Review: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: Rebecca
Author: Daphne du Maurier
Genre: Gothic / Romance / Suspense
Audience: Adult
Format: eBook
Length: 449 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Release Date: August 1, 1938
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: Agatha Christie, Gothic romance, domestic thrillers
Content Warnings: suicide, suicidal thoughts, toxic relationship, outdated language relating to race and mental illness

SYNOPSIS

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…

The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady’s maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives–presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.

First published in 1938, this classic gothic novel is such a compelling read that it won the Anthony Award for Best Novel of the Century.

MY THOUGHTS

I was so excited when my book club picked this for November, because it is truly the perfect fall book. The new Mrs. de Winter finds herself in over her head after a whirlwind romance with the much older Maxim. When they return to his estate at Manderley, she doesn’t know how to interact with the staff, Maxim becomes very distant, and she is constantly haunted by the lingering presence of Maxim’s dead wife Rebecca. (Disclaimer: this is NOT a ghost story)

I thoroughly enjoyed the Gothic vibes, and the writing is so gripping. I found the narrator’s mental state very relatable; she has a vivid imagination and frequently gets lost in thoughts of worst-case-scenarios. The story eventually reaches a twist where it shifts to what feels like a modern domestic thriller; by that point, I couldn’t put it down. And can we talk about how utterly creepy Mrs. Danvers is??

I initially rated this book 4 stars because the beginning is a bit slow and the ending is very abrupt (like you will think that the final pages must be missing). However, now that a couple weeks have passed since I finished, I’ve watched two movie versions (Netflix: bad, Hitchcock: good), and I can’t stop thinking about this story. I can see myself rereading this classic again when the weather is right.

Review: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: A Discovery of Witches
Author: Deborah Harkness
Series: All Souls #1
Genre: Fiction/Paranormal Romance
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Jennifer Ikeda
Length: 24 hours (579 pages)
Publisher: Viking Penguin; Penguin Audio
Release Date: February 1, 2011
Source: Library
Content Warnings: torture, death of parents, panic attacks

SYNOPSIS

A richly inventive novel about a centuries-old vampire, a spellbound witch, and the mysterious manuscript that draws them together.

Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense. Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos. This smart, sophisticated story harks back to the novels of Anne Rice, but it is as contemporary and sensual as the Twilight series-with an extra serving of historical realism.

MY THOUGHTS

This book started off strong with a fascinating premise: the origins of witches, vampire, and daemons may be revealed through a lost alchemical text and genetic biology. However, this book was way too long and desperately needed some better editing. The compelling aspects of the plot were bogged down by tangents on history, alchemy, rare books, and everyday life. There were maybe two scenes in the entire book that I would describe as “exciting,” and even though a sense of urgency increased throughout the book, the slow pace never picked up.

This has been described as “Twilight for adults,” and I thought it was exactly that: hundreds of pages of mundane descriptions, a possessive male vampire with ample red flags, a heroine who loses agency and common sense as the book progresses, rushed marriage, weird attitudes toward sex, and very little action despite a lot of build up.

The audiobook is 24 hours long. It truly drags and put me in a bit of an audio slump where all I wanted to listen to after I finished were podcasts with bite sized stories. I am interested enough in kernels of this story that I think I will read the next book after the odd cliffhanger ending. The blend of history, alchemy, science, magic, and paranormal lore in this book is fascinating, but the storytelling and romance leave something to be desired.

Review: The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆.5
Title: The Rules of Magic
Author: Alice Hoffman
Series: Practical Magic #0.2
Genre: Magical Realism/Historical
Audience: Adult
Format: Hardcover
Length: 367 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: October 10, 2017
Source: Library
Content Warnings: death, grief, drug use

SYNOPSIS

For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man.

Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk.

From the start Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse.

The Owens children cannot escape love even if they try, just as they cannot escape the pains of the human heart. The two beautiful sisters will grow up to be the revered, and sometimes feared, aunts in Practical Magic, while Vincent, their beloved brother, will leave an unexpected legacy.

MY THOUGHTS

I liked this more than Practical Magic because the magic felt more real and tangible in this book. I loved the 1960s setting, the sibling relationships, and learning more about the mysterious and strange Owens family in general.

However, I made a mistake by reading this back to back with Practical Magic within a week. The tangential writing style is difficult to binge, and I wish I had taken more time getting through this story. I was also very aware of a few inconsistencies with Practical Magic. They’re understandable considering the 20+ year time gap between publishing Practical Magic and this second book in the series, but as a result the curse and story’s message about love were a bit confusing and contradictory.

I enjoy reading about the Owens family, and I want to read the rest of the series to get the full family saga.

Review: Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: Practical Magic
Author: Alice Hoffman
Series: Practical Magic #1
Genre: Magical Realism
Audience: Adult
Format: Paperback
Length: 286 pages
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: July 1, 1995
Source: Personal collection
Content Warnings: sexual harassment, death, grief

SYNOPSIS

The Owens sisters confront the challenges of life and love in this bewitching novel from New York Times bestselling author Alice Hoffman.

For more than two hundred years, the Owens women have been blamed for everything that has gone wrong in their Massachusetts town. Gillian and Sally have endured that fate as well: as children, the sisters were forever outsiders, taunted, talked about, pointed at. Their elderly aunts almost seemed to encourage the whispers of witchery, with their musty house and their exotic concoctions and their crowd of black cats. But all Gillian and Sally wanted was to escape.

One will do so by marrying, the other by running away. But the bonds they share will bring them back—almost as if by magic…

MY THOUGHTS

I liked this, but it did not live up to my expectations based on watching the movie (about 15 years ago). I guess I expected the book to be witchier. I thought this was a witchy, paranormal fantasy, but it’s actually an understated magical realism where you’re never quite sure if actual magic is at play, or mere superstitions and coincidences.

The writing style is interesting. It’s very descriptive, with long paragraphs and little dialogue, reminiscent of stream-of-consciousness writing, but in third person. The book also does not have traditional chapters; instead, it’s divided into large sections with very few stopping points. This unique writing style made it easy to get lost in the story, but it also made it hard to get back into when I had to put the book down.

Overall, this is a heartwarming, multigenerational tale of unusual women and everyday magic, even if the plot is a bit slow and meandering. I enjoyed reading about the Owens family, the sister relationships, and the magical ties that bring family back together.

Review: Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: Malibu Rising
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Genre: Historical / Family Drama
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Julia Whelan
Length: 11 hours (384 pages)
Publisher: Ballantine Books; Penguin Random House Audio
Release Date: June 1, 2021
Source: Libro.fm ALC
Recommended for fans of: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
Content Warnings: infidelity, alcoholism, absent parent, death of a parent

SYNOPSIS

Four famous siblings throw an epic party to celebrate the end of the summer. But over the course of twenty-four hours, their lives will change forever.

Malibu: August, 1983. It’s the day of Nina Riva’s annual end-of-summer party, and anticipation is at a fever pitch. Everyone wants to be around the famous Rivas: Nina, the talented surfer and supermodel; brothers Jay and Hud, one a championship surfer, the other a renowned photographer; and their adored baby sister, Kit. Together, the siblings are a source of fascination in Malibu and the world over—especially as the offspring of the legendary singer, Mick Riva.

The only person not looking forward to the party of the year is Nina herself, who never wanted to be the center of attention, and who has also just been very publicly abandoned by her pro tennis player husband. Oh, and maybe Hud—because it is long past time to confess something to the brother from whom he’s been inseparable since birth.

Jay, on the other hand, is counting the minutes until nightfall, when the girl he can’t stop thinking about promised she’ll be there.

And Kit has a couple secrets of her own—including a guest she invited without consulting anyone.

By midnight the party will be completely out of control. By morning, the Riva mansion will have gone up in flames. But before that first spark in the early hours before dawn, the alcohol will flow, the music will play, and the loves and secrets that shaped this family’s generations will all come bubbling to the surface.

Malibu Rising is a story about one unforgettable night in the life of a family: the night they each have to choose what they will keep from the people who made them… and what they will leave behind.

MY THOUGHTS

This is my favorite Taylor Jenkins Reid book yet, after reading Evelyn Hugo and Daisy Jones. The way she writes characters is so nuanced and compelling, they truly feel like real people.

I’m not normally a fan of family dramas, but I couldn’t stop listening to this audiobook. The story is told in dual timeline, alternating between the night of the Riva party in 1983 alternating with flashbacks to the parents meeting all the way up to the “present.” The tension is expertly built chapter to chapter as the story builds towards an explosive and emotional crescendo.

Julia Whelan’s narration was fantastic and brought me to tears at multiple points in the story. All of the Riva kids made great strides toward self-discovery during the night of the party, but I especially love Nina’s growth. Highly highly recommend. This is a top book of the year for me.

Thank you to Libro.fm and the publisher for the ALC.

Review: Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Daisy Jones & the Six
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Genre: Historical Fiction
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: full cast
Length: 9 hours
Publisher: Ballantine Books; Penguin Random House Audio
Release Date: March 4, 2019
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: 70s rock
Content Warnings:

SYNOPSIS

A gripping novel about the whirlwind rise of an iconic 1970s rock group and their beautiful lead singer, revealing the mystery behind their infamous break up.

Everyone knows Daisy Jones & The Six, but nobody knows the real reason why they split at the absolute height of their popularity…until now.

Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go-Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock and roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.

Another band getting noticed is The Six, led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.

Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend. 

MY THOUGHTS

This book was made for audio. The full cast performance is PHENOMENAL. There’s a reason this book is suggested so often when people ask for audiobook recommendations!

Once again, Taylor Jenkins Reid writes such a compelling narrative that I want to read/watch real documentaries about the era and subject matter, this time classic rock bands from the 70s. This book will make you want to turn up some Fleetwood Mac.

This was a slow burning story full of tension. Each character was fully realized, and I loved the juxtaposition of the different POVs. The interview-style writing led to some humorous moments when different character had different recollections about the same events, and heartbreaking moments when multiple sides of the same story revealed miscommunications that could’ve changed everything for the band.

I thought the big twist at the end could’ve been more impactful. It just didn’t hit right for me. But I absolutely love TJR’s storytelling, and I think she is a masterful writer.

Review: Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutano

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆.5
Title: Dial A for Aunties
Author: Jesse Q. Sutano
Genre: Contemporary Fiction (Mystery/Humor/Romance)
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Risa Mei
Length: 10 hours (320 pages)
Publisher: Berkley; Penguin Audio
Release Date: April 27, 2021
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: Finlay Donovan is Killing It, Arsenic and Adobo

SYNOPSIS

A hilariously quirky novel that is equal parts murder mystery, rom-com, and a celebration of mothers and daughters as well as a deep dive into Chinese-Indonesian culture, by debut author Jesse Q. Sutanto.

1 (accidental) murder
2 thousand wedding guests
3 (maybe) cursed generations
4 meddling Asian aunties to the rescue!

When Meddelin Chan ends up accidentally killing her blind date, her meddlesome mother calls for her even more meddlesome aunties to help get rid of the body. Unfortunately, a dead body proves to be a lot more challenging to dispose of than one might anticipate, especially when it is accidentally shipped in a cake cooler to the over-the-top billionaire wedding Meddy, her Ma, and aunties are working, at an island resort on the California coastline. It’s the biggest job yet for their family wedding business—“Don’t leave your big day to chance, leave it to the Chans!”—and nothing, not even an unsavory corpse, will get in the way of her auntie’s perfect buttercream cake flowers.

But things go from inconvenient to downright torturous when Meddy’s great college love—and biggest heartbreak—makes a surprise appearance amid the wedding chaos. Is it possible to escape murder charges, charm her ex back into her life, and pull off a stunning wedding all in one weekend?

MY THOUGHTS

I loved this so much. It was absolutely hilarious and kept me laughing out loud throughout! I am very into the current trend of humorous mystery/crime books.

The story was antics upon antics. If something could go wrong, it did, in the most hilarious fashion. I also loved the family dynamics, the second chance romance, Meddelin’s new confidence, and the way that a book about accidental murder and hiding a body always felt delightfully ridiculous.

Review: Leave It to Psmith by P.G. Wodehouse

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Leave it to Psmith
Author: P.G. Wodehouse
Series: Psmith #4
Genre: Humor
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Jonathan Cecil
Length: 9 hours
Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
Release Date: November 30, 1923
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: The Importance of Being Earnest, Shakespearean comedies, Clue

SYNOPSIS

Ronald Psmith (“the ‘p’ is silent, as in pshrimp”) is always willing to help a damsel in distress. So when he sees Eve Halliday without an umbrella during a downpour, he nobly offers her an umbrella, even though it’s one he picks out of the Drone Club’s umbrella rack. Psmith is so besotted with Eve that, when Lord Emsworth, her new boss, mistakes him for Ralston McTodd, a poet, Psmith pretends to be him so he can make his way to Blandings Castle and woo her. And so the farce begins: criminals disguised as poets with a plan to steal a priceless diamond necklace, a secretary who throws flower pots through windows, and a nighttime heist that ends in gunplay. How will everything be sorted out? Leave it to Psmith!

MY THOUGHTS

This was such a delightful read! I never would have read this if it hadn’t been picked by my book club, but I’m so glad I read this classic British comedy of errors.

I was a little overwhelmed by all the characters at first, but I adored the antics, mix ups, and mistaken identities. The humor was ridiculous and over the top, but I loved it. I laughed out loud multiple times, especially the scene with the chrysanthemum!

I highly recommend this for anyone looking for a lighter classic and a good laugh.

Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆.5
Title: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Genre: Historical/Contemporary
Audience: Adult
Format: ebook
Length: 388 pages
Publisher: Atria
Release Date: June 13, 2017
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: old Hollywood, celebrity gossip
Content Warnings: sexual assault/rape, domestic abuse, suicide, cancer, infidelity, manipulation, car accident, homophobia

SYNOPSIS

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life.

When she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now? Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

MY THOUGHTS

I found this book entirely engrossing from the beginning. When I wasn’t reading, this book was constantly on my mind, and I counted down the minutes until I could pick it back up. I was captivated by Evelyn’s early life during the Golden Age of Hollywood and her ruthlessness to do what it took to get was she wanted (fame and love, in that order). She was a shrewd, calculating, manipulative, horrible person, but I just loved reading her story, which made me want to look up some real life Old Hollywood tea.

The pacing slowed a bit in the middle, and I found Evelyn’s relationship with Celia to get a bit repetitive, which is why I docked half a star from my rating.

The ending really surprised me. I liked how Evelyn’s story was told in dual timeline through the lens of the interview with Monique. I would’ve liked a little bit more of Monique’s story, but I appreciated the character development we saw as a result of spending time with Evelyn.

I totally understand the hype for this book and author now. This is a story that will stick with me. It was my first Taylor Jenkins Reid book, but it will not be my last.

Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Salt to the Sea
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Genre: Historical Fiction
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Jorgeana Marie, Will Damron, Cassandra Morris, Michael Crouch
Length: 9 hours (391 pages)
Publisher: Philomel Books; Penguin Random House Audio
Release Date: February 2, 2016
Source: Library
Content Warnings: rape/sexual assault, war, violence, death of loved ones

SYNOPSIS

While the Titanic and Lusitania are both well-documented disasters, the single greatest tragedy in maritime history is the little-known January 30, 1945 sinking in the Baltic Sea by a Soviet submarine of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a German cruise liner that was supposed to ferry wartime personnel and refugees to safety from the advancing Red Army. The ship was overcrowded with more than 10,500 passengers — the intended capacity was approximately 1,800 — and more than 9,000 people, including 5,000 children, lost their lives.

Sepetys (writer of ‘Between Shades of Gray’) crafts four fictionalized but historically accurate voices to convey the real-life tragedy. Joana, a Lithuanian with nursing experience; Florian, a Prussian soldier fleeing the Nazis with stolen treasure; and Emilia, a Polish girl close to the end of her pregnancy, converge on their escape journeys as Russian troops advance; each will eventually meet Albert, a Nazi peon with delusions of grandeur, assigned to the Gustloff decks. 

MY THOUGHTS

This was a very compelling historical fiction book about an overlooked piece of World War II history: refugees in Germany fleeing from the Soviet invasion at the end of the war and the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustlaff. I had previously never heard of this tragedy even though it is the deadliest single ship sinking in maritime history.

The narrative is told in short chapters that alternate between 4 POVs. While each character comes from a very different background and was affect by the war in different ways, they were all running away from something and running to something else. The characters developed a tenuous trust as they traveled together, but tensions were always high because every had dangerous secrets.

This book portrays a stark view of the horrors of war with no time for people to process trauma while trying to survive. I think Ruta Sepetys does a fantastic job of making difficult subject matter accessible to young adult readers.