Early Review: NOT HER DAUGHTER

Early Review:  NOT HER DAUGHTERNot Her Daughter by Rea Frey
two-half-stars
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on August 21, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Rea Frey’s Not Her Daughter is an engaging story that follows two women, Amy Townsend and Sarah Walker, and how their lives become entwined because of one little girl, Amy’s five-year old daughter Emma.  One day Sarah witnesses Amy behaving abusively toward Emma in the middle of a crowded airport.  She can’t get the incident out of her mind and, when a chance encounter makes their paths cross again and Sarah realizes that Amy’s abusive behavior is a chronic pattern, she decides to take matters into her own hands.  She convinces herself that she’s not really kidnapping Emma, but instead is rescuing her.  As she sets her plan into motion, it raises the question of how far Sarah is really willing to go to make sure Emma is safe?  How much is she willing to risk?

Sounds like an absolutely gripping read, right?  I checked Goodreads and it has plenty of 4 and 5 star ratings, so lots of readers are loving this book.  Sadly, I’m not one of them though so it looks like I’m going to have the Unpopular Opinion review, which is so disappointing because I really thought I would love this one..  I’m going to start with the good though because the book does have plenty of things going for it.

In spite of my overall low rating, there were a few things that I liked about Not Her Daughter, the first being that the author does tackle a very tough subject – kidnapping – and actually does so in a way that you can almost see where the kidnapping is justified.  That, in itself, is quite a feat.  She does this, of course, by making Emma’s home environment appear so completely unhealthy that you can’t help but wish that she could be removed from it.  Her mother is clearly abusive, and her father seems to just sit back and let the abuse happen unchecked.  She also has Sarah run through all of the horrible things about the foster care system as she is considering the best course of action to take to “save” Emma.  Sarah comes to the conclusion that it would be so much better for Emma to just go with her because she appreciates how special Emma is and could love her as her own instead of just dumping her in the system. Not that I would ever condone kidnapping, but it surprised me how convincing the argument Sarah made really was.  I could see this argument being a great starting point for a book club discussion – If you knew for a fact that a child was being abused, what lengths would you go to make sure that child was removed from harm’s way?

I also found it fascinating to have the story presented from the perspective of both Amy and Sarah.  Being able to get inside their heads and see what each of them is thinking is probably the best part of the book.  You get inside of Sarah’s head and understand that she comes from a background where she was abandoned by her mother when she was 8 and so it becomes clear why Emma’s experiences resonate with her to such an extreme.  Even more fascinating, however, are when we get inside of Amy’s head and actually see some of the dark thoughts she has at any given moment, especially when she thinks about whether she even wants Emma to come home.  It’s such a disturbing and non-maternal thing for a mother to think and it’s just a major WOW moment.

If you’re into stories with lots of suspense that will keep you turning the pages, Not Her Daughter really delivers in that area as well.  There are plenty of twists and turns as Sarah tries to evade the authorities, and each twist just ratchets up the suspense that much more.

I think this is going to be a case of “It’s me, not necessarily the book” but I just had several issues with the book that made it not a good fit for me.

The first is that I just didn’t feel a real connection to any of the characters in this book.  I definitely didn’t feel much of anything for Amy, her husband, or Sarah, and even though I felt very sympathetic toward Emma because of what she had gone through in her own house, I still just didn’t feel super connected to her.  Honestly, I would have expected a book on this subject matter to move me to tears, but it didn’t at all.  I just felt like a passive observer, and I’m not sure why – maybe it was the narrative style, I don’t know.

Another issue I had was that I just found some of the things that happened in the story to be farfetched.  I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I’m going to keep this vague but the ending in particular just seemed like something that would never actually happen and because it felt so unrealistic, I was left unsatisfied with the story as a whole.

Finally, what really took this book down a star for me, was how Amy was described throughout the book.  I get it – she’s a horrible mother who probably never should have had children in the first place and everything about her is supposed to disgust me.  But why do I need to know that she’s an overweight doughy woman who eats way too much cheese, is always gassy, and only poops about once a week?  And why do I need flashbacks of her thinking about giving birth to her children and pushing them out of her “hairy vagina”?  I’m all for vivid descriptions when they add something to the story, but those just felt unnecessary and distracting.

Even though Not Her Daughter wasn’t a good fit for me, I still think many readers will find it a powerful and riveting read.  Because of the moral dilemma that Sarah faces, it’s definitely a book that will make you think.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Gripping, emotional, and wire-taut, Not Her Daughter raises the question of what it means to be a mother—and how far someone will go to keep a child safe.

Emma Townsend. Five years old. Gray eyes, brown hair. Missing since June.

Emma is lonely. Living with her cruel mother and clueless father, Emma retreats into her own world of quiet and solitude.

Sarah Walker. Successful entrepreneur. Broken-hearted. Kidnapper.

Sarah has never seen a girl so precious as the gray-eyed child in a crowded airport terminal. When a second-chance encounter with Emma presents itself, Sarah takes her—far away from home. But if it’s to rescue a little girl from her damaging mother, is kidnapping wrong?

Amy Townsend. Unhappy wife. Unfit mother. Unsure whether she wants her daughter back.

Amy’s life is a string of disappointments, but her biggest issue is her inability to connect with her daughter. And now Emma is gone without a trace.

As Sarah and Emma avoid the nationwide hunt, they form an unshakeable bond. But what about Emma’s real mother, back at home?

two-half-stars

About Rea Frey

Rea always wanted to be a novelist.

When she was little, her nose was either stuffed in a book, sniffing paper, absorbing words, or letting her imagination wander. If not reading, she was writing. In journals. In notebooks. In diaries. On walls. In the sand. On legal pads. On typewriters. With quills.

In college, she majored in fiction writing and somehow fell into nonfiction and personal training. Her dreams of sitting in a writer’s haven on the water, wrapped in a sweater, penning her stories, was swapped for health and wellness gigs and her first fractured steps into the important world of the Author Platform (aka social media).

After four nonfiction books were published, countless magazine and newspaper articles written, editing jobs taken, content management contracts executed, a gym co-owned, and certifications sought, she realized she was hustling for the wrong type of writing.

So, she quit.

She gave herself a window to write a novel. Eight weeks, she told herself. Eight weeks to change everything.

Never one to back down from a challenge, she wrote her novel in just a month.

The rest went something like this: Secure a phenomenal agent, join a writer’s group, bear witness to the magic of self-belief as the book got into a bidding war and landed her a two-book deal with St. Martin’s Press.

Now, when asked what she does, she says the following: I’m a motherfucking writer.

Rea is a novelist. She writes books. And swears. And drinks lots of coffee. And has a daughter. And a dreamy husband. And still manages to find the magic in books.

She hopes you will put down the phone and pick up a book (preferably hers when it hits the shelves). And find the joy in reading.

Because there’s nothing quite like the power of words…

ARC Review – We Are Still Tornadoes

ARC Review – We Are Still TornadoesWe Are Still Tornadoes by Michael Kun, Susan Mullen
four-stars
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on November 1st 2016
Genres: Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Goodreads
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Goodreads in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Goodreads Synopsis:

Growing up across the street from each other, Scott and Cath have been best friends their entire lives. Cath would help Scott with his English homework, he would make her mix tapes (it’s the 80’s after all), and any fight they had would be forgotten over TV and cookies. But now they’ve graduated high school and Cath is off to college while Scott is at home pursuing his musical dreams. During their first year apart, Scott and Cath’s letters help them understand heartache, annoying roommates, family drama and the pressure to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives. And through it all, they realize that the only person they want to turn to is each other. But does that mean they should be more than friends? The only thing that’s clear is that change is an inescapable part of growing up. And the friends who help us navigate it share an unshakable bond. This funny yet deeply moving book–set to an awesome 80’s soundtrack–captures all the beautiful confusion and emotional intensity we find on the verge of adulthood…and first love.

 

 

My Review:

We Are Still Tornadoes follows a year in the life of Scott and Cath, lifelong best friends who are now separated because Cath has gone off to college, while Scott has chosen to remain at home, where he works at the family business while simultaneously trying to pursue his own passion, which is to be a singer/songwriter in a band. Set in the early 1980’s, the story is told through alternating letters that Scott and Cath are mailing each other throughout their time apart.

What I Liked:

I have to say I really loved this book. It was cute and entertaining, even laugh-out-loud funny at times, but it was also quite moving as well as Scott and Cath each experienced highs and lows throughout the year. We Are Still Tornadoes is also one of those books where once you get started, you really can’t put it down so it made for a quick read as well, which is often nice (especially when your “To-Bo-Read” stack of books is becoming mountainous!)

What appealed to me most about this book is the authentic quality of the friendship between Scott and Cath. I’m a big fan of books that portray beautiful friendships and Scott and Cath’s friendship perfectly fits the bill here. The authors skillfully capture all the little nuances that make up the special bond that best friends share – the constant poking fun at one another that only best friends can do, those long-running inside jokes that no one else could possibly understand, and also, most importantly, the steadfast devotion and loyalty. Even though they’re hundreds of mile apart, Scott is always there for Cath when she needs him and vice versa. Whether it’s a death in the family, parents getting divorce, a bad breakup, or anything in between, they have each others’ backs. Looking at Scott and Cath, I could easily see similarities between their relationship and my own relationships with my best friends.

The letter writing format was a lot of fun to read as well and really took me back to my own college days back in the dark ages before we had email, smart phones, and all of those other forms of instant communication. I could very easily relate to the reality of having to rely on snail mail and shared hall phones as the only way to keep in touch with friends and loved ones. Reading We Are Still Tornadoes brought back a lot of good memories from college for me and so the nostalgia factor was very high.

The discussion of music throughout the novel was entertaining as well. Scott loves music, knows almost everything there is to know about every popular singer of the time period, and loves to let Cath know how utterly clueless and in need of a musical education she is. Their discussion of music was hilarious at times, but more importantly, the songs chosen by the authors were so iconic – just thinking about them transported me right back to the 1980s. I swear I was singing Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean for days after I finished reading!

Anything I didn’t like?

My only real complaint about the story lies in the ending. I didn’t particularly care for the direction the story took in the closing pages and felt like the ending wrapped too quickly and therefore a bit awkwardly. I understood why the book had to end the way it did based on the direction the story took; it just wouldn’t haven have been my first choice for an ending. It may not bother others though so please don’t let that deter you from what is otherwise an awesome book.

Who Would I Recommend this to?

I would highly reccommend We Are Still Tornadoes to pretty much anyone from high school age on up. I think high school and college students would enjoy the friendship and the fact that Cath and Scott are so relateable, while readers like me who are older, would enjoy the story because of the nostalgic quality.

If you’re looking for a quick and entertaining read, I’d say give this book a shot.

 

Rating: 4 stars

 

 

four-stars

About Michael Kun

Michael Kun lives in Los Angeles, California, with his wife Amy and their daughter Paige. He practices law when he is not writing, or vice versa.

About Susan Mullen

Susan Stevens Mullen lives in Arlington, Virginia with her husband, Kevin, and their two daughters, Hannah and Haley. She practices law in the Reston office of Cooley, LLP. Sue was born and raised in Chicago. Her family relocated to Northern Virginia when she was in the 7th grade. A graduate of Langley High School, Duke University, and the University of Virginia School of Law, Sue loves reading fiction and running with the family and their dog, Griffin the Boxer.

ARC Review – Gae Polisner’s The Memory of Things

ARC Review – Gae Polisner’s The Memory of ThingsThe Memory of Things by Gae Polisner
four-half-stars
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on September 6th 2016
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Goodreads
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Goodreads in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Goodreads Synopsis:

The powerful story of two teenagers finding friendship, comfort, and first love in the days following 9/11 as their fractured city tries to put itself back together.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, sixteen-year-old Kyle Donohue watches the first twin tower come down from the window of Stuyvesant High School. Moments later, terrified and fleeing home to safety across the Brooklyn Bridge, he stumbles across a girl perched in the shadows. She is covered in ash and wearing a pair of costume wings. With his mother and sister in California and unable to reach his father, a New York City detective likely on his way to the disaster, Kyle makes the split-second decision to bring the girl home. What follows is their story, told in alternating points of view, as Kyle tries to unravel the mystery of the girl so he can return her to her family. But what if the girl has forgotten everything, even her own name? And what if the more Kyle gets to know her, the less he wants her to go home? The Memory of Things tells a stunning story of friendship and first love and of carrying on with our day-to-day living in the midst of world-changing tragedy and unforgettable pain—it tells a story of hope.

My Review: 

Gae Polisner’s The Memory of Things is an incredible book that revolves around the horrific events of September 11th. I have to admit I was a little nervous going into the book since this is such a sensitive topic, but was ultimately very pleased with Polisner’s respectful handling of it.  Although it was sometimes painful to read because it brings back so many terrifying memories that we all felt that day and for so long afterwards, The Memory of Things is also a moving and ultimately uplifting story that shows the strength of Americans, and especially that of New Yorkers, to rise up and keep going in the face of something that could have brought us to our knees as a country.

One aspect I loved most about The Memory of Things is the way Polisner presents the story using a dual narrative perspective. Her writing is beautiful, lyrical in fact, and I like that she puts us inside the minds of these two teenagers, Kyle and the girl he finds on the Brooklyn Bridge as he is evacuating out of lower Manhattan.  When Kyle discovers the girl crouched on the bridge, she doesn’t know who she is and appears to be suffering from either shock or amnesia.  The way Polisner distinguishes between Kyle’s point of view and the girl’s is unique as well.  Kyle’s perspective is presented in pretty straightforward prose, but as we switch to the girl’s perspective, we are suddenly presented with a more poetic style – fragmented memories, broken thoughts and powerful, sometimes disturbing, images all swirled together.  We alternate between the two perspectives throughout the novel and as then the girl starts to remember more and more details about who she is, Polisner adjusts her writing style to reflect that shift – the girl’s thoughts become more coherent and cohesive, the broken images and memories start to come together, and the language shifts to a more prose-like state, although still quite poetic.

Another quality I loved about this book is that even though it is technically a book about 9/11, the tragedy itself is not the primary focus.  The Memory of Things is really more of a coming of age story and it’s also a story about strength, hope, resiliency, friendship, and about finding out who you are when times are tough or uncertain.  Kyle is confronted by the real possibility that he may have lost his entire family and has to figure out what he’s going to do if that turns out to be the case. In particular, he has a handicapped uncle living with him who needs to be cared for and so he really has to step up and be the man of the house while he waits to find out if his family is okay.  In many ways, Kyle learns that he is much stronger than he ever would have given himself credit for prior to 9/11. Kyle’s uncle is partially paralyzed from a recent accident and can do very little for himself. Showing  maturity beyond his years, Kyle takes over the responsibility of getting his uncle out of bed and to the bathroom and assists him in there as needed, then helps to get him dressed and fed and otherwise cared for.

In addition to taking over the primary caregiver role at home, Kyle also befriends the young lady he brought into his home in the aftermath of the terrorist attack.  She can remember nothing about herself aside from bits and pieces of broken memories – ballet movements, swimming in the ocean, brief flashes of her parents, all of these interspersed with horrid images that she witnessed the morning of 9/11.  Kyle doesn’t want to just send her back out on the streets but also hates the idea of just dumping her at a hospital or at a police station in hopes that someone claims her.  So he makes the decision to allow her to stay with him. In some ways I think he does it as much for himself as he does for her. Trying to help her remember who she is gives him something to focus on and helps him stay fairly grounded, considering all that is going on just outside their door.  In the short time they are together, Kyle and the girl grow quite close – close enough that Kyle considers the possibility that he’s falling in love with her.  I think it’s more the need to make some kind of a human connection – something life affirming in the face of all of the lives that were lost that day, but whatever it was for them, the bond between them was quite touching and I think it served to help them get through those first few terrifying days after the tragedy as they waited and hoped to be reunited with their loved ones.

The Memory of Things is truly one of the most beautiful and moving stories I’ve read so far this year and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone. Since it’s a young adult novel, I would also especially recommend it to those who are not old enough to have witnessed the events of 9/11 themselves.

Rating:  4.5 stars

 

 

 

four-half-stars

About Gae Polisner

Gae in her own words:

I write both women’s and young adult fiction.  When I’m not writing, I’m swimming, hanging with my kids, or cooking and cleaning. Okay, fine, I’m probably not cleaning.

I have written since I was little, mostly poems and short stories through college. Then, I went to law school and, for over a decade, replaced all that creative writing with legal briefs. But after my sons were born, I decided to return to my first love.

In 1995, I set out to write a book, not knowing if I actually could. I have completed at least five full manuscripts since then.

I like to think my novels are accessible, lyrical (somewhat literary) fiction – and, my young adult stories, an homage to the character-driven fiction I loved so much as a child and teen (anything by E.L. Konigsburg, Paul Zindel, Madeleine L’Engle, or Judy Blume…). The Pull of Gravity has a special “secret” nod to the first novel I couldn’t put down – Don’t Take Teddy, by Babbis Friis-Baastad. To this day, I remember the feeling of frantically turning pages to find out if the brothers would be okay. If any of you ever read that book, please send me an email, and we can be instant BFF’s.

My first piece of women’s fiction, The Jetty, was a Top Semifinalist in the 2008 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. My second piece, Swim Back to Me, will be revised one day soon and hopefully see the light of day. In the meantime, my next YA novel is coming soon from Algonquin, and I have several more teen novels in the works. So, please check back here often for updates.

I live and write on Long Island with my two amazing boys, my handsome, smart husband who sings, and two very “enthusiastic” cockatiels, Taha and Bobo. When I’m not writing, I’m still a practicing family law attorney/mediator, and when I’m not doing that, I’m swimming in my pool or, better yet, the open water off of Long Island.