Review: Broken People

Broken People: A Novel by [Sam Lansky]
Click to purchase Broken People on Amazon.

Sam Lansky’s Broken People, I suspect, will be quite divisive amongst the literary-minded folk who pick it up. On one hand, its masturbatory millennial philosophizing is tiresome to the point that it seemingly comes back around to satirize itself, an ouroboros for the 21st-Century intellectual elite. The characters are selfish, self-centered, unlikable, and mostly unremarkable, while the plot is nonexistent, despite its being at least 50 pages longer than necessary.
On the other hand, Lansky’s writing is maddeningly relatable, conveying all of life’s questions and existential angst with eloquence. The book is beautifully written, to the point that I’m struggling to narrow down quotes to use here. Do I focus on the purely poetic turns of phrase, a la “desire browned to loneliness, like fruit oxidizing”?, or stick with thematically-relevant passages?
This “novel” (I suspect it’s rooted far more in the author’s life than most novels, given its strong, singular point of view, which feels deeply personal at all times… Oh, and that the central character shares a name with the author) is angsty in the way that so many others try to be, but fail for winding up too whiney or else eye-rollingly dramatic. There’s nothing dramatic about Sam– the character, not the author, but maybe him, too– and I mean that in both the most positive and negative sense. But here is a portrait of a man almost crippled by his depression, though he doesn’t crave death. Instead, he occupies an eerily-relatable, suicide-adjacent space,

“He did not want to die, in a practical sense– the corporeal permanence of death terrified him– but rather, to already be dead, to skip the death process and coast into a static condition of un-being… Certainly that had to be better than sustained consciousness.”

What I liked best about this book is that it feels reminiscent of Martin Amis’s Time’s Arrow or Julian Barnes’ Sense of an Ending, in that it is a meditation on memory, and what it is to be human, both in the abstract and corporeal senses. It’s an updated version, though, so it doesn’t risk being derivative.

You’re afraid of your shadow. But as you move, so does it. You and it are inextricable. And still you run from it… You think telling stories is a way of facing yourself. But it’s actually how you run from yourself.”

Rating Icons - Download Free Vector Icons | Noun Project
4/5 Stars

Review: The Half Sister

The Half Sister

Having not read The Other Woman, Sandie Jones was a new author to me, and this book didn’t disappoint. I went in completely blind, only scanning the synopsis, so I was expecting your more typical over-dramatized psychological thriller. Is the half sister who she says she is? Is she out for some kind of vengeance? Though those questions do come up, this is truly a domestic thriller, by which I mean that it’s far quieter than its genre-siblings.
For me, what tipped the scales from a 4-star to a 3-star is that I often found myself lost in who is who re: Lauren and Kate. While they’re “complete opposites”, they didn’t have distinct voices, so I kept having to rely on context clues: which one has the family, which one is struggling with fertility? It would’ve worked better for me had they been differentiated by their voices.
The end of the book is also a bit cacophonous, which stands in stark contrast to everything before it. It’s so rooted in reality and then, I assume to give us some meaty plot twists, there is a whole potential fake abortion plot that comes from out of nowhere, as well as calling into question the DNA test, which makes no sense. As the author tries to fake us out, so that we don’t see the rather-obvious answer, it all gets rather convoluted.
Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a softer thriller, as it is an enjoyable read and it doesn’t have much in the way of gruesome details or violence, which is a nice break from the expected.

Review: The Heir Affair

It’s here! The highly anticipated sequel to 2015’s bestselling The Royal We, The Heir Affair is finally making its way into the public. Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan have delivered more of the same– which is to say that while it’s not exactly earth shattering, if you enjoyed the first book in the series, you’ll be chuffed with this follow up.

All of your favorite characters are back, in their full glory, perhaps none more so than the apple of every reader’s eye, Freddie, as well as a few new characters. Most notably, Princess Daphne, who, at first blush, seems rather obnoxious, but then I really grew to like her. No more Bex-Freddie shenanigans… Well… Okay, yes, there is tons of dramz with Freddie. But this time, the scandal isn’t nearly as frustrating as before. This book isn’t quite as ‘fun’ as its predecessor, but it matures alongside its characters. Though Nick is his typical, Manic Pixie Dream Boy-self, he finally lets his hair down (or, at least, what’s left of it), albeit for brief romps, such as in ski gondolas. Surprisingly, one of my favorite elements of this book is the relationship forged between Queen-Grandmother Eleanor and Bex. I love the snarky Queen, and am I the only one who felt badly for her? I mean, yes, she’s a slave to the Crown and forces others to bend to its might and antiquated traditions… But, guys, she’s A SLAVE! TO THE CROWN! The real villain here is Prince Dick, amiright? Ugh. I didn’t like him before and I like him even less here. Oh, yeah, and Clive.

For anyone wondering whether they *have* to have read The Royal We to be able to get into this book, the answer is no. There are plenty of moments where the authors fill you in on what you might have missed. That being said, their recaps serve better as reminders of what you might have read and forgotten in the 5 years between books (no need to re-read). I’d recommend taking the full tour de Lyons, if you’ve not read the first book.

If you had a problem with the length of The Royal We, this one’s even longer. Great, if you’re enjoying the journey (as I did); not so much if you’re just looking to add numbers to your ‘read’ list.

The Ultimate Life is a Journey of Passion and Purpose ...
Rating: 3.5/5 stars, rounded up for Goodreads and NetGalley

Review: The Royal We

Buy The Royal We on Amazon Here.

Dun dun da duuunnnn.

A blast from the past, friends! But not really, since I’ve just finally gotten around to reading The Royal We. I remember when this book came out in 2015 and immediately landed on all of the bestseller lists. Not being a particular fan of modern monarchs– I didn’t make it through season one of The Crown and, *GASP*, I didn’t watch either of the royal weddings– this wasn’t in my ‘to be read’ pile. However, I can’t resist a good romance. I requested an ARC for the much-anticipated sequel, The Heir Affair, and was granted a copy, so figured I’d go back and start with the first book in the series.

Let me just paint a picture for you really quickly, of my reading habits. Every morning, I wake up and do two hours of fasting cardio. That’s over ten miles on the treadmill, per day. This is my prime reading time, and really the only way I can keep going for that long. What does that mean? I’m not always the most patient or forgiving reader. This book had me excited to wake up and get on the treadmill. What a great surprise, to become so invested in and entertained by this silly, but endearing, novel. I’ve no clue how much of this is or isn’t “true”, as I don’t know much about the contemporary royals and their wives. I do think it’s interesting, reading it after Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle both married into the House of Windsor, as Bex reads like an amalgamation of both of those women, rather than solely Kate, after whom she was apparently modeled.

Regardless of the truth/lack thereof, there’s so much to enjoy. The plot is strong, the characters are mostly lovable, though they’re all flawed and have their own complexities (as far as characters in a romance have complexities, I mean). Usually, I’m the first to point out flat characters, a lack of overall edginess, and a book being too long. But here, where characters are boring/lack edge, it’s expected– hello, these are royals— if Bex were a drug kingpin or Wills Nick were turning tricks for play money, it would be insufferably unbelievable. There’s just enough scandal, but it all lies within the realm of possibilities, including the final, almost-relationship-ending scandal. (Yes, it’s far-fetched, but could I see it happening? Sure. There’s a reason such cliches exist. Though would a royal couple still go on to marry after such a scandal? That, I’m not necessarily buying. Though I will, for the sake of the sequel.) Which brings me to the length. Absolutely, this could’ve been shorter. But it’s such a fun ride, I wouldn’t have wanted it to end any sooner. In fact, I fully intend to ride this wave through the next installment of Bex and Nick’s story. Hey, we’re in quarantine. There are no rules here regarding guilty pleasures. Gotta make the best of it.

Stay tuned for my next review, of The Heir Affair, which is due for release June 16th, 2020.

Rating:

Assessment, four stars, like, rated, rating scale, rating stars ...
Rating: 4/5 stars

Review: In Five Years

Click the link to purchase In Five Years on Amazon.

I’ve been eagerly anticipating the release of Rebecca Serle’s In Five Years for the comparisons to One Day in December. Overall, I really enjoyed the book; it was a quick read that I didn’t want to finish. But weirdly, in examining its parts, I didn’t love the individual elements. The characters didn’t particularly grab me, nor did I feel strongly for either relationship (with long-term fiancé David or premonition-fling Aaron), and I thought the concept had much more potential than the book actually delivered. I was on the fence about the relationship between Dannie and Bella, because both of them could be quite frustrating, but I did feel for them once the major struggle manifested *don’t want to ruin a major plot point there*.
My favorite thing about this book is the jumping off point: where do you see yourself in five years, and what would you do if you could actually see a snapshot of where you end up? It’s similar to the device Serle employed in her previous effort, The Dinner List, that one being: if you could have dinner with any five people, who would they be? In this book, Dannie sees a snapshot of her life that is completely out of alignment with what she thought her life would be like in five years. I think what’s great is that, while she doesn’t overhaul her life in an effort to change the outcome, she does make small changes that wind up leading her to the same conclusion (however, it should be noted that said conclusion is not what one might expect).

Have you read this book? If so, what did you think?

Review: Little Secrets

Little Secrets: A Novel by [Jennifer Hillier]
Click to buy Little Secrets on Amazon.

Happy publication day to author Jennifer Hillier and Minotaur Books for Little Secrets! In case you don’t read any further (I suggest avoiding as much as you can!), the take-away here is, GO GET THIS BOOK! This is one of those rare books that actually lives up to its Girl on the Train or Gone Girl comparisons that sellers love to tout– though such high praise is usually aspirational, if not entirely inappropriate.

For a book populated with unlikable characters, Little Secrets is surprisingly enjoyable. I read a lot of books in this genre, and am consistently disappointed, but I have to hand it to Jennifer Hillier here, because this is definitely one of the better psychological thrillers to come out over the last year.
I’d recommend going into it blindly, as I did, but if you need to know more, read on:
It’s hard to describe what makes this book stand out from an over-saturated genre, since the kidnapped child scenario is so common, as are the characters (philandering husband, distraught wife, younger, Instagram-addicted mistress). I think, actually, what makes it great is that Hillier doesn’t care about her characters’ likability. The central protagonist, Marin, who is the ‘victim’ in that she has lost her son and now her husband, is not ‘innocent’– she is rash, jealous, and even homicidal. This is one of the rare instances where an author isn’t trying to shove any characters down your throat, or throwing in gratuitous ‘save the cat’ moments (i.e. obviously-plotted scenes which are meant to endear the reader/viewer to a character, even though he/she may be difficult). Hillier operates with a confidence so rarely possessed by authors and a trust so rarely given to readers, knowing that her plot is tight enough to keep us engaged and that we’re smart enough to stick with morally complex and/or despicable characters. I call this the Hannibal Lecter approach. While it’s difficult to achieve as an author, it’s so much more rewarding as a reader when you get to read and cheer for characters you love to hate or hate to love.

Assessment, four stars, like, rated, rating scale, rating stars ...



Review: If I Had Your Face

How beautiful is this cover? Click to purchase your copy via Amazon.

I’m on the fence with this one as to whether I’d give it 3 or 4 stars. On one hand, it is beautifully written and features an array of unique characters and a world I’ve never gotten to see first hand, or in fiction. However, given the title, If I Had Your Face, as well as the phenomenal (if heavy-handed) dramas that have been a hallmark of Korean cinema, I was expecting something more plot-driven in this narrative piece. Given the banner advertisement that says “I would live your life so much better than you if I had your face”, I thought this was going to be something sinister, like some kind of Sci-Fi identity theft-meets-Memoirs of a Geisha (because of the secret room salons and emphasis on achieving a specific, rigid standard of beauty).

In actuality, Frances Cha’s debut novel is a slow, slice-of-life story with multiple narrators in which nothing monumental happens to any of them. Instead, Cha serves up unique characters and an opportunity to travel via her vivid and precise writing to a foreign country and experience the nitty gritty, day-to-day life. I have to admit, after reading the first chapter, I went on an embarrassingly long binge of before-and-after photos from the various surgeries mentioned in the book. It is quite astounding, and given the prevalence of surgery and the demand for physical perfection, it is undoubtedly ripe for authors (particularly a Korean female) to delve into, expose, and react philosophically, sociologically, and politically. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be a young woman living in contemporary Seoul, here’s your opportunity.

3.5 Stars – PopCultHQ
Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Review: My Dark Vanessa

My Dark Vanessa

“People will risk everything for a little bit of something beautiful”

First thing’s first: My Dark Vanessa is extremely well written. But it is not an easy or comforting read. If you are at all triggered by sexual misconduct, manipulation, or statutory rape, be warned. Though, to tack onto that– the author’s treatment of the subject here may actually open the door for difficult conversations, allowing victims to relate and feel understood and heard without judgment.

This book has been on my radar for quite some time, as I had requested to review an advanced copy (but was denied). Since I’ve got so many other approvals– and, because, let’s be real, I’m often quite bitter when I’m rejected– I rarely go back and read books where I’ve not gotten an ARC. However, this one really stood out to me because the teacher and willing student relationship is a situation about which I’ve always wanted to write a novel myself.

Having been in the position where lines have been crossed with older, more authoritative figures, I understand the complex relationships and feelings, both positive and negative, that can develop. Russell does an impeccable job conveying the convoluted dynamics– so much so, that she had to add at the beginning a disclaimer that the story was in no way borne of nonfictional events that occurred to her. The success of the book is largely due to its reading like a memoir rather than a fictional character study. I agree with other reviews which have found problems with its length, as it easily could’ve been half the length and been as effective, if not more so. However, the strength of Russell’s writing– her weaving of poetry and classical literature into the narrative, so that it isn’t gratuitous or derivative, but rather an integral and enriching part of the story.

“Your life is like a movie. She didn’t understand the horror of watching your body star in something your mind didn’t agree to. She meant it as a compliment. Isn’t that what all teenage girls want? Endlessly bored, aching for an audience.”

Perhaps one of the things I loved most about the novel was that, while it’s clear that Vanessa (and all of those like her) has suffered greatly, it also allows the space for her to hold contradictory beliefs without judging her. What I mean by this is that often, people refuse to acknowledge that there may be legitimate feelings of love or attraction on the part of the “victim”. To negate those feelings because the victim is ‘too young’ or was being ‘coerced/manipulated/seduced’ is to undermine that person, who has already been through so much already. Russell never once strays into that territory, always giving her character the benefit of the doubt and allowing her to voice her various beliefs.

Rating Icons - Download Free Vector Icons | Noun Project
Rating: 4/5 stars

Review: Musical Chairs

Musical Chairs

This book isn’t scheduled to be released for a while, but I’m going to do something I’ve never done before and post a pre-review, because this should definitely be on your radar. Stay tuned for my full review, which will be posted on publication day, July 20, 2020. Let me know in the comments if you’re excited to read Musical Chairs, or if you’re already a fan of Amy Poeppel!

Let’s start with: this is not my usual fare. I almost exclusively read and review books with twenty-or early-thirty-something protagonists, often set in urban landscapes, with edgy subject matters and/or a biting sense of wit. Musical Chairs has none of that. Instead, it is a tame book about family dynamics, set in rural Connecticut, with a middle-aged protagonist and zero Millennial angst.  Nevertheless, I genuinely enjoyed this book, which is a testament to Amy Poeppel’s writing. There’s not a ton going on here as far as plot, but the characters are all well-developed and the world feels immediately available for entering and viewing, as flies on the water-dampened walls of Bridget’s home. Usually, I’ve found with novels like this, the details drown out all else, but Poeppel manages the fine balance of detail, dialogue, and action. Her skills are so evident that I plan to go back and read her previous work, Small Admissions.

This will be popular among book club enthusiasts, for its quaint story that opens up larger discussions of what it is to be a middle-aged woman, raising children who are struggling to find their way, taking care of aging parents, and having a life of one’s own romantically and professionally. How does the modern woman navigate all of life’s nooks and crannies (which is what it is here, rather than the cliche ‘ups and downs’)? While this isn’t the book you’d go to for thrills, laughs, or a steamy romance, it is the perfect book with which to curl up on a rainy day.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

Pre-order Musical Chairs on Amazon here.

Review: The Twin

43785678. sy475

Revitalizing, or perhaps just revisiting, the evil twin trope, Natasha Preston’s novel The Twin is serving up plenty of drama and tension as ‘good twin’ Ivy has her life torn apart by similarly-flora-named Iris. In the blurb about the book on Goodreads, it seems Ivy may have undergone a name change between the ARC and print, so if that’s confusing, I think her name may actually be Emmy now, which feels less schlocky. As for the cover and why it’s a rose that has been decapitated rather than an Iris, I’m not sure. Although that wouldn’t make sense either, since Ivy/Emmy is the one being attacked. I did read another psychological thriller recently that featured decapitated roses being sent to a protagonist as a gift (Follow Me), but I don’t recall anything having to do with that here.

Okay, okay, let me get down off my high horse, before I get too crazy with this review. This book is meant for a young adult audience, perhaps ideally suited for those teens who will go on to be avid fans of Mary Kubica, Gillian Flynn, etc. It’s not too mature or gruesome, but it is diabolical enough to appeal to that audience, so I think it has actually achieved what it set out to do. It can’t, or shouldn’t, be compared to those great thrillers because it’s in an entirely different sub-genre. This is meant to be compared to One of Us is Lying or We Were Liars, and I think it’s of the same quality in terms of writing. Where it will struggle is that, while it has all of the same, soapy high-school dramz, it doesn’t successfully build compelling relationships that are so necessary for YA. I didn’t feel invested in Ivy’s relationships with her friends, boyfriend, or dad.

The weakest part of this book is its ending. I think it was meant to be a cliffhanger, but it came across as rushed and unfinished, or else confusing and I didn’t ‘get it’. At first, I thought that Ivy being institutionalized was leading us to discover that she had been on her own the entire time and there was no twin. But I don’t think that was actually the case. Instead, I think she’s just locked up, with Iris on the loose, and we’re supposed to want to read the sequel to find out what havoc Iris will wreak and whether Ivy is able to prove her innocence.

If you’ve read this book, would love to know what you thought of the ending in the comments!

Rating: 2.5/5

Buy The Twin on Amazon Here.