Sunday, May 01, 2016

But you can find me, when the light is changing.

Invincible SummerInvincible Summer by Alice Adams

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sylvie, Eva, Lucien, and Benedict have been close friends since university. Upon graduation in 1997, they embark into a new world of possibilities - jobs, love, heartbreak, and more. Eva has always carried a torch for Lucien, Sylvie's slightly rough older brother, but during a summer holiday after graduation, she almost wonders if there isn't a spark between her and Benedict. Benedict feels that same spark-- in fact he's been pining for his friend for most of their college days. But the moment passes, and Eva goes on to her high-powered job in finance and Benedict to his life in the world of physics. Sylvie, meanwhile, discovers that life isn't so easy now that she's out of university and trying to realize her dreams of becoming an artist. As for Lucien, he's still a playboy, whose career as a club promoter seems successful, but is there more to his success than meets the eye? Over the years, the four friends will drift in and out of each others' lives and experience the ups and downs of life.

I am not usually a fan of these sorts of novels-- those that span over several years or even decades, chronicling the adventures of oft self-centered adults. But Adams' novel surprised me. While in many ways, nothing much happens; in other cases, everything happens: life. Each chapter lets us hear from the characters in a different month and year of their lives. We hear mostly from Eva's point of view, but also Benedict, Lucien, and Sylvie. In this way, we are bystanders to all of their highs and lows of the friends' lives. It doesn't sound exciting, really, but Adams has a lovely way with words and she somehow draws you into their lives. You get to know each, including their strengths, fears, and foibles.

I found the book oddly captivating and basically read it over the span of 24 hours. In some ways, you probably know some of the outcome, but along the way, the characters experience and endure many unexpected life events. This wasn't the type of book I'd like to read all the time, but I found it well-written, intriguing, and a worthy read. 3.5 stars.

I received a copy of this novel from Netgalley (thank you!); it is available for publication on 5/28/16.

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I was wide-eyed and laughing, we were dancing up to the bright side.

The Outliers (The Outliers #1)The Outliers by Kimberly McCreight

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Wylie and Cassie aren't exactly best friends anymore. Even though Wylie's mom has died recently in a car crash, and Wylie's anxiety has ratcheted up so much she hasn't left the house in three weeks, the once inseparable pair have barely talked in over a week. But when Wylie gets a pleading text from Cassie saying she needs help, Wylie knows she will be there for her friend. Along with Cassie's boyfriend, Jasper, Wylie summons the courage to leave the house and follow Cassie's odd texts and clues to find her. But it doesn't take long to realize that Cassie might be in serious trouble. Even worse, it seems like trying to find Cassie is going to put Wylie, Jasper, and their families in danger, too.

This was an odd book. I was expecting a "run into obstacles finding my troubled best friend, maybe learn a lesson along the way" Young Adult tale, but the book takes a turn about halfway through and the tale becomes one of psychological depth, focusing on the story of the "outliers." These "outliers" are those who have a special range of emotional intelligence that allow them to have an uncanny ability to read people, emotions, and situations. It's Wylie's father, a scientist, who has discovered them as an unintentional result of his latest study, and it seems like everyone wants a piece of them and what they might mean. So, suddenly, the book is no longer simply about friendship, but crazy Government and private contractor entities and other shadowy forces who are after Wylie's dad's work. We meet a whole host of characters, none of whom we can really trust, and things (at least for me) go a little bit downhill from there.

That's not to say that this isn't a good book. It's interesting and almost compulsively readable, even with the bizarre plot. I'd probably have enjoyed it even more if I'd just been mentally prepared for the plot turn, honestly. Wylie is a fairly intriguing and likable character, and I found myself getting rather invested in Jasper. The other characters, as I said, are set up as untrustworthy purely by the nature of the plot, but they are fascinating in their own way. The idea of the outliers is a compelling one, even if the danger behind it seems a little forced. It's also hard not knowing exactly who to trust or how much of the narrative to believe - it's so much it gets a little frustrating at time. Still, it's clear by the end that McCreight has set this up as a series, and I'll certainly be reading the next book. The one is an entertaining, quick read if nothing else.

I received an ARC of this book from Edelweiss (thank you!); it is available for publication on 5/3/2016.

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Saturday, April 30, 2016

And I'm so tired but I lay here awake wonderin' what you see.

The Space BetweenThe Space Between by Michelle L. Teichman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Harper Isabelle has a pretty good life: she's beautiful, smart, and popular. Her first year in high school is going quite well, thanks in part to the protective shadow cast by her sister, Bronte, the most popular girl in school. For Sarah Jamieson, however, things aren't exactly as smooth. While Sarah's twin brother Tyler has always been in the in crowd at school, Sarah has not. Between her stutter and style of dress, she's not only on the fringes, she's mocked by other students at school. So imagine Sarah's surprise when Harper shows an interest in her-- and when Sarah herself feels drawn to Harper. Is Harper only interested in Sarah because she wants to date Tyler? Why do the two girls feel so close, as if being drawn together by a magnet?

Overall, this is a dynamo of a book, which I sped through rapidly. It actually builds its storyline rather slowly, as Harper and Sarah deal with their feelings for each other, but I found it that a nice antidote to the usual YA where the characters seem to fall in love overnight. This was similar to some of my own experiences coming out. Harper and Sarah are well-drawn characters who pop on the page -- they are complicated, sweet, and beautiful as they work through the multitude of emotions that comes with falling in love in high school. There is definitely a cheesy element to some of the writing but it really doesn't take away from the experience of watching these girls struggle to find each other. Perhaps the only thing that takes away from the story is a little of the weirdness factor in that Harper also dates Sarah's brother; it manages to work with the story, but it does occasionally give you pause.

Honestly, I was very touched by this book and found it to be a sweet coming of age/coming out story. I wish there had been more of these around when I was going through a similar experience. It does an excellent job of showing some of the difficulty teens still face in dealing with their sexuality in high school (and with their families) today. You'll find yourself quite invested in Harper and Sarah's story. Definitely a worthwhile read.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley (thanks!); it's available everywhere.

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Friday, April 29, 2016

I'm the one who makes you laugh when you know you're about to cry.

Modern LoversModern Lovers by Emma Straub

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Zoe, Andrew, and Elizabeth have been friends since their college days at Oberlin. Back then, they were part of a band with their fourth friend, Lydia. Now the first three are nearing fifty, living in the same New York suburban neighborhood. Zoe resides with her wife, Jane, and their daughter Ruby. Meanwhile, Andrew and Elizabeth, now married, have a teenage son, Harry. The friends have been together through thick and thin, but things are starting to get a bit more difficult as they face the trials of aging. Zoe isn't sure if her marriage is going to hold, while Elizabeth is struggling with issues of her own. And Andrew, well, is Andrew going through some sort of midlife crisis? The three friends must confront their past (and some well-kept secrets) as well as deal with their future, including their growing (and rapidly maturing) offspring.

I wasn't one of those who adored Straub's previous novel, The Vacationers, though I liked it, but this one sounded interesting and worth a try. And, in its defense, it was. It receives bonus points immediately for having lesbian characters who are simply part of the fabric of the novel (what, lesbians simply living regular life? surely not!). Straub's characters are crisp and well-defined. They are also a bit "New Yorky" and fall into that bucket that I so often find of whiny, self-involved New Yorkers. Andrew, in particular, though I suppose that is perhaps the entire point of Andrew. Still, overall, I found the book witty and wise. The younger protagonists--Ruby and Harry--in particular, offer fresh and fun voices. They are teenagers, after all: they are allowed to be self-involved! This was a quick read; it's engaging, fun, and occasionally sweet, even if it causes you to roll your eyes from time to time. 3.5 stars overall.

I received a copy of this novel from Edelweiss (thank you!); it is available for publication everywhere on 5/31/2016.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Some days I miss your smile.

After You (Me Before You, #2)After You by Jojo Moyes

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First of all, I think it goes without saying, but if you haven't read Me Before You and you wish to, stop reading here. Did you stop? OK, you've been warned. After You picks up after her beloved Will's death, and Louisa Clark is foundering. Will wanted her to live life to its fullest and Lou has tried, really. She's traveled, bought a flat... but nothing feels right. Suddenly, Lou realizes she really isn't living much of a life at all. An accident changes things, however, as well as the arrival of an individual linked to Will. Lou's life is no longer so boring, but will she be able to make the changes she needs to move on, to live the life Will would have wanted for her? More importantly, to live the life Lou wants?

I was wary about picking up this book, as its predecessor was a lovely and heartbreaking tome. This one is also very poignant and touching. It's surprisingly easy to pick back up with Louisa again-- as if you're falling in step with an old friend. Her voice and character remain true, as do those of the ancillary characters from the previous book (Will's parents, Louisa's family, etc.). There were times, with this novel, that I felt it was a bit too in your face with its message: a lot of saying it straight out versus letting the story and narrative do its work. That was a bit tedious at times.

Still, there were many times that I found myself smiling as I read, because Lou really is just a sweet, fun character, and you can't help but love her. If you enjoyed (and cried over) the first book, you may not find this one as heart-wrenching, but is that really a bad thing? Do we need such emotion twice in a row (and does Lou)? This was a strong follow-up about a character we've grown to love, and it was nice to spend some more time with her and her family. They all truly feel like our own family now.

You can read my review of Me Before You here.

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

The tabloid tainted actress knows the myth of higher ground.

JuneJune by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cassie is twenty-five and living in the dilapidated mansion, Two Oaks, she inherited from her grandmother, June. The house is literally falling down around he: also a pretty good metaphor for Cassie's life. She's fled her life as an artist in New York and come to St. Jude, Ohio, to grieve for her grandmother and lick her wounds. That basically amounts to hiding in the house, ignoring the phone, and letting the mail (and bills) pile up around her. But even she can't ignore the constant ringing of the doorbell. With it comes some pretty shocking news: Cassie has been named sole heir to the fortune of the legendary movie star, Jack Montgomery. Considering Cassie only barely knew of Jack's name, this comes as quite a surprise. Why did this famous actor leave her his fortune? Did Jack know Cassie's grandmother, June? Suddenly Jack's two daughters show up, wanting answers as well, and Cassie's life will never be the same.

There are really no words for this book. It's a beautiful and magical adventure. It takes what should be a fairly simple event - figuring out whether Cassie is related to Jack - and turns it into a lovely, suspenseful read. I simply couldn't put this book down. The characters are so real, so fully actualized that they jump off the page. Cassie, June, June's childhood friend Lindie, Jack, the people of St. Jude - they are all there, truly vivid in your mind's eye. The book really does simply set out to determine if and how Cassie and Jack are tied together, but it's this amazing and compelling read.

You're pulled into the spellbinding world of then versus now... the story twists between present day, told from Cassie's point of view and the 1950s, which is really accurately portrayed. I'm usually a contemporary fiction reader all the way, but this period portrayal is so well-done, and I loved it. The character of Lindie, especially, makes your heart ache. As the book flips between time and the story unfolds, you become completely enmeshed in the characters' world; Beverly Whittemore does such a good job of creating them that you feel with them and really become part of their lives.

I am trying to think of any flaws, but I can't. I guessed at a few of the plot twists, but only narrowly before they happened, and it certainly didn't ruin my enjoyment of the story whatsoever. Cassie can be a frustrating character at times (read your mail, darn-it), but it's only because she's so well-created. Overall, this is really a beautiful, suspenseful book that brings you into its world. I highly recommend it. 4.5 stars.

I received a copy of this novel from Librarything (thank you!); it is available everywhere on 5/31.

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Why do you have to go and make things so complicated.

Don't You CryDon't You Cry by Mary Kubica

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Quinn and Esther are roommates trying to get by in Chicago. When Esther disappears without a trace, Quinn is confused and worried. It's not like her friend to just vanish. As Quinn starts looking into things more, she finds some disturbing papers and items among Esther's things. Quinn begins to wonder: how much did she really know her roommate? Was she really the sweet, kind person she thought her to be? Meanwhile, in a Michigan town on the outskirts of Chicago, Alex is working his life away while his high school friends live theirs miles away. Saddled by caring for his alcoholic father, Alex feels trapped by his job washing dishes in this small town. However, his life becomes more interesting when a lovely young woman appears in town and catches his attention. Alex watches her and names her Pearl, due to the bracelet she wears on her wrist. As Quinn becomes increasingly worried about Esther, Alex simultaneously gets drawn more into Pearl's web.

Kubica's novel catches your attention right away, but for me, it really picks up about halfway through. The second half is a thrilling roller coaster ride full of suspense and plot twists. It keeps you guessing and surprised. The beginning dragged a bit; I found Quinn frustrating and was irritated by her lack of initiative in finding Esther. Why doesn't she call Esther's cell phone immediately? Or look at the whiteboard the roommates share that details their comings and goings? Combined with some of that, her jump to conclusions about Esther's personality seem a bit implausible.

However, the second half really does make up for a lot. Alex and Pearl's story is pretty mesmerizing, as it weaves in a ghost story from his small town, passed on through the townsfolk. By alternating between Alex and Quinn's point of view, Kubica does an excellent job of constructing her story, while still drawing out the twists and turns. I kept thinking I'd figured out parts of the plot, only to be surprised or proved wrong. The last half of the book will keep you up reading, desperately wanting to find out what happened to Esther. Overall, 3.5 stars.

I received an ARC of this book from Edelweiss (thank you!); it is available everywhere on 5/17.

You can read my review of one of Kubica's earlier novels, "Pretty Baby," here.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

And show the knack for knowing when and the gift for knowing how.

RelativityRelativity by Antonia Hayes

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Twelve-year-old Ethan is a bright boy, who loves physics and science. His mom, Claire, loves him with a fierceness that she can barely fathom sometimes. It's just Ethan and Claire living happily together in Sydney. However, a sudden accident forces Claire to confront her past, especially what happened with Ethan's father, Mark. At the same time, Ethan must deal with his own emotions about his absent father.

Hayes' book is well-written, with strongly developed, complicated characters who jump off the page. It's a small cast of characters: Ethan, Mark, Claire, and a few others. I fell immediately for Ethan, who is lovable, sweet, and slightly nerdy. Claire and Mark are slightly more problematic. Mark especially is a very difficult character with whom it is hard to sympathize. Hayes does an excellent job of unfurling her plot in such a way that the reader is as perplexed as the characters. The storyline is tense and runs the gamut of emotions.

The book revolves a lot around science. While much of the storyline uses science and physics to its advantage--for instance, I found the idea of genetic memory fascinating--at times, I also found my eyes glazing over at the scientific passages. Sometimes the science overshadowed the actual plot. Still, overall this is a sharp, well-written novel with in-depth characters. A strong 3.5 stars.

I received an ARC of this novel from Netgalley in return for an unbiased review (thank you!); it is available everywhere on 5/3/2016.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

They say love this hot can be a dangerous thing.

Girls on FireGirls on Fire by Robin Wasserman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hannah Dexter has led a fairly mundane life in the small town of Battle Creek, where everyone knows everyone else and everything that happens to everyone. But her life is turned upside town by two events: the suicide of a local boy, Craig, and the arrival of a new girl, Lacey, who quickly becomes the town's resident bad girl. Hannah and Lacey quickly unite over their hatred of the town's "it girl" Nikki Drummond. Lacey transforms Hannah into Dex--a darker version of Hannah--who adores Lacey and Kurt Cobain's music (this is the early '90s after all). But Hannah doesn't realize that Lacey is hiding a secret from her, a pretty big one, which threatens to destroy the very fabric their friendship is based on.

"Girls on Fire" is an oddly captivating and compelling novel. The story unfolds before you and you're powerless to stop the events as they occur. It's told mainly from the alternating points of view of Lacey and Hannah, and we slowly learn about the events that led to their friendship and its aftermath-- and also Craig's suicide. The book wasn't a particularly fast read for me, but it was fascinating. It's an accident where you can't look away, even though you know something horrible will happen. This book is dark and disastrous and makes you afraid to ever send your children off to high school.

Parts of the novel are a bit cliched (it's almost too dark, too awful) but it doesn't stop it from being intriguing and captivating. It pulls you in to Lacey and Hannah's world and as time somehow moves forward, yet we learn about what happened to Craig in the past, Wasserman does an amazing job of unfurling her plot. I was drawn to the book and the characters. Tragic Lacey, confused Hannah, evil queen Nikki: you can see them so clearly in your head. The book almost casts a spell over you as it sucks you into its world. The writing is intense, the storyline is intense, and you're left almost breathless at the end. I didn't really enjoy the book, per se, but I appreciated it. It's a wild ride, a dark one, and definitely one worth taking.

I received an advanced copy of this novel from Edelweiss (thank you!); it is available everywhere on 5/17/2016.

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