I’m a literary addict who loves reading books, discussing books, recommending books, writing, movies, food, music, creating things, and more. I started this blog as a way to share discussions and reviews of books in my favorite genres, and keep track of my reads.
I recently read Pines, a science-fiction-mystery-thriller by Blake Crouch (author of Dark Matter), and was disappointed, to say the least. The plot was intriguing and bubbling over with so much suspense that I read it in a single sitting, but I really disliked the writing style.
Part of the problem was that the characters are thin and whispy; many of them might as well be walking paper cutouts. The main character — Ethan — is pretty well fleshed out (which should be a given, considering the book is from his point of view) but the same cannot be said about any other character. Pope, the town sheriff, is a stereotypical mustache-twirling, gun-toting, head-bashing evil moron. Jenkins is the stereotypical cold billionaire who plays God without regard for human life. Therasa, Ethan’s wife, is…well, a stereotypical wife, who loves him no matter what he does and that’s pretty much all I know about her.
But the other, more pressing issue is that reading Pines was a little like being presented a wooden frame and told that it’s a move-in ready house. The bare bones are there, yes, but there’s also so much missing. And the biggest reason for this was the random sentence fragments littered over every single page.
I’m only gonna say this once, Mr. Crouch: A PREDICATE IS NOT A FULL SENTENCE!
I honestly have no clue why he kept randomly dropping the subject of every other sentence. Was it supposed to increase suspense? Deliver emotional impact? Because this irritating habit did the exact opposite. Take this passage, for example —
Every few feet, he glanced down, his view now obscured by the rock surrounding him, but he could still see that thing out in front, moving effortlessly between the second and third ledges up a section of the wall where Ethan had struggled.
Twenty feet up the crack, seventy above the canyon floor, his thighs burning.
Reading a passage like this, I’m breathlessly engaged in Ethan’s thrilling climb. Then I come across that and I’m abruptly jerked out of the moment because what is that even doing there. It interrupts the flow and doesn’t add any value. There’s just no point to it.
Not to mention, this is a terrible place to have a sentence fragment. Usually, sentence fragments have clear implied subjects so that the reader can tell what the heck they’re talking about. But here, the previous sentence was talking about the creature chasing Ethan (“that thing out in front”), which makes the subject of the fragment confusing. Is it talking about the creature being twenty feet up the crack, or Ethan? It’s probably Ethan because of the “his thighs burning” part, but that whole train of thought/guesswork took me out of the suspenseful moment entirely.
Here’s the thing about sentence fragments: Like chocolate, ice-cream cakes, and any writing device, they’re fine in moderation, but too many are just unhealthy.
I don’t exactly mind them in and of themselves. I use them, you probably use them, everyone uses them. Just not all the time, because when they’re overused in a narrative passage it ends up sounding strange and disjointed.
Sometimes it makes sense, like with lists —
He touched the wires together again, and the engine turned over.
or when it’s supposed to convey some intense emotion —
He couldn’t explain why, but they filled him with fear. A dread he couldn’t quite put his finger on.
The sudden g-force as the helicoptor spins.
Alarms going mad.
The impossible rigidity of the power stick.
Consciousness only lost for half a minute.
In these cases, the fragments add real value. They help to craft a flow that works with the subject and emotions being portrayed. I think they’re especially useful in writing high-stress situations from a first-person perspective, because who thinks in full sentences while under gunfire? They’re also useful in mixing up the sentence structure in descriptions.
However, Pines is littered with odd fragments in completely illogical places. The worst cases were like the example I discussed way above, where it actually confuses the reader. However, I took issue with these as well —
He’d always kept it in his bedside table drawer. Couldn’t remember the last time he’d worn it. Didn’t think he’d brought it along on this trip, and certainly didn’t remember packing it or making the decision to wear it.
Ok, so here there are clear implied subjects. Fine. Whoop-de-doo. That doesn’t change the fact that there’s no clear purpose to include those two fragments. Once again, they interrupt the flow, making the paragraph sound disjointed and incomplete without adding anything. It feels like lazy writing.
It may seem like I’m overreacting, but this is a real pet peeve of mine. I deeply appreciate sentence fragments that are used effectively, but when they’re needlessly scattered everywhere, I get irritated.
(Oh, and by the way, I rated this book 2.5/5 stars. Find it on Amazon and Goodreads).
There’s this idea often voiced in the world of writing that “everything good has already been written”. It’s the depressing notion that good book ideas are so hard to find because they simply don’t exist anymore. It’s also totally false.
Maybe many of the core ideas that genres are built upon have been exhausted. Maybe it’s hard to dream up a classic epic fantasy that wasn’t written to death by J.R.R Tolkein or George R.R Martin. But all that means is that the future of innovative writing ideas lies in the spaces between genres. Nowadays the books that are truly, refreshingly original are those that cross, bend, and blur genre boundaries. The deepest, most creative stories are told by books that straddle genres and defy convention.
So if you’re like me, and you love dabbling in all manner of different genres and ideas, here are 4 of my favorite books that cross genre lines:
This enduringly incredible book has often been shoe-horned into science-fiction. On one level that may seem right because dystopia is one of the biggest subgenres of sci-fi, and The Handmaid’s Tale is about as dystopic as it gets.
The problem is, that’s a gross oversimplification.
Without spoiling too much, this book is set in a future totalitarian, Christian theocracy that has violently overthrown the US government. Women are completely subjugated, stripped of all rights, and the eponymous ‘handmaids’ are women who exist to bear children for their masters. If much of the premise revolves around a future society totally abandoning science and technology, can it truly be called science-fiction?
Margaret Atwood herself has argued that this book really belongs in the category of speculative fiction, which isn’t as much a genre as a collective of dystopian dramas that don’t follow sci-fi conventions and lack clear genre boundaries and definitions.
In fact, the book is rooted in history; Atwood has said that, “One of my rules was that I would not put any events into the book that had not already happened… nor any technology not already available. No imaginary gizmos, no imaginary laws, no imaginary atrocities.” In short, everything about the horrifying future society in The Handmaid’s Tale is taken directly from the past.
Though often overshadowed by its famous predecessor Ender’s Game, in my opinion this sequel is the better book. Speaker for the Dead takes place 3,000 years after the events of Ender’s Game, focusing on the far-off planet Lusitania.
What makes Lusitania so special? It’s the first planet where humans have encountered intelligent life-forms, dubbed the “piggies”. It harbors a deadly disease, the descolada. Oh, and the piggies have an unfortunate habit of brutally murdering researchers that get too close to them.
Ender arrives to Lusitania for the funeral of a recently dead researcher, and quickly becomes embroiled in the rising tensions between the piggies and humans, the mystery of the piggies’ strange ways, and a dysfunctional family.
Unlike Ender’s Game, this book lacks the exciting space-fights and action sequences. It may center around futuristic space travel and sentient aliens, but it’s far, far more than just science-fiction. It’s a philosophical contemplation on sin, redemption, and the visceral human fear of the unknown. Above all, this book asks whether humans can truly, peacefully coexist with another species. It also draws upon history, paralleling the human-piggie dynamics with the interactions between Portuguese conquistadors and Native Americans. As if to punctuate that point, Card makes the human society on Lusitania both Spanish speaking and very Catholic.
It’s a mystery, a family drama, a space opera, and a musing on humanity’s most strongly held fears, all rolled in one amazing novel.
Kindred was born out of a unique fusion of science-fiction and historical-fiction. It’s the story of Dana, a modern African-American woman who is thrown back in time to the Antebellum South. The main events of the book take place in the early-1800s era history. It’s full of rich, incredibly immersive descriptions of everyday plantation life, interspersed with brutally sharp accounts of everyday brutalities. It’s fascinating to read about how Dana somehow settles into her new life posing as a slave, and the uncomfortable ease with which she eventually adapts to her dire situation and accepts the institution of slavery as a reality.
Most books treat the past and present as two solidly separate entities, yet Kindred blurs their lines to the point where Dana starts to lose her grip on which reality she truly belongs in. It also doesn’t demand concrete explanations of the mechanics behind time travel (as most sci-fi books do). Instead, Kindred is content to simply speculate.
It’s a book that blurs borders often assumed to be concrete, and in doing so, effortlessly interweaves both sci-fi elements (like the causal time loops) and the main historical narrative.
Dark Matter threads so many genres together that it’s nearly impossible to identify them all, and that’s probably why it’s such an original, innovative book.
The plot is simple: Jason Dessen is captured by a masked abductor, wakes up in an alternative-universe world that he does not recognize, and struggles to find his way back home.
At its core it’s an action-packed thriller that sprints to the finish line at a breathless pace, and practically brims with suspense. Sci-fi elements drive the plot, yet they’re presented in a simple, easy-to-understand way that melts in with the quickly-moving story. The science is worked into the book, but it’s not the most significant part by any reasonable measure. In fact, romance is perhaps the most crucial element that drives the main characters and defines their relationships. Yet it’s also written with the feel of a mystery as Jason strives to uncover the reality of his situation.
The best part of Dark Matter is that because it blends so many genre hallmarks together, it’s able to be totally original while also appealing to an incredibly wide audience. It cherry-picks the best of suspense, thrillers, mysteries, romance novels, and speculative sci-fi, and mashes them up into a book that’s equal parts engaging and thought-provoking.
Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
Published by: St. Martin’s Press on February 5, 2008 Genre: Women’s fiction, Saga RATING: Synopsis: In the turbulent summer of 1974, Kate Mularkey has accepted her place at the bottom of the eighth-grade social food chain. Then, to her amazement, the “coolest girl in the world” moves in across the street and wants to be her friend. Tully Hart seems to have it all—beauty, brains, ambition. On the surface they are as opposite as two people can be: Kate, doomed to be forever uncool, with a loving family who mortifies her at every turn. Tully, steeped in glamour and mystery, but with a secret that is destroying her. They make a pact to be best friends forever; by summer’s end they’ve become TullyandKate. Inseparable.
So begins Kristin Hannah’s magnificent new novel. Spanning more than three decades and playing out across the ever-changing face of the Pacific Northwest, Firefly Lane is the poignant, powerful story of two women and the friendship that becomes the bulkhead of their lives.
This was the fourth Kristin Hannah book that I’ve picked up over the past year. After speeding through Firefly Lane, I think I’ve finally nailed down what exactly to expect from the Typical Kristin Hannah book:
Focus on the evolution of a sister/best-friend/husband/boyfriend relationship (often all four)
Main character hits rock bottom or falls into a state of total depression at some point.
LOTS OF SADNESS (particularly at the end). Be warned: Kristin Hannah books leave you feeling just a little (read: a lot) emptier inside.
Firefly Lane follows this template to the letter. It focuses on two teenage best friends — Katie and Tully — and chronicles the evolution (and occasionally devolution) of their lives, careers, and relationship over the course of three decades.
First of all, I loved the way that Hannah captures each decade, especially the seventies and eighties. This was unsurprising; her books typically maintain a strong focus on setting. They always have a definitive sense of place. The pop culture, clothes, major world news events, and general public attitudes are beautifully interwoven, transporting me back in time.
In typical Hannah fashion, this book is fully character-driven and extremely engaging. Quite simply, she is an incredibly effective storyteller. There were several points where I felt like the story and characters might just fly off the rails in the hand of a less-skilled writer.
No matter what happened, how frustrated I got with the characters or skeptical of the choices they made, I kept turning the pages. I just couldn’t help feeling emotionally invested. I read most of it in a single sitting, though I’m not sure this was the best idea; the last 20% was so utterly dismal that reading it all in one go felt borderline masochistic.
(me at 3am after finishing this book)
I also need to discuss the characters. I love reading character-focused books, following their journeys, growth, and relationships. At the start of Firefly Lane, Hannah establishes Tully and Kate as fully-formed, flawed-yet-likable teens, and the growth of their close friendship feels both natural and inevitable. I could perfectly imagine them riding their bikes down Summer Hill, or lying in the grass of the UW quad.
Around the half-way point, however, it feels like their characters stop growing and settle into static caricatures of the complex women they could be: weak, insecure Kate and selfish, insensitive Tully. Their characters seem to stagnate over the three decades that the novel covers. Personalities that felt fully-formed in teenage girls feel flat in forty-year-old women.
I felt similarly about the evolution of their friendship. On one level, I could completely relate to how Katie and Tully grow into completely different personalities, yet remain best friends. Some of my best friendships have mirrored that same trajectory. I enjoyed reading about how their lives keep separating and entwining; I understood how Tully’s loveless childhood largely drives her constant need for Katie’s love.
Yet, on the other hand, I spent many chapters in the second half of the book mentally begging Katie to grow a backbone and give Tully a piece of her mind. Frankly, I’m not sure that this friendship would survive all three decades in real life.
Besides the character-focus, Hannah also devotes a lot of time towards some key themes and ideas:
The classic money-and-fame-can’t-replace-love message.
Feelings of depression and being overwhelmed that stay-at-home moms often face.
Katie and Tully’s generation of girls raised in the seventies were often told that they could “have it all”. Yet Hannah uses Katie and Tully’s drastically different life paths and regrets as a rebuttal. The book presents Katie at one end of the family-career spectrum and Tully at the other, and questions whether it’s really possible to find a truly fulfilling middle ground. The Amazon summary sums it up as “the story of a generation of women who were both blessed and cursed by choices”.
Verdict: This book has some issues with character development and plot, but ultimately it was a compelling, engaging read that left me near tears by the end.
Yes, I know this blog is called River of Reads, and this post is technically about a TV show, but it’s a show based on a book so I’m not too far off the mark, right?
I actually watched the show Big Little Lies and read the book (by Liane Moriarty) concurrently, which is the first time that I’ve ever done that. It was interesting to compare them side by side, and it gave me a new appreciation for how difficult it is to adapt a book to the small screen. There’s more time than a movie, but the serialized nature of the medium means that writers have to structure each episode in quite specific ways, which in turn affects the overall storyline.
The book was very compelling but for me, the real standout was the TV show. I’m not necessarily saying that the show is better than the book (I’m a firm believer in the book-is-always-better maxim) but compared to other TV shows — its ‘peers’ so to speak — I thought it was a truly fantastic adaptation, and I was so impressed by how well the book was translated into an on-screen drama. Without further ado, here’s what I loved about Season 1 of Big Little Lies:
1. The opening credits. Usually, I skip the opening credits of each episode on TV shows (doesn’t everyone?), but for Big Little Lies I watched the whole thing each time. It wasn’t just the perfect music or the gorgeous beach shots; overall it just feels perfectly constructed. Case in point: the shot of a pristine beach juxtaposed with the fading image of a person pointing a gun perfectly encapsulates the show.
2. The soundtrack. The music selections for this show are PERFECT.
3. The cast. This show has a seriously star-powered cast. Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, that’s a killer recipe for success right there. Not to mention, next season Meryl Streep is joining…
4. The acting. Even beyond the star-studded names, every actor just slides so perfectly into their role. Shailene Woodley is surprisingly good at portraying Jane’s delicate rawness, while Alexander Skarsgard is perfectly menacing as Perry.
Actually, he was pretty terrifying.
One of the central storylines of Big Little Lies is the messed up, violent relationship between Perry and Celeste. In the book, it is a multi-faceted relationship that is deeply explored, and I was fearful that the show would lose the nuances. As it turned out, I didn’t need to worry, because Skarsgard and Nicole Kidman (who plays Celeste) knock it out of the park.
Whenever Celeste would start to stand up to him, his face and eyes would shift, and I would mentally scream NO! Don’t trigger him! I can’t take anymore! I truly felt the constant tension, the sense that anything could trigger another cycle of violent abuse (more often than not followed by violent sex, which took it all to a new level of disturbing).
As the episodes progress, their encounters get more and more violent. In their first altercation, it’s somewhat ambiguous as to whether the violence runs both ways because Celeste fights back. But in subsequent episodes, it escalates bit by bit until there is absolutely no doubt who is the abuser in this relationship. In some ways, the viewer’s process of realizing the horrifying extent of Perry’s abuse mirrors Celeste’s gradual, awful process of understanding that her relationship isn’t just toxic, it’s actually threatening her life.
Kidman, in particular, approaches her role with a perfect fragility. The scenes of her in therapy are particularly heart wrenching — the way that her carefully constructed walls are broken down bit by bit as the therapist painstakingly pokes and probes at every inch of her denial. There is no doubt in my mind that Kidman deserved every Emmy, Golden Globe, and other award that she won.
Although Kidman is the breakaway standout, the rest of the cast dazzles as well. Laura Dern is amazingly neurotic as Renata, and I could write another paragraph or two about how much I loved Reese Witherspoon as Madeleine Martha Mackenzie.
You know what? I think I will.
5. Madeleine’s one-liners (AKA the humor). Another one of my fears for the show was that, in doing the domestic-abuse storyline justice, it would cut out the humor. The book’s dark comedy is so important because it’s Moriarty’s way of recognizing how absurd everything gets. It’s a book that centers around the obsessive politics of kindergarten moms and makes fun of them the whole time.
In one sense my fears were confirmed because some of the satire is definitely lost. I dearly missed Madeleine’s frequent-and-funny affinity for phrases like “oh, calamity!” and the hilarious “Erotic book club”.
Despite this, comedy maintains a strong presence in the show, thanks to one Madeleine Martha Mackenzie.
Reese Witherspoon perfectly brought this spitfire to life with all of her wonderful verve and hilarity. Every time she opened her mouth and turned into a glowering, foul-mouthed, petty ball of rage I couldn’t hold back the laughs. I definitely could have gone without the cheating-on-Ed storyline, but her perfect delivery of some truly wonderful one-liners more than made up for it.
I think my favorite was “I love my grudges, I tend to them like little pets.” Or maybe “get laid, b*tch!”
6. The way the storylines tied together. This is a plot point, so it’s more of a kudos to Moriarty and her storytelling skills, but the show executes it wonderfully. One of the best parts of Big Little Lies is the way that the different conflicts and storylines weave together to form a picture that’s so much deeper than it seems at first, centered around characters and relationships that are real and wholly human.
On the surface, it seems like a kind of silly, tone-deaf story about how bickering between rich white moms can escalate to murder. Yet the amazing thing is that it starts out with the shallowest part of each of the characters — their roles in the kindergarten mommy wars — and then carefully peels back that outer layer to examine the trauma and depth beneath.
Throughout the story, we find out that each woman lives in a web of lies, cowering behind carefully constructed walls. Yet the lies are slowly but surely ripped apart, secrets are exposed, raw and naked, and we see the stark difference between other people’s perceptions of them, and the reality that they themselves often deny.
Here’s an example: one of the central storylines involves Renata (pretty much the only full-time working mom) and Jane (the new mom in town) duking it out because Renata’s daughter is being bullied and she blames Jane’s son. The moms (and dads) in town take sides; Madeleine is almost ferocious in her defense of Jane.
Tte book/show take this storyline and use it to carefully pick apart Jane’s traumatic past, examining how it still affects her and how she must come to terms with it. Meanwhile, the real bully turns out to be Celeste’s son, allowing the story to point to the trauma that domestic abuse inevitably inflicts on a couple’s kids. Celeste and Perry are in total denial that their sons have any knowledge of the abuse, yet once they find out that their son is choking little girls on the playground, it’s hard to keep up that pretense anymore. Ultimately, a story that on the surface is about five-year-old conflicts and their mothers’ overreactions, is really about heartbreaking secrets that fall apart.
7. The sets. Those. Houses. Are. Gorgeous. Where can I get one, please?
BONUS: The one thing that bugged me…(MAJOR SPOILER ALERT) One of my only real criticisms is Bonnie.I really, really wish the show could have taken a hot second to explain to the viewer why she ultimately lashes out at Perry in the ending.I understand that the demands of adapting a book to screen mean that some parts are inevitably lost in translation, but given the fact that she ended up being the murderer that the entire book was building up to, I’m sure many viewers would have appreciated a small hint for why she did it.
This is especially true because the majority of her screen-time is devoted to establishing her as non-violent, calm, and generally very zen. The book explains the shift really well, exposing the raw, hidden depths in a previously one-dimensional character, but in the show it comes off as a little weird because it provided no explanation whatsoever. In one episode she’s smiling foolishly about how her six-year-old daughter “doesn’t sanction non-consensual touching”, the next she’s forcefully shoving Perry down the stairs to his death.
If I hadn’t already finished the book, that would definitely have gotten me scratching my head.
I would have happily replaced the minute or so of Nathan’s karaoke with some kind of hint of Bonnie’s past (maybe that raw “we see” line from the book, although I suppose that would have disrupted the silent-effect in the climax scene). Really, any kind of indicator would have been much appreciated.
This was the longest post I’ve written so far, and I didn’t even talk about everything else I loved in this show. Overall, this series — in my opinion — deserves every award that it has won. If you haven’t watched the show or read the book yet, I would absolutely recommend both.
It’s rare to find a show that manages to be complex, dark, satirical, sincere, and incredibly satisfying all at once. I already can’t wait for Season 2.
We are officially half-way through 2018! And that means that it’s now time for me to look back and recap all of the books that I’ve read over the past six months.
I’m trying something new here: Lightning reviews! For every book that I’ve read in 2018 (so far), I’ve written a 7-word summary and 6-word review. For books that I have already reviewed on this blog, I’ve added links to the full-length critiques.
These Shallow Gravesby Jennifer Donnelly
Summary: 1890s: Rich girl investigates her Dad’s murder. Review: Gripping mystery; surprisingly mature for YA novel.
Artemisby Andy Weir
Summary: Smuggler attempts massive crime in moon city. Review: Cool science and tech, weaker plot
(Check out my full review here)
Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
Summary: Kidnapped man wakes up in alternate reality. Review: Mind-bending and twisty; crosses many genres.
(Check out my full review here)
Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen
Summary: Jewish girl infiltrates school for Nazis’ daughters. Review: High-pressure spy thriller; fully fleshed-out characters.
(Check out my full review here)
A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
Summary: Stark family in trouble; winter is coming. Review #1: Lots of moral ambiguity, death, sex. Review #2: Everyone goes crazy at some point. Review #3: Expected to love it and didn’t. Review #4: Ned Stark is such an idiot.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Summary: Type-A, rules-loving mom clashes with artsy non-conformist. Review: Thought-provoking family drama; a little preachy.
(Check out my full review here)
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Summary: Wife goes missing; husband is prime suspect. Review: Intense, freaky thriller with massive twists
(Check out my full review here)
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
Summary: Suburban moms deal with lies, trauma, abuse. Review: Funny read; darker than it seems.
The Breach by Patrick Lee
Summary: Ex-convict investigates a mysterious rip in reality. Review: Crazy plot, weird ending, very gory.
Pride and Prejudiceby Jane Austen
Summary: Elizabeth Bennett meets Charles Darcy; sparks fly. Review #1: Hilarious story and characters, beautiful writing. Review #2: Didn’t expect to love it so much. Review #3: It is a truth universally acknowledged… Review #4: I’m converted to the Austen cult.
Kindred by Octavia Butler
Summary: 1970s African-American woman thrown back to Antebellum era. Review: Perfectly blends sci-fi and historical fiction.
(Check out my full review here)
What Alice Forgotby Liane Moriarty
Summary: Suburban mom loses ten years of memories. Review: Starts slow; both light-hearted and thought-provoking.
(Check out my full review here)
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn Published by: Random House on June 5, 2012 Genre: Mystery/suspense RATING: ★★★★☆ Synopsis: On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?
This book was published a while ago (as in six years ago) and has been thoroughly reviewed and lauded by pretty much every book-reader out there, so I’ll admit I’m a little late to the party. Last year I read Girl on the Train and loved the unreliable-narrator device. Later I saw that it had been compared (many, many times) to Gone Girl, so I added that to my to-read list. There it has sat for many months.
Last week I was in one of my thriller-moods when I saw this book on Amazon and decided to finally download a free sample. At the time, I knew exactly 3 things about it:
It centers around a married couple and the wife goes missing.
There’s some kind of huge twist.
Reese Witherspoon’s production company made a movie out of it.
All three sounded pretty good to me so I figured, why not finally see what all the hype is about?
So, on to the actual review (which I’ll try to make as spoiler-free as physically possible).
To be honest, my initial reaction after turning the final page was: What the hell did I just read?
I won’t deny that Gone Girl is an engaging page-turner, but it is NOT a one-sitting kind of book. It definitely helped to read it in chunks, with breaks in between.
In the first three-quarters of the book, the plot is masterfully crafted. It practically overflows with suspense and thick tension. The missing-wife hook reels the reader into a twisted, meticulously constructed story about the 2009 recession, a failing marriage, and two deeply messed up people.
The first part of the book is told in an unusual narrative style, interspersing Nick’s account of Amy’s disappearance with Amy’s past diary entries. I thought Flynn pulled it off brilliantly. It serves to present the reader with a certain image of both characters that rapidly evolves in a very specific direction (namely that Nick’s a total douchebag and Amy is a likable yet naiive doormat).
Even though I started the book convinced that the obvious culprit (there’s one person in particular that all the clues seem to point to) wasn’t guilty, I quickly found myself being manipulated into believing something very different. Of course, then I got to “the twist” and realized that Flynn had played me all along. Nick’s internal thoughts and memories conflict with Amy’s diary entries in subtle, yet noticeable ways, which creates an undercurrent of tension. They’re both unreliable narrators which makes it so much more difficult to figure out what’s going on.
So the first part was gripping. The second part? Thrilling. It really showcases Flynn’s ability to point the reader one way while weaving a story that actually flows in a completely different direction.
Unfortunately the third part veers well into the lane of implausibility, which is why I knocked off the fifth star. I’m pretty good at suspending disbelief when necessary, but the gaping plot holes and weird characterization shifts in the third part were too glaring to ignore. It also ends very creepily and ambiguously — generally this isn’t an issue for me, but here I felt like Flynn could have done so much more with the ending.
It’s important to note that Flynn isn’t as interested in developing a fast-paced action-packed plot as she is in carefully digging into the psyche of her two main characters (Amy and Nick) and their twisted marriage. It’s not one of those thrillers that transfixes the reader with a plot that moves like a bullet train (if you want one of those, check out Dark Matter by Blake Crouch). It’s more like peeling back the layers of an old orange and slowly uncovering the dark, rotted nastiness underneath. Flynn does it in a very careful, deliberate way, deconstructing her characters into bits and pieces that are fed to to the reader little by little.
In addition, this book suffers from a surplus of very unlikable characters. The cast is populated with liars, cheaters, and psychopaths. If you’re looking for a character you can root for, this definitely is not the book for you. You’re not meant to identify with Nick or relate to Amy (I mean, hopefully you don’t), and that’s not Flynn’s expectation. Personally I found it kind of exciting to dive into alien minds — even if I did despise them — and the characters are complicated enough to be very interesting.
Verdict: This was an intense read that left me totally freaked out and rather wary of marriage in general (just kidding…mostly). Nevertheless, I definitely understand all the acclaim and hype now. Here’s two rules regarding this book:
Read it. (Yes, despite my disappointment with the ending I still think it’s a worthy read)
Don’t look up any spoilers beforehand! Believe me, you do not want the twist spoiled.
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
Published by: William Morrow Paperbacks on June 6, 2017 Genre: Historical fiction RATING: Synopsis: 1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She’s also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie’s parents banish her to Europe to have her “little problem” taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.
1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she’s recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she’s trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the “Queen of Spies”, who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy’s nose.
Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn’t heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth…no matter where it leads.
This is one of those books that practically screamed READ ME from the library shelf. The summary alone checks off many of the boxes for my ideal historical fiction book. Dual chronology, badass female spies, and wartime friendships? Yes, please!
Suffice it to say I started this book with high expectations, and it fully exceeded them, leaving me utterly breathless by the end.
Let me break down what really worked for this book:
1. The dual chronology and perspectives
This is one of those historical fiction books that follows two women in different time periods, with the chapters alternating in perspective. In practice, I think this kind of story is very tricky to pull off. The two plots cannot just run parallel to each other, entirely separate. In order to maintain the cohesiveness of a single book, they must interweave, connecting over decades and building to their climax at the same point in the book to amplify the intensity.
In this case, Kate Quinn made things even more difficult for herself by choosing to write Charlie’s chapters in first person, and Eve’s in the third person. As a result, transitions between perspectives included shifts both in storyline and point of view. If this book had been written by a lesser writer, those shifts would have been extremely jarring. Yet Quinn makes the transition feel perfectly fluid, and when the two storylines ultimately merge, it feels completely natural.
I do wonder why Quinn felt the need to shift point of view, though. Part of it is probably practical: To establish a firmer divide between Charlie and Eve’s perspectives. Yet I wonder if the larger reason is to maintain more of a mystery around Eve’s character?
From the beginning of the novel, Charlie is more of an open book to the reader. We begin inside her head, experiencing every thought and feeling. Eve, on the other hand, is seen for the first time from an outside perspective (Charlie’s). The reader’s first impression is of a mysterious, out-of-control drunk. Then later, in her point-of-view chapters, the third person point-of-view means that the reader is just a bit farther removed from her than from Charlie, maintaining some of that mystery.
That’s my theory, anyway.
2. Eve’s World War I narrative
Charlie’s perspective is interesting (I was surprised by how invested I became in her search for her cousin, Rose) and she was an entertaining narrator, but Eve’s World War I story was more captivating. Eve is one of the most fierce, complex characters that I have ever read about. Her will and mental strength is simply unbreakable, and her journey and transformation over the course of the book are equal parts breathtaking and heartbreaking.
The story of the Alice Network is an incredible piece of forgotten history. I had never heard of this World War I network of female spies, but these women were simply remarkable. I can barely imagine the courage required to throw themselves into danger with such little chance of success. If you like books about unsung heroes, this is certainly one of them.
Sidenote – A few of the most prominent Alice Network characters in this book were real people. So pro tip: Don’t read the Wikipedia page first, because it will spoil some important parts of the book.
3. The villains
Rene Bordelou. Just typing out the name makes me cringe. When I began the book, I could not imagine what made Eve hate him as intensely as she did. Yet by the time I reached the ending, I too loathed every inch and aspect of him, from his unblinking eyes to his weird, pretentious obsession with Baudelaire.
The worst part is that he is not only a horrible snake of a human being but is also completely believable. I have no trouble believing that men like Rene – opportunistic, disloyal, power-hungry, greedy, and abusive – truly existed and did similarly awful things during World Wars I and II.
The second villain of the book, I think, is war itself. There is a great deal of subtle commentary about the cost war extorts from everyone involved. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but many characters – including Finn (Eve’s Scottish hand-for-hire and Charlie’s love interest), Eve, and Charlie’s brother – are left with deep post-war mental scars. Quinn does not hold back in detailing the impact of war, and the way its tendrils reach out years and years into the future.
What didn’t work for me: The romance (Charlie and Finn)
Honestly, I saw it coming from a mile away. This is one of those rather contrived romances that made me roll my eyes a bit.
To me, Finn as a character is just kind of meh. In comparison to the wonderfully fleshed out, incredible characters and relationships of Eve, Lilli, Charlie, and Violette, he faded into the background a bit. Throughout Charlie’s road trip through France, I was far more interested in the evolving friendship between Charlie and Eve than in Charlie and Finn’s budding love affair. Even right after finishing the book, I don’t remember much about his character besides his temper and his Scottish accent.
Verdict: Kate Quinn delivers with an incredible book spanning decades, filled with rich, complex characters, a fascinating historical story, and a fast-paced plot.
Welcome to my reread of The Fellowship of the Ring (the first volume of Lord of the Rings), in which I will read and blog about one or two chapters a week. I haven’t picked this book up in several years, so I’m very excited to see what new surprises unfold.
Just a warning — because this is a reread, there will be spoilers littered everywhere!
Lord of the Rings Re-Read – The Fellowship of the Ring Book 1, Chapter 1: A Long-Expected Party
It’s Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday (yay!) and to celebrate, he throws himself a deliciously extravagant, Shire-wide party replete with food, presents, and magical fireworks. Near the end of the party, Bilbo gives a goodbye speech and vanishes in a flash of light using his magic ring, leaving the rest of the hobbits utterly flabbergasted. He returns to Bag End, preparing to leave Hobbiton forever, and has an argument with Gandalf over whether to leave his ring behind to Frodo (eventually he does).
The next day, with the help of Merry Brandybuck, Frodo distributes Bilbo’s parting gifts to the crowd of hobbits that showed up at Bag-End. Meanwhile, Gandalf warns him not to use the ring; to keep it safe and secret.
First, a side note on the chapter title — I only just realized that it refers to the first chapter of The Hobbit (“An Unexpected Party”)!
See? I’m already discovering new things.
It’s a fitting choice of title actually because, in a way, this chapter is both an opening and a transition. Both tonally and character-wise, it picks up perfectly from The Hobbit and evolves from there.
The first part of the chapter is narrated from an omniscient POV that seems to encapsulate the Shire perspective as a whole.
There’s a bunch of background story about Bilbo that gets covered, and I adore it. Yet I also get this weird feeling that Tolkien is breaking some kind of modern storytelling rule by not having a proper “hook” to draw the reader in. The Fellowship of the Ring movie is far more conventional; it starts with a massive battle at the foot of Mount Doom before going to the Shire. Even Game of Thrones (also a very long, world-building-centered book) started off with zombies murdering some poor watchmen, and then circles back to the slower stuff.
I wonder, if this book had first been published in 2018, would the editor have pressured Tolkein to include some kind of heart-pounding prologue? I imagine it would go something like this — a thrilling battle in which Boromir, Faramir, and the brave soldiers of Gondor fight for Osgiliath, ending forebodingly with the prophecy that Boromir hears and the decision to seek guidance at Rivendell. Only then does it circle around to Chapter 1: Sixty Years’ Worth of Shire Gossip.
Yet even though this opening lacks a defined ‘hook’, I love the way that Tolkien sets the stage with Hobbiton and the Shire. It’s the first taste of his magical world-building. I think it works so well because in establishing Hobbiton, he flawlessly interweaves the fantastical with the familiar. This line is a perfect example of that:
At that time Frodo was still in his tweens, as the hobbits called the irresponsible twenties between childhood and coming of age at thirty-three.
See? Hobbits go through rebellious stages and adolescence too!
Except they’re only adults at thirty-three.
That is amazing. By hobbit standards, I guess I’m still a toddler.
I also get a very strong enclosed, small-town vibe. Everybody gossips about everybody else, the hobbits are wary of anyone who doesn’t follow their strict social rules, and then there’s this gem in the conversation at the Ivy Bush inn:
It beats me why any Baggins of Hobbiton should go looking for a wife away there in Buckland, where folks are so queer.’
This is hilarious because if you look on the map of the Shire, Buckland is pretty much right next to Hobbiton. It’s like someone in Connecticut saying they can’t imagine marrying anyone from as far away as New York.
The first few pages also introduce two of the most important characters in the series: Frodo and Sam! These passages are the first times that they’re mentioned:
The eldest of these, and Bilbo’s favorite, was young Frodo Baggins. When Bilbo was ninety-nine he adopted Frodo as his heir and brought him to live at Bag End; and the hopes of the Sackville-Bagginses were finally dashed.
(Sidenote #1: The fact that Frodo’s adoption keeps the deeply unpleasant Sackville-Bagginses out of Bag End delights me. In your face, Lobelia!)
Now that he was himself growing old and stiff in the joints, the job was mainly carried on by his youngest son, Sam Gamgee. Both father and son were on very friendly terms with Bilbo and Frodo.
(Sidenote #2: Sam has siblings? What?! Is this mentioned anywhere else in the series? Mental note: Check up on the Gamgee family tree).
In reading these sections, I realized that both Frodo and Sam are introduced second-hand through the lens of the older generations (Bilbo and Ham Gamgee). See, this is why I referred to this chapter as more of a transition. It starts out squarely focused on Bilbo and the older hobbits, yet over the course of the chapter, it brings Bilbo’s story full-circle while smoothly shifting to the younger hobbits who represent the future of the story. It’s the generational passing of the torch (or in this case, the ring). Before Frodo and Sam’s journey can begin, Bilbo’s must first end.
Midway through the chapter, the tone still feels light and fun. Tolkein keeps capitalizing “the Party” and “the Day”, which is hilarious because it shows just how much this birthday party means to the hobbits. The Party itself sounds absolutely glorious, and Tolkien treats the reader to some truly magnificent descriptions of the fireworks.
Bilbo Baggins called it a party, but it was really a variety of entertainments rolled into one… there were songs, dances, music, games, and, of course, food and drink…The fireworks were by Gandalf: they were not only brought by him, but designed and made by him…there was also a generous distribution of squibs, crackers, backarappers, sparklers, torches, dwarf-candles, elf fountains, goblin-barkers and thunder-claps.
The issue is, it feels almost weird to read about dinner parties and dazzling fireworks when I know about the utter darkness that lies ahead. I think that’s the intention though, to show just how sheltered the hobbits are. The stark contrast between the Hobbiton chapters and the rest of the novel emphasizes how terrifyingly alien the rest of Middle-Earth will feel for the hobbits when they set off on their adventure. It actually makes me better appreciate the incredible resiliency and courage needed to journey from a small town where the most exciting event is a birthday party, to killing orcs and trudging through the plains of Gorgoroth.
After the birthday party, Bilbo and Gandalf start arguing about the ring, and it gets darker real fast.
Bilbo flushed, and there was an angry light in his eyes. His kindly face grew hard. ‘Why not?’ he cried. ‘And what business is it of yours, anyway, to know what I do with my own things? It is my own. I found it. It came to me.’
‘Yes, yes,’ said Gandalf. ‘But there is no need to get angry.’
‘If I am it is your fault,’ said Bilbo. ‘It is mine, I tell you. My own. My Precious. Yes, my Precious.’
The drastic shift in Bilbo’s personality scares me way more on this re-read because I already know the extent of the ring’s corrupting influence. The first time I read this, I didn’t notice how Bilbo is repeating almost exactly what Gollum said to him all those years ago. This pattern is one of many indicators that something is seriously wrong.
Then Bilbo says THIS:
It has been so growing on my mind lately. Sometimes I have felt it was like an eye looking at me.
An EYE?! As in the eye of Sauron? This cannot be a coincidence. In fact, it’s one of the most blatant instances of foreshadowing yet. And to Gandalf, surely it’s like a giant red flag waving in his face.
And then, finally, comes this paragraph:
Bilbo took out the envelope, but just as he was about to set it by the clock, his hand jerked back, and the packet fell on the floor. Before he could pick it up, the wizard stooped and seized it and set it in its place. A spasm of anger passed swiftly over the hobbit’s face again. Suddenly it gave way to a look of relief and a laugh.
In hindsight, this moment, in which Bilbo gives up the Ring, is so powerful. One of the Ring’s hallmarks is its bloody history, the evil way in which it ensnares people. Think of the incredible mental strength and resiliency that it would have taken Bilbo to let it go after possessing it for sixty years. He is, in the history of the Ring, the only long-term Ring-Bearer who ever voluntarily gave it up. That must be part of the reason why he was left relatively untainted.
Yet I also think it says something important about Bilbo’s character. The Ring has the greatest pull on those who are ambitious, greedy, and seek power. Bilbo, on the other hand, is none of the above. He does not deliberately seek wealth and is incredibly generous with what he has. He possesses very few of those tendencies towards evil that the Ring latches onto.
After all the initial levity of this chapter, it ends on a somber note:
Frodo saw him to the door. He gave a final wave of his hand, and walked off at a surprising pace; but Frodo thought the old wizard looked unusually bent, almost as if he was carrying a great weight. The evening was closing in, and his cloaked figure quickly vanished into the twilight. Frodo did not see him again for a long time.
This closing line evokes a mixture of discomfort and dread and is the final of many signals that Frodo may have gotten caught up in larger-scale, grander events than he bargained for. It’s an example of Tolkien’s ability to craft captivating prose. There’s an unsettling contrast between the idyllic, happy setting of the Shire and the foreboding feel of that last line.
Random notes & wonderful quotes:
I’d forgotten how funny this chapter gets. Here are a few of the best gems:
“He gave away presents to all and sundry – the latter were those who went out again by a back way and came in again by the gate”
“I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve”
” ‘Foiled again!’ he said to his wife. ‘And after waiting sixty years. Spoons? Fiddlesticks!’ ” (The Sackville-Bagginses are perfect caricatures of the awful, scheming, small-town family)
“For LOBELIA SACKVILLE-BAGGINS, as a PRESENT; on a case of silver spoons. Bilbo believed that she had acquired a good many of his spoons, while he was away on his former journey. Lobelia knew that quite well. When she arrived later in the day, she took the point at once, but she also took the spoons.”
I’m a huge fan of Lord of the Rings. But I wasn’t always.
I first read Lord of the Rings as an eleven-year-old. My personal opinion is that I read it too early. I was coming to it from five years immersed in the Harry Potter fandom and a six-month stint on Percy Jackson. Neither I, nor my attention span, were quite ready for the dense complexity of J.R.R Tolkien.
Nevertheless, I read it. I slogged through the seemingly interminable journeys through the Old Forest and the Barrow Downs. My emotions ran the full gamut: From utter bemusement at Tom Bombadil, to shock at Gandalf’s fate in Moria, to excitement at the Battle of Pelennor Fields. But I also missed a lot. I didn’t understand a good 50% of anything said in the Council of Elrond, and as a result spent half the series convinced that Minas Tirith was located next to Mirkwood. I skipped most of the chapter with Treebeard, Merry, and Pippin because I got bored with all the tree descriptions. And when I finally finished the book I shrugged at my mom and, to her horror, declared it to be “not bad”.
Three years later I picked the books up again. I was determined to prove that I was a true connoisseur of high literature, and wanted to finally figure out what all the hype was about. I couldn’t accept the fact that I hadn’t enjoyed it all that much, because based on what I had read online I was supposed to love it. From reading countless blogs praising Lord of the Rings to the high heavens, I became thoroughly convinced that my slight preference for Eragon only signaled that I wasn’t a very good, deep-thinking reader after all.
As it turned out, though, none of this mattered after all. This time around, fourteen-year-old me didn’t have to suffer the slog, or force myself to appreciate the density while really wishing that I could reread Harry Potter for the thirtieth time. Instead, something strange happened.
Though I started the first chapter with trepidation, just ten minutes later I made a startling discovery — I was enjoying it. I chuckled through the soliloquies on hobbit lineages and eagerly consumed every description of every last tree in the Old Forest. Rather than rolling my eyes at Tom Bombadil as I had before, I found myself wistfully wondering why such an awesome character had been cut out of the movies. I read the entire chapter on Treebeard and savored every second of it. Yes, even the song about the Entwives. Parts that had seemed forgettable, skimm-able, or irrelevant in the first reading now felt integral to my understanding of Middle-Earth and its fascinating mythology.
So what changed? What drove the dramatic shift from lukewarm one-time reader to ardent fan? What did I see as a fourteen-year-old that I simply didn’t as an eleven-year-old?
To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s that throughout my re-read I was absolutely determined to enjoy the descriptions rather than just skipping through them to get to the ‘good parts’. Maybe it’s because I already knew what would happen, so spots with slow plot pacing didn’t bother me anymore. Most likely it’s simply because I was a more mature reader, more used to dense prose and older, larger books.
Regardless, it’s now been three years since I last read Lord of the Rings, and I’m itching to pick it up again. So now that I’m graduating high school and suddenly have a lot more time on my hands, what better time to dive back into Middle-Earth?
Here’s the twist though — I don’t want this re-read to be a light skim; now that I’m an even more mature reader, I want to really re-examine these books in-depth and look for new insights that I never picked up when I last read them.
That’s why I’m going to be blogging about my re-read of The Fellowship of the Ring, chapter-by-chapter. I’m hoping that writing about it will help me develop and explore new ideas about the books more fully (and keep me on track reading it!). I can’t vow to blog my way through all three books because that is…a lot to promise myself. But I can and will hold myself to doing this for the first book at least.
What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty Published by: Berkley on June 2, 2011 Genre: Women’s fiction, contemporary, domestic fiction RATING: Synopsis: Alice Love is twenty-nine, crazy about her husband, and pregnant with her first child. So imagine Alice’s surprise when she comes to on the floor of a gym and is whisked off to the hospital where she discovers the honeymoon is truly over — she’s getting divorced, she has three kids and she’s actually 39 years old. Alice must reconstruct the events of a lost decade, and find out whether it’s possible to reconstruct her life at the same time. She has to figure out why her sister hardly talks to her, and how is it that she’s become one of those super skinny moms with really expensive clothes. Ultimately, Alice must discover whether forgetting is a blessing or a curse, and whether it’s possible to start over.
This book made me ask a question that I’ve never really pondered before: How would I look at my life differently if I lost the last ten years worth of memories?
I’ll admit this is a pretty odd question, but it’s one that this book got me to seriously consider. I have a habit of inserting myself into the stories that I read — yes, even when they’re about forty-year-old moms going through a divorce — so naturally when I read this book, I starting imagining myself in the weird scenario of waking up with a bad case of amnesia.
How would my outlook shift if I looked at my current life and relationships through the eyes of my seven-year-old self rather than my current seventeen-year-old perspective? Would I be happy with how my life has turned out so far? Or dissatisfied? Shocked?
Well, to begin with, seven-year-old me would be devastated to learn that seventeen-year-old me is not attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I would be mortified to find that I broke my pixie-cut vow and let my hair grow past my shoulders, and disappointed that I am no longer planning to become a children’s author.
I’ve changed a lot over the last ten years. It often feels like at the core I’ve remained fundamentally the same person, yet little bits of my personality have shifted and changed, piece by piece, until I’ve grown into a different skin. I imagine that seven-year-old me would feel the same sense of mingled shock and alienation if confronted with my current world, that Alice feels in What Alice Forgot upon waking up without the last decade of memories. And maybe that’s why this book still resonated with me to some extent, despite focusing on issues like divorce, motherhood, and infertility that I have absolutely no experience with.
I suspect that I’m not exactly the target audience for this book, but nevertheless I still enjoyed it.
I’ve read one of Moriarty’s books before (Big Little Lies), and loved the dichotomy between the satirical, irreverently comedic writing, and the darker topics that lined the underbelly of the story. In some ways, the same applies to What Alice Forgot. Moriarty seems to have a knack for writing novels that are simultaneously light-hearted and thought-provoking.
The plot isn’t very fast paced (in fact, it drags a bit in the first third of the book) and there aren’t any major twists. But the way that the relationships develop, as well as Alice’s unfolding backstory and memories, keep the plot engaging. In many ways, this book fully hinges on its characters. The story is laser-focused on building up a web of interconnected characters and relationships — Alice and her oldest daughter Madison, Elisabeth and Alice, Nick and Alice — and the plot is driven by Alice desperately trying to discern what happened in the ten years that she forgot to change these relationships so drastically from what she remembers.
Another key aspect is that the point-of-view chapters are shared by multiple characters. There are three main perspectives/stories:
Alice’s narrative chapters, detailing her recollections, memories, and journey through her new present.
Her sister Elisabeth’s journal entries for her therapist, exploring her heart-breaking struggle to conceive. I loved these because they added so much complexity to the relationship between Alice and Elisabeth, while also providing a fresh perspective of the plot. Alice feels somewhat dissociated from her present because she’s viewing her new life with the old lens; it just doesn’t make sense to her. Elisabeth gives the reader a different perspective because she perfectly remembers the last ten years, and has seen (to some extent) the sequence of events that shaped Alice into her present self. To Alice it feels like something is wrong with everyone else; to Elisabeth, Alice is the one acting out of character.
A blog written by Alice’s grandmother (sort of). To be honest, I didn’t really like these parts. Franny’s story of finding love again as an old woman was cute, but it felt so disconnected from the main plot that I often ended up skimming/skipping these chapters.
Verdict: What Alice Forgot is that book that manages to be equal parts comical, lighthearted, thought-provoking, and heart-breaking. Some parts are a bit slow — the five hundred page count definitely could have been cut down — but the plot is both intriguing and compelling, and by the final third I was hard-pressed to set this book down.