Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Tuesday's Book Bag: New Releases for 1/24.

It's time for our first Book Bag of 2017! For those new to the blog, whenever I have a new release day (usually a Tuesday) with multiple new releases, I like to do a "book bag" post that highlights each new release, even if they've been reviewed individually on the blog before. It's a good chance for everyone to see some of the new and exciting titles out for release as of today.

So, here we go; today's book bag is a fun mixed bag of thrillers and fiction...

In John Lescroart's thriller FATAL, Kate and her husband Ron, have a seemingly perfect life: happily married, two kids, etc. So Kate is thrown off by her attraction to another man, Peter Ash, when she meets him at a dinner party. Unable to get Peter out her mind, Kate ignores the warnings of her friend Beth, and arranges an encounter. Shortly after that event, Kate and Beth are involved in a horrific terrorist attack, and it seems like nothing will ever be the same. This was a slightly bizarre novel that confounded me slightly with its two different tracks: one of personal angst and murder (I don't think it's a spoiler to state that shortly after the terrorist attack, Peter Ash winds up murdered) and then the terrorist attack, which seems somewhat oddly inserted into the novel's plot. Kate's friend Beth is a police detective, and for me, Beth was driving force of the book (and seriously, practically the only sane person in this story). Beth is perplexed as she tries to solve Peter's murder. For us: not really. I felt as if the suspect was fairly easily identifiable the whole time. However, Lescroart did a fairly good job as casting suspicions on someone else; at one point, I finally thought, oh, ok, maybe I really am wrong (but I wasn't). There's a whole host of characters in the novel and they are interesting, but not really as complex or intricate as Beth. Overall, I enjoyed this novel; I haven't read anything by Lescroart since some of his early Dismas Hardy books ages ago-- but I didn't find it to have an amazing "wow" factor or anything. It was an interesting, if somewhat predictable thriller, with some strange plot points thrown in. 3 stars

In another bizarre and interesting thriller, THE GIRL BEFORE, two wounded women reeling from personal issues are looking for a new apartment. For Emma, she requires a safe place after being the victim of a break-in. For Jane, it is a new place that holds no reminders of the baby she lost. For each woman, the house at One Folgate Street seems to offer exactly what they are looking for. It is designed by well-known architect, Edward Monkford, and comes with a set of rules created by the inscrutable man himself. In fact, to live at One Folgate Streets means signing off on over 200 rules, ranging from no books or personal mementos, to total tidiness, to agreeing to showing the house on architectural tours, to accepting to the intense technology that it comes with, including the house monitoring your well-being and moods. At first, the rules and clarity that come with One Folgate Street seem comforting to Emma and Jane. But as they spend more time in the house--and learn about its past, including its mysterious builder--they become terrifying and stifling. THE GIRL BEFORE is a fascinating novel told solely from the point of view of Emma, One Folgate Street's previous tenant, and Jane, its current tenant. All activities are filtered through the lens of these two women. The novel effectively builds suspense with the parallel nature of the two women's stories, but it also can get a little repetitive at times (and sometimes a little confusing, as you have to remind yourself, mostly in the beginning, who is talking). The book starts off exciting, as you are drawn into both Emma and Jane's tales while they acclimate to the house and all the oddities it offers. It starts to drag a bit halfway through as you wonder what will happen in the next half. But then, suddenly, the novel takes some odd turns and eventually grows quite interesting again with some psychological and thrilling revelations. Perhaps my favorite part about this book is that many of these developments truly surprised me, which isn't always easy to do in a thriller. Overall, this is an interesting novel. It's certainly suspenseful and different. To enjoy it, you really have to set your disbelief aside at the actual conditions of living at One Folgate Street (no books, what?!) and accept that the two women are so broken (and perhaps broke, as the house apparently comes at a great discount) that they will go along with anything. It has a lot of varied plot threads and some of them aren't always fully explored or truly necessary, which can be a little frustrating. Still, the book truly surprised me with its twists and kept me entertained, with a deep desire to get to the end. Overall, 3.5+ stars.

Switching genres a bit, in Nicola Moriarty's THE FIFTH LETTER, Joni, Eden, Deb, and Trina have been friends since high school. However, as they age, it seems the women are growing apart. Desperate to keep her friends together, Joni books a vacation house. It's been a yearly tradition for the group, and she's insistent they all keep it up. Once there, they come up with an idea: they'll write anonymous letters on an old computer at the beach cottage, and read one a night during their vacation. But the game turns dark quickly, as the women struggle to guess who wrote what letter. Even worse, Joni discovers a "fifth letter" in the fireplace; partially burned, it appears to be filled with hate toward one of the women in the group (from another). The foursome is supposed to be the best of friends, but it appears it isn't so. I feel terrible, as I really enjoy the other Moriarty sisters (Liane Moriarty and Jaclyn Moriarty), but I just didn't care for this book at all. I never found myself able to care for these four women or their problems whatsoever. The premise of the book seemed utterly ridiculous: why on earth would a group of grown women write a bunch of letters like children and if they were such good friends, how could they know so little about each other? It was painful to read. Furthermore, the book itself was difficult to read. It was set up in various ways: we had the current day thread at the beach cottage; we had threads in the past with the girls at school. Then, there's a thread where Joni is telling a priest (via confession) about what had happened at the cottage. Then we get pieces of the letters. Then we get snippets from the fifth letter. It was so utterly confusing that for parts of it, I couldn't tell who was talking, or what the dialogue related to, and it drove me insane. Pieces of the women's problems were resolved far too easily, while others were blown far too out of proportion. Others were incredibly serious and just - ugh. When the big "reveal" happened, it made me cringe. Overall, I just couldn't find any sympathy with the characters, and the way the novel was laid out irked me. 2 stars

Also out in fiction is Ellen Hopkin's THE YOU I'VE NEVER KNOWN . In Hopkins' novel, Ariel has spent her entire life drifting from place to place with her Dad, Mark. Abandoned by her Mom as a baby, Ariel and her father move often, leaving Ariel unable to form relationships and always feeling as if the latest place they touch down is just the next in a series of temporary stops. They've been living in Sonora long enough for Ariel to finish an entire year of school, and she's finally formed a few friendships. One of them is to her closest friend, Monica, to whom Ariel feels a deep friendship-- and attraction. Their friendship and potential relationship is complicated somewhat when Ariel meets Gabe, the nephew of her father's girlfriend, Zelda. Ariel is attracted to Gabe, too, and she isn't sure exactly what that means. Meanwhile, Maya is trying to escape her hateful mother, and the only out she can see is Jason Ritter, an older man in the military. But now Maya is pregnant, and married life with Jason is turning out to be scary and lonely. Told in both prose and verse, there's no doubt that Hopkins' story is often beautifully done. My biggest issue with the novel wasn't the book itself, but that the plot description reveals, in my opinion, a major spoiler that doesn't actually occur until past page 350. If you ask me, that's far too deep within the tale to reveal in the description, and I would have enjoyed figuring that twist out myself and getting there on my own. The story itself, as I mentioned, is told in various ways, and you need to be prepared for the verse, as it does take some getting used to. So, combine the verse/prose aspect and the fact that I was constantly waiting for this plot twist to happen while reading, and it took a bit to get into the book. There's definitely a lot going on this novel, but it was nice that at least Ariel's sexuality wasn't always the main focus. It was also refreshing to find a bisexual teen heroine. Overall, the book seemed to handle it fairly well, too, without so much of the usual stereotyping you can find in other novels and/or the media. I think a teen struggling with similar issues could find some comfort in this book, and that's important. For me, I wasn't completely sure that all the threads of the book were truly fully formed. I'm not completely sure how to explain that fully; it's not that I expected resolution to everything, but there were some serious topics dealt with in in the novel (beyond Ariel's sexuality) and it sometimes felt like they all got glossed over or moved past rather quickly. Bisexuality, rape, abuse... those are serious topics, and I'm not sure they got the ultimate focus they always needed. So, in the end, I find myself a bit stumped by THE YOU I'VE NEVER KNOWN. I was certainly intrigued by the book and enjoyed it. I greatly enjoyed the character of Ariel and welcomed finding her in literature. While parts of the book went on a bit for me (though perhaps that was the verse format, I'm not sure, or waiting for the aforementioned spoiler), I found it interesting. Still, in the end, something felt a tad off for me. However, much of the writing was lovely, and the storyline different and often engaging. Overall, I'd probably give this one 3.5 stars.

So there you go - quite an eclectic bunch! Let me know what you think if you pick any of these up.

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