books and reading · reviews

Book Review: Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart

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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.

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What I Read this Week

These are the things I read this week:

32600769The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh: Former criminals live in an isolated town in Texas, in a sort of social experiment where none of the criminals can remember their pasts or their crimes, but they know that they have chosen this life instead of a life in prison. Sheriff Calvin Cooper keeps the peace in the town, where they’ve never had any violence in eight years. Until someone turns up dead. And then another person turns up dead, too.

A smart, twisty little western that kept me guessing, I enjoyed this one as a whole. It’s told through multiple perspectives, which helps readers get a sense of the town, but it never allows the reader to get very close to any of the characters, which is intentional. This was a read out of my comfort zone, and I liked it.

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Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin: Aviva Grossman gets involved with a very married much older congressman when she’s still in college. The affair is revealed, and she becomes a social pariah, unable to find work. So she changes her name and moves far away to start a new life as a wedding planner in Maine. Raising her 13-year-old daughter Ruby on her own, she decides to run for office, and that’s when all her secrets are revealed.

I really liked this one–I read it in a day–but the first part of the book is by far the strongest section. Told in alternating narratives by four very different women, it’s a quick, captivating read about sexism, feminism, slut shaming, and much more. I really enjoyed the hell out of this book.

5Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling: Harry’s third year at Hogwarts is marked by increased security in the form of dementors, after notorious wizard Sirius Black escapes from the wizard prison. Everyone is sure Sirius is after Harry, but Harry realizes that Sirius might have answers about his past.

This has always been my least favorite of all the Harry Potter books, and it remains so to this day. While I enjoyed Jim Dale’s narration of it, it’s still the book I feel the least connected to. I’m not sure if I don’t think the rising action is nearly as compelling as the other books or if I just don’t care about all the animal stuff (which is a departure for me), but I always rush through this one to get to the good stuff later on.

I Hate Everyone But You by Gaby Dunn and Alison Raskin: Ava and Gen are best 33916153friends headed off for their first year of college on opposite sides of the country. The book chronicles their first semester through texts and emails as each girl explores newfound independence, college experiences, and new relationships. Can their friendship survive the distance and different experiences?

Told entirely through texts and emails, this frenetic (there’s literally no other word for the pacing and tone of this one) book about two best friends has some really authentic (read: self-absorbed and completely obnoxious) narrators, and some interesting things to say about the complexities of female friendship, but it’s also a pretty surface-level novel. I have complicated feelings about it.

What did you read this week?

books and reading · reviews

Book Review: How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry

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After the death of her bookstore owner father, Emilia has returned to her tiny English town to run the family business. While Nightingale Books is a book lover’s haven, it’s also struggling financially. Determined to keep her father’s dream alive, Emilia must find a way to reinvigorate the business while also dealing with the regular customers, whose lives intersect with Emilia’s own.

Very light, very frothy, and a bit romantic, Henry’s novel about a tiny English town and the book lovers who live there is a sweet little gem of a novel. With a robust cast of characters (who are hard to keep track of at times) and an interesting (if not totally riveting) plot, this is a book that will find fans, especially when put in the hands of total bibliophiles. As much about the characters as it is about the love of reading, Henry’s novel is a quiet little distraction from the chaos of everyday life.

There’s certainly not a whole lot of substance here, but there is a great deal of heart, which makes for a delightful read. Henry’s book has a very specific sense of place, and she loves her characters. The plot moves along at a good pace, making the turning of the pages quite easy, and while there’s definitely a happy ending for the book’s characters, the journey to get there is at times a bit bittersweet. There are perhaps too many characters for the book’s own good, and some of these characters are total stereotypes, but on the whole the book is a lot of fun.

How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry. Viking: 2017. Library copy.

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Book Review: The Breakdown by B.A. Paris

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Cass takes the road through the woods to get home one night, and she sees a car on the side of the road. It’s raining and dark, so Cass doesn’t stop, but the next day, the news reports that a woman was brutally murdered on that same road. Filled with guilt over what she could have done, Cass also starts to forget things, like where she put her keys and plans she made with friends. Fearful that she’s developing early onset dementia like her late mother, Cass tries to hide her fears from her husband, Matthew.

Paris’s thriller Behind Closed Doors was a hit last year, and her latest offering takes a different take, providing readers with an unreliable narrator who can’t seem to remember simple things in her life. But there’s so little character development across the board here that Paris’s novel doesn’t ramp up the tension so much as provide a very shallow account of what appears to be the stereotypical “hysterical” woman. It’s boring.

Nothing about the story is all that compelling, even in its best moments when it’s a bit claustrophobic. There’s not enough development of characters to care about their motivations, and there’s something very generic about the dialogue so that it often doesn’t feel very authentic. By the time Paris reveals all the (improbable) answers that savvy readers will have already figured out, it’s too little too late. It’s also an unsatisfying conclusion.

This one is kind of a snore. I’d give it a pass, and recommend her first to readers looking for a suspenseful story.

 

The Breakdown by B.A. Paris. St. Martins: 2017. Library copy.

books and reading · reviews

What I Read This Week

I’m going to hit my unofficial goal of 365 books read this year thanks to the sheer number of picture books I read, but everything else is still a pretty slow grind for me. Here’s what I read this week:

15797848There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins: The students at Osborne High School are being brutally murdered. One by one, they’re dying in increasingly gross and macabre ways. But who is the killer, and what is their motive? Time is running out, and secrets are going to be spilled like blood.

Fun, fast-paced, and genuinely scary. Perkins is well-known for her romantic comedies, and here she does something completely different: writes a very compelling horror novel. There are shades of Scream here, and it will keep readers reading until the last few pages. I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend: Frances Frankowski was born in Duluth in 1882,26192488 and runs away with her best friend Rosalie when they’re just teenagers. After a betrayal in Chicago, Frances ends up on her own in San Francisco, working for the Office of Naval Intelligence. Then she’s asked to marry an intelligence officer and move to the Galapagos Islands, and Frances’s ordinary life becomes a bit more extraordinary. But both Frances and her husband harbor secrets of their own.

I read this for book club. It wasn’t my pick. It wasn’t for me. It’s historical fiction, based on real-life people (and the subsequent memoir by the real-life Frances), and it suffers from a lack of compelling plotting or even compelling characters. It feels much like a retread of what the memoir must have been, and there’s very little new stuff here to warrant a fictionalized take on it. I was disappointed. And very, very bored.

books and reading · reviews

What I Read This Week

These are the books I finished this week. Without further ado:

33259027The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare: The Duke of Ashbury was badly injured in the war. Half of his body covered by scars, he needs an heir, but he’s convinced no woman could ever love him. So he arranges for a marriage of convenience with Emma Gladstone, a seamstress and vicar’s daughter. His terms are simple: no kissing, and once she gives him a male heir, she’ll live in the country house apart from him. But neither one counted on actually liking the other.

A classic beauty and the beast retelling, this was so smart and funny. I devoured it in a few days, and found it to be wholly charming. The first in a new series by Dare, I’ll definitely be checking out future installments.

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Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips: It’s nearly closing time at the zoo as Joan and her four-year-old son Lincoln are getting ready to leave. But as they reach the parking lot, Joan all of a sudden turns around and sprints back inside the zoo, looking for cover. Over the next three hours, Joan will try to keep herself and her son alive as she uses her knowledge of the zoo and her son to keep them both safe from the danger that is literally hunting them.

A tense, gripping novel about a mass shooting, I couldn’t put this one down. I think on the whole it’s exceedingly well done, and Phillips particularly writes about mothers and children well. This will be a popular title this fall.

What did you read this week?

books and reading · reviews

Book Review: You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner

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Julia gets kicked out of her deaf school after her best friend turns her in for graffiti she did on school property. Julia can’t believe it, especially because she was covering up a slur about said best friend. Her moms send her to a “mainstream” school all the way out in the suburbs and forbid her from engaging in any street art. But it’s Julia’s only outlet, and when she realizes that another artist is tagging her stuff, she sees it as a challenge. Determined to figure out who is changing her art, she ends up embroiled in a graffiti war.

Gardner’s novel is smart, compelling, and features a heroine who is prickly, angry, and realistic. The novel presents Deaf culture well, allowing Julia to narrate the book with an authentic voice, and allowing the reader to experience the frustrations Julia faces in the hearing world. Spoken dialogue is punctuated with blank lines, representing the words that Julia wouldn’t be able to lip read. Throughout the book, Julia’s art offers additional insight into her world.

A varied cast of characters, including an at-times patronizing interpreter, teachers who have no idea how to best meet Julia’s needs, and an eager white girl Julia refers to as Yoga Pants, help round out the novel. There are moments where it feels as though there’s too much going on in the narrative, but Gardner’s strong grasp of Julia as a character helps readers wade through the myriad issues that pop up. The ending isn’t as tight as it could be, but it’s still a fun read all the same, offering readers insight into Deaf culture as well as the world of street art. Put this in the hands of people who liked the TV show Switched at Birth, because there are a lot of similarities to be found.

You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner. Knopf, 2017. Library copy.