Friday, May 3, 2019

Montauk - by Nicola Harrison: Book Review

Title: Montauk
Author: Nicola Harrison
Pages: 400
Publisher: St Martin Press
Release Date: 4th June 2019
Genre: Romance, Historical Fiction, Women's Fiction
Format: Kindle

This is what you read during a weekend at the beach or when you want something very light.

The first half of the novel dragged a bit. You expect there to be romance outside marriage, but it was postponed for so long that when it did happen it was almost too sudden. The main character, Beatrice, seems to be mercy and understanding worthy, but now I have second guesses.
It's the late 1938s, women have proven during WWI that they can stand on their own two feet, so Beatrice could very well have left her egocentric and adulterous husband - so I don't understand this part of her dilemma. Not to mention, she was from a middle-class family, had worked before marriage, it's not like she wouldn't have survived. As for her affair with Thomas, the lighthouse keeper, she created the stairway to that, so don't act all surprised when you find yourself with that man in bed, Beatrice. Also, interesting how she falls in love with him so quickly. It read quite unrealistic. Their relationship doesn't feel very sustainable for the future, if you ask me.

The two characters I liked the most were Elizabeth and Dolly. Elizabeth is the laundress whose services are hired by the wealthy of New York during the three summer months spent in Montauk. Dolly is part of the ritz elite, she has her own business, but she is still rational and can see beyond the veil of glamour. Both of them are the constant voices of reason, a voice Beatrice lacks, unfortunately. 

The author did a good job of presenting the 1930s the vacationing wealthy lived in. I don't know how accurate everything is, but I enjoyed glimpsing into their lives and the summer spent in Montauk, the fishing village.

As for the ending - I totally understand it. The main character needs to be someone on her own, and possibly the only way to do this is to be independent for a while, away from the strings of high society and romance. I liked that she is now a mother, after longing for that for such a long time. Having no lover by the end of the novel was a nice touch. And how cool that a historically accurate natural disaster fixed all her romantic problems? 

It was a good novel, kept me interested. Some dry-ish patches, but for a first novel, Nicola Harrison did a fine job.

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

What I've Read Lately #14

Here's what I've read lately. The Net Galley books are not included as those are reviewed separately.

 

5*
After a failed attempt to read this classic a few years ago, I finally read it! It was great, and I plan to read the whole series. Maybe the secret was to read it in English, not a translation.

5*
It was sweet and sad. It's written in a simple way, but it pushed all the buttons that remind you of childhood, innocence and imagination. I can see why it's a classic children't story and why people cry reading it.

4*
Having read the first three books in the series, I knew the whole world created by Ransom Riggs is... well, peculiar. But this collection of short stories was at times grotesque, macabre, other-worldly and fun to explore! I enjoyed this one a lot, and it quenches one's curiosity about the world of the peculiar children and the people who are part of that world. The collection is presented as edited by a peculiar man who took on this task of gathering some stories that are part of the culture of the peculiar. The idea is fantastic! It made me curious about the rest of the series.


3*
Fun and quick read, sometimes funny. All the "economic lessons" briefly presented at the beginning of each chapter were helpful and nicely integrated to fit the story. Great idea to present big things in an accessible way. Useful not just for kids!

3*
The second in the series, this follows the same two kids and their friends on their adventures. A fun read, following the same pattern as the first one in the series. It reminded me of the good parts of childhood back in the day when kids spent time outside and parents weren't helicoptering over their kids. 

4*
It's dramatic, just like any C. Martin novel; you either like it or not, there's no in-between. People feel a lot of feelings in this novel, and they sure cry a lot.
The plot is intriguing to follow, although not always unpredictable - I sort of guessed some of the twists, but I tried not to ruin the joy of reading by trying to guess too in detail the story. I liked the ending, and I sure hope this was based on actual events, because it seems a bit too good to be true.
I am always up for a little family drama, and this one delivered - two brothers going different ways, but not by their choice. It was also refreshing to see the love story [does C. Martin have a novel where there's no love story? Me thinks not.] between two characters that are in their 60s.
All in all, I liked this one, and I sure plan on reading more from C. Martin.

What I've Read Lately #13

Title: Zuleiha deschide ochii [Zuleiha opens her eyes] Author: Guzel Yakhina Language Read in: Romanian Format: Paperback 
Genre: Russia, Historical Fiction Pages: 414 Stars:5*

This book, read in Romanian and written in Russian, is emotional and exposing on raw parts of the human nature. I am at a loss of words because how can a mere reader approach a novel that takes place in a country and time she knows nothing about? Zuleiha is so strong and she continued to surprise me time and time again. She found the strength to go on and continue grasping for life. In comparison, Ignatov the rough and wanna-be-unemotional Russian soldier is the one I feel the most - striving to be the perfect peg in the Russian system, but not being able to stomp on his humane feelings towards the deported. 
It's not an easy book. I had a hard time getting into the novel; it took me about 100-150 pages to find my rhythm, but I am so glad I kept on reading. Probably the rawest, deepest and hard book of the year.


Title: The Giver [Darul lui Jonas// Jonas' Gift]
Series: The Giver #1
Author: Lois Lowry
Language Read in: Romanian
Genre: Middle grade, YA
Format: Paperback
Pages: 194
Stars: 5*

This book shocked me and kept me reading and reading. It was new and fresh and unexpected. It's a dystopia and I loved it so much. 
People no longer have feelings, nor sad memories. Except for a young boy who is entrusted with the weight of humanity. I couldn't even make guesses about what coming because I was engrossed in the story I let myself be surprised by each new chapter. 
The novel ended with an open ending, but luckily there are three more books in the series, which I read, of course!
Title: Gathering Blue [Fauritoarea de albastru// Maker of Blue]
Series: The Giver #2
Author: Lois Lowry
Language Read in: Romanian
Genre: Middle grade, YA
Format: Paperback
Pages: 200
Stars: 4*

Not as good as The Giver, but still engaging. There are  few references to the first book in the series, but that doesn't matter. The world presented here is cruel and inhumane. This too is a dystopia. 










Title: Messenger
Series: The Giver #3
Author: Lois Lowry
Language Read in: English
Genre: Middle grade, YA
Format: Kindle
Pages: 169
Stars: 5*

Recurring characters from the first two books in the series. This one is more sinister. The ending is sad, but hopeful at the same time.
It's so good to see the characters using their powers to do good and change things. Every character is endearing and well-created. 










Title: Son
Series: The Giver #4
Author: Lois Lowry
Language Read in: English
Format: Kindle

Genre: Middle grade, YA
 Pages: 393
Stars: 4*

A bit more slow going than the first three. Maybe the reason is that there are three parts in this novel, each dealing with a different world. My favourite was the second part, then the third. It follows the journey of Claire, a female who did not match the standards required by the Comunity she lived in. The comunity is the same one Jonas lived in. It was so fun to see some characters return, but see things from different perspectives. 
It was interesting to follow the theme of evil in this novel, as it's probably better noticeable than in the previous three.

Probably one of my favourite series!



Title: Love & Luck
Author: Jenna Evans Welch
Language Read in: English
Format: Kindle

Genre: YA
Pages: 303
Stars: 2*

It was a cute read, but I liked Love&Gelato better. Lena, the character in that novel, makes an appearance only for a short time. It's Addie whose story we follow around Ireland in this one. 
The characters are likeable, but a lot of the plot could have been avoided if proper communication and grasp of real life had happened. But then again we wouldn't have had this novel. 
I like a good road trip novel, and this delivers. It's cheesy, I gotta say that, and the "guide voice" that both Addie and Rowan listen to is too much, but somehow it fits perfectly into the story.
A lot of the plot is exaggerated but you just roll with it because it's Ireland and it works.



Title: Flipped [Cand ti se pune pata]
Author: Wendelin Van Draanen
Language Read in: Romanian
Format: Paperback
Genre: YA
Pages: 211
Stars:

Saturday, April 6, 2019

The Girl He Used to Know - by Tracey Garvis Graves: Book Review

Title: The Girl He Used to Know
Author: Tracey Garvis Graves
Pages: 304
Publisher: St Martin Press
Release Date: 2nd April 2019
Genre: Romance, Contemporary, Women's Fiction
Format: Kindle

{GoodReads Synopsis}
Annika (rhymes with Monica) Rose is an English major at the University of Illinois. Anxious in social situations where she finds most people's behavior confusing, she'd rather be surrounded by the order and discipline of books or the quiet solitude of playing chess.

Jonathan Hoffman joined the chess club and lost his first game--and his heart--to the shy and awkward, yet brilliant and beautiful Annika. He admires her ability to be true to herself, quirks and all, and accepts the challenges involved in pursuing a relationship with her. Jonathan and Annika bring out the best in each other, finding the confidence and courage within themselves to plan a future together. What follows is a tumultuous yet tender love affair that withstands everything except the unforeseen tragedy that forces them apart, shattering their connection and leaving them to navigate their lives alone.

Now, a decade later, fate reunites Annika and Jonathan in Chicago. She's living the life she wanted as a librarian. He's a Wall Street whiz, recovering from a divorce and seeking a fresh start. The attraction and strong feelings they once shared are instantly rekindled, but until they confront the fears and anxieties that drove them apart, their second chance will end before it truly begins.


As I was reading I kept thinking that this is one of those feel-good books, where you witness two characters' lives and love story. There is more to this, of course. Annika is an autistic woman and this makes many things more difficult and challenging for her. I adored her! Jonathan, the other half of the love story, is a guy who sees Annika's awesomeness and falls in love with her. I adored him! Basically, there is no bad character for me in this novel.

By the time I crossed the half point of the novel, I was worried that things seemed to be heading in a too good to be true direction: where is the twist? the drama? the unexpected something? It comes when you see the date at the beginning of one of the chapters: September 8. And the year 2001. So that's why this story is set so many years ago! I literally stopped reading, closed the book, and whispered: "oh, my God! I hope not!" Because 9/11 can only mean one thing.
It was a good novel, it was funny and Annika was an endearing character, as was her best friend, Janice (if I remember correctly...)

One thing that bothered me was all the explicit love scenes; the graphic depictions could have been left out and nothing of the romance of the story would have been lost. In order to understand that Annika and Jonathan's love story was possible, I am sure we could have done without being given all the details of their intimate moments. Annika would have cringed had she seen this part of her life exposed. Just sayin'. It seemed that their story was hard to believe possible, so we needed to be proven through detailed love-making that see? they can be a normal couple. It was a belittling of the characters.

Other than this unfortunate part, I enjoyed this novel. Annika reminded me of Eleanor Oliphant of Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine, but this is only because these two novels are the only ones with an autistic character.

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 24, 2019

Woman 99 - by Greer Macallister: Book Review

Title: Woman 99
Author: Greer Macallister
Pages: 368
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Release Date: 5th March 2019
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, 1880s San Francisco, USA
Format: Kindle

GoodReads synopsis:
A vivid historical thriller about a young woman whose quest to free her sister from an infamous insane asylum risks her sanity, her safety and her life.
Charlotte Smith's future is planned to the last detail, and so was her sister's - until Phoebe became a disruption. When their parents commit Phoebe to a notorious asylum, Charlotte knows there's more to the story than madness. Shedding her identity to become an anonymous inmate, "Woman Ninety-Nine," Charlotte uncovers dangerous secrets. Insanity isn't the only reason her fellow inmates were put away - and those in power will do anything to keep the truth, or Charlotte, from getting out.


{Might contain spoilers!}

It read like a prison book, with a bunch of wrongfully convicted prisoners trying to escape. The plot unfolds gradually and characters appear throughout the novel so that you are kept glued to the pages. I liked the symmetry of the novel, how it started with the posh life of the Smiths and it ended in the same circles, but a whole world has been opened to the reader and the main character as the novel progressed.

I knew nothing of the asylum life of the 1880s in the USA; it was a well presented and researched historical bit. I don't know how much of this could have actually happened, but as a fictional account it delivered. One thing that I think is far fetched is how easy it was for Charlotte to accomplish her mission in the exact amount of time she had at her disposal. However, for the sake of entertainment, it has to be accepted. I thought the main character, Charlotte Smith, was well constructed and believable as a person, although maybe not all her successful on first try forays into the life of the asylum searching for Phoebe. The other characters are well made to fit their typology and role in the novel. All the women that joined the plot of the novel as the story unfolded were added methodically, and at no point did I face the problem of mistaking them for one another. 

Especially in the first part of the novel there are constant references to Charlotte's past life and memories of her time with Henry, the man she loved. They are included without warning in the novel, but I didn't feel that this made the reading any difficult. For some reason, the whole reading experience felt clouded; the atmosphere of the novel is a grey-ish one and even the ending felt burdened with the discoveries Phoebe and Charlotte made in the previous few weeks. It's not an easy read in that respect, but one worth the time. 

Although I saw a happy ending coming from the very beginning (because it seemed that sort of book), I was pleased with how the novel ended. If nothing had come of Charlotte's attempt to save Phoebe from the asylum I would have been disappointed. It's a suspenseful novel, gripping at times, a plot well crafted, with unexpected twists, inviting you to read more from the author. The secret, I think, is to not search faults with every aspect. As a fictional piece, it's a well done one.

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

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Elsewhere, Home - by Leila Aboulela: Book Review

Title: Elsewhere Home
Author: Leila Aboulela
Pages: 224
Publisher: Grove Atlantic
Release Date: 22nd February 2019
Genre: Short stories, Sudanese culture
Format: Kindle

{GoodReads Synopsis}
From one of our finest contemporary writers whose work has been praised by J.M. Coetzee, Ali Smith and Aminatta Forna, Leila Aboulela's Elsewhere, Home offers us a rich tableau of life as an immigrant abroad, attempting to navigate the conflicts of assimilation and difference in an unfamiliar world.

Shuttling between the dusty, sun-baked streets of Khartoum and the university halls and cramped apartments of Aberdeen and London, Elsewhere, Home explores, with subtlety and restraint, the profound feelings of yearning, loss and alienation that come with leaving one's homeland in pursuit of a different life.


{My thoughts} 
I could see little happiness. A lot of resignation, the longing for the roots home, but also the pull of a better, modern life. There is no better place or better choice. No character can be judged, but as a reader you can just accept them and feel for them. The characters are from different backgrounds so this gives a more inclusive perspective on the Sudanese culture. 

What surprised me was that despite having no knowledge of the Sudanese culture and literature, these stories read in a universal language - literally and figuratively. If it were any other country from the East, the feelings the characters would be similar to those in this collection. The life of an immigrant is never easy nor black and white and you can see this clearly in these stories. The unlikely connections and graspings for belonging in Scotland are endearing and makes you wish all the best for these characters. The characters are never just people on paper; not few times did I think about the people who maybe inspired each story: the unlikely, the sad, the unexpected. At times I feared that the clash of cultures will lead couples, spouses or parents and children apart. The tapestry is rich in colour, and each story brings something new. 

I must confess that some stories read a bit slower as they are not easy to get into. However, it was fun to see how each person got to Sudan or Scotland and read along to see where the story led. The plan is to read more from this author.

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

You'd Be Mine - Erin Hahn: Book Review

Title: You'd Be Mine
Author: Erin Hahn
Pages: 256
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Release Date: 2nd April 2019
Genre: YA, Romance, Contemporary, Country Music
Format: Kindle

{Good Reads Synopsis} 
Annie Mathers is America’s sweetheart and heir to a country music legacy full of all the things her Gran warned her about. Superstar Clay Coolidge is most definitely going to end up one of those things.

But unfortunately for Clay, if he can’t convince Annie to join his summer tour, his music label is going to drop him. That’s what happens when your bad boy image turns into bad boy reality. Annie has been avoiding the spotlight after her parents’ tragic death, except on her skyrocketing YouTube channel. Clay’s label wants to land Annie, and Clay has to make it happen.

Swayed by Clay’s undeniable charm and good looks, Annie and her band agree to join the tour. From the start fans want them to be more than just tour mates, and Annie and Clay can’t help but wonder if the fans are right. But if there’s one part of fame Annie wants nothing to do with, it’s a high-profile relationship. She had a front row seat to her parents’ volatile marriage and isn’t interested in repeating history. If only she could convince her heart that Clay, with his painful past and head over heels inducing tenor, isn’t worth the risk.

Erin Hahn’s thrilling debut, You’d Be Mine, asks: can the right song and the perfect summer on the road make two broken hearts whole?

{My Thoughts}
It was cute, but not believable, not even for a YA novel. I am sure things don't work out so easily for young artists. I know too little about country music, except for what I learned from movies/ TV shows and books, but even I sense there is a bit more to getting into the high ranks of it. The fact that Clay's growl into the mic was pure art makes me raise an eyebrow and narrow my eyes. And question country music.

As for the love story, pure teenagehood. All about physical attraction and too little interest for each other's depth. The two main characters were so out of sync at times but then suddenly so engrossed in each other it was confusing. They acted immature, although that can be overlooked when thinking of 18 year-olds; but then don't act like you are mature and know what life is all about. I felt for their loss of family, but there could have been a bit more meat on the bones of this angle. 

The serious angle of drinking and drugs could have been treated more seriously. Clay too easily gets over his one-year long pattern of drinking, just to drop it of his own accord because he's on a farm, listens to the right songs on Annie's old iPod, and Annie's grandad has a talk with him. Highly unlikely. And speaking of the slim substance of the novel, there were episodes when the story read like a bunch of fragments written separately and then put together to make a novel. I didn't see the fluidity of the plot, which is pretty meager, if you think about it. And the constant repetition of "I'm not good for him/ her" or "I will be the destructive force for him/her" grew tiring after a while. Two kids pining after one another, but being kids, they need 250+ pages to end up together.

The mixing of religion into the story was the element that was needed to create a complete Southern image. Coming from a religious/ Christian background, I don't see a world in which God and Clay and Annie's choices could coexist. 

For readers into country music, for those looking for an easy read, or a road trip sort of novel, this is a nice choice. I watched A Star is Born not long ago and I am still listening to its soundtrack, so this novel came as a different perspective on the whole music industry.

PS. As I read the lyrics Annie and Clay wrote I kept thinking there would be so cool to listen to them or listen to a playlist that goes with the novel. Guys, there is a playlist! On the author's website there is one. Here it is. It would also be nice to see a film adaptation of this. I'd totally watch it.


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