Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Burntown - by Jennifer McMahon: Book Review

Title: Burntown
Author: Jennifer McMahon
Nr. Pages: 304pages
Publisher: Doubleday
Release Date: 25.04.2017

It started sudden, and the events gut-punched you when you least expected. It was impossible to stop up to the 30% mark, and even then only because I had to wake up early the next morning. It was unputdownable. It's been a while since I've last read a mystery novel that drew me in so much.

It wasn't the fact that I didn't see the end coming; the actual "mystery", if you paid attention throughout the novel, was fairly easy to guess. But the first three quarters of the book were so written as to keep you guessing. Just when you think the events will calm for a bit and let you catch your breath after the last plot twist, a new change of situation arises and how can you stop reading just then? You can't. I cared so much about the characters and their fate that I kept reading till the very end, even to just read the confirmation of my suspicions.

I liked how the characters were created with one exception - the bad guy. After all he'd done I was expecting more cruelty on his part in the end, not the mopey, gushy, touchy-feely man. But I can overlook this because the rest of the book was a thrill to read!

This book made me miss mystery and crime novels.

I received an advanced free e-book copy of the book from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Marlena - by Julie Buntin: Book Review

Title: Marlena
Author: Julie Buntin
Nr. Pages: 288
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Release Date: 4.04.2017

{This review contains spoilers.}

Tell me what you can’t forget, and I’ll tell you who you are.

This is the story of an alcoholic woman who had a friend with a serious drug addiction back when they were teenagers in high-school. This is the plot.

The writing is good, I liked the words the author used to tell the story. However, some things made me raise an eyebrow.

For a person who is so clingy to the past and who can't seem to move past the friendship that lasted less than a year and a half when she was fifteen years old, a friendship that was the basis of her alcohol addiction, Cat sure managed to create a good life. I was surprised that she could not control her drinking problem, but this did not prevent her from making a career, receiving promotions after promotions, getting married and maintaining a relationship for over ten years, and fooling many people around her. Maybe this is possible, but I found it hard to move past and buy into it.

Although it doesn't usually bother me, I wanted to know the year Cat was living in in the present. Because 2016 or 2017 can't be with those mentions of technology. As she is telling the story of what happened with Marlena twenty years before, Cat is almost 36 years old. She mentioned Greg posting a video on YouTube at her prompting back then. YouTube was created in 2005. If she is telling the story in 2016, in 2005 she would have been 23-24 years old, and not 15. This was irksome, however the author kept refering to this aspect.

I can't understand two things: why was the mention of the girl in the library necessary if it led nowhere and why decide to create the whole plot around Sal's upcoming meeting with Cat if the whole meeting turned out to be anticlimactic. I was expecting those two things to reveal something, and it probably would have brought a fresh breath to the plot, since the past retelling got monotonous with all that time wasting, getting drunk and high, and classes skipping. And Sal is so normal, not at all as affected as you would have expected based on Cat's dramatic perspective on things.

Despite all these, I kept reading. It kept me curious, but I wasn't satisfied with where it took the story. The public for this novel is someone with a similar background and life, maybe they would relate better with the characters.

I received a free e-book copy of this book from the publisher Henry Holt & Company via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own based on the reading of the novel.


List of Characters:
Marlena Joyner
Cat (Catherine)
Jimmy - Cat's brother
Roger - Jimmy and Cat's mother's second husband
Ryder - Marlena's boyfriend
Greg + Tidbit - a couple, friends of Cat, Marlena, Ryder's
Randall Joyner - Marlena's father
Sal Joyner - Marlena's younger brother
Bolt - Randall's friend, Marlena's "boyfriend"
Micah & Courtney - schoolmates
Mr. Ratner - science teacher
Liam - Cat's husband - New York

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Beartown - by Fredrik Backman: Book Review

Title: Beartown
Author: Fredrick Backman
No. Pages: 336
Publisher: Atria Books
Release Date: 25.04.2017


In a tiny community, obsessed with hockey or completely uninterested in it, things change in the course of a few weeks. As you read, you begin to care about hockey, too. Who knew? More than that, you begin to care about the people playing hockey, and about the people who have family members and friends playing hockey, and about all the characters in this novel, because you cannot possibly live in or read about Beartown and not care about hockey. It would be blasphemous.

It starts slowly, like a warm-up before a game. Soon the pace picks up and the focus is shifted from the hockey match that might save Beartown to the relationship between the characters. You cannot stay neutral, you can't help agreeing with each side, but you cannot pick sides. In a community you see everyone's point.

This novel is about many things: about hockey, clearly; but also about a parent's constant love and cheering on; about the friends you have when you are fifteen; about how some things can be overlooked in favor of a supreme good; about how easy it is to look the other side. This book is many things, but without impact on its readers it is not.

The author kept hinting to things that were to follow. Although the "action" was not fast-paced in the beginning, the author gives you a background on each character. Some pieces of information felt like they were repeated over and over again, but every time they led to a new route in the story. Every repetition and every word is aimed to draw attention to a specific aspect and to stress something you mustn't overlook. The author creates suspense, despite the above mentioned hinting. Just when you think you know what's about to happen or how the characters will react, with the swift of a word and the turn of a phrase, everything changes.

I cannot put into words how much I enjoyed reading this book. I can honestly say that Fredrik Backman is my (current) favorite fiction author. His writing gets better and better with each new book, and I can't wait for his next novel.

I was honored to received an advanced e-book galley from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own.

***
Beartown - List of Characters (contains spoilers!)
Peter Andersson- GM Beartown Hockey Club
Kira - lawyer, Peter's wife
Maya - their daughter
Anna - Maya's best friend
Leo - their son
Kevin Erdahl - the best hockey player, the star
Kevin's father - influential, has much money
Kevin's mother - successful career
Amat - player, poor background
Fatima - his mother, cleaner at the club
Sune - coach A-team
David - coach junior team
Benji - Benjamin Ovich - the heart of the team; Kevin's best friend
Alan Ovich - Benji's father, killed himself 15 year before
Adri - Benji's eldest sister, own kennels
Katia - Benji's sister, owns a bar, The Barn, in Hed
Gaby - Benji's sister, has two children
Jeanette - highschool teacher, friends with Adri
Bengt - coach boys' team
William Lyt - player junior team
Maggan Lyt - William's mother
Bobo - junior team, kind of a bully
Hog - his father, friends with Peter
Ann-Katrin - Bobo's mother, nurse
Ramona - owns Bearskin, the pub in Beartown
Holger - Ramona's deceased husband
Filip - player junior team
Filip's mom - friends with Maggan
junior hockey team: Kevin, Benji, Amat, William, Bobo, Filip.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Never Unfriended - by Lisa-Jo Baker: Book Review

Author: Lisa-Jo Baker
Pages: 208
Publisher: B&H Books
Release Date: April 4th 2017
(In)Courage site: (in)courage.me


This was a slow book for me. It took me a month! to finish this 200something pages book. It was slow!

It starts with the idea that with one right or left swipe we can make or break a friendship. Completely agree. The topic is not bad. Although this is not the first book I've read on the topic, there were some new insights the author shared that made sense. I have never read a Lisa-Jo Baker signed book before, but I like her writing style. She's funny, but without distracting from the point she's trying to make, she's honest in a comforting way that helps you as a reader relate, she's encouraging and ready to give a pep talk.

There were a lot of quotes from other authors. It was nice to see what they had to say, but at times it felt as if there were too many and she kept repeating their words. Yes, they fit the context, but maybe less quoting? However, this was mostly seen in the first part of the book. The second part was focused more on a practical side of friendship, on the author's experiences, on snippets of her life and her friends'. I am all for an author sharing concrete pieces of life to make a point clearer.

I don't know why this book was a slow read. I do recommend it mostly as a group read among friends, but not exclusively. The observations she makes and the new to me angles she looks at friendship from make this a timely book.

I received a free e-book copy of the book from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Shadow Sister - by Lucinda Riley: Book Review

Title: The Shadow Sister
Series: The Seven Sisters
Author: Lucinda Riley
No. Pages: 684
Publishing Date: 25.04.2017
Publisher: Atria Books


I couldn't wait for the third book in the series! It kept me as intrigues and interested as the first two books did, and it made me curious about the next sister, and the next book as well. (Although, I must confess, the sister the next book will be about is one of the most irksome, in my opinion. But I can't wait to read the book!) 

(spoilers ahead!)

Star D’Aplièse is the quietest of the six sisters Pa Salt adopted from all over the world. She has always been too close to her sister Cece, but in her desire to use the clues Pa Salt left behind after his death* to help the girls discover their origins, Star finds herself forging a new life for her. I rooted throughout the book for Star. She is at time too calm and patient, but for someone who had always been used to listen rather than speak, to follow rather than initiate, she did well for herself. I enjoyed seeing this character develop and gain substance.

Set in present day London, Star's genealogy and roots conveniently send the reader to the Edwardian England, with some Victorian influences. It is one of my dearest periods in the English history, and seeing names like Beatrix Potter's, and even the King's used in the novel was a treat. I didn't know about Alice Keppel, but it was a nice surprise. As with the first two books in the series, I am amazed how well the details and intricacies of the English families were nicely used to create the main character's story. I confess I needed a notebook to write down some details, or else I would have got lost in the maze of names and historical information.

Although I believe Star, Beatrix Potter and Alice Keppel the characters, Aurelia and Flora are strong characters, not coincidentally strong leading feminine characters, my suspicion that arose even from the previous two books that The Seven Sisters men are weaker than the women has been confirmed. Both the men from the past, those in connection with Flora and Aurelia, and the men in the present day in connection to Star's life seem weak in comparison to their female partners. Mouse, Archie, the King are not as impressive in their actions, words and decisions as their counterparts, Star, Flora/Aurelia, Alice. Most men exhibit an unfounded air of superiority, talk too much, and often act only prompted, like pawns. Maybe it's the feminism tendencies in me, but it was a thought that followed me throughout the novel, and I am curious if it will be confirmed by the next books.

A thing that seemed somewhat inauthentic were some exchanges between characters. Mouse and Star's rocky start of relationship can be excused due to their inexperience and their personalities, but still their exchanges seemed forced. However, the most out of place was the one between Star and Shanti when Shanti expresses her romantic interest. I sensed from the moment she was introduced in the novel that she was going in that direction, but I wish it had been done in a less cringy way. Curiously, the present day characters seem to have the problem of authentic talking rather than the characters in the past. Maybe this is because it's the Edwardian period and puffy language is excused.

As far as the plot goes - well done! The story-telling is so written as to keep the reader interested to the very end, even after you learn everything about Star's past. Another thing that gave the novel consistency was the way the author connected the events. In book two there is a concert Ally is in and we were told that Star attended it. In book three we learn how exactly did Star get there, and why isn't Cece with her. I like the little details that tie the novels.

My only serious problem with this series is that the books don't come out soon enough!

4.5/5

I received a free e-book copy from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for a review. All thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own.

List of Characters. (spoilers ahead!) 
Star D’Aplièse (Asterope)
a Faberge panther - the clue Star has from Pa Salt
Orlando - bookshop keeper: Arthur Morston Books
Mouse - Orlando's brother
Alice - Mouse's deceased wife
Rory - 7years old. Mouse's son
Marguerite - Orlando's cousin
Flora MacNichol - keeps diaries, and that's how Star's story is told
Panther - Flora's cat
Aurelia MacNichol - Flora's sister
Esthwaite Hall - their family's manor
Rose MacNichol - their mother
Alistair - their father
Rose+the King (Bertie) = Flora
Lady Arabella Vaughan - good friend of Rose's. Archie's mother
Elizabeth Vaughan - Archie's sister
Lord Archie Vaughan - he loves Flora. marries Aurelia. then marries Flora
Louise - Archie and Aurelia's daughter. Flora will raise her, per Aurelia's request
Beatrix Potter - children's books writer
Freddie Soames - was to marry Flora, but due to her past the wedding is canceled
Countess Daphne + Count Algernon - Freddie's parents
Alice Keppel - the King's mistress. she takes Flora under her wing in London and introduces her into society
Violet & Sonia - Alice's girls
Violet + Vita Sackville-West (Mitya), a poetess
Sir Ernest Cassel - gives Flora the money the King left her
Teddy - the orphan Flora adopts
Louise + Teddy grow up as twins
Louise + Rupert Forbes=Laurence, Orlando and Mouse's father
Teddy + Tessie, the Land Girl = Patricia Smith
Teddy + Dixie/Cecilia O'Reilly, his wife = Michael, Marguerite's father
Patricia Smith + Alfred Brown = Petula (in '62)
Petula (18y/o) - Lucy Charlote (Star)
Petula = Sylvia Gray - Russia lit. professor at Yale, married with three kids
Robert Stein - Sylvia's husband


*I have my doubts about this. In book three, Star thinks she saw Pa Salt. Cece, too, thinks she saw a someone (we are not told who, but I suspect it's him) and is shocked. I book two, Ally thinks she heard Pa Salt's voice when she called Atlantis, but everything was settled when Ma said it was just the old answering machine recording. I don't remember if Maia, in book one, had a similar moment, but I wouldn't be surprised if she did. Since there are to be seven books in the series, and there are only six sisters, maybe book seven will give us more information. And I am pretty sure Pa Salt is alive.

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley - by Hannah Tinti: BookReview

Title: The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley
Author: Hannah Tinti
Pages: 400
Publisher: Dial Press
Release Date: 28.03.2017


Samuel Hawley is a mysterious man. His daughter, Loo tries to uncover this hidden life of her father. As she pieces together bits and pieces of their lives, we learn about Hawley's past by looking at the scars on his body, scars caused by the bullets that pierced him. I liked how Hawley's story is revealed as Loo grows up. You'd think that she will become just like her father, but the ending reveals that sometimes you, the reader, can be very wrong.

Although it is clearly said that Samuel Hawley was shot, you are still kept in a tense state because you don't know how he got shot. Every new bullet is a surprise, both because it lets you learn more about him, but also because you most certainly don't see it coming. 

My favourite parts were those where Lily, his wife was present. She is a well-constructed character, and she seems to be the one holding Hawley in one piece. Loo, too, is a good character, and though she is a developing one, you can tell she has complexity and can be a stand-alone protagonist. She is my favourite character, with her quirks and shortcomings, her attempts to get by and add another day to her life. My least favourite character is Marshall. He is not good enough for Loo.

I read in the interview with the author, interview you can read at the end of the book, that the structure of the book was well thought - each Bullet Part had the same recurring elements: the bullet, the woman, the watch to point to love, time, death. I didn't think of this as I was reading the book, but you sense the tension created by these three elements. I find this very smart and so very good!

I strongly recommend this book to those who like suspense, but without the detective and police drama, mystery and alternating perspectives, as the book shifts from present to past to tell the story of each bullet. With each new bullet story you can't help but wonder where the new bullet will take you, since each shooting took place in a different part of the country. It was a good read, indeed! I look forward to reading more from this author.


4/5 stars

I received a free e-book copy of this book from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own.

Every Giant Becomes a Monster - by Collins Kelly: Book Review (Abandoned)

Author: Collins Kelly
Publisher: Rosethorn
No. Pages: 260
Publishing Date: 1.02.2017

I did not care at all about this book, about what happened, what was happening or what will happen to the characters. Carson, for some reason he certainly didn't know, decided to just roam the country. He decided to stop for a while in Flaggtrap because he met a woman he was attracted to. In his obsession with Donna, a I-like-it-rough-and-I-play-the-viction-when-I-could-be-divorcing-my-alcoholic-husband bartender, he is what some would describe a loser. A liar and good-for-nothing, with an affinity for and skills in music, he seems to have a high opinion of himself, trying to act like a  I-got-this-thing-called-life wanna-be man. He's 19; he knows nothing. Not even the wit the book description mention didn't endear him to me, the reader. 

The characters are weak, both in their actions in the novel and in the way they were created. Not even one character seemed worthy of interest from my part, not even the main character who was the most irksome of all.

Probably the only redeeming thing for this novel as far as I was able to read it are the references to music. No matter how unusual, crazy, dark and slightly creepy the genre the characters prefer, this is the only thing that makes them human.

I only read 40% of the book and I don't plan to ever pick it up again. The plan was to read until the 50% mark, but I couldn't. Too many better books out there to waste my reading time on something I was sure by the 10% mark I wasn't going to like.

The Good Reads description adds and an asterisk noticing the novel is "for adult fans of dark fiction only". I have never read such fiction before, and I was intrigued. Unfortunately, this book made me reluctant to try this genre in the future, although I looked forward to reading this novel, and I particularly liked the title. Major :(

I received a free e-book copy of this novel from the publisher via Net Galley. All negative thoughts expressed here are my own.