, and there just wasn’t enough action to keep me engaged. All the action scenes were over quite quickly and left me filling disappointed, like that scene in Breaking Dawn where Alice showed what could have happened if there was a war … but nothing actually happened (Twilight reference for the win!!!).

Overall, I was pretty disappointed with this novel. It had the potential to be dynamic and crazy. While it maintained a fast pace, it didn’t have sensible character interactions and really lacked strong backstories and world-building, which would have made this a more engrossing read. Also, Odessa is a very needy character who can’t stop falling for other people while grieving for someone who was supposedly the love of her life. It was just too much. I’m giving this a 1.5/5 stars, rounded to 2.

Happy reading ~

Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp  

When I read the premise of this novel, it sounded like a mystery/thriller to me. After reading it, I have to say that it definitely doesn’t fit that category – at least, not in the conventional way.

Synopsis (Goodreads): Best friends Corey and Kyra were inseparable in their snow-covered town of Lost Creek, Alaska. When Corey moves away, she makes Kyra promise to stay strong during the long, dark winter, and wait for her return.

Just days before Corey is to return home to visit, Kyra dies. Corey is devastated―and confused. The entire Lost community speaks in hushed tones about the town’s lost daughter, saying her death was meant to be. And they push Corey away like she’s a stranger.

Corey knows something is wrong. With every hour, her suspicion grows. Lost is keeping secrets―chilling secrets. But piecing together the truth about what happened to her best friend may prove as difficult as lighting the sky in an Alaskan winter..


My thoughts on this novel are mixed. I don’t think I loved this novel as there were a lot of features that really bothered me or weren’t done well, but the story itself – well, it had me hooked.

One of the things that was severely lacking in this story was character development. There was none. Corey started off feeling guilty and angry, and she left that way. She maintained her pigheadedness and her insistence that the town was to blame for Kyra’s death right to the end. It didn’t help that the only way we got to know Kyra was through Corey’s interactions with others in the town, as well as Corey’s own memories; it made Kyra a very one-dimensional character, although the author did try to fix that by including letters that Kyra wrote to Corey. But even those letters didn’t have much substance to them so I couldn’t get a good feel for Kyra.

What I found weird about the novel was the writing style. There are moments taking place in the present, followed by memories from the past, and then random excerpts that read like a script from a play or a phone call, and then diary entries/unsent letters from Kyra to Corey. It affected the flow of the novel a lot. While the author may have been trying to use these different mediums to give the reader a more rounded picture of the scene, it failed in that attempt.

While the plot was intriguing, I wish there had been more of a build-up there. What were the crowning instances that caused the town to change their attitude to Kyra? How did they get to that frenzy point that tipped Kyra off the edge? These were things that were never really addressed. If it had been, I feel like the story would have been better developed and more intriguing and the suspense would have been better. As it were, there was no real mystery to it; everything becomes clear in a short while and there is nothing to really change it up. There were also a lot of details in the story that were mentioned but never reconciled, and this really bothered me. Why mention Corey hearing voices or seeing things if you aren’t going to do anything about it?

My general feelings for this novel are still mixed. There were a lot of things that could have been improved and that would have made this story so much better, because the concept behind this novel was actually really intriguing. It was just the execution that suffered. I’m giving this a 2.5 stars rounded to 3.

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

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 ~

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

I don’t always like reading novels that are sad or deal with grief, but the beautiful cover and the softness of the writing style really had me interested so I decided to give it a shot. Here is my review:

Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about what happened, why she abandoned everyone and everything.  Not even her best friend, Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from California, at college in New York, Marin struggles to pull away from her tragic past. Now, months later, Marin is alone in her empty dorm. She is waiting for Mabel to come and visit. With this visit, Marin will have to face everything left unsaid and confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.

This novel was beautifully written but it was excruciatingly slow. Now, I understand that this a story about loss and grief and running away from things you don’t want to face. That’s all great. But literally nothing happens in the novel. Nothing. There are millions of inconsequential details mentioned that just bog down an already slow story. There is a softness to everything that, while beautiful, stops the story from actually having any impact. Marin’s character was also not my favorite. I don’t always need a super hyper female character to be the lead but she vacillated between having no real voice to showing teen angst. When the reason behind her avoidance was revealed, I was surprised… but not in a good way. I felt like I was missing something major. She had all of this loneliness, all of these feelings of betrayal… over this? I thought it would be something a lot more upsetting considering the extent of Marin’s behaviour. Maybe that was just me. Overall, I think this was a very beautifully written but boring novel, with nothing really that poignant about it. I’m giving this a 1.5/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

The Child Finder by Rene Denfield

I’ve seen this book literally everywhere and it has been getting rave reviews. A lot of people who know my taste in mysteries and thrillers have been recommending it to me so I decided to give it a shot. Here is my review:

Madison Culver disappeared when she was 5 years old, as her family was choosing a Christmas tree in Oregon’s Skookum National Forest. She would be eight years old now—if she has survived. Desperate to find their daughter, the Culvers turn to Naomi, a private investigator who specializes in locating lost and missing children. Known to the police and a select group of parents as The Child Finder, Naomi is their last hope. Naomi’s search takes her deep into the icy, mysterious forest, and into her own fragmented past. She understands children like Madison because once upon a time, she was a lost girl too. As Naomi continues her pursuit, her discovery of the truth behind Madison’s disappearance uncovers her own nightmares, reminding her of a terrible loss she feels but cannot remember. By finding Madison, will Naomi ultimately unlock the secrets of her own life?

This novel messed me up in a good way. In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have started it at midnight and finished it in one go, but it was too good to stop! The novel is told mainly from 2 perspectives: Naomi and Madison. Both have their own unique voice, and both made me cry. Naomi has a quiet personality but it is clear both from the author’s depictions and from the way the character acts that she is haunted by her past. Madison is an unbelievably strong and resilient character whose journey is incredibly painful to witness. My heart went out to both of these characters. I think that the author did a fantastic job in showing the cyclic nature of abuse and the trauma that can continue to haunt a person for the rest of their life. This was such a complex novel and it forces the reader to feel every emotion being described. Powerful does not begin to describe this story. My one criticism (and this actually did not ruin the story for me) was that this was more psychological than it was investigative. Naomi’s tracking of Madison was secondary and there really wasn’t much searching going on; everything was just conveniently laid there. But the characters, writing style, and message of the story more than make up for this. This is definitely one of my favorite books out there and I’m so glad I read it. 5/5 stars from me.

Happy reading ~

A Dangerous Woman From Nowhere by Kris Radish

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

My journey into the Western genre has been quite recent. While I usually stick to fantasy or thrillers or sci-fi as my go-to genres, I like to change it up a bit and I’ve found that Western novels are quite interesting! I also liked that this novel featured a badass protagonist who goes off to save her husband – instead of it being the other way around. So with all that in mind, I decided to read this book. Here is my review:

Briar Logan has always felt more comfortable alone. It was just a way of life for her, after having survived a terrible childhood, near starvation, and the harsh western frontier. But just as things are starting to look better for her, Briar’s husband is kidnapped by lawless gold miners. Desperate to save her husband, she is forced to accept the help of a damaged young man and a notorious female horse trainer. As they face thieves, whiskey runners, and dangerous men, the unlikely trio must form an alliance in order to survive – and get what they want. 

This is a very detailed novel that focuses on Briar and is told from her perspective. We learn about her and her relationship with her husband and other loved ones through flashbacks. The language is poetic, and Briar is definitely a strong female character. However, I didn’t really enjoy the story. It moved a lot slower than I had expected and it was hard to tell what this novel was: was it a love story? was it more of action? It felt more like a mashup of 2 novels than one independent story. I also found that the poetic language and the flashbacks impeded my reading experience and detracted from the plot. The other characters were interesting but not so much that I felt drawn or connected to them. While I appreciate the author’s attempt to showcase a strong female as the lead, the rest of the story didn’t work for me. For those reasons, I’m giving it a 2/5 stars.

Happy reading ~