Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Though I bang my head on a mountain of truth.

Where We FallWhere We Fall by Rochelle B. Weinstein

Abby, Ryan, and Lauren were inseparable in college. But Abby always felt a little on the fringes of Ryan and Lauren's all-consuming love. But when Lauren goes off for six months after college to see the world and photograph waterfalls, Ryan is devastated. Cut forward nearly twenty years: Ryan and Abby are now married, with a seventeen-year-old daughter, Julianna. Lauren, meanwhile, is single and an author. Ryan is a successful football coach, but he struggles with the ups and downs of Abby's anxiety and depression. Unbeknownst to all three, their paths are about to cross for the first time in ages.

This book was an interesting one. At times, it seems to be a representative portrayal of depression. Often, Abby seems penalized by her family for her mental illness, which really makes you think about the effects of depression on families. How much obligation does a family have to help a hurting love one, even at their own expense? Other moments, though, the book seems extremely psychoanalyzing and patronizing, as if one stay in a mental health facility can cure all ills. It's hard to explain, but very frustrating, and I'm not sure if always does those with mental illness any favors.

As a football coach, Ryan is portrayed as above all - almost a godlike figure. It is certainly in keeping with high school football in a college town. He takes Juliana's boyfriend, E.J., the star of his team, and his brother, Devon, under his wing. Their story is somewhat powerful, as brothers from a tough neighborhood trying to escape their over-powering father. A side story where E.J. gets in trouble protecting his brother could say a lot about class and race in the south, but then seems to be tied up awfully easily.

That's sort of how the whole book seemed; some parts are compelling and believable, while others were implausible and just odd. None of the characters really drew me in, though I did find myself identifying at times with Abby and her issues. Overall, a 3-star read.

I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley (thank you!); it is available everywhere on 4/19/2016.

View all my reviews

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Got me more payments than I've got checks.

The AssistantsThe Assistants by Camille Perri

Tina Fontana is a 30-year-old assistant to Robert Barlow, a wealthy media mogul and CEO of the Titan Corporation. Robert is all-knowing and all-powerful, but Tina's realm of power basically extends to scheduling appointments and making Robert's drinks. She's also toiling in New York City: living in a tiny apartment with a crumbling ceiling and struggling with the burden of student loan debt. Meanwhile, her boss drops money like it's nothing: often the equivalent of her debt in a single setting. One day, a clerical "error" allows Tina to be double-reimbursed on an expense claim. The amount is equivalent to her student loan debt and she sees a chance to free herself from a lifetime of penny-pinching. Is it really stealing, if the company won't even notice, she wonders?

This book; I don't know. I wanted to like it more than I did. I get the premise; there is a whole new generation out there struggling under the weight of student loan debt, a generation where education didn't deliver on the promise of a better future. However, the premise of solving this problem by stealing--no matter how big the corporation, corrupt the bosses, or how much money the CEOs drop--was problematic to me. Tina becomes embroiled with a cast of characters and while they all grow on you, none are exactly sympathetic. There is only so much sympathy one can have for a group of uppity girls in New York City. Perhaps, you think, you could be focusing your energy on saving more worthy, less entitled people? Many of the scenes seem contrived and friendships confusing.

Still, the novel picks up a bit at the end, hence the 3-star rating. I actually have a note in my version that says "stupid book grows on you," because it really does. I don't want to give any spoilers, so I won't say why, but I did enjoy the last 80 pages or so a lot, and found myself rooting for the characters more, even if I still didn't like all of them, or understand (or endorse) all their motivations and actions. I also could see this as an excellent movie, as the less-developed pieces would be far less noticeable in a film.

Overall, this is a fairly fun read, but not sure it's the deep treatise on spending and class it tries to be (e.g., only women have student loan debt?). Parts of it made me laugh, but some also made me cringe. Up to you if it's worth that trade-off.

I received an ARC of this book from Edelweiss(thank you!); it is available everywhere on 5/3/16.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

If everything is temporary why should they care how it shines.

All the Bright PlacesAll the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Theodore is a quirky teen whose life has been troubled by sadness. His parents are divorced and Theo's recent past has been marked by dark patches, what he thinks of as a deep sleep, where he zones out from depression and sadness. He finds himself thinking often of suicide. One day, while on the ledge of their school's Bell Tower, Theo comes across Violet. Violet's life has changed drastically since the death of her older sister in a car accident. She's not so sure about life lately, either. So Theo lets everyone at school think Violet "saved" him on that Tower, when it's really him who talks her down. The two form an unlikely friendship and embark on a school project, documenting the "natural wonders" of their home state of Indiana. But do Violet and Finch realize the sadness each is dealing with?

Oh how I wanted to like this book. I'd heard so many good things about it, and it was compared to Eleanor & Park, which I adore. But whereas Eleanor and Park each felt so real, these characters didn't always come across as true, versus caricatures. I did find myself caring, often deeply, for Violet, and I liked Finch, but he changed his personality types so often -- it was hard to relate to his character. I'm glad the book covered the topic of mental illness, but its portrayal was odd sometimes. I almost worry that it glorified mental illness and suicidal thoughts somehow (hard to explain without too many spoilers).

Also, Theo and Violet seem to fall for each other awfully quickly. Why does this happen so often in YA novels? Am I just a jaded adult now (entirely possible)? Also a huge issue - where are the freaking adults in this book, and why don't they help Violet and Finch? Kids and teens shouldn't feel that mental illness is something they need to deal with alone. I also think truly portraying Finch's "deep sleep" and how that affected him could have done wonders for showing the effects and ills of mental illness on teens.

Overall, this book certainly had its lovely moments. Violet and Finch are touching characters in many ways. As I said, I really liked Violet - her character really grows on you. Niven's writing is beautiful at times, and the teens' school project is an interesting touch. This was also hard for me to read, having experienced mental illness and suicide in my family. I think it was worth reading, but it didn't completely live up to my expectations.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

You've seen the best and worst of me.

My Sunshine AwayMy Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

One evening, on a quiet suburban street in Baton Rouge, fifteen-year-old Lindy Simpson is raped. Her rape changes the fabric of her neighborhood, as narrated by her fourteen-year-old male neighbor, who had a huge crush on the lovely Lindy, a popular track star. He takes the readers through the various suspects--all members of the neighborhood--and one of whom is himself. We meet the many members of this quiet block, where not everything is as perfect as it seems. What really happened to Lindy that night? And is our narrator truly to blame?

I really wanted to like this book, as I'd heard such good things, and was really excited to finally to read it. But honestly, I found it disappointing, tedious, and slow. It was a real let down after all the rave reviews. Our narrator does a good job, I suppose, of highlighting the self-centeredness of teenage boys, but oh my goodness. He talks and talks and talks - endless diatribes about this and that. Pontificates about everything while trying to tell us the meaning of life. I found my eyes glazing over as I skimmed paragraphs, just wanting to find out what happened to poor Lindy, who is basically forgotten in his story -- she's just an object of lust, not a real person.

This book had the potential of being a love story in many ways -- that of the love between a son and his mother, between teenagers, etc., but it just seemed to flounder. Moments of brilliance poked through, but most of the time, I found myself frustrated and wondering what the point was. Instead, it seemed to be a treatise on how boys and men should *not* treat girls and women. It is at it's best when looked at as a story of neighborhood - the sad side story of a neighborhood family will hurt your heart in many ways - but it gets lost in the narrator's endless rants and discussions. At one point, we get a whole chapter on the effects of Hurricane Katrina on Baton Rouge. All well and good, I suppose, except the majority of this book takes place in the late 80s/early 90s. Why are we hearing about something take place decades later?

Overall, I wanted to like this one, and I spotted moments of good peeking out, but I was mostly just frustrated and waiting for it to end. Definitely a disappointment.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley (thank you!); it is available for purchase everywhere.

View all my reviews

Monday, March 14, 2016

Falling in love just enough to get us through what we're getting through.

The RumorThe Rumor by Elin Hilderbrand

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's a busy time on Nantucket and the rumor mill is churning away. Their focus? Best friends Madeline and Grace and their families. Madeline, a writer, is struggling to follow up on her last novel, or risk returning her (already spent) advance. She's also pretty upset that Grace's husband hasn't returned the money she invested in him a few months ago. Meanwhile, her son, Brick, is having troubles of his own, while dating one of Grace's twins: Allegra. Grace is busy on turning her yard into the talk of the town -- a beautiful garden escape, but she's also focusing a little too much on her landscape architect, Benton Coe. Her husband, real estate agent, Eddie, is over his head with several spec houses and is trying to make back the money in some unusual ways. And neither Grace nor Eddie have any idea what their teenage twins Allegra or Hope are up to... As the rumor mill gets busy in Nantucket, how much of what is swirling around is true? Are these two families headed for a fall?

There is a small group of novelists who write about Nantucket, and I tend to get them confused, because I'm awful like that, but this book had been on my "hold" list at the library forever, so I probably read a review of it somewhere. It was a pleasant and refreshingly enjoyable read; I would categorize it as an ideal beach book. It's not going to win any writing prizes, but it was a surprisingly captivating tale of these two families on Nantucket. There was no one real identifiable character (both Grace and Madeline have their strengths and weaknesses and could be rather irksome at times) but it was still enjoyable. Even better, while the plot was silly and a little ridiculous at times, with the families still having far too much money, they also had some real problems and issues, which they actually had to address. It also wasn't completely predictable, nor did it just focus on a love story, which was nice for this genre.

Overall, 3.5 stars: put a paperback of this in your beach or pool bag this summer; it will be a fun diversion.

View all my reviews

Friday, March 11, 2016

Can I count on you to walk me down that long and winding road.

The Other Widow: A NovelThe Other Widow: A Novel by Susan H. Crawford

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dorrie is embroiled in an affair with her boss, Joe, which ends abruptly one cold and snowy night when Joe picks her up. He tells her the affair is over, that "it isn't safe," and then moments after, their car skids on the ice and crashes into a tree. Joe dies at the scene, but Dorrie's airbag deploys and she makes a split moment decision to walk away from the crash (undetected). But she's haunted by that evening and Joe's death. Further, what did Joe mean that it wasn't safe? Why didn't Joe's airbag deploy like Dorrie's? Did Dorrie really see someone near the car moments after the crash?

Meanwhile, Joe's wife Karen is left reeling from his death as well. Also wrapped up in Joe's passing is insurance investigator Maggie Devlin. A former cop, Maggie is suspicious about the circumstances of Joe's death--and the women involved in his life. But can she put together the pieces of what really happened? And are Karen and Dorrie truly in danger?

This novel was interesting and suspenseful, though it didn't fully grab me. Still, I read it in about two days, so it was certainly a fast read with a captivating plot. For me, I liked Dorrie and Karen well enough, but I wasn't deeply pulled into either of their lives. Neither character was fully drawn enough for me to fully relate to them. In fact, I really liked Maggie the best, but we learn the least about her. I could almost see Maggie getting a sequel--she was a very intriguing and likable character.

Crawford's novel is well-written, but seems to suffer a little bit from "who am I" syndrome... in some ways it's a thriller, but in other ways, it's purely psychological women's fiction. As such, the mystery seems to take a backseat to the women's lives, at times, and becomes convoluted and confusing by the end. There's a backstory with Joe's business that I almost couldn't fully tell you what happened, because it's not given complete attention, even though it's supposed to propel so much of the action. That duality was tough, because the book never really focused on either the thriller aspect, or the women, and you felt like you were left hanging on both plot points by the end.

Overall, this was a quick read, with an original plot, but seemed confusing and pulled in a few directions: 3 stars.

I received an ARC of this novel from Edelweiss (thank you!); it is available for publication on 4/26/16.

View all my reviews

Monday, March 07, 2016

But you just run away from things that you don't understand.

I Let You GoI Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One rainy evening, an accident occurs on a quiet neighborhood street. Walking home from school with his mother, young Jacob is hit by a car, and killed. Even worse, the car quickly backs up and drives away, leaving Jacob's mother shattered and Detective Inspector Ray Stevens and his team, particularly eager young DC Kate, to seek out answers.

With her world ruined by the accident, Jenna Gray seeks refuge by the coast. She finds a small cottage, gets a dog, and tries to escape the nightmares of the accident that haunt both her dreams and waking hours. Meanwhile, Ray and Kate are forced to close Jacob's case, no closer to the suspect than when they started. But the two remain undaunted, working on the case in their off hours, and an anniversary plea one year after the accident turns up some potential leads. What exactly happened that rainy night? Will justice ever come for Jacob--and peace for Jenna?

This was an excellent thriller-- a real surprise, honestly. The beginning of the novel started out slow, and was so horrendously sad, what with Jacob's accident and his mother's terrible grief. It was one of several book's I'd read lately involving the death of a child, and I was so saddened that I almost set it aside. I'm glad I didn't though, because while the book is gut-wrenchingly sad, it's excellent, tense, and suspenseful. Divided into several parts, things pick up immensely at the end of the first part, when Mackintosh throws in an excellent plot twist (I shan't say anymore so as not to ruin it).

Mackintosh is excellent at conveying Jenna's anguish and the sadness that the accident causes. We also have a side-plot of Ray and his feelings toward his subordinate, Kate. Ray's home life is unbalanced: he's dealing with issues with his son, Tom, and his wife. These are a bit distracting at times, but serve to humanize him as well. The police subplot (watching them try to piece things together) is interesting, also. In fact, the book alternates in perspectives: we hear from Ray, Jenna, and one more character. In part 2, we go back in time for some of the characters, but remain in the present with Ray and Kate as they (much like us, the readers) try to solve this crime. It's an interesting technique and works surprisingly well. Jenna is a complicated character, but a well-drawn one.

Overall, I quite enjoyed this book. I won't spoil anything, but I will say that there is definitely a trigger for domestic abuse/violence, so please be forewarned for that. There's a character in the novel who reminds me of the husband in that creepy Julia Roberts' film "Sleeping with the Enemy" (I'm totally dating myself here). As such I was up late reading one night, completely creeped out. However, that's the sign of an excellent thriller in my opinion. I raced through the last 2/3 of the book and really wasn't disappointed. There are several more twists, but they actually are pretty believable, not outlandish like in many thrillers. Definitely recommend this one (with the abuse caveat thrown in). A unique psychological thriller that's worth your time, for sure.

I received an ARC of this novel from Netgalley - thank you! The U.S. edition is available everywhere on 5/3/16.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Tell me 'bout how you've been waiting so patiently.

The Girl Who StayedThe Girl Who Stayed by Tanya Anne Crosby

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Zoe returns to her hometown of Sullivan's Island with one goal in mind: repair her childhood home and sell it, so she never has to come back. Her parents are dead, her brother doesn't want it, and her little sister, Hannah, disappeared from the Island when Hannah was eight and Zoe was ten. At the time, Hannah's friend, Gabi, insinuated that Zoe was responsible for Hannah's disappearance and while she knows it isn't true, Zoe has always felt confused and remorseful about her behavior during the time period when Hannah vanished. Even worse, she grew up under the doubt of her parents, especially her angry father, who seemed to believe Gabi, and with whom Zoe had a rough and rocky relationship as she aged.

This was an interesting book and I confess it had the misfortune of being read during a crazy time for me of illness and work: not its fault. Zoe is a tough character to crack at first, but she's also a victim of abuse, and her slowness to reveal herself--in the book and to others--makes sense. Crosby does a good job of displaying (versus telling) how Zoe's relationship with her parents has formed her into the adult she is today. What I enjoyed is that Zoe is a complicated individual with many layers. I've read too many books lately where a character had a bad childhood or suffered some form of abuse and that seems to be a reason to make them have only one character trait, which they must act upon, with no sign of reason. Zoe is nuanced, even if she takes some time to warm up to.

There are several scenes in the book that are nearly heartbreaking as you read. For instance, when Zoe finds a projector and a bunch of film belonging to her grandfather and manages to splice together enough film to capture a few moments of her late sister as a kid. As she describes the moment, it's powerful, and you can completely picture it. In another scene, she reminisces about how her mother "helped" her fix up Zoe's bathing suit before a first date--an event that ended poorly. This moment is not only formed so clearly, but says so much about how Zoe continued to relate to her Mom. It's very well-done.

The book spends most of its time focusing on Zoe's late second coming of age story (at nearly 40), with a few characters from Sullivan's Island thrown in, but there is a subplot to Hannah's disappearance that picks up pace near the end. The very end of the story felt a little rushed (though exciting). I'm still a bit torn about the actual ending--it sort of pissed me off--but I understand Crosby's choices.

In writing this review, I'd probably push my rating up to a 3.75 stars. It's a different book, and I enjoyed Zoe. I almost wish I could encounter her again.

I received an ARC of this book from Edelweiss - thank you! It is available for publication on 4/19/16.

View all my reviews