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girlwellread

Girl Well Read

Developmental Editor by day, Book Blogger by night.

The Child by Fiona Barton

The Child - Fiona Barton

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

Dubbed a psychological thriller, Barton's newest work takes us to a London construction site where the skeletal remains of a baby are found.  Kate Waters, a local reporter, decides to pursue the story of The 'Building Site Baby'.  As she investigates, she discovers connections to a decade-old kidnapping of a newborn baby from the maternity ward of a local hospital—the baby girl was never found.  Waters is drawn into the past of the people who once lived in the neighbourhood.  Told from multiple points of view, truths are revealed, and Kate must decide which secrets to keep and which to tell.

Without spoiling anything, there is a fantastic plot twist that is brilliantly executed.  A slow burn, but worth your patience.  

The Story of Arthur Truluv

The Story of Arthur Truluv: A Novel - Elizabeth Berg

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

In the same vein as A Man Called Ove, Berg's latest novel doesn't disappoint. This delightful, easy read is about three people whose lives intersect because of loss. Arthur is a widow that visits his dead wife's grave every day to have lunch with her; it is here that he meets Maddy, a teenager who hides out in the cemetery to avoid high school. Although they are an odd pairing, Berg's character development brings their relationships with loss and loneliness to an end and in its place, creates a beautiful friendship. Lucille is Arthur's neighbour. She is incredibly forward and the epitome of a nosy neighbour, but totally endearing. Fresh from a loss of her own, she becomes part of their makeshift family. 

My only criticism is that I wanted more from the relationships. I wanted more Nola and Arthur, and more of Maddy and her father. If Berg had fleshed out these relationships, the story wouldn't be so saccharin-sweet.

Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan

Saints for All Occasions - J. Courtney Sullivan

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

Two sisters, 21-year-old Nora and 17-year-old Theresa Flynn, leave their small village in Ireland and embark on a journey that will bring them to America. 

Nora is the more responsible of the two; she is practical and shy and accepts the proposal of a man she isn't entirely sure she is in love with.  Theresa is a free sprit that is easily charmed with her new life in Boston which includes dresses and dance halls.  When Theresa ends up pregnant, it is Nora that comes up with a plan that ultimately changes the course of their lives.

Fifty years pass—Nora has four grown children: John, a successful political consultant; Bridget, in a relationship and preparing for a baby; Brian, a former baseball player who has moved back in with Nora; and Patrick, Nora's favourite child, who is responsible for causing much heartache to those around him.  Estranged from Nora, Theresa lives in Vermont in a secluded abbey and is a practicing nun. 

After decades of not speaking, a death in the family forces the sisters to confront the choices they have made and each other.  This is a beautiful, sweeping novel about relationships, family, secrets, and sacrifice.  

The Good Earth

The Good Earth - Pearl S. Buck, Nick Bertozzi

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

 
This graphic novel by Nick Bertozzi gives a makeover to Pearl S. Buck's 1931 Pulitzer Prize-winning classic about the rise and fall of Chinese villagers before WWI.  
 
Disclaimer: I didn't realize I was requesting a comic/graphic novel adaptation.  If I had realized this, I wouldn't have requested the title.  That being said, I was pleasantly surprised.  This actually works as a graphic novel and I think that it will put this classic willingly into the hands of the YA audience.

Baby Doll by Hollie Overton

Baby Doll - Hollie Overton

A special thank you to NetGalley and Redhood Books for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Lily was abducted when she was sixteen and has been held captive for eight years in a cabin basement.  During this time, she has given birth to a daughter.  One fateful night, Lily realizes that he has forgotten to lock the door, or is this another test?  Lily wakes her daughter and flees into the night.  Overton's story is what happens next. 

The book has no real surprises or plot twists; there is nothing shocking, are no revelations, and the writing is average at best.  She could have done much more with the characters—especially Lily given that she was held captive for so long and experienced horrific abuse and neglect.  She would need intense therapy to overcome the incredible trauma endured, but that is not the angle that Overton took with Lily's story, even though it mostly takes place after she returns home.

The opening few chapters are the best in the book.  There was definitely a hook, and my criticisms aside, there's some good writing in these beginning chapters. 

Please stop trying to hook people by mentioning Gone Girl and Girl on the Train when marketing your book.  If anything, this is closer to Room, but again, you should just not do these comparisons when a book is sub par to all of the books mentioned in this paragraph.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman

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

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple, mundane life, and operates on the same routine every day—she  wears the same clothes to work, eats the same meal for lunch from the same location, makes the same dinners, and every weekend buys the same kind of pizza with the same kind of wine, and two bottles of vodka to get her through the weekend.  She is incredibly isolated and lonely with no benchmark of how life should be.  From a random act of kindness Eleanor realizes exactly what she's been missing and how much better life can be.   

The description of Honeyman's debut made it sound like a Bridget Jones type novel. Eleanor is a 30 year-old singleton, living in the city, who drinks a lot, but that is where the comparison ends.  In fact, I actually thought that Eleanor may be on the Autism spectrum because of her routines, the difficulty she has in social settings, and her formal speech.  However, her behaviour stems from suffering a childhood trauma, and also not having any family or friends to help guide her in social situations—she has been alone for so long that she has no point of reference with things like pop culture, and relationships in general.  She is also victim of mental abuse every Wednesday when she talks to her 'Mummy' on the phone.

The novel unfolds through Eleanor and at times she is an unreliable narrator that serves the story perfectly.  Incredibly sad at times, this exploration of the human spirit was a bright debut and I highly recommend it.

The Change Room

The Change Room - Karen Connelly

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

This book was a recommendation from NetGalley. To be honest, this is not a genre I typically read so I was simply going to delete the email and move on, but after reading a glowing endorsement by Ami McKay (author of The Birth House, The Virgin Cure, and The Witches of New York), I decided to give it a chance. I was caught by surprise, Connelly's writing is really good—she captures the psyche of a middle-aged mother/wife/woman so well against a really cool setting (for those of us who are lucky enough to be based in and around Toronto).

Erotic. Truthful. Clever. Connelly begs the question: does anyone really have it all?

Conversations with God Book 4 Awaken the Species, A New and Unexpected Dialogue by Neale Donald Walsch

Conversations with God: Awaken the Species, A New and Unexpected Dialogue, Book 4 - Neale Donald Walsch

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

 

The previous three books in the series were so well done.  I had the pleasure of listening to the audiobooks, and I got a lot out of them.  I encourage you to pick them up or give them a listen.  Unfortunately, I can't say the same for this book.  Maybe it's just me, or perhaps I'm just not on the same page (pardon the pun) spiritually as this book, but I simply just didn't "get" it and it didn't resonate the same way as the others did.  

 

What I did like was the question and answer section, there was value there, it was well executed, and tied the books nicely together.  There were some interesting and thought-provoking sections, but there was a lot that was just lost on me, and I felt like it was out just of my reach.   

 

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier

New Boy - Tracy Chevalier

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

 

Set in 1970s Washington, D.C., and spanning a school day, New Boy explores jealousy, love, friendship, and racism.  

 

Osei Kokote, a diplomat's son, is staring at his fourth school in six years.  The attention given to his colour is surpassed only by the attention that his relationship with the most popular girl at the all-white school garners.  This is where the trouble really begins.  Not everyone is as intrigued and impressed with O as Dee is, and one boy in particular makes it his mission to destroy the relationship.  By the end of the day, the school and its students will be left reeling, and will never be the same.       

 

I've been enamoured with Chevalier's work since Girl With a Pearl Earring and have been waiting for her to deliver something just as captivating and she does just this with New Boy.  Chevalier doesn't shy away from the huge undertaking/responsibility of retelling Shakespeare's Othello—her compact version delivers a sucker punch and I encourage you to pick it up.  

My Life as a Bench by Jaq Hazell

My Life as a Bench - Jaq Hazell

A special thank you to NetGalley and Nowness Books for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

I wasn't sure what to expect given the premise for this book.  Lauren "Ren" Miller has died at the age of seventeen, yet her consciousness lives on by inhabiting a bench that was purchased by her father in her memory.  The bench faces the River Thames in London and is situated beside Lionel, a father-figure of sorts, who encourages Ren to break through and talk to the living in order to reveal the truth about her harrowing end.

 

Hazell definitely takes a different vantage point for a narrator, but is a risk that doesn't quite pay off in my opinion.  Although unique in concept, it is the story itself that feels constrained by the bench, the choppy flashbacks, and by the main character herself.  Her relationship with Gabriel sounds incredibly needy and I honestly feel that this is a disservice to young girls when the protagonist's happiness seems to hinge on a boy. 

 

The Breakdown by B. A. Paris

The Breakdown - B. A. Paris

After reading Paris' debut Behind Closed Doors, I couldn't wait to get my hands on The Breakdown. A special thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Driving home in the rain, Cass decides to take a shortcut through the woods against her husband Matthew's wishes that she stick to the main roads. She is surprised to see another car on the road in such poor weather. She pulls in front of the car, but is too scared to get out thinking this may be a trap set to entice her out of her own vehicle. When the female driver does not approach, Cass figures help is on the way and drives off. 

The next day, Cass hears on the news that the driver she passed was murdered. She is incredibly distraught and guilt-ridden thinking she could've done something. The guilt begins to eat away at her, especially after she learns the identity of the woman, and she was someone that Cass recently met. Her emotional state is smothering. On top of this, she is growing increasingly paranoid and forgetful—she is certain that she is suffering from early onset dementia, the same condition that her mother had—and therefore is not credible. She is convinced the murderer knows her identity and is responsible for the silent phone calls she has been receiving. But with her family history of dementia, and her mental state, who is going to believe her? 

Paris brings nothing new to the realm of the suspense/thriller genre, in fact, there was nothing really that was overly shocking by way of plot twists, and Cass' inner dialogue was often repetitive. So why read this book? It is a page-turner and hooks you plain and simple. The novel is perfectly timed and flawlessly executed. Given the main character's paranoia and hysteria, the denouement could have been obvious and trite, but it wasn't because of the way she developed her unreliable narrator—this was the perfect angle from which to tell the story.

The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron

The Last Neanderthal: A Novel - Claire  Cameron

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

 

Being a Canadian, I always like to read and review Canadian authors.  I read Cameron's The Bear for a book club selection, I didn't love it, but I was eager to give her another chance.  

 

An interesting premise—Cameron juxtaposes the last Neanderthal family against a parallel modern-day storyline.  Initially I was unsure, Neanderthals?  After finishing The Last Neanderthal, I'm glad that I requested something that normally I wouldn't be attracted to.  

 

40,000 years in the past, the last Neanderthals are fighting for survival after a hard-fought winter.  Their numbers are low, but Girl is coming of age and her family are determined to make the trek to the annual meeting place in hopes of securing her a mate to carry on their species.  The small family's existence is further threatened by the elements and nature and Girl is left to care for Runt, a small foundling of unknown descent.  Once again, Girl and Runt must face the winter and risk their survival.

 

In modern-day France, we meet archaeologist Rosamund Gale who has just learned that she is pregnant and worried about the repercussions of having a baby.  The site that Rose is working at contains the remains of a female Neanderthal that appears to be embracing a Homo Sapiens male—were they lovers?  This startling discovery has scientists reevaluating what they believed were our origins.  With a race against impending motherhood, Rose does not want to give up her work after making incredible strides in a male-dominated field of study.  She often has to defend her position simply because she is a woman.  Rose begins to feel an incredible amount of pressure as the project in jeopardy of losing funding, and she has just learned that she is the sole bread winner after her partner Simon loses his teaching position.  

 

Rose and Girl are linked through time by their pregnancies and experiences of what it means to be a woman, a mother, and to survive.

 

Primal, raw, and unique, this was an interesting read.

Everybody's Son by Thrity Umrigar

Everybody's Son: A Novel - Thrity Umrigar

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

 

Thrity Umrigar is a beautiful writer who capitalizes on human emotion in her latest novel about two families that couldn't be more different.  

 

During a terrible heatwave in 1991, ten-year-old Anton has been locked in his mother's apartment in the projects.  After being by himself for seven days without any air-conditioning, or fan, with the windows nailed shut, and no electricity, Anton breaks a window and climbs out.  He is bleeding from a wound in his leg when the police find him.  All-the-while, his mother, Juanita is discovered unconscious and half-naked in a crack house less than three blocks away.  When she comes to, she immediately asks for her "baby boy" insisting she only left for a quick hit, but that her drug dealer kept her high while repeatedly raping her.  Anton is placed with child services when his mother is sent to jail.  

 

David Coleman is the son of a US senator and a white Harvard-educated judge.  After the death of his only high-school-aged son, Coleman is desperate for a home with a child again.  David and his wife, Delores, foster Anton and quickly grow attached to the bright boy.  Despite Anton's mother's existence, Coleman uses his power, connections, and white privilege to keep his foster son.  

 

Anton follows in his adoptive father's footsteps and seems to have a knack for politics that is complimented by his charm.  On the cusp of greatness, Anton learns the truth about his mother and the lengths Coleman went to to keep him as his very own.  He begins to question who he really is—he is nobody's son, yet everybody's son.  

 

Umrigar explores class, race, power, privilege, and morals in this emotional heart-wrenching story that will stay with the reader long after it is finished.

Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

Anything Is Possible - Elizabeth Strout

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

Strout is simply a gift.  Her writing is breathtaking, gorgeous, and heartbreaking.  Written in tandem with My Name Is Lucy Barton, Strout draws on the small-town characters that Lucy and her mother talked about—we are given insight into their lives and learn how their stories are woven together in this work of fiction that reads more like a novel than a compilation of stories.

In My Name Is Lucy Barton, the work speaks to the reader on a different level in that it was more about the nuances and what was left unsaid.  This book is more character driven, examining the human condition, stories of love, loss, and hope. 

The Twilight Wife by A.J. Banner

The Twilight Wife - Lisa A. Banner

A special thank you to Goodreads First Reads and Touchstone/Simon & Schuster for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

Kyra Winthrop, a thirty-four-year-old marine biologist, is recovering from a head injury she sustained in a diving accident.  She has no memory of the accident.  Her most recent years come to her in flashes; she is completely dependent upon those around her to fill in the gaps, most notably her doting and patient husband, Jacob.  Because of the extent of her injury, Jacob tells her the same stories over and over, and answers the same questions again and again.  He compiles pictures in a ‘memory’ book for her to assist with her recovery.  Sounds like the perfect husband…so then why is she remembering another man, Aiden Finlay?  Did she have an affair?    

 

The couple live on a small island, cut off from civilization, and all is not what it seems.  Kyra’s visions become more recurrent, people are not who appear to be.  She stops taking her medication to try and make sense of memories, are they flashbacks, or were they told to her?  As her memories become more frequent, she feels like she can’t even trust herself so she starts to see a therapist in secret to help her make sense of things.  Through her continued therapy sessions, she begins to piece together events and dissect the foundations of her relationships.  The truth is in fact a nightmare and Jacob doesn’t want her regaining her memory. 
  

In the same vein as S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep, this page-turner has the reader questioning relationships and those who they trust.  A solid 3.5/5 stars.       

A Book of American Martyrs by Joyce Carol Oates

A Book of American Martyrs - Joyce Carol Oates

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

 

This was an incredible feat for both Joyce Carol Oates to write, and for me to finish.  The book is a huge undertaking, both ambitious in length and subject matter, and it left me confused.  I’m confused as to why it needed to be so long, and confused at some of the characters (more on that later).  What Oates does exceptionally well is write, but that doesn’t mean that the book needs to be as robust to showcase her talent.  It would have been more effective if it was trimmed because she loses readers in the minor events that don’t propel the story forward. 

 

The story opens with the reader inside the head of Luther Dunphy, a religious fanatic who thinks he is doing God’s work when he calls in late to work one day so that he can assassinate Dr. Gus Voorhees, an abortionist for the Broome County Women’s Center. 

 

Oates segues into Dunphy’s back story outlining his motivations and ideologies.  The story bogs out here, but push through it before you bottom out and abandon the book.  In his younger days, Dunphy is every bit the monster he is when he kills Voorhees–he sexually assaulted women, and exhibited extremely violent behaviour– only this later version of him thinks he is safe under the cloak of religion.  The reader also learns that he is father wrought with guilt over the death of a child, a husband who cannot fix his wife’s depression, and a hard worker that battles chronic pain to support his family.  The sadness and destitute Luther feels seeks solace in the righting of a wrong; it isn’t murder, he is the ‘chosen one’.    

 

In the later chapters, we see into Gus Voorhees’ life.  He is equally as driven as Dunphy, convinced with rightness for his cause.  

 

We come to know both men’s families: the liberal, well-educated Voorheeses juxtaposed against the devout, poor Dunphys.  The families are left devastated in the wake of tragedy, forever changed, yet leading similar lives.  Both wives pull away from their families, both sets of siblings experience a wedge of grief that drives them apart.  Speaking of wives, I mentioned earlier that I was confused by some of the characters, and Jenna (Voorhees’ widow) is one of them.  Why did she abandon her children?  Why did she disappear from the hotel after scattering her husband’s ashes?  Was this just deliberate of Oates to draw another parallel between the two families?  I felt that this wasn’t behaviour that was driven by grief, it was just plain out of character and was just there to inflict more pain and tragedy on the Voorhees children.  

 

The story shifts gears again and focuses on the men’s daughters: Naomi Voorhees and Dawn Dunphy.  Naomi chronicles her dad’s life, fronted as a documentary, but really she is trying to make sense of the tragedy and how it has shaped who she is.  Stemming from a vicious attack in school, Dawn becomes a professional boxer and this is how she exerts control of her life.  The two meet when Naomi feigns interest in Dawn as the subject matter for a documentary about female boxers.  This is where Oates shines–when she explores the complex relationships and facets of their lives, the last third of the book is the best part.