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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).

 

Look For Her by Emily Winslow

Look For Her - Emily Winslow

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

The fourth in a series, Winslow is getting better with each book.  Told from various points of view in first person narrative, this case is about a cold case of a beautiful missing girl from a small English village.

In 1976, Annalise Wood, a teenage girl disappears on her way home from school.  Her body was later discovered, the person responsible for the crime was never found.  Decades later, Annalise is a celebrity of sorts to the small town and for one woman especially.  Named after the dead girl, Annalise Williams believes that sharing the same name has bonded her to the dead girl.

DNA linked to the Annalise murder surfaces and investigator Morris Keene enlists the help of his former partner, Chloe Frohmann to finally solve the mystery and bring closure to the residents of Lilling.  As the investigation progresses, more questions arise rather than answers, the body that was perceived to be the missing girl may be someone else and that a recent drowning also has connections to the cold case.

The partnership between Keene and Frohmann is what great detective series are made of.  These characters are flawed, but endearing, and just so likeable.  The perspective of Dr. Laurie Ambrose added to the story giving it more of an edge and pushing it more into the psychological thriller genre.

My only criticism is how Winslow ties up some of the storyline.  Again, her downfall is linking too many of the supporting cast—it feels a little forced and sometimes convenient.

Finally, finally the marketing team at William Morrow has stopped using Donna Tartt to advertise these books.  

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Kevin

Young Jane Young - Gabrielle Zevin

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

Heavily influenced by the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Zevin tackles slut-shaming in her newest book Young Jane Young and it is glorious!  She examines the double standards, sex scandals, and misogyny that resides not only in politics, but in life.  Women everywhere face these issues and are often silenced from the shame, and the threat of losing everything they have worked so hard for.

Before becoming Jane Young the wedding planner, Aviva Grossman was an ambitious, bright intern with the congressman's office.  Aviva has an affair with her boss, the congressman himself, and blogs about it.  True to life, when the affair is made public, it is Grossman that goes down while the beloved congressman carries on.  Aviva becomes the punchline and butt of many jokes—she is labelled as fat, ugly, and a slut.  She is not employable or dateable and sees no other way out that to change her identity and move away to a remote town in Maine.

On top of running her own event planning business, Jane is also navigating being a single mother to Ruby.  Even though she has started her life over, politics doesn't seem to be out of her system and she decides to run for office.  Unfortunately for Jane, the past catches up with her (the internet is forever) and it is only a matter of time before Ruby discovers who her mother really is/was.  Ruby is the vehicle through which Jane must face not only her past, but Aviva herself.  

Told through the voices of Aviva/Jane, Aviva's mother Rachel, Ruby, and Embeth Levin (the congressman's wife), we hear all sides of the story.  Zevin's characters are not without flaws.  In fact, it is these flaws that drive the story forward and this type of narrative is the perfect vehicle to accomplish this.  She effortlessly moves from past to present without confusion.  Her writing is witty, fresh, and thought provoking.

The Visitors by Catherine Burns

The Visitors - Catherine Burns

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

I have been reading a lot of thriller/mystery books lately, and while this is not a fast-paced, page-turning type of thriller, it is still true to the genre—it is more in the gothic and psychological vein.   Burns writes a character-driven novel about a brother and sister with an almost Hitchcock feel to it.

Marion Zetland is a fifty-something spinster shut in who lives with her controlling older brother, John.  The siblings still live in their family home, a Georgian townhouse is a seaside town.  Despite having money, the house is literally decaying and is filled with garbage, dust, and secrets.  

Told from Marion's perspective, Burns' character study is no less than fascinating.  Marion is child-like, but not innocent.  She has been beaten down her whole life, first by her overbearing mother and now by her domineering brother.  Denial is her coping mechanism—when at all possible, she either daydreams or simply turns a blind eye.  Her only friends seem to be her collection of stuffed toys.  She uses these as an escape, especially to what John has locked in the cellar.

After John's has a heart attack, Marion is forced to forced to go down to the basement to face what her brother has kept locked up.  She also has to navigate the outside modern world and other responsibilities that John has normally handled.  Things start to unravel and there is a glimpse that John isn't the only one with a dark side.

If you like books that cross the line into the macabre, then this book is for you.  Like the house, it is grimy and gritty and utterly disturbing.

The Night Child by Anna Quinn

The Night Child: A Novel - Anna Quinn

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

Nora Brown is a high school English teacher.  She leads a low-key life in Seattle with her husband, Paul, and six-year old daughter, Fiona.  After dismissing her class for Thanksgiving weekend, Nora sees the face of a young girl.  She is filled with terror and confusion—is she hallucinating or could this be related to the headaches she has been having? 

The next day while on vacation, Nora sees the face again and is left shaken and disturbed.  She consults with a neurologist and eventually sees a psychiatrist to work through the visions and what they mean.  Through these sessions, Quinn moves the narrative.  We learn that Nora is the victim of a traumatic childhood and as a result has suffered a psychological breakdown.  As the plot unravels so does Nora as she begins to fear that what happened to her could happen to her daughter.  The character dissension is sharp and swift and Nora's husband—who has stepped out on their marriage—is less than supportive.  He has completely checked out of the relationship and has little patience for her.   

As stated, this book is not for the faint of heart—there is sexual violence, child abuse, death, mental illness, and suicide. 

The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian

The Flight Attendant: A Novel - Chris Bohjalian

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

 

On Chris Bohjalian's Instagram there is a post where a reader asked him why he always wears a suit and tie to an author event and his response was that it was a way of showing respect and thanks to his readers.  I was touched by his post and thought it showed a tremendous amount of class.  In return, I would like to thank Chris Bohjalian for the opportunity to read and review an advanced copy of The Flight Attendant.

 

Bohjalian, known for several of his books including an Oprah pick (Midwives), is a gifted writer.  Every novel he crafts is vastly different from the last, yet equally as rich in character development and plot. 

 

In The Flight Attendant, we have a flawed, self-sabotaging unreliable narrator—Cassandra Bowden is a flight attendant with a taste for adventure and alcohol.  Being a binge drinker, Cassie suffers from self-loathing and the odd blackout.  Waking up in a hotel room in Dubai after a one night stand with a dead body is beyond blacking out.  Could she have actually killed him?  Afraid to involve the authorities, Cassie starts lying to cover up any speculation that she could be involved.  With each lie she tells, she increasingly looks more guilty.  How far will she go before the truth comes out that she was with the passenger who was found dead in his hotel room?      

 

I recommend picking up this character-driven thriller/mystery.  Bohjalian weaves an engaging tale of regret, murder, and mystery through strong female characters. 

Beartown by Frederik Backman

Beartown: A Novel - Fredrik Backman

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

This book is about so much more than hockey.  What starts off as a story about a small village and their hockey team takes an unexpected turn in both character dissension and storyline.  Backman exposes the small town mentality of its residents and walks a fine line with his characterization of "crazy hockey parents" that are almost too stereotypical, but because his story is compelling, he gets away with it.

Beartown is universal in topic and appeal—sexism, homophobia, racism, and politics are issues prevalent in every town, anywhere.  In Beartown, as the underdogs that represent a community built on hockey, residents are willing to do whatever it takes to make their mark, including covering up a terrible crime against a young girl.  The mentality is staggering and mind blowing.  It is all too familiar where it is the victim that is the one bullied, threatened, and emotionally abused.  How society puts sports figures on a pedestal, they are untouchable, and not held responsible for their actions because they are hailed as some kind of hero.

Backman explores hope, perseverance, and the love of sport and juxtaposes it against the crippling burden of being the best and doing whatever it takes, no matter how high the price and at what cost.

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo - Amy Schumer

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

Well colour me surprised! I actually enjoyed The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo way more than I thought I would. There were things that made me laugh, and things that moved me too. I could have done without the lists, and most certainly done with out the chapter on her stuffed animals, but other than that, I felt she was incredibly honest, and real.

She shares with readers some truly painful experiences. The way she lost her virginity was sad, horrific, and painful. Schumer was also in an abusive relationship that resulted in a few terrifying ordeals that left me feeling incredibly sad for her, but optimistic in that maybe by sharing her story, she gave someone else the courage to leave an abusive relationship. My heart went out to her when she spoke of her father's MS, but she did take things a bit too far (poop story) and this was not necessary. I could empathize when she wrote about her mother, and their volatile relationship—she has had to establish some pretty tough and firm boundaries. Many mothers and daughters walk a fine line, and I really struggle to understand why women are so cruel to other women, oftentimes this starts out with criticisms from one's mother.

I love that she is unabashedly a feminist. She is also kind, smart, and doesn't make apologies for any of her failures or shortcomings. She works hard, and is of course funny.

“I know my worth. I embrace my power. I say if I’m beautiful. I say if I’m strong. You will not determine my story. I will. I’ll speak and share and fuck and love, and I will never apologize for it. I am amazing for you, not because of you. I am not who I sleep with. I am not my weight. I am not my mother. I am myself. And I am all of you."

The Address by Fiona Davis

The Address: A Novel - Fiona Davis

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

Fiona Davis' novel takes readers to the historic Dakota—the famous home of John Lennon from 1973 to his murder outside the building in 1980. The story opens in England with Sara Smythe, a head housekeeper at an elegant hotel. She is offered a job by Theodore Camden after she saves one of his children from falling out a window. Wanting a better life, she accepts the job which is to be the managerette of the Dakota, an upscale apartment building in New York City.

Fast forward to 1985 New York City, where Bailey Camden has just completed a stint in rehab and is trying to get her life back on track. She is hired by her cousin, Melinda, to redecorate her apartment in the Dakota, and is hopeful that this opportunity will relaunch her career. Davis joins the two storylines with the Dakota when Bailey finds Sara's belongings in a trunk in the basement of the decrepit building.

As a reader, the best parts of the story were in the past. Even though the 80s are by far my favourite decade, um hello, best music ever, I simply couldn't connect with Bailey and just wanted to stay with Sara. Davis fell victim of the duelling storylines and I feel of late that this style has been done too much and as an avid reader, this type of narrative is old hat.

Healthy Healing: A Guide to Working Out Grief Using the Power of Exercise and Endorphins by Michelle Steinke-Baumgard

Healthy Healing: A Guide to Working Out Grief Using the Power of Exercise and Endorphins - Michelle Steinke-Baumgard

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

After losing her husband in a tragic plane crash, Michelle Steinke-Baumgard faced the darkest moment of her life. Widowed, with two young children, Michelle confronted her grief head on by choosing to strengthen her body, mind, and spirit. In doing so, Michelle rediscovered happiness through fitness and wellness.

Please don't let the title sway you into thinking that you have had to experience a loss to benefit from Michelle Steinke-Baumgard's book. She addresses the physical, mental, and emotional effects of grief juxtaposed against healthy eating and exercise in a 12-week plan that anyone can use.

Steinke-Baumgard dispels a lot of the myths not only surrounding grief, but also with diet and exercise. There is no one-size-fits-all in grieving, healthy living, or wellness—Michelle tackles these myths with knowledge and personal experience. Her approach is kind, motivational, and above all, honest. She has a huge following from her One Fit Widow community where she provides the same support, candor, and honesty to her followers (you can check her out on social media). Michelle is a wonderful writer and I have been following her for a while now.

If you are even remotely considering changing your lifestyle, and/or are struggling with grief, pick up this book. Not only will your body thank you, but in times of loss, your heart and soul will thank you. Michelle, you are a wonderful role model, woman, and coach—thank you for sharing your personal story of loss, your fitness journey, and your knowledg
e.

The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad (Oprah's Book Club): A Novel - Colson Whitehead

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

Cora and Caesar are slaves on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Like all of the slaves, she is treated horrifically, but even more so because she is also an outcast among her people. Things are only going to get worse for Cora as she is approaching womanhood and is drawing unwanted attention from her owner.

Caesar, recently arrived from Virginia, tells Cora about the Underground Railroad. She initially refuses Caesar's idea to escape, but then her situation becomes more dire, and the two decide to leave the plantation and head to the north.

The narrative follows Cora's journey—at each stop she is met with a different world. She is also hunted by Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, and must navigate her way to liberation. At times, this structure didn't work because the reader gets bumped around from place-to-place and between past and present.

I wanted more from the supporting cast of characters, Whitehead does them a disservice by not developing them to their full potential. Caesar is also underdeveloped, and at times, Cora. There is a definite disconnect—would this book have been better in the first-person? Whitehead certainly did his research, but I can't quite put my finger on it. Maybe the research took over the plot? The idea of an underground railroad was genius, but this component/concept was not fully explored.

This book was hard for me to rate, and at times, to read. There was a lot of disturbing subject matter, and while this is a fictitious story, there were many Cora's and Caesars, and this story is important to tell. I don't doubt that this novel will be the topic of many Book Clubs.

Final Girls by Riley Sager

Final Girls - Riley Sager

A special thank you to NetGalley, Penguin Group, and Dutton for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Ten years ago, a group of college friends went on a getaway to a cabin in the woods, and only one of them came back. Quincey Carpenter was the lone survivor of this horror movie-style massacre at Pine Cottage. The press has dubbed her as a "Final Girl" (a term that refers to the last woman standing in a horror movie). There are two other women in this club: Lisa Milner, who survived a knife attack that claimed the life of nine of her sorority sisters, and Samantha Boyd, who survived the Sack Man during her shift at the Nightlight Inn. The women have never met despite attempts to get them together, they all want to put the past behind them and move on.

On the surface, Quincey seems to be holding it together—she has a successful baking blog, an understanding fiancé, Jeff, and a beautiful apartment. In actuality, she is using Xanax, and relies on the steadfast support of Coop, the police officer who saved her life that night in the woods. She also has no recollection of what actually happened. It is not until Lisa, the first Final Girl is found dead, and Sam, the second girl shows up on her doorway, that Quincey is forced to deal with the past and what actually happened that night.

Quincey invites Samantha, who now goes by Sam, to stay with her and Jeff at the apartment. Sam begins to influence Quincey and she engages in some destructive behaviour which is completely uncharacteristic and her actions are threatening to jeopardize the "normal" life she has worked so hard to build. Quincey begins to question Sam's motives—what are the truths and what are the lies? Why after all this time did Sam decide to show up? And why is she pushing Quincey to remember things she has blocked out? Can she trust Sam?

I didn't fully buy in. How could a complete stranger influence Quincey's behaviour so much? I understand that Sagar was using Sam as a vehicle for Quincey to deal with the past and uncover what happened, but it was forced. Unfortunately I had it figured out before the big reveal.

Hum If You Don't Know the Words by Bianca Marais

Hum If You Don't Know the Words - Bianca Marais

A special thank you to Penguin Random House First To Read for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Set in South Africa during Apartheid, the lives of two people collide and an unlikely bond is formed.  Robin Conrad is a nine-year-old white girl living with her parents in Johannesburg.  Beauty Mbali is a Xhosa woman in a rural village in the Bantu homeland of the Transkei who has been widowed and left to raise her three children.  Divided by race, the two meet as a result of circumstances stemmed from the Soweto Uprising—a protest by black students ignites racial conflict in which Robin's parents are casualties, and Beauty's daughter goes missing.

Robin is sent to live with her irresponsible aunt, and Beauty is hired to take care of Robin while continuing to look for her daughter.  Beauty and Robin become dependent on one another to fill the voids of their lost loved ones.  With the threat of Beauty abandoning her once her daughter is found, Robin makes a decision without understanding the magnitude it will have on Beauty, also failing to realize that this could cost her everything she loves.  Robin is taken on a journey of self-discovery, love, loss, racism, and what family truly means.

Told from alternating perspectives, Marais creates a strong character in Beauty, and an unreliable/naive one in Robin.  There were times where Robin was endearing, and other times she was unbelievably precocious and this, along with the ending, was the reason I didn't love the story.  Would Beauty, after everything she had gone through, really have let Robin save the day? 

I had incredible admiration for Beauty, not only for her intelligence, but for her compassion.  Her stoicism and strength when met with such adversity was nothing short of amazing and I wish that the entire story was told from her perspective.  She is well-written without being trivialized, Marais shines through her characterization.

Source: http://girlwellread.blogspot.ca/2017/06/hum-if-you-dont-know-words-by-bianca.html

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

The Lying Game: A Novel - Helen Ruth Elizabeth Ware

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

 

After devouring The Woman in Cabin 10, I was excited to get my hands on another Ruth Ware book.  Initially I was enjoying this book, especially the parts that take place at the boarding school, but I didn't fully buy in.  I don't want to make comparisons, and whether this was on purpose or not, but there were echos of The Secret History by Donna Tartt.  Is Donna Tartt not one of the most brilliant literary voices?  This seems like a compliment, right?  But in fact, this comparison does this book a disservice because Ware is a strong enough writer to stand on her own and not have to draw on this inspiration.  Again, this may be me creating the parallel between the two, so I'll move on.  But it's there: the exclusivity, the boarding school, the murder, the circumstances, the lasting effects of the death on the group, and that it is a murder mystery in reverse. 

 

There is an immediate hook—a woman is walking her dog in the quaint coastal village of Salten along the section of river known as the Reach where the tide meets the stream.  Her dog charges into the water to retrieve what is perceived to be a large stick, when in fact it is a human bone.  

 

The next morning, three women—Isa, Fatima, and Thea—get a text from Kate, the fourth in their exclusive group, that simply says "I need you".  Hoping they would never get this request, they drop everything and rush back to Salten.  The girls were a fearless foursome at the Salten House boarding school.  They used to play the Lying Game which involved telling the most outrageous things to people for points.  Only there are rules: tell a lie, stick to your story, don't get caught, never lie to each other, and know when to stop the lie.  For some, the lines become blurred with what are actual facts versus what is fantasy.  Ware reveals bits and pieces of the girl's time at the Salten boarding school, and how extreme the game got—they were all expelled in their final year under mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of the art teacher, Ambrose, who also happens to be Kate's eccentric father. 

 

Where this book stumbles is with our narrator, Isa.  She is a new mother, and Ware loses the plot because this character is so consumed by this role.  The baby proves to be a distraction for both Isa and the reader which ultimately detracts from the story.  Without the baby, Isa could still be an unreliable narrator—her memories of events are viewed through the lens of a naive young girl who seems enchanted with Ambrose, Kate, and Luc (the step-son/step-brother). More of the girls' time at school needed to be written and the other characters needed more attention.  I found it a stretch that these girls were only friends for such a short time, yet remained so incredibly loyal over the span of 17 years.  There was simply so much more to the story.  Ware took a wrong direction, not in using Isa as our narrator, but with hinging so much of her character on being a mother.  The boarding school, and the girls' past is paramount to the plot, yet none of the characters were really fleshed out.  

Hello Sunshine by Laura Dave

Hello, Sunshine: A Novel - Laura Dave

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

Sunshine Mackenzie seems to have it all and is truly living the perfect life.  She has a successful YouTube cooking show, a series of cookbooks that would rival any lifestyle celebrity's, a devoted husband, and millions of followers.  With a name like Sunshine, she radiates kindness; in actual fact, she is hiding who she really is.  After a few tweets, Sunshine experiences a catastrophic fall from grace.  She is left to pick up the pieces and reconnect with who she really is.

I really liked this foray into the effects of social media on one's life, and the pitfalls it can have on your social standing.  Without giving a preachy commentary about how toxic social media can be, a lighthearted chick-lit novel is just the remedy one needs to remind themselves that everyone's life is not as picture-perfect as Instagram and Pinterest would lead one to believe.

My only criticism is with the actual characters themselves.  Although Dave pens them as complex, there aren't any redeeming qualities, and the likability factor just wasn't there for me.  For a novel that was about the superficiality of social media, I expected more.    
The pace was on point, I was drawn in with her effortless writing style but was left unsatisfied by the ending.  That being said, I would definitely pick up another book by Laura Dave.

Fierce Kingdom: A Novel by Gin Phillips

Fierce Kingdom: A Novel - Gin Phillips

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

Joan and her four-year-old son, Lincoln, have just spent a leisurely day at their local zoo.  Estimating that it is almost closing time, Joan gathers up her son and his toys, and starts their journey towards the exit.  She quickly realizes that something is amiss—there is a shooter.  She gathers Lincoln in her arms and runs back into the zoo.  They are now trapped like the animals.     

Keeping one step ahead, Joan relies on her instincts and previous zoo trips to keep her and her little boy safe.  Her survival instincts kick into overdrive when she discovers there are others that are also trapped, and that there is more than one shooter.  Joan is determined for her and Lincoln to walk out of this alive.  The only communication she has with the outside world and her husband is via her cell phone and she realizes this same lifeline is also putting them at risk.  In a rash, but clever decision, Joan uses her cell phone as a decoy and throws the glowing object into the bushes. 

Phillips' primal and raw novel illustrates the powerful bond between a mother and her child and the lengths a mother will go to in order to protect her child.  This riveting novel pits a mother's love against fear, good against evil, and instinct against rationality.  Spanning three hours, this incredible story will have you mesmerized and your heart pounding until the very last word. 

A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom

A Tragic Kind of Wonderful - Eric Lindstrom

A special thank you to NetGalley and HarperCollins UK for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Sixteen-year-old Mel Hannigan has bipolar disorder and she is learning to balance life, relationships, and feelings.  Thinking that she will be abandoned when her friends find out things she has been pushing down, parts of her past, and also parts of who she is—what makes her Mel—she keeps them at a distance, even going so far as to terminate friendships.

This was a mixed bag for me.  I applaud Lindstrom for tackling such an important topic, especially for this genre, but it came up short.  There was a lot going on, he took on too much at once, and this distracted from the beautiful raw emotion that should have been capitalized on.  There were characters that took away from the main storyline and then there were characters, like Nolan, that were not explored enough.

Without sounding harsh, I found Mel to be bright, confident, and honest, and the way she tracked her feelings was incredibly juvenile.  This is where her relationship with the retired doctor could have been fleshed out—this was a flaw in the storyline, there was a beautiful and honest relationship that was never explored.  This could have been the vehicle to her memories of Nolan.  

All-in-all, a good read, and I would like to read Not If I See You First.