Review: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Where the Crawdads Sing
Author: Delia Owens
Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery
Audience: Adult
Format: Hardcover
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Release Date: August 14, 2018
Source: Personal collection
Content Warnings: domestic abuse, physical abuse, child abuse, rape, sexual assault, racism

SYNOPSIS

For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet fishing village. Kya Clark is barefoot and wild; unfit for polite society. So in late 1969, when the popular Chase Andrews is found dead, locals immediately suspect her.

But Kya is not what they say. A born naturalist with just one day of school, she takes life’s lessons from the land, learning the real ways of the world from the dishonest signals of fireflies. But while she has the skills to live in solitude forever, the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. Drawn to two young men from town, who are each intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new and startling world—until the unthinkable happens.

In Where the Crawdads Sing, Owens juxtaposes an exquisite ode to the natural world against a profound coming of age story and haunting mystery. Thought-provoking, wise, and deeply moving, Owens’s debut novel reminds us that we are forever shaped by the child within us, while also subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.

The story asks how isolation influences the behavior of a young woman, who like all of us, has the genetic propensity to belong to a group. The clues to the mystery are brushed into the lush habitat and natural histories of its wild creatures.

MY THOUGHTS

After years and years of hype I can’t say that I was completely blown away by this book, but I can see why it is so popular, and I enjoyed reading this a lot. The writing is immersive and somehow addictive. Even at moments where it felt like the plot stalled a bit, I couldn’t put this book down, choosing to stay up late while on vacation after the rest of my family went to bed so I could find out what happened next. The story is not realistic, but it is mesmerizing.

The lyrical prose brings the marsh to life, while the simple language and dialect in the dialogue make the characters feel real, emphasizing the difference between life in marsh and in town.

The dual timeline could be a bit jarring. The police investigation chapters were so bumbling and farcical that they could take me out of Kya’s coming-of-age story, although they did build suspense toward the eventual trial.

I did not see the ending coming, and I’m still not sure how I feel about it nearly two months after finishing the book. I finally saw the movie and I cried way more watching the story on screen.

ARC Review: Laertes by Carly Stevens

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Laertes: A Hamlet Retelling
Author: Carly Stevens
Genre: Historical Fiction / Dark Academia Retelling
Audience: Adult
Format: eARC
Length: 290 pages
Publisher: independent
Release Date: July 29, 2022
Source: author
Recommended for fans of: If We Were Villains, Hamlet
Content Warnings: suicide, death, death of parent, infidelity

SYNOPSIS

Set in 1920s Europe, this poignant dark academia novel sheds new light on Shakespeare’s masterpiece, finally allowing Laertes to tell his side of the story.

Laertes Belleforest lives two lives: a wild, passionate one with his best friends studying Classics in Paris, and a stifling existence in the Danish court where the mercurial prince Hamlet constantly overshadows him.

Now in his last year at university, Laertes must decide the kind of man he will become. But who is he, apart from the huge personalities that surround him and the secret guilt that haunts him?

When tragedy rocks Denmark, Laertes’ questions are forced into focus. Like a Greek play, his story hurtles through love and wine, ghosts and revenge, toward inevitable catastrophe.

MY THOUGHTS

Laertes is a dark academia retelling of Hamlet set in 1920s Europe told through the lens of Hamlet’s foil. Hamlet is my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays (that I’ve read), so I was intrigued by the dark reimagining of an already dark tale. Like Hamlet, Laertes is literally and figuratively haunted by a deceased parent, giving the story gothic vibes.

Author Carly Stevens is herself an avid Shakespeare fan and scholar. While her academic familiarity with the subject matter brought deep insights to the the development of Laertes’s character, the writing sometimes felt constrained by the original. I found the story most compelling when Laertes was away at university in Paris, but some of the scenes in Denmark felt almost too faithful to the play. I think there was a missed opportunity for moments providing new insights and interpretations of characters besides Laertes, especially considering the updated setting.

While I appreciate the short length of this book, I think there was room for a bit more, especially regarding Laertes’s visions of his mother and Ophelia’s death. Still, I think Laertes is incredibly well-written and well-conceived. You don’t need to be familiar with Hamlet to understand this story…but why would you not want to read Hamlet. Don’t skip the author’s note. I am excited to read more from Carly Stevens!

Thank you to the author for the gifted eARC.

Review: The Guncle by Steven Rowley

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆.5
Title: The Guncle
Author: Steven Rowley
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Steven Rowley
Length: 11 hrs 23 mins (326 pages)
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons; Penguin Audio
Release Date: May 25, 2021
Source: Library
Content Warnings: grief, death, death of parent, addiction, car accident, drug abuse, alcohol, sexual assault, homophobia, cancer

SYNOPSIS

Patrick, or Gay Uncle Patrick (GUP, for short), has always loved his niece, Maisie, and nephew, Grant. That is, he loves spending time with them when they come out to Palm Springs for weeklong visits, or when he heads home to Connecticut for the holidays. But in terms of caretaking and relating to two children, no matter how adorable, Patrick is honestly a bit out of his league.

So when tragedy strikes and Maisie and Grant lose their mother and Patrick’s brother has a health crisis of his own, Patrick finds himself suddenly taking on the role of primary guardian. Despite having a set of “Guncle Rules” ready to go, Patrick has no idea what to expect, having spent years barely holding on after the loss of his great love, a somewhat-stalled career, and a lifestyle not-so-suited to a six- and a nine-year-old. Quickly realizing that parenting—even if temporary—isn’t solved with treats and jokes, Patrick’s eyes are opened to a new sense of responsibility, and the realization that, sometimes, even being larger than life means you’re unfailingly human.

MY THOUGHTS

The Guncle is a book about grief, but it brings so much joy and healing. Patrick, a reclusive actor with a stalled career, finds himself the unexpected guardian of his niece and nephew after their mother passes away and Patrick’s brother enters rehab to cope with addiction and grief. This book is obviously heavy, but it is also incredibly sweet, heartwarming, emotional, and hilarious. I love the way this book approaches grief, family, love, and the lifelong process of finding yourself.

The audiobook narrated by the author was wonderful, and I highly recommend that format!

ARC Review: The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: The Daughter of Doctor Moreau
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Genre: Historical Fiction / Sci-Fi
Audience: Adult
Format: ALC/eARC
Length: 11 hr 40 min (320 pages)
Narrator: Gisela Chípe
Publisher: Del Rey; Penguin Random House Audio
Release Date: July 19, 2022
Source: publisher
Content Warnings: violence, racism, alcoholism, physical abuse, sexual violence, suicidal thoughts, death of parent

SYNOPSIS

From the New York Times bestselling author of Mexican Gothic and Velvet Was the Night comes a dreamy reimagining of The Island of Doctor Moreau set against the backdrop of nineteenth-century Mexico.

Carlota Moreau: a young woman, growing up in a distant and luxuriant estate, safe from the conflict and strife of the Yucatán peninsula. The only daughter of either a genius, or a madman.

Montgomery Laughton: a melancholic overseer with a tragic past and a propensity for alcohol. An outcast who assists Dr. Moreau with his scientific experiments, which are financed by the Lizaldes, owners of magnificent haciendas and plentiful coffers.

The hybrids: the fruits of the Doctor’s labor, destined to blindly obey their creator and remain in the shadows. A motley group of part human, part animal monstrosities.

All of them living in a perfectly balanced and static world, which is jolted by the abrupt arrival of Eduardo Lizalde, the charming and careless son of Doctor Moreau’s patron, who will unwittingly begin a dangerous chain reaction.

For Moreau keeps secrets, Carlota has questions, and in the sweltering heat of the jungle, passions may ignite.

THE DAUGHTER OF DOCTOR MOREAU is both a dazzling historical novel and a daring science fiction journey.

MY THOUGHTS

The Daughter of Doctor Moreau is a reimagining of H.G. Wells’s sci-fi horror classic, The Island of Dr. Moreau, set on a secluded estate in Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula during the Caste War. The descriptive, atmospheric writing brings the lush landscape to life and grounds the fantastical aspects of the story against a historical background, infusing the story with the cultural, social, political, and racial conflicts of the time.

I admire Silvia Moreno-Garcia because all of her books are so different each other, sharing only her illustrative writing style and settings in Mexico, but otherwise exploring vastly different genres, characters, time periods, and literary influences. However, considering the grotesque nature of the source material, I expected this book to lean into the macabre of Mexican Gothic or the magic of Gods of Jade and Shadow, but it did neither. This book is more of a coming-of-age character study or a period piece with a slow pace and unsurprising twists. I didn’t find Carlota or Montgomery to be particularly compelling characters, and I was not a fan of their relationship.

I don’t think the story lived up to the potential of a Dr. Moreau retelling. This reads more like historical fiction than science fiction. You do not need to have read the original to read this book. I appreciate the author’s note at the end that explains the history of the political conflicts featured in this book. This book was not what I expected, but it is a beautiful piece of writing.

Thank you to the publisher for the complimentary audiobook and eARC.

ARC Review: The Latecomer by Jean Hanff Korelitz

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆
Title: The Latecomer
Author: Jean Hanff Korelitz
Genre: Fiction – Family Drama
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Julia Whelan
Length: 16 hours (448 pages)
Publisher: Celadon Books
Release Date: May 31, 2022
Source: ARC from publisher, ALC via NetGalley
Content Warnings: infertility, miscarriage, car accident, death of parent, infidelity, outing, cultural appropriation

SYNOPSIS

The Latecomer follows the story of the wealthy, New York City-based Oppenheimer family, from the first meeting of parents Salo and Johanna, under tragic circumstances, to their triplets born during the early days of IVF. As children, the three siblings – Harrison, Lewyn, and Sally – feel no strong familial bond and cannot wait to go their separate ways, even as their father becomes more distanced and their mother more desperate. When the triplets leave for college, Johanna, faced with being truly alone, makes the decision to have a fourth child. What role will the “latecomer” play in this fractured family?

A complex novel that builds slowly and deliberately, The Latecomer touches on the topics of grief and guilt, generational trauma, privilege and race, traditions and religion, and family dynamics. It is a profound and witty family story from an accomplished author, known for the depth of her character studies, expertly woven storylines, and plot twists.

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Plot, Jean Hanff Korelitz’s The Latecomer is a layered and immersive literary novel about three siblings, desperate to escape one another, and the upending of their family by the late arrival of a fourth.

MY THOUGHTS

Family drama is a very hit or miss genre for me, and unfortunately this one was a miss. I know unlikable characters are a hallmark of family dramas, but I didn’t find any of the characters to be particularly sympathetic, which made it difficult to care about the events of the story. The only character I really liked was Phoebe, the titular latecomer, who didn’t appear in the story in a meaningful way until about 3/4 through the book.

The narration was confusing to me. The book is technically written in 1st person from Phoebe’s point of view, but since she was either not born or an infant throughout the first two sections of the book, Parts 1 and 2 were written primarily in 3rd person with a few disorienting phrases like “our father” and “our mother” sprinkled throughout.

This book was just too long and slow at over 400 pages. Part 3 was more interesting than the previous sections, but by then I was just trying to make it through to the end. This book had some promising Jewish representation, but the story just didn’t do anything for me.

Note: This story has a heavy focus on infertility and IVF treatments.

Review: All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: All My Rage
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Deepti Gupta, Kamran R. Khan, Kausar Mohammed
Length: 10.5 hours (384 pages)
Publisher: PRH Audio
Release Date: March 1, 2022
Source: Libro.fm Influencer Program
Content Warnings: child abuse, domestic abuse, racism, alcoholism, death of a parent, drug abuse

SYNOPSIS

Lahore, Pakistan. Then.
Misbah is a dreamer and storyteller, newly married to Toufiq in an arranged match. After their young life is shaken by tragedy, they come to the United States and open the Cloud’s Rest Inn Motel, hoping for a new start.

Juniper, California. Now.
Salahudin and Noor are more than best friends; they are family. Growing up as outcasts in the small desert town of Juniper, California, they understand each other the way no one else does. Until The Fight, which destroys their bond with the swift fury of a star exploding.

Now, Sal scrambles to run the family motel as his mother Misbah’s health fails and his grieving father loses himself to alcoholism. Noor, meanwhile, walks a harrowing tightrope: working at her wrathful uncle’s liquor store while hiding the fact that she’s applying to college so she can escape him—and Juniper—forever.

When Sal’s attempts to save the motel spiral out of control, he and Noor must ask themselves what friendship is worth—and what it takes to defeat the monsters in their pasts and the ones in their midst.

From one of today’s most cherished and bestselling young adult authors comes a breathtaking novel of young love, old regrets, and forgiveness—one that’s both tragic and poignant in its tender ferocity.

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Sabaa Tahir comes a brilliant, unforgettable, and heart-wrenching contemporary YA novel about family and forgiveness, love and loss, in a sweeping story that crosses generations and continents.

MY THOUGHTS

Where do I even begin with this review? I was curious when I heard that one of my favorite fantasy authors was shifting to write a YA contemporary since that’s not my favorite genre, but why would I ever doubt Sabaa Tahir? All My Rage is a MASTERPIECE.

The story was raw and real. The writing was so poignant and evocative. I felt the full spectrum emotions while reading this book: hope, despair, longing, sorrow, fear, and of course the titular rage. I cried for and along with the characters so many times.

This book addresses so many heavy, triggering, and depressing topics. I had to take breaks from this book for my mental health. It is absolutely worth the read, but please take care and make sure you are in the right headspace for this story.

I highly recommend the audiobook if that format is accessible to you. The narrators brought so much emotion to their performances and made the characters feel like real people. This is a beautiful, heartbreaking, must-read book.

Thank you to Libro.fm and the publisher for the gifted eARC.

Review: The Ballerinas by Rachel Kapelke-Dale

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆.5
Title: The Ballerinas
Author: Rachel Kapelke-Dale
Genre: Fiction
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Ell Potter
Length: 13 hours (304 pages)
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press; Macmillan Audio
Release Date: December 7, 2021
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: ballet
Content Warnings: medical trauma domestic abuse, cancer, abortion, infertility, miscarriage, sexual assault, toxic relationships

SYNOPSIS

Dare Me meets Black Swan and Luckiest Girl Alive in a captivating, voice-driven debut novel about a trio of ballerinas who meet as students at the Paris Opera Ballet School.

Fourteen years ago, Delphine abandoned her prestigious soloist spot at the Paris Opera Ballet for a new life in St. Petersburg––taking with her a secret that could upend the lives of her best friends, fellow dancers Lindsay and Margaux. Now 36 years old, Delphine has returned to her former home and to the legendary Palais Garnier Opera House, to choreograph the ballet that will kickstart the next phase of her career––and, she hopes, finally make things right with her former friends. But Delphine quickly discovers that things have changed while she’s been away…and some secrets can’t stay buried forever.

Moving between the trio’s adolescent years and the present day, The Ballerinas explores the complexities of female friendship, the dark drive towards physical perfection in the name of artistic expression, the double-edged sword of ambition and passion, and the sublimated rage that so many women hold inside––all culminating in a twist you won’t see coming, with magnetic characters you won’t soon forget.

MY THOUGHTS

This was a book club pick, and everyone in my book club felt conflicted about this book, giving it between 2 and 3 stars. I was instantly sucked into the world of the Paris Opera Ballet. As a former dancer (although not at this level), I could relate to the high expectations, competition, and toxic environment. My favorite parts of this book gave an inside look at the world of elite ballet.

However, I’m not sure this book quite knew what it wanted to be. It tried to be a thriller sometimes, but it was not. It rounded up so many issues women face, but it did not deal with them with depth and care. The main character became more and more unlikable as the book progressed, revealing herself to be increasingly shallow, self-absorbed, and out of touch. The flashback chapters lost their effectiveness as they gradually caught up to the present timeline. The story did not feel cohesive, but more like a grab bag of trigger warnings and shock value.

I like how this book portrayed the differences between the insular world of ballet and the “real world,” and how this disconnect affected relationships both inside and outside of the ballet bubble throughout these women’s lives. However, the actual story sends confusing messages about friendship, women’s empowerment, and success.

Review: The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany by Lori Nelson Spielman

BOOK STATS

Rating:
Title: The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany
Author: Lori Nelson Spielman
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Audience: Adult
Format: Hardcover
Length: 374 pages
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: September 26, 2018
Source: BOTM subscription
Content Warnings: gaslighting, pregnancy, miscarriage

SYNOPSIS

A trio of second-born daughters sets out on a whirlwind journey through the lush Italian countryside to break the family curse that says they’ll never find love, by New York Times bestseller Lori Nelson Spielman, author of The Life List.

Since the day Filomena Fontana cast a curse upon her sister more than two hundred years ago, not one second-born Fontana daughter has found lasting love. Some, like second-born Emilia, the happily-single baker at her grandfather’s Brooklyn deli, claim it’s an odd coincidence. Others, like her sexy, desperate-for-love cousin Lucy, insist it’s a true hex. But both are bewildered when their great-aunt calls with an astounding proposition: If they accompany her to her homeland of Italy, Aunt Poppy vows she’ll meet the love of her life on the steps of the Ravello Cathedral on her eightieth birthday, and break the Fontana Second-Daughter Curse once and for all.
 
Against the backdrop of wandering Venetian canals, rolling Tuscan fields, and enchanting Amalfi Coast villages, romance blooms, destinies are found, and family secrets are unearthed—secrets that could threaten the family far more than a centuries-old curse.

MY THOUGHTS

I hated this book. I was ready to DNF after chapter 3, but since I was the one who suggested it to my book club, I trudged through in hopes it would get better. It did not.

All of the characters are one-dimensional caricatures of actual humans. The main character is a boring doormat who wears slacks casually, worries tortoiseshell glasses are too conspicuous, and has no convictions. The family drama is absolutely ridiculous and over the top in a bad way. The limited character growth is cliché. Overall, I thought the writing was poor and the story lacked depth.

The only things I liked about this book were the descriptions of Italian food, desserts, and countrysides…but you can find that in other books. And my book club did have a very entertaining discussion.

Review: Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆
Title: Till We Have Faces
Author: C.S. Lewis
Genre: Mythology Retelling
Audience: Adult
Format: Paperback
Length: 356 pages
Publisher: HarperOne
Release Date: January 1, 1956
Source: Library
Content Warnings:

SYNOPSIS

In this timeless tale of two mortal princesses- one beautiful and one unattractive- C.S. Lewis reworks the classical myth of Cupid and Psyche into an enduring piece of contemporary fiction. This is the story of Orual, Psyche’s embittered and ugly older sister, who posessively and harmfully loves Psyche. Much to Orual’s frustration, Psyche is loved by Cupid, the god of love himself, setting the troubled Orual on a path of moral development.

Set against the backdrop of Glome, a barbaric, pre-Christian world, the struggles between sacred and profane love are illuminated as Orual learns that we cannot understand the intent of the gods “till we have faces” and sincerity in our souls and selves.

MY THOUGHTS

I read this for my book club in January. C.S. Lewis considered this to be his best work. I only have two Narnia books to compare this to, but I respectfully disagree. I love Greek mythology, but this retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth was not for me.

I thought the story was convoluted and sometimes boring. While Lewis explored some thought-provoking themes about the relationship between mortals and gods, his main point didn’t become clear until he explicitly stated it at the end, and I don’t think everything that happened in the book contributed to developing his themes effectively. I wanted more from this! I also did not like the main character at all or the gross, made up names (Orual? Ungit? bleh).

I don’t regret reading this book because it inspired me to read more Greek mythology and more classics… just not this one. While I didn’t like the book, I enjoyed discussing it with my book club, and it brought out my inner literary analysis scholar.

Review: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: A Christmas Carol
Author: Charles Dickens
Illustrator: Robert Ingpen
Genre: Holiday Classic
Audience: All ages
Format: Hardcover
Length: 148 pages
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Release Date: December 17, 1843
Source: Library

SYNOPSIS

‘If I had my way, every idiot who goes around with Merry Christmas on his lips, would be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. Merry Christmas? Bah humbug!’

To bitter, miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, Christmas is just another day. But all that changes when the ghost of his long-dead business partner appears, warning Scrooge to change his ways before it’s too late.

MY THOUGHTS

I’m so glad I finally read this holiday classic. I was already very familiar with the story from having watched multiple screen and stage adaptations over the years, but I’d never actually read the book. This tale of Christmas, ghosts, and charity has always been a favorite Christmas story of mine, and this short book is worth the time if you enjoy the story.

I checked this out from the library, and unknowingly requested an illustrated edition by Robert Ingpen. I was initially surprised by the heft of the book, but I enjoyed seeing a new interpretation of the story as I read along.

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