Book Review, Fiction, thriller, Uncategorized

Rewind by Catherine Ryan Howard ~ Book Review

Rewind with cookies

Corvus
Genre: Thriller
Release Date: September 5, 2019
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪

Rewind starts off with a bang, or, a stabbing, if we’re being more specific. In any case, murder takes place early on in the story, and then we pause and rewind back in time to start filling in backstory. Honestly, the format of this book seemed unnecessary, even though it comprised the entire premise given the title. I think it could have been written more effectively as a straightforward narrative and nothing would have been lost. I’m not sure what was behind the decision to have it jump around the way it did. A large part of the plot focuses on video recordings, but if that was the main impetus behind structuring the entire book this way, it seems kitschy and unnecessarily pushy.

Despite occasionally being hard to follow because of its format, the plot of this book was intriguing. As always, it is refreshing to get my hands on a thriller that doesn’t read like a thinly veiled copy of another book. This one was very unique. It centers on Natalie, an up-and-coming Instagram influencer, and Audrey, a young writer who takes it upon herself to pursue and report on Natalie’s disappearance.

Much of the story takes place in Shanamore, a largely deserted seaside village, and at a set of holiday rental cottages there. The setting and the distasteful characters who lived there were very well depicted, and I felt distinctly uncomfortable reading about them. The scene was well set up for a murder.

There were a lot of pieces to this book and I was dubious that they would all fit together. The wrap-up did not seem entirely believable, but it did combine all the threads of narrative into a package that made sense given everything that had happened. For the most part, I was sucked into this story, but it wasn’t my favorite. It was more of a detective style of story than I was anticipating. As Audrey tries to assert herself as a reporter, and the police get involved, it trended towards the detective genre, which I don’t usually like. If you’re a fan of those, as well as thrillers, you’ll probably find Rewind to be a more compelling read than I did.

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪
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Book Review, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Uncategorized

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See ~ Book Review

Scribner Release Date: March 21, 2017 Genre: Literary Fiction My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪  This book reminded me, thematically, very much of Where the Crawdads Sing. It is an exploration of a young girl’s life, essentially from start to middle age, who grows up in a very remote and particular culture. Li-yan and her family are members of the Akha people. They live in China, and grow tea for a living. The cultural practices that make up the Akha way of life are fascinating, from their unusually contemporary take on sex before marriage, to their heartbreaking traditions about “human rejects.” Lisa See artfully weaves in the details that makes up their ways of life, and paints a picture of a truly unique culture.  All around the village, in the greater China area, the world is moving forward. There are changes in trade and in government, but life for the Akha seems stagnant. Li-yan is a strong student. Her teacher believes she is smart enough to leave the village and pursue further education as she gets older. When Li-yan falls pregnant, her path in life suddenly seems uncertain. Forced to give her baby up, Li-yan is tormented by the thought of her daughter growing up without her. This novel explores the changes occuring in China around the millenium, and the way that trade and increased interest in specific varieties of tea changed the way of life for those growing it. There is also a heavy focus on motherhood, and the bond between Li-yan and her mom, who goes against the long held village traditions to do what is best for her daughter. The importance of this connection over all else, is mirrored in the loss Li-yan feels over giving up her daughter.  Li-yan does eventually break away from her village life, and is slowly assimilated into modern China, and eventually America. Her journey to becoming a small business owner, is influenced not only by the new skills she gleans through further education, but also by the knowledge gained growing tea throughout her childhood. Her connection to tea roots her as everything else in her life changes. Lisa See covers a lot of ground int his novel. Not only does she paint a comprehensive picture of an entire culture and way of life, she forges and breaks strong relationships and emotional bonds in Li-yan’s life in a believable and interesting manner. It was alternately relieving, and heartbreaking, to see the ways Li-yan moves away from Akha traditions as she is exposed to new ways of life, and how the connection to her mother stayed strong as the world changed around them.  My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪  Buy The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane on Amazon The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane on Goodreads

Scribner
Release Date: March 21, 2017
Genre: Literary Fiction
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪

This book reminded me, thematically, very much of Where the Crawdads Sing. It is an exploration of a young girl’s life, essentially from start to middle age, who grows up in a very remote and particular culture. Li-yan and her family are members of the Akha people. They live in China, and grow tea for a living. The cultural practices that make up the Akha way of life are fascinating, from their unusually contemporary take on sex before marriage, to their heartbreaking traditions about “human rejects.” Lisa See artfully weaves in the details that make up their ways of life, and paints a picture of a truly unique culture. 

All around the village, in the greater China area, the world is moving forward. There are changes in trade and in government, but life for the Akha seems stagnant. Li-yan is a strong student. Her teacher believes she is smart enough to leave the village and pursue further education as she gets older. When Li-yan falls pregnant, her path in life suddenly seems uncertain. Forced to give her baby up, Li-yan is tormented by the thought of her daughter growing up without her.

This novel explores the changes occurring in China around the millennium, and the way that trade and increased interest in specific varieties of tea changed the ways of life for those growing it. There is also a heavy focus on motherhood and the bond between Li-yan and her mom, who goes against the long held village traditions to do what is best for her daughter. The importance of this connection over all else, is mirrored in the loss Li-yan feels over giving up her daughter. 

Li-yan does eventually break away from her village life, and is slowly assimilated into modern China, and eventually America. Her journey to becoming a small business owner is influenced not only by the new skills she gleans through further education, but also by the knowledge gained growing tea throughout her childhood. Her connection to tea roots her as everything else in her life changes.

Lisa See covers a lot of ground in this novel. Not only does she paint a comprehensive picture of an entire culture and way of life, she forges and breaks strong relationships and emotional bonds in Li-yan’s life in a believable and interesting manner. It was alternately relieving, and heartbreaking, to see the ways Li-yan moves away from Akha traditions as she is exposed to new ways of life, and how the connection to her mother stayed strong as the world changed around them.

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪
Buy The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane on Amazon
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane on Goodreads

Book Review, Fiction, thriller, Uncategorized

Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson ~ Book Review

Never Have I Ever with Cat Pastry

William Morrow
Release Date: July 30, 2019
Genre: Thriller
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪

This book was almost a DNF for me. The fact that it was able to redeem itself up to four stars speaks for itself. The beginning was slow. Amy Whey’s life appears very normal. She has a baby son and a teenage stepdaughter, Maddy. Maddy affectionately refers to Amy as Monster (or step-monster) and I enjoyed their relationship. Angelica Roux storms into Amy’s life, disrupting her friend Charlotte’s book club by getting everyone drunk and starting a disturbing game where each player lists the worst thing they have done that day, then that week, then that month — you get where this is going. Charlotte is incredibly annoyed by this immaturity, and the subsequent failure of her bookclub meeting. I was also annoyed. It felt very childish and I was wholly uninterested.

Jackson weaves flashbacks and dreams into Amy’s narrative. Amy comes back to one event from her childhood over and over again. As the pieces slowly fit together, it becomes clear that Roux’s game is uncomfortable to Amy for reasons none of the other women could match or ever guess.

Roux’s son begins to spend time with Maddy, and Roux inserts herself bit by bit into Amy’s life. Roux is a twisted character the likes of which I have never read before. Her offhanded comments about using people for power, information, or wealth are shocking. Revelation after revelation show just how dark her psyche truly is. 

Amy grew on me as a character the more I read. She started off as quite a ho-hum kind of person, but each time she fought back against Roux’s advances, I appreciated her more. Her dedication to keeping her perfectly created life fully in tact was admirable, and I was excited to see how she would one-up Roux while maintaining the persona her friends and family expected of her.

The end of this novel truly took the entire story to a new level. The twists Jackson added were completely, and totally unexpected, and there were multiple. The darkness that seeped into this story was unimaginable and truly disturbing, and I loved the juxtaposition of the setting: a middle class suburb. My advice: power through the dry start of this novel, it’s worth it.

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪
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Book Review, Fiction, thriller

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager ~ Book Review

Lock Every Door with plant and cake

Dutton
Release Date: July 2, 2019
Genre: Thriller
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪🍪

I’m not sure how I’ve gone this long as a thriller-lover without reading a Riley Sager book. Lock Every Door was, to use one of my favorite book review words, unputdownable. Jules is desperate for money. After she loses her job and her boyfriend on the same day, life quickly begins to feel hopeless. She comes across a discrete advertisement for an apartment sitter at the Bartholomew, a decadent Manhattan building teeming with the rich and famous.

Jules gets a tour of the apartment and can’t believe her luck: it’s gorgeous and over-the-top in every way, and the pay being offered is incredible. During her very brief interview, she is mainly asked about her family (of which she has none), and her friends. Then comes a list of rules of employment: no guests, no nights away from the apartment, no posting anything about where you are staying on social media. Blinded by the luxury and the promise of quick cash, Jules shrugs off any inhibitions the rules may cause, and accepts the position. 

As Jules meets the other apartment sitters, and learns their stories, sinister similarities begin to come to light. That combined with the Bartholomew’s history of tragedy sets Jules on edge. Sager cleverly constructs the storyline so the reader is heavily influenced by what Jules thinks is going on. As she pieces things together, we believe she must be correct. The ultimate conclusion, however, is far darker than that. I was pleased with this twist. Jules’s hunches seemed farfetched and I was glad that Sager took things in a different, and very shocking direction.

The story unfolds slowly until the end, at which point I could barely keep up with what was happening. The interconnectedness of many of the characters in the story was wonderfully constructed, and kept me guessing every step of the way. I thought it was a little unbelievable that the plot took place over the course of only a few days, but I’ll let it slide because of the quality of the rest of the story and writing.

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪🍪
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Book Review, Fiction, Uncategorized

Severance by Ling Ma ~ Book Review

IMG_1871

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Release Date: August 14, 2018
Genre: Fiction
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪.5

This book was electric. The descriptions, told with poetic, sophisticated language, flowed down the pages. I couldn’t read fast enough, not so much because of a riveting plot, but because I couldn’t get enough of Ma’s word choices and metaphors. The writing truly brought this book to an entirely different level. This is not to say that the plot wasn’t great too.

I don’t typically tend towards apocalyptic storylines, but this one felt very grounded in reality. Candace lives in New York City. Much of the opening chapters are dedicated to depictions and assessments of the city as alternately soul-sucking, and magical. If you have been to New York City, this is an especially on the nose understanding of what it is like to exist there, as both a resident and a tourist. Candace feels mediocre about her job. She has a blog she (very) occasionally updates. Her boyfriend breaks up with her. It’s a pretty normal existence until Shen Fever begins a near-global epidemic.

Reading this novel in the midst of EEE outbreaks and a sudden increase in mysterious vaping-related lung diseases was thought provoking. Ling Ma’s imagining of what the apocalyptic fever entailed was especially unusual. Fevered individuals repeat normal everyday activities over and over, as their bodies burn up on the inside, and break down outwardly. It wasn’t a crazy norovirus contracted by contact, but rather, was carried on spores. The randomness was horrifyingly believable.

Candace remains in New York City as residents flee, and as tourists flock there because of vastly reduced prices and then stop altogether. Eventually, as seems to be a trope of the ‘end of the world’ genre, she finds a ragtag group of fellow survivors and they join up to try to figure out how to exist in their new reality.

The ending seemed kind of clichéd and unfinished, a ‘driving off into the sunset’ sort of fallback, but it barely took away from my enjoyment of reading Severance. It is rare that I find a book where the language and writing style is this captivating. I may need to go out and purchase this one, so I can revisit it when I’m feeling uninspired in my own writing.

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪.5
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Book Review, Fiction, Uncategorized

Maybe in Another Life By Taylor Jenkins Reid ~ Book Review

Maybe in Another Life with cookie

Washington Square Press
Release Date: July 7, 2015
Genre: Fiction 
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪🍪

I felt an uncomfortable connection with the main character of Maybe in Another Life, Hannah Martin. The book opens on her deciding to move from New York to Los Angeles, where she grew up. Hannah has bounced around from city to city, feeling unsettled in her career and unsure where home is. Ah, the millennial dilemma, What am I doing with my life? Am I doing enough? Should I try something else?
*Followed by an abrupt reimagining of entire life.* 

Hannah’s biological parents have lived in London since Hannah was in High School. They moved to allow Hannah’s sister to pursue her dancing dreams in the London ballet school. Hannah stayed behind with her best friend Gabby, and Gabby’s parents who acted like surrogates to Hannah. Moving back to L.A. with Gabby is as close to coming home as Hannah thinks she can get. She also becomes distinctly aware that Ethan, her ex-boyfriend from High School will be there. In a lovely series of banter-filled conversations, it’s clear that both girls still think he and Hannah would make a good couple.

Before I dive into plot any further, I need to address Gabby and Hannah’s friendship. Reid understands the core of a solid female friendship. The conversation between these two is so real and easy, and their comfort with each other jumps of the pages. The beautiful depiction of their camaraderie flows throughout the entirety of the book. If you can find no other reason to pick up this book, do it for this friendship.

The prospect of an entire novel based off a woman’s decision on whether or not to go home with a man at the end of the night does not appeal to me. It seems petty and shallow. Luckily, I didn’t know that was the premise of this story before I picked it up, so I had no time to question it. By the moment Hannah makes her fated choice(s) I was already fully committed to her life, her struggles, and the lovely relatability of the prose that described her. The reason I included plural “choice(s)” directly relates to the structure of the remainder of the novel. From that night with that boy, the book branches, into two parallel storylines: in one, Hannah decides to go home with Ethan (we all knew I was talking about him), and in the other, she goes home with Gabby.

I absolutely loved the two-parallel-universe-approach to this story. At first there were huge plot points that felt clichéd to me (hint: something to do with a car crash), but I got past them once each story had swept me up fully. Reid essentially gave me the pleasure of reading two books at a time, both equally alternately heart-wrenching and heart-warming. I didn’t like one more than the other, I loved them both. I was happy and sad and angry for Hannah and Gabby as they struggled through the wrenches that were thrown their way.

I thought it was particularly interesting the way that Reid had the same events play out in both storylines, but altered the characters’ reactions based off of what experiences they had had in that particular branch of the story. As the novel drew to a close, the two plots grew closer and closer together, until the same exact scene played out, but with different characters playing different roles. This was such a unique and fascinating way of storytelling, and I closed the book with my heart full of happiness for both Hannahs. Read this book.

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪🍪
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Book Review, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Uncategorized

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah ~ Book Review

The Nightingale with Cookies

St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: February 3, 2015
Genre: Historical Fiction
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪.5

I always go into World War II novels with a bit of trepidation. I know that they will make me experience at least a couple of the following emotions: sadness, discomfort, anger, bitterness. Reading for me is an escape from reality, and I don’t necessarily want to be escaping into a story that makes me uncomfortable. I read a lot of horrifying thrillers, but they differ for me in that they are wholly fictional. Historical fiction forces me to confront real horrors.

The Nightingale moves back and forth between the stories of Vianne Mauriac, and her sister, Isabelle Rossignol, living in France during the war. Vianne has always been the more grounded of the two. Her husband Antoine is off fighting in the war, and Vianne does all she can to give her daughter Sophie every comfort possible in the increasingly sparse and trying times. A succession of Nazis billet with Vianne in her home, the first very polite, and uncomfortably attractive to Vianne, and the second, horribly violent and cruel. Vianne eventually begins to help save Jewish children whose families are deported. She has fake papers created for them, and tends to them at the local orphanage.

Meanwhile, Isabelle aids the war in a more active manner, locating downed pilots and helping them escape. Her journeys back and forth through the mountains are increasingly dangerous, and her hope of one day reuniting with the man she loves grows dimmer and dimmer each day.

I enjoyed the focus on the ways that women aided the efforts to fight against the Nazis. Despite the vast personality differences between the sisters, each found her own way to make a difference. While Vianne’s husband had no choice but to leave and fight, the choices of the women to risk their lives for the effort was incredibly admirable and insightful. I also appreciated the depictions of family threaded throughout the narrative. When Vianne’s best friend, who is Jewish, is deported without her son, Vianne takes him in, and instills in him a new past in which he was adopted from Vianne’s aunt who died. The relationship they are able to cultivate, and the decision she must make to eventually send him to America to be with his blood relatives was heartbreaking. 

There were also excerpts from present day. I don’t believe the reader is aware of who the old woman is narrating these parts, but we learn that she has received an invitation to return to Paris. She has a close relationship with her son, though her daughter has passed away. The ultimate conclusion of who she was, and what she had been through, as well as the truth surrounding her son, was heart-wrenching. 

Ultimately, I found this book to be too long. A lot of the storyline felt monotonous, with similar scenes playing over and over again. As compelling as the plot is, it was much too drawn out for me. I believe the story could have been more powerful if communicated in fewer pages.

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪.5
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Book Review, Fiction, Uncategorized

The Farm by Joanne Ramos ~ Book Review

IMG_1866

Random House
Release Date: May 7, 2019
Genre: Fiction
My Rating: 🍪

The premise of this book sounded very Handmaid’s Tale-esque, and I went into it with that thought in mind. That may have been my downfall. The Farm takes place primarily at a bougie retreat where Hosts (Westworld, much?!) are paid very well to be surrogates for wealthy Clients. The Hosts are led to believe that their clients probably cannot physically have children of their own, but it’s more likely the case that they just can’t be bothered to carry a baby and deal with pregnancy, so they pay their way out of it.

Jane, the protagonist, who immigrated from the Philippines, applies to be a Host out of desperation. She has a baby daughter of her own, and no way to provide for her. Many of the Hosts are in similar situations. The vast majority of them are immigrants, and all are in need of money. 

Although the concept of this story was extremely interesting, the actual plot fell flat. The girls at the farm felt one dimensional, like caricatures of a personality type that were pushed too far, and Jane was endlessly meek and repeatedly cleaning up after herself. She didn’t exude the emotion or internal insight that would have made me care about her. The moments in the book that were clearly supposed to be twists frustrated me more than anything else. After building up something exciting, there was then no real follow up. 

I read about half of this book. Maybe the rest of it would have completely sucked me in and changed my mind, but there are too many options patiently waiting on my TBR for me to waste time reading something I’m uninterested in. Sadly, it was a DNF for me.

My Rating: 🍪
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Book Review, Fiction, thriller, Uncategorized

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware ~ Book Review

The Turn of the Key with Pumpkin Cookie

Gallery/Scout Press
Release Date: August 6, 2019
Genre: Thriller
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪.5

This book was probably a five star read until the last few chapters. Maybe a four and a half. Regardless, the way things wrapped up was frustrating and anger-inducing, and made me feel cheated of the immense enjoyment I got from reading the rest of the book.

This book centers around Heatherbrae house, where Rowan applies to be a nanny. The house is old, and has a dark history (think possible murder), but the new residents have happily remodeled nearly every inch of it, and installed state-of-the-art technology in the form of the Happy App, which monitors rooms and controls the lights, doors, heat, and pretty much everything else. Talk about a bandaid on a bullet hole. It’s kind of hard to erase the creepiness of that kind of a place. The omnipresent setting was distinctly reminiscent of the Westaway manor in The Death of Mrs. Westaway, also by Ruth Ware (see my review of that guy here!). In fact, much of the story was similar. There was a parallelism of a young woman who lived alone uprooting her life to travel to a creepy house and get embroiled in the family there. 

The technology was an interesting addition to this novel. It was actually pretty central, and it seemed like a fallback that kept getting blamed for everything.

Woken up in the night by the freezing cold?
Must’ve hit something on the heat-controlling-panel.
Lights won’t turn on?
Technology must be to blame!

It sort of undermined the creepy-factor of this thriller. I wanted there to actually be something sinister in the house besides just a newfangled iPad. 

I was kind of confused about pacing in this book. It seemed like Rowan was only at the house for a few days, but her relationships with everyone around her made it seem like it had been weeks or months. Near the end, as she considers if she will stay there, it seemed strange that she wasn’t acknowledging the fact that she had just barely unpacked.

I did love the spooky-thriller-esque parts of this book. The poison garden, the history of the house, and the two little girls who ominously warn Rowan that the ghosts are angry she is there. That was probably what kept me reading most — wanting to know what was at the heart of the children’s unhappiness. 

A lot happened at the end of this book, and although I was surprised by the major twist about Rowan, and enjoyed that, there were other pieces that felt unnecessary. The book is written as letters to Rowan’s lawyer while she is in jail, and a couple final letters she receives from individuals at Heatherbrae. They left the story feeling incomplete.

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪.5
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Book Review, Fiction, thriller, Uncategorized

A Stranger on the Beach by Michele Campbell ~ Book Review

A Stranger on the Beach

St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: July 23, 2019
Genre: Thriller
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪

Caroline is the proud owner of a lavish new beach house that overlooks the sea. Not only is it exactly what she wanted, it is also a splendid status symbol. Aiden, a local bartender, is similarly enthralled with the home, but for an entirely different reason. The land on which the home is built belonged to his family for years. He has myriad fond memories of staring out to sea from the spot that Caroline’s new mansion now occupies.

Caroline takes note of Aiden, watching her house. When she realizes that her husband has (probably) been cheating on her, and happens to stumble into Aiden’s bar distraught, one thing leads to another, and they tumble into bed together. Aiden and Caroline’s story is odd. The way Campbell wrote Aiden’s obsession seemed to come out of nowhere. Even if he had a history of instability, it wasn’t believable. Everything lined up much too perfectly to try to convince the reader that they were being told a certain story. It was very obvious to me what the twist was going to be, and I felt like I was just waiting for it to unfold. I’ve read a lot of thrillers, so I’m not easily tricked by predictable false perspectives.

When Caroline’s husband Jason goes missing, I was a little more intrigued, I couldn’t figure out how his storyline would quite fit in with Caroline and Aiden’s. His ongoing excuse for his shady behavior was that he had work obligations. Not actually knowing what he did, this always seemed a little too vague.

Ultimately, I was intrigued enough to finish this book. I was desperate to know how Campbell would unveil the truth. That being said, I would pass on this one if you’re weighing thrillers. The structure is too predictable, even if the plot is, at times, riveting.

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My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪