Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Tuesday's Book Bag: New Releases for 2/21.

It's been a quiet February in terms of new releases on the blog, but today we feature two novels by popular contemporary authors, Clare Mackintosh and Amanda Eyre Ward. Mackintosh became famous with her debut release, I LET YOU GO, which was an amazing and surprising thriller. Ward has published a variety of novels, but her last book, THE SAME SKY, was a very timely look at race, immigration, and the American Dream. Both works were well-written and extremely well-received, which immediately begs the question: could their next novels live up to the hype?

Clare Mackintosh's new thriller, I SEE YOU, tells the story of Zoe Walker, a busy mother of two grown children. Her partner, Simon, works for a local paper, and Zoe is divorced from her kids' father. One day, Zoe spots an ad in the classifieds that appears to feature her photo. The ad features a website and phone number, but Zoe cannot get into the password-protected site. The next day, the same ad shows a photo of another woman, and so on and so on. Meanwhile, Detective Kelly Swift is struggling to get back in the good graces of the police force after an incident derailed her career. Kelly is working a series of tube (subway)-related incidents, but she really wants to get back into real investigating. When Kelly and Zoe's paths cross, it doesn't seem as if Zoe is in any real danger, but that all changes suddenly. For me, I LET YOU GO was such an amazing novel with an amazing twist and this one didn't quite live up to my expectations. It's certainly an interesting novel with an intriguing premise, but I didn't buy the idea outside of a novel. You sort of have to suspend disbelief to allow yourself to read on with the plot: even though it's rooted in technology and our society's obsession with technology and dating, the overall construct just seems to be a stretch. The beginning portion of the novel was compelling, but slow, and I kept waiting for it to pick up. I also could see a lot of the plot pieces coming. I liked Kelly's chapters so much more and found myself a bit annoyed going back to Zoe at times - she was whiny and irritating for a while. Kelly was far more nuanced (though a bit too focused on the past), but her chapters were far better at adding suspense and tension. The novel certainly does pick up nearing the end, and I definitely wanted to find out what happened and who was responsible for what. But even then, the motivation for the "bad guy" was a bit odd and poorly done. Like a lot of the plot, it seemed a bit of a stretch. It was saved somewhat by the epilogue, which offered a good twist (although I had my suspicions), but I wasn't sure it made up for the whole book, and it didn't make me gasp like her first book. (Poor author, being held up to impossible follow-on standards.) Overall, I did find this novel puzzling, though hindered somewhat but a slightly preposterous plot. I'm glad I read it, but I certainly prefer her first novel. (I'll still eagerly await anything from Mackintosh, however!) 3 stars

In Ward's novel, THE NEARNESS OF YOU, Suzette and Hyland have a happy marriage and a busy life when Hyland surprises his wife with the news that he really wants a child. Married fifteen years, children had always been off the table, as Suzette did not want to pass on the genes of her mother, a woman who gave Suzette a horrifying and unstable childhood and eventually wound up in a mental institution. But Hyland proposes a new solution: what if they use a surrogate, with his sperm and a surrogate's egg? Suzette, a busy and successful heart surgeon, reluctantly agrees. Even though there are some red flags, the couple eventually chooses young Dorrie, a woman who wants to use the surrogate fees to go to college. Dorrie and Hyland bond, and Suzette realizes she must get on board with the idea. But soon Dorrie will make some decisions that will affect everyone in this new trio. Much like with Mackintosh, I am a bit conflicted about this novel. I so adored THE SAME SKY, which is a beautiful novel and one everyone should read in this current political climate. It's hard not to compare others to that magical book, and this one did fall short. Ward does, however, have a way of weaving stories with her words, and while I wasn't nearly as attached to the characters in this novel, I still found myself reading the last half of the book somewhat compulsively. The novel started out slow, but picked up about 1/4 through, with a twist in the plot. It's told from a shifting rotation of perspectives, including Suzette, Dorrie, and Hyland. There are some large shifts in time as the novel progresses, which did make it harder to attach to some of the characters. None of the plot twists are exactly surprise, as they are foreshadowed a bit in each character's description: this is more of a character-driven novel versus a shocking dramatic novel. Still, even though I tore through the last half of the novel, I just felt the book lacked something, and I felt a tad let down by a story and characters that weren't completely fully developed (the ending is a bit abrupt as well). I enjoyed the perspectives on motherhood that the novel offered, but felt there could be more. That's not to say the novel isn't worth reading; Ward is a wonderful writer, but I just felt a little perplexed and frustrated when this one ended. I had hoped for more. 3 stars

I'd still recommend reading both of these novels - they are interesting, even if not as diverse and fascinating as their predecessors. Happy reading, everyone! (And thanks to Netgalley for copies of these novels.)

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