Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak

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

This novel intrigued me because it was completely out of the norm. I don’t really read books that discuss religion, philosophy, and politics, but this story was just too interesting for me to pass on. Here is my review:

While on her way to a dinner party in Istanbul, Peri, a wealthy married Turkish woman, is robbed. As she wrestles to get it back, a photograph falls to the ground. It’s an old polaroid of 3 young women and their university professor, a relic from a past that Peri has held onto while also trying to forget. Over the course of dinner, terrorist attacks occur across the city. Competing in Peri’s mind, however, are the memories invoked by her almost-lost polaroid, of the time years earlier when she was sent abroad for the first time to attend Oxford University. There, she had become friends with the charming, adventurous Shirin, a fully assimilated Iranian girl, and Mona, a devout Egyptian-American. Their arguments about Islam and feminism find focus in the charismatic but controversial Professor Azur, who teaches divinity, but in unorthodox ways. As the terrorist attacks come ever closer, Peri is moved to recall the scandal that tore them all apart.

I thought that this novel was quite interesting. Peri’s character takes us on a journey into the past and the present through alternating chapters. In this way, the reader gets to understand Istanbul, the country of her birth, and what it means to be Muslim. I really liked the time the author spent explaining Peri’s experiences to the reader; it gave me a new perspective to consider. This novel also talks about tensions in the family, and how secrets and frustrations can upset family dynamics. I will admit, I was more interested in the past than in the present events, but I found Peri’s grown-up character (during the present) to be wonderfully mature in her views on politics, religion, and the role of females. I also loved watching Peri grow up and become confused about her views and identity, especially once she attends Oxford. I wish there had been more tension in the events that occurred in the past, and wish certain things had been explained in more detail because they seemed to happen out of nowhere and caught me off-guard. After all the lovely explanations about Islam and the cultural mosaic in Istanbul, I wanted the author to help me understand more of Peri’s actions. I also wish there had been some tie-in to explain how Peri got to where she was in the present time, as that would have been a good transition. Overall, I found this novel to be thought-provoking and insightful, but not a thriller in any sense. This is a slower novel but it is beautifully written and I would recommend it to anyone interested in philosophy and religion, and the way these 2 aspects can shape a person’s identity. 3/5 stars from me!

Happy reading ~

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Poison by Gail Niederhoffer

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

True to my promise on not shying away from books that have to do with marriage, I accepted this ARC. The premise was mysterious enough that I went into it with no idea as to the direction it would take, which is always exciting! Here is my review:

Cass and Ryan Connor are the perfect family, with 3 kids between them, a cat, and a home just waiting to be renovated and lived in. Their family, including Cass’ 2 children from previous relationships, has just moved to Portland to start their lives afresh. But trouble begins soon enough. First, there are the little white lies that happen daily in the marital bedroom. What starts off as insignificant soon spirals out of control into a madness that will change the family forever.

This novel was presented as a literary psychological thriller, which is an interesting mix of genres. Literary fiction is typically slower-paced and focused on character development whereas psychological thrillers are fast-paced and plot-driven. The story reads like a literary fiction in terms of the language used and the amount of detail that the author provides. It also has this weird mix of pace that I never really got a handle on; it felt like it was moving slowly because of the writing style but the events themselves were happening quite rapidly. It took me aback … and not pleasantly. I felt the pacing was very awkward and it didn’t allow me to get a good sense of any of the characters. The story is told entirely from Cass’s perspective, which was not an issue in itself but I found her boring. There were a lot of events happening in the book in a very random way, just to allow the author to make the conclusions she wanted to make. The entire concept behind the story was that women’s accounts are dismissed quite readily by the police and by court systems. However, I don’t agree with that premise 100%, and especially not when it comes to this story; no matter your gender, you have to have evidence when making accusations. I don’t think that should be considered a sign of prejudice or discrimination by gender. I also didn’t really get the purpose behind the crime. Why do all of this? How did so many people get involved? The ending was also very random and seemed almost too easy after all of the other things that had occurred in the story. It just all felt like a mess, what with events happening quickly and randomly while the author continues to ramble on and focus on inconsequential details, and there being no real motive or resolution to anything. Since there wasn’t a single thing I liked about this story, I’m giving this a 1/5 stars.

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 ~

The Golden House by Salman Rushdie

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

I’ve never read anything by Salman Rushdie but I’ve definitely heard of him. I’ve been really eager to read something of his but there are so many books to choose from! I was so happy to have been given this ARC and I couldn’t wait to read from this popular author! So here I go with my review:

When powerful real-estate tycoon Nero Golden and his 3 children arrive in America, the neighbours are abuzz. The family is quick to assume new identities, taking on “Roman” names, and moving into a grand mansion in Manhattan. Nero and his grown sons quickly establish themselves at the apex of New York society. We hear about their story from the perspective of René, an aspiring filmmaker who finds in the Goldens the perfect subject. René chronicles the undoing of the house of Golden: the obsession with money, the quarrel between siblings, the arrival of a beautiful woman, betrayal, and murder.

I really wanted to like this novel but I have to be honest: I did not enjoy it at all. It was very difficult to get through and I almost gave up multiple times. It starts off in a very boring way with nothing going on. That doesn’t stop the narrator from narrating everything in a very melodramatic way, which serves no purpose whatsoever. I really did not like the narrator at all; his voice tried to hard to mark its importance and there were just too many pop culture references for my liking. It’s clear that the author is a master in the art of making connections; his comparisons between the politics in the States and the happenings in the Golden family were apt and brilliant. However, getting to these moments was a challenge and it stopped impressing me after a time because of the way the author presented it. Maybe I’m not intelligent enough to appreciate the nuances and the arguments the author is trying to make … but at the end of the day, I didn’t enjoy reading this story. Overall, this was not the greatest novel I’ve read…. but I think I will give the author another chance to wow me!

Happy reading ~

Grief Cottage by Gail Goodwin

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

The premise of this novel was just too much to resist. I love a good ghost story and I was fully expecting to get loads of shivers and chills and supernatural goings-on. After reading this novel, I can honestly say that my predictions were way off. Here is my review:

When his mother dies unexpectedly, 11-year-old Marcus is sent to live with his great aunt, a reclusive painter who lives on a small South Carolina island. As he gets accustomed to his new surroundings, he is shown a ruined cottage that the islanders call Grief cottage, after a tragic incident where a boy and his parents disappeared during a hurricane 50 years ago. Their bodies were never found and the cottage has remained empty ever since. While Aunt Charlotte stays locked up in her studio painting, Marcus visits the cottage, building up the courage to face the ghost of the dead boy who used to live there. Full of curiosity and lonely, Marcus befriends the ghost boy, never knowing whether the ghost is friendly or has a more insidious nature.

There are a lot of things that caused me to not like this novel. The main thing is that it led me astray. Everything about the blurb screamed thriller ghost story. However, it would be more apt to describe this book as a literary fiction. Now, I have no problem with the literary fiction genre; I have read quite a few books that fit into this category and have quite enjoyed them. However, I do not like to be misled so blatantly. I felt like I was cheated out of the ghost story experience that was promised. Yes, the novel fixated on death and loss and grief, but there really was no need to brand the story as anything supernatural/involving ghosts. As you can tell, I’m quite upset by this. To make it worse, I didn’t really feel like this novel was a very good literary fiction. Even though literary fiction focuses on a certain theme and character growth/development, there is still a plot line; this novel missed the mark on that. I really liked Marcus’s character – he is a genuine sweetheart who tries so hard to please others. However, I didn’t really think he developed or grew in any real way; nothing that happened to him on his beach adventures really seemed to have the kind of impact I associate with literary fiction novels. In fact, the last portion of the novel completely threw me off because suddenly, the author takes us into the future and compresses together a decade of activity in Marcus’s life that just … made the story even more choppy than it already was. It was just weird and unnecessary. Another thing that I found a bit weird about this story was the writing style used for Marcus’s voice. The whole novel is like a monologue of the internal thoughts and feelings of Marcus but his voice sounds like that of a well-educated adult rather than an 11-year-old child. I’m not saying that children cannot have great vocabulary and think beyond their years, but the author never really showed Marcus as being so extraordinarily gifted and it just seemed so at odds with the personality and character of Marcus. It made it hard for me to believe in the story and feel connected to Marcus (even though, as mentioned previously, I liked him). The last little thing that bothered me was the way the author kept harping on the pronunciation of a specific character in the book, Lash. Every time Lash talked, the author just had to take a specific word and in brackets, write it out phonetically. It was cool at first because it helped me hear the voice in my head as I was reading but it got tedious really quick.

So overall, I really didn’t have a good experience with this book. I didn’t like how misleading the premise was, I didn’t like that the writing style was choppy, I didn’t think there was really any plot, and Marcus’s voice just really didn’t fit with his character. For those reasons, this novel gets a 1.5/5 stars from me.

Happy reading ~

We Shall Not All Sleep by Estep Nagy

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

The Hillsingers and the Quicks have shared Seven Island in Maine for generations. But though technically family–Jim Hillsinger and Billy Quick married Park Avenue sisters Lila and Hannah Blackwell–they still maintain some distance. Now, on the anniversary of Hannah’s death, Lila feels her grief pulling her toward Billy. And Jim, a spy recently ousted from the CIA, decides to send his youngest son, 12-year-old Catta, to Baffin Island for 24 hours all on his own to make a man out of him. With the parents preoccupied, the Hillsinger and Quick children run wild, playing violent games led by Catta’s sadistic older brother James. The island manager Cyrus and the servants tend to the families while preparing for the Migration, a yearly farming ritual that means one thing to their employers, and something very different to them.

I seem to be facing a rut when it comes to books: nothing I’ve read has turned out the way I expected. I was really looking forward to this story but it ended up leaving me dissatisfied. While the author put a lot of thought into the various descriptions, and the writing style was quite nice, the story itself failed on a lot of levels. One of the major flaws with this book is that there are too many plot lines. Each one begins at random points and they all interweave to create a confusing mess. Everything just began to meld together and make no sense to me; frankly, it was exhausting to get through this novel. the other flaw with this book is that the characters are hard to connect to; there is this distance between the reader and the characters such that it is hard to empathize or understand them. I really like it when authors pull me into the lives of their characters but that didn’t happen in this story. As I kept reading, I just had this growing impression that the author was trying to hard to create a meaningful literary fiction. In the end, a simpler story with more complex and well-developed characters would have sufficed.

Happy reading ~

House of Names by Colm Toibin

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

I really wanted to read this novel because of its connection to Ancient Greece. I don’t know much in this area as I always focused on Ancient Egypt, but I was eager to step into this area, even if it is through a retelling.

“I have been acquainted with the smell of death.” So begins Clytemnestra’s tale of the tragic saga that occurs in her life: how her husband, King Agamemnon, sacrificed their daughter, Iphigeneia, because he was told that would help him win the war against Troy; how Clytemnestra sought revenge against him by collaborating with a prisoner named Aegisthus, who became her lover; how Agamemnon returned from 9 years in the war with his own lover; and how Clytemnestra finally achieved vengeance – and faced the dark consequences of her actions.

This story was told from 3 perspectives: Clytemnestra, Electra (her other daughter), and Orestes (her son); this was unique and unexpected, as I had thought the story would just be from Clytemnestra’s point of view. It was an interesting story that really took the time to evaluate the various repercussions of each action. However, nothing really resonated with me. For some reason, the actions and the characters and the emotions … it all seemed very removed. Nothing stirred my heart or made me feel sympathy or empathy; it almost felt like I was reading an interesting history book. This is definitely more of a literary fiction than anything else, and I think the author really tried to do indepth character analyses for all of the protagonists involved in the story. However, there was no connection felt between me and the characters, and this lack of caring caused me to lose interest in this story. I would recommend this for anyone who likes to read retellings based on Greek tales.

Happy reading ~

The Lauras by Sara Taylor

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

After one more fight between her mother and father, Alex wakes up to find that Alex and Alex’s mother are going on a trip. No explanations are given to anyone, as they make their trek across the country. As they travel, Alex’s mother reveals the story of her life piece-by-piece. Together, they trace back through a life full of struggle and adventure to put to rest unfinished business, heal old wounds, and seek out old friends.

When I began reading this novel, I was very intrigued as to see where this story would go. A 13-year-old child is woken up from bed and whisked away on a road trip. That is one heck of an intro! I really liked the author’s writing style, as it had a good flow and gave a great description of the setting. The main character in the story, Alex, was also intriguing in that Alex ascribes to no gender. Never in the story is it revealed whether Alex is male or female – and this intrigued me both because of the fact that this is a unique character and because the author so successfully hid the gender identity throughout the story. I liked the way little bits of Ma’s life were revealed as the story progressed, and how they reflected the trials and random events that can occur in life as well as the way these experiences shape you. However, by the time I got to the end of the story, I felt a bit disappointed and confused as to what the point of the whole story was. Granted, it is a coming-of-age story, one that shows how life leaves one with many memories that can be good and bad…. but that’s about it. After that whole road trip, I kind of expected a bit more. So while there were definitely some positive things about this novel, the overall plot seemed to have no real purpose and left me disappointed. I didn’t love this novel but I didn’t hate it either.

Happy reading ~

Long Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boylan

On a warm August night in 1980, 6 college students, a teacher, and a young boy sneak into the dilapidated ruins of Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary. But they soon discover that they have been locked in – and they aren’t alone. When the friends get separated, the terrifying night ends in tragedy. After they are rescued, they go their separate ways, trying to move on. Decades later, they are brought together again when new evidence is unearthed  and one of them – Casey – is charged with murder. Only Casey’s old friend Judith can testify to his innocence. But in order to do so, Judith will have to bring long-held secrets to light. If she chooses to help Casey, she may end up destroying the life she has fought so hard to build. In any life that contains a “before” and an “after,” how is it possible to live one life, not two?

If you go into this book thinking it’s going to be a big thriller, you will not be so happy. While this novel does have its thrilling moments, it is better classified as a character study on how a tragic event can change one’s perspective on life and oneself. There are 2 aspects of this story that intertwine and finally connect at the end: the events that transpired that fateful night at the prison, and Judith’s journey to become the woman she is now. I really liked this story because it was just such an interesting way to combine a mystery with a character-driven story. The writing style was a bit difficult to get into; at times, it felt disjointed and hard to follow. However, the overall story was intriguing and kept me going. I liked the journey that this story took me on, and I liked putting the pieces of the puzzle together. For all the buildup that led to the final moments, I found that the actual motive for the murder and the cover-up was a bit disappointing, as was the final ending where justice was supposedly served. As a character study novel, this was a fantastic story that explored the different ways that a tragedy can change a person. If you are looking for a strong mystery or thriller, however, then this isn’t the one for you. Since I really enjoyed reading this novel, I am looking forward to reading more novels by this author!

Happy reading ~

The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge

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

When I read the premise of this novel, I knew that I needed to read this novel. I may not have ever read any of H.P. Lovecraft’s works but I know of his reputation as a great science fiction and horror writer. Lovecraft has inspired so many authors with his work and I thought reading a novel about him would be just fascinating, especially when it is set as a literary thriller.

Marina Willett has a problem: her husband, Charlie, is obsessed with H.P.Lovecraft. Charlie is a writer, who likes to bring the lives of various people into the limelight. And now, he has decided to do so with the life of H.P. Lovecraft, starting with the time when the famous author had lived for 2 months with a fay teenage fan named Robert Barlow. What was their relationship like? Were they friends or was there something more? Just when Charlie thinks he has got the answer, a new scandal erupts and he disappears. The police say it is a suicide but Marina knows better. And she is going to do everything in her power to learn the truth.

At first, I was drawn into the story with its detailed introduction into the life of Lovecraft and the scandal of his time spent with Barlow. While it was interesting to read about, I soon began to wonder when the story was going to kick in. At the midpoint, I started to see some direction and discover how Charlie got involved in this story. But this glimpse also vanished fairly quickly, as the author spent countless chapters recounting the experiences of Barlow, Lovecraft, Spinks, and a whole host of other characters. Pretty soon, I got lost in the details of the story – and not in a good way. I came into this story with one expectation and left this story completely clueless. I’m sure I missed something somewhere but for the life of me, I couldn’t fathom the point of this story. I felt as if nothing meaningful was ever really said throughout this entire novel, and it left me disappointed. There are some raving reviews for this novel on Goodreads, so maybe I am one of the few for whom this novel just didn’t work. If you like literary fiction and Lovecraft, then I’m sure you would enjoy this novel!

Happy reading ~