review: Slip of the Tongue by Jessica Hawkins

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Thank you to Jessica Hawkins and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I appreciate it!~

Was this book good?

Well, what does it tell you that right after reading it, I bought everything else Jessica Hawkins has ever read and devoured her words like a starving animal? Maybe that last sentence was unnecessarily creepy, but you get the idea.

Just…

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So, this was not at all what I expected. Given the summary, I fully believed I’d be rooting for one particular couple, and the opposite happened. Don’t you love that? I love, love, love when authors surprise me – especially New Adult authors. It’s a genre that often relies on routine plots, and Jessica Hawkins is anything but routine in her writing and imagining.

Slip of the Tongue is about Sadie Hunt. She’s your typical New York girl – living in Manhattan with her husband Nate, working for a PR firm and struggling with the idea of growing up and moving on. Worse, her husband – once loving, sexual and sweet – has turned into a ghost overnight. Cold, mono-syllabic and withdrawn, Nate has taken his love away from Sadie – something she can’t understand and can’t bear. He won’t discuss it with her, leaving her to draw her own conclusions.

Enter a new neighbor, stage left.

Finn Cohen is the opposite of Nate. He wants Sadie. Badly. He seems to be willing to do anything to be with her – and in her current mindset, it’s very, very tough for Sadie to resist.

Does she?

You’ll have to read to find out, but it’s obvious from most of Hawkins’ writing that she is fascinated by cheating, and it’s no different here. I love that she focuses on this particular part of relationships – monogamy, finding the ‘one’, marriage, affairs, etc – because so many authors really shy away from it. On GoodReads, most novels that deal with cheating have terrible reviews. It’s not something many readers can stomach. I’m normally one of them actually. For instance, Thoughtless by S.C. Stephens is super popular and the entire thing infuriated me. Mainly because of the main character.

Sadie was different. I really felt for her. She seemed like a genuinely good person who just can’t help herself / nor figure out what the hell happened to her life. She struggles with her decisions, knowing that what she’s doing is wrong – but in the end, she tries to do the right thing. She tries to give everyone what they want.

Naturally, she can’t. But she still tries, and that means something to me. Her marriage with Nate felt very real to me – as were the reasons behind his sudden change of heart. How the little things DO add up. How it can be the smallest thing, but in a marriage – it can mean disaster.

Regardless of small quibbles (the ending wraps up too quickly for me), I just loved, loved, love this. I’ve read it twice. Go and give Jessica Hawkins the fame she deserves! Go, go, go!

review: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

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Oh, Harry.

I resisted reading this series for a while when it first came out, mainly because it was so popular, and you know that feeling of, “well it can’t possibly be good if so many people like it”? Thankfully, I did end up reading this book and anxiously awaited the final installment when it came out in 2007.

It all begins so innocently and so wonderfully, with Harry living in The Cupboard Under the Stairs with his horrendous “family”, the Dursleys, until one day, funny things start to happen. Harry finds he has a specific set of abilities that scare the Dursleys, owls begin appearing, letters come through the fireplace and there is something that no one is telling him. Something big.

When Harry does finally find out the truth –

You’re a wizard, Harry.

– it’s pretty magical. He discovers Diagon Alley, Gringotts, Hogwarts and makes friends with Hermione and Ron. Over time, darker forces threaten his happiness, and he learns the truth about his parents’ death, the mysterious scar on his forehead, and ultimately, his own destiny.

JK Rowling perfectly captures every child’s dearest fantasy – that they will discover that they are actually a wizard, destined for amazing things and whisked off to wizarding school where they will learn to do magic and escape from their humdrum lives.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone isn’t the strongest of the series (I give that to Azkaban but it is the beginning of a beloved tale that will stand the test of time (given it’s been made into a theme park and all…), and introduced us to a cast of characters that I will never forget.

review: In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

intheunlikelyevent {Source: GoodReads.com}

Note: I won this book in a GoodReads.com giveaway from the publisher, Knopf. I thank them for the chance to read and review. All opinions are my own.

Oh, Judy.

I love Judy Blume so much. As soon as I finished In the Unlikely Event, I immediately picked up my well-read copy of Summer Sisters so I could be back in one of Judy’s worlds again.

In this tale, we follow quite a few perspectives (I admit to finding this tough and a tad confusing in the beginning, but I quickly found my groove), but the main heart of the story is Miri Ammerman, a fifteen-year-old girl living in Elizabeth, New Jersey in the 1950s. As planes plummet to earth, Miri struggles with the fever of first love, a best friend who seems to be unraveling at the seams, a rambunctious, opinionated and loving family, and a town in chaos.

Three planes did actually crash in quick succession in Elizabeth, during Judy’s childhood. Those scenes are especially vivid and all the more wrenching because you know it happened. Those balls of fire, those plane bellies upended and spilling intestines, those bits of people found strewn across the earth like piano keys. It’s all too much, and that’s reflected in the characters’ growing horror as they wonder… what is happening? Is the world ending? Is it a conspiracy to kill children? Is it just bad luck?

Could it be that the world is that cruel, that unfeeling… that dark?

I loved following Miri’s story, and I found her to be an engaging and lovely character – tart in her opinions, intelligent and as fiercely trusting as only a fifteen-year-old girl can be. The haunting touches throughout the book – Ruby (she hit me the most, like a smack, looking into that baby’s eyes), Natalie’s eating disorder, Penny and Betsey, Fred the dog, Mason… it all comes together to form a tapestry of normal life, made even more beautiful by tragedy.

Judy Blume has said this may be the last book she ever writes. If so, it’s a worthy coda to her wildly successful career. But I hope it isn’t true. I can’t wait to fall into another one of Judy’s worlds again.

She’s just that good.

review: In the Waning Light by Loreth Anne White

inthewaninglight {Source: GoodReads.com}

Thank you to NetGalley and Montlake Romance for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I appreciate it, as always!

I moved this week. The house is a shambles. My husband and I have been turning corners in the kitchen, unaware of where we put the knives, or the ground cinnamon, or the plates.

But still, I read. I had to. Loreth Anne White is quickly becoming one of my favourite mystery authors, and after A Dark Lure, I knew that In the Waning Light was at the top of my must-reads list.

This tale is captivating. It has one of my book kinks – a tragic past following the heroine into the future – immediately I was hooked. This book is unputdownable. It’s the story of Meg Brogan, a true-crimes author who returns to her childhood home to write about her own sister’s brutal murder. As a teen, Sherry Brogan was viciously raped and strangled. On that night, Meg was also hurt and almost died – but her memories have been washed away, like a footprint at high tide.

Upon her return, it becomes evident that the residents of Shelter Bay are unimpressed with Meg digging around in the past. Some violently so. As Meg peels the onion of her sister’s murder, she also finds herself again – in love and life, reconnecting with her first boyfriend, Blake Sutton. Although the romance is lovely AND sexy (a rare thing), it’s her relationship with Blake’s son Noah that I found most touching. This young boy, so desperate for affection and grieving so intensely for his mother – he’s heartrending, and Meg engages with him in such a way that tells the reader she is truly a good person. Brave, strong, compassionate and pretty badass.

I guessed who murdered Sherry mid-way through, but I did NOT guess the reasons behind it, nor the circumstances. It’s a shocker, and it’s brutal and upsetting and horrifying. Loreth Anne White is not afraid to go into the darkness, nor is she afraid to take you there with her. Her sense of place is astounding. It’s one of her biggest talents as an author.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out some repetition in the phrasing and prose. When I was in creative writing class, my teacher told me that although she loved my poetry, she found I had a few favourite words and phrases, and fell back onto them time and time again. White does this often – with things like “bowels”, “black and inky”, “black and oily” and “chinkled”. It’s a little distracting – because the phrases are so raw and distinctive.

Overall, highly recommended. I cannot wait for the next mystery from White. She’s truly talented and creates worlds that you can reach out and touch, taste, feel and experience.

review: The Lost City of Z by David Grann

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This review does contain mild spoilers. It’s difficult to discuss this book without them. Read at your own risk, you guys.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – David Grann should write ALL THE BOOKS ALL THE TIME.

Grann is the ultimate in detectives, tracing the path of one Percy Harrison Fawcett (PHF to friends and family), who, along with his son Jack and Jack’s friend Raleigh, disappeared into Amazonia while searching for the fabled city of El Dorado (or as Fawcett called it, simply, “Z”). Fawcett and his team vanished in 1925, so it’s unlikely that any traces of them will ever be found, but what about Z? Grann sets out on a quest to follow Fawcett’s footsteps, and that’s where our journey begins.

Fawcett was, by all accounts, a fascinating, complicated and driven individual, with a singular ability to survive in the Amazon rainforest, as well as to communicate with the Indian tribes that so threatened exploration at the time. One of Fawcett’s many flaws was his inability to understand that others may not have his stamina (he called one member of his team who drowned in a river a “rotter, typical waster” and was appalled that another wanted to stop because their body was infected by maggots… the nerve!) but the end result normally worked in his favour. His explorations came in under time and under budget, and he was a hero of the Royal Geographic Society.

Grann speaks with Fawcett’s existing relatives, reads through his journals and other documents, and manages to find out what others hadn’t. but wait, there’s more…

review: Affinity by Sarah Waters

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Lyrical, gripping, melancholy, heartrending and sensual – Affinity is one of Sarah Waters’ best novels, and also one of her most depressing. I believe even Waters herself admitted to being eager to escape from the dank, grey walls of Millbank Prison.

Affinity is the story of Margaret Prior:

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Margaret is “lady visitor” recovering from a suicide attempt due to the death of her father and the death of her romantic hopes. She is counseling female prisoners who have found themselves heading toward a dark path.

While at Millbank, Margaret meets a young “medium” named Selina Dawes, and her beauty, stillness and mystery intrigues Margaret, bringing her back to the prison day after day to visit with her.

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Desperate and filled with longing, Margaret is convinced by Selina to help her escape from Millbank, and in true Waters fashion, nothing is as it seems. Margaret’s final thoughts are truly heartbreaking, because you know she had finally imagined herself free, in love, unconstrained by “false boundaries” — and yet the dream was never quite what Margaret believed.

‘It is a world that is made of love. Did you think there is only the kind of love your sister knows for her husband? Did you think there must be here, a man with whiskers, and over here, a lady in a gown? Haven’t I said, there are no whiskers and gowns where spirits are? And what will your sister do if her husband should die, and she should take another? Who will she fly to then, when she has crossed the spheres? For she will fly to someone, we will all fly to someone, we will all return to that piece of shining matter from which our souls were torn with another, two halves of the same. It may be that the husband your sister has now has that other soul, that has the affinity with her soul—I hope it is. But it may be the next man she takes, or it may be neither. It may be someone she would never think to look to on the earth, someone kept from her by some false boundary…’ – Selina Dawes

review: The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

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One major reason I love Sarah Waters’ books is that she paints such a rich history for women. I love how she features lesbians and lesbian life throughout history. There is much written about men and gay men (natch, why shouldn’t men take over literature too?) and yet, not a lot of quality, compelling, raw, devastating and accurate prose written about women, women who loved other women. It’s so important that we have Sarah Waters.

The Night Watch is my favourite Waters novel. It’s perfect. Everything about the way she constructed the book, everything about the editing of it, the descriptions of World War II and its aftermath (gah, I can’t get over how well she writes period dramas, without delving into cliched tropes), the characters, the relationships. It’s perfection, beginning to end.

And oh, how I adored the people we met.

Gentle, vicious, frustrating, frustrated, impulsive, silly Helen.

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Noble, complicated, intelligent, miserable Kay.

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Gorgeous, devastating, intimidating, wealthy Julia.

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Irrepressible, disappointed, beautiful, melancholy Viv.

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Interestingly, Waters chose to begin this novel at the end, and go back in time to find out how our characters came to be where and who they are. It’s a frustrating tactic (because in a way, we’ll know all we know by the first act) but an effective one, as Waters peels the onion slowly and lyrically.

She brings wartime London alive with precision and grace, and her characters stumble through their lives, never quite making the right decisions, never quite realizing where they will end up. The relationships are so skillfully woven here, and the vividness of certain scenes and images still stick in my mind.

By the end, you might feel a little cheated – I did when I first read it- but I now choose to marvel at how Waters unraveled their stories and how she showed what was truly vital for us to know – after all, hindsight is 20/20, and these characters never knew and might never have dreamt, where they’d be after the war.

Were they would be after those rash decisions, when it seemed as though the world would end – but then, it didn’t.

review: Beneath the Skin by Nicci French

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This review contains mild spoilers, though I tried to allude rather than reveal.

What made (makes) this book so beautiful to me is twofold.

1. The casual elegance of the writing. Nicci French (for the purpose of just plain not feeling like typing out two names, I will ignore that this is a pseudonym and just pretend it’s one author) is brilliant at sketching characters that feel like real people and for using spare, simple and yet beautiful prose. I really love her style and always have. It’s especially evident in her earlier works and now in the Frieda Klein series.

2. The relationship between the three women, invisible, like a thread – but so strong that not even death shakes it. I thought this was a haunting river through the novel.

Beneath the Skin is not my favourite of French’s novels (that award goes to Land of the Living, but it is one of her best, in my opinion.

Zoe, Jenny and Nadia are three women with a horrible connection. but wait, there’s more…