Tuesday, April 18, 2017

I dream of buildings that burn: IT'S ALWAYS THE HUSBAND.

It's Always the HusbandIt's Always the Husband by Michele Campbell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Aubrey, Jenny, and Kate meet at Carlisle College--an elite institution on par with the Ivies--when they are placed as roommates their freshman year. Aubrey is on financial aid and looking for a chance to restart her life. Jenny, a "townie," has lived in Belle River, New Hampshire, most of her life. And finally, there's the beautiful Kate, whose wealthy family has long ties to Carlisle. The three quickly form a fast friendship, but it's problematic as well. Aubrey is in awe of the enigmatic Kate, while Jenny often resents her lovely, popular roommate. And then, near the end of their freshman year, a tragic event changes their lives forever.

Be forewarned: this is a book populated by annoying, pathetic, self-involved characters. While it supposedly centers on a friendship that begins in college, that couldn't really be further from the truth. These three girls are not friends. The centerpiece is wealthy Kate Eastman, a daughter from a privileged family, who somehow attracts everyone into her orbit, despite being a real narcissistic jerk. Frankly, it's hard to read a book when you really don't care about anyone. This is exacerbated by some stilted and forced writing--backed up by cliches--that makes the novel hard to read at times.

I was amazed by Kate's power over everyone and frustrated by their devotion to her. We are probably supposed to feel sorry for her, due to her hateful family and deceased mother, and for the other characters and the power the Eastmans exert over them. But I just couldn't -- at least not continuously throughout the novel. In fact, it's impossible to root for either side, or anyone, in this book.

Now, the second half of the novel switches over to the present day and allows a bit more focus on a mystery. You're left guessing and there is at least less spotlight on the girls and their pettiness (though it's definitely still there). Unfortunately, I thought the second-half mystery was somwhat spoiled (not to spoil anything myself) by a main player in the puzzle plot who carried a ridiculous and biased torch for Kate, despite having spent a sum total of about three hours in her presence. That one plot point irked me so much that I enjoyed the second half of the novel less than I would have otherwise. And the second half is better: I read it straight through in an evening, and it kept me turning the pages, wondering how things would turn out.

Unfortunately, it was marred by the earlier half of the book, a cast of despicable characters, and some cliched writing that left a lot to be desired. Still, I have to hand it to Campbell: she kept me reading in spite of all of that. Because of that, I'm going with 3 stars: a combination of 2.5 for the first half of the novel and 3.5 for second.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley (thank you!) in return for an unbiased review; it is available everywhere as of 05/16/2017.

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