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Girl Well Read

Girl Well Read 

Published book reviewer, blogger of books & book lifestyle products, wine drinker and polka dot lover. I’d love to review your book next!  Follow me on Instagram and Twitter (@girlwellread), Pintrest, Litsy, Goodreads, LibraryThing, BookLikes, and ReadFeed (Girl Well Read).

 

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang

The Bride Test - Helen Hoang

A special thank you to Edelweiss and Penguin for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Bride Test is a spin off of sorts from The Kiss Quotient, Hoang's smash debut. This book is about Khai, who is Michael's cousin. He has no emotions when it comes to love or grief; he is literal, he likes when things balance (he is an accountant), and is easily irritated with others, especially when they touch his things. He thinks he is defective when in fact he is not, he is on the spectrum. His overbearing mother, Cô Ng, decides it is time for him to get married and takes matters into her own hands. She returns to Vietnam in order to find him the perfect bride.

Esme Tran is a mixed-race, single mother that lives in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City. She has always felt she doesn't belong. When Cô Ng offers her a chance to come to America to seduce her son, she accepts. This could not only be the break her little family needs, but she could also track down her biological father.

Seducing Khai proves to be incredibly difficult—instead of making Khai fall in love with her, she is falling head-over-heals for him. With her time almost up, and with Khai convinced he is unable to love, Esme feels she has failed.

But there is more than one way to love.

I found this book less provocative than The Kiss Quotient because there was more build up and tension and I certainly don't mean this as a criticism. It was more about the journey of falling in love, learning one's likes, dislikes, boundaries, and an exploration in the discovery of pleasure and consent. Esme and Khai's journey is a learning experience.

This story is smart, sassy, sexy, exactly what you would expect from a romance book. But on the flip side, Khai's struggles are real and genuine. Hoang really shines here and brings forward her voice and experience also having Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Hoang's character development is incredible. She pens characters that are layered, complex, and flawed, yet are incredibly endearing. I adored Esme and learned by reading the Author's Note that she is loosely-based on Hoang's own mother who was also an uneducated immigrant (I encourage you to read this, it is informative and touching). There is also humour sprinkled throughout—I especially enjoyed Quân and the dynamic between him and his brother.

Helen Hoang is a gift. She brings to life characters that are not considered mainstream, but their stories need to be told and are just as valuable, enlightening, and entertaining.

The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Moron

The Clockmaker’s Daughter - Kate Morton

A special thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Canada for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

My real name, no one remembers.

The truth about that summer, no one else knows.

 

Elodie Winslow, a young archivist in London, uncovers a leather satchel that contains a sepia photograph of a beautiful Victorian woman, and an artist's sketchbook with a drawing of a gabled house by the river. She is taken aback by the drawing because it is so familiar—it reminds her of the house from the stories her late mother used to tell her. But who is the beautiful woman in the picture? This sends Elodie on a journey to Birchwood Manor, an estate on the river Thames, in the hopes that she will uncover the identity of the girl that transcends the photo with her arresting gaze.

 

A century and a half earlier, Edward Radcliffe hosts a month-long retreat for group of artists at Birchwood. Their plan is to create art, but at the close of the month, Radcliffe's fiancée has been shot and killed, his muse and a family heirloom have vanished, and his life and reputation is in disrepair.

 

The Clockmaker's Daughter is a remarkable story that is told in multiple voices and spans many years.  Its themes are adversity, loss, love, and resilience and at the heart of it all is the ghost of Birdie Bell, the clockmaker's daughter.

 

Morton's writing is gorgeous, sweeping, and intricate. This hauntingly beautiful story is made up of vignettes—which are stories from the people that lived in the house—that thread the past and present storylines together. My only criticism is that there are too many of them and what happens is that they detract from the narrative. There are times where several chapters go by without any mention of the main characters and unfortunately, this is where some of Morton's audience will jump ship.

 

The finale is incredibly satisfying and I encourage the reader to slog through the vignettes because their patience will be rewarded. Morton makes it all worthwhile by harmonizing the stories and characters. She is a master and her writing is breathtaking.

99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne

99 Percent Mine - Sally   Thorne

A special thank you to Edelweiss and William Morrow for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

Darcy Barrett has travelled the world and can safely say that there is no man that measures up to Tom Valeska.  Tom's only flaw is that Darcy's twin brother, Jamie, claimed him first and that he is 99% loyal to her brother.    

 

When the twins inherit a rundown cottage from their grandmother, they are tasked with restoring it and selling it.  Before Darcy can set sail on her next adventure, house-flipper Tom has arrived in a tight t-shirt with his power tools (and hot tool belt) and he's single.

 

Darcy decides to stick around for a while.  It's not because she's been in love with Tom since she was eight-years-old, or that his face has inspired her to pick up her camera after her failed stint as a wedding photographer left her doubting her talent, it's to make sure that Jamie doesn't ruin the cottage's aesthetic with his modern taste.  Right?  

 

Can Darcy's delicate heart take being this close to Tom?  And can she turn the tables and make Tom 99 percent hers?

 

I loved The Hating Game.  It was clever, sharp, and cheeky!  But this book...I only liked it.  Okay so here's what I think happened: Thorne fell down with her character development.  Take Darcy for example, she's honest, and raw, but uses sarcasm and snark to hide behind her perceived tough exterior.  But this felt a bit forced and clichéd, and she ends up just being difficult and unlikeable.  Tom is your classic 'boy next door' type and although endearing, he was almost too good and dare I say...flat?  It felt like he was written to be the polar opposite of Darcy to make their relationship more layered and complicated, but again, this seemed to be a tactic.  You never get a sense of who he really is and he seems to be constantly eclipsed by those closest to him (his mother, his best friend, and now Darcy).  And can we just talk about Jamie for a second?  What a jerk.  I have the sneaking suspicion that he was underdeveloped because he will be a main character in another book.  

 

The plot came off as formulaic and a bit basic.  I don't want to get into too much detail here as to not give anything away, but I'm sure you can guess what happens.  I wanted the goods—I wanted more of their childhood, more about Tom and his mother, about Darcy's travels and her "Felicity" moment of cutting her hair, and more about Jamie (maybe then I wouldn't think he was such a tosser).  These relationships are the framework of the character development but they were underdeveloped and therefore produce some underwhelming characters.           

 

Where Thorne excels is with the ability to completely draw the reader in and not let go until the end.  She is incredibly engaging and I completely devoured both of her books in one sitting.  It is for this reason that she is quickly becoming one of my favourite authors and I will read anything she writes.  There is an ease to her writing and she has such an ear for conversation and banter which translates extremely well on the page.  

 

While this book might not have been everything I had hoped it would be, there are going to be those that love it.  I just didn't love it as much as The Hating Game.  I mean, Josh Templeman...  Enough said.  

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Normal People - Sally Rooney

A special thank you to NetGalley and Penguin Random House Canada/Knopf Canada for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

A coming-of-age love story of classmates Connell and Marianne.  He's a the popular star of the football team and she is the mysterious loner.  Connell's mother works for Marianne's family and the two begin a complicated and secret relationship that starts when Connell comes to Marianne's house to pick his mother up from work.

Fast-forward a year and they are both students at Trinity College in Dublin.  Marianne has come out of her shell and flourishes socially while it is Connell that is struggling to fit in.  Throughout their time at university, they ebb and flow in each other's lives, always drawn back together.  As Marianne starts a downward spiral into self-destruction, Connell and Marianne must face just how far they are willing to go to save each other.

Rooney explores the complexity of relationships, the obsessive and possessive elements of first love, what class and social standing really means, and the entanglement of families and friendships.  She nails the disconnect that many teens experience with the real world and also with how self-absorbed they are while trying to find their place in the world.

What I found exhausting about the book on a whole was how stereotypical the characters were.  The women wanted attention and to be loved, all the while not realizing their worth.  The male characters were lacking in morals.  Just like the jock character in a teen movie, they are 'boys being boys' and this is perfectly acceptable (cue eye roll).  She also pens some vile characters that blur the lines with things like bullying and neglect that aren't fully explored, instead they simply vanish.

The writing was poignant and stirring; this book had so much potential but I couldn't see beyond what I mentioned above.  

The Revolution of Marina M. by Janet Fitch

The Revolution of Marina M. - Janet Fitch

A special thank you to NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Fitch amazed me with Paint in Black.  I listened to the audiobook that was read by Jennifer Jason Leigh and it was mesmerizing—Audible cast this book perfectly, Leigh was brilliant and her delivery  was flawless and was exactly what the character embodied.  I also read and thoroughly enjoyed White Oleander when it was the Oprah's Book Club selection.  Fitch is a powerful and poignant writer and has such purpose and thought throughout her novels.

This was quite the undertaking at 816 pages and it took several attempts to not only get into it, but to stick with it.  Hear me out...  Fitch did an extraordinary job in her research and retelling of the Russian Revolution but at times this was the only redemption. I struggled with the main character, she was completely void of depth and was surprisingly underdeveloped for such an intricate story.  

The last almost quarter of the book was completely unnecessary—I'm not even going to try to understand why it was included, it should have been edited out.  Especially because this is apparently volume one of two.

The beginning was the best part, and then...it's like Fitch had to include every single detail and every bit of research and it's not necessary.  Is she looking for validation for her years of work?  The story then just becomes a linear piece of writing which begs the question, should this have not been a historical fiction book but rather an actual book on the Russian Revolution?  I think so.  

The Night Before by Wendy Walker

The Night Before - Wendy   Walker
A special thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The night before...and the nightmare after.

Even though Rosie and Laura are sisters, they are complete opposites.  Rosie is happily married and stable whereas Laura is single and trying to break free from her troubled past.

Laura is getting ready for a blind date, not entirely sure if she's going to go through with it.  She's intrigued by the man's photo and the exchanges they've had so far have been easy and enjoyable so she decides to give it a shot.  

Only Laura doesn't come home from the date.

As Rosie searches for her sister, the past comes knocking and her greatest fears are validated.  Is it Laura that's the danger, or is it the stranger?  Is she even still alive?

Told in alternating perspectives and with dual timelines—the night before and the day after—The Night Before is a fast-paced, taut thriller about loyalty, love, and desire that boarders on obsession.

Walker ratchets the tension over the course of the narrative.  Her pace is spot on and the dual timelines are the perfect vehicle to execute the story.  Her writing is hypnotic, and the plot is just twisty enough to keep your turning the pages like mad.  I polished this off in two sittings, staying up way too late, but I literally could not put it down.  It's been a while since I have been gripped by such a compulsive read.

The alternating perspectives were incredibly effective.  Walker utilizes this technique to reveal a little at a time, not only working the reader into a frenzy, but building on the momentum.

What was most impressive was how Walker made this book feel completely original.  It was sharp, clever, and utterly captivating.  
 
 

 

An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena

An Unwanted Guest - Shari Lapena

A special thank you to Edelweiss and Penguin Publishing Group for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

Lapena's debut The Couple Next Door was an instant hit and received rave reviews and I thought it was a solid effort.  Admittedly, I was underwhelmed by her second book, A Stranger in the House, and was unsure if I was going to give this one a go.  An Unwanted Guest is on par with The Couple Next Door and that was a 3 out of 5 stars.  It takes place at a secluded hotel and what unfolds is a thriller that is reminiscent of a classic mystery—think Agatha Christie.  

 

Mitchell's Inn, nestled in the Catskills, boasts a cozy atmosphere.  The stately rooms feature woodburning fireplaces and have just the right amount of nostalgia to be quaint, including no Wi-Fi or cell service.  

 

When a winter storm knocks out the power, all contact with the outside world is cut off.  The guests try to make the best of the situation until one of them turns up dead.  At first it appears to be an accident, but then a second guest dies and panic sets in.    

 

With everyone being a suspect, the guests have no choice but to weather the storm and each other.  

 

I liked how Lapena juxtaposed the violence of the storm against the violent acts of murder and thought the premise was very good.  The atmosphere and description saved the book because I was simply tired of the repetitious thoughts about who the killer is—the reader does not need to be reminded that each character needs to figure out which one of them is the killer.  Isn't that the whole point of the book?  

 

 

What baffles me is how removed Lapena is and this is the difference between 3 and 4 stars (to which she absolutely has the potential).  Given that it is told from multiple points of view, this should be a character-driven novel because the characters ought to have enough depth and ultimately are responsible for propelling the narrative.  But there is simply not enough distinction between their voices and for the most part, it feels like there is only one narrator.

 

I haven't given up on Lapena yet—she does has a way of engaging the reader right of the bat.  For the most part, her characters are well developed but their inner dialogues need work and she needs to ensure that they have a distinct voice if relying on their perspectives to tell the story.     

Transcription by Kate Atkinson

Transcription: A Novel - Kate Atkinson

A special thank you to NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

In 1940, eighteen-year old Juliet Armstrong is reluctantly recruited into the world of espionage. Sent to an obscure department of MI5 she is enlisted to transcribe the conversations that take place in a bugged flat between Godfrey Toby, an MI5 agent, and a group of suspected fascist sympathizers.  At first the work seems dull, but then it becomes terrifying as Juliet is thrust into a world of secrets and code.  After the war ends, she thinks that her service is over that the event she transcribed are left in the past.

 

Fast forward ten years and Juliet is now a radio producer with the BBC.  Even though her past seems like a lifetime ago and Juliet has resigned herself to her more mundane life and work, she is unexpectedly confronted by figures from her past.  Haunted by these relationships and her actions, Juliet cannot escape from the repercussions of her work.  Left with no choice, she is pulled back into a life of espionage.  

 

Atkinson is such a gifted writer.  I had the privilege of attending an event where she spoke at length about her research and writing process for Transcription.  Her writing is rare in that she brings humour to her narrative in such a subtle way.  Much of this is accomplished through Juliet trying to make sense of what she is listening to as well as through her naiveté.  Juliet is Atkinson's vehicle to make the events fictional.  She is "the girl".  Atkinson has described her as being "a smart character, but with an incredibly active imagination".  

 

In typical Atkinson fashion, the reader is treated to shifts in time and plot (things don't unfold sequentially).  You can certainly tell that she has done her research, the story that emerges is nothing short of original and extraordinary, and I encourage you to read the author's notes.  Transcription is a layered work of deception and consequences and a thrilling literary read.  

The Rain Watcher by Tatiana de Rosnay

The Rain Watcher: A Novel - Tatiana de Rosnay

A special thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

Linden Malegarde has returned home to Paris from the United States where he lives with his partner.  It has been years since his family was all together.  They have reunited for the patriarch's birthday; Paul is celebrating a milestone and is turning 70.

 

The City of Lights is on the verge of a natural disaster when the Seine bursts and it floods the city.  Paris is as fragile as the Malegarde family's relationships—each member is trying to balance the delicate family dynamics.  Paul is a world-renowned arborist that only seems to have eyes for his grove of trees.  Lauren is his American wife who is determined to make the weekend a success.  Tilia, the blunt oldest child has an 18-year-old daughter Mistral who is adored by her uncle Linden.  Colin is Tilia's much older spouse, an elegant British art dealer that can no longer hid his drinking problem.  

 

And that leaves Linden.  He has never been comfortable in his own skin and never feels settled having grown up as an American in France, and a Frenchman in the US.  His relationship with his father has always been off.  Even though he is a successful and in demand photographer, he feels that he will always be a disappointment to his parents.

 

Bound by tragic events, the family must fight to remain united as secrets unfold and their greatest fears surface.

 

Set in Paris during a rainstorm, this gorgeous, haunting work was captivating from start to finish. 

de Rosnay's writing is elegant,  hypnotic, and incredibly moving.  The story is profound and intense, yet soft and beautiful.  I devoured this book in one sitting and would highly recommend.

 

Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi

Emergency Contact - Mary Choi

A special thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Canada for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

Although her grades were decent, and she had a boyfriend (albeit a not very attentive one), Penny Lee found high school to be incredibly mundane.  Penny wants to be a writer and is looking forward to going to college, even if it is only an hour away.  Maybe she can writer herself a new life, one that is not only more interesting, but one without an overbearing mother that dresses too young and tries too hard to be her friend.  

 

Sam is a mess.  He sleeps on a mattress on the floor of a spare room over the coffee shop where he works.  Sam is an aspiring filmmaker that can't afford to finish school and he is also struggling to get over a bad break up.    

 

When Sam and Penny meet through Jude who is Sam's ex-niece and Penny's new roommate, their first encounter is incredibly awkward.  In spite of that, the two exchange numbers and eventually text their way to a relationship where they share everything with each other.  It is much easier to type their fears, dreams, hopes, and anxieties than to say them face-to-face.  Sam and Penny become each other's "emergency contact".  

 

Choi pens some quirky, awkward, and angst ridden characters that at times seem too old in the way they conduct themselves, but it totally works.  She adds just the right element of conflict and the pace of the story is spot on.  This book is in the same vein as Eleanor & Park and I can see why fans of Rainbow Rowell also like this book so much.  Both authors have a flair for this genre and write complicated, yet endearing characters that stay with the reader long after the last page.  

 

My only criticism is with the timing, I'm a little confused.  Jude met Sam when she was seven.  She had an iPad.  iPads were introduced in 2010, so if she is seven in 2010, she would be 15 in 2018.  How is she old enough to go to college?  Did I miss something?   

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle - Stuart  Turton

A special thank you to NetGalley, Edelweiss, HarperCollins and Sourcebooks Landmark for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.  

 

"Nothing like a mask to reveal somebody's true nature."

 

Evelyn Hardcastle, the young and beautiful daughter of the house, is killed. But Evelyn will not die just once. Until Aiden Bishop—one of the guests summoned to Blackheath for the party—can solve her murder, the day will repeat itself, over and over again.

 

But each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes in the body of a different guest. And someone is determined to prevent him ever escaping Blackheath...

 

As far as any book goes, the concept is actually brilliant, especially for a debut.  The book is smart, (mostly) well-executed, and clever.  

 

Here's where my glowing review ends.  I was confused throughout and had to keep going back to reread parts which given the size of the book, was not ideal.  It was unclear at times as to which body Aidan was in and at what times.  There were also a lot of characters and it was challenging to keep them straight.  Having a character change their identity eight times is a gamble for Turton and he almost pulls it off.  Where he fails is that the reader questions how well they know and understand the characters—they are suspect because of all of the different identities inhabited.  

 

The premise, as mentioned, is fantastic.  When you read the synopsis, there is definite intrigue, but actually reading it was a whole other matter.  I was left disinterested around day six.  There was some unnecessary bulk at this point in the storyline and hopefully this will be resolved in the published product.  My final thought is that given the level of detail, the number of players, and the intricate plot, this should have been a series.

An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

An Anonymous Girl - Greer Hendricks, Sarah Pekkanen

A special thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

Seeking women ages 18–32 to participate in a study on ethics and morality. Generous compensation. Anonymity guaranteed. 

 

Are you ready to sign up?  When Jessica Farris stumbles upon an opportunity to get paid to participate in a psychology study conducted by the mysterious Dr. Shields, she jumps at the chance to earn some much needed extra money.  All she has to do is answer a few questions, collect her payment, and be done with it.  But when the questions become more personal and intense, and Jess is placed in scenarios rather than just answering questions on a computer, she feels that Dr. Shields is playing a game with her—it appears the good doctor knows what she is thinking and what she is hiding.

 

Jess becomes increasingly paranoid, especially when she realizes she is caught in a trap of jealousy and deception.  Who can she really trust in this modern game of cat and mouse?

 

Can I tell you that I loved An Anonymous Girl just as much as The Wife Between Us?  Gah!  Greer and Pekkanen are incredible writers—they set the stage and then peel back the curtain to reveal some surprising twists.  This story is not as shocking as The Wife Between Us, instead what happens is that the plot blindsides the reader because they are so captivated by the fantastic writing.  These ladies could teach a master class for this genre, they're THAT good.  They manipulate you into believing their characters, but in fact, you can't trust any of them.  They also make you doubt your own conclusions.  Brilliant!    

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

The Wife Between Us - Greer Hendricks, Sarah Pekkanen

A special thank you to Greer Hendricks for a copy of the audiobook.

 

When you read this book, you will make many assumptions.  

 

At first, the book alternates between the perspectives of Richard's ex-wife, Vanessa, and his new-and-improved younger fiancée, Nellie.  Vanessa was left humiliated and penniless with the break up and she has a drinking problem—is this what was responsible for the dissolution of the marriage?  Nellie can't shake the feeling that she is being followed and that there is something to the anonymous calls she has been receiving.  Vanessa is jealous and becomes obsessed with her replacement—she is determined to stop Richard from marrying again.  Just how far will she go?

 

That's about all I can safely synopsize.  But what I can tell you is that I'm speechless.  What a fantastic book.  

 

The writing is BRILLIANT!  You can tell that Pekkanen is a seasoned author and by extension, Hendricks' previous editing experience also makes her a great writer.  The attention to detail and pace is what really sets this book apart in this genre, especially with all the "girl" and "wife" titled books out there right now.  (Is it me, or does every other mystery/thriller book have "girl" or "wife" in the title?)  

 

And the plot is so layered—when you think the story is over, there is one final twist.  So.  Bloody.  Clever!  The difference between 4 and 5 stars was the subplot with Maggie and Jason.  I actually thought this was a bit of filler that wasn't necessary.  

Girls' Night Out by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke

Girls' Night Out - Lisa Steinke, Liz Fenton

A special thank you to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

For estranged friends Ashley, Natalie, and Lauren, it’s time to heal the old wounds between them. Where better to repair those severed ties than on a girls’ getaway to the beautiful paradise of Tulum, Mexico? But even after they’re reunited, no one is being completely honest about the past or the secrets they’re hiding. When Ashley disappears on their girls’ night out, Natalie and Lauren have to try to piece together their hazy memories to figure out what could have happened to her, while also reconciling their feelings of guilt over their last moments together.

 

Was Ashley with the man she’d met only days before? Did she pack up and leave? Was she kidnapped? Or worse—could Natalie or Lauren have snapped under the weight of her own lies?

 

As the clock ticks, hour by hour, Natalie and Lauren’s search rushes headlong into growing suspicion and dread. Maybe their secrets run deeper and more dangerous than one of them is willing—or too afraid—to admit.

 

Liz and Lisa, what a ride!  This book was fantastic!  The writing is layered, dynamic, and oh so clever.  The character depictions are detailed and fierce and I was completely captivated by the timelines and narratives.    

 

What Fenton and Steinke do best is conversation.  Did you not feel like you were on this trip too?  Beyond the story are deeper themes of secrets, complicated relationships (at what point is a friendship obligatory?) and mystery.  The brilliant aspect of this book is the juxtaposition of complex friendships against a frantic search for a loved one.  Female relationships are complex, but three is never an ideal number and this ratchets the tension even further.  I would highly recommend this book.  

When the Lights Go Out by Mary Kubica

When The Lights Go Out - Mary Kubica

A special thank you to NetGalley, Edelweiss, HarperCollins, and Park Row Books for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

Jessie Sloane had been caring for her mother, Eden, and is now on her own for the first time in her life.  She takes out a lease on an apartment in an old carriage house and applies to college.  But when the college informs her that her social security number belongs to a deceased three-year-old girl, Jessie begins to doubt everything she's ever known.

 

For as long as Jessie can remember, it had only been just the two of them.  When she asked about her father, Eden never disclosed who he was.  The mystery of Jessie's life and who she is becomes further exacerbated by the grief surrounding the death of her mother as well as the lack of sleep—Jessie refuses to sleep because when she fell asleep at the hospital, her mother died, and she feels an incredible amount of guilt.  As the days go by and the insomnia gets worse, Jessie's mind starts to play tricks on her and she can't decipher what is real and what is actually happening.  

 

Twenty years earlier and two hundred and fifty miles away, Eden appears to be happily married and dreams of having a child with her husband, Aaron.  The couple is struggling with infertility and Eden's desperation for a child becomes all-consuming.  Eden makes an impulsive decision that years later has Jessie questioning her whole life—has it been a lie, or have her delusions finally gotten the best of her?

 

Told in alternating perspectives and timelines, the sharp plot is blunted by Jessie's delusions and Eden's obsessive behaviour.  The reader is stuck inside both Jessie's twisted perceptions, not knowing what is real and what isn't, and Eden's emotional breakdown.  As unreliable narrators, Jessie and Eden are the perfect vehicles to execute this psychological thriller.  

 

Kubica is at the top of her game and she pens something totally fresh in When the Lights Go Out.  I would highly recommend this book, it was a fantastic read and I enjoyed the many twists in the plot.  

Sadie by Courtney Summers

Sadie - Courtney Summers

A special thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Sadie hasn't had it easy.  Her drug-addict mother is in and out of her life and Sadie is tasked with raising her little sister, Mattie.

Mattie goes missing and is subsequently found murdered.  This absolutely destroys Sadie and after a botched police investigation, Sadie makes it her mission to bring her sister's killer to justice.  Following what little information she has, Sadie strikes out on her own to find him.

West McCray is radio personality who is working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America.  When he overhears Sadie's story at a local gas station, West becomes obsessed with finding Sadie.  He starts his own podcast that tracks her journey in the hopes of trying to figure out what happened and to find Sadie before it's too late.

Summers contemporary story is not pretty.  It's gritty, raw, and at times unimaginable.  But the sad fact is that what happens to Sadie is not unique and the world can be a dark and terrible place. 

I struggled with Sadie as a character—on one hand, she's a total badass and could be a strong female lead, but on the other, she's basically still a child that has faced some incredibly brutal situations that no one, let alone a child, should be subjected to.     

The alternating points of view is the perfect vehicle for this story.  Sadie's first person voice is vulnerable as evident through her stutter, yet strong as apparent through her sheer determination and will.  She is lost and doesn't want to be found.  The only thing keeping her going is to find and kill the man responsible for Mattie's murder.  West's narrative is true to his occupation as a radio presenter in that he is factual and purposeful.  He frames his views into consumable content, albeit somewhat flippant, because he is reporting and investigating without any personal attachment.  I took this as a comment on the impact of media and how numb we are as a society to things that should be horrific and cause for reaction/action.

The two are on a similar trajectory—Sadie to find the man responsible for her sister's death and West to find Sadie.  With each turn of the page, the reader is hoping for them to collide and Summers capitalizes on this to propel her narrative.  Her pace is spot on.

This book is not for the faint of heart.  Summers preys on the reader's anxiety and ratchets this story to a whole other level.  I actually had to take reading breaks with this one, not only to catch my breath, but because I felt suffocated by Sadie's darkness.  This novel could be a trigger warning for some because of some of the subject matter and should come with a warning to call this out.