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Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert
Published by Hachette UK on August 8th 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Pages: 336
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When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn't sure if she'll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new...the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel's disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself--or worse.

I know how easy it is to believe you’re doing the right thing if you say it to yourself often enough.


Little & Lion is the kind of book that sneaks up on you. You start reading and it all seems like a fairly quiet story about a sixteen year-old girl coming home from boarding school to see her loving family and supportive friends.

However, it soon becomes apparent that the book is so much more than it first seems. The author uses this warm, seemingly-average Californian family to explore sexuality, identity, mental illness, racism and particularly everyday microaggressions. It is subtle in its seriousness, hitting issues where it hurts but never making this an “issue book”, and somehow that makes it all the more powerful.

Suzette has a very strong voice as we explore her experiences as a black girl, as a Jewish black girl, and as someone just discovering her bisexuality. The book examines all the questions normally thrown at bisexual people – but do you like guys or girls more? so you’re dating a guy, does this mean you’re straight now? – and kicks them in the teeth.

This is also diversity done right. In recent years, there has been high demand for diverse YA books and authors have responded to that, which is great in theory, and yet I see again and again a straight white character with a group of friends serving as checklist marginalizations, never developed to feel like real human beings. Here, there are characters of all skin colours and sexualities and they all feel so vivid and real.

I think the key to this is intersectionality. Colbert doesn’t provide us with a stock gay character, followed by a stock non-white character, followed by a stock trans character. It feels so much more natural to show all the ways that marginalizations overlap – Suzette is black, Jewish and bisexual, Emil is biracial (Korean/African-American) and hard of hearing due to Ménière’s disease, Lionel is Jewish and diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Rafaela is Latina and pansexual.

In can also say that I really related to some of the feelings Lionel shares about his illness and the way his meds make him feel.

“I hate that I feel like nothing good is ever going to happen to me again. And that sometimes I don’t really feel like anything at all.”

This is so true. I do not have bipolar disorder, but I have struggled with depression during my life and experienced the foggy feeling of nothingness that can accompany certain drugs. I always appreciate it when characters put into words a feeling I have personally experienced but is hard to explain.

Honestly, though, if you like YA contemporary that is subtle and clever, never manipulative, and builds relationship dynamics gradually over the course of the novel, it’s hard to go wrong with this. Suzette is a strong and much-needed voice.

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Wicked Like a Wildfire by Lana Popovic
Published by HarperCollins on August 15th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 416
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All the women in Iris and Malina’s family have the unique magical ability or “gleam” to manipulate beauty. Iris sees flowers as fractals and turns her kaleidoscope visions into glasswork, while Malina interprets moods as music. But their mother has strict rules to keep their gifts a secret, even in their secluded sea-side town. Iris and Malina are not allowed to share their magic with anyone, and above all, they are forbidden from falling in love. 
But when their mother is mysteriously attacked, the sisters will have to unearth the truth behind the quiet lives their mother has built for them. They will discover a wicked curse that haunts their family line—but will they find that the very magic that bonds them together is destined to tear them apart forever?

In some ways, I feel like I’m being generous. I’m upping my rating to two stars, and yet this book was so painfully slow and boring.

I’ve mostly been reading it during the day whilst on vacation so I’m neither tired nor grumpy, but I could feel my eyes trying to close as they moved through the pages of snoozeworthy text. It just goes to show that having beautiful, poetic writing and an exciting setting in Montenegro cannot make up for a plot that takes forever to go anywhere.

On the other hand, I feel like this book will be an all time favourite for a different type of reader. It’s not the first time I’ve talked about this. Some books come with dreamy descriptions that focus in detail on the senses. Books like Caraval and The Star-Touched Queen. Books that describe the scents of fruit and flowers in every scene, floating on a wave of purple prose. These books just don’t seem to be for me.

I was expecting something more along the lines of The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender when I went into this book. It’s one of my favourite whimsical and charming reads. But the first main difference is that the plot moves along at a good pace in Ava Lavender, and here it plods.

It’s a book about witches. Fraternal twins – Iris and Malina – have grown up with their overbearing and magical mother, Jasmina. They both have their own magic, known as the gleam, which for Iris is summoned through flowers, and for Malina comes in the form of emotions she brings out with her singing voice. They must keep their power a secret, though, and NEVER fall in love.

Then Jasmina is attacked and hovers in a place between life and death. Iris and Malina must discover what happened to her, who is responsible, and uncover the truth about their origins. Sounds good, right? But the getting there is so slow, so bogged down by conversations about perfumes, paintings, singing and glassworks.

Malina whistled softly, then bit her cherry-cleft lower lip. “Orange blossom absolute, wow. That’s wonderful. I’ve never smelled one that dramatic. There’s amber in there too, I think, and maybe myrrh? And lots of other things I can’t recognize, I’m sorry.

I just don’t care about this stuff.

The main story is supposed to be the mystery behind the witches and what happened to Jasmina, but it took so long to get there that when I finally did, I realized that I no longer cared. These description-heavy, dreamy perfume/art books are definitely for someone, but unfortunately that someone isn’t me.

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The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter
Published by HarperCollins on August 8th 2017
Genres: Mystery & Thriller
Pages: 528
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Two girls are forced into the woods at gunpoint. One runs for her life. One is left behind…
Twenty-eight years ago, Charlotte and Samantha Quinn's happy small-town family life was torn apart by a terrifying attack on their family home. It left their mother dead. It left their father — Pikeville's notorious defense attorney — devastated. And it left the family fractured beyond repair, consumed by secrets from that terrible night.
Twenty-eight years later, and Charlie has followed in her father's footsteps to become a lawyer herself — the ideal good daughter. But when violence comes to Pikeville again — and a shocking tragedy leaves the whole town traumatized — Charlie is plunged into a nightmare. Not only is she the first witness on the scene, but it's a case that unleashes the terrible memories she's spent so long trying to suppress. Because the shocking truth about the crime that destroyed her family nearly thirty years ago won't stay buried forever…
Packed with twists and turns, brimming with emotion and heart, The Good Daughter is fiction at its most thrilling.

This is the second thriller I’ve read lately that opens with a shitstorm of drama. In the best kind of way, of course. But The Good Daughter is, in some ways, much darker than Stillhouse Lake, and in other ways slower and more character-driven.

It’s not a bad thing. Slaughter more closely resembles my beloved Tana French in style, making her books more about the detectives or, in this case, lawyers than about the actual crime/mystery. It’s a clever technique that always ensures I’m invested, whether or not I can figure out the twists and whodunnits. The very best mystery/thrillers, in my opinion, are about so much more than the twists and whodunnits.

The Good Daughter is essentially a deeply emotional, character-driven family drama, set to the backdrop of two brutal crimes. The first happened years ago – two armed men forced their way into the home of young Samantha and Charlotte, murdering their mother and turning their lives completely upside down. The girls, now adult women and lawyers, are left with both the physical and mental scars; it is hard for the sisters to be around each other without serving as a reminder of the horrendous night that ruined everything.

The second crime, twenty-eight years later, is a school shooting that Charlie finds herself a witness to. When Sam returns to town, both of them are caught up in the case. It seems pretty obvious what happened – mentally slow teenager, Kelly, is caught literally with the smoking gun in front of two dead victims. But how much can Kelly be held responsible? Is everything as it seems? And, Charlie must ask herself: what, exactly, did she really see that day?

I don’t know which story was most compelling – the gradual unveiling of what happened all those years ago, the investigating of the shooting and the dark secrets behind it, or the complex relationship between Sam and Charlie; the web of guilt, bitterness and love that they are tangled up in.

I should warn potential readers that there are some very disturbing and gory scenes of violence and (view spoiler). Slaughter doesn’t gloss over details and there were some parts that had me cringing. If you are particularly sensitive to this, I wouldn’t recommend The Good Daughter for you. But I was able to get past it.

My one main complaint about the book was that Slaughter does like to waffle on a little too much in parts. Some conversations between Sam, Charlie and Rusty go on for pages and pages without really adding anything. Though Tana French is occasionally prone to over-detailing, so I’m forgiving of it. Other than that, though, I thought it was a great read. Drawn-out and complex, but also dramatic and compelling. The author gets the balance just right.

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Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin
Published by Hachette UK on August 22nd 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction, Literary
Pages: 304
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Aviva Grossman, an ambitious Congressional intern in Florida, makes the life-changing mistake of having an affair with her boss - who is beloved, admired, successful, and very married - and blogging about it. When the affair comes to light, the Congressman doesn't take the fall, but Aviva does, and her life is over before it hardly begins. She becomes a late-night talk show punchline; she is slut-shamed, labelled as fat and ugly, and considered a blight on politics in general.
How does one go on after this? In Aviva's case, she sees no way out but to change her name and move to a remote town in Maine. She starts over as a wedding planner, tries to be smarter about her life, and to raise her daughter to be strong and confident.
But when, at the urging of others, she decides to run for public office herself, that long-ago mistake trails her via the Internet like a scarlet A. These days, Google guarantees that the past is never, ever, truly past, that everything you've done will live on for everyone to know about for all eternity. And it's only a matter of time until Aviva/Jane's daughter, Ruby, finds out who her mother was, and is, and must decide whether she can still respect her.

“I’m not a murderer,” she says. “I’m a slut, and you can’t be acquitted of that.”


Aviva Grossman is “Florida’s answer to Monica Lewinsky”. A young Jewish intern in a congressman’s office, she soon finds herself caught up in an affair with the older and married man. When the affair makes it into the regional media, Congressman Levin experiences some negative press, a few tut tuts, and then goes on to enjoy a lifetime in office. His marriage survives the scandal.

Aviva, on the other hand, has her life completely ruined. Though a skilled and qualified poli-sci graduate, no one will hire her. No one wants to date her. How dare she go after a married man, they say. Who wants to hire someone so morally challenged? Her only option is to start over somewhere completely new.

The story is obviously heavily-inspired by the famous Lewinsky scandal. Zevin exposes the misogyny and double standards that exist in politics, sex scandals, and in many areas of life. It’s a fictional story, but it is hard not to notice the very real parallels – how Bill Clinton’s marriage and career survived, how Lewinsky was torn apart by the media, and how even in the last election, almost twenty years after the scandal, jokes about Hillary not “blowing it” and how the last Clinton presidency “left a bad taste in [Lewinsky’s] mouth” were extremely popular.

Aviva is, in many ways, Monica Lewinsky reimagined, not as a sexy seductress, but as a foolish young woman dazzled by a powerful older man. She is reimagined as someone’s daughter, an ambitious student with a love of politics and, later, as a mother of a young girl herself.

It’s a powerful feminist story. What I liked perhaps most of all was that all the women in this story are deeply flawed and make mistakes. The book is split between the perspectives of Aviva, her mother – Rachel, her daughter – Ruby, and Embeth – the congressman’s wife. I really loved that the author chose to do this. The true heart of feminism is acknowledging the different experiences of different women, and the book’s message was so much stronger with the inclusion of all these different perspectives.

There are so many great girl power quotes too, but I think it’s best for the reader to discover them while reading. In short, it’s just such a smart, warm and wonderful read, and an absolutely fantastic takedown of slut-shaming. I would recommend this for women of all ages.

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Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Published by Cengage Gale on 2017
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
Pages: 557
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No one's ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine. Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she's thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy. But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond's big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one. Smart, warm, uplifting, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is the story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes. . . The only way to survive is to open your heart.

Eleanor Oliphant is completely 100% fine. She goes to her office job five days a week and then treats herself to a frozen pizza and a bottle of vodka on a weekend. She lives alone and doesn’t have any friends, but that’s okay. She’s doing real well, thank you very much.

Except maybe she isn’t.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine caught me completely unawares. I’ll be honest – I picked it up because it got some buzz and the author is British, but it actually turned out to be one of those perfectly-balanced sad/funny books. Maybe like some combination of The Rosie ProjectMe Before YouFinding Audrey and A Man Called Ove. It takes a serious, traumatic issue and weaves it into a warm, funny and, yes, sometimes sad tale.

I read a lot of books and many characters come and go. Some are well-developed and interesting, others less so. But on a rare occasion I find one of those truly memorable characters that will stay with me a long time. Eleanor is one of them. She is socially clueless in a way that puts my teen self to shame. She is literal to a degree that everyone finds odd. It’s painful to witness and yet so, so endearing.

I think I like this book so much because it is actually really sad, but never manipulative. On a surface level, it’s a very funny novel about a socially-inept twenty-nine year-old woman. Her attempts to become “normal” and integrate into society by having manicures and waxes are sources of hilarity. But it is very sad. It’s sad when we see her coworkers talking about her, but Eleanor is oblivious to their scorn. It’s sad how alone in life she is. It’s sad when she “falls in love” with an idea of a person.

It’s not a romantic book and I’m glad. There are hints that the central relationship will eventually develop into romance, but this is really a book about Eleanor. I am thankful that the author didn’t cure Eleanor and lead her out of the darkness by having her fall in love. Being happy and achieving greater self-worth should, in my opinion, never be linked to romance.

I really enjoyed it. It’s great to find a book so packed full of emotion without seeming overly-sentimental.

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Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo
Published by Random House Children's Books on August 29th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 384
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She will become one of the world's greatest heroes: WONDER WOMAN. But first she is Diana, Princess of the Amazons. And her fight is just beginning. . . .   Diana longs to prove herself to her legendary warrior sisters. But when the opportunity finally comes, she throws away her chance at glory and breaks Amazon law—risking exile—to save a mere mortal. Even worse, Alia Keralis is no ordinary girl and with this single brave act, Diana may have doomed the world.   Alia just wanted to escape her overprotective brother with a semester at sea. She doesn't know she is being hunted. When a bomb detonates aboard her ship, Alia is rescued by a mysterious girl of extraordinary strength and forced to confront a horrible truth: Alia is a Warbringer—a direct descendant of the infamous Helen of Troy, fated to bring about an age of bloodshed and misery.   Together, Diana and Alia will face an army of enemies—mortal and divine—determined to either destroy or possess the Warbringer. If they have any hope of saving both their worlds, they will have to stand side by side against the tide of war.

“Sister in battle,” murmured Diana, “I am shield and blade to you.”
“And friend.”
“And always your friend.”


Wonder Woman has gotten quite the makeover this year and I must confess: I really like it. From the movie with Gal Gadot, to this wicked little tale of female empowerment, one of my least favourite superheroes is rapidly becoming a new favourite. And apparently CatwomanSuperman and Batmanare also being remade by popular YA authors. After this, I’m excited for more.

You know, at first, I was a touch disappointed that Bardugo didn’t take this opportunity to have a gay romance for Wonder Woman. When she opened Diana’s story by swapping out the arrival of army captain, Steve Trevor, for a Greek/African-American girl called Alia, I was secretly shipping them. And yet, I soon realized that Bardugo was doing something perhaps even more important– showing the power of female friendships above all else.

I expected certain things from this book – action, death, drama, Greek mythology, a hint of romance – and I definitely got them, but I was surprised by several things. I was surprised by the strength of the characters and their relationships, and how well the author used dialogue to create warm, funny and touching dynamics between them. I was surprised that it was, at times, a funny book. And I was surprised by how much emotion Bardugo packed into it.

In this Wonder Woman story, Alia is on board a ship near the island where Diana and her Amazonian sisters live when a bomb detonates. Diana pulls her from the ship, but soon discovers her act of bravery may lead to disaster for both the human world and the Amazons. Alia is a Warbringer, and she unwittingly brings death and war wherever she goes.

Determined to save the world and Alia, Diana sets out to find the last resting place of Helen of Troy, and hopefully put an end to Alia’s destiny. They move from Themyscira to New York City to Southern Greece, joined by Alia’s brother and their friends, Nim and Theo, along the way. Girls sticking up for one another is a major theme, as is friendship in general.

It was also very refreshing to see an almost entirely non-white/European cast of central characters. Aside from the white Diana, Alia and her brother are Greek/African-American and identify as black, Theo is Brazilian, and Nim is Indian, gay, fat and so very fucking awesome.

What I thought was an interesting choice that somehow worked is that the author kind of makes this Wonder Woman story as much about the other characters as it is about Diana Prince. With superhero stories, I almost always feel like every other character exists in relation to the superhero, revolving around them and having no real individuality. But that’s just not the case here. Each character is important and memorable. I cared about Diana Prince in this book, sure, but I cared about the others just as much.

The ending closes this chapter but leaves us with the suggestion that there could be more Wonder Woman books in the future. I can only hope there is.

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The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich
Published by Feiwel & Friends on May 16th 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Thrillers & Suspense, LGBT, Romance
Pages: 288
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There is a secret organization that cultivates teenage spies. The agents are called Love Interests because getting close to people destined for great power means getting valuable secrets.
Caden is a Nice: The boy next door, sculpted to physical perfection. Dylan is a Bad: The brooding, dark-souled guy, and dangerously handsome. The girl they are competing for is important to the organization, and each boy will pursue her. Will she choose a Nice or the Bad?
Both Caden and Dylan are living in the outside world for the first time. They are well-trained and at the top of their games. They have to be – whoever the girl doesn’t choose will die.
What the boys don’t expect are feelings that are outside of their training. Feelings that could kill them both.

I’m going to go on a little tangent to explain my feelings on The Love Interest.

I am a lover of fiction, fantasy and adventure. I love to live in other worlds and believe in the impossible. Therefore, my ability to suspend disbelief is pretty darn good. I can be convinced that a world exists where magic killer unicorns walk the land and wreak havoc with their magic killer unicorn powers. Easy. Where my suspension of disbelief falters, however, is in the details. The hows and the whys. If, say, some authority figure in this world ordered that every woman must marry one of these killer unicorns because, um, it’s for the good of the, um, land… then I start to see the cracks.

In short, I can be convinced of any “what” as long as the “why” adds up. As long as there is, in fact, a “why”. More tangent if you’d like: (view spoiler)

And that’s the problem with this book. If you are the kind of reader who asks questions and notices when plot choices are illogical, then parts of The Love Interest will seem really jarring. Parts of the premise are flawed because they just don’t make sense.

Contrary to the shelving I’ve seen around, this is a kind of dystopian novel. It imagines a world where a secret spy organization plants their spies (known as Love Interests) with anyone important or influential – presidents, CEOs, celebrities, etc. – and attempts to gather information from them. To up their chances of successfully making their target fall in love with the Love Interests, they send two LIs to compete for the person’s affection. So far, so good, right? A little implausible, but then all the best books are.

The thing that doesn’t make any sense is why they send one “Nice” (a sweet, guy-next-door type) and one “Bad” (a devilish smirking bad boy). I get that it’s supposed to be making fun of the YA trope, but it makes no logical sense within the story. There is no explanation for it, and it repeatedly pulled me out of the book’s world.

That is the biggest fundamental flaw, but there are a myriad other small things scattered throughout that just seemed poorly-conceived. Stupid things like: why are they starving and sharing tuna out of a can in the later chapters of the novel? I get that they don’t want their credit card to be traced, but last time I checked, McDonald’s (and, like, everywhere) takes cash. And they had cash, just to be clear.

AND the antagonists are so conveniently bad at everything. They are especially poor at surveillance and tracking, going offline exactly when Caden needs them to. This is a huge, old, and extremely powerful organization, apparently, but they never show it.

In this particular Love Interest scenario, a girl called Juliet is the target and her two Love Interests are Caden (the “Nice”, and the narrator) and Dylan (the “Bad”). They must compete for her affection and the loser will be incinerated. However, something unexpected happens– Caden finds himself developing feelings for none other than his rival.

I don’t think it was the best decision to have Caden as the lone narrator. He lacked the charisma needed to drive the novel’s narrative and his voice was as bland and unremarkable as his LI character was supposed to be (honestly, why someone would think any person would be attracted to a doormat I do not know). It would have been good to get Dylan’s perspective to shake things up a bit.

I would love to see more YA books subverting the traditional love triangle trope, but this wasn’t the favourite I’d hoped it would be. I struggled to believe in this concept from the start and Caden was never interesting enough to pull me in.

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Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Published by Penguin on March 7th 2017
Genres: Fiction, Literary
Pages: 240
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In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair, and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through. . . .

“When we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.”

I thought this book was quietly brutal. And quietly beautiful, as well.

If you’ve come here looking for magical realism, I would advise against it. Exit West contains only the barest of fantastical elements – essentially, metaphorical doors or portals that symbolize the migrant experience. This is not explored in any depth and serves only to propel the characters from their unnamed homeland to Greece, then London, then America.

Exit West is really about the relationship between the young couple, Saeed and Nadia, and how their experiences as migrants in foreign countries affects who they are and what they need. Held together by a shared past, they try to cling to one another, even as they grow into very different people. It’s subtle and exquisitely bittersweet.

The book starts in a country in the middle of political turmoil. The country is not named, but that is not really the point, for it could be any country in the middle of crisis. Any country that forces its people to try to seek out a better life elsewhere. When Saeed’s mother is killed and the threat of violence becomes too much, Saeed and Nadia talk to a man who promises to get them out.

They are both irreparably changed by the move to new places that are at once both comforting and unwelcoming. I think the power of this book lies in the lack of manipulation and sentimentality. In many ways, it’s just a love story between two vibrant, pot-smoking young people who are affected by forces beyond their control.

It is these kind of quietly moving stories that affect me most of all. Authors who try to create dramatic, tear-inducing scenes never move me emotionally, but those who craft scenes of gentle truth can totally rip my heart out. And that’s exactly what happened here.

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Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
Published by Penguin Publishing Group on 2017
Genres: Fiction, Thrillers, Suspense
Pages: 400
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The author of the #1 New York Times bestseller and global phenomenon The Girl on the Train returns with Into the Water, her addictive new novel of psychological suspense. A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.   Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother's sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from--a place to which she vowed she'd never return.   With the same propulsive writing and acute understanding of human instincts that captivated millions of readers around the world in her explosive debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins delivers an urgent, twisting, deeply satisfying read that hinges on the deceptiveness of emotion and memory, as well as the devastating ways that the past can reach a long arm into the present.   Beware a calm surface--you never know what lies beneath.

I’m going straight down the middle with a 3-star rating but, in truth, my thoughts are all over with this book. I think the only way I can make sense of it is to break it down into points.

1) This book is very different from The Girl on the Train.
That ad that keeps flashing up saying “If you liked The Girl on the Train, you’ll love Into the Water” is bullshit. Into the Water doesn’t focus in-depth on any character, but rather moves between the perspectives of many members of a British town. While both books contain themes of memory and the limitations on its reliability, the mysteries feel very different.

2) The cast of characters is big. Arguably, too big.
I’m torn as to whether I think this is a negative or not. I know many readers will be turned off by the many, many points of view circulating in this book. There is Lena, daughter of the deceased Nel, and Nel’s sister Jules; there’s both of the detectives – Sean Townsend and Erin Morgan – as well as Sean’s wife, Helen, and his father, Patrick. There’s the teacher from Lena’s school – Mark Henderson – and the local “psychic”, Nickie Sage. There’s Louise Whittaker, whose daughter died, and also her son, Josh. I may have even forgotten some.

On the one hand, this allows for a distant style of narration that never makes it easy to warm to any of the characters. Seeing as – on top of this – most of the characters were pretty despicable, I didn’t spend much of my reading time liking anyone. However, in a weird way I didn’t hate it. The moving between so many characters, each with their own stories and secrets, reminded me of the TV show Broadchurch, which I actually really enjoyed. I like all the interlocking stories and histories going on within this town and how every character has some reason to seem guilty.

3) It’s not as suspenseful as The Girl on the Train.
Or, at least, it wasn’t for me. It’s more on the domestic side of “domestic thriller”. I felt less tension and excitement pulling me through. It was more of an examination of various ties between people in a small town, and how everyone was in some way linked to the woman found dead.

4) Let me emphasize once more– everyone is unlikable.
Some people commented on my review of The Girl on the Train saying how they just hated everyone in the book. If you felt that way, I highly recommend skipping this one because the characters are even worse. I personally quite like to read about shitty people, and I found Rachel from TGotT to be an interesting and sympathetic character despite everything, so it was not a huge issue for me. But, seriously, there are some truly fucked up, awful people in this book.

5) The ending was a little anticlimactic.
I think this whole book was quieter, on the whole, than it’s predecessor. The people sucked, it’s true, and yet the stories were less dramatic; the climax less punchy. I never felt like I was hit with a reveal; there was no “oh my god” moment, or even much of an emotional change. The book drew gently to a close.

All this being said, I can’t deny that I thoroughly enjoyed it. I wouldn’t rush to call this a “pageturner” and yet my interest in this town’s many overlapping secrets kept me turning the pages anyway. I know that Hawkins’s future books will be on my list.

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The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli
Published by Penguin UK on April 11th 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 300
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Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love-she's lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can't stomach the idea of rejection. So she's careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.
Then a cute new girl enters Cassie's orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly's cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly's totally not dying of loneliness-except for the part where she is.Luckily, Cassie's new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. Will is funny, flirtatious, and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And if Molly can win him over, she'll get her first kiss and she'll get her twin back.
There's only one problem: Molly's coworker, Reid. He's an awkward Tolkien superfan, and there's absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?

I can’t decide if this is funny or sad, but I’ve spent so much time wanting a boyfriend that I can’t imagine not wanting one. I can imagine saying I don’t want one. But I can’t imagine it being true.


I’m really surprised to see so many positive reviews of The Upside of Unrequited from GR members who thought Holding Up the Universe was problematic. To me, this is more of the same. This might be the author who brought us the wonderful and hilarious Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, but these characters contained none of the charm that Simon & Co. possessed.

To summarize why I didn’t like this book in two points:

1) I felt absolutely no connection to any of the characters. It seemed like the author put a lot of effort into creating a diverse cast, which is great, and yet she forgot to develop their personality, charms and quirks, so that they became defined by their marginalization.

Molly is the most well-developed character and even that is not saying much. Who is Molly? What are her passions and interests? What does she care about aside from obsessing over her crushes and the fact she hasn’t been kissed? I couldn’t tell you.

2) There isn’t a compelling story.

In fact, it’s the same old story I have never liked: an insecure (plain/overweight) virgin longs to finally be kissed by a boy. Everyone else around her is “cute” or “hot” and she feels inadequate. She finally finds her worth when it turns out that a boy likes her.

I don’t know if this kind of book is supposed to be empowering for bigger girls, but it felt insulting. The protagonist – Molly – is a self-proclaimed “fat girl” who always has crushes but never dates and/or kisses guys because she fears rejection. The story arc follows her journey to gaining self-confidence, which here occurs when her latest crush reciprocates her feelings. Is this a good message? Because, honestly, it makes me cringe.

It’s so many things. It’s everyone knowing you’re attracted to a guy who wears electric-white sneakers. It’s that little twinge of shame you feel when someone thinks he’s not cute. Even though he is cute. He’s actually really fucking adorable. I actually really fucking like him, and none of the other stuff should matter.

I will say that the book has a lot of diversity – skin color, sexuality, gender identity, religion, body size, mental health – but you don’t get brownie points or a pat on the back for this anymore. Diversity is just a necessity, not something a book should win an award for. Beyond this, the story and characters were extremely lacking for me. Molly’s inner narrative went in tiring circles as she thought about herself, kissing boys, and back again:

My ego. I don’t have an ego. If I had such a giant ego, why would I have such a hard time believing Reid actually likes me?
Except, if I’m totally honest, I do believe it. Reid likes me. And I like that he likes me. But I’m not used to this game. It’s this totally new way of seeing myself. Like I’m some hazily lit dream girl from a movie. I’ve never been that girl before.
I really like being that girl. So, maybe I am some kind of egomaniac.

I liked Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda so much that I will happily check out the author’s future work, but this one obviously did not work for me.

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