Joan and her son Lincoln are spending a late afternoon at the zoo, enjoying the sunshine and each other’s company. It’s just before closing, and as Joan and her son leave the zoo, she sees something so horrible that she turns around and runs back into the zoo, looking for a place to hide. The next three hours are spent trying to keep Lincoln alive as they are literally hunted. Relying on her knowledge of her son and of the physical layout of the zoo, Joan will stop at nothing to keep him safe.
Part literary fiction, part suspenseful thriller, readers will not want to stop turning pages until the very end of this taut, well-crafted novel. Told in real-time over the course of the few hours they are trapped in the zoo, this novel whizzes by as fast as the bullets that are being spewed in the zoo. Although the majority of the novel is told from Joan’s perspective, readers also get glimpses into the other people in the zoo, including one of the shooters.
The crafting of the characters in addition to the tight pacing of this novel make it a standout. Her prose is strong, and her characters are well-developed, allowing readers to get inside the minds of the people who populate this book. Timely, poignant, and terrifying, this is a standout novel of 2017.
Not for the faint of heart. Although the novel’s descriptions of violence are not particularly graphic, the premise alone will hit too close to home for some readers (and animal lovers will have a hard time with this one especially). The ambiguous ending also means that some readers will be left disappointed or angry. But readers who love their thrillers complex and literary will tear through this one. Recommended.
Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips. Viking: 2017. Library copy.
I’m in this weird place right now where I don’t want to read any of the books I have checked out from the library. The result is a lot of starting a book, setting it down, and picking something else up. But here’s what I got through this week:
The Party by Robyn Harding: Jeff and Kim Sanders’ daughter Hannah is turning sixteen, and they allow her to have a sleepover party with four of her friends. But things go horribly awry, and the aftermath of the accident will have lasting consequences for all of those involved.
The book’s blurb compared this to Herman Koch’s The Dinner, which is kind of hilarious, because this isn’t anything like this. It’s also not particularly interesting, and though Harding does her best to ramp up the tension by skipping around in time, there just isn’t that much tension built into the story to merit it. The result is kind of a snoozefest, with characters who don’t feel realistic and a plot that feels like a retread of so many other family dramas. Snooze.
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger: When Clare meets Henry for the first time, she is six and he is in his thirties. When Henry meets Clare for the first time, he is 28 and she is 20. Thus begins their love story, spanning years. Henry travels through time against his will, making for a challenging partner.
This was a reread for me. I read this about 12 years ago and LOVED it, and I wanted to revisit it to see how my relationship to it changed. It, uh, changed a lot, because this time it left me pretty cold. I found the characters grating, the story largely unmoving, and was deeply unsettled by the almost pedophilic reverence Henry has for young Clare. Yuck.
The Duke of Ashbury has not been the same since he came home from the war. Badly scarred, he spends his time brooding and being a general grouch, scaring London’s thieves at night for a bit of fun. But he also needs an heir, which means he needs a wife. Convinced he will never find a woman to fall in love with him, he convinces Emma Gladstone, a vicar’s daughter who is working as a seamstress, to marry him. His rules are clear: there will be no love between them, and once she has given him an heir, she will move to his country house to live out her days. But he didn’t count on feeling so much for Emma, nor did she plan on falling for him.
The first in a new series by romance royalty Tessa Dare, this sneakily feminist historical romance is smart, funny, sexy, and a hell of a lot of fun. Dare has crafted two leads with enormous chemistry on the page while also allowing them to be fully formed characters with distinct personalities, wants, and desires. The dialogue is witty, the banter absolutely charming, and the sex is hot.
Dare allows Emma to form friendships with other women in the town, and she allows the Duke to be an asshole without ever making him a sexist piece of shit. The secondary characters are well-developed, and the plot moves along at a great pace. This is one that begs to be read in one sitting.
I really loved this one, and I can’t wait to see what Dare has in store for her characters next. This is a great gateway romance into the genre for novices, but it’s sure to delight seasoned romance fans as well. Highly recommended.
The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare. Avon: 2017. Library copy.
I spent a lot of November writing for NaNoWriMo (and finished by the skin of my teeth), which meant I didn’t read as much as I would have liked, and I stopped blogging almost completely. But here’s how the month shook out:
Picture Books: 22
Middle Grade: 3
Total Pages Read: 2927
Favorite Reads in November:
Bonfire by Krysten Ritter: Abby left her tiny hometown in Indiana and never looked back. But now she’s an environmental lawyer in Chicago, and her team has been sent back to her hometown to investigate a company that might be leaching chemicals into the water. She has to confront the demons of her past as she digs deeper into a conspiracy that’s more far-reaching than she ever imagined.
I devoured this twisty thriller in a couple of days. Ritter’s debut novel is compelling, smart, and super well-written. I was blown away by this one, and it’s one of my favorite reads of the year.
Total Movies: 4
Favorite Movies in November: Thor: Ragnarok
Other Things I’ve Been Watching:
Somehow I’ve ended up deep into a rewatch of Grey’s Anatomy, which has taken over my life. I’m into season 6, and I don’t even know how it’s happened.
We’re onto the last month of the year! I’m hoping to squeeze in a few more movies and books before revamping my goals for the new year.
Not a great reading week for me this week. Here’s what I finished:
Heather, the Totality by Matthew Weiner: Heather’s parents have devoted their entire lives to the raising of her. She is their diamond, their star, and there is nothing they wouldn’t do for her. She is beautiful and smart and compassionate, and she attracts attention wherever she goes. This includes attracting the attention of unsavory characters, and things come to a head in the most dramatic fashion possible.
Matthew Weiner (Mad Men, etc.) has his fiction debut with this slim little literary experiment that is designed to be read in one sitting. It’s a quick read, and it’s a harrowing story, but because it’s so short and because the sentences are so stylized, readers won’t ever come to know any of the characters well enough to be fully invested. I wanted to like it much more than I did.
These are the books I finished this week. Without further ado:
Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai: The rule is that Livvy Kane and Nicholas Chandler get one night a year together. They meet up wherever Livvy is living and spend a night together, indulging in what they consider forbidden. But then Livvy doesn’t show up for their annual meeting, and instead shows up back in their hometown. Unable to stay away from one another, the two embark on a forbidden affair that can only end in heartache.
I feel like I was on the wait list for this one forever, and when I finally got it, I didn’t love it like I wanted to. I loved that the characters were older than the standard romance fare, but I felt like the plot got way too bogged down in details and it kept the story from moving forward. I don’t know. I definitely will check out more of Rai’s work, but this was a case where the hype hurt the outcome for me.
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Machado: A collection of short stories that feature new twists on some old tropes, as well as some entirely new stories. A wife won’t let her husband remove the green ribbon from around her neck, no matter how much he begs. A woman lists all the sexual encounters she’s ever had while the rest of the world is consumed by an unnamed plague. A re-imagining of Law & Order: SVU portrays Olivia Benson as being haunted by girls with bells for eyes.
This weird, brave, wonderful collection of short stories is totally haunting, moving, and profound. I devoured it in just a few sittings, even though the book begs to be read slowly (and possibly over and over again). I loved this. One of my favorite reads of the year.
What did you read this week?
Jule Williams is 18 and an orphan. Her best friend is heiress Imogen Sokoloff, who lives off a trust fund and jet-sets all over the world. The two are inseparable, or are they? Jule seems to be running, but from who?
The convoluted plot of Lockhart’s latest is best left to the vague description above, as trying to explain it further will confuse readers. Starting with chapter 18 and working backward in time, Lockhart’s latest is a pale imitation of her previous (and far superior) effort We Were Liars. I’m frankly stunned by the starred reviews this one has garnered, because it isn’t nearly as good as it thinks it is.
It is, however, fast-paced, and it reads very quickly as a result. As Jule moves from New York to London to California to Mexico, her intense narrative keeps readers turning pages to discover what’s really going on. As narrators go, Jules is completely unreliable, and the mysteries surrounding her are equal parts compelling and aggravating.
There is some suspense to be found here, and there’s certainly some teen appeal, especially for readers who like their stories twisty and their characters complex. There are moments that are truly unsettling, and even more moments that are actually quite gruesome, which might put some readers off the story.
On the whole, though, the book never quite gelled for me. It feels too much like an attempt to recapture the magic of Lockhart’s last book, and it’s as though I could see the author pulling the strings to move the plot along. Perhaps it just wasn’t for me, but there’s certainly an audience for this one. Might make a good movie, too.
Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart. Delacorte: 2017. Library copy.