Book Review: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

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Favourite quotes:

“Never live your life according to the idiots’ rules. Because they’ll drag you down to their level, they’ll win, and you’ll have a damned awful time in the process.”

“There’s always a person for every book. And a book for every person.”

“Feel-good books were ones you could put down with a smile on your face, books that made you think the world was a little crazier, stranger, and more beautiful when you looked up from them.”

 

Sara, a bookseller from Sweden, and Amy, an elderly woman from Broken Wheel, Iowa, might have very little in common.  But the one thing they do share is their love of books. That’s what brought them together in the first place, and that was how they became penpals. After months of correspondence, Amy invites Sara to Iowa to stay for a few weeks and Sara, who until then has led a very lonely life, gladly accepts. However, when she is finally in Broken Wheel, Sara is met with solemn guests at Amy’s funeral. The people of the very small town seem to know all about her, from Amy’s stories. But Sara herself is lost – can she really stay at Amy’s house with no-one but Amy’s hundreds of books for company?

The townspeople are initially wary of the newcomer, and especially of her ludicrous ideas to help everyone out. And when Sara announces that since Broken Wheel doesn’t have a bookstore, she’s going to open one – well, everyone is flabbergasted to say the least. How can a Swedish citizen with a tourist visa open a bookstore in America? In a town where few people actually read books? And even if she does, who is going to run it when her visa expires?

 

I confess – when I got the Kindle sample of “The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend”, I really liked where it was going, but I wasn’t pleased with the English translation. Translation is an art and some languages translate better to certain languages than others. That was, in my opinion, the case with Stieg Larsson’s trilogy – I enjoyed the Russian translation a lot more than the English one. And the same is with “The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend”. I found a lovely hardcover Russian edition, with the title translated as “Give Them a Chance”, and I was right to make that choice.

This is not an adventure story – not in the traditional sense, anyway. One can say that Sara’s sheltered life juxtaposed against her experiences in America certainly makes it sound like she’d been on the greatest adventure of her life. And she has! The touching and funny interactions with the quintessential small-town Americans of Broken Wheel, their clumsy attempts at matchmaking, and Sara’s own brave venture of setting up a bookstore with no working visa are interwoven into a tale that reminds us that real-life adventures are just as exciting as the ones books take us on. And if books are the very thing that thrusts us into real-life adventures – well, that’s every bookworm’s dream!

Indeed, this cozy novel is in its essence, a love letter to literature and bookstores. The bookstore that Sara sets up is a baffling concept to the people of Broken Wheel, but Sara (and I) believes that there is a book out there for everyone – be it “Eragon”, “Bridget Jones’ Diary” or “Fried Green Tomatoes”. I believe that “The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend” would make a terrific gift to any lover of books. My rating is 8/10.

 

Recommendations:

You might like “The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend” if you liked:

“The Little Paris Bookshop” by Nina George;

“Fried Green Tomatoes” by Fanny Flang;

“A Novel Bookstore” by Laurence Cosse.

 

Have you read “The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend”? What are your favourite books about books? Leave me a comment and don’t forget to check out my Etsy charity shop before you go!

 

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Book Review: Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall

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Favourite Quotes:

“See, anxiety doesn’t just stop. You can have nice moments, minutes where it shrinks, but it doesn’t leave. It lurks in the background like a shadow, like that important assignment you have to do but keep putting off or the dull ache that follows a three-day migraine. The best you can hope for is to contain it, make it as small as possible so it stops being intrusive. Am I coping? Yes, but it’s taking a monumental amount of effort to keep the dynamite inside my stomach from exploding”.

“Beauty comes from how you treat people and how you behave. But if a little lipstick make you smile, then you should wear it and forget what anyone else thinks”.

“Social Convention dictates that I must deny being pretty, but I am… pretty. It’s one of the only things I have that makes me feel normal. Of course, I pervert that normality by embracing my looks. <..> This is mine, one of the only things about me that I actually like. I own it. And Social Convention will have to pry it from my cold, dead hands before I ever give it up”.

 

Norah Dean lives with agoraphobia and obsessive compulsive disorder. She is homeschooled and spends most of her time at home with her loving mother. For her, even a walk to the car can cause a panic attack. Her illness might not be visible, and the media might make people believe that she doesn’t look “mentally ill”, but Norah is sick. And a new boy-next-door isn’t a cure.

But Norah’s chance encounter with the new neighbour is not something she can ignore. Luke is a sweet kid with an air of mystery around him and he seems to be interested in Norah. She is keen, too. And if she were a “normal” kid…

 

I’m sorry. I seem to be unable to write a decent summary for “Under Rose-Tainted Skies”. And I’m not too fond of the Goodreads summary either. It’s making it seem as though romance is the solution to mental health issues. It is NOT. And the book makes it abundantly clear. In fact, I see the Goodreads summary as a disservice to this amazing novel – it is not a “romantic” story. It’s more of a character study that features some romance.

And I can’t emphasise enough how important this book is. How it can help young people understand mental health and its impact on one’s everyday life. “Under Rose-Tainted Skies” is brutally honest, doesn’t beat around the bush or shy away from heavy topics (TW: self-harm). Norah’s daily struggles felt incredibly real – not least because the book is told from her point of view and a lot of it is her thought process. These kinds of introspective books are what the world needs in order to smash stereotypes about mental illnesses. Norah makes a reference at some point to one such stereotype – “People always seem to be expecting wide eyes and a kitchen knife dripping with blood”. Thing is, most people who suffer from mental health issues are not like that. Norah isn’t like that – she is a conventionally pretty girl who is an overachiever. However, the fact that her OCD and agoraphobia can’t be seen with a naked eye – just because she doesn’t “look mentally ill”, doesn’t mean that she isn’t struggling with them on a daily basis.

I cannot speak for people who suffer from OCD or agoraphobia. But I have been treated for depression and Generalised Anxiety Disorder in the past, and to this day I struggle with anxiety. Fortunately, I have more Good Days than Bad Days now, but, as Norah said, “anxiety doesn’t just stop. It lurks in the background like a shadow <…>, and the best you can hope for is to contain it, make it as small as possible so it stops being intrusive”. I was first diagnosed during my second year of University which is when I was first prescribed medication and CBT. They did help me get through exams, and little by little, I learned to somewhat cope with my anxiety. It has reared its ugly head again when I was in law school – a very stressful time for me, for many reasons. I did seek help again, but I wish I had done so months earlier. Years earlier, even.

Why didn’t I? Well, like many other millennials, I had fed into the narrative offered by the media that stigmatised mentally ill people as “weak”. Plus, I was an only child and was brought up to believe that you only do enough if you get the best grade, or get promoted. A lot of my anxiety struggles did have to do with my envrionment and background, and not to mention the lack of a support system. I was living 2,000 miles away from my family, my low moods and anxiety made me pull away from friends, and while I was in a relationship, it wasn’t the best one. Besides, relationships aren’t a cure to mental illness, as I’ve already pointed out. Unfortunately, the society where I currently am doesn’t buy that and most people believe that getting married and starting a family is all a woman can ever need. Not a helpful narrative, AT ALL.

So I do wish, as I’ve said, that I’ve gotten the help I needed earlier. The UK university that I was at had an excellent mental health center, and the counsellor had a daughter studying to be a lawyer, so she understood and was able to help. I believe that, if “Under Rose-Tainted Skies” had been released in 2009, I would’ve asked for help much earlier. And I genuinely believe that others like me would also have done so.

Everyone experiences mental illnesses differently. Perhaps you can relate to Norah’s experience, or maybe yours are vastly different. Whatever the case might be, DON’T SUFFER IN SILENCE. ASK FOR HELP. IT’S OK TO DO SO. Books like “Under Rose-Tainted Skies”, “Cracked Up to Be”, “Speak” – hell, even the classic “The Bell Jar” – aren’t just useful – they’re mandatory for everyone who wants to learn more about mental health, people’s experiences with it, or just needs someone to relate to. And if we get more books like that, I believe we can, slowly but surely, smash the stereotypes about mental health altogether and help more people get the help they need.

Well, this review has turned into a personal essay, hasn’t it? I’ll finish with this – buy/borrow “Under Rose-Tainted Skies” and educate yourself. You won’t regret it.

 

Recommendations:

You might like “Under Rose-Tainted Skies” if you liked:

Cracked Up To Be” by Courtney Summers;

“The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath;

“Paper Butterflies” by Lisa Heathfield

 

Have you read “Under Rose-Tainted Skies”? Do you have favourite books that depict mental illness realistically and not just use it as a plot device? Drop me a comment and don’t forget to visit my Etsy charity shop before you go! 🙂

Book Review: You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner

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Favourite quotes:

“My old art teacher told me I draw like a man. I’ve never forgiven him. I don’t draw like anything, I draw like everything. I draw like me”.

“I’m a fingerprint, an anomaly, a snowflake. Indian, Deaf, girl, two moms. You couldn’t make this shit fit in the pages of those glossy mags”.

“My life has to be about more than the Refresh button. <…> I want to make art that makes my heart race. Art that demands to be felt, even if that feeling is terror”.

 

Julia is an artist and like all artists, she wants her art to have an impact. That is why she painted over a slur about her best friend scribbled on school property. Sadly, said friend snitches and Julia is expelled from Kingston School for the Deaf and has to transfer to a regular public school. Her two moms impose more boundaries on her life than ever. Life isn’t easy when you’re sixteen, and it’s even harder when you’re a brown deaf girl who needs an ASL interpreter with her at all times. Especially if that interpreter is one nosy woman.

On top of all that, the art class that Julia wants to be so badly in is full. So since her moms pretty much put a stop to her graffiti activities, she has few opportunities to draw. Julia is a smart girl, though, and quickly figures out a way. She tags landmarks all over town with her signature – “HERE”. However, she’s not the only notorious graffiti artist in town. Someone else is making additions to her work and while they look amazing and provocative, Julia has no desire to be involved in some kind of a “turf war”. She just wants to make amazing art. So who is the other “vandal” in town? Is it Julia’s former crush and coworker Donovan? The charismatic art teacher? Or someone else entirely, like her new clueless friend YP? Can Julia figure it out and not get arrested for vandalism in the process?

 

Guys, I have a confession to make.

I’m twenty-five years old. And this seems to be the year where I finally feel too “old” for YA books. Not all YA books, obviously – I’m never gonna be too old for Harry Potter, for instance. But lately, I just seem to rush through young adult novels and find myself unable to care for teenage characters as much as I used to, even a year ago.

Despite that, I definitely recommend “You’re Welcome, Universe”! Julia is a deaf Indian girl living with two mothers, which is not something you see often in young adult fiction. She is not very “likeable” – the betrayal of her supposed best friend makes her driven to isolate herself from people in the new school, she has an attitude and she’s spunky. In other words, she feels real. The author has really fleshed out her character, and not least because of the absolutely amazing illustrations of Julia’s art that are featured in almost every chapter. I haven’t really read anything like that before (with the exception of Cat Winters’ books), and I loved it.

I also loved the novel’s approach towards ASL (American Sign Language). I don’t know it unfortunately (although I know the alphabet of British Sign Language – not the same thing!), but “You’re Welcome, Universe” definitely made me interested. Julia’s new friend YP is trying to learn it too, and I felt that it was really important that the author has shown how people communicate in ASL – both through text and illustrations of the novel. At one point, Julia describes ASL to a useless adult – “English is my second language. I speak American Sign Language. It’s not English. It’s not charades, not miming. It’s a language”. Smashing misconceptions like Julia does in that scene is the best reason for YA literature to be gaining momentum as it currently is.

Books like “You’re Welcome, Universe” are important, not least BECAUSE they’re marketed towards younger audience. When young people read, they want to relate to the characters – they want to see themselves in them. And if all protagonsits are the same straight white able-bodied men, it’s hard for people who don’t fit into that mold (such as myself) to relate to them. Julia’s story feels real; since I’m not deaf, I cannot presume what people like her go through every day, but according to acknowledgments, the author has employed sensitivity readers to make Julia’s experiences as truthful as possible. I can only hope that more authors follow Gardner’s example!

I’m certainly going to read more of Whitney Gardner’s books! My rating for “You’re Welcome, Universe” is 7/10.

 

Recommendations:

You might like “You’re Welcome, Universe” if you liked:

“Of Pens and Swords” by Rena Rocford;

“#famous” by Jilly Gagnon;

“It Started with Goodbye” by Christina June

 

Have you read “You’re Welcome, Universe”? What are your favourite books released so far this year? Let me know in the comments:)

Thanks for reading this review and don’t forget to check out my Etsy charity shop before you go!

Book Review: The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry

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Favourite quotes:

“Old houses catch threads of the people who have lived them in the same way a piece of lace does. For the most part, those threads stay quietly in place until someone disturbs them. An old cleaning woman reaching for cobwebs reveals the dreamy dance of a girl home from a first cotillion. Dance card still dangling from her wrist, the girl closes her eyes and twirls, trying to hold the moment, the memory of first love. The old cleaning woman knows the vision better than the girl herself does. It’s the one she has longed for but never lived”.

“There is a point where the life force overcomes the will and the body simply breathes itself. It just happens. It hurts like hell when you take a breath of seawater, but the hurt goes away quickly, and then you feel the flow of water and hear the music of the spheres”.

“And we are back in history in the days whern they came to get you because you were a woman alone in the world, or because you were different, because your hair was red, or because you had no children of your own and no husband to protect you. Or maybe even because you owned property that one f them wanted”.

 

Towner Whitney doesn’t remember why she left Salem all those years ago, when her name was still Sophya. Accordingto her, she’s crazy. Indeed, in Salem, the Whitneys are known as “quirky”. Especially Towner’s great-aunt Eva, who runs a tearoom and is a renowned lace reader. Lace reading is a form of fortune-telling – a gift that most Whitney women have, to an excent. But Towner is back now. Her great-aunt Eva is missing.

Forced to confront the memories she’s suppressed all those years ago and faced with the possibility that her great-aunt might be dead, Towner tries to get answers from Eva’s friends and the rest of her family. When Detective Rafferty appears in Towner’s life, things get even murkier. He is determined to get the answers as to Eva’s disappearance, and to put away the leader of the Calvinists. The Calvinists are an ultraconservative Christian cult named after their leader Cal Boynton who used to be part of Towner’s family. Rafferty believes Cal to be behind Eva’s disappearance, and also behind the murder of Angela Rickey, a former member of his cult who is also missing.

As Towner’s relationship with Rafferty develops, he grows increasingly concerned about her and the town and digs deeper into Towner’s past that she’s forgotten. Or tried to bury deep down. Will his findings confirm what he’s suspected a long time ago? Or will his perception of reality be completely shattered, destroying himself and Towner in the process?

 

When I read a mystery novel, I like to be engaged from the beginning until the very end. And I like to not be able to guess the ending until the last page. “The Lace Reader” definitely delivered on the latter. The plot twists were quite unexpected, and not in a “plot holey, out of nowhere” way at all. However, I can’t say that this novel has kept my attention the whole time. This is primarily because of the narration.

Towner is the primary narrator, and an extremely unreliable one, who narrates in first-person present tense. However, we also have another narrator – Detective Rafferty. His narration is third-person past tense. I honestly didn’t get why that plot device was necessary. Towner’s unreliability as a narrator could’ve been done just as well in the past tense. Perhaps the narration of what was happening presently was done in the present tense to distinguish it from Towner’s journals written when she was 17 in the past tense. That didn’t help though – I kept forgetting what was happening when through most of the second half of the book. Unless that was the intended effect, it wasn’t the best mystery novel technique.

Confusing the reader can work, to an extent. It worked in “Gone Girl”, somewhat worked in “Pretty Little Liars”, and it was done really well in the Dublin Murder Squad mysteries. However, it was very over-the-top in “The Lae Reader”. I finished the book two days ago and I’m just now putting the pieces together. And not all of them, even – I still have so many questions. I’m still unclear as to what really had happened to Towner during the times she wrote about in her journals. I still don’t get whether she knew that what she was writing about didn’t really happen or whether she really was as mentally unstable as she claimed. And – perhaps that’s just me – but I’m still figuring out what actually happened to Eva. Perhaps I’ll understand the book better once I read the companion novel. There is one thing I am certain of – Cal Boynton deserved what he got.

My other issue is that how sexual assault and its aftermath were handled in the book. It’s not glorified – quite the contrary. But it is made into a plot point that’s never fully explored and a lot is left up to the reader’s interpretation. It was also used for shock value. If one chooses to tackle such an intense subject, I believe that they should deal with it fully and thoroughly. “The Lace Reader” doesn’t exactly brush off over the mental anguish that follows sexual assault. However, the mental health issues are also used as a plot point and a trigger for many things. I for one felt that it wasn’t done as well as it could have been.

Towner says she is a liar at the start. The book seemed to heavily imply that she couldn’t be trusted because of what had happened to her in the past. I, for one, was quite bemused by that. Maybe that’s because my interpretation is incorrect – and I do encourage readers of this blog to send me theirs in the comments! Nevertheless, it wasn’t my favourite aspect of an otherwise very atmospheric and unique novel. My rating for “The Lace Reader” is 7/10.

 

Recommendations:

You might like “The Lace Reader” if you enjoyed:

“The Thirteenth Tale” by Diane Setterfield

“The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly” by Stephanie Oakes

“The Returned” TV series

 

Have you read “The Lace Reader”? Do you have different interpretations of the events that transpired in the book? I look forward to reading your comments! 🙂

Thanks for reading this review and don’t forget to check out my Etsy charity shop before you go!

Book Review: Far From You by Tess Sharpe

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This is a review of a re-read.

 

Favourite quotes:

“But my heart isn’t simple or straightforward. It’s a complicated mess of wants and needs, boys and girls: soft, rough, and everything in between, an ever-shifting precipice from which to fall”.

“But this is the thing about struggling out of that hole you’ve put yourself in: the higher you climb, the farther you have to fall”.

“I want to keep my memory of her untainted, not polished by death nor shredded to pieces by words she meant only for herself. I want her to stay with me as she always was: strong and sure in everything but the one thing that mattered most, beautifully cruel and wonderfully sweet, too smart and inquisitive for her own good, and loving me like she didn’t want to believe it was a sin”.

 

Sophie Winters is an addict. She got hooked on painkillers after a car accident two years ago which wrecked her leg forever. But contrary to what her family, what the entire town believes, she’s been clean for over nine months now. And there was no relapse of any kind. Her best friend Mina wasn’t murdered because of a drug deal Sophie’s orchestrated. There was no drug deal at all, actually. But Sophie’s parents don’t believe her and send her to rehab anyway. Once she comes back four months later, she’s determined to find out who killed Mina and why.

However, very few people are keen to help her. The only one who seems to believe her is Rachel, the girl who found Sophie the night Mina died. Mina’s brother Trev has been in love with Sophie for the longest time, but he won’t speak to her. Her parents won’t believe her. And it goes without saying that Sophie’s time in rehab has done absolutely nothing to help her move on. Mina was her best friend – her other half, even. But some things, some secrets are buried so deep that unraveling them would send Sophie down a rabbit hole  which she has little chance of climbing out of. Can Sophie solve Mina’s murder and stay clean in the process? Or will the secrets they shared with each other, and things that Mina kept to herself and herself alone, wreck Sophie to the point of no return?

 

I first read “Far From You” in January 2015. I remember loving it and being heartbroken by it, and recently, I decided to re-read it. However, I was quite surprised by the fact that I haven’t written a review of this wonderful novel two years ago. So this review is based on both my initial impressions and what I’ve experienced during the re-read.

“Far From You” is both mystery-centric and protagonist-centric. Sophie Winters is a first-person narrator, so the story is shown from her perspective entirely. However, her voice is the kind that makes it clear for the reader the things that she doesn’t state explicitly. This is particularly true when she talks about Mina – Sophie’s pespective of the latter is skewed by many things revealed during the course of the story. However, the reader figures out several things about Mina that venture beyond Sophie’s somewhat romanticised notion of her. This is helped further by the “before” and “after” structure of the novel – flashbacks make up about 50% of the book, which worked brilliantly, even though they were slightly difficult to follow at first. Mostly because they weren’t in the order that you would expect. To reveal more about what the reader learns about Mina through Sophie’s narration and the things left unsaid by Sophie would be quite spoilery, though, so I’ll just say this – nothing in this book as it seems.

One would even argue that the mystery of Mina’s murder is as much of a core of “Far From You”, as it is a plot device. A lot of the book focuses on Sophie’s investigation, but just as much is centered around her relationship with Mina. Even her relationships with other people – Mina’s brother Trev, Mina’s boyfriend Kyle, the subjects of Mina’s newspaper article – they’re all somewhat related to what Sophie had had with Mina. And the way “Far From You” is written doesn’t let the reader forget that. It is also written in a way that makes the reader genuinely feel for both girls, and the words used by the author are weaved into sentences that made me weep both times I read the book. “Far From You” is definitely a story that got to me, made me truly care about the characters, despite their numerous flaws. These flaws are indeed what made them real – the author doesn’t skirt around them but turns them into character traits that make the actors genuinely relatable. And I’m not just referring to the LGBT+ aspects of the book, although books with LGBT+ protagonists are incredibly important today. The author doesn’t make the characters all about their sexual orientations – Far From It (sorry for the pun). All the characters – not just the protagonists – feel like real people, real teenagers with real struggles, their sexuality being one of them, but hardly overshadowing all of their other defining traits. I love books like that. And if they make me cry – well, that’s just a bonus, isn’t it? All stories matter, and stories featuring diverse characters especially. And if they get to the reader, if they make the reader experience strong emotions, that just makes them even more important. “Far From You” is one such story.

When I found out that “Far From You” was a debut novel, I was stunned. The author is incredibly talented with words and story-weaving, and I cannot wait for her next book! My rating for “Far From You” is 8/10.

 

Dreamcast

Sophie Winters – Eliza Taylor

Mina Bishop – Luisa D’Oliveira

 

Recommendations

You might like “Far From You” if you liked:

“Cam Girl” by Leah Raeder/Elliot Wake

“Complicit” by Stephanie Kuehn

“Pretty Little Liars” – Mina was no Alison DiLaurentis, yet one can’t help but draw Emison parallels.

 

Have you read “Far From You”? What is your favourite book with a bisexual protagonist? Let me know in the comments! 🙂

Thanks for reading this review and don’t forget to check out my Etsy charity shop!

Book Review: Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig

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“Rape was violence, not sex”

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Favourite quotes:

“Nobody look at me, I’m a fucking mess! I’m going to sue Sarah Jessica Parker. Sex and the City did not prepare me to be a single woman in her thirties without designer heels and amazing sex!”

“Having a crappy job means having money that’s just mine, that I can spend on whatever I want to. I can’t tell you how good that feels”.

“Would everyone remember the times they’d said stuff like ‘that’s so gay’ and ‘don’t be a fag’ in my presence, and suddenly be unable to look me in the eye anymore? Would they even care how it made me feel? Just how different would my life be if the truth got out?”

 

Flynn Doherty’s girlfriend January broke up with him and a few days later, the police are at his house. January hasn’t been seen since then. As the ex-boyfriend, Flynn is naturally the first person of interest for the police of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Of course, it can’t be January’s stepfather – future State Senator Jonathan Walker. Or any of the dumb rich kids at her new prestigious school. Or her pervy stepbrother. Or Kaz – January’s coworker and the guy who’s so much cooler and more handsome than Flynn. Well, that’s what the police thinks. Flynn is shocked by the news but is he really as innocent as he claims? Or are his own secrets something a lot more sinister than the reader initially believes?

As the search for January continues, the situation becomes much more puzzling for the townspeople. And for Flynn. Apparently, he was quite blind to his ex’s relationships with other people. People like her mother and stepfather. And her new classmates whom she made fun of relentlessly to him. And of course, with Kaz. Kaz turns out to be a whole new mystery entirely. Can Flynn handle juggling January’s disappearance, his own secrets and the changing relationships in his life? Or will the story end completely differently from what the reader is expecting?

 

“Last Seen Leaving” is a book that’s been described as “Gone Girl” for teens. Aside from my personal issues with that description (are teens not smart enough for “Gone Girl”?), it is to an extent true. Indeed, you get the “Gone Girl” vibes from the very first chapter – a missing girl, a narrator with a secret who lies to the police, and revelations that don’t exactly cast him in a favourable light. However, “Last Seen Leaving” is more than capable of standing on its own pages, without any comparisons to any bestsellers (no matter how much we all love Gillian Flynn, there are other mystery writers out there!).

Our narrator is Flynn Doherty, a 15-year-old skater who’s quite smart for his age. A little too smart in fact – at one point, he makes a reference to Torquemada. It is my understanding that in America, there is little focus on non-American history until the last two years of school, so I was quite puzzled by the idea that a sophomore would know who Torquemada was. And for a smart kid, Flynn makes a few very dumb decisions – breaking into an apartment of a potential murderer being one of them. However, he is struggling with some very difficult things during the course of the novel. Being fifteen is hard enough, and when you are in the closet with an ex-girlfriend who is probably dead and a strange crush on a dude whom you thought to be after that very ex-girlfriend – well, it’s no surprise that Flynn’s decision-making process is not in top shape. And January McConville is another story entirely. I do think that Flynn somewhat idealised her, which led to him being an unreliable narrator and such a viable suspect for the police and January’s acquiantances.

Tana French has said it best – “teenage girls make Moriarty look like a babe in the woods”. I’ve already pointed out the novel’s similarities to “Gone Girl”, but I will tell you one thing – that is not a spoiler. The mysteries may have a few things in common, but I was still quite engaged in “Last Seen Leaving” because I genuinely had no idea what was going to happen until the very last page of the epilogue. I’ve suspected several things that came to be, but I was quite surprised (and devastated) by many other revelations.

“Last Seen Leaving” is a very strong debut and an interesting YA mystery. Caleb Roehrig is certainly one author to keep an eye out for! Plus his Instagram pictures are beautiful! My rating of “Last Seen Leaving” is 7/10.

 

Recommendations

You might like “Last Seen Leaving” if you liked:

“As I Descended” by Robin Talley

“The Secret Place” by Tana French

“Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn

 

Have you read “Last Seen Leaving”? What are your favourite YA mysteries and thrillers? Drop me a line in the comments, I love them! 🙂

Thanks for reading this review and don’t forget to check out my Etsy charity shop before you go!

Book Review: A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

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Favourite quotes:

“I’m bad with words. Too imprecise. Too many shades of meaning. And people use them to lie. Have you ever heard someone lie to you on the violin? Well. I suppose it can be done, but it would take far more skill”.

“At best, our friendship made me feel as though I was a part of something larger, something grander; that, with her, I’d been given access to a world whose unseen currents ran parallel to ours. But at our friendship’s worst, I wasn’t sure I was her friend at all. Maybe some human echo chamber or a conductor for her brilliant light”.

“We weren’t Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. I was okay that, I thought. We had things they didn’t, too. Like electricity, and refrigerators. And Mario Kart”.

 

Happy Sherlock Season, everybody! Who is excited for episode 2?

I love Sherlock Holmes and I love the many adaptations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories – whether they’re literary, cinematic, or television. I’ve enjoyed Andy Lane’s Young Sherlock Holmes stories and was quite keen for more like this, which is what led me to “A Study in Charlotte” that came out last year.

Jamie Watson is a descendant of Dr. John Watson – best friend to the Great Detective. His family is quite keen to preserve the legacy, but nowhere near the level of the Holmes’ family. He only suspects it, but his life and Charlotte Holmes’ were entwined from birth. Like his ancestor, he dreams of solving cases in London with a Holmes. So it comes as a major disappointment when he is awarded a full rugby scholarship to a boarding school in Connecticut. Sherringford – the school – is close to the home of his estranged father and his new family. It is also the new home of none other than Charlotte Holmes – a genius, aloof girl who hosts weekly poker nights and doesn’t seem to have many friends. Could Watson’s dreams actually be coming true and could he actually form a friendship with someone he’s idolised all his life?

However, his efforts prove fruitless. At least until their classmate is murdered. Holmes seems quite keen to solve the murder, but soon, both she and Watson are painted as prime suspects.

As one disaster after another, shakes Sherringford to its core, Holmes’ and Watson’s lives are in more danger than ever. Who is trying to frame them by using the Sherlock Holmes stories for inspiration? Or is it not a frame-up at all and Charlotte Holmes is a murderess? Did she start killing at 14 and was August Moriarty her first victim? Or is he the one behind everything? Watson’s mind is riddled with questions that can make or break his fragile friendship with Charlotte Holmes. Can the two manage to stay alive, stay friends and find the villain in the process? Or is the friendship doomed, just like them?

 

“A Study in Charlotte” is the kind of novel about which one has very mixed feelings. I can’t say I loved it, but I did enjoy certain aspects of it. I have to say that while the concept of Holmes’ and Watson’s descendants is interesting in theory, I could never get on board with The Great Detective Sherlock Holmes having a child. The Holmes’ dynasty in the novel and their obsession with deduction, as well as the need to ingrain it in every generation, were very strange to read about. What the parents were doing to their children in the Holmes family was abuse, plain and simple. If that happened to every generation, I don’t believe that all the Holmes’ could have possibly been “on the side of the angels” and wanted to assist law enforcement. Abused kids don’t tend to trust the authority, and I really don’t see how a teenage descendant of Sherlock would be keen to assist Scotland Yard. So I really wasn’t too crazy about the idea of almost  every generation of Holmes’ being “the good guys”. I also didn’t like how the Holmes and the Moriarty families seem to have a rivalry that spans centuries and how most Moriartys were evil. That’s simply unrealistic – almost as unrealistic as the idea of Sherlock Holmes reproducing.

Another thing that bothered me was the pacing and the narration. I think that despite being a Sherlock Holmes adaptation, the book would have been much better if it were written in third person, not from Watson’s first-person POV. It seemed to me that the author was struggling to find Watson’s voice for 3/4 of the novel. True, he is an unreliable narrator, and if that was the author’s goal, it was achieved. However, the narration seemed to be all over the place for the majority of the novel. It was quite hard to follow at times who was saying what, and sometimes even what was happening and where. It almost made me not enjoy the book at all, but in the last quarter of “A Study in Charlotte”, the author seemed to have figured out where to take the narration and the events and it flowed really well. It was fast-paced, like the rest of the book, but with little distraction and the scenes were clearly set.

I’d also like to point out that Watson as an unreliable narrator worked really well in some ways, but not so well in others. If the author was trying to make Charlotte seem “perfectly flawed” through Watson’s eyes, then that’s what happened. But I don’t like my characters to be perfect and I especially dislike it when one character is so smart or attractive they make everyone else around them look stupid or inadequate in some other ways. Charlotte is a sixteen-year-old girl – and she is hardly perfect. Yet Watson keeps trying to make the reader believe that she is, and the police and other adults look terrible in comparison. This is another reason why “The Study in Charlotte” would’ve worked much better in third person. Watson is too subjective – and to be honest, his weird attraction to Charlotte was really distracting. The book could’ve done without it and would have flown much better.

The third-person POV would have also made all the Sherlock Holmes references much more fun to read about. The book is riddled with them, which I really liked. I also liked the nods to the original stories and the detailed descriptions of Charlotte’s investigative activities. And I do wish that Watson’s biased narration didn’t distract from the fact that she is still a teenager with issues typical teens face. Despite the negative points I’ve elaborated on in this review, I still thought that “A Study in Charlotte” was an OK book. My rating is 6.5/10.

 

Recommendations:

You might like “A Study in Charlotte” if you liked:

“Lock & Mori” by Heather W. Petty

“Young Sherlock Holmes” series by Andy Lane

“Velvet Undercover” by Teri Brown

“Elementary” TV series

 

Have you read “A Study in Charlotte”? What are your favourite Sherlock Holmes adaptations? Tell me in the comments! 🙂