Book Review: A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

Book Review:  A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara BarnardA Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard
four-half-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on January 9th 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 400
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:

I know we’re only halfway through January, but I have a strong feeling that Sara Barnard’s A Quiet Kind of Thunder has already secured itself a place on my Best of 2018 list.  It’s one of the most gorgeous contemporary stories I’ve read in a long time and I don’t know that I’ve ever related to a main character more than I related to Steffi Brons.

Steffi is a high school student who was diagnosed with selective mutism as a young child and who has lived with social anxiety and chronic shyness all her life.  What this means for Steffi is that, for most of her life, it has been nearly impossible for her to effectively communicate verbally with pretty much anyone outside of her immediate family.  And because there were even times when she had trouble verbally communicating with her family, she and every member of her family learned how to use sign language as a workaround.

About the only non-family member Steffi is able to easily communicate with is her best friend, Tem.  Steffi and Tem have known each other since they were toddlers, and in many ways, Tem has acted as somewhat of an interpreter in social settings such as school over the years when Steffi has just not been able to get the words out on her own.  Up until this year, that is.  Tem ends up transferring to a new school, and Steffi is on her own.  With the help of her therapist, however, Steffi begins taking some new medication and also starts making plans to slowly but surely challenge herself to better cope with her anxiety and shyness.

Enter Rhys Gold, the new boy in school.  Rhys is deaf and has transferred to Steffi’s school, and since Steffi is the only student at the school who knows sign language, their teachers decide it would be a great idea to pair them up so that Steffi can help Rhys get acclimated to his new environment.  Because Rhys can’t hear, it doesn’t matter to him that Steffi usually cannot speak.  They find plenty of other ways to communicate that don’t involve speaking and form a fast friendship that quickly turns into something more.

With so many changes going on in her life, Steffi starts to have a lot of questions:  Can she ever overcome her anxiety and go out and live a normal life? Can she go off to college and live away from her parents?  If there’s an emergency, would she be able to cope with her crippling shyness enough to get help?  And then there are the matters of the heart – is she really falling for Rhys or does she think she is because the relationship is easy because no speaking is necessary?  And finally, after all of these years of living this way, if Steffi is able to overcome her anxiety, will she even know who she is anymore?  Will she recognize herself?

This is one of those books where there’s so much to love.  It has wonderfully-drawn, realistic main characters in both Steffi and Rhys.  I fell in love with both of them immediately – Steffi, because I could relate to her crippling shyness and social anxiety as those are issues I’ve dealt with all my life as well, and Rhys, because he’s charming and friendly, and I loved that he left his deaf school because he wanted to challenge himself in an environment where everyone around him was not hearing-impaired.

I especially related to Steffi because of her determination to challenge herself a little at a time to better cope with her anxiety. I remember doing similar things when I was in school, challenging myself to raise my hand and answer questions in class, etc.  Watching Steffi in many ways was like reliving many of my own school experiences so of course I was cheering her on every step of the way.   I don’t think I’ve ever seen myself in a character as much as I see myself in Steffi.

In addition to having these two amazing main characters, I also loved the focus on friendships and family that Barnard presents in A Quiet Kind of Thunder.  I absolutely adored the friendship between Steffi and Tem.  Tem is a fabulously well-developed character in her own right, but what I loved most about her was that she just “gets” Steffi. She accepts her exactly the way she is and supports her in every way that she can.  I loved how realistic the friendship felt, especially when it came to some of their heart-to-heart conversations.  Their conversations are honest and intimate and were conversations that I could totally imagine myself having with my best friend when I was that age.

The family support that we see in A Quiet Kind of Thunder is wonderful too. So many times we see parents that are oblivious to what is going on in their teen’s lives or they are unsupportive.  Thankfully, not in this case.  Yes, Steffi’s parents are of course concerned about her and are apprehensive about the idea that someday she will move out and go away to college.  They’ve known her all her life and have seen firsthand just how crippling the anxiety has been for Steffi.  But, that said, they have also done everything parents can possibly do to get her, not only the professional help that she needs to cope with it, but also the support at home.  And we see the same kind of support at Rhys’ house, with his parents being on board with the idea of him challenging himself at a mainstream high school, etc.  It just made for a nice reading experience to actually like all of the parents that were in the story for a change.

I could probably write for days about everything I loved about this book, but I’ll wrap up by talking a little about the diversity and the portrayal of mental illnesses and disabilities.  One of Barnard’s main characters has selective mutism and severe anxiety, while the other is hearing impaired and also happens to be bi-racial.  Tem is a POC as well.  I thought Barnard did a beautiful job of writing a book with a diverse cast of characters without making it feel like she was just checking off boxes.

I also thought she handled the selective mutism, the social anxiety, and the deafness in a well-informed and respectful way.  I felt like I learned a lot about all of them, and I loved the book’s positive message that even with any of these conditions, you can still live a productive and meaningful life, and not only that, but yes, you can find love.

Speaking of love, I’ll admit I got a little worried that the book’s message would be that having a boyfriend is somehow a magic cure-all for anxiety.  Thankfully, A Quiet Kind of Thunder does nearly the opposite.  Steffi clearly acknowledges throughout the story that she is probably doing as well as she is with her anxiety because of the new meds.  There never comes a time when she attributes it to having a love life.  So no worries at all on that front.

When I first started reading, I thought I was going to have an issue with the romance between Rhys and Steffi because it definitely had an insta-love feel to it at first. I was able to get past that, however, because Barnard takes the time to have her characters explore the same questions I was asking about how they really do feel about each other:  Do they like each other because they really feel like they have a connection or do they like each other because it’s convenient?  Is Rhys only hanging out with Steffi because she’s the only one at the school who knows sign language?  And is Steffi hanging out with Rhys because she can use sign language rather than actually having to speak?  As soon as Steffi and Rhys started thinking about their own connection in these terms and started working through their own doubts, I was much more comfortable with their relationship moving forward since it added an extra layer of depth to all of the initial fluffiness.

If you’re looking for a beautifully written coming of age story that also includes a little romance in addition to tackling more serious issues like mental health, I’d highly recommend A Quiet Kind of Thunder.  It’s an engaging and moving read that is sure to put a smile on your face.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A girl who can’t speak and a boy who can’t hear go on a journey of self-discovery and find support with each other in this gripping, emotionally resonant novel from bestselling author Sara Barnard. Perfect for fans of Morgan Matson and Jandy Nelson.

Steffi doesn’t talk, but she has so much to say.

Rhys can’t hear, but he can listen.

Steffi has been a selective mute for most of her life. The condition’s name has always felt ironic to her, because she certainly does not “select” not to speak. In fact, she would give anything to be able to speak as easily and often as everyone around her can. She suffers from crippling anxiety, and uncontrollably, in most situations simply can’t open her mouth to get out the words.

Steffi’s been silent for so long that she feels completely invisible. But Rhys, the new boy at school, sees her. He’s deaf, and her knowledge of basic sign language means that she’s assigned to help him acclimate. To Rhys, it doesn’t matter that Steffi doesn’t talk. As they find ways to communicate, Steffi discovers that she does have a voice, and that she’s falling in love with the one person who makes her feel brave enough to use it. But as she starts to overcome a lifelong challenge, she’ll soon confront questions about the nature of her own identity and the very essence of what it is to know another person.

four-half-stars

About Sara Barnard

Sara lives in Brighton and does all her best writing on trains. She loves books, book people and book things. She has been writing ever since she was too small to reach the “on” switch on the family Amstrad computer. She gets her love of words from her dad, who made sure she always had books to read and introduced her to the wonders of secondhand book shops at a young age.

Sara is trying to visit every country in Europe, and has managed to reach 13 with her best friend. She has also lived in Canada and worked in India.

Sara is inspired by what-ifs and people. She thinks sad books are good for the soul and happy books lift the heart. She hopes to write lots of books that do both. BEAUTIFUL BROKEN THINGS is her first book and a dream come true.

Email: info@sarabarnardofficial.com

For promotional enquiries, please contact: Rogers, Coleridge and White

Book Review: The Immortalists

Book Review:  The ImmortalistsThe Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
three-stars
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons on January 9th 2018
Genres: Fiction
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:

Based on all of the 4 and 5 star ratings I’m seeing on Goodreads for this book, I think I’m going to be the “unpopular opinion” when it comes to Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists.  Let me start off by saying I didn’t hate it – it was a solid read for me and I was able to finish it in just a few days.  It just didn’t wow me like I thought it would based on the synopsis, which hooked me as soon as I read it.

The Immortalists begins its journey in New York, the Lower East Side, in 1969.  The story follows the Gold siblings – teenagers Simon, Klara, Daniel, and Varya – as they set out to meet a traveling fortune teller. Rumor has it that this fortune teller has the ability to predict the exact day a person will die, and the Golds can’t resist going to see her to hear what she has to say about each of them.

Armed with this information – if the fortune teller is to be believed – the Gold siblings begin to make their way in the world.  They choose not to share their dates with one another, although the youngest, Simon, hints that the fortune teller has said he will die young.  The novel then follows the siblings, one by one, over the next five decades, from the moment they each know their date of death until that date actually arrives so that we can see how (or if) knowing that information has any impact on choices they make in life.

 

My favorite part of The Immortalists is its central question: “Would you live your life any differently if you knew the exact date you would die?” This was the question in the synopsis that initially hooked me.  It’s just one of those questions that immediately makes you reflect on your own life and mortality.  As soon as I began following these siblings and seeing some of the choices they were making, it really made me think about what I would do if I was armed with the same knowledge they were.  Would I do anything differently? Pursue my dreams more aggressively, take more risks, etc.  The thought provoking aspect of this book was its biggest asset for me.  I could see this being a fantastic book club choice because of the discussion it naturally lends itself to.

I also enjoyed the way the story was presented.  In many ways it could be considered an extensive epic history of the Gold family. At the same time, however, because of the way we follow each sibling one at a time, it manages to be an intimate exploration of their individual personal lives as well.  I liked that combination.

 

I think my biggest issue with The Immortalists was with the characters themselves.  I just didn’t feel like I really connected with any of them.  Even though I was getting an in-depth look at each of their lives, I still somehow felt like an outsider just observing them, almost as if they were a psychology experiment.  I’m the kind of reader that really wants to connect with and relate to the characters in a book, so this just made it a little difficult for me to feel completely invested in their lives.

A second issue I had was with the predictability of Simon’s storyline.  As I mentioned, he hints that he will die young.  He chooses to quit school and move across the country to San Francisco. I don’t want to give away too many details so I’ll just say that we learn he is gay and looking for love.  Since much of his story takes place in the early 1980s, based on some rather reckless choices he makes, it became instantly clear to me what was going to happen to him if the fortune teller’s prediction turned out to be true.  It was still sad to read, but the predictability took some of the emotional punch out of it for me.  Thankfully, the other three siblings had less predictable storylines, but this one was definitely an easy guess for me.

A final issue I had was with the story of Varya, primarily because it features some pretty horrifying animal experimentation that I wish I hadn’t read about.  I found it so disturbing that it made it hard to make it to the end of the book.  There is an author’s note at the end to address the experimentation, which I was very grateful for, but it was just still so jarring to read about.

 

While I wish The Immortalists has been a better read for me, it still has a lot of good points and I’m sure plenty of others will love it.  Even with the issues I had with it, I was still pleased that it was such a thought-provoking read overall.  I predict that it will become a book club favorite this year!

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

If you were told the date of your death, how would it shape your present?

It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

Their prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11, hoping to control fate; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

three-stars

About Chloe Benjamin

Chloe Benjamin is an author from San Francisco, CA. Her first novel, The Anatomy of Dreams (Atria/Simon & Schuster, 2014), received the Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award and was long listed for the 2014 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. Her second novel, The Immortalists, is forthcoming from Putnam/Penguin Random House in January 2018. The Immortalists will be published in over thirteen countries, and TV/film rights have sold to the Jackal Group.

A graduate of Vassar College and of the M.F.A. in fiction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Chloe also teaches workshops on the business of publishing, from writing a novel to finding a literary agent. She lives with her husband in Madison, WI.

Book Review & Giveaway: Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke

Book Review & Giveaway:  Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne OelkeNice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke
four-stars
Published by Clarion Books on January 9th 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 432
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.

 

 

*

8

 

MY REVIEW:

If you’re looking for a fun and fresh read to start the new year off right, I’d like to highly recommend Lianne Oelke’s Nice Try, Jane SinnerNice Try, Jane Sinner follows the life of main character, Jane Sinner, a 17 year old who has just gone through a personal crisis, a crisis that has actually led to her being expelled from high school just shy of her graduation.

 

 

When the novel opens, Jane is at a loss.  Her friends are in their senior year of high school and getting ready to graduate and go to college, while Jane is on the sidelines.  Her friends keep trying to include her in school activities, but it just leads to endless awkward moments because everyone now only thinks of her as the girl from ‘the Incident.’  Jane is desperate to reinvent herself so when her parents push her enroll in a high school completion program at the nearby Elbow River Community College, Jane agrees – on one condition.  The only way she will attend the program is if her parents agree to let her move out on her own.  Jane’s parents aren’t totally excited about the idea but desperate to help her get back on her feet again, they agree.

Jane secures housing for herself by signing up to participate in House of Orange, which is a student-run reality TV show that is basically Big Brother, but for Elbow River Students.  At first, House of Orange is just a means to an end  — i.e. the rent is cheap.  But as the competition gets under way and the show’s audience grows, Jane’s competitive nature kicks in and she begins to see House of Orange as a way to reinvent herself.  She can be a winner and prove to herself (and of course everyone else) that she is not just the girl from ‘the Incident.’

 

The main character Jane Sinner was, by far, my favorite part of this novel.  Jane drew me in right away with her hilarious brand of dry humor.  It especially cracked me up the way she drove her dad crazy by intentionally using common idioms improperly:  “You’re meowing up the wrong tree,” “I’m trying to turn over a new silver lining,” etc.  I could practically feel his eyes roll every time she did it, and it made me laugh out loud several times as I was reading, as did the full blown psychotherapy sessions she conducted in her head throughout the story.  Jane is a funny girl, no doubt about it!

What appealed to me most about Jane though was that underneath of all that humor, she has a lot going on.  She’s a complex and very realistically drawn character and it turns out that a lot of her humor is actually a coping mechanism that she uses to deal with some pretty major issues that she is going through, including depression.  Yes, in addition to being a hilarious and entertaining book about living in a Big Brother-style reality TV house, Nice Try, Jane Sinner also delves into some more serious and important topics, such as mental health.  To that end, even more so than her humor, I came to admire Jane’s spunk and her determination to reinvent herself and make the most of the second chance she has been given.   That’s not to say that she is perfect either.  She is most definitely a flawed character who makes plenty of mistakes along the way, but that just adds to her overall appeal because who doesn’t make mistakes?

Aside from Jane herself, I also really enjoyed the college setting.  It doesn’t seem like there are many books out there that really capture college life and all that it entails.  (I’m sure there are others, but Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl is the only one that comes to mind at the moment).  I love books that focus on this time in a young adult’s life because I think it’s something we can all relate to – that defining moment when we’re turning 18 and starting out on our own, trying to define ourselves independently, and out from under our parents’ rules, etc. I know, for me, that was a messy time so it definitely made sense to me why Jane wanted to be out on her own, no matter what she had to do to make it happen.

 

I’m not even going to call these dislikes, more like just a couple of places that gave me pause as I was reading.

Journal Format:  Overall, I think the journal format is fabulous in that it is unique and because with the way the dialogue is presented, in a script-like format, it makes for a quick-paced read.  I also loved being in Jane’s head and seeing all of her innermost thoughts.  I found it a very effective way to present this kind of story.  That said, however, and this is just probably a nitpick/personal quirk with me, but I’m always a little confused when I see entire conversations recounted in what is supposed to be a journal.  Do people who keep journals actually jot down conversations?  I didn’t dwell on it too much and ultimately decided “It’s Jane’s journal. She can write whatever the heck she wants to in it” but I’ll admit thinking about that did distract me a little as I was reading.

Secondary Characters:  Again, this is just me because I always enjoy getting to know secondary characters almost as much as I enjoy following the main character, but I definitely would have liked to learn a little more about some of the other students Jane interacted with throughout the novel.  We barely scratched the surface when it came to Jane’s housemates and Alexander Park, the student who is the mastermind behind the whole House of Orange project.  The few details we got were great, but they left me wanting to know more.

 

I went into Nice Try, Jane Sinner expecting a fluffy and entertaining read about trying to attend college while simultaneously taking part in a reality TV series.  The reality (no pun intended) is that I got so much more than that.  Yes, it is an often hilarious read filled with reality TV-style pranks and shenanigans, but, more importantly, it is a moving read because of its focus on Jane’s mental health and second chances.  Nice Try, Jane Sinner shows readers that although the road to recovery is often difficult, it is definitely possible.

 

 

Thanks to Netgalley, Clarion Books, and of course, Lianne Oelke for allowing me to read and review this book on my blog in exchange for an honest review.  This in no way impacts my review.

 

SYNOPSIS

The only thing 17-year-old Jane Sinner hates more than failure is pity. After a personal crisis and her subsequent expulsion from high school, she’s going nowhere fast. Jane’s well-meaning parents push her to attend a high school completion program at the nearby Elbow River Community College, and she agrees, on one condition: she gets to move out.

Jane tackles her housing problem by signing up for House of Orange, a student-run reality show that is basically Big Brother, but for Elbow River Students. Living away from home, the chance to win a car (used, but whatever), and a campus full of people who don’t know what she did in high school… what more could she want? Okay, maybe a family that understands why she’d rather turn to Freud than Jesus to make sense of her life, but she’ll settle for fifteen minutes in the proverbial spotlight.

As House of Orange grows from a low-budget web series to a local TV show with fans and shoddy T-shirts, Jane finally has the chance to let her cynical, competitive nature thrive. She’ll use her growing fan base, and whatever Intro to Psychology can teach her, to prove to the world—or at least viewers of substandard TV—that she has what it takes to win.

 

Formats: Hardcover, eBook

Find it: GoodreadsAmazonB&NiBooksTBD

 

Giveaway Details:

3 winners will receive a finished copy of NICE TRY JANE SINNER, US Only.

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 Tour Schedule:

 

Week One:

1/1/2018- Emily Reads Everything– Spotlight

1/2/2018- The Hermit Librarian– Review

1/3/2018- A Dream Within A Dream– Excerpt

1/4/2018- The Bookish Libra– Review

1/5/2018- Tales of the Ravenous Reader– Interview

Week Two:

1/8/2018- The Book Nut– Review

1/9/2018- Margie’s Must Reads– Guest Post

1/10/2018- Book-Keeping– Review

1/11/2018- BookHounds YA– Interview

1/12/2018- JustAddaWord– Review

 

four-stars

About Lianne Oelke

Lianne lives in Vancouver, BC. A mere three years of working in the film industry has left her far more jaded, bitter, and misanthropic than she could have dreamed possible. Having worked on one too many made-for-TV movies featuring the mild romantic antics of generically attractive white people, she’s taken it upon herself to push back with some pretty substandard stories of her own.

Besides books, her three great passions in life are cats, craft beer, and camping. When she’s not working, Lianne likes to take off, eh in her ‘83 camper van. She maintains a steady hate/ love relationship with hiking, but is always up for exploring British Columbia- whatever it takes to find a nice spot to set up her hammock. Her hammock is her favorite place in the world.

Book Review: Winter Solstice by Elin Hilderbrand

Book Review:  Winter Solstice by Elin HilderbrandWinter Solstice by Elin Hilderbrand
three-half-stars
Series: Winter #4
on October 3rd 2017
Genres: Fiction, Holiday
Pages: 262
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:

Set primarily on the charming island of Nantucket, Elin Hilderbrand’s Winter series follows the ups and downs of the Quinn family over the course of about four years.  At the heart of this series is a strong focus on the importance of love, family, friendship, and loyalty, but there is also a healthy dose of drama so as to keep things from getting too saccharin-sweet.  I binge-read this series this year as part of a holiday readathon and fell in love with the Quinn family right away.  Everyone in the family is just so endearing and I became invested in all of them from the very first book in the series.

Winter Solstice is the fourth and final installment of the series, so much of this book is about saying goodbye to this family that readers have grown to love over the course of the previous books.  The Winter series was actually originally intended to be trilogy. I thought the third book left too many things unresolved, however, so I was thrilled to find out a fourth book had been added to the series.  I can’t say that I was ready to say goodbye to the Quinns yet, but I think Winter Solstice gives them the sendoff they deserve and gives fans proper closure.

 

What makes this series such a good read for me is how realistic it is when it comes to the Quinn family and the trials and tribulations that they go through.  I don’t want to go into too much detail since it would spoil the earlier books to do so, but what they go through is the same kind of drama that most families go through — the family drama, complicated relationships, cheating, addiction, financial difficulties, the emotional turmoil when a child in the military is deployed and sent thousands of miles from home, and so much more.  Of course some of the Quinn’s drama is ratcheted up Desperate Housewives-style for the added entertainment value, but overall, those ups and downs are very relatable for many readers and so it’s easy to become invested in what they’re going through and to feel tremendous sympathy for them.

In addition to the realistic domestic drama that we get throughout the series, I also loved the characters Hilderbrand created.  Even when they are at their worst and doing things that I want to scream at them for doing, I still couldn’t help but love the Quinns.  I’m a sucker for a well-drawn, flawed, utterly human character and that description fits all of the Quinns to a T.  I especially loved Kelley, the family patriarch.  He’s such a good man and his love for his family just shines through in every book of the series.  That’s not to say he doesn’t make his fair share of mistakes along the way, but I still just adored him. I found it harder to say goodbye to him than to any of the other characters so, in that sense, Winter Solstice was somewhat bittersweet for me.

Another highlight of the series, and especially of Winter Solstice, was watching the journeys of the four Quinn siblings as they navigate their way through the messy world of adulthood.  Many mistakes are made along the way, but if there is an overriding theme in Winter Solstice, I’d say it’s about second chances (or even third and fourth chances) – the idea that no matter how many times you mess up or how badly, you can still recover and move forward.

The setting of the novel is, of course, a huge highlight and also what gives the series its holiday charm.  It’s set in Nantucket and the charming Winter Street Inn during the Christmas holiday season. It immediately made me think of snow and snuggling up in front of the fireplace.  It doesn’t get much more atmospheric than that!

 

Even though I really enjoyed Winter Solstice overall, I still had a couple of issues with it.  One was that sometimes it just seemed like too much was going on.  Since the book was primarily about saying goodbye to the Quinns, I would have liked the book to focus solely on the Quinns and knowing that each of them was going to live happily ever after, so to speak.  There seemed to be a few random subplots running through this novel that distracted a bit from that.

The addition of new character ‘Fast Eddie’ was the biggest distraction.  While Eddie served somewhat of a purpose in Winter Solstice, I didn’t feel like he was important enough to the overall plot to have entire chapters devoted to his messy love life and his real estate endeavors.  In my mind, he was a secondary character and I didn’t care about him aside from what he could do to help the Quinns when they needed his real estate knowledge.  I think the series would have closed much stronger with Eddie’s presence minimized.  Eddie’s huge presence in Winter Solstice was especially frustrating because we actually didn’t have much of a storyline for Kevin Quinn and his wife, Isabelle.  Yes, of all of the Quinn siblings, they were probably the closest to having their act together by the fourth book, but I still would have liked more of them.

 

Even though I had some issues with it, Winter Solstice still provides a satisfying ending to the Winter series. Even though I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the Quinns, I’m quite content with the path Hilderbrand has set them on.  If you’re looking for a heart-warming holiday-themed series that focuses on love and family, but that also has plenty of dramatic flair, the Winter series is a good bet.

Thanks so much to Netgalley, Elin HIlderbrand, and Little, Brown and Company for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  This in no way shapes my opinion of the book.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Raise one last glass with the Quinn Family at the Winter Street Inn.

It’s been too long since the entire Quinn family has been able to celebrate the holidays under the same roof, but that’s about to change. With Bart back safe and sound from Afghanistan, the Quinns are preparing for a holiday more joyous than any they’ve experienced in years. And Bart’s safe return isn’t the family’s only good news: Kevin is enjoying married life with Isabelle; Patrick is getting back on his feet after paying his debt to society; Ava thinks she’s finally found the love of her life; and Kelly is thrilled to see his family reunited at last. But it just wouldn’t be a Quinn family gathering if things went smoothly. A celebration of everything we love–and some of the things we endure–about the holidays, WINTER SOLSTICE is Elin Hilderbrand at her festive best.

three-half-stars

About Elin Hilderbrand

Elin Hilderbrand lives on Nantucket with her husband and their three young children. She grew up in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, and traveled extensively before settling on Nantucket, which has been the setting for her five previous novels. Hilderbrand is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University and the graduate fiction workshop at the University of Iowa.

Book Review: The Wife Between Us

Book Review:  The Wife Between UsThe Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks, Sarah Pekkanen
Published by St. Martin's Press on January 9th 2018
Genres: Thriller, 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.

 

 

 

*

8

 

MY REVIEW:

Okay, so I have to admit I was a little nervous when I started seeing my fellow reviewers compare The Wife Between Us to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.  Even though I loved Gone Girl, not many of the novels that have been compared to it since its rise to popularity have lived up to the hype.  And boy have there been a lot of them.  I’m thrilled to say that not only does The Wife Between Us live up to the comparison, but I enjoyed The Wife Between Us even more than I enjoyed Gone Girl.  I think we’re looking at what is going to be one of the must-read books of 2018.  I also recently read that there is already a deal in place to make it into a film and I’m really excited about that.

 

 

I know this is the part of my review where I would typically describe the book without giving away spoilers.  In the case of The Wife Between Us, however, I can’t really do that.  To write any kind of description of even the basic plot points and characters would just spoil it. So all I’m going to say is just know based on those Gone Girl comparisons that you’re diving into an addictive psychological thriller filled with twists and turns and complex characters, and that there are also questions regarding narrator reliability.  Most importantly, as the synopsis indicates, assume nothing!

My favorite part of The Wife Between Us is that it really did keep me guessing from beginning to end.  I read the synopsis, which told me to ‘assume nothing’ because everything I assumed would be wrong. And then I proceeded to jump right in and start making assumptions anyway.  The book just lends itself to that and no matter how hard I tried to keep an open mind, I continued to make snap judgments about characters and situations, and yes, as the synopsis warned, I was dead wrong every time.  And that may sound like it should have been a frustrating reading experience, but I LOVED every page of it.  Nothing about the story was predictable and that was just fabulous and refreshing.

There is one plot twist about halfway through that was such a shock to me that it made my head spin.  I actually had to backtrack a few pages to make sure I had read what I thought I had read.  It was truly mind blowing!

The characters in The Wife Between Us are also so well drawn.  They’re complex, flawed, and utterly human, and unlike in many of the Gone Girl-style books, they are actually quite sympathetic in spite of the unreliable narrator issue.  I won’t go so far as to say that I liked any of them, but I did feel tremendous sympathy for what at least one of them was going through.

The book also weeds into some dark territory as we navigate the various plot twists — mental illness, addiction, abuse, jealousy, the struggle to let go and move on after a failed relationship, etc.  All of this dark subject matter weaves together seamlessly into an enthralling tale that you won’t be able to walk away from until you know the whole truth behind ‘the wife between us.’

The only thing that kept this from being a 5 star read for me was that the pacing felt a little inconsistent before that huge plot twist vs. after it.  There wasn’t a huge difference but just enough that it was noticeable in terms of how quickly I moved through each half of the book.

I also can’t say that I was 100% satisfied with the book’s resolution either. I liked it for the most part, but I’ll be curious to see if that is tweaked at all when it is made into a film.

 

The Wife Between Us is a mesmerizing thrill ride that will keep you guessing from beginning to end.  I would definitely say to go into it knowing as little as possible for the most suspenseful reading experience possible.  As the synopsis says, ‘Assume Nothing.’

 

Thanks to Netgalley, St. Martin’s Press, and of course, authors Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen for allowing me to read and review this book on my blog in exchange for an honest review.  This in no way impacts my review.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

A novel of suspense that explores the complexities of marriage and the dangerous truths we ignore in the name of love.

When you read this book, you will make many assumptions.

You will assume you are reading about a jealous wife and her obsession with her replacement.
You will assume you are reading about a woman about to enter a new marriage with the man she loves.
You will assume the first wife was a disaster and that the husband was well rid of her.
You will assume you know the motives, the history, the anatomy of the relationships.
Assume nothing.

Discover the next blockbuster novel of suspense, and get ready for the read of your life.

About Greer Hendricks

GREER HENDRICKS spent over two decades as an editor at Simon & Schuster. Prior to her tenure in publishing, she worked at Allure Magazine and obtained her Master’s in Journalism from Columbia University. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times and Publishers Weekly. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and two children, The Wife Between Us is her first novel.

Follow Greer Hendricks on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

About Sarah Pekkanen

Internationally bestselling author Sarah Pekkanen’s newest book is THE PERFECT NEIGHBORS. She is also the co-author of the upcoming THE WIFE BETWEEN US (out in January 2018).

Her prior novels are: THINGS YOU WON’T SAY, CATCHING AIR, THE BEST OF US, THE OPPOSITE OF ME, SKIPPING A BEAT, and THESE GIRLS.

Sarah’s linked free short estories, published by Simon&Schuster exclusively for ereaders, are titled “All is Bright,” and “Love, Accidentally.”

Sarah is the mother of three young boys, which explains why she writes part of her novels at Chuck E. Cheese. Sarah penned her first book, Miscellaneous Tales and Poems, at the age of 10. When publishers failed to jump upon this literary masterpiece (hey, all the poems rhymed!) Sarah followed up by sending them a sternly-worded letter on Raggedy Ann stationery. Sarah still has that letter, and carries it to New York every time she has meetings with her publisher, as a reminder that dreams do come true.

Her website is www.sarahpekkanen.com and please find her on Facebook Instagram and Twitter @sarahpekkanen!

Book Review: Depth of Lies by E.C. Diskin

Book Review:  Depth of Lies by E.C. DiskinDepth of Lies by E.C. Diskin
four-stars
Published by Thomas & Mercer on September 26th 2017
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 288
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:

E.C. Diskin’s Depth of Lies is a gripping, fast-paced thriller that will not only keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time you’re reading, but it will also make you question how much you really know about the people that you consider yourself closest to.

The story opens with a mysterious death.  Shea Walker, a happy, easy going mom, who is beloved by all around her, is found dead in a bathtub at a B&B.  An empty pill bottle is found in her room so everyone believes that she has unexpectedly ended her own life.  All of Shea’s friends are of course distraught because they have lost their friend and because they simply cannot fathom how Shea could have possibly killed herself without any of them realizing she was at such a low point in her life.

One of Shea’s oldest and closest friends, Kat Burrows, takes it a step further.  She absolutely refuses to believe that Shea killed herself and suspects foul play.  She decides to do a little amateur sleuthing on her own, along with their mutual friend Tori.  Kat is also wracked with guilt because on the night she died, Shea had tried to call Kat but Kat chose not to answer the phone.

Once Kat starts digging, she begins to uncover lie after lie, and seemingly endless secrets and betrayals.  More and more details emerge that make Kat realize she didn’t know Shea nearly as well as she thought she did.  Nor did she really know anyone in their circle of friends, for that matter.  What she finds not only makes her question the truth about what happened to Shea that night, but it also makes her take a hard look at everyone around her.

The aptly named Depth of Lies explores the questions of not only what really happened to Shea Walker but also the thought provoking question of ‘Do we ever really know everything about anyone?’

 

I thought the author very effectively used the structure of the novel to unravel the mystery of what happened to Shea.  The story is presented to the reader in alternating chapters from the point of view of both Shea and Kat.  We get to follow the last few months of Shea’s life and see what is really going on with her, while at the same time, we follow Kat as she is investigating Shea’s death.  The two storylines parallel each other until they ultimately merge into one as both Kat and the reader learn the truth about Shea’s death.

I also thought the pacing was fantastic.  I got hooked immediately and with each clue Kat and her friend uncovered, the suspense just kept building and building.  I also liked the added tension of having Kat’s spouse as well as all of her friends start to get agitated because she keeps asking so many questions and won’t let anything go.  Wanting to know if any of them were hiding anything made the story that much more compelling for me and I devoured the novel in less than two days because I just had to know the truth.

Not only is Depth of Lies a well-crafted mystery that will keep you on the edge of your seat, but it also does a wonderfully realistic job of portraying the different relationships between the characters.  We get to see all of the lingering guilt between the friends because they feel like they weren’t there for Shea, but then on top of it, the more the friends talk after her death, the more we start to see little bits of resentment and anger toward Shea come to the surface.  They might be mourning her loss, but a few of them clearly have emotional baggage when it comes to the impact Shea had on their lives.

I also found the relationships realistic in terms of the novel’s central question of how well we really know someone.  I found this idea especially believable and relatable.  Don’t we all tend to keep certain things to ourselves?  I know as much as I love my friends and family, I still don’t tell them everything.  I think it’s normal to keep secrets, especially if those secrets are things that could be really embarrassing if they were to become known.  This aspect of the novel left me with a lot to think about in terms of my own little secrets and in terms of what my friends and loved ones might be keeping from me.

 

The only real issue I had with Depth of Lies was that I would have liked to have felt more connected to the main characters.  I was glued to the book to find out the truth about Shea and whether or not Kat would alienate her entire friend group because she just wouldn’t let it go, but otherwise, I didn’t really feel all that attached to any of the characters.  I usually like to feel some kind of connection to at least one character but instead I just felt like an outsider observing the lives of these women and their spouses.  It definitely didn’t impede my enjoyment of the story, which I thought was fantastic, but I think that’s what makes it a 4 star instead of a 5 star read for me.

 

If you’re looking for a fast-paced thriller that will keep you guessing until the end, I’d definitely recommend Depth of Lies.  I enjoyed it so much that I can’t wait to read more from E.C. Diskin.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

When Shea Walker, a sunny, easygoing mom, is found dead in a bathtub with a stomach full of booze and pills, the shocking discovery shatters the complacency of her comfortable suburban community.

Kat Burrows, Shea’s longtime friend and former neighbor, is hit hardest. How could a woman she thought she knew so well come to such a sordid end? What could lead happy, well-adjusted, responsible Shea to accidentally overdose on alcohol and narcotics? Or, worse, drive her to suicide?

Compelled to uncover the truth of Shea’s final months, Kat delves beneath the orderly surface of her familiar world to discover a web of thwarted desire, shameful secrets, and shocking betrayal that suggests a scarier explanation for what happened to Shea. As her carefully constructed reality begins to crumble, Kat must question every reassuring assumption her life is built upon to solve the mystery…and summon the courage and resourcefulness to survive it.

four-stars

Review: THE GIRL IN THE TOWER by Katherine Arden

Review:  THE GIRL IN THE TOWER by Katherine ArdenThe Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden
Also by this author: The Bear and the Nightingale
five-stars
Series: The Winternight Trilogy #2
Published by Del Rey on December 5th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Pages: 352
Also in this series: The Bear and the Nightingale
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:

Katherine Arden’s The Winternight Trilogy is one of the most captivating series I’ve ever read.  I fell in love with the series last winter when I read the first book, The Bear and the Nightingale.  Filled with lush worldbuilding, a feisty heroine, fascinating Russian folklore, and a touch of the supernatural, The Bear and the Nightingale entranced me from the first pages and I just fell in love with everything about the story.  I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the second book, The Girl in the Tower, and was thrilled to be approved for an advanced copy to review on my blog.

I didn’t think it was possible to top the gorgeous storytelling in the first book, but Arden proved me wrong.  As much as I adored The Bear and the Nightingale, I thought The Girl in the Tower was even more amazing!  It has all of the same wonderful elements as the first book – the magic, the Russian folklore, beloved characters like Vasya, her horse Solovey, and the Frost Demon.  But then, there’s just also so much more to love.

In The Girl in the Tower, Vasya has really come into her own in terms of character growth.  She is still a free spirit who refuses to bow down and do what society expects young women to do, but now she is also more mature and a bit wiser because of what she went through in the first book.

The Girl in the Tower picks up right where The Bear and the Nightingale left off. Because of what happened to Vasya in the first book, there are rumors swirling around her village that she is a witch.  Faced with the choices before her – either marrying someone she doesn’t love or being sent to live in a convent —  Vasya decides to create her own destiny and runs away from home.  When the story opens, we meet Vasya traveling, disguised as a boy, with only her horse, Solovey, by her side.

The roads she travels on are rugged and unsafe, but Vasya’s journey ultimately takes her to Moscow where she is reunited with her monk brother, Sasha; her sister, Olga, who is now a princess; and her cousin Dmitrii, who is the Crown Prince of Moscow.  Desperately trying to conceal her true identity, Vasya gets caught up in a web of deception, lies, and political unrest and finds herself faced with extremely dangerous choices everywhere she turns.

How will she get out of her predicament and what will happen to her if her true identity is revealed?

As with the first book, the atmospheric quality of The Girl in the Tower was one of my favorite parts of the novel.  As soon as I began reading, I felt as though I had been transported to Vasya’s world.  Arden masterfully paints a medieval Russian landscape and skillfully dots this landscape with a fascinating mix of supernatural elements and Russian folklore.  Her descriptions are so vivid that I could practically hear the snow crunching under Solovey’s hooves as he and Vasya traversed the snowy landscape, just as I could easily envision the tiny magical spirit guardians hidden in each building Vasya entered.

Vasya is of course still a major favorite of mine.  I admire her bravery and her feistiness and the fact that she doesn’t want to be forced into marriage or into a convent.  She has no interest in society’s expectations for women and, instead, wants to be an adventurer and travel the world.  Vasya has a spirit that cannot be tamed, and I couldn’t help but cheer her on, even though I know it’s likely to be dangerous for her.

In addition to Vasya, another favorite character of mine is her stallion, Solovey.  Solovey and Vasya can communicate with each other, and some of their exchanges are truly hilarious.  I love Solovey for his loyalty, his sassiness, and for his fierceness.  You’ll want a Solovey of your very own after reading this story.  He’s the perfect companion for Vasya.

And, of course, I can’t leave out an unexpected favorite character, Morozko, the Frost Demon.  Arden adds layers and layers of complexity to Morozko in this second book and I just fell in love with him even more than I did in the first book.   The details of his history, along with his connection to Vasya, are what truly take this story to the next level, and even though I probably shouldn’t ship Vasya and Morozko, I totally do.  I just can’t get enough of the two of them together!

I also loved that this story seemed a little darker and a little more grounded in reality than the first story because of the focus on political unrest in Moscow. It added a layer of danger and intrigue that really made for an exciting and fast-paced read.

The only issue I had while reading this book was that it started out a little slow for me.  It may have been because it took a few pages to actually get to Vasya’s story, but I’m actually going to chalk it up as a personal issue because I was trying to start the book while riding on a train and was constantly distracted.  Once I got home and continued reading where there were less distractions, I devoured the rest of the book in less than 24 hours.

The Girl in the Tower is a tale that is beautiful yet dark, enchanting yet also horrifying. With its gorgeous prose, memorable characters, and intricate storytelling, it has also secured itself a spot on my Top Reads of 2017 list.  Katherine Arden has truly captivated me with this series and I can’t wait to get my hands on the final installment.  I highly recommend this series to anyone who loves a strong, feisty, independent heroine and good solid storytelling, as well as to anyone who is interested in Russian folklore.  You won’t be disappointed!

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingale continues as brave Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home—but soon finds herself called upon to help defend the city of Moscow when it comes under siege.

Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.

five-stars

About Katherine Arden

Born in Austin, Texas, Katherine Arden spent a year of high school in Rennes, France. Following her acceptance to Middlebury College in Vermont, she deferred enrollment for a year in order to live and study in Moscow. At Middlebury, she specialized in French and Russian literature. After receiving her BA, she moved to Maui, Hawaii, working every kind of odd job imaginable, from grant writing and making crêpes to guiding horse trips. Currently she lives in Vermont, but really, you never know.

Review: Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva

Review:  Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha SilvaMr. Dickens and His Carol: A Novel of Christmas Past by Samantha Silva
four-half-stars
Published by Flatiron Books on October 31st 2017
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 288
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:

Samantha Silva’s Mr. Dickens and His Carol is a charming, heartwarming tale that follows Charles Dickens at a difficult time in his life.  Dickens has been a hugely successful writer for years, with each book selling better than the last.  That is, until Martin Chuzzlewit, whose sales have unexpectedly flopped.  Three weeks before Christmas, Dickens’ publishers pay him a visit to tell him the bad news about his book sales and to issue him an ultimatum:  write a heartwarming, best-selling Christmas book in the next three weeks or else face financial ruin.

Needless to say, this does not put Dickens into the Christmas spirit, especially when on top of his bad news, he also has to contend with his family who is expecting the same lavish Christmas that they are used to.  Additionally, one of Dickens’ cousins is lurking about because he wants money for an investment, and Dickens’ deadbeat father is also milling around town racking up debts and expecting Charles to take care of them.

Dickens begins to feel backed into a corner and starts to lash out at those around him, eventually driving his wife and children away from their home.  At first, Dickens flat out refuses to write a novel on demand because it’s not his style, but ultimately realizes he has no choice and sits down to write.  There’s just one problem – he has no inspiration whatsoever and a huge case of writer’s block.  Growing increasingly frustrated, Dickens begins to wander aimlessly around the city of London and eventually finds himself on an Ebenezer Scrooge-like journey that ultimately becomes the inspiration for what ends up being his most beloved novel, A Christmas Carol.

There were so many things I loved about this book, but I think the Dickensian atmosphere was what I loved the most.  I truly felt like I had been transported back to Victorian London while I was reading.  Silva does a marvelous job of capturing all of the sights, sounds, and smells (both the good and the bad!) of the time period and the overall effect was just magical! It was instantly clear that Silva had done her homework, both with respect to Dickens himself and to the time period.

I also loved the way Silva brought Charles Dickens to life for her readers.  She portrays him as likable and charming, and yet so flawed and human at the same time.  His family means everything to him and he’s worried that he may not be able to take care of them because of his lagging book sales.   I really sympathized with what he was going through –everyone wanting something from him because of his success,  his wife telling him that he has changed and that she and the children are leaving until he gets himself sorted out, and then having to write a Christmas story on demand in order to keep from falling into financial ruin.  It’s a lot for anyone to have to deal with and Dickens also feels the tremendous pressure of up-and-coming writers such as Thackeray and begins to doubt that he can compete with them.  Dickens’ frustrations were palpable and so very understandable, as were his feelings of self-doubt.  The writer’s block that follows is something that all of us who write can relate to, and I thought it was brilliant that Silva uses all of these pressures she has piled onto Dickens’ shoulders to take him on a Scrooge-like journey of his own, which is what ultimately inspires his writing of A Christmas Carol.

I’m a huge fan of both Dickens and A Christmas Carol, so every time I was reading and happened across a shout out to either A Christmas Carol or one of Dickens’ other works, it made me smile.  I thought it was especially fun when he came across names he thought would make good character names and jotted them down, or on other occasions when he met someone he didn’t like and vowed to use them in his book to exact his revenge on them on paper.  I also chuckled to myself that Dickens would grumble “Humbug, bah!” when he was in a particularly foul humor and then ended up incorporating the now famous words into his tale, since he obviously modeled Ebenezer Scrooge after himself.  In this sense, I would think the book would be a lot of fun for Dickens fans.

Overall, this was such an enjoyable read for me, but I will mention that there were a few spots that were heavy in description, which slowed the pacing a bit.  Thankfully though, the lulls were brief and the action picked back up pretty quickly.

Mr. Dickens and His Carol is a charming, heartwarming tale that is perfect for fans of Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, or even just Christmas itself.  I personally think it would make a lovely Christmas gift for the Dickens fan in your life.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Shakespeare in Love meets A Christmas Carol in this transporting debut novel set during the whirlwind period in which Dickens wrote his beloved classic, as he embarks on a Scrooge-like journey of his own.

For Charles Dickens, each Christmas has been better than the last. His novels are literary blockbusters, and he is famous on the streets of London, where avid fans sneak up on him to snip off pieces of his hair. He and his wife have five happy children, a sixth on the way, and a home filled with every comfort they could imagine. But when Dickens’ newest book is a flop, the glorious life he has built for himself threatens to collapse around him. His publishers offer an ultimatum: either he writes a Christmas book in a month, or they will call in his debts, and he could lose everything. Grudgingly, he accepts, but with relatives hounding him for loans, his wife and children planning an excessively lavish holiday party, and jealous critics going in for the kill, he is hardly feeling the Christmas spirit.

Increasingly frazzled and filled with self-doubt, Dickens seeks solace and inspiration in London itself, his great palace of thinking. And on one of his long walks, in a once-beloved square, he meets a young woman in a purple cloak, who might be just the muse he needs. Eleanor Lovejoy and her young son, Timothy, propel Dickens on a Scrooge-like journey through his Christmases past and present—but with time running out, will he find the perfect new story to save him?

In prose laced with humor, sumptuous Victorian detail, and charming winks to A Christmas Carol, Samantha Silva breathes new life into an adored classic. Perfect for fans of Dickens, for readers of immersive historical fiction, and for anyone looking for a dose of Christmas cheer, Mr. Dickens and His Carol is destined to become a perennial holiday favorite.

 

four-half-stars

About Samantha Silva

Samantha Silva is an author and screenwriter based in Idaho. Mr. Dickens and His Carol is her debut novel. Over her career she’s sold film projects to Paramount, Universal, New Line Cinema and TNT. A film adaptation of her short story, The Big Burn, won the 1 Potato Short Screenplay Competition at the Sun Valley Film Festival in 2017. Silva will direct, her first time at the helm.

Silva graduated from Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, where she studied in Bologna, Italy and Washington, D.C. She’s lived in London three times, briefly in Rome, is an avid Italophile, and a forever Dickens devotee.

Book Review: STARFISH by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Book Review:  STARFISH by Akemi Dawn BowmanStarfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman
four-half-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on September 26th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 320
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:

When I first requested Akemi Dawn Bowman’s novel, Starfish, I didn’t really know much about it other than the fact that it had one of the most gorgeous book covers I’ve ever seen.  I was completely unprepared for the emotional punch this book would pack.  Covering a wide spectrum of heavy subjects such as sexual and emotional abuse as well as suicide, Starfish is not an easy read by any means, but ultimately it is a powerful story about discovering who you really are and what you want out of life.

Starfish follows the story of Kiko Himura, a high school senior who suffers from social anxiety and therefore often has trouble expressing herself and fitting in.  Kiko, however, is also a gifted artist who uses her art to say what she can’t seem to say with words.  One of Kiko’s biggest dreams is to get into the prestigious Prism art school.  She feels like once she gets away from home and can throw herself into her art, her real life can finally begin.

Kiko is also half Japanese and her parents are divorced.  She lives with her mother, who is blond haired, blue eyed and is obsessed with her appearance.  She also constantly makes Kiko feel unattractive and implies that she would be more attractive if she were not of Asian descent. Her mother is also a narcissist and so whenever Kiko tries to talk to her, she always manages to twist the topic around and make it about herself.  On top of that, instead of supporting Kiko in what she is passionate about, Kiko’s mom belittles her art and can’t be bothered to attend Kiko’s art shows at school.

Then, as if Kiko’s mom isn’t bad enough, Kiko’s abusive uncle moves in with them.  After an incident that took place the last time he lived in their house when Kiko woke up and found him in her bedroom, Kiko now refuses to live in the same house as him.  She tells her mother as much, but her mom ignores her and tells her she is being overly dramatic about what happened.

Kiko longs for her mother to believe her and support her and let her know that she cares, but it just feels like that’s never going to happen.  She knows she needs to get away from the toxic environment that she is living in, but her dreams are shattered when she receives a rejection notice from Prism. Having applied to no other schools, Kiko doesn’t have a Plan B.  How will she recover from this unexpected rejection? Will she ever get the support and affection that she so craves from her mother or does Plan B involve starting over alone somewhere new?   What happens next for Kiko?

I fell in love with Kiko right away. As someone who also tends to get very anxious in social situations, I felt an immediate connection to Kiko as I watched her struggle to interact both at school and at parties.  The author did a wonderful job in those scenes of portraying social anxiety and how truly crippling it can be.

Kiko was also a favorite of mine because she’s such a sympathetic character.  In addition to her social anxiety issues, her home life is just awful.  It’s hard enough being a child of divorced parents, but it’s especially hard if you feel like the parent you’re living with doesn’t seem to care about you and either ignores you or criticizes you every time they see you.  I absolutely loathed Kiko’s mother and the way she treated Kiko.  At the same time though, I completely understood why Kiko kept trying to connect with her and kept trying to show her the art she was working on.  It’s completely natural for a child to want their parent’s approval and it was heartbreaking to watch Kiko keep getting rejected every time she tried.  I just wanted to give her a big hug and tell her she deserved better because it was obviously killing Kiko’s sense of self-worth.

Even though Kiko’s mom had no interest in Kiko’s artwork, I sure did.  Some of my favorite scenes in Starfish were where we got to see Kiko immerse herself in her art.  Watching her completely at ease with herself because she’s in her element and then reading the author’s descriptions of what she was actually drawing and painting honestly made me wish the book was illustrated.  The art work sounded so gorgeous and magical!

Aside from Kiko herself, some of the other elements of Starfish I really enjoyed were the overall themes.  There is a huge focus on beauty, with a specific emphasis on the message that there is no set idea for what is considered beautiful.  We’re all beautiful in our own unique way, and someone who is Asian is just as beautiful as someone who happens to be blond and blue-eyed.  To go along with that truth about what is beautiful, there is also a huge emphasis on self-love.  You should love yourself exactly as you are and not let anyone make you feel bad about yourself.

Along the lines of accepting that you’re beautiful just the way you are, Starfish can also be considered a powerful coming of age story.  After she is rejected from the art school of her dreams, Kiko embarks on a journey of self-discovery to slowly but surely figure out who she really is, what she wants from life, and how she can stand on her own two feet regardless of whether or not she has her mother’s support and approval.  It’s an often painful journey for Kiko, but in the end, it’s a beautiful one that is full of hope and promise.

One final element of the story that I liked was Kiko’s reunion with a long-lost friend from her childhood.  There is a romantic element there and I liked the way the author handled the transition from friends to lovers.  I also liked that the romance wasn’t just a way for Kiko to escape her home life, but that in a twist I really liked, it also presented Kiko with some unexpected opportunities and allowed her to make some empowering decisions about her future.

Aside from my utter dislike of Kiko’s mother, I don’t really have anything for this section.  And even though I completely disliked her, she was still an incredibly well drawn character and served an important purpose in Kiko’s story.

I think Starfish is going to be one of those books that I will continue to think about long after finishing the last page.  As I mentioned earlier, it packs an emotional punch and Kiko’s journey is one that I think many readers will relate to on some level, whether it’s the feeling like you don’t belong, feeling like you’re not good enough, or dealing with a less than ideal home life.  For this reason and because the writing and storytelling is top notch, I fully expect to see Starfish on many ‘Best of’ 2017 lists before the end of the year.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin.

But then Kiko doesn’t get into Prism, at the same time her abusive uncle moves back in with her family. So when she receives an invitation from her childhood friend to leave her small town and tour art schools on the west coast, Kiko jumps at the opportunity in spite of the anxieties and fears that attempt to hold her back. And now that she is finally free to be her own person outside the constricting walls of her home life, Kiko learns life-changing truths about herself, her past, and how to be brave.

four-half-stars

About Akemi Dawn Bowman

Akemi Dawn Bowman is the author of Starfish (Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster) and Summer Bird Blue (Fall 2018). She’s a proud Ravenclaw and Star Wars enthusiast, who served in the US Navy for five years and has a BA in social sciences from UNLV. Originally from Las Vegas, she currently lives in England with her husband, two children, and their Pekingese mix. She is represented by Penny Moore of Empire Literary.

The Bookish Libra reviews ARTEMIS, an exciting new sci-fi thriller set on the moon

The Bookish Libra reviews ARTEMIS, an exciting new sci-fi thriller set on the moonArtemis by Andy Weir
four-stars
Published by Crown Publishing Group (NY) on November 14th 2017
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 384
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:

Andy Weir’s The Martian was one of my favorite reads from last year, so I was so excited to receive a review copy of his latest novel, Artemis.  I wasn’t convinced that it could possibly live up to the thrill of The Martian because, seriously, how do you top a survival story about an astronaut who is stranded on Mars?  But hearing that Artemis was a sci-fi thriller about carrying out a heist on the moon (!) gave me hope that Artemis would be just as entertaining a read for me as The Martian was.  And I’m excited to report that it came pretty darn close!

Artemis is actually the name of the city on the moon where the story is set.  Aside from the fact that it is covered by domes to compensate for the lack of gravity and to keep out troublesome space dust, Artemis is pretty much just like your average city or town on Earth.  Artemis has touristy areas because of course going to the moon is a huge attraction for those who can afford it.  It also has residential areas for those who reside on the moon full time.  Artemis also has a similar class system to what is on Earth, where the rich live well and the poor do what they can to scrape by.

Jazz Bashara, the main character, is one of those poor residents who does what she can to scrape by.  She works as a porter, delivering goods to residents all over Artemis, but the job barely pays her rent.  Jazz has dreams of a bigger and better life for herself and so she has a side “job” working as a smuggler to bring in a little extra income.  Street smart and incredibly resourceful, Jazz has somehow managed to corner the market on smuggling in contraband goods from Earth.  For those who are willing to pay, Jazz can get them pretty much anything they want.

Jazz is a pretty fascinating character in the sense that she doesn’t really seem to have any qualms whatsoever about engaging in criminal activities. It is this quality that makes her the ideal candidate for a scheme that one of her wealthy regulars is planning.  It’s a dangerous job, practically an impossible one, really, and one that could get her deported back to Earth if she were to get caught.  That said, however, if Jazz can pull it off, the payoff is a truly life-changing amount of money.  It may be “Mission Impossible,” but Jazz would do pretty much anything to secure that kind of income for herself.

She agrees to the job, but quickly realizes that she is in over her head.  What starts out as a challenging heist soon lands Jazz at the heart of a conspiracy to take over control of Artemis itself.  How will she get herself out of the mess she has landed in and what will happen to Artemis if the conspiracy is actually carried out?  It’s a real nail biter!

Jazz was, by far, my favorite part of Artemis.  I just found her so intriguing.  Jazz, who is in her early twenties, has come to the moon from Saudi Arabia. She is living on her own after a falling out with her father over some poor choices she has made in her young life.  Jazz is both intelligent and street smart, and she’s very resourceful.  I loved that even though she was resorting to less than legal means to supplement her income, she totally owned it and was unapologetic about what she was doing.

I also enjoyed the father-daughter dynamic between Jazz and her dad.  Jazz is not a practicing Muslim, but her father is and he’s very religious.  Because of this, some of Jazz’s lifestyle choices have created friction in their relationship.  I thought Weir did a wonderful job of portraying the nuances of this strained relationship:  the awkwardness, the disappointment, the longing to reunite, and beneath it all, the unconditional love.  I loved all of the father-daughter scenes.  They were written very realistically and tugged at my heartstrings.

I also loved the action and pacing of the novel.  Just like with The Martian, I devoured this book in about a day.  Weir does a fantastic job creating an exciting balance between “science talk” and intense, action-packed scenes as Jazz sets out to complete “mission impossible” and then especially once that initial mission goes haywire and spirals into something else entirely.  I always feel like I’m learning a lot while being thoroughly entertained at the same time when I’m reading one of Weir’s books.

Finally, the world-building was fascinating as well. I loved Weir’s vision for what a city on the moon might actually look like and I thought the shout-out to so many famous astronauts by having the different compounds named after them (Armstrong, Aldrin, etc.) was very cool.  As Jazz walked us around the city of Artemis, Weir’s attention to detail was just impeccable.  He really thought of everything when it came to how people could actually eat, sleep, work, shop, and otherwise function as a society on the moon.  As much as I loved Weir’s attention to detail, I will confess I wish he had come up with more imaginative names for their main food staple (“Gunk”) and for their smartphone equivalent (“Gizmo”).  I don’t know why, obviously a personal quirk with me, but those names just irritated me every time they came up throughout the novel.

As much as I enjoyed Jazz’s story, I did have a couple of minor issues with Artemis.

The first is that, at times, Jazz reminded me a little too much of Mark Watney, the main character from The Martian.  It was especially noticeable when I first started reading because their use of humor and sarcasm was so similar. My first thought was “Hey, Mark Watney’s on the moon now!”  Once I got to know Jazz better, it wasn’t as noticeable, but I still wish their voices were a little less similar.  Some of Jazz’s jokes, in particular, sometimes sounded to me more like something a teenage boy would say rather than a 20-something woman.  It didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the story, but it did give me pause a few times because it felt like the joke didn’t quite fit the character, if that even makes sense.

Another issue I had was with Jazz and her pen pal from Earth. The main action of the story is periodically interrupted by letters to and from this guy in Kenya.  Aside from establishing that he was her contact for the contraband she’s smuggling, I just felt like they were in the way and didn’t add much to the story.  I’m sure they probably won’t bother others, but that element of the story just didn’t quite work for me.

If you enjoy good science fiction and badass protagonists, I’d definitely recommend reading Andy Weir’s Artemis.  While fans of The Martian might not find it quite as riveting as Mark Watney’s survival story on Mars, they should still find Jazz Bashara’s lunar adventures to be quite entertaining.  I’d also recommend it to those who haven’t yet read The Martian. It might prove to be even more entertaining to those who aren’t tempted to compare Artemis to The Martian.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Jazz Bashara is a criminal.

Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.

Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she’s stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.

four-stars

About Andy Weir

ANDY WEIR built a career as a software engineer until the runaway success of his debut novel, THE MARTIAN, allowed him to pursue writing full-time. He is a lifelong space nerd and a devoted hobbyist of subjects such as relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight. He lives in California.